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The hustle and bustle of business travelers grabbing the hotel breakfast before they headed out to this meeting or that meeting barely registered in my consciousness as I mentally prepared for my fourth talk in four days. After finishing my oatmeal, I googled Top Golf, the location of my talk later that morning, and checked the drive time…nine minutes. “Still plenty of time to rehearse a couple more times before heading out”, I thought to myself. 

After rehearsing in front of the hotel room mirror (timing myself with the clock app), I checked-out on my phone (I love technology!), and headed to the parking garage to jump in the rental car. Having spent some time in the area, I had driven past the Top Golf many times. Their giant nets jutting up into the sky are hard to miss. Being unfamiliar with the highway system and traffic patterns however, I pulled up my calendar app, opened the meeting invitation and clicked on the address of the event to navigate by GPS. Still about nine minutes drive time. I fired up the podcast I’d been listening to last night when I’d arrived and headed out.

Expecting to turn left at the first traffic light, I was a little confused when Google said to go straight at the intersection. Hmmm, must be routing me around some heavy traffic. I’d gotten into trouble before when I thought I knew better the Google. In a few minutes when it directed me to merge onto the interstate heading east, it seemed odd. I knew the Top Golf was west of the hotel…or I thought I knew. Surely, Google knew how to get me there, besides, it now said six minutes to destination. I kept driving. Maybe there is more than one Top Golf in the area?

The map showed my exit approaching. Exit right, turn left and go over the Interstate, turn left again on the frontage road and I’ll be at Top Golf. I glanced to my left, expecting to see the familiar netting stanchions, but only saw blue skies above an office building. More confused than ever, I dutifully followed the route guidance. A few minutes later, I arrived at my destination. Not only wasn’t it a Top Golf, it was a residential neighborhood. I pulled into one of the side streets and stopped. 

Now What?

I googled Top Golf and it said I was 14 minutes away. What is going on? At least now my technology was telling me to drive west, which made far more sense to me than heading east. Within a few minutes I passed my hotel and several minutes after that, I saw the familiar netting of my destination.

I’d been listening to a podcast about the various ways great speakers mentally prepare themselves on the way to deliver their message. Some want silence, some want a playlist, none listed getting lost by blindly following a GPS as a way to prepare. I was thankful, I had left plenty of time to navigate here from the hotel. The thought, “must have been a bug in the interface between the Calendar app and the Maps app that took me the wrong way”, crossed my mind as I walked into the venue.

Ironically, my talk that morning was to a group of Information Technology leaders and the theme was driving your value in this amazing time of technology evolution. As way of an example, one of the questions I ask is “how many of you used your GPS to come to the event today?” As I got to that part of my talk, I had to chuckle to myself about my morning.

That afternoon, still curious about what went wrong, I discovered the issue. The address on the meeting invitation was missing the first digit of the address. It was a mere coincidence that the error resulted in the exact same nine minutes of drive time, in the opposite direction. Somehow, the fact that it was human error made me feel better about blindly following directions that I knew in my gut to be wrong.

Later, as I drove home (heading east correctly this time), I had time to think. There had to be a lesson in this experience.  A lesson beyond, “Ton you are a dumbass for relying solely on technology and not your gut instinct!”

Leaders and Followers

Leaders need followers and followers need leaders. Sometimes leaders are followers and sometimes followers are leaders. As a follower, we have the responsibility to use our brains (and our guts). We don’t just follow blindly. Verify the facts. Reach our own conclusions. If our conclusion differs from that of the leader, respectfully ask why. It is our choice to follow. If the why rings true, or the consequences of not following outweigh the discord in our guts then follow. However, when the facts don’t align, and we have asked our “why”, we know our truth, we have the right not to follow, and, in fact, become a leader ourselves.

As a leader, we have a responsibility as well. In this data driven world, we have to acknowledge data can be wrong. When our gut is telling us one thing and the data is telling us something entirely different, we must pause and ask why, we must verify the facts. If we still reach the same decision, then so be it. We will not always be right, but we will know we used the data available to us and we will know our “why”. We then have the obligation to explain our “why” to those who follow us, so that they too, understand the decision, even if they disagree with it. Those that share our belief in the “why” will follow. Those that don’t, won’t…and that’s OK.

Last week I had the honor of sitting in on the Expository Writing class at one of our high schools (What? you didn’t know Goodwill operates high schools? Check out http://www.indianapolismet.org/ and http://www.excelcenter.org/. Yep, that’s us!). This class, taught by Eric Nentrup (Mr. Eric to the students), is either an English Core 40 requirement or general elective for Juniors and Seniors. I can tell you this…this was NOT your father’s writing class, nor was it anything like I experienced in high school!ipad

So, why was the CIO sitting in a high school writing class, anyway? Mr. Eric has always been a bit of a rogue, pushing the envelope of the digital boundaries of a typical corporation. To someone that has worked in Corporate IT for three and half decades, he tends to trigger my “command and control” reflexes. I realized several years ago, when that happens I need to seek to understand, because there is absolutely a learning moment for me around the corner.

What I witnessed was far more than a writing class. Was he teaching an approach for writing?  Absolutely, but he was also teaching current events, critical thinking, and something he calls “digital citizenship”.  Not only that but through his energy, enthusiasm and interactions, he was teaching them about relationships and the importance of bridging generations (at one point, one of the students even remarked, “I like how you talk to us. You talk to us like people, smart people.”).

We tend to think of this generation as very technologically advanced. Are they always connected and always on? Yes. Can they pick up most any device and figure out how to use it? Yes. Do they expect and demand immediate access to our connected world? Yes. But do they understand how to use technology to learn, grow and better their lives? Maybe not. That is where Mr. Eric (and others like him) come in. He teaches them responsible use of technology, how to leverage the connectivity of technology to understand the world around them and enhance their lives, and he teaches them respect for the technology (this goes as far as, how to leave the computer lab so the next class can start right up).

On the day I visited, the class was working on their thesis statements for their final paper, a six to eight page opinion paper on gun culture in the United States. Using a facilitated learning process, he guided them through a deep discussion on they topic and through the steps of taking their feelings and thoughts and developing a thesis statement.

From a pure technology perspective, the students sat down at the lab’s HP All-in-Ones and fired up their Chrome browsers. Once all the students were logged in to the Canvas Learning Management System, they followed the link Mr. Eric had placed in that day’s lesson plan, taking them to Mural.ly, where he had created the process map for them to follow, complete with research papers, websites, and news reports regarding gun violence, gun culture and the gun control debate. The students used Diigo.com to highlight and comment the citations that supported their views on the topic.

As they discussed the topic, one of the students asked how close in proximity was Sandy Hook to La Salle High School, sites of two recent episodes of school violence. Rather than answering the question, Mr. Eric suggested, “why don’t you jump on Google Maps and tells us?”. Within moments the class had the answer.

Mr. Eric brought up one of the student’s worksheets using Google Drive and Google Docs (using his iPad connected to a ceiling mounted Epson projector) so the class could edit the document collaboratively. Using her position statement, “I believe US citizens are not obsessed with guns, they are obsessed with the power that comes from guns.” (pretty insightful position coming from a teenager, wouldn’t you say?) The class worked together to develop the thesis for the paper, before being turned loose to develop their own positions and thesis. Even when Google Drive experienced a brief hiccup they didn’t miss a beat and learned a lesson in the Google Docs search capabilities.

I walked away from the class with an even deeper respect for the work our teachers do, day in and day out…the energy…the preparation…simply amazing. I met a dozen or so students, who treated their teacher with respect, were truly engaged in the topic, and who had some fascinating views on the topic. There were even a couple of students who had interest in IT as a career someday. I saw first hand how technology can be used to teach and, frankly, how it fades into the background so the students could focus on the message not the medium. I have always felt the responsibility that comes with a career in IT: the technology must work, and it must work well. Disruptions of services can have a significant impact on our partners. I walked away with a renewed sense of the awesomeness of our responsibilities. Bet you didn’t know you were teaching all THAT, Eric!

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

Part 5 of the series on Corporate Connectivity, other posts include: N.C.I.S. Indianapolis – The PilotN.C.I.S. Indianapolis – Episode 1: NetworksN.C.I.S. Indianapolis – Episode 2: Communication (and Collaboration), and N.C.I.S. Indianapolis – Episode 3: Information

Information-Systems-and-Computer-Applications-CLEPThe underlying systems that tie all of this together are evolving at a lightning pace. Driven by the continuing consumerization and “appification” of IT, we have seen an explosion of technology, including smart phones and tablets. In 2012, for example, the number of smartphones in the market exceeds 1 billion, and it is estimated that by 2015, tablet sales will exceed that of traditional PCs.

This technology explosion has help to drive the skyrocketing growth of social media platforms. Facebook users have exceeded 1/7th of the world’s population, and during the 2012 presidential debates, people tweeted over 10.5 million times in a two-hour period.

Add to this the growth of software-as-a-service and other types of cloud-based applications, which are expected to triple in the next three years, and you have a pace of change that is mind-boggling. IT departments the world over are trying to keep up.

Goodwill Technology Solutions has embraced all of these changes with the motto of “any time, any place, any device.” Our internal server architecture is about 90% virtualized. Server virtualization was the first step in our strategy to become more agile and reduce the time spent “keeping the lights on.”

The next step was to move away from dictating which smartphone an employee must use to a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach that enables our employees to pick the smartphone that works best for them. We were also one of the first companies to embrace tablet technology, using iPads throughout the organization, including issuing one to each of our IT Service Technicians to enable them to stay on top of their support tickets.

We took a significant step in the “cloud” by migrating from Microsoft Exchange and Outloook to Google Apps for email, contacts and calendaring. Most recently, we launched cloud-based HRIS (Human Resources Information System) and payroll systems using Workday as Goodwill’s Employee Management System.

Next Up: Series Finale: The Results

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

A year ago a huge event took place in the city of Indianapolis. No, not that silly little football game (though, it was great to see a CloudManning beat Brady, even if it wasn’t Peyton), a REALLY huge event. In the early morning hours after the crowds all left downtown, we took our first major leap into the cloud. We converted from our on-premise email, calendar and contacts application to Google Apps.

Yes, we had used web-based applications prior to that time, but none that were truly born in the cloud applications. The success of that conversion is what really launched us into a cloud-first strategy. As a CIO, I had been very reluctant to take this approach. We had very sound guiding principles regarding application procurement and it didn’t include having our data scattered all over the heavens. After countless conversations, months of research, and attending several workshops and presentations, I decided we would pilot a couple of cloud-based solutions and the incumbent’s current version.

Honestly, what really pushed me to the launching pad was a comment one of the panelists made at MIT Sloan’s Annual CIO Summit. He was discussing IT projects and stated they could be categorized into two types of projects: A-C Projects and C-F Projects (no, not THAT kind of C-F project!). Some projects, no matter how fantastic IT performs the best grade your partners in your business will give you is a “C”, but if you aren’t successful, you will most certainly receive an “F”. (Really, when was the last time someone thanked you for delivering that email to their in-box). On the other hand, there are some strategic, innovative projects that can make the IT department heroes. I left the conference vowing to have our team spend as much time as possible on A-C Projects and that meant someone still had to deliver the mail.

After the pilot, the team (about 30 members strong from all areas of our business) voted unanimously to go “to the cloud”. Even then, I wanted more certainty before exposing the enterprise to any undue risk. With the help of a local consultant, I converted two small companies I own to 100% cloud-based applications. Finally, I took the recommendation to our executive steering team.

In the year since our go-live, we have taken a cloud-first approach to all of our projects. Note, this is not a cloud-only approach. We still evaluate based on functionality, fit and costs, but all things being equal, we will give the nod to a cloud-based, cloud-born solution. Case in point, we went live January 1 of this year on a cloud-based payroll system and just this last week launched our cloud-based Human Resources Management system to rave reviews.

Don’t get me wrong, cloud is not the answer in every situation and there are still many aspects of cloud-based apps that need some maturing for the enterprise. Password management and single-sign on are issues (ok before you comment that there are solutions for this, I know, but they add a layer of complexity that is still a hard sell), as are integrations and data management. And, don’t get me started on the contract Terms and Conditions that many companies present. THAT part of the industry definitely needs some maturing.

Cloud (SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, CaaS and all the other aaS’s) offers the possibility of spending more time on value-add activities and is truly disruptive to the “way it’s always been done”. I would love to hear your journey to the cloud!

To read more about our specific conversion read my guest blog post at Google’s Enterprise Blog by clicking on the Google icon. Google Header

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.