How to convince a non technical CEO to think of IT

In a recent article in tech republic posted by Mark Schiller, he highlights the strategies that “make your CEO a massive tech advocate”, he highlights that Professor Ping Wang of the University of Maryland and his team identified the business impacts associated with the method and manner of adopting different types of technologies. In particular, they were able to demonstrate a very strong correlation between the adoption of “hip” or “fashionable” technologies and key business indicators. In other words, they found that companies that approached “hip” or “fashionable” IT in a particular manner enjoyed important business benefits.

Giving statistical facts, he continues to suggest that CEOs have a high tendency of investing in IT products that positively boost their image and reputation (i.e. fashion in this context). In my earlier blog post (On where things stand between Open Source and Closed Source systems), I had pointed out that executives are totally in a world of their own – A corporation’s investment decisions into IT tends to think technology in terms of ROI, not in terms of how its suppost to work. This is why they prefer to tag the reputation they have in IT to Apple or Microsoft. Apple and Microsoft makes more sense to their ROI, when it comes to compliance to established standards in IT their clients would trust them more if they wore fashion from Microsoft or Apple then if they wore fashion from corporations that have lesser impact in the IT space. In Mark’s article Mark continues to state that “A company’s association with hip IT correlated to an increase in the CEO’s pay. For every $1 million a company invested in fashionable tech, the CEO received a $45,000 bump in compensation, on average, the following year — REGARDLESS of how the company actually performed.”

Secondly, You need to align IT to what makes the clock in the CEO’s head tick. If the CEO wants to launch a PR / CSR campaign about AIDS, you are better off starting a conversation with your CEO about how you could “improve” the AIDS campaign through IT.

Look at it this way: When you go to a bank that offers Online Banking services, when it comes to banking and online security, would you prefer a bank that uses Cisco routers and technology gadgets over a bank that has its networks built on systems from smaller players? This is the same way corporates think about clients. If you tag your implementation to “fashionable IT” it will sell your IT strategy.

I guess this answers your question then 🙂

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Lessons learnt from the GHDOnline Local Development Panel Discussion (July 19-30th, 2010)

I was glad to have the opportunity of moderating (from July 19-30th, 2010) a panel discussion on Local Development – to discuss in-country coding and the development of local eHealth capacity (hosted by the GHDOnline community, a community whose founding collaborators include Harvard Medical School, The François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, among other partner organizations).

The panel discussion can be found at: http://www.ghdonline.org/tech/discussion/local-development-panel-discussion-july-19-30th-20/

You will have to register and log in to the website to view and add comments to the discussion forum.

The panel moderators included:

  • Ahmed Mohamed Maawy (DataDyne)
  • Melissa Loudon, University of Cape Town

The panelists included:

  • Jacob Mtalitinya, ITIDO, Tanzania.
  • William Aviles Monterrey, Sustainable Sciences Institute, Nicaragua.
  • Lim Chanmann, InSTEDD iLab, Cambodia.
  • Ali Habib, Interactive Research and Development, Pakistan.

Later on, Joaquin Blaya posted a summary on the panel discussion. The following are the benefits of Local Development:

  • Local programmers are better versed with the environment: Who is the user? Where will the software be used? This also makes the development, testing, and implementation of systems easier.
  • As much as possible programmers and intended users – here health personnel – should be located in the same office space in order to improve communication and avoid misunderstandings that sometime lead to the deployment of inappropriate solutions. A member suggested organizing a “Play Session” with blocks, markers and some paper for a creative way to exchange ideas.
  • In country development supports the local economy and, most importantly, increases institutional capacity to build and maintain systems. Many recount bad experiences with eHealth development by third party consultants from other countries that can’t be maintained locally.
  • Local authorities may accept and trust eHealth systems more if they are able to meet the developers.

The following were the key challanges identified in local software development:

  • It seems harder to find local programmers for open source languages than for proprietary languages like Microsoft .NET.
  • Financing of local software development and workforce is often time not competitive. A member cites the case of Nicaragua where there are very few projects that budget for or take into account software development itself. Some members also noted that there is a tendency to discount rates for local developers and that short contracts are common. While differences in cost of living should be accounted for, this double standard of payment hinders local startups’ ability to be sustainable.
  • Some members cite the lack of experienced leadership to guide a project as a challenge.

Other lessons learnt:

  • Open source is becoming more popular among programmers in developing countries, and open source communities can provide mentorship to local programmers. For example, a member commented that OpenMRS has a mentorship program.
  • Planning helps identify what issues can be addressed with eHealth solutions and how the new software can be integrated within existing systems.
  • More collaboration and coordination is needed among eHealth actors, from non-governmental organizations to universities. Whenever possible, eHealth developers should work with local and national regulatory bodies to ensure interoperability, and partner with universities to allow on-the-ground training for IT students.
  • There are misrepresentations around “open source” projects, such as that they are done by volunteers, that they are unproven, or that there is no technical support. Some organizations stop using the words “open source” internally for this reason.
  • Organizing a training session at your organization as a launching pad for recruiting new programmers has proven valuable for some members – one mentioned an intensive 10-day Java training program taught by a professor from the University of Bergen in Norway.
  • A member from Tanzania suggests that, like missionaries, retired software developers could volunteer to support local organizations in developing countries to build capacity.
  • The issue of gender imbalance in software development was discussed by several members.
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Closed source and open source: The way things stand

In a recent InformationWeek blog post by Ed Hansbery (Ultimately, Android Isn’t Open) he states that “Linux hasn’t made significant inroads to key business systems compared to the closed systems provided by Microsoft, Apple and IBM. One of the biggest reasons is firms need to be able to bring in the makers of a product to fix a problem that threatens to bring the business to a halt. Posting problems and looking for solutions on development sites doesn’t cut it.

Open source software like Linux hasn’t made significant inroads on the desktop either. The last time it had a major shot was when netbooks started shipping with some form of Linux on it a few years ago. Consumers almost got whiplash from the speed at which they turned around to return the netbook in favor of one running Windows XP.”

Abit of the reasons why corporates keep off open source as much as they want. To begin with, its important to know to key points:

  1. Corporates are not techies. They are driven by the urge to make profit, not the urge to use technology that makes sense (mind you, loads of open source projects still do not make sense).
  2. They need something that they know is well supported by a genuine large corporation like IBM or Apple or Microsoft, not by community of individuals who are not paid to make things work. Its a sort of warranty or guarantee that the product will never shut down on them when they have millions of dollars to transact with. This is why corporations that opt to adopt Linux would go for RedHat Enterprise Linux (a supported and closed source version of Fedora) then Fedora itsself.
  3. A lot of open source software has no standardized means of getting things done. The technology is highly fragmented. Each community tends to have a product that works differently from other communities. Corporate bosses love standardized software products, it saves them alot of time and money.

The only thriving open source technologies today are backed by huge corporates themselves, or very reputable organizations. These include:

  1. Oracle – Java, Solaris, and other open source technologies
  2. Suse – OpenSuse Linux
  3. Canonical – Ubuntu
  4. RedHat – Fedora
  5. Apache Software Foundation – Web servers and frameworks

Other good examples of open source software that is trusted and implemented globally to even help save lives include DataDyne’s episurveyor mobile platform, Dimagi’s OpenRosa / JavaRosa framework, the Ushahidi platform. These products thrive because of the solid support offered by DataDyne, Dimagi and Ushahidi respectively.

The only reason why Android would make sense to corporates is because it is backed by Google. They know that by adopting iPhone technology they have the “stability” guarantee from Apple itsself, not from a community of volunteer techies.

Ed Hansberry’s blog ends by stating that:

“Users would be better off if Google changed the license model to close off certain aspects of the platform or restrict certain behavior of handset makers and carriers.

This is all very new of course. Android is headed to the top right now, but no one knows if it will stay there or fragment itself into oblivion while closed systems provide a more enjoyable experience. We’ll have to wait a few years to see how it plays out. If Google doesn’t make some sort of change, even if that is to get just gentlemen’s agreements from the carriers, Android will have a sizable group of users and developers that revile the platform.”

Despite these and other advantages though, Linux hasn’t made significant inroads to key business systems compared to the closed systems provided by Microsoft, Apple and IBM. One of the biggest reasons is firms need to be able to bring in the makers of a product to fix a problem that threatens to bring the business to a halt. Posting problems and looking for solutions on development sites doesn’t cut it.Open source software like Linux hasn’t made significant inroads on the desktop either. The last time it had a major shot was when netbooks started shipping with some form of Linux on it a few years ago. Consumers almost got whiplash from the speed at which they turned around to return the netbook in favor of one running Windows XP.

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