Reflections on Microsoft TechEd 2010 & Business Intelligence Conference

June 11, 2010

This past week I attended the co-located Microsoft TechEd 2010 and 2010 Business Intelligence conferences in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The co-location of the conferences was a great initiative as it allowed the 10,000 attendees to mix sessions from both conferences.

TechEd 2010 Keynote

The day 1 keynote (TechEd) was presented by Bob Muglia (Microsoft President of the Server and Tools Business).  Bob discussed the continued evolution of Windows Azure with support for .Net 4.0, IntelliTrace debugging, and new tools within Visual Studio 2010.  SQL Azure has continued to evolve with increased storage limits, geospatial data, and data synchronization.  Bing Maps SDK was released to enable the visualization of data in maps.  Service Pack 1 was announced for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 for release in July 2010.

The day 2 keynote (Business Intelligence) was presented by Ted Kummert (Microsoft Senior Vice President of the Business Platform Division).  Ted talked about managed self-service analytics and how PowerPivot provides users an Excel-like look and feel on the desktop that enables a variety of data sources to be related easily with high performance across high volume.  A demonstration of PowerPivot was given showing instant sorting and filtering of 2 billion rows of data.  Most of the keynote focused on the Microsoft BI technologies and their integration, these being Excel, SQL Server, SharePoint, and PowerPivot.

The most valuable sessions of TechEd 2010 that I attended were ‘Agile Planning’ presented by Peter Provost (Microsoft Senior Program Manager) and ‘Tough Lessons Learned as a Software Project Manager’ presented by Gregg Boer (Microsoft Principal Program Manager).  Both of these speakers shared their experiences managing projects and what they had learnt.  Gregg presented on 7 key project management learnings, those being:   

  • prioritize ruthlessly, cut judiciously
  • it’s not enough to understand what, you must understand why
  • aggressive schedules do not motivate
  • politics are dumb, ignoring politics is dumber
  • your project is at risk – are you handling it?
  • it’s not a popularity contest
  • you work with people – not resources

Other extremely interesting sessions of TechEd 2010 that I attended were ‘Business Intelligence Overview: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions’ presented by Donald Farmer (Microsoft SQL Server BI Management Program Manager) and ‘So Many BI Tools, So Little Time’ presented by Dan Buloss (Symmetry Corp President).  Both Donald and Dan presented some interesting conceptual models about business intelligence; two of which I have reproduced below:   

Business Intelligence and Analysis (Donald Farmer)

Reporting Spectrum (Dan Buloss)

The hidden gem in the rough of TechEd 2010 was ‘Build Your Own Cool Visualizations Using DGML’ presented by Suhail Dutta (Microsoft Program Manager).  Suhail showed how to use Directed Graph Markup Language (DGML) to visualize architectural dependencies using Visual Studio, as well as visualizing your own specific data.  The problem with this feature is that it can only be used within Visual Studio; it would make a great control for user applications to visualize and explore data. 

These are my thoughts after attending TechEd 2010 over the past 4 days and I look forward to sharing and implementing what I learnt.

My Home Office Desk Setup

April 23, 2010

Whilst at home, a large part of my non-sleeping time is spent at my desk.  I generally work one day a week from home and find this my most productive day of the week, having a block of uninterrupted time, it gives me the necessary head space to effectively strategize, analyze, and prioritize.  This blog post is about my desk at home, the technology devices that it hosts, and how they are used.

My Home Office Desk Setup

  
1. Apple IIe Platinum computer, 1MHz 65C02 Motorola processor, 128KB RAM, dual 5.25″ floppy drives, MicroDrive IDE card with 128MB compact flash, color composite video monitor                   

2. Dell Adamo 13 laptop, 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD SATA hard drive; contained in a 13.3″ Toffee leather brief                     

3. Amiga 1200 AGA computer, 14MHz Motorola 68EC020 processor, 2MB RAM, 3.5″ floppy drive, Blizzard 1230-IV expansion card with 50MHz Motorola 68030 processor + 50MHz 68882 co-processor + 64MB RAM,  internal IDE adaptor with 4GB compact flash, PCMCIA compact flash reader                      

4. Apple iPhone 3G, 412MHz Samsung RISC processor, 128MB RAM, 16GB flash storage; contained in a Sena Ultraslim leather pouch                 

5. Dual Dell 24″ LCD monitors, UltraSharp 1920×1200 wide-screen with soundbar speakers, connectors for HDMI, DVI, VGA, S-video, component video, composite video                   

6. Belkin N1 Vision wireless router, ADSL2 broadband modem, 802.11n wireless, wired gigabit ports, and interactive network display

7. Nintendo Wii console, 729MHz IBM PowerPC processor, 88MB RAM, 512MB flash storage

8. Dell Precision T5400 workstation, 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor, 8GB RAM, 2x 750GB SATA hard disk drives, DVD drive, 512MB nVidia Quadro FX1700 graphics card, media card reader, WinFast Digital TV tuner               

9. Dell PowerEdge 1800 server, dual 2.8GHz Intel Xeon processors, 4GB RAM, 6x 146GB SCSI hard disk drives in RAID 5 configuration, 2x DVD drives

10. Lexmark X215 multi-function laser printer

My Home Office Desk Setup in Work Mode

  
The picture above shows my desk setup in work mode.  The Dell Precision workstation is running Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit) and the most frequently used software is MS Office Ultimate 2007, MS Visual Studio Professional 2008, Internet Explorer 8, and NVivo 8.   I also keep a secondary boot partition on the workstation for installing beta software and undertaking software evaluations.              

The Dell PowerEdge server is running Windows Server 2008 R2 and MS SQL Server 2008 Standard.  Both of the 24″ LCD monitors are connected to the workstation via DVI connectors, whilst the server is connected via a VGA connector, allowing quick switching of displays via a button press.                   

My Home Office Desk Setup in Entertainment Mode

  
The picture above shows my desk setup in entertainment mode.  The Dell Precision workstation is utilized to watch and record digital TV, surf the internet, dual-box MMORPG game Everquest 2,  and most recently play the RPG game Dragon Age Origins.              

The Apple IIe is running DOS 3.3 and ProDOS 8.  It is used to play 8-bit games that can be downloaded from sites like ftp.apple.asimov.net and transferred via compact flash using CiderPress.  The Apple IIe is a favorite of my children, who particularly enjoy playing the original Mario Bros.  The applefritter forums is a useful forum for discussing everything about older Apple computers.                

The Amiga 1200 is running AmigaOS 3.9 with WHDLoad which makes it possible to run programs originally designed for floppy disks.  It is used to play 16-bit games that can be downloaded from sites like Lemon Amiga and transferred via compact flash.  The Amiga 1200 is used to play games like Barbarian II, Bubble Bobble, Pinball Fantasies, and Rainbow Islands.  The English Amiga Board is a great forum to discuss everything Amiga.                

The Nintendo Wii is used to play games, with the current favorites being Guitar Hero, The Legend of Zelda – Twilight Princess, and Wii Sports.             

To finish, I quote Bill Gates in his 1995 book The Road Ahead       

There will be a day, not far distant, when you will be able to conduct business, study, explore the world and its cultures, call up any great entertainment, make friends, attend neighborhood markets, and show pictures to distant relatives — without leaving your desk or armchair.       

Growing and Scaling your Business

March 25, 2010

Asia-Pacific region winners of the Dell Small Business Excellence Award were privileged to spend two days with Dell in New Delhi, India.  The theme of the two days was on ways to grow and scale your business from small to large. The award winners in attendance were:

   

Shown Left to Right: A. Long (QSR International), J. Owen (QSR International), M. Dell (Dell), K. Thomas (QSR International)

Michael Dell (founder, chairman and CEO of Dell) met with the winners and fielded questions from the winners.  Michael covered many topics, including environmental accountability, forming partnerships, taking risks, future of technology, and utilizing social media.

Michael was asked if he had this time over again, and was to start-up and grow Dell again, what would he do differently.  Michael said he would focus more on developing talent; that it is important to recognize the capabilities of your people and develop them accordingly, as well as hire people with the right capabilities.  If there was one single piece of advice for a small business – it was talent management.

On risk taking, Michael stated that “failure is an opportunity to learn”.  He would rather start 10 projects and have 7 of them be successful, than to start 5 projects and have 5 of them be successful.

On the future of technology, Michael believes that television viewing will fundamentally shift, that people will watch what they want, when they want.  That people are looking for data convergence, not device convergence.  That the future will be about different devices (personal computers, mobiles, televisions, etc.) that have their data synced in the cloud.  Furthermore, there will be new innovations and new business models, which usually come from new players.

Amit Midha (President and Corporate VP – APJ SMB, Dell), Satya Narayanan (Founder, Career Launcher), and Rajan Anandan (Managing Director, Microsoft India) talked about managing growth and the challenges of scaling up.  Rajan Anandan who is also an angel investor stated that he gets worried when companies tell him they have more than 10% of the market.  He believes that companies in this position need to redefine their market by thinking about how to adapt their product or service to new markets.  In a similar fashion, Satya Narayanan stated that a business needs to reinvent itself every three to five years to sustain growth.

Michael Buck (Director Global SMB Online, Dell), Sridhar Seshadri (Country Head – Online Sales and Operations, Google India), and Neeraj Roy (CEO, Hungama Mobile) talked about best practices for websites and social media.  Michael Buck spoke about the importance of experimenting with changes to your website and measuring the outcomes, as well as the effectiveness of various forms of online advertising.

Other sessions over the two days covered financing, branding, and technology.  In summary, I found that I gained fresh insights and inspiration to grow and scale my business.  The next 2-3 years will be very interesting for QSR International, and likewise I imagine for the other companies that attended.

Afterwards, Nicole Gemmell (Senior Corporate Communications Manager, Dell) visited our Melbourne office and produced the following video.

Convergence of Analytics

February 9, 2010

Analytics is defined as the “science of analysis”.  Analytics is used to obtain an improved understanding of a complex topic or problem from collected data.  Through better understanding, better decisions can be made, and future outcomes can be predicted more accurately.

Presented below is a model I developed for categorizing today’s Analytics software based on two continuums – data type (structured versus unstructured) and analysis approach (user driven versus system driven).  These two continuums create four quadrants that I have labeled as Statistical Analysis, Qualitative Analysis, Business Intelligence, and Text Analytics.  Of course, in practice these quadrants overlap by varying degrees, but this model assists in describing the different methods employed for data collection and analysis techniques.

Analysis Software by Data Type and Analysis Approach

Statistical Analysis is basically described as the collection, analysis and interpretation of numerical data undertaken by a statistician.  Statistical Analysis is generally considered to be a mathematical science and is related to Predictive Analytics.  Microsoft Excel is the most commonly used software application for statistical analysis, however software applications such as SAS STAT and SPSS Statistics are popular and have more advanced features.                                    

Qualitative Analysis (or commonly referred as Qualitative Data Analysis) is basically described as the collection, analysis and interpretation of non-numerical data undertaken by a qualitative researcher.  Qualitative Analysis is generally considered to be a social science and is related to Content Analysis.  QSR NVivo is the most commonly used software application for qualitative analysis, however software applications such as SSD Atlas.ti and VERBI MAXQDA are also popular.                                       

Business Intelligence is basically described as the collection, analysis and dissemination of structured data performed predominately by a system.  Business Intelligence is used in a narrower context here and is related to Data Mining, Decision Support Systems, and Online Analytical Processing.  IBM Cognos, Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services, and SAP Business Objects are examples of commonly used systems for business intelligence.                           

Text Analytics is basically described as the collection, analysis and dissemination of textual data performed predominately by a system.  Text Analytics is similar to Text Mining and related to Video Analytics and Sentiment Analysis.   IBM LanguageWare and Inxight LinguistX are examples of commonly used systems for text analytics.  Whilst, Microsoft Semantic Engine is currently planned for integration into a future version of Microsoft SQL Server.           

Statistical Analysis and Qualitative Analysis software (top half of model) are characterized by having flexible in-depth analysis capabilities with a relatively low cost of implementation, whereas Business Intelligence and Text Analytics software (bottom half of model) are characteristed by having fast scalable analysis capabilities with a high cost of implementation.  However, analysts want the best of both solutions, that is, flexible in-depth analysis capabilities coupled with fast scalable analysis capabilities, whilst still having a low price of implementation.  In respect to differences in data types, Mixed Methods Research is a popular means of combining the collection and analysis of structured data (left half of model) and unstructured data (right half of model) to gain a more comprehensive understanding of a topic or problem.       

Interestingly, the traditionally divergent data types and analysis approaches of Analytics software has started to converge.  For instance, Business Objects acquired Inxight in 2007 and was subsequently acquired by SAP in 2007.  IBM acquired Cognos in 2008 and SPSS in 2009.  These companies and others are looking at ways of handling the different data types and analysis approaches, either through the integration of technologies or the integration of an application portfolio.  In line with this trend in Analytics, QSR International last month announced that the next version of NVivo will be delivering new automated analysis capabilities and will provide support for structured data.

Favorite Technology of the Noughties (2000-2009)

December 22, 2009

With the noughties (2000-2009) rapidly coming to an end, I looked back at my favorite software and hardware for each year of the noughties.  Each of the technologies listed below I used and could positively reflect on the experience, whether for work or for entertainment.

2000

Software, Bioware Baldur’s Gate 2, fantasy-based single-player role-playing game.

Hardware, Trek Technology ThumbDrive, portable USB flash drive.

2001

Software, Microsoft Windows XP Professional, operating system with an improved user interface.

Hardware, Apple iPod, portable media player for music collections.

2002

Software, Microsoft .Net Framework, software framework for developing applications on Windows.

Hardware, Microsoft Xbox, gaming console.

2003

Software, Skype, free voice calls over the Internet.

Hardware, Dell Axim, Windows Mobile personal digital assistant.

2004

Software, SOE Everquest 2, fantasy-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

Hardware, Nintendo DS, handheld game console with a touch screen.

2005

Software, Microsoft SQL Server 2005, relational database server.

Hardware, i-mate JASJAR, Windows Mobile phone.

2006

Software, QSR International NVivo 7, qualitative data analysis application.

Hardware, Nintendo Wii, gaming console with wireless controller.

2007

Software, Microsoft Office 2007 Professional, productivity suite with improved user interface.

Hardware, Apple iPhone, multi-touch phone which syncs with iTunes.

2008

Software, Microsoft SQL Server 2008, relational database server.

Hardware, HP Touchsmart 2, multi-touch integrated desktop.

2009

Software, Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate, operating system with an improved user experience and performance.

Hardware, Dell Adamo, slim ultraportable laptop with solid-state hard disk.

On this topic, I recommend viewing these 2 episodes of Byteside – Byteside Tech #6 and Byteside Games #6 for an Australian flavored discussion of technology in the noughties.

The noughties saw many great technologies and we can expect further advances in the next decade, most of which we cannot anticipate today.

Winning The Age/D&B Business Awards

December 1, 2009

On the 8 November 2009, QSR International was announced in The Age as the winner of The Age/D&B Business Award for Information Technology and Business Services.  The award recognizes excellence in business performance and financial management.  The award is unique in that it operates on an invitation only basis, with invitations based on the strength of the companies financial profile within the D&B database.

On the 27 November 2009, category winners (from Manufacturing, Country & Rural, Building & Allied Industries, Retail, IT & Business Services, Exporter & Wholesaler, New Company) of The Age/D&B Business Awards were recognized at a ceremony held at Champions within Federation Square.  The exciting news was QSR International was awarded The Age/D&B Victorian Business of the Year Award.  The following day the details were published in The Age.

Shown Left to Right: W. Fitzsimmons, S. Soubra, A. Long, J. Owen, D. Gage, J. Chang, M. Sketchley, H. Horak, K. Thomas, N. Choi

It is great to be recognized as an outstanding Information Technology business, and even more so as a standout business amongst diverse categories of businesses.  QSR International’s success can be attributed to its dedicated staff, business partners, resellers, and trainers who work diligently to better serve our customers.

To finish I quote Mario Andretti (1940-), American automobile racing driver  

Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s the determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.

Reflections on Microsoft PDC09

November 20, 2009

This past week I attended the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles.  PDC is described as the definitive Microsoft event focused on the technical strategy of the Microsoft developer platform.  Having attended PDC in 2005 and 2008, this year’s conference seemed to be more about fulfillment and refinement of existing directions and strategies, rather than any shift in direction or strategy.

The day 1 keynote was presented by Ray Ozzie (Chief Software Architect) and Bob Muglia (President of the Server and Tools Business).  Ray highlighted Microsoft’s broad vision to support 3 screens – PCs, phones, and TVs – all connected by cloud services.  Last year, the broad vision was to support 3 screens – PC, web, and phone; where Windows 7 was announced to support the PC, Windows Azure was announced to support the web, and no announcements were made regarding the phone.  This year there was little new information about the PC and no new information about the Phone and TV – though we were told that details about Windows Mobile 7 will be announced at the MIX10 conference in March 2010.  Windows Azure was announced to go live on 1 January 2010 and a cloud computing project ‘Dallas’ was announced.  Dallas is a data repository for content brokerage and discovery, in competition to IBM’s Smart Analytics Cloud.

The day 2 keynote was presented by Steven Sinofsky (President of Windows and Windows Live), Scott Guthrie (Corporate Vice President of .Net Developer Platform) and Kurt DelBene (Senior Vice President of Office Business Productivity).  Scott announced the beta of Silverlight 4.  Kurt announced the public beta of Microsoft Office 2010, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, Microsoft Visio 2010, Microsoft Project 2010, and Microsoft Office Mobile 2010.  Steven highlighted advancements in performance and interoperable standards being developed for Internet Explorer 9.  It was interesting to see the demonstration of delivering video to an iPhone using Silverlight Streaming given Steve Ballmer’s dislike of the iPhone.

The best advancement of the developer platform at PDC09 was the continued developments in Silverlight.  Silverlight 4 introduces support for drag/drop, right-click, print, media handling, clipboard, and rich text.  There is now support for the Google Chrome browser and extended out-of-browser capabilities.  I assume that Silverlight will become the common user interface technology in the future to support all 3 screens (PC, phone, TV).

The frustration of PDC09 was Windows Azure.  Azure has improved significantly (particularly with  SQL Azure) since it was first announced at last year’s PDC, but disappoints due to the lack of support for Virtual Machines and the business model for international organizations.

Given that most organizations have existing web applications that could benefit by moving them into the cloud, but the cost of redevelopment is not justifiable, then Virtual Machines are today’s low hanging fruit for cloud computing.  Microsoft said they will support Virtual Machines in Azure at a future date; however this is something already available from competitor cloud offerings.

The Azure business model for companies outside of the United States is not as competitive as it should be.  For instance, my organization resides in Australia and we currently use Amazon Web Services S3 for customer downloads.  The cost of storage today using S3 is AUD$0.161 (USD$0.15 * 1.07) per GB whereas the Azure cost of storage will be AUD$0.188 (USD$0.15 * 1.25) per GB, being 17% more expensive.  The cost of data transfer out today using S3 is AUD$0.182 (USD$0.17 * 1.07) per GB whereas the Azure cost of data transfer out will be AUD$0.188 (USD$0.15 * 1.25) per GB, being 3% more expensive.  Furthermore, Australian organizations are excluded from the initial go-live date of January 2010 and must wait until April 2010.  Microsoft got poor publicity in the media on their pricing of Windows 7 in Australia, and really has no excuse using a segmented regional based business model when the cloud is a borderless global based business model.

The hidden gem of PDC09 was the overview and demonstration of the Microsoft Semantic Engine.  The Semantic Engine unifies search, structured querying, and analytics over structured and unstructured data.  This will componentize this fragmented technology space, enabling developers to provide business insights into data to support better decision-making.  It goes beyond existing components like Lucene by supporting both text and non-text, such as audio, video, and images.

These are my thoughts after attending PDC09 over the past 4 days and I look forward to trialling the new betas.

Innovative Use of Technology

September 22, 2009

Today, QSR International was announced the Australian winner of the 2009 Dell Small Business Excellence Award.  There were more than 150 entries for the award and 10 highly innovative finalists.  The award recognizes innovative use of information technology to better serve customers, improve the customer experience, better manage business operations, improve the success of the business, and create a competitive advantage.

Shown: D. Harrigan (Dell), A. Long (QSR International), J. Owen (QSR International), G. Newey (Excom)

Shown Left to Right: D. Harrigan (Dell), A. Long (QSR International), J. Owen (QSR International), G. Newey (EXCOM)

Finalists were invited to submit a 3 minute video for the judges, which can be viewed below.

QSR International develops the world’s leading qualitative data analysis software (NVivo) and uses the software to better understand our customers.  Using NVivo to analyze our customer needs has resulted in direct improvements to our software and how we interact with our customers.  NVivo enables analysis to be undertaken on a range of data types; including rich text, audio, video, and pictures.  This allowed for evidence to be collected, and decisions to be made based on qualitative data (such as interviews, focus groups, and open-ended surveys), rather than relying solely on more traditional quantitative data (such as multi-choice surveys) and personal bias.  I outline below some of the ways we use information technology to better serve our customers.

In 2007, we ran a beta test program for NVivo 8 involving beta testers located in 20 different countries.  The discussions were managed using online discussion forums and interactive webcasts, and the forum threads and digital recordings from the webcasts were analyzed using the beta version of NVivo 8, which provided an evidence based approach to understand and prioritize changes needed within the software prior to release, and ensured our customers were delighted with the final release.  For example, the granularity of audio or video that could be analyzed was reduced from one second to a tenth of a second to facilitate delineation of speech; the format of transcripts that could be imported was made to be more flexible to support other software; and the default view for photos was changed to match customer preference.

In 2008, we conducted an online survey with our existing and potential customers to better understand our market and their perceptions about NVivo 8.  Again, the survey results (predominately open-ended text responses) were analyzed using NVivo 8.  Analysis of the 2008 customer survey revealed that seven of our top 10 customer concerns were not about specific software features, but rather concerns such as increasing the availability of training, extending customer support hours, providing additional user resources, and localizing the software into new languages.  These findings identified business opportunities that were quickly implemented, and greatly assisted in prioritizing the scope for the next major software release.  The customer survey also revealed why our customers enjoy using NVivo; namely the ability to organize, query, and analyze their data; as well as the familiar user interface and flexibility of the software.

In addition, our online discussion forums facilitate regular dialogue between customers, and between us and our customers.  Sub-forums allow interactions amongst specialist groups such as authorized trainers of our software.  Interactive webcasts are also used to facilitate software demonstrations to potential customers across the globe, delivery of comprehensive online training, and personalized live technical support.

The benefit of having our own staff use our software to analyze customer feedback was that they were able to identify feature gaps and usability issues within the software because they were using it in a manner similar to our customers.  Our people were in the best position to ensure that feature gaps and usability issues were addressed by personally advocating their resolution.  For example, staff found transcription of audio or video within the software was frustrating because there was no automatic skip-back option when playing after pausing, or that the software’s auto-save feature would unintentionally disrupt the transcription process and result in the transcriber ‘losing their place’.  These issues were subsequently rectified as part of a service pack release.

The ability to collaborate with customers is paramount to ensure we explore innovative possibilities that result in outstanding software and services.  We’ve accomplished this by interacting with our global customer base through online technologies (forums and webcasts) and using our own software to analyze customer feedback.  This has enabled us to prioritize future software development to address customer desires and expectations.  It does not end here, but rather begins here.

To finish, I quote Michael Dell, Dell Chairman and CEO

Almost 25 years ago, as a small business, we introduced the direct model with a singular focus on listening to customers and working hard to get them exactly what they need. Listening and delivering on behalf of customers has been instrumental in our growth. Our partnerships give us an opportunity to highlight the successes of today’s small businesses around the world.

How my Interest in Computers Started

September 7, 2009

Many people have asked me how I got into Information Technology.  This blog post recounts where my interest in computers started.

In 1983, at the age of 11, I received my first computer as a gift from my Uncle.  The computer was a Sinclair ZX80 which had a 3.25MHz Z80 CPU and 1KB of memory.  I used a small black and white television to tune the computer’s UHF video signal.  I studied the manual on the syntax of Sinclair BASIC and typed in programs from the ZX Computing magazine I bought from the local news-agency.  The computer did not have a storage device, so any programs I typed in could not be saved.  It was this computer that sparked my interest in computers and reading various computer magazines about the advances in new computer systems and the latest software being released inspired me to learn more.

Sinclair ZX80

Sinclair ZX80

In 1984, I got my first job as a paperboy delivering the The Herald newspaper after school.  I saved up $449 to buy an Amstrad CPC464 which had a 4Mhz Z80 CPU, 64KB of memory, a built-in cassette tape desk, and a green screen monitor.  I studied the manual on the syntax of Locomotive BASIC and typed in programs from the magazine The Amstrad User.  More excitingly at the time, I purchased many games on tapes – including the titles Boulder Dash, Commando and Sorcery.

Amstrad CPC464

Amstrad CPC464

In 1985, I commenced High School which had a computer laboratory containing four Apple IIe computers.  The Apple IIe had a 1MHz 6502 CPU, 64KB of memory, an external 5.25 inch floppy disk drive, and a color monitor.  Me and two friends gained the trust of the school janitor and obtained after hours access to the computer laboratory where I self taught myself to program using DOS 3.3 and created several graphical demos.  The ability to save programs on disk made it significantly easier to learn to program.  I even convinced my English teacher to allow me to write my English papers in the computer laboratory, though my intent was to write my papers quickly and spend the rest of the time playing games.  I also made friends with a senior student who had an Apple IIe at home and he would lend me games – including the titles Aztec, Hard Hat Mack, and Wizardry.

Apple IIe

Apple IIe

In 1986, I sold off my Amstrad CPC464 to buy the improved Amstrad CPC6128 which had a 4Mhz Z80 CPU, 128KB of memory, a built-in 3 inch floppy disk drive, and a color monitor.  My familiarity with Locomotive BASIC and the ease of saving and loading programs on disk got me really interested in developing software.  I sketched out several game concepts on paper and drew game sprites using graph paper.  I ended up developing an arcade isometric maze game and a turn-based 3D dungeon game.  I also played some great games – including the the titles Barbarian, Elite, and Ikari Warriors.

Amstrad CPC6128

Amstrad CPC6128

In 1988, I got a summer job working at the local toy-shop assembling bicycles for Christmas.  I saved up $999 to buy a Commodore Amiga 500 which had a 7.1MHz 68000 CPU, 512MB of memory, and a built-in 3.5 inch floppy disk drive.  Whereas the previous computers were all 8-bit computers, the Amiga was a 16-bit computer that had dedicated chips for graphics and sound.  I never really learnt how to program the Amiga, as the availability and quality of software was incredible, including the titles Bards Tale, Bubble Bobble, Fusion Paint, Kindwords Word Processor, and Test Drive.  The Amiga was the first computer I bought additional hardware peripherals for, including a memory expansion card and a dot-matrix printer.

Commodore Amiga 500

Commodore Amiga 500

It was not until I finished High School and went to university to study computing that I got further into developing software, and it has been for the IBM PC platform ever since.  If you are interested in home computing from the 1980s I recommend reading the UK magazine Retro Gamer.

Role of the Chief Technology Officer

August 27, 2009

Given the title of my Blog ‘Chief Technology Officer’s Blog’ – I thought it would be a good idea to briefly explore it’s namesake.

The role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is one of the least defined and understood corporate executive roles (such as CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, etc).  The role has been gaining prominence in many organizations, as witnessed with the newly created position of Chief Technology Officer of the United States.  This can be attributed to the growing impact of technology on both organizations and society, and highlights an expansion of focus beyond Research and Development to broader Competitive Strategy.

According to Wikipedia

A chief technical officer or chief technology officer (abbreviated as CTO) is an executive position whose holder is focused on scientific and technical issues within an organization.  Essentially, a CTO is responsible for the transformation of capital – be it monetary, intellectual, or political – into technology in furtherance of the company’s objectives.

The size and type of the organization heavily influences the responsibilities of a CTO.  For instance, a small technology company would involve more hands-on technical responsibilities than a large financial services company, which would involve more responsibilities associated with technology standards and integration.

Where the roles of CTO and CIO coexist within an organization, the CTO is typically responsible for the company’s technology direction (R&D) with a focus on commercialization outcomes, whereas the CIO is typically responsible for the company’s business systems supporting the flow of information.

The white paper The Role of the CTO: Four Models for Success written by Tom Berray and Ray Sampath provides interesting insight into the role of the CTO based on discussions with hundreds of CIOs and CTOs.  It proposes a model that dissects the CTO role based on organizational needs, as follows:

CTO Role By Organizational Needs

CTO Role By Organizational Needs

The white paper then identifies and ranks 10 business requirements and processes needed for each of the CTO models, which I have represented visually below:
[Green = High, Yellow = Medium, Orange = Low]

Identify new technologies

1. Identify new technologies

Exploit new technologies

2. Exploit new technologies

Integrate new technologies

3. Integrate new technologies

Leverage technology across business units

4. Leverage technology across business units

Drive the business strategy

5. Drive the business strategy

Drive revenues

6. Drive revenues

Reduce costs

7. Reduce costs

Enhance client relationships

8. Enhance client relationships

Enhance communications and collaboration

9. Enhance communications and collaboration

Build out or leverage existing IT infrastructure

10. Build out or leverage existing IT infrastructure

I agree that an effective CTO needs to perform each of these 10 business requirements and processes to a varying degree depending on organizational needs.  Out of interest, I rated the perceived needs of my organization against these 10 business requirements and processes, and found the closest match for my role of CTO to be ‘Visionary & Operations Manager’, closely followed by ‘External-Facing Technologist’.

To finish, I quote Barak Obama in his 2008 plan Science, Technology, and Innovation for a New Generation where he announced the need to appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer

Revolutionary advances in information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and other fields are reshaping the global economy.  Without renewed efforts, the United States risks losing leadership in science, technology and innovation.