February 2008

This article caught my eye because I used to work for CVS a few years ago, and being in technology the “Appleites” of the world wear on me at times. 🙂 (Don’t go getting the wrong impression, I think Apple makes a good product, it’s the cult-status that bothers me.) Scott’s article raises a good question, has Apple slipped into incremental growth mode, and Macbook Air isn’t the great innovation they described?

But beyond that, the CVS MinuteClinic caught my attention, and Scott’s description of its usefulness is right on! “When we describe MinuteClinic’s approach to the uninitiated, eyes immediately light up. Everyone has gone through the pain of sitting in the doctor’s office, surrounded by sick children, for two hours to confirm the condition they already know their child has” (¶ 6). We’ve all been there. But then my business juices got flowing, and I started thinking about how MinuteClinic could be taken to the next level.

How the MinuteClinic works is this: “MinuteClinic operates small kiosks in pharmacies. A nurse practitioner staffs the kiosk. The nurse practitioner can administer rules-based diagnostics for a range of everyday maladies like strep throat and pink eye. If the diagnostic shows you indeed have the malady, you get your prescription on the spot” (¶ 5).

When we visit a doctor’s office, we sit and describe the problem to the nurse, then again to the doctor. The doctor does a cursory examination (for those easy to diagnose and treat illnesses) and then gives us a prescription or a treatment regimen. What process took place at the doctor’s office that couldn’t be accomplished through the MinuteClinic? Suppose a nurse practitioner using a closed-circuit television or in person, talked with the patient, realized that the condition is beyond his or her normal diagnostic steps, and then transmitted the information gathered thus far to the patient’s regular physician (just like e-prescription requests are transmitted today). The physician then reviewed the nurse’s notes along with the complaint as described by the patient, and gave his or her diagnosis remotely. Why couldn’t, in certain circumstances, the physician prescribe a treatment or prescription without the need to actually see the patient? The physician could get paid a lesser fee since the amount of staff and personal time was reduced, the patient receives the prescription, treatment regimen as prescribed by the physician, or a message to come into the office, all while still in the pharmacy (assuming the staff at the physicians office are able to handle the requests in a timely manner). This allows the patient to deal with minor ailments more quickly, and cut down on the costs required to treat the patient.

Granted, the AMA and physicians will fight this as an encroachment on their doctor-patient relationship, but how many times do we just call a physician’s office, describe the symptoms to a nurse, and later that day pick up a prescription at the local pharmacy?

— Anthony, S. (2008, February 12). Is CVS Caremark Out-Innovating Apple? Harvard Business. http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/anthony/2008/02/is_cvs_more_innovative_than_ap.html.

But is it really? Toshiba announced that they would cease production of HD-DVD players and recorders immediately, so Blu-ray is the champion of the next generation high definition standard. Scott Anthony, in this article, raises a good point about how Sony may have won a losing battle. “It’s entirely possible that the high-end DVD market could be relegated to niche status as companies like Apple, Comcast, Netflix, Cisco, Motorola and many others race to improve the ability to download movies over the Internet” (¶ 10). Was Sony really fighting its last battle against Matsushita all over again, only to find out in the next few years, that while they are the only hi-def DVD format out there, their market share of the entire movie industry is smaller than Apple?

Disruptive technologies have a way of wreaking havoc on the corporate landscape. We’re not there yet, but fiber to the house and other improvements in increasing the bandwidth of Internet to homes is going to make going out to the video store something you tell your grandkids about while laughing. In my area, Hollywood is already admitting defeat and closing stores in less profitable areas. Netflix was the first entrant in the video rental market with a disruptive technology, and Blockbuster jumped on the bandwagon and have done a good job of leveraging their existing distribution infrastructure well by offering to accept mailed movies at the store and giving you a free movie. This keeps them in the game against Netflix.

Only time will tell, but did Sony really win, or did Toshiba win by reducing the amount of future losses it would have incurred?

— Anthony, S. (2008, February 19). Sony: Winning the DVD Battle But Losing the Innovation War? Harvard Business. http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/anthony/2008/02/sony_winning_the_wrong_war.html.

Here’s a good follow-on article to the one describing a hack for capturing passwords after a cold boot of a computer using full-disk encryption.

Frantzen, S. (2008, February 26). ‘Cold Boot’ Guidance for Users. SANS Internet Storm Center. http://isc.sans.org/diary.html?storyid=4024

Better think again. This article describes a hack where the memory of a computer that has just been rebooted can be read, passwords harvested, and subsequently hacked. It specifically mentions Microsoft’s BitLocker and Linux’s dm-crypt as susceptible to this hack. If we as IT managers think our wandering notebook computers are protected, this article is a wake up call. Or as the article quotes, “Though we discuss several strategies for partially mitigating these risks, we know of no simple remedy that would eliminate them” (¶ 6).

— Sawyer, J. H. (2008, February 25). The Crack in Whole-Disk Encryption. Dark Reading. http://www.darkreading.com/blog.asp?blog_sectionid=447&doc_id=146727

In my opinion, one of the travesties of American state governments is that of the lottery. Currently, 42 states and the District of Columbia operate lotteries. As has been shown by numerous studies over the years, the primary people who play the lottery are those who can’t afford to lose the money. And while they are eager to point out that the money goes to education, they certainly aren’t lowering tax rates to give us back the tax money they have replaced with lottery income. (Yes, I know, our current tax rates might be higher had a lottery not existed, but is that just speculation?)

But overseas, where they operate lotteries, they also allow what are called “Prize-Linked Savings accounts.” These savings accounts pay interest, but also feed the innate desire in people to win something. The accounts offer prizes, to double your balance up to a certain amount, or just bonus prizes of preset amounts. In South Africa, over 750,000 accounts were opened and resulted in 1.2 billion Rand being saved (p. 4) in just two years! That’s equivalent to $154 million! One credit union in Indiana, Centra Credit Union, offers a “PLS” savings account. Kudos to them!

Wouldn’t it be in the best interests of the population of the United States (which is what the state governments are supposed to be thinking about), to encourage banks, S&L’s, and credit unions to offer these accounts and to disband the lotteries? The product would encourage savings in the lowest income groups of the population and possibly in higher income groups as well. When you consider that in 2007 over $90 billion was spent on “legalized” gambling (p. 10), wouldn’t it be better to channel more of that money into the savings pipe which could be used by businesses and government to grow our economic base? And in the process we would be enabling those at the lower income levels to start a savings plan and teach them that it is possible to better their economic situation through savings and hard work.

— Tufano, P., Maynard, N., & De Neve, J. (2008). Consumer Demand for Prize-Linked Savings: A Preliminary Analysis. http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/08-061.pdf.

Have you ever heard someone argue that we in the U.S. shouldn’t tell citizens of another country what is right or wrong, that the society in the other country has to decide what is right for itself? Or even one state or city shouldn’t tell another state or city what is right for it? This is an example of the “conventionalism” ethics argument. The problem with this argument is that it is “…impossible to criticize another society’s practices, no matter how bizarre or morally repugnant they may seem to us” (p. 50). If this is true today, why did we prosecute the Nazis at Nuremberg? The majority of that society believed in “The Final Solution” to exterminate the Jewish population (as well as homosexuals and gypsies), so if society had decided that extermination was appropriate, why the trial? The conventionalism argument can be extended to any length to include (insert the most repugnant act you can think of) and still, supposedly, be “moral.”

Some like to argue that there is a “higher good” that all people ascribe to. In other words, all people have decided that murder is immoral so murder is therefore immoral and therefore illegal. But according to conventionalism, why? If a group of people who believed murder was morally allowed, bought an island somewhere, moved there, why shouldn’t they be allowed to dispense with what other people believed and live as they see fit? Although the population most likely would dwindle down to one before too long.

Without a base morality defined by an authority higher than humankind, there is nothing that is immoral or unethical under conventionalism. “If there is no law above society – no external standard – then that society cannot be judged” (p. 50).

Thankfully, people of previous eras didn’t ascribe to this philosophy, or the work of William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Jr., Corrie ten Boom, and those seeking religious freedom from England would not have accomplished what they set out to do. How many people today owe their freedom to the work of people who believed in a higher moral standard?

– Beckwith, F. J. & Koukl, G. (1998). Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci.

This statement brings to mind Swedish and Japanese interior design more than it does IT. Anyone who has ever worked in support for a large IT organization understands complexity. But how did that complexity get out of hand? But anyone who has also worked in IT long enough understands this statement:

“…except that the cheapest and quickest way to respond to individual demands for improvements from business units is almost always to do something that increases complexity” (p. 54).

But before all you IT’ers out there complain about non-IT department managers demanding new technology and new software to solve current problems, think about this: It’s IT’s responsibility to explain the risks involved in constantly increasing complexity and patching an old software program, and to present a plan to move toward a more simplified and more easily maintained environment. It’s not always possible, but judging by some statistics in this article, it’s not attempted enough by IT.

“Only 15% of respondents believed that their IT capability was highly effective, that IT ran reliably, without excess complexity and always or nearly always delivered projects with promised functionality, timing and cost…The survey also showed that almost three-quarters of respondents believed that their IT capability was neither highly aligned nor highly effective…” (p. 53).

In the face of these statistics, it sounds like we as IT managers need to become more adept at argumentation, influence, and negotiation. These skills will help IT managers convince upper management of the need to rebuild those legacy systems into more standardized applications that can support the company’s operations, but keep budgets down. We as IT managers must provide the leadership to the company, just like marketing managers provide marketing leadership, in order for senior executives to understand the risks involved in not reducing complexity in the long run.

— Shpilberg, D., Berez, S., Puryear, R., & Shah, S. (2007, Fall). Avoiding the Alignment Trap in Information Technology. MIT Sloan Management Review. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/smr/issue/2007/fall/02/

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