- 07 July, 2000 12:01
FRAMINGHAM (07/06/2000) - CUSS CONTROL ACADEMY WHAT THE #%*$! When the company stock drops 20 points in an afternoon, a shoot! or a darn! doesn't convey quite the same anger and outrage as a good 'n' salty four-letter word. But before you shower your coworkers with enough profanity to make a longshoreman blush, Jim O'Connor, author of Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing (Three Rivers Press, 2000) and founder of the Cuss Control Academy, based in Northbrook, Illinois, suggests that you pause and consider the consequences of your potty mouth.
"In the work environment, we all have frustrations and aggravations," says O'Connor. "But it's important to remain professional and have a can-do attitude." At the Academy, O'Connor teaches his students--often first-time parents shocked by junior's repetition of a naughty word or employees trying to kick the habit--that no matter how imaginative they are with their cursing, it will never earn them respect or admiration.
To help banish pernicious profanities from your vocabulary, O'Connor suggests choosing substitutes for your favorite oaths. We'd like to offer gadzooks, sakes alive and I'll be a monkey's uncle as excellent standbys.
Incidentally, O'Connor notes that because of the constant pressure of deadlines, journalists are among the worst offenders when it comes to office swearing. But we think that's a load of #%*$.
O'Connor's Chicago-area evening classes range from US$15 to $45 per person. For those not near the Windy City, O'Connor is also available to give presentations. Visit www.cusscontrol.com. -Daintry Duffy NEW PRODUCTS WHAT'S IN A FRAME?
Summer's here, and that means it's time to take lots of pictures. If you're like many, that also means making countless reprints to send to friends and family. But this year there's an alternative: Ceiva Logic LLC, a Los Angeles-based technology company, has designed a Web-enabled picture frame that displays pictures electronically for loved ones without a computer.
The product has the look and feel of a standard 5-by-7-inch frame, complete with wood, glass and cardboard backing. But it also includes an electrical cord and a phone wire that plugs into a standard jack. The user must set up an online account at www.ceiva.com with a user name, password and a "buddy list" that tells the frame from whom it can receive digital images. Authorized senders can then upload their photos to Ceiva's website, and each night the frame automatically checks for new images and downloads any that were received. The frame can display up to 10 images in rotation, or it can lock on a single image for continuous display. There is no keyboard, mouse or operating system to struggle with; the Ceiva frame includes its own modem and communications software to handle dial-in. Ceiva's website can hold up to 1,000 images per user. The frame retails for $249, and there is a small monthly fee for the service. However, there is no cost for sending images to Ceiva owners' frames. Sounds like a grandparent's dream come true.
BY THE NUMBERS RECRUITING AND RETAINING IT TALENT Companies are doing back flips to attract and keep programmers, systems analysts and other IT staff. The American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) found in a benchmarking study this year that a group of nine high-profile best practices companies ("partners") are paying more attention to employee referral programs than a group of companies ("sponsors") looking to improve their IT staffing practices.
BEST PRACTICES FOR IT
1. If you don't have an employee referral program, start one. Employee referrals usually result in high-quality hires because current employees are hesitant to recommend people who aren't likely to succeed. Candidates are also more likely to know the company culture beforehand and like what they hear about the organization. Also, a typical referral bonus is cheaper than advertising a position or paying a finder's fee to an executive search firm.
"The partners were further along in finding creative ways to start new programs--and were paying more for referrals," says Lou Cataline, who worked on the study.
2. Put IT to work with HR. Best practices companies send IT employees to college campuses and job fairs, where sponsor companies might send only an HR recruiter. IT candidates expect and appreciate being interviewed by a "live" practitioner who can "talk the talk," APQC says.
3. Money isn't everything. "The compensation issue is huge, but best practices companies show it isn't all about money," Cataline says. For example, people will go to a company that's offering less money if they can learn a new skill or get the opportunity to work with the latest and hottest technology. And best practices organizations have learned that investing in training and development pays off in the form of longer employee tenure, growth of in-house expertise, higher productivity and reduced turnover. Cataline notes that while APQC found turnover rates of 15 percent to 35 percent in the sponsor companies, some of the partners, such as Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard, boasted rates of just 5 percent to 15 percent. "A lot of the sponsoring organizations admitted they don't pay attention to the little things," Cataline says. "Little things, like employee surveys, are very important."
Suggest future topics to numbers @cio.com.
WEB BUSINESS 50/50 Q&A CENTRAL
The more expansive the Internet becomes, the harder it is to zero in on relevant information quickly. Sure, there are sites such as Ask Jeeves that let users pose questions, but answers are only forthcoming if they currently exist on the Internet. What happens if you want to get answers from the real, live people who might know best? That's where Web Business 50/50 winner Abuzz Technologies (www.abuzz.com) comes in. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company bills itself as an online knowledge network where people can ask questions, offer answers and swap know-how about everything and anything.
Launched in January, the Abuzz site boasts that 85 percent of questions asked are successfully answered. That's a pretty good success rate considering the scope of the queries. Recently, questions ranged from the practical ("How accessible is public transportation in the San Francisco area?") to the arcane ("What is the longest word in the English language that contains only one vowel?" Hint: It's got nine letters).
Registration on the site is free, with revenues generated from advertising.
Currently, the site has 45,000 members. As part of the registration process, users submit their e-mail address. That way, the process of asking and answering questions is truly interactive, says John Capello, Abuzz's general manager, since relevant material is automatically e-mailed to registrants as it's posted. "Our goal is to create an environment where people can have focused, high-quality exchanges," he says. So if you asked that question about the longest word, for example, you'd receive an e-mail every time someone answered. You will also receive an e-mail when a similar vocabulary-related question is posted. Owned by New York Times Digital, the Internet division of The New York Times Co., Abuzz can be found on The New York Times on the Web, Boston.com and NYToday websites. It can also be found on GolfDigest.com and WineToday.com. And in case you're curious about the longest, one-vowel word in English, the mysteriously named Count Fathom offered strengths as the answer.
For more 50/50 coverage, see "Net Gains," Page 98. -Megan Santosus HOT TOPIC E-COMMERCE BRIDGING THE VIRTUAL GAP By Sari Kalin Man cannot live on the Web alone. At least, that seems to be the thinking behind some recent deals that give online entities a presence on land.
For example, Kozmo.com, the Web-based, on-demand delivery service that ferries videos, snacks and other convenience items to urbanites, has inked a $150 million, five-year deal with Starbucks Coffee that lets Kozmo patrons return video rentals and other items to drop boxes located at Starbucks cafés.
Mail Boxes Etc. (MBE), meanwhile, is investing more than $15 million in a satellite-based VPN linking more than 2,000 of its franchisee-run centers in the United States so that they can service the physical-world needs of online businesses. Auctioneer eBay plans to use MBE to offer a "hold for inspection" service: Sellers will be able to ship their goods to MBE centers, where buyers will be able to inspect them and decide whether they want to complete their purchases (in which case, MBE notifies the seller) or ship the goods back to the sellers (and then do so via MBE). MBE also has a deal with car retailer PeopleFirst.com that lets private parties selling used cars complete the sales and have their documents notarized at MBE centers. "The centers can act as a bridge between the virtual and the real," says Ray Causey, vice president and CIO for MBE in San Diego.
For on-land businesses, deals like these have the potential to boost revenues (via incremental sales and marketing dollars) and foot traffic. For dotcoms, such deals let them leverage traditional retailers' physical stores and staff, infrastructure that would be expensive--if not impossible--for dotcoms to develop quickly by themselves. They also "bring the dotcoms a little bit closer to legitimacy in the consumer's eyes," says Matt Stamski, a senior analyst at Gomez Advisors in Lincoln, Mass. "Customers are more likely to interact with someone they know and trust [who has] an offline brand."
With benefits like that, don't be surprised to see more online retailers strike out for solid land.
HOT TOPIC STAFFING SO MANY JOBS, SO FEW TO FILL THEM By Tom Field In an ideal world, supply equals demand. Wouldn't it be nice if that were true in IT staffing? Consider this: There are 10 million people currently employed in IT development and support jobs in the United States. By this time next year, 1.6 million additional IT jobs will be created. And of those new IT jobs, roughly 840,000 will remain hopelessly unfilled.
These statistics are a snapshot of the IS staffing crisis as seen through the lens of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) in its April 2000 study "Bridging the Gap: Information Technology Skills for a New Millennium." The study, based on interviews with 700 IT managers inside and outside the traditional IT industry, attempts for the first time to determine exactly how many IT-related jobs there are in this country, as well as what the most in-demand jobs are and what prospective IS staffers might do to acquire the hot new skills.
At first glance, the 840,000 job shortfall seems to blow away the ITAA's 1998 estimate of 346,000 open jobs. But the two statistics aren't comparable. The 1998 number, computed by researchers at Virginia Tech, narrowly defines just four categories of IT workers: computer programmers, systems analysts, and computer scientists and engineers. The ITAA's new study attempts a comprehensive accounting of all IT workers throughout the for-profit business world. Excluded from the ITAA's 10 million IT worker count (and the subsequent 840,000 job shortfall) are jobs in government, nonprofits and small entrepreneurial firms.
What's the solution to the staffing crunch? Find ways to grow the IS talent pool, says Arlington, Va.-based ITAA president Harris Miller. Community colleges and technical schools have done a good job addressing the staffing shortage, Miller says, and four-year schools are getting there. "But now we need to look at our system of K-12 education." At a time when U.S. students score lower in math and science than students from elsewhere in the world, Miller advocates a new look at year-round schooling. "Can we really afford to let our kids fall further behind?"
WEB BUSINESS 50/50 KEEPING TABS ON JOHNNY To rewrite a phrase, what you do see can hurt you. Case in point: You're at work, sipping your morning coffee. You log on to your computer and pull up the KinderView website, which lets you watch your toddler at day care. Just as you bite into your bagel smothered in chive cream cheese, you see your son sample little Suzie's left arm. Ouch! That hurts. And it's not just the bite that stings; it's watching your kid do the dirty deed when you have no way to prevent or diffuse the situation. Do you really want to see this?
Apparently a lot of parents do. KinderView in San Diego, a Web Business 50/50 winner, has roughly 1,500 authorized members and nearly 100 participating day-care centers in 10 states, according to Rene Naert, president of Cyber-Signs, KinderView's parent company. And those numbers are expected to grow as new participants get up and running.
At the heart of KinderView's success is its patent-pending technology and strong privacy protection. The system captures images at participating child-care centers, converts the transmissions and sends them through a VPN.
Authorized parents then sign on to the network using two special codes and a unique password to view live images from their children's center. Updated every second, images are available for KinderView members at that rate or at a two- to three-second delay, depending on connection speeds.
"We follow a rigorous routine to keep our system extremely secure because you're dealing with sensitive information--people's children," says Kirby Mitchell, sales director. All information sent from the server is encrypted using a higher level of encryption than that of U.S. banks or stock traders, adds Naert.
The cost of Kinderview is paid by the day-care centers, which then have the option of charging parents a fee. Visit www.kinderview.com for more information.
FREE STUFF! FREE STUFF! Even on the Internet, where freebies are as common as spam and bad grammar, few websites wave the "free" banner with as much gusto as the Free Sample Club. If you don't mind giving up some time and personal information, then this consumer product sampling group (www.freesampleclub.com), a Web Business 50/50 applicant, may be able to send you such eclectic (read wildly assorted) items as pore cleansers and seasoning blends. The club is produced and managed by a division of the Sunflower Group, a promotion services company based in Overland Park, Kan.
Here's the deal. New members spend about 15 minutes filling out an application that asks for such details as income, education level, pets, purchasing habits and lifestyle. The site's database then determines which samples they can have.
Members decide what they want, the Club ships the products, and members who report back with their opinions are entered in a drawing for a free trip.
Currently, the site has more than 100,000 members.
One caveat: Some membership options put members on telephone and mailing lists. Merely by signing up, users agree to stipulations that range from the predictable, like the fact that they'll answer some questions, to the more questionable--like "You agree to tell your friends about the Free Sample Club."
Well, we didn't promise what we'd tell them about it....
-Sarah D. Scalet
ON THE MOVE Compiled by Tom Field
SALOW SAYS HELLO TO AMEX CIO JOB Glen Salow can't say much about his new job.
Because his company is big and public and proprietary, Salow can't comment on the size of his IT budget or even the approximate number of IS staffers, except to say "a lot." But there's one thing the new executive vice president and CIO of American Express can say: He's got a world of e-commerce opportunities before him. "There's no shortage of great ideas," says Salow, who succeeds newly retired CIO Allan Loren. "The key thing for me is to focus. We could try to do too many things" and succeed at none.
Without letting too much out of the bag, Salow hints that AmEx is working on new interactive and smart-card technologies, all of which are held to the test of the company's three operating principles: New products must enhance the business, be best of class and achieve customer value.
Salow, former vice president and CIO of Aetna Retirement Services, joined the AmEx technology operations group two-and-a-half years ago, serving a variety of roles before his appointment to CIO in March. At Aetna, Salow made CIO headlines for his innovative IS training techniques (see "Back to the Books," CIO, Jan. 1, 1998). Since joining AmEx, he has concentrated on everything from infrastructure to operations to emerging technologies. Yet, even with this breadth of experience, Salow feels his new role will require some stretching.
"The stretch for me is understanding what's out there, what the customer wants, and then focusing on the right opportunities," Salow says. "I think I'm good at this, but I don't think I'm good enough at it yet."
The mantra around AmEx these days is, "Where is the puck going?" This is a reference to hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who always attributed his success to his ability to see not where the puck is but to anticipate where it's going.
This is the quality Salow wants his IS organization to develop. "That's a stretch no matter how broad and diverse your experience," Salow says.
Ronald J. Morris UroCor
Formerly vice president and CIO at Irving, Texas-based Pathology Partners, Morris has been named CIO at UroCor, an Oklahoma City-based urology products and services company.
Jerry Wackerhagen AGL Resources
has been named CIO and vice president of information services and technology
for AGL Resources of Atlanta, a regional energy-holding company. Wackerhagen,
who has served as the company's interim CIO since October 1999, is already
credited with helping rebuild AGL's IT foundation.
Kenneth Metcalf Participate.com
is the new CIO at Participate.com, a Chicago-based provider of online community
management services. Metcalf was formerly CIO for search and selection services
in the Tampa, Fla., offices of New York City-based TMP Worldwide,
Harry Elliott Bestfoods
Formerly senior vice president of finance and administration at Bestfoods' North American division in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Elliott has been appointed CIO. The CIO position is new to Bestfoods, an international food company whose products include Hellmann's mayonnaise.
AUTO I.T. EASY RIDERS It's pouring rain, and you're stuck in snarled traffic on the interstate. Not only that, but you're low on gas. It's unfamiliar terrain, but you take the next exit anyway, desperate to find a fill-up and traffic information. Lucky for you, this was no ordinary exit off the highway; instead, it was the route to driver's paradise. At the gas station, just a mile down the road, robots fill your tank. The gas pump itself is also an Internet kiosk where you can map out alternative routes to get around the gridlock on the interstate. You're off again in no time, now with a smile on your face.
Although it may sound far-fetched, this futuristic tableau is closer than you might think. Shell Oil Co. is already testing its robotic SmartPump in Westfield, Ind., and plans to roll out two more, also in Indiana, for testing later this year. To use the pumps, cars must have special spring-loaded gas caps and get coded chips installed on the windshield that tell the robot what kind of car it's filling. According to SmartPump project manager Jerry Buri, who's based in Houston, about 200 customers now have the windshield tags that will allow them to use the pumps. Meanwhile, BP Amoco and Exxon Mobil Corp. are testing similar pumps--developed by Autofill--in Europe.
The combination gas pump/Internet kiosks will also be available for BP Amoco customers. The machines, jointly developed by Tokheim Corp. and Radiant Systems, will include Web browsers running on Microsoft Windows CE. To use the devices, which offer limited surfing in exchange for an access fee, drivers must exit their cars. BP Amoco expects to test its first wired pumps in Japan this year.
You finally arrive at your destination and realize you have no change for the parking meter. No problem! With the change-free EasyPark system, developed by On Track Innovation Ltd. of Rosha Pina, Israel, drivers carry a pocket-calculator-size device that attaches to the driver's side window. Users electronically replenish their devices at special bank kiosks. After parking, the driver sets the proper zonal rate, attaches it to the window and presses a button; the device then computes the fee until it's turned off when the driver returns. When reloading the card, fees are automatically transferred to the accounts of the relevant municipalities.
EasyPark is currently in place in Haifa, Israel, and is in pilot tests in several European countries.
GEEK PRIDE FESTIVAL BE THERE AND BE SQUARE Ah, the sight of happy geeks--it just warms Tim McEachern's heart. Geeks sitting in inflatable furniture playing plastic chess games. Geeks with backpack straps over both shoulders taking notes on their PDAs. Young female geeks in T-shirts that say "Chicks dig Unix." Sigh. McEachern loves "just to see all those geeks in a room and everybody just enjoying it," he says, reflecting on the weekend he organized to make it happen. The event was the first-ever Geek Pride Festival, and it attracted 3,000 to 4,000 geeks and geek-watchers to The Boston Park Plaza Castle in Boston last spring.
"It went 10 times better than I ever thought," McEachern says of the free Friday-night and all-day Saturday event, which featured such techno-geek events as a computer game tournament, Linux installations, a "Stump the Geek" trivia contest, a midnight showing of the movie The Matrix and speakers that included Alex Pentland, the academic head of the MIT Media Laboratory. "I thought it might be me alone in the corner playing Quake," McEachern says.
Geek pride (the rallying call is "be there and be square") has come a long way from two Geek Pride Days in Albany, N.Y., which McEachern says were "more akin to me and a couple of guys drinking beer." And it may go a ways further:
McEachern, who makes his living as host of the Geek Nation radio show in Spencertown, N.Y., is lining up more sponsorship so that he can take the show on the road. A San Francisco fest is planned for mid-September. "We'll hit all the big geek cities," he says.
Stay posted at www.geekpride.org.
-Sarah D. Scalet
RADIO BOOKMARK NAME THAT TUNE In the middle of your commute home, you hear a great song on the radio but don't have any way to write down the song or the artist's name. What do you do? You could try your best to memorize it, but most likely it will be long gone from your memory by the time you get home.
Maddening! To avoid that frustration in the future, there's now a gadget that can record the information on the fly. iTag is a key-chain-mounted device that lets users retrieve information about the songs, ads and other things they hear on their favorite participating radio stations.
The gadget works like a digital bookmark, says Philippe Tarbouriech, cofounder and vice president of engineering at Xenote, the San Mateo, California-based company that makes iTag. "Our technology can determine the frequency that the radio is tuned to and then stores it, along with the time, whenever the user presses the button." When the user gets to a computer, she can upload the data to a personal page at Xenote's website to generate detailed artist and advertiser information, plus Web links.
Currently undergoing trials in several U.S. cities, iTag is scheduled to become available nationwide sometime this fall. Both iTag and the service will be free to users--website advertisers and e-tailers will foot the bill. For more information, visit www.xenote.com.
WOMEN'S WEBCAST TAKING OUR DAUGHTERS TO THE WEB It's one thing to take your daughter to work--it's another to figure out what she should do all day. Why not let her interact in a forum that down the road just might help solve the IT staffing problem? So goes the thinking behind an all-day webcast that drew thousands of viewers and listeners on Take Our Daughters to Work Day in April.
Sponsored by GirlGeeks, which bills itself as "the source for women in computing," the all-day webcast aimed to provide girls and young women with role models and mentors, and to show them what they can do with a degree in technology. Moderated by Moira Gunn from National Public Radio's "Tech Nation," the webcast featured interactive, all-female panel discussions and video segments, with live polls and relevant news clips along the way. Some sections, like a "High-Tech Moms" panel, focused on women's issues, while others were more widely relevant, like a discussion of online privacy.
"It's not just about being a woman, it's about being an expert," says Kristine Hanna, cofounder of the career, training and mentoring community targeted at women ages 18 to 44 (www.girlgeeks.com).
Hanna's favorite part? Watching the women panelists come in a little harried or tentative--and then leave invigorated by their interactions with other women.
"After every panel, the energy of these women was incredible," Hanna says, noting that some of the panelists themselves brought daughters to the studio where the webcast was filmed, "It's a good way to see Moms in action."
-Sarah D. Scalet
WEB BUSINESS 50/50 WHEN IN ROME... When leading a business meeting in France, don't sit at the head of the table. And remember, a little small talk is crucial. In Japan, don't expect to debate an issue and make a decision at the same meeting.
Web Business 50/50 applicant GlobeSmart (www.globesmart.net), a Web-based training tool with information on how to conduct business with people from 30 different countries, won't help you master a new language. But it will help you find answers on how best to avoid insulting colleagues in Paris, Tokyo or Buenos Aires. Produced by Meridian Resources Associates, a San Francisco global training and consulting company, the website was launched in January.
Subscriber organizations, including founding customers Bechtel Group, Cisco Systems, Intel and Eastman Kodak, pay quarterly or yearly licensing fees to become members of the network, which offers information on culture and customs, communicating effectively, training and coaching, managing people and dealing with customers and suppliers. The fees range from $1,000 for a quarter to $16,000 for a one-year package, depending on the size of the subscribing organization and the number of countries it wishes to access. Currently, there are 10 major subscribers, with roughly 1,000 users each, as well as a handful of smaller subscribers, including university professors.
Self-assessment tests allow users to compare themselves with profiles of typical employees in France or Indonesia, while case studies require the users to solve business issues likely to pop up in target countries. The site also promises to help executives navigate sensitive situations, such as correcting the problem behavior of a senior sales executive in Costa Rica, or informing a Chinese employee in Shanghai that he is not meeting company expectations.