Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Projected Cuts to Information Technology in 2009

I saw an article on Infoworld that reports IT spending is projected to be cut in 2009. According to the studies, two areas are targeted:

  • Infrastructure such as basic PC and network hardware
  • Talent costs, such as employees and IT service consultants

In regards to the first, that type of expenditure can be delayed to some extent, assuming that going into the delay there has been a consistent investment made so that the organization is not starting out with equipment that is already old and lacking support. Equipment fails, so it needs maintenance, and eventually replacement. Technologies such as virtualization can assist to put more functions on a piece of equipment, reducing the need for multiple devices. An accounting system may share hardware with a sales entry system, each having their own "space", but using one physical server.

The second expenditure can also be managed more tightly. With reason, there is nothing wrong with saying that you need more results from the people that produce or maintain your systems, and if the organizational direction is to ride out an economic storm, then doing more with less is often needed.

But the direction that more with less takes is where you must be careful. The ways a manager might view it are:
  • Less people: Reduce headcount by some number to reduce total overall costs, and (hopefully) designate functions across the lower count in a way that maintains the minimal information technology needs of the organization.
  • Less expensive people: Find cheaper resources that appear to have similar talents, and (hopefully) transition to them with minimal disruption in service level agreements. These people may be less experienced, or from another culture with different economic factors (off-shore). The goal is to retain a similar headcount and service offering, while reducing overall cost.
  • Less commitment to the people: Outsource work to others, so that both employee overhead (both as an accounting ledger function and additional costs such as benefits, training, etc.) and length of commitment are minimized. In some ways this shifts the costs from one bucket to another, and also serves to make it easy to further reduce the workforce as needed by simply ending the use of an outsourced resource, as opposed to the termination of an employee. Additionally, terminating an employee has negative psychological effects on remaining team members that correspondingly terminating an outsourced resource do not create.

But what must be considered in any of these options, or combination of them, is the value delivered. It is easy to assess and reduce cost, but without experience, only later can the real value of those cuts be truly understood. So going in with a thought of value instead of pure cost is essential to long term shareholder return and organizational viability.

Value is not measured just in terms of dollars per hour; it is measured in terms of what was produced for those dollars. I have an option when I go to a mechanic, and can choose between the certified Mr. Goodwrench, or "Jim’s Auto Repair". Jim is less expensive per hour. But repeated trips back, missed work, inability to complete on time, additional ongoing costs, frustration, and potential to still have to go to a certified mechanic after all that lead me to call and schedule with the more expensive mechanic on day one. I know I will pay more up front, but I know I will receive more value measured in multiple ways.

In terms of consultants who are software developers (disclosure: my firm provides that service) I know the difference between the low value developer and the high value one. In terms of rate, it should always be measured against the time factor. You may obtain a consultant for $90/hr, or have a choice of a $140/hr resource. The issue is what each will accomplish over the time needed to deliver.

In a later post, I will try to address the issues that impact the actual value delivered. How do you know which one is going to provide more value? I think I can help you with that, because for years we have been assessing these resources with that key factor in mind.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fujitsu U2010 Thoughts

I read on GottaBeMobile today that the specs for the new Fujitsu U2010 have been released. This machine is considered an Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC), and I have the same form factor in a U810 from Fujitsu. I like the machine, and find it reliable and possessing decent performance. But I do not understand several things about the upgraded U2010, especially as an owner of a U810:
  1. The resolution is too high (1024x768) for such a small screen (5.6"). That will make it very hard to use as a reading device.
  2. The use of an passive digitizer instead of an active one is ill advised, especially at that cost. My U810 definitely vectors due to an errant little finger, requiring the user to hold their hand at an awkward position. This limits the tablet as an input device.
  3. The RAM at 1Gb is too low, and I assume it is not user upgradeable (like the U810). I really prefer 4Gb for most machines now, and a minimum of 2gb for Windows Vista.
  4. The keyboard looks bigger on this one (than that on the U810), but with the same size screen, it is very likely the same. I have found in discussion that only women with smaller hands find the U810 keyboard useful for any long periods of time.

I like my U810 but this size device is kind of a tweener that is vexed by trying to answer the question of: what should it really be? Especially at this cost.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Toshiba Slice Battery nowhere near advertised

I have a Toshiba M400 Tablet PC that has overall been an excellent system for me. Small, light, and powerful, I have had it for two years now without many issues. Given that it is a tablet, it is more useful while free from electric cords than a normal (non-tablet) laptop. Portability is key with such a device.

In order to extend the battery life beyond the advertised time of 4 hours with the standard built-in battery, Toshiba offers a "Slice" battery (http://www.toshibadirect.com/td/b2c/adet.to?seg=HHO&poid=321977). This attaches to be bottom of the notebook and extends side to side, and takes about 1/2 of the bottom surface. It is called a slice because it is made such that it looks like a slice of pie from the side. This does offer the advantage of elevating the back of the notebook when in normal laptop mode, so that typing is a bit easier.

When in tablet mode, it makes it easy to hold the device in one hand and write with the other. It does not add a lot of weight, or maybe I have gotten used to it; when removed it feels lighter in a significant way. The only other disadvantage is that it covers the expansion port on the bottom of the M400, which makes it unable to connect to the docking station. This means that it will not be charged when docked like the internal battery is.

Given all of that, I like the slice battery. But it is a battery, so it needs to give power, right? It does this, but not to the extent that Toshiba advertises; in fact it is not even close. Toshiba's online store states two numbers:
  • It adds 4.85 hours to the primary battery
  • That when combined with the primary battery, it will have 9.96 hours!

Wow - that second number really leaps at you. That is more than one day of work. I could start at 8:00am and go until 5:00pm on one charge? Not so fast.

My experience using standard power settings (and normal office worker usage) gives me about 3 hours or a little more with the primary battery. Additionally I get about 2-2.5 hours additional time with the slice battery. All of this adds up to about 5.5 hours of battery life at max. So I can start at 8:00am and go to a little after 1:00pm working. That is not nearly what is advertised.

Very disappointing. So, while helpful, the buyer should beware.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

GottaBeMobile = GottaBeVisited

If you use and enjoy portable devices for the cool effect....errr...I mean productivity gains, you need to spend sometime at GottaBeMobile. They are hosting a great summer giveaway of great stuff, but even more importantly, the content they generate is incredible. Great videos and analysis of mobile technology like tablet PCs, UMPCs, etc., and a well designed, helpful forum.
So head on over!

My Portable Office

I recently had to send my Toshiba M400 Tablet PC in for service, and did not want to be without a mobile device for very long. I have been using the M400, a smallish (12 inch, 4.5 lb) notebook device with touch screen (using a special pen) for 2 years. I also use an AT&T 8525 as a data collection and management device (In addition to being a great cell phone). It was the in-between device I lacked that I decided to pursue, at least temporarily while the M400 was in service.

Our IT consulting firm does a fair amount of work in the health care arena, and the opportunity to try a mid-size device as an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) unit was ideal. Additionally, I wanted to spend more time in the "cloud", using online email, word processing and spreadsheets, (aka Google Docs), and reading. In general, the goal was to try a small, highly portable device that may lack power, but offload processing to internet or intranet servers.

After searching various devices, I decided on a Fujitsu U810 UMPC. This is a clam shell type notebook that has a 5.7" display, which also serves as a touch screen. It also has an 800 MHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, and a 40 GB hard drive. One of the most compelling reasons for such a device is the 5.5 hours of battery life it offers. To be able to get from 8:00am-noon on one battery is ideal, especially in the medical world.

My only real complaint is that the U810 lacks an active digitizer. This is important on a touch screen device, so that errant pinky-finger touches do not cause odd input (known as “vectoring”). My M400 has an active digitizer, and while the U810's smaller display means less space to rest a palm or finger by accident, it does happen. The small keyboard is usable, but not especially easy to use. This makes it a better "output" device than an "input" device.

A second shortcoming, though clearly known when purchased, is the lack of any wireless connectivity via a 3G or EDGE network. It has 802.11b/g, but without a cellular type access it is limited, especially when you consider my goal to work in the cloud. There is a version of this device that offers this, but mine did not come with it. I can use my cell phone though, as you will see later.

Operating System and Software loaded:

For now I opted to use Microsoft Windows Vista basic. The U810 came with both the Vista and XP Tablet images on CD, and since I use Vista on my M400, and appreciate the better handwriting recognition, I went with it on the U810. Performance is fine, but someday I may try the XP image to see the difference in speed.

I also loaded Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook) for the fat client needs I have. For a browser I prefer Firefox, and on a low-performance cloud connected device, add-ons like AdBlock Plus and NoScript can improve performance by reducing the amount of data retrieved and processed, as well as the amount of screen real-estate that can be used by a page (not to mention cache and cookie space taken up by third party sites and ads).

Mobile Office:
I have assembled all of the tools for what I think makes a great mobile office. I can of course use the U810 by itself, with its built in keyboard and mouse capabilities. But to truly be productive for the hours needed, I wanted some more capability. I had a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse previously purchased for an older Windows Mobile cell phone, and saw them as ideal complements. They both come from Stowaway, and are small and easy to carry. The keyboard is about the size of a large wallet when folded in half and in its case, and the mouse is travel size with its own little bag in which to carry it. The last piece was the AT&T 8525 phone, which via blue tooth serves up a high speed connection to the internet (up to 1.5Mbps at times!).

I also needed a bag to carry it all in, and located a small leather bag in e-bay that allows me to carry the U810, keyboard, mouse, and power adapter along with items such as pen, a few business cards, some flash memory cards, and other small odds and ends.

It makes for about 3 lbs or less to carry it all – that is about as mobile as it gets!

Here is another shot of the U810 in mobile mode:

Home Office:

The home office setup is a bit less mobile, and still works very well. I can of course use the U810 with small keyboard, etc. but since a docking station was available, I picked one up off Amazon and use it with a full size keyboard and mouse, along with an external CD/DVD burner. The last piece was the external monitor, which is a 22” Dell. When looking for the monitor, I took the tiny U810 into the local Best Buy, and the even the Geek Squad could not believe the miniscule U810 would drive a 22” monitor. But it did!

Docking Station
The home office setup gives me a full size environment, though performance is slower than you would expect from a normal notebook or desktop. All in all, still a satisfying experience, especially when I can just pull it from the docking station and throw it in my bag and walk out. A second AC adapter makes it quick work.