how to talk to the it department

Photo by Tamera Kremer. Click the photo to see it at full size.

A few weeks ago, I did a phone interview with David Fielding, an editor at Canadian Business magazine, who was working on a quick piece that would be titled How to Talk to the IT Department. The end result is the one-pager pictured above, which appears in the July 2015 issue.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the article isn’t posted online in Canadian Business’ How-To section. Here’s the text of the article:

How to talk to the IT department

Joey deVilla, current platform evangelist at GSG Telco and former platform evangelist at Shopify, on how to keep your tech support team from phoning it in

Tell your tech team what you do. Give them a high-level view of what your organization actually does. The tech department is in charge of keeping the systems up and running, but what sometimes gets forgotten in why the system is there and what it’s being used for. If you tell them the line of business you’re in and what you’re tying to do, oftentimes the techies will come back and say, “Ah, that’s what you’re doing? Well, here’s a better way of reaching your goal using technology.”

Give challenges, not orders. I feel no shame in telling you this idea comes from Star Trek. There’s one point where Scotty says “Starship captains are like children: They want everything right now and they want it their way.” We are people who derive joy from tackling a challenge by building a system. It’s best to say “I have a problem, and I don’t know how to solve it.”

Take time to acknowledge your IT team. The gap between the C-suite and IT isn’t just philosophical; it’s physical as well. The IT department often works in the back of the house — or sometimes in a different building or city altogether. It doesn’t take much to show them you appreciate what they do.

Don’t sweat what you don’t know. Pop quiz: Do you know the four strokes of a combustion engine? If not, does that affect your ability to drive a car in any way No. If you follow the first three steps, starting with explaining what problem they’re trying to solve, your IT teams will save you from needing to know how the machines work.

In case you were wondering about the four strokes in a four-stroke engine, they are: intake, compression, ignition, exhaust, or as any biker will tell you:

suck squeeze bang blow

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JetBlue’s best deal sells for just five bucks

by Joey deVilla on July 21, 2015

jetblue earbuds case 2015 02

If you fly often, you probably make it a point to bring along headphones or earbuds. You may even do what I do and designate a set specifically for flying (in my case, it’s a pair of Sony noise-cancelling over-the-ear headphones).

And sooner or later, you’ll forget them, just like I did on my JetBlue flight on Sunday.

I was getting settled into my second-last row seat when one of the flight attendants spoke to the only person in the row behind me.

“There are going to five unaccompanied minors sitting in your row,” the attendant told her. “Would you like to be moved to an exit row seat?”

Her eyes went wide when as soon as the words unaccompanied minors finished sounding, and her seatbelt was unbuckled before he finished making the offer. I was already fishing through my laptop bag for my headphones, and that’s when I realized that I’d forgotten to pack them. They were in my other laptop bag.

As much as I didn’t want to pay for another pair of headphones — in addition to my designated flying pair, I have dozens of earbuds of varying quality at home, most of which I got from working at Microsoft or as tech conference swag — I wanted to hear rambunctious rugrats even less.

It turned out that the kids in the row behind me were pleasant and well-behaved, thanks to mobile electronics and what I’m presuming is good parenting. Still, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have discovered the best deal that JetBlue offers.

jetblue earbuds 2015 01

JetBlue’s earbuds are pretty nice. They’re comfortable and unlike many other earbuds, they stay secure in my ears. Better still, they sound better than not only the free ones I’ve picked up at conferences, but even earbuds priced in the $10 – $20 range, and I’m not the only one who thinks soAt $5, they’re a pretty good deal, but they’re not the real deal.

jetblue earbuds 2015 02

The real deal is the zippered felt case that comes with them. In fact, I was leaning towards not buying the headphones until I saw the case. It’s made of thick grey felt, and zips shut with a blue zipper with a big handle that reminds that you got it from JetBlue. Here it is, placed beside a dollar bill to help you get an idea of its size:

jetblue earbuds case 2015 01

Don’t think of it as a case that comes free with $5 earbuds. Instead, think of it as a $5 small electronics/cable/USB key/dongle/battery organizer that happens to come with some free earbuds. You’re not going to find a handy little case like this at Best Buy, the Apple Store, or any other electronics shop at that price.

jetblue earbuds case 2015 03

It works quite well for storing USB charging/interface cables…

jetblue earbuds case 2015 usb cable

It’s handy for keeping spare batteries in one place in your bag:

jetblue earbuds case 2015 batteries

It’s a decent business card holder…

jetblue earbuds case 2015 business cards

And if you’ve been looking for something to safely carry your Apple Magic Mouse in your bag o’ stuff, guess what — JetBlue sells one, and for far less than anything you can get at your local Apple Store!

jetblue earbuds case 2015 apple magic mouse

I’m flying back to Tampa on JetBlue on Friday morning, and I just might have to buy a couple more sets of earbuds!

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Every time you make a PowerPoint presentation…

by Joey deVilla on July 11, 2015

I found this little gem while searching for images related to the phrase “system of record”:

every time you make a powerpoint

Found at Dataviz. Click to see the source.

For more on what Edward Tufte thinks of PowerPoint, see this page for his book, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.

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we already knew this

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know that iOS 9 will finally get a feature that’s been in Android and Windows Phone for ages: keyboards that show uppercase letters when you’re in uppercase mode, and lowercase letters when you’re in lowercase mode. I wrote about it a month ago, in my June 10th article. I even called it “the most important feature in iOS 9″ and posted a video of this new keyboard in action:

Business Insider wrote about it today, and it’s all over Techmeme. That’s a month later, which is slow, even for Business Insider. C’mon, guys, this is your business; this blog is just my hobby.

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mobile without borders

T-Mobile’s new “Mobile Without Borders” feature allows its subscribers to treat Canada and Mexico as if they were part of the U.S.. That means that they:

  • Don’t have to pay voice or data roaming fees when using their T-Mobile devices in Canada or Mexico,
  • Get high-speed data service at no extra charge, including LTE where available, when using their devices in Canada or Mexico, and
  • Can call across any of the US/Canada/Mexico borders — even from Canada to Mexico — at no extra charge.

Here’s T-Mobile CEO/Wacky Spokesmodel John Legere announcing what’s happening in 4 minutes and 44 seconds:

“Cross a border, and [AT&T and Verizon]  jack up your rates 120 times for data,” says Legere. “You know why? Just so they can make more money off of you! In fact, they’re projected to make nearly 10 billion dollars in global roaming charges this year at margins north of 90 percent.” He points out that while other carriers offer roaming packages, the onus is on you to guess what your mobile usage abroad will be.

fint printIf you’re thinking “What’s the catch?”, you’re right — there are a few, but in my view, they’re pretty minor:

  • If you’re a T-Mobile customer, you don’t get it automatically; you have to opt in. I’ve already logged into my T-Mobile online account and can’t find any announcements or way to opt in, but this feature was just announced.
  • Customers currently on certain T-Mobile promo plans, such as older unlimited plans or the “bonus 2.5 gig plan”, will have to either switch to a new plan or pay an addition $10/month in order for Mobile Without Borders be available to them.
  • You have to spend more than half your time in the US to qualify. This will disappoint any people who live in Canada or Mexico who were planning on capitalizing on this offering.
  • If you’re on T-Mobile’s Data Stash program, which lets you roll over unused data allotments to the next month, your extra data won’t be available to you while you’re in Canada or Mexico. T-Mobile says it won’t always be this way.

T-Mobile will still have to pay roaming fees to its Canadian and Mexican carrier partners, and it appears that they’ll eat these costs. This tactic is pretty consistent with many of the other ones they’ve used to differentiate themselves from the competition.

As a T-Mobile user based in Tampa (where their service is quite good) and who travels to Canada at least a couple of times a year, this is great news.

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Goodwill

When someone says “goodwill”, most people in North America don’t think of a spirit of friendship and cooperation. They think of the store pictured below:

macklemore thrift shop 2

…in fact, it’s also the first thing Google thinks of when you say “goodwill”.

Goodwill also has a business definition: it’s the reputation of a business, expressed as a dollar value. This reputation comes from factors such as its brand name, how the business is perceived by its customers and the market, and any intangible “special sauce” that sets the company apart, such as its history, notable high-level employees, unique approaches or processes, and the like. It appears in a company’s books as an intangible asset, unlike buildings and office equipment, which any Business or Accounting 101 textbook will tell you are tangible assets.

For example, Apple has a high goodwill value: it’s $4.6 billion as of September 2014. Google’s is even higher: $16 billion as of December 2014. Packard Bell, not so much.

Goodwill is an arbitrary value, and it isn’t used in day-to-day business. It’s used to help determine the value of a company when it’s acquired. If you live in the world of Silicon Valley startups, you might think that its sole purpose is to inflate the price of a company past its actual book value, but as my friend Mike van de Water (who’s forgotten more about accounting than I have learned) says:

Goodwill isn’t a way of pumping up the value, it’s exactly the reverse – the excess of the purchase price over the fair market value of all the identifiable assets acquired. In Microsoft’s case, that would include tangible assets, such as buildings and equipment, and intangibles, such as licenses, patents, etc.. If those fair market values come up to less than the purchase price, the delta becomes goodwill. Negative goodwill — a.k.a. a bargain — is also possible.

Impairment charge

When someone says “impairment charge”, this is what I usually think of:

nick nolte dui

Nick Nolte: quite possibly the most best celebrity DUI photo ever.
Click the photo for context.

In the world of finance, impairment is a lowering of the value of a company’s capital. It can reflect the decrease in worth of tangible assets — again, the classic “Business 101″ examples are buildings and equipment — and intangible assets, such as the aforementioned goodwill.

The term “Impairment charges” are often used to describe the writing off of lost or worthless goodwill, such as AOL’s 2002 impairment charge of $54 billion. It was an accountant-style way of admitting that AOL wasn’t as good as an acquisition as was they’d thought (AOL was technically the buyer because of they were the more valuable company due to their overinflated share prices back in 1999/2000; Time-Warner, as the “grown-up” in the deal, was really doing the buying).

For the purposes of this article, that’s all you really need to know about impairment. If you’d like to dive in a little deeper — and hey, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re that type of person — check out Investopedia’s “impairment charges” page.

Microsoft’s impairment charge

satya nadella unhappy face

Even if you’ve been ignoring all the warnings for the past few years (back in 2012, I wrote “you’d best run away from this platform as quickly as your feet will take you“), there’s no more denying that Windows Phone isn’t long for this world. Microsoft’s latest news release, which bears the corporate-euphemism-laden title Microsoft announces restructuring of phone hardware business, can be boiled down to two key take-aways:

  1. They’re cutting 7,800 jobs, “primarily in the phone business”.
  2. They will “record an impairment charge of approximately $7.6 billion related to assets associated with the acquisition of the Nokia Devices and Services (NDS) business”, and that it’s an “impairment adjustment of its Phone Hardware segment assets and goodwill”.

At this point, you should be asking: “Hmmm…how much did Microsoft pay to acquire Nokia’s Devices and Services business, anyway? Would it be in the ballpark of the impairment charge?” A little Googling — or Binging, if you must — will reveal that it is. When Microsoft completed the acquisition last year, it had spent $7.2 billion.

They’re not saying it with words, but something that means more in business. They’re saying it with the universal language of money: Their mobile device division is worth nothing.

Along with these other statements in the release:

  • that Microsoft is adopting a “strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem including our first-party device family”, and
  • that “the future prospects for the Phone Hardware segment are below original expectations”

…the writing on the wall has never been more clear. They’re getting out of the phone hardware business, and given that they make more than 95% of the Windows Phones, it’s quite clear Windows Phone’s days are numbered.

You know things are bad when Paul Thurrott, a die-hard Microsoft and Windows fan, says that things are coming to an end. I have to agree with his prediction:

Microsoft will cut back on the number of Lumia handsets it makes, a long overdue change. It will wait and see how these new devices perform during the current fiscal year, which runs through June 2016. And it won’t go well: Windows Phone will continue to lose share, and will continue to struggle.

I expect Microsoft to kill Lumia, possibly as soon as mid-2016, and relegate Windows 10 Mobile to third party devices, which can include phones. These phones will never gain any appreciable market share. Tablets will probably continue to do high single-digit or possibly low double-digit market share only for the foreseeable future. The future is the “mobility of experiences,” not Microsoft mobile hardware/phones.

I still love Windows Phone. I desperately want it to succeed. But you can’t get emotional about this stuff. Windows Phone is failing, and has been on a downward trajectory pretty much forever. You can pretend otherwise, but I can’t do that disservice to the community. I can only be realistic. And realistically, things have gone from bad to worse.

Here’s mobile consultant/curmudgeon Tomi Ahonen’s prediction:

So now we see the final stage of this sad play. Nadella will give one last chance for someone other than Elop to try, with only a very reduced portoflio of handsets and with far less staff, to try the miracle of turning this business around. And they warn publically not to expect profits for more than a year. And yes, as the losses will continue, this unit will be shut down. Now the clock is ticking… From 12 to 24 months i the time-frame when Microsoft exists the phone manufacturing business. And Windows Phone side of Windows 10, I would not count on much R&D ivolvement on this dead path. The next Windows version (I would suggest it might be called Windows 11) will no longer bother to support handsets, only tablets and PCs…

As a former Windows Phone Champ, it breaks my heart to see this happening, but as you’ve probably guessed from all the development articles I’ve written on iOS and Swift (as well as the occasional Android piece), I’ve moved on.

Updated Thursday, July 9 for a less hyperbolic description of goodwill and a better description of impairment. I also yanked out a section where I talked about the early days of Windows Phone and the “phone funeral” parade that Microsoft had in September 2010 — I’ll use that story in another article.

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Geek mug of the day

by Joey deVilla on July 7, 2015

i square unicode

And yes, you can buy this mug, and in three different sizes, too! Click here or on the photo above to get one.

Thanks to Visual Idiot (@idiot) for the find!

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