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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

To iPad or Not To iPad?

While technically the iPad isn't even available in my neck of the woods yet, that hasn't stopped enterprising Canucks who live near the border from ducking down across the line and bringing one home. Yesterday I got my first in-person glance at one during a meeting downtown, and was suitably impressed at the usability and form. But with the product soon to be more widely available, I have to consider whether I'll indulge in this product and give it the itManageCast "Seal of Approval" or pass it off as another techno-fad?

For the past while I've been coming closer and closer to jumping in and buying myself an e-book reader, but the problem I've had with the products breaks into one of two chief complaints:
a) too small
b) too limited in function

To me, the purpose of getting such a device is to lighten my briefcase, and have some side benefits of an administrative/remote access tool and ideally also include recreation/leisure capabilities.

Screen Size
Maybe it's just the age I'm getting to, but if I'm going to be spending any serious amount of time reading off an electronic platform, it needs to be bigger than a paperback. Especially since a lot of the material I plan to read is technical in nature, and will include diagrams, images, and colour. I want the ability to upload any PDF file or other document format I happen to get technical docs and white papers in, plus various e-book formats. This starts to really limit the field of currently available products. The 5-6" Sony readers are just too small for my uses. The format size on the Kindle DX would work (9.7" reading surface) and the current version supports PDFs natively.

The e-ink technology is amazing in various light conditions; I tried one of these last year at a trade show and was impressed by the ambient direct-light readability of the screen. But it's still only grey-scale, no colour.

Form Versus Function
Tablet PCs can do all of this, but they are WAY heavy; that footprint takes us out of the zone I'm comfortable holding & reading. What they do offer is the multiplicity of functions that I'm after.

So what am I looking for? I need a device that can be my reader and my notebook. If I'm going to move away from carrying paper I want to truly do that. I want a device that will replace my journal/notes and accommodate the copious notes I take in day, random and frequent updates to my calendar, various tech docs I want in my "hip pocket," Internet access, e-mail access, and the ability to create/read/edit simple documents on the go.

I don't think I'm alone in this, am I?

Additionally, if this same device can be used on occasion as a network console connection, all the better.

What's Left to Consider?

So I figure I'm looking at the iPad, but its got me a little jittery - it seems that it does nearly everything I want in the form-factor I want, but it's that "Apple lock-down" I'm not too certain about. Can I connect it to an external USB drive or an external monitor? How reliable and functional is the 802.11b/g/n connection? I've read reports that have noted issues. Not only that, but now the stories break that the 3G signal strength exceeds national standards in Israel. And how many other countries I wonder?

So what are the alternatives?
I recently came across a product about to be released by German manufacturers using a combo of Linux & Andriod for an O/S, and an Intel Atom processor. The product is dubbed the WePad, and it boasts a larger multi-touch display, although shorter battery life (6 hrs vs. the touted 10 of the iPad). WePad is worth looking at in my view, being a bit of an OpenSource bigot... WePad is due out in the market August 2010 in Europe, so I'll tell you what folks at Neophonie; send me a unit to work with for a week or so and I'll get my review out on what I think sounds like a viable alternative to the iPad.

Now I will commence holding my breath.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Security Perspective on Social Networking

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn... all words that can make the IT manager's skin crawl. The simple solution is to block the URLs at the firewall; once people are plugged in at the office, too bad, no social networking on work time. I think that's the way most IT manager's would prefer it. We're a bit of a draconian bunch, largely because this is the kind of stuff that just ends up making problems for us.

But is this the best approach? Other managers in the organisation may be concerned about morale, and want these sites available to their staff - well we certainly don't want to start creating exception rules in the firewalls or network compliance tools to manage which users get access and which don't. More business centric reasons exist as well; some business units may want to use these sites for market research, sales/marketing, recruiting, and other functions.

I've recently seen some interesting and creative use of combining the three main social media sites for marketing and recruitment processes. An organisation I was meeting with last week was telling me about how they use Facebook & Twitter accounts to monitor customer satisfaction with their products and services, and respond quickly to concerns from their customers or deal with urban myths about them that get propagated through these media. From a business perspective, that approach makes a lot of sense. This same organisation also uses individual LinkedIn accounts from their recruitment professionals as a mechanism to reach out to prospective new employees and contractors, and ties it all together with Facebook & Twitter promotion of new positions and recruitment drives.

So in this scenario, the IT team has to work with the other business units (sales, marketing, and HR) to make sure they can get timely access to the tools, ensure that they maintain corporate image and privacy, and verify the content of those sites - both what is "going out" and what is "coming in."

Where do you start?
Ensure first that the leaders of the organisation understand the challenges for the IT team, possible budget implications, and risks.

For certain, a review of existing organisational IT usuage policies. First off, so you have them in place? Secondly, have they been distributed (recently) and signed off? And lastly, does the language (hopefully not too "lawyered up" so that people understand what they are committing to) apply to this kind of scenario?

What questions should you ask?
Once you've established who's allowed to do what, it becomes a question next of enforcing the rules while allowing the business functionality that's been agreed to. Now we get into the business analysis side of the equation. Understand clearly what the business needs are so that your team can work with the rest of the business to deliver the solution that makes the most sense.

You'll need to look at technical considerations, some of which might be:
Will Twitter use be via the web interface, or 3rd party apps like TweetDeck?
Will you allow all Facebook apps, or try and block some (like games, etc.)?
Will this be allowed corporate wide, or group by group?

Who's already looking down this path?
There are developers such as Teneros and SocialWare who are developing middleware-like apps that monitor content for these sites, to ensure that the organisation knows what is going out or coming in. These tools have some limitations, so it's best to research the options closely, but it's good to know you HAVE options! SocialWare is particularly interesting to me and likely may be the subject of a future blog posting.

Check through your personal network (errr, via LinkedIn?) to see who else is in your shoes and dealing with this kind of challenge today. I was surprised to learn recently how many organisations haven't even started to deal with this from an IT perspective yet. I know we're busy, but...

As always, your feedback and input on this article is greatly appreciated; reply with your thoughts and I'll post them for continued conversation.