Archive of 2013 May

5 Challenges to Keeping Your IT Systems Updated

How important are your IT systems? Can you say "Mission Critical?"

The ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), MRP/CRP (Manufacturing and Capacity Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems make up the financial heart and operational nerve center of your organization.

These applications directly support your core business.

What challenges do you face when trying to make sure each one is up to date?

1. Multiple Applications - Your company may have chosen to pursue a “best-of-breed” policy, where the financials (General Ledger, Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Fixed Assets, etc) are from one vendor while the human resources / manufacturing / distribution / and other complex applications may be from multiple different vendors. Management may have “drunk the kool-aid” from one of the major vendors (SAP or Oracle for example) and opted for only one application vendor. This can still pose significant challenges due to the complexity and number of moving parts involved in those applications.

2. Resource Constraints - In the real world, what organization applies all of the patches and updates from all the significant vendors every month?

Answer: No one.

You apply items that are required for legal compliance and fixes for issues that actually have impact on your use of the software. The testing and certification processes just take too long. So you make a change when there is a new major release with significant added functionality, or when you need to transition from an old release that’s going off support.

3. Risk Exposure - What happens if you skip or delay applying a specific patch? In some cases, the risk may appear to be trivial. Financial statements or inventory reports going out a day late may cause embarrassment. But delayed parts replenishment to the shop floor could cause late deliveries and significant customer dissatisfaction. Incorrectly routed shipments that don’t account for new freight tariffs will have a serious financial impact. The consequences can be huge.

4. Upgrading Complexity - Even staying with the same vendor (Oracle/SAP/PeopleSoft/JDE/?) and just applying changes can be a daunting project. The task of applying all the updates to the primary vendor’s products, then potentially making changes to operating systems or third party products used in house, and updating inbound and outbound interfaces (real time and batch) can be overwhelming.

5. Testing Requirements - Even if there haven’t been major architectural changes, you will be testing, testing and testing again. You won’t be able to “go-live” until all the appropriate testing is completed. This in itself is a major undertaking. You need to set up the baseline environment, define the key variables, run the process, collect the results and repeat. All tests have to be done correctly, mirroring the actual production business cycle and documented to prove to auditors that the process was carried out properly. Then you have to make sure you can produce the testing results to close the loop on the entire process.

But don’t despair.

There are approaches and tools to help address these challenges.

-     Product or Application life cycle management

-     Application patch/upgrade management

-     Risk Assessment (Business project prioritization

-     Test management tools.

Which of these tools does your organization use? What else do you do to help reduce uncertainty and risk?

How to Manage and Analyze Big Data

Humans produce about 2.5 qunitillion bytes of new information every day. In fact, we've produced more data in the past two years than throughout history. This brings new challenges to businesses, governments and organizations charged with collecting this data, storing it, analyzing it, managing it and acting on it. Here's an overview of what big data is, what has to be done with it and how this information is used.

Big Data Defined

The definition of big data changes, because it is defined as the amount of data that becomes difficult to manage, and newer, better technologies for storing and analyzing data are always being developed. Some companies might have trouble managing a few dozen terabytes of information, and others might not have trouble until databases reach several petabytes. Any modern database would consider an exabyte or more of information to be big data.

How much information is this? One character equals one byte of information. A kilobyte equals 1,024 characters, or bytes. A megabyte equals 1,048,576 bytes. A gigabyte equals 1,073,741,824 characters. A terabyte equals 1,099,511,627,776 bytes. A petabyte equals 1,125,899,906,842,624 bytes, and an exabyte equals 1,152,921,504,606,846,976 bytes of information.

Scientists estimate that humans are capable of storing up to 295 exabytes of information, assuming we filled every floppy disk, hard drive, X-ray chip, microchip and other data storage device on earth. If you were to put this much data on CDs and stack them on top of each other, the stack would reach the moon.

Where Does Big Data Come From?

Where is all this data coming from, and why are we getting so much more data than ever before? Big data comes from many sources, including (but not limited to):

These are all forms of unstructured data. In other words, unless this data is analyzed it is formless, meaningless and we can't do anything with it. Unstructured data is different from structured data, such as names, addresses and phone numbers, which is pretty straightforward to read and analyze.

How is Big Data Used?

As you can see, the types of data we accumulate varies tremendously, so the uses for this data is also quite diverse. Some of the data can be used to identify and prevent crimes like fraud, terrorism and identity theft.

For example, if Tommy Jones usually does all his shopping in Omaha, Nebraska and he normally buys groceries, video games and carry-out pizza, his bank (and Homeland Security) might have some questions if he suddenly appears in Flagstaff, Arizona stocking up on rifles, ammunition and fertilizer.

Other ways we can use this data include (but aren't limited to):

As you can see, some of this data has to be analyzed pretty quickly in order to be effective. It won't do us much good when we find out Tommy's identity was stolen by a terrorist and used to buy weapons and bomb-making supplies after the terrorist has already struck his targets.

We need to know this within hours, if not minutes.

Challenges of Managing Big Data

It puzzles us when we learn someone already had information to prevent a problem and didn't act on it. What we often don't understand is the sheer volume of information coming in and what it takes to analyze that data and make it useful in time to be effective. Here are some of the challenges big data centers face in analyzing data for useful information:

The smaller the company, the more difficult it is to implement the proper technology and analysts to make sense of data within budget. Before going silent and unrecognized, older companies have challenges because their databases often aren't compatible with new data analytics technologies. In this economy, every size organization thinks twice before investing millions of dollars into gathering, storing and analyzing huge amounts of data.

Challenges of Analyzing Big Data

There are several new technologies helping us make sense of big data quickly and efficiently, including NoSQL databases, Hadoop and MapReduce. Industry experts identify the four dimensions of data analytics:

Perhaps the hardest of these four is veracity. One third of executives make decisions based on information they actually don't trust. It's relatively easy to develop technologies to find correlations and patterns in data, but more difficult to decide exactly what (if anything) these correlations and patterns actually mean.

In short, big data is all of the information we gather from all of the sources we have. The data is stored in databases, which vary in size. Most big data is housed in enormous data centers all over the world. As we develop new technologies to analyze this data, we're able to make it useful. We can use this information to create more effective advertising campaigns, get more accurate weather and climate information, protect us from thieves and terrorists and much more.

Aside from the physical and technological challenges managing big data presents, the issue of security is on the forefront of everyone's minds. How can we keep all this information out of the wrong hands while distributing it to people who can use it for good? What will the world be like when our entire lives are available to businesses, banks, the government and insurance companies in a single click? Only the future can tell us for sure.

References:

http://www.teradata.com/business-needs/Big-Data-Analytics/

http://searchbusinessanalytics.techtarget.com/definition/big-data-analytics

http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/

http://www.jamesshuggins.com/h/tek1/how-big.htm

http://www.sas.com/big-data/

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2011/02/11/information-overload-quantified-humanity-can-store-295-exabytes-of-data/#.UNMbCHffVaw

Cloud Management – 3+ Things You Might Not Have Thought About

Today, cloud computing makes it possible to rethink the established partnership between business and IT - flashing time-to-market, economies of scale, on-demand infrastructure, etc. Cloud computing has become a viable alternative to the current bricks-and-mortar-based method of managing IT, often making it more productive and agile.

Don't underestimate, though, the constraints of cloud management. Traditional IT infrastructure management has been mostly focused on server management - buying servers, monitoring servers, troubleshooting servers. Cloud automation, on the other hand, has to bring together three technologies to work harmoniously in a highly structured, shared and global functioning environment.

1.Web-based systems and applications that require large volumes of data. This increasingly growing demand for data usages and analysis – “Big Data”– requires expanding storage capacity and accurate service delivery.

2.Physical and virtualized machines that host services and applications. These farms of servers need to be up and running and financially under control, involve more and more dedicated effort on innovation and scalability to align their capacity with effective consumption.

3.The underlying infrastructure which includes network equipment and all connectivity systems. There the crux of the matter is about allowing the bandwidth to the right data flux between data centers.

Together, these three dimensions design a single infrastructure where IT services can be seen and operated as global value chains. In this perspective, getting the right value is all about getting the right resource capacity, at the right time.

As in every industry, IT involves many parties working together to deliver products and services. Similarly to a physical supply chain where warehouse capacity has to be correctly sized; where machines and engines need to operate promptly and get the things done without any waste; where road, traffic, and all physical flows of products and goods are critical; IT has to manage closely the performance and capacity management of all resources involved in a cloud environment.

Traditional application, network and system operations have created dedicated expertise and opaque silos where everyone hopes that the job is being done right on the other side. Today‘s cloud-based solution force IT to think global and business-oriented.

Managing Cloud Capacity in 3D

How to anticipate on capacity needs and shut the light when resources are no longer needed? How to manage all three dimensions all together as in a global value chain? How to take the capacity management process to the next maturity level? Applying a dedicated approach to these things allows organizations to identify and plan the roadmap to optimize benefits and gain achievable savings.

Step 1: Establish an “as-is” infrastructure capacity assessment. This step enables visibility on utilization and saturation of the physical infrastructures, virtual and cloud (servers and network) for a given period of time. The key here is to start analyzing the right metrics, defining optimum specification limits and building scenarios.

Step 2: Implement a continuous performance and capacity monitoring perspective. This implies to permanently adapt IT equipment and implies to target a global infrastructure based on service understanding, application performance and service level agreements.

Step 3: Apply prediction modeling to align your network policies with future business requirements, and ensure that your business capacity needs meet the capacity planning investment. Mature capacity management is about predictability - knowing that the IT infrastructure can cope with the foreseen business activity is mission critical.

Capacity can’t be properly managed without a proper capacity management information system. Take advantage of performance and optimization tools, such as ORSYP's Sysload and Streamgroomer, to gain insight of your cloud environment. Alternatively, a server capacity assessment, based on technology and real metrics, will provide necessary insight without technology acquisition.

If the sky’s the limit, clouds will fly high if global performance and capacity are managed!

The First Two Steps to an Updated IT System

In a recent post, I outlined five challenges to keeping your ERP, MRP and CRM systems up to date. Don't despair. There are ways to overcome those challenges. Today, I want to discuss two of them.

1. Application Lifecycle Management.

Lifecycle Management has always been a thorny topic. Quickly scan the Wiki entry and you'll find 17 different subcategories and 56 different products for ALM. Major vendors such as CA, HP, IBM and Microsoft have products and there are many others including open-source tools. Some of these tools manage applications that were created and maintained using a specific development tool (Rational, Visual Studio....). Others are more flexible and apply to a wider environment (CollabNet, FogBugz....). Before you decide which one you'll use, you need to match your CURRENT developmental environment while considering how you PLAN on doing development in the next 4-5 years. Ideally, your choice will avoid duplication of functionality (different tool for managing Rational development vs C++ for example) since coordinating the use of multiple tools requires significant manual effort. The choices are even more difficult because the standards in this area are still evolving and the marketplace hasn't consistently adopted those standards that are more mature. One thing is clear. The more closely you're able to adhere to accepted standards (such as UML), the greater the chances that your ALM program will be effective in the long run.

2. Application Patch/Upgrade Management.

This crucial function has always fallen into the "poor stepchild" category. To avoid this, your organization needs to have a standard process that defines required upgrades and outlines a specific schedule for when they'll be done. Establishing and communicating this standard is crucial. Documenting, assigning responsibility and demanding accountability for implementing this process are musts. This will help avoid the inevitable, last minute "fire fighting" that results from ignoring legally mandated and "mission critical" application changes. Many major applications (ERP/MRP/CRM/Retail...) have tools to assist in deploying patches/upgrades. Some vendors provide these tools under the umbrella of the support agreement while others charge separately. If a tool is available, use it. The application designers obviously think that patch management is important enough to automate. Believe them. The many interconnected systems and applications involved in the coordination of patches/upgrades can be "interesting." For example, if you need to upgrade SAP you'll likely have to upgrade your database, which can lead to an upgrade of your OS. Then you could discover that the Java version used in the new database is not compatible with other legacy applications, which creates additional complexity. Or you may find that other issues arise with complex applications (ERP/MRP/Retail/DataWarehousing) that can have hundreds of inbound and outbound interfaces. Many are generated by external organizations (customers, suppliers, others) that are running on their own schedules. Finally, depending on your environment, you may need to deploy patches across many servers nearly simultaneously. Buy you can't be distracted by this "cascading" effect. Devise a solid plan, get everyone to buy in, and execute. You may be forced to implement the process in multiple steps and phase the changes in over an extended period of time but staying focused and disciplined is the key. The issues are difficult but not insurmountable. Ultimately you'll find that fighting through the implementation pains is worth the peace of mind you'll have knowing that all your systems are up to date. What do you think? Have you implemented an Application Life Cyle Management program? Do you have a documented Patch/Upgrade Management Plan?

7 Ways to Streamline & Automate Your IT Department

Your company's ability to move forward is directly related to how well your IT department functions. IT should work like a finely tuned machine, but it's important to remember IT professionals are real people with real wants, needs, goals, and personalities. Here are five ways to improve how your IT department functions, which will translate into a better company.

1. Identify New Technologies

IT can't live up to today's expectations with the technology of yesterday. Companies who are still trying to do business with fax machines and pagers aren't going to be competitive much longer. To stay relevant, keep up with growing customer demands, and create processes to improve production, you need to know what technology is available and how you can use it.

If you're not sure what technologies and the capacity management your company needs, have your IT department do the research. Find the best hardware and software available, look for processes that might benefit from mobile technologies, and identify services to make the IT department and the company do business faster, cheaper, and easier.

2. Invest in the Right Tools

Once you know what technologies are available, it's important to budget and implement these as soon as possible. Arm your tech guys with the stuff they need to do a stellar job. This makes all the employees happy because their jobs are easier when the IT department gets the best tools up and running. This includes hardware upgrades, software upgrades, and newer, better business tools.

If your hardware and software packages are more than five years old, you'll be amazed at the power and efficiency of the newer versions. Don't make up the next budget until you've coordinated with the IT department and know what's available to make things run more smoothly.

3. Keep IT Informed on Production

Is your IT department isolated from the work process? If so, they can't help you much. Get IT involved. Let them see what employees do all day every day and you'll be surprised at how much they can help you streamline current processes and implement new strategies for more efficient work production. IT should be intimately aware of the duties of each job, current procedures of each job, and when those processes change.

This might involve having IT employees sit in with workers for a day to see how things operate. Once IT sees how the work is done, they can visualize how new technologies can help the process work better. Sometimes they can tweak the current process for better results; other times they might suggest upgrading products or services.

4. Get the Right Training

Most new hardware and software packages are powerful, but it takes learning to use them effectively and efficiently. The IT department needs to be trained on the hardware and software, preferably by the proprietor who developed it. IT also needs the same employee enrichment training offered to all the other employees. Better training means better people, and better people means a better product. This is equally true for widget manufacturers, insurance companies, and any other industries.

Training has an additional benefit: when companies invest in training, it helps employees feel valued. This means they work harder and do a better job for the company which holds them in such high regard. Video conferencing is an excellent way to allow all employees to attend training, conferences, and seminars without going over on the company's travel budget.

5. Automate Your Processes

How much of your IT processes is automated? Today, accounts receivable, payroll, inventory, and all other processes should be fully automated. Once automation is in place, it's easy for the IT department to keep everything running smoothly. Some companies choose to operate on site servers, others opt for a cloud server, and even more use a hybrid of these two. Either way, IT can keep things working well and make things secure once processes are automated.

This also eliminates the possibility that paperwork is lost or damaged in a physical disaster. Once documents, files, and data are automated, these can be backed up to an off site server. If the business is damaged or destroyed in a fire, earthquake, tornado, or flood, everything you need to set back up and continue operations is safely stored in another location.

6. Develop a Realistic Schedule

Are you depending on IT to back up systems and perform updates and maintenance "when they get a chance?" That's a recipe for disaster. Have the head of your IT department create a realistic, workable schedule for system maintenance, backing up databases, and updating all software packages. Once the schedule is established, hold them accountable for keeping it up.

In the IT world, emergencies happen. Make sure to have enough IT staff to keep scheduled maintenance, updates, and backups current even if much of the staff is tied up with a faulty server or problems with the network. Without adequate staffing, problems like this might mean overtime charges for the IT personnel.

7. Involve IT in Marketing Efforts

Digital, mobile, and online marketing are some of the fastest growing advertising venues and your IT department is your ticket there. Get your IT department active in your marketing campaigns so they can show you all the ways to tap into this rapidly growing market. Expanding 149 percent in a single year, mobile ads target demographic groups that are very hard to reach with other advertising mediums.

IT can help you launch new, creative ads to find markets you never dreamed of for your products or services. The more IT becomes involved in the business as a whole, the better they can serve you. As with training, involving IT in all aspects of the business makes them feel important and employees who feel valued work harder, faster, and better.

Managing an IT department requires the same skills as managing any other position. People skills, scheduling, and looking ahead toward the future goes a long way toward developing a streamlined department filled with happy employees doing a stellar job for your company.

Resources:

http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/ns339/ns640/networking_solutions_products_genericcontent0900aecd803e3825.html

http://www.comparebusinessproducts.com/briefs/cost-center-profit-center

http://allthingsd.com/20120418/mobile-ads-are-growing-fast-still-pretty-small/

Most In-Demand IT Certifications for 2014

What are the hottest, most in-demand certifications for this year? Not surprisingly, job candidates with certifications in security and cloud computing are hugely attractive to employers. But basic knowledge on systems planning, development, and maintenance are attractive to employers, too. Here are the certifications employers are most likely to pay you well for in 2013.

1. ITIL

An acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, the ITIL training offers four levels of distinction: Foundation, Intermediate, Expert, and Master. The certification involves learning how to identify, plan, deliver, and support an IT department. It focuses on how IT can be used to grow and develop the business. Professionals with the ITIL Foundation V3 will be able to improve services of the business, reduce operating costs for their employers, improve the company's customer satisfaction ratings, and increase the productivity of other departments.

2. CISSP

A Certified Information Systems Security Professional, or CISSP, has to have five years experience in at least two of ten domains to qualify. The exam covers all ten of the domains: The certification process ensures competence in managing risks inherent in doing business online, cloud computing security, mobile device security, and application development security.

3. A+

A+ is a more basic certification, and opens up job opportunities for IT professionals such as: The certification process covers basic PC maintenance, how to network to mobile devices, laptop computers, operating systems, printers, and general networking. In order to get A+ certified, candidates must take two exams. The certification is good for three years and continuing education classes and exams are necessary to retain the certification after that point.

4. MCSE

A Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert, or MCSE, is in demand worldwide. Jobs for working on the premises as well as jobs in cloud computing are open to bearers of this designation. There are several available MCSE certifications offered: Of course, you can take as many of these as you like. Every MCSE certification is valuable to employers and a candidate with multiple certifications is always going to stand ahead of those with only one or two designations.

5. MCITP

The Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional, or MCITP, certification doesn't require continuing education. These certifications are good as long as businesses continue to use the products. These certifications open up job opportunities for database administration, enterprise messaging administration, and many others. There are six possible MCITP certifications to choose from: As with MCSE certifications, it's recommended for job candidates to get as many of these certifications as possible to improve their desirability with employers.

6. Security+

Internationally recognized, the Security + certification is completely vendor neutral, which means it opens up job opportunities in any industry or company. The certification process requires two years experience in tech networking with an emphasis on security. It involves a 90 minute exam with no more than 100 questions. Questions are a mix of multiple choice and performance based questions. There are several areas of expertise tested in the certification exam, including:

7. PMP

Qualified project managers are a tremendous need for employers, making the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification very attractive. Having this certification allows job candidates to command a higher salary and opens job opportunities that wouldn't be available without it. In order to apply for PMP certification, you must have five years experience in project management with a diploma or associates degree, plus 7,500 hours directing a project and 35 hours of project management education. Applicants with a 4-year college degree, Bachelor's degree, or international equivalent need to have 4,500 hours leading projects plus 35 hours of project management education to qualify.

8. CCNA

The CCNA certification, or Cisco Certified Network Associate, is an entry-level certification for network engineers. Certified associates have a demonstrated ability to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot all medium-sized networks operating on routers or switches. This certification opens up job opportunities such as: In order to apply for CCNA certification, you must have one to three years of experience in the field of network engineering.

9. CCIE

Developed to establish an ultra elite group of Cisco networking professionals, the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, or CCIE certification, is held by only three percent of all Cisco professionals and only one percent of networking professionals. This makes bearers of this certification a truly elite group. The certification process involves a rigorous written exam and an intensive performance based lab test. The CCIE certification is recognized worldwide, making it a very flexible career tool.

10. RHCE

The RHCE certification (Red Hat Certified Engineer) involves demonstrating the mastery of the skills it takes to be a senior systems administrator. These professionals are capable of deploying and migrating Red Hat Enterprise Linus systems for their companies. Upon completion, those certified will be able to demonstrate these abilities: Even if employers don't list one of these certifications on the job requirements, each one has a proven track record of benefiting both the employee and the employer. It's never too early to begin accumulating certifications for your career and it's never too late, either. As technologies become more complex, certifications will be used more and more by employers to separate the serious professional from the rest of the resumes in the pile.

References:

http://h30565.www3.hp.com/t5/Feature-Articles/The-Top-IT-Certifications/ba-p/100 http://blogs.payscale.com/salary_report_kris_cowan/2010/03/it-certifications.html http://www.ehow.com/about_5394886_types-computer-certifications.html