One of the features of Connections (or Smartcloud Engage) is that each person can post a status update. As often as they like. Or not. That's pretty common stuff.
But in a business context, we're not sharing cat videos. (Though some of us can't resist posting links to a particularly relevant Dilbert cartoon.) At IBM we've been challenged to "work out loud". I find it interesting to see what the people in my network are up to, and enjoy skimming over those posts once or twice a day.
So, I try to work out loud too. I might post what I plan to work on that day. Brag about small (or large) client victories. Tell short funny stories. Request help finding an answer to a question.
Recently I posted a question asking if a really cool little application I had seen demoed on Connections was available for SmartCloud. I had a SmartCloud client who could use that app yesterday.
Much to my surprise, our General Manager, Alistair Rennie, commented on my post, tagging a couple executives to comment on would this be possible, and if so when. Clearly, he thought this was a good idea.
I was staggered. I'd forgotten that Alistair was in my network. Before we had "follow" in Connections, he'd challenged everyone in the business to invite him to our Network, and I had.
The app I'd asked about isn't available YET...but I got my answer, and I know that my GM actually read my status update. That alone was a morale boost. It took Alistair mere seconds to read and respond to my post -- but I felt great about that interaction, and it's visible to everyone in my network. That was better than an email message, any day!
Another IBM executive told me recently that he finds it's not the posts of the people he works with every day that he finds valuable. After all, he knows what they are doing already. It's the posts of the people outside his work group that give him a new perspective, alert him to problems and, more importantly, to opportunities. The time he takes to grow his network and skim the status updates feed is worth it.
Working out loud. Worth it!
It can be hard to unravel IT mysteries, and if it's not getting in the way of getting important work done, sometimes even IBMers let mysteries lie.
Back in August, my connection to my blog broke. I couldn't get to the blog authoring tool, instead getting an evil "Not allowed to Route through that Server' message. Usually that means an IP address changed, so I micro-blogged my problem in Connections. I got some suggestions from my network, but other people had the same connection document I did, and weren't having the problem.
I searched in Connections, and couldn't find anything relevant in the first page or two of results. I used Expertise Locator on my SmartPhone to find someone on the Developerworks team -- found lots of people, but none of them had a job title that seemed like they'd know how to solve my problem.
Writing my blog, while fun, isn't that important to the mission of supporting clients moving to SmartCloud Notes, so I let the mystery alone for a while.
Today, I finally cracked open my Notes archive from 2009, searched my All Documents for the word "Developerworks" and found my expert's name. In a two minute Sametime chat, I was up and running again. (Yes, the IP address HAD changed).
The moral of the story: Sometimes those really old emails can be useful. Long live the Local Archive!
My family made the switch to smartphones last month, finally. It was time for me to have one to stay in touch with work, the 17 year old was going to be away from home for the summer, we had two birthdays coming up. The end result is that everyone in our household has an iphone 5.
The two teenagers busily spent the next day getting their phones set up the way they wanted. I haven't seen them look this happy with a birthday present in years. They were laughing, and showing each other new discoveries, and asking to buy apps. Us adults weren't quite so fast to pick up on things -- our 14 year old kept taking the phone out of our hands and showing us how to use it more efficiently. They also made fun of my otterbox.
All was going pretty well, or at least I thought it was. I was still playing around with notifications, bar code and QR readers, installing work apps and play apps, but I felt pretty competent with the phone. Business as usual here we go.
One of my clients had a big rollout happening starting on a Sunday evening, and while everything seemed to be going very well as Australia and Asia came in on their Monday morning, I wanted to be available. I turned off my scheduled "do not disturb between 11 pm and 6 am" and left my phone on the dresser as we went to bed.
At 1:30 in the morning suddenly there was a quacking noise from my dresser. Coming up out of a sound sleep there was definitely a lot of "What the heck is THAT?" in our bedroom. I grabbed my phone and looked at it....the only notification was of some new email. Well, that comes in day and night, and Marimba is my email notification, so why was the phone QUACKING?
I looked at the new emails that had come in over the previous hours, checked for texts (nothing), checked the call history (nothing), checked my notification sound choices, decided it was a mystery and went back to bed.
4:30, it happened again. This time I turned do not disturb on before going back to bed.
I never really got back to sleep. At 5:30 I picked up the smartphone, entered my 8 digit password (thank you IBM security, sigh)...and instantly the darn thing started quacking at me.
It sounds like a Holmes mystery...the smartphone that quacked in the night!
I finally turned off just about every notification there was, rebooted the phone, and then slowly began turning notifications back on, one by one. I still do not know what piece of incoming data caused the phone to start using a tone I hadn't set. I haven't heard it again. But if it comes back, I'll set the 14 year old on the hunt. That'll fix it.
The IBM I joined in 2003 was password happy. Within weeks of assimilation into Big Blue I had created a file to keep all my password triads in: application/username/password. Everything was different -- some applications limiting you to 6 characters, other demanding 8 characters. Some required numbers; some only accepted alphabetic characters. I know the security people say to never write down a password -- but the choice was write down the passwords in a safe place or spend all my time on the phone with IBM HELP to get my passwords reset after I was locked out. I chose the productive work time.
During this past decade, the IBM CIO has been working on an ambitious single-sign on initiative. Most IBM password protected software asks an IBMer for their email address and their intranet password, which makes everything much easier!
That said, there are still some exceptions. So when a client tells me their users are unhappy that they have a Lotus Notes password, a SmartCloud Notes web password, and a Sametime password, I can sympathize. It's annoying, absolutely. And yes, single sign on ought to be cheap and easy (it rarely is either cheap or easy to implement). But there is something the end users can do to stay sane: try to have only one password for everything.
Most IBMer passwords expire every 90 days. Always at the worst possible time (of course). So here is what the IBMers I know do as a best practice:
1) on the first password expiration warning from anything, change the pickiest password. For us, that's the Lotus Notes password. It's the pickiest about the rules for password strength and repeating a password (more or less never). If I can make Lotus Notes happy with a new password, all other IBM applications will accept the new password.
2) Change the intranet password to match the new Lotus Notes password.
3) Change the laptop/PGP login and the VPN login to match the new password
4) Change any saved passwords that rely on any of these (like Sametime automatic logins)
5) Record the new password in a password file (which is encrypted, of course!) And if you're really absent minded, put it on a piece of paper locked in a safe place.
6) Go back to work...if anything important got missed, it will be apparent soon enough.
This week our CIO sprung a surprise on us, that I'm sure they thought we'd love. They integrated IBMer SmartCloud accounts with our intranet login, giving us one less password to remember and manage.
Which was fine, except 1) it was a surprise and 2) it broke our connection to SmartCloud Sametime from our Sametime rich clients.
I was amazed how many people popped up a question about this in their micro-blog status. One co-worker from SmartCloud Operations micro-blogged a link to an internal article about the change. In response, he got a number of comments to his micro-blog -- including my complaint that I use SmartCloud Sametime to make myself available to my clients, and now it's broken.
Before end of day he had taken the complaints and comments to the CIO, and was back with an answer. It wasn't a great answer (temporarily for SmartCloud Sametime use the web client -- which times out, grrrr). Still, that was FAST. Change that morning, user feedback and CIO response before EOD. Connections micro-blogs allowed me to immediately socialize my pain point in using a key client-facing tool, and get the information where it could do the most good.
Often when I search IBM's internal Connections, one of the first things that pops up in the results is someone's micro-blog post. A lot of corporate knowledge is being shared, and it's available with a few key-clicks in a search box.
Periodically IBMers get an email reminding them to know how to reach their manager, and to make sure their manager knows how to reach them, in case there is an emergency. The managers dutifully gather up contact information -- cell and home phone numbers and home addresses -- and share them upward. When I was a manager I used to carry around a spreadsheet in my purse. IBM, like many companies, has a disaster response plan. Step one in that plan is to find out if any IBMers need help, and that is the manger's job.
I was reminded of this the day of the Boston Marathon Bombing. We were on our way home from a long weekend away. We had just found out about the bombing, and were in a state of shock and anger and fear -- a combination of "I've been there other years -- that could have been me", and "who did I know who was going to be there today?" and "thank God our son is in New Orleans or he would have been there" and "who could have done this, and why?"
My cell phone rang, and I instantly knew it would be my manager. She was checking in on all her employees in Massachusetts (she lives in Pennsylvania) and was able to tell me my immediate co-workers were all okay. Less than two hours after the bombing, managers were reaching out to all IBMers known to be in the area. Since our largest software lab is in Massachusetts, that was a lot of people. It was also school vacation week, so many people were away, including managers. For an event like the marathon it's not just who lives in the area, but also people who might be running or supporting a runner. It took quite a while before we got the the "all clear, no IBMers need help" message.
In 10 years I've seen IBM do this for earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes. I've gotten the "are you okay?" phone call several times. I don't know what would happen if I said "No, I need help!", but I have every confidence that my manager would be finding out what I needed, and working with other IBMers to get me help from people on the ground -- the Red Cross, emergency services, whatever would be appropriate.
Sometimes the good old fashioned phone tree is darn useful. Which reminds me.....there's a new manager in my reporting chain and I ought to program his phone number into my cell phone......
This week I had an afternoon without any client meetings, so I decided to go install Notes 9 aka Notes Social Edition, as I'm seeing rave reviews from my network on my Connections Home page.
Part of what keeps IBMer's technically sharp is doing a significant amount of our own IT work, so I rolled up my sleeves and started the install.
First, the screen asking me for my intranet password wasn't coming to front, and I couldn't figure out why the install wasn't starting. Duh.
Once I figured that out, I then realized this was going to take a while, so I brought out my backup laptop and started it up. Well, whoops, hadn't run that in a while...needed lots of mandatory updates. And draft, I HAVE to encrypt the hard drive, not an option to skip it any longer. Well, at least I could run Sametime while this was all going on, so people could ping me.
Meanwhile, on my primary laptop, the Notes 9 install was going along fine...and then it failed....something about not being able to start the java virtual machine. So I removed it, rebooted the machine, and tried again, since that was listed as the first thing to try. Well darn, didn't fix it.
I had to give up, as I had meetings coming up. So I re-installed Notes 8.5.3 to get myself operational. Okay, no problem, up and running.
Except now Sametime won't start. I've un-installed it, and done a clean re-install. No luck. This is probably due to funkiness left over from when I was on the Sametime team, installing daily builds. Thank heavens I have the option of running Sametime in my Notes client, because that one works.
The moral of the story is that even IBM, who actually has great internal IT procedures, has trouble with individual desktops. I've entered my help ticket to get my Sametime fixed, and reported the Notes installation bug (with zip files full of logs). Hopefully I'll get Notes 9 up soon, cause it looks really cool!
As an IBMer, it's been interesting watching the media and social media reaction to Yahoo's work-from-home ban. It's a debate that every technology company has, occasionally swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the other, in order to tweak some aspect of the local culture. Most of the time you never hear about it, unless it happens to you or your friends.
Every time recently when I've heard about one of these "back to the office" initiatives, research studies are quoted showing how collaboration and innovation are more likely to happen when people work within 50 feet of each other. After the management meeting, the unofficial word on the grapevine is usually "Google makes everyone come into the office."
And that's the crux of it -- every now and then a company is widely admired, and then other businesses in the same area try to emulate that company's culture. It's why "In Search of Excellence" continues to sell so well. The only problem is, culture doesn't transplant very well.
IBM swings the pendulum on the office or home emphasis too. A decade ago, IBM figured out that we could save a lot of money on real estate if we set up people as at home workers, and suddenly I knew dozens of people who had an office location listed as "HOME". Then IBM built our Littleton, Massachusetts site, our largest Software Lab in North America. People were so used to working from home that some of them didn't bother coming in to unpack their boxes. So an "in the office 5 days a week" mandate was imposed -- which was tough on the folks with long commutes, especially on Friday afternoons.
The mandate did fill up the parking lot and the cafeteria. After a time I stopped hearing the grumbling, and noticed the parking lot was awfully empty on Friday afternoons -- but very full every other day of the week. The mandate had done its job -- it reset the social conventions to make the office a place people wanted to come, to see people and reinforce that social glue.
The best is to have both -- an office, with great people in it so you WANT to be there, and the flexibility to work from home when that's the best thing to do. Sometimes giving up commute time is the only way to fit everything into a 24 hour day. You don't HAVE to have an office to Collaborate -- but it's darn nice to have the option.
Ten years ago today, IBM completed the acquisition of Rational Software and I became an IBMer.
In those ten years, I changed brands, moving from Rational to Lotus. I have worked in Development, Support, and Services. I got my PMP certification, took a client facing role for the first time, and have worked with people on every continent except Antarctica.
IBM's a big company, but a culture of trust binds it together. One of the things we were told when we first joined the company is that there are no rules, only guidelines. If someone tells you "that's a rule" and you've got a good business reason why it shouldn't be, then you do the right thing. Get management support first if you can, but if it's not unethical or illegal, and you're confident it's the right thing, then do the right thing.
Early on I had an example of that. Our local Rational office was a small office building, and we had a tradition -- the candy dish. Every day at 2 p.m. a candy dish was put out in the break room with a variety of candies. Bite size candies. Hershey's kisses. Sour balls. It varied every day. Almost everyone came by to scope out the candy, see if one of their favorites was there, and grab a piece. It was a natural gathering spot. Lots of collaboration got done there. A volunteer purchased it, put it out each day, and submitted expense reports.
After we were assimilated into IBM the question arose...what about the candy dish? Well, our acquisition executive was no dummy. The candy dish continued.
About a year later, the candy queen (who reported to me at the time) came into my office upset. She'd had a call from auditing, and they told her we couldn't do the candy dish any more. It violated a contract with our vending machine vendor, who had the exclusive rights to provide candy to US IBM sites.
I called the auditor back, and we had a conversation. He explained about the exclusive contract with the vendor. I explained that this was a key part of our local culture. It was especially important during our assimilation in IBM that we keep that touch point going, to strengthen the social glue. And since the local norm was nobody could take more than two small pieces of candy, it was not really competing with the vending machine. With no cafeteria in the building, that vending machine got plenty of traffic.
He listened, and then he came up with a solution that would do the right thing by our employees and keep our expense reports from being flagged for auditing. We should re-submit our expense report for the candy, and label it "break room supplies" from now on.
It was my first example of IBMers doing the right thing, but by no means the last. Happy Anniversary Rational! And hey, is there still a candy dish?
Ten years ago I worked in a small office building, in a "face time" culture, and we worked business hours except during crunch time. During crunch time it was stay late, and come in on weekends. If you didn't come into the office you had to have a darn good reason -- like being sick or having a sick kid. Only the managers had teleconference numbers.
Now I live in e-meetings and on the phone, have two on-demand e-meetings and two on-demand teleconference numbers. Most days I go into the office (the largest IBM Software Lab in North America) even though almost everyone I work with is somewhere else -- including my clients. Today I had a 7 am meeting, to talk with a colleague in Germany. Sometimes I end up on the phone talking with my client in Hawaii at 10 pm at night.
I've started working with a new client, with a new set of IBM Services teammates. We're in the design and plan phase of an engagement that will take us through most of the year. Which means one heck of a lot of document generation and fact finding.
Today I got pinged by Sametime by our Solution Architect -- he needed to know a fact. Where is the SmartCloud Enterprise datacenter in Germany. It begins with an E. Did I know? Well, no I didn't remember that from the presentation I saw last summer, but I told him to let me poke for 10 minutes and I'd get back to him.
First I googled. Found lots of IBM marketing literature, but no details about where our cloud data centers were located. Yeah, I know, it's the cloud, location doesn't matter, doesn't need to be in the marketing literature.
Second, I tried to find that presentation in my email archive. Nope, don't even remember when I saw it, so that was a no go. I wasn't even sure I ever got emailed a copy, so not worth spending any more time.
Next, I did a search on the IBM intranet. Nothing on the first page of results was relevant. I was hopeful for a few minutes when I found sales training on SmartCloud Enterprise; the first few documents had nothing on locations. I was thinking of pinging some of the "experts" listed on the side of the page, but they were all in Europe and this was Friday afternoon US time. Nobody online.
Finally, I noticed a third search box on our main intranet page. Search Communities. We have an unbelievable number of internal IBM Connections communities, created by IBMers to share all kinds of information. Well, what the heck. Why not?
First try, first search item.. forum question "Where are the SmartCloud data centers?" And the posted answer had a complete list...with mailing addresses no less.
Wow. In 13 minutes I had the answer for our architect. (There are time stamps in our Sametime chat.) If I'd been smart enough to search our Communities first it would have been 1 minute. Note to self, search Communities first next time.