Stories by Chad Dickerson

Money talks

By now you've heard that the secret source known as Deep Throat in the Watergate affair turned out to be Mark Felt, former assistant FBI director. As the story goes, Felt repeatedly urged Woodward to "follow the money" in their clandestine meetings in parking garages.

Taking control

One thread that runs through every important IT decision is control: how do you balance end-user freedom in the IT environment with the need for sane, predictable IT operations? The issue of end-user freedom versus IT control might just be the perennial IT problem.

The top 20 IT mistakes to avoid

We all like to think we learn from mistakes, whether our own or others'. So in theory, the more serious bloopers you know about, the less likely you are to be under the bright light of interrogation, explaining how you managed to screw up big-time. That's why we put out an all-points bulletin to IT managers and vendors everywhere: For the good of humanity, tell us about your gotchas so others can avoid them.

Opinion: Wiki goes to work

A recent conversation with Peter Theony, the developer of TWiki, got me thinking about how to solve some specific knowledge management problems I encounter in my daily work as a CTO. Although Wikis are still largely an underground IT phenomenon, a Wiki can be one of the most immediately useful tools in an agile IT organization.

When good vendors go bad

The most pervasive problem in running IT is not a specific technology issue at all. It's dealing with bad vendors. Even if you have been able to reduce your IT operation down to a pure open source environment on the software side, hardware still must be purchased through commercial channels. In the post-boom IT age, the power has supposedly shifted from vendor to buyer, but IT managers continue to be manipulated by vendors who don't always act in the customer's best interest. To keep vendors in line, IT managers need to stay on the ball -- and punish bad behaviour when it occurs by finding new suppliers.

Why can't Johnny compute?

When I suggested recently that a problematic 5 percent of employees account for 75 percent of the IT support burden, I expected a wave of "right on!" from IT support staffers. But mostly they disagreed with my premise, with one suggesting that the real whiner was yours truly.

Opinion: Dreams of service-oriented B-to-B integration

A project I'm working on reminds me of the packaging of one brand of bagged ice. The name of that ice company escapes me, but my memory of the packaging is crystal clear: "Never touched by human hands!" Back then, I immediately pictured the competition's ice factories, filled with workers loading filthy ice into bags, water dripping on the floor, their thoughtless handling of the ice exceeded only by the general squalor of their surroundings.

Digging into DNS: ignore it at your peril

As CTO of InfoWorld, I have to admit that I spend more time than most CTOs on the bleeding edge of technology pondering the next big thing. A few years ago, all the Web services talk around the office had me digging into SOAP and XML-RPC; and as Weblogs and RSS emerged, I had a front-row seat, as pioneers, such as our own Jon Udell, led the way. During the past couple of weeks, however, I’ve been thinking about a particular three-letter acronym a little more than usual. BPM ? No. BRM (business rules management)? Not quite. Good ol’ CRM? No, not even close. I’ve been thinking about boring, old DNS.

How to optimize business processes

Identifying and streamlining business processes are at the centre of everything a CTO does. When analyzing business processes and designing technical solutions, involve and listen to key users of affected systems. Some technologists still fall into the trap of masterminding broad organizational change behind closed doors. Being a CTO does require quite a bit of "out of the box" thinking, but outcomes are always better when on-the-ground realities inform that thinking.

Code warrior

Just this past week, I found myself in a position that was familiar to me from days gone by, but at the same time a little unsettling and unfamiliar. It was 2 a.m. and I was staring at a computer screen, a stack of O’Reilly books at the ready, half a dozen terminal windows open on my computer desktop, starting at an httpd.conf file in the vi text editor. I was writing code again.

The invisible workforce: IT in the future

Will there still be IT jobs in the future? If IT becomes seamlessly integrated into everybody's lives, what happens to IT people? What will they do and where will they work?

A calm and peaceful IT data centre

As the year end approaches, the holiday season intensifies, and things appear to slow down just a little bit in IT. Sure, the IT show must go on as usual, but problems seem to become slightly less urgent as employees sneak out early to go to parties and do their Christmas shopping. Assuming your IT operation is actually calmer this time of year (sorry e-commerce guys and girls, you’re left out), how can you get the most out of this peaceful season?

The fight with enterprise systems

I was riding in the car of a fellow CTO recently and talking about the flakiness of enterprise software and systems when his cell phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID. As he answered the call, the universal expression of concern washed over his face. One of his staffers was calling to utter the most ominous words in IT: The system is down.

Don’t forget the basics: power

We spend a lot of time in IT talking about the virtual — packets, protocols, bits, and bytes — while paying little attention to boring facilities issues like electricity and HVAC (heating, ventilating, and airconditioning).