Who should lead my project?

The company I work for has been going through a new ERP implementation for the last several months.  In the past, for new ERP implementations or for upgrades of existing ERP systems, we have typically cascaded implementations at our regional facilities, beginning with the regional facility with the most demand.  By doing this, we were able to focus our resources in one area and ensure the system functioned properly, including all reports, prior to rolling it out to others.  For this implementation, we elected to go with a “Big Bang” approach, upgrading all facilities simultaneously.  We initially identified several advantages to taking this approach, many of which never came to fruition for various reasons.

Now that we are 6 months into our implementation, it is evident that the “Big Bang” approach was not the appropriate method to take.  For the first 3 months of the implementation, we had IS and IT resources travelling the world to support our various locations to ensure the systems were functioning, not necessarily functioning properly, but just getting basic transactions through. This period of travelling and troubleshooting exhausted our IS and IT resources.  Still, after 6 months, only about 95% of the transactions are flowing correctly and we seem to run into show-stoppers at least once per month.  After that initial 3 month period, when things had settled down on the transactional side, we began the arduous process of getting basic reports to function.  These include financial reporting, financial analysis, production analysis, order management, purchasing, and human resources reports.  These have seemingly been stalled since the implementation began and there is little confidence of it being completed anytime soon.

So, the question becomes: when is the right time to redefine the project manager?  It seems through each phase of the implementation, the project manager has shifted.  It has gone from CIO to Network Director to Systems Director to Applications Director.  This is not to say that each of these individuals isn’t doing everything in their power to ensure these issues get addressed, but there is no consistent list of issues or person to direct concerns to.  There is no project manager interacting with each function defining priorities.  We’re really seeking one point of contact to interact with one single point of contact within each of our functions to take control.  However, there could be political implications to even suggesting a change of project manager.  And, frankly, there may not be anybody willing to take that position as it could have implications on their career going forward.

For this particular project, we defaulted to a project manager in the IS and IT group, but perhaps, we should have considered a more skilled project manager outside of that group that could developed a more reliable risk management plan and mitigated some of those risks prior to the implementation.  The users would have likely been more satisfied with a project manager that is responsive and organized, rather than a project manager that has the technical knowledge of the implementation without the project management skillset. Can functional leaders be expected to efficiently manage projects within their organizations if they span across several functions?

Phishing for Sardines

Recent trends indicate that cyberattackers are increasingly targeting small, startup businesses as larger companies have ramped up IT defenses in recent years. According to a report by cybersecurity firm, Symantec, “cyberattacks on small businesses with fewer than 250 employees represented 31% of all attacks in 2012, up from 18% in the prior year” (Link 1). As soon as a business sets up its website and email domain, cyberattacks are triggered almost immediately. In fact, by the time a business is five months old, it has already been targeted by hundreds of spam phishing messages and Malware attacks and, within ten months, most companies will have been infected with Malware. (Link 2). Hackers will also use attacks known as Ransomware, where an attackers locks up company computers and networks demanding a ransom to stop the attacks. Computers are not the only targets of these attacks, however. With the proliferation of smart phones and mobile devices in the business world, many attackers are now using malicious software to infiltrate these mobile devices in order to steal valuable information. Verizon’s RISK team has indicated that this trend of increasing attacks on small startup companies has been relatively consistent over the past six years (Link 1).

Larger corporations have the time and resources to devote to IT security that small businesses and startups just don’t have. Startup businesses in particular have enough concerns related to gaining market share and generally keeping their doors open and generally can’t devote enough resources to IT security. Further, despite the statistics, many small business owners falsely believe they are boring targets for cyberattackers due to their size. However, small businesses can be extremely lucrative and easy targets for these types of attacks. Most often, cyberattackers are after customer credit card numbers, contact information, intellectual property, or money from company bank accounts that are specific to the individual target company (Link 2). However, many hackers target small firms with a much bigger prize in mind. Increasingly frustrated with the beefed up security at larger firms, cyberattackers are using smaller firms as an entry point as they are often customers or suppliers of larger firms. Once a smaller firm is infected, it can spread viruses and other malicious software to a larger firm by way of emails and other exchanges throughout the course of normal business operations. Another way attackers are attempting to use smaller companies as bait is through the strategy of infecting startup companies in growth industries like tech and healthcare. The attackers then lie and wait hoping these infected companies will be gobbled up through mergers and acquisitions, which have been increasing as of late with the improving economy and availability of cheap debt. The attackers are essentially using the acquired company as a sort of trojan horse strategy to then infect the acquiring company and steal its valuable information.

Whatever specific tactic is used, startup companies have been increasingly targeted by cyberattacks as of late. In terms of time and resources, these new companies are stretched thin enough as it is. In-house IT departments are very expensive as is externally sourced internet security software sufficient enough to fortify these companies against sophisticated attacks. In light of this, what is a small business owner to do? Can they take steps to not be infected without professional help? Or is IT security spending now just an operational cost of doing business that can’t be avoided?

Link 1: http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/22/smallbusiness/small-business-cybercrime/index.html?iid=EL

Link 2: http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/23/technology/startup-cyberattack/index.html?iid=SF_SB_River

Socialcast: Facebook for business or an innovative way for collaboration?

Source: http://www.socialcast.com/

Socialcast is cloud-based social network for business that aims at easing communication between employees and vendors. Its platform allows employees to share ideas, documents, videos, and seek for help, when needed.

VMware bought Socialcast in May 2011, when the company was just starting to target business with its goal of easing internal communication. VMWare, with it new update in mid-April, transformed Socialcast from merely a commination tool, to a dream product for any Project Manager.

VMWare, through Socialcast, wants to alter the way businesses access information by improving business processes. The new update is especially important for Project Managers as it integrates multiple different systems, such as CRM (Customer Relationship Management), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), Sharepoint (document management software), email, and other applications. It creates a centralized workspace that helps Project Manager to keep track of deliverables and critical activities through communication with the team.

The new update also allows for instant messaging feature, called Socialcast Messenger, that is available on the platform as well as on mobile devices. While it is not an innovative feature, the IM keeps employees off using other massagers, such as Google Chat, and instead, keeps the communication centralized. Socialcast also allows employees to post updates, such a new security policy, and lets others in the company to comment on the post.

DePaul IT department, at which I am currently employed in as a Help Desk Analyst, uses similar features that Socialcast provides. We have a database, called DePaul University Knowledgebase or the “Wiki,” where specialists from different IT teams post documents and articles on various topics. This is especially helpful for my team because it aids in troubleshooting a technical problem. There are documents ranging from security polices to instructions on how to install various programs, such as SPSS, on DePaul machines. The Knowledgebase is especially useful for new employees, as they are not familiar with DePaul technology policies.

Socialcast Broadcast. Does this look like a Facebook wall?
Source: http://www.socialcast.com/

We also use internal instant messaging to aid in communication between different teams. I can communicate with my supervisor instantly without the hassle of e-mails. I personally find the IM and the Knowledgebase very useful, as I don’t need to get away from my desk and take time from others to ask questions that can be otherwise answered with a support document.

While Socialcast is useful for employees to familiarize themselves with the company’s policies and seek help, how much does it look to you like Facebook, but just for business? Even the platform of Socialcast looks very much alike the Facebook wall. The idea of Socialcast new update is to centralize the workspace and minimize e-mail communication, or even eliminate meetings. Has the way we communicate changed so drastically that we no longer seek face-to-face interaction even in the workplace? What do you think of the new Project Management update to Socialcast?




Socialcast Website

VMware Adds Project Management, Secure IM to Socialcast Platform By Thor Olavsrud. April 18, 2013. 

VMware Updates SocialCast With Private Messaging By Chris Preimesberger. April 22, 2013. 




Can IT Help Managing Your Inventory?

Speaking of inventory management and its impact on business operations, make’s it essential to have an information
system (IT) that is capable of providing timeless information to decision makers. Such information can include the minimum level to place a new order, tracking inventory between warehouse and show case shelves, on shelves movement, fast moving items, level of demand ….etc.

Information about inventory can differ according to the industry, each organization function within, for example a pharmaceutical company, where its inventory mainly, drugs and medications would require different set of information than a fashion company dealing with clothes. Regardless of the type of organization, it will require an information system that will take care of its inventory management. Moreover, one of the latest technologies used by many companies and stores nowadays is the “RFID” (Radio-Frequency identification) that generates a tag for that specific item and would then enable the store to track it.

However; “RFID” would need to be integrated to the main company information system in order to feed in all the required information about the inventory; therefore, many large organizations such as pharmaceuticals would consider ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) as a great solution, since they are dealing with a unique set of products. The two technologies together are capable of providing accurate data about the cost and usage of inventory, which will then help the finance team to forecast budget,
procurement team forecast order supply and track the dispensed medications, marketing team to prepare the required campaigns, etc. Moreover, imagine you place the same order twice; because you do not have updates on your stock,  is’nt that just a waste of resources!

My class mates would recall the case study we had about Zara Fashion store (2003) in MIS course, Zara did not have an integrated system managing their inventory, even though their products were fast moving and they would barely have stock. One of the practices they had was predicting the required order and the employee had to go and physically count the inventory! Guess what?!  They never failed in their estimations! Most of the class agreed that at the time the case was written Zara was doing a great job; however with globalization and strong competition out there they will not be able to survive with their current system.

Do you think a fully integrated IT system is essential for having a successful inventory management? Or experience would be enough in handling the situation? considering globalization, mass customization, customer satisfaction, rapid product and
service development… etc.

“Please note that the images below are samples googled”