Archive for category MBA
Great digital design can make even installing a thermostat a worthwhile experience!
While working to fix a problem I caused with our garbage disposal (they can’t handle banana peals!) I realized how much garbage disposals and software have in common.
Technology fuels economic growth. If you don’t think it does, just sit back and consider the economic impact of air travel, computers, and manufacturing. This is why I was driven to blogging after reading what appears to be a serious proposal to put a tax on automation! Read for yourself. Read the rest of this entry »
Too much information can be a bad thing. I learned this the other day. I like using the global search feature on my iPhone to look up people. But recently I was hit with too much information when I did so.
“Computers are evil” became one of my many common sayings to my computer science and business technology students the past 30 years. For me, it sums up the core of my personal philosophy of using computers. Yesterday, I had a typical doctor’s office waiting experience which was driven by this statement “computers are evil“, however my customer experience was not a positive one, why? because I don’t believe the doctor’s office fully understands the impact of “computers are evil“. Read the rest of this entry »
We are looking for upper class computer science and information technology students to sign up for an independent study in which they will work with MBA students to create business solutions on the Web.
Benefits of this Independent Study
- Work with students in other disciplines such as business, design, content, and more
- Practice problem solving in a collaborative environment
- Practice communicating technical concepts to non-experts in a user-friendly way
- Gain real-world experience by applying technical concepts to solve business problems
Who will Succeed in this Independent Study?
- Students who desire to use their technical skills in a business environment
- Students with strong communication and interpersonal skills
- Students who can resolve conflict in a healthy manner
- Students with expertise in domain management, e-commerce, coding tools, and other web development skills
- Students who can learn how to learn technology online and on their own with guidance (the course is NOT meant to teach you HOW to do things, but to provide you with a platform to figure out what needs done and how to get it done independently)
Class and Credit information
- 3 credits for independent study, CpS 499
- open to CpS and IT majors
- permission required from CpS Department Head
- no tests or quizzes
- 3 required class meetings – 1/18, 3/1, 4/5
- lead the technology decisions and implementation for a team of MBA students to build and launch an online organization
- 3 class/online presentations – introduction of yourself, overview of technology choices, status of technology & lessons learned for final project
- 120 hours of team project related work; you will be expected to keep a time journal to confirm the work you have done
Contact Dr Jim Knisely if you are interested.
One of my favorite academic creations has been an MBA course which combines the talents of upper level undergraduate computer science students with MBA students. They are challenged to work in teams, one CS major per MBA team, to define, create, launch and run an online business. Here is a summary of each of their creations.
Read the rest of this entry »
Perhaps you have heard the phrase that marketing is all about “creating a need and filling it”. Perhaps a similar phrase about the digital world could be “create a community and grow it”. This seems to be a growing trend on the Web. Consider all the social networks as well as businesses like eBay. They thrive on community. Community seems to be something deeply ingrained in the human species. Read the rest of this entry »
Ran into a VERY EMBARRASSING situation in Business Technology class today. This week’s chapter is about digital automation - software. My most favorite topic! (bit building). I was demonstrating software flaws (bugs). But not the kind that happen because the programmer coded in a 5 instead of a 3. But the more subtle, and usually more serious kind. Read the rest of this entry »
Software is a most interesting entity. You can’t touch it or feel it. You really can’t see it. You can’t hold it in your hands. Yet it can be extremely valuable (or not). It doesn’t physically wear out, yet it becomes less valuable over time. At the lowest level it is made of bits (binary digits), not atoms. One’s and zero’s. Lives inside a computer. Originates from inside a person’s brain. The name, SOFTWARE, would seem to imply something soft and pliable. Easy to change or alter. Easy to manipulate. But the more I work with software and with people building software as well as folks using it, I am convinced that software is very much like concrete! Read the rest of this entry »
We started our exploration of digital properties (web sites) by looking at what it means to “be digital”. Next we looked at what it takes to drive traffic to our digital properties – SEO, search engine optimization. This week we look at how to design our web sites so that once we drive traffic to it, our customers will be able find what they are looking for and will want to come back again and again. Read the rest of this entry »
MBA students, Trust you are having a good week. I have been hosting a dear friend from the ministry of Camp Ironwood, located in the high desert of California. A very unique venue for a camping ministry designed to reach hearts with the Gospel! Read the rest of this entry »
Parents are all to familiar with this. Their kid does something they didn’t want them to do and the kid replies “but that’s not what you said”. Parent replies “but you know what I meant!”. Search engines play the same game. They work only off of the syntax and not the semantics. (MBA students, know the difference).
While a spring Saturday in lovely Greenville SC is not a good setting for a day long business seminar, here I am and here are some tidbits of business wisdom I collected while here.
- it takes a business to grow a product
- “greatest idea ever” has flaws; it will sell itself therefore no market research is done
- the idea becomes sacred; no changes are allowed; no room for improvement; it consumes you
- passion and talent are not linked
- know when to say no to working with a customer; finish what you started but know when to stop
- monopoly is sum zero; you get from others; does your business only get by taking business from competition ?
- life is sum positive; you get from the game; does your business get by generating something knew?
- money doesn’t generate money, it accelerates making or losing money
- pay attention to opportunities; Jim Anthony story
- learn hownto make others’ pain go away; create solutions that eliminate pain; this means I first have to learn what makes others hurt; listen then apply what I am good at to eliminate their pain
From ABS bugs in the Toyota Prius to I can’t print my boarding pass, software issues continue to plague us. To fully understand why, you must grasp this basic fundamental characteristic of software – Software is not flexible! It works sort of like concrete. While the builder is working with concrete, it is a most flexible material. But once water is added and the concrete hardens, good bye flexibility.
The same is true with software. While the builder is writing the software (programming or coding as we call it) it is a most flexible material. That’s why we call it software. But once the system has been built and deployed (i.e. made available for others to run on their computer) it is no longer soft.
One of the 10 qualities of worthwhile software is ROBUSTNESS which defines who well (or not) the software will respond to unexpected conditions. This morning I experienced this lack of robustness when I printed my boarding pass for an early morning flight from Denver back to Greenville.
I was staying with my good friend, Will Senn (pastor of Tri-City Baptist Church in Westminster CO), and needed to print my boarding pass before heading to the airport at 4:30AM (which felt like 3:30AM thanks to the time change forced upon us in the name of saving energy – it certainly didn’t save my energy nor the thousands of people at saw at Denver International this morning). I logged into my Delta account and checked-in. When I hit the print button for my boarding pass, I was shocked to receive a blank paper! An error message popped up from the printer saying “out of ink”. Oh now, no time to run to Office Depot. I had to catch my plane.
On the way to the airport it hit me – how robust is the Delta check in software? Will it let me check in again at the airport. Well, my worst fears were realized when the check in software said “see agent”. I tracked down an agent and told him what happened. Of course he had never heard of anyone every doing this before and had no idea how to check me in. So I got in line to check in the old fashioned way, you know, the way we will tell our grandchildren we use to check into airplanes and they’ll say “you’ve got to be kidding!”. I told my story to the next agent who tried unsuccessfully to check me in. I said you need to find a way to “uncheck me in”. So he went to the super-agent who finally was able to get the system to let me check in again and printed my boarding pass!
Why all the hassle. The software engineers didn’t consider the possibility of someone checking in from home and not being able to print out their boarding pass. Or perhaps they considered it and didn’t have time or money to make the necessary changes to the software before it was deployed. Either way, because software is not soft (i.e. flexible), it was not able to handle my situation.
This demonstrates a point about computational thinking I stress with my students – computers are fast and accurate, but not creative or flexible. People are creative and flexible, but not fast and accurate. They need each other!
So one of the 10 qualities of worthwhile software is robustness – to create the software in such a way as to anticipate every possible error a user might make and figure out in advance (while the software is being built) how to do the right thing. Software developers will have strong job security until someone figures out how to solve this problem!
Living in the information age has lots of exciting benefits and challenges. I like to think that working with bits, which are the basic building blocks of digital information, is a lot more fun than building with atoms, relics of the past industrial age. One of the challenges with so many bits is how to see them all? An exciting branch of computer science is starting to gain much attention in the business word. It’s called Data Visualization and its primary goal is to communicate information clearly and effectively through graphical means.
Last week I was pleased to have one of my former students, Sam Batterman, speak to my computer science students about this topic. Sam is a data visualization evangelist @ Microsoft. He is has been working with health care companies to help them make huge decisions about the future our our health care system through the use of data visualization techniques (another great example of the use of computation thinking skills in the 21st century). An interesting side note is that Sam’s new sci-fi novel (WayBack) is the result of his realization that no matter how much data you have to visualize, your presuppositions have a huge impact on your interpretation.
We’ll I just ran across a very fun application of data visualization that I think everyone can understand. It deals with word frequency analysis – a fancy term for “how many times does each word occur within a body of text?” I actually give my freshmen bit-builders an assignment in which they have to build a program which reads in a large text file of words and then tell how many times each word occurs. Well after finding this DV applicaiton, I think I’ll be modifying the assignment!
Here are couple examples of this technique taken from the word frequency dv website.
In the past, the key to making good decisions is to have good information. But if you have so much information that you can’t absorb it then you will likely not be able to make good decisions. You need a company like Worthwhile help you make sense out of the bits. That’s why we love working in the bit business.
For more of my blogs on the world of bits, just put in “bits” in my blog’s search engine.
One of the blessings I experience as a professor of computer science and owner of a bit building business, is the opportunity to allow my students to experience a taste of the business world through The Worthwhile Company. I like to call this the “comingling of academic and business bits”. I first saw the term “comingling of bits” in Negroponte’s Being Digital where he does an outstanding job of helping everyone understand the differences between the bit-based world and the atom-based world.
Last week I had my senior computer science and information technology students go on a tour of Worthwhile. I purposefully avoid being there so that they can see the company from a different perspective. They hear it from me for four years so its nice for them to hear a different perspective. I find its sort of like parenting – as parents we have seen the benefits derived when our children hear the stuff we’ve been trying to instill in their hearts from someone else.
Here are some excerpts from the feedback I received from my students concerning the Worthwhile Tour. I share them because I believe Worthwhile is an excellent instantiation of the class BitBuildingCompany! (sorry, can’t resist a little C++ lingo)
- Despite the late hour of Monday’s tour (in terms of typical business hours), the first thing I noticed upon my arrival at Worthwhile was the presentation provided by Beth Honshell. As a developer, it is not my nature to think about the way a business presents itself, but when clients come, first impressions really do make a difference. Specifically, my “first impression” of Worthwhile headquarters was not the refreshments – it was the professionalism of the environment. The building was extremely well-kept, and the big screen on the wall was immediately noticed.
- From the moment we entered the door, the first impression we had of Worthwhile was excellent. The staff was cheerful and friendly, the lobby was clean and orderly, and the snacks were good. It was a good reminder on the importance of first impressions, and it was clear that Mrs. Honshell was an expert in that field.
- My first impression of Worthwhile was given to me by none other than the Director of First Impressions herself. I am familiar with the concept of placing someone in charge of ensuring that guest have a friendly and impressive first impression, but I’d never quite seen how useful it would be in a software development firm. Imagining myself as a non-tech oriented client, it was clear how comforting a warm friendly welcome would be.
- If I were a client choosing between two software development firms, that good reception would be a definite factor in how I viewed each firm and ultimately my decision of which firm to hire.
- My most prominent takeaways were two: the importance of first impressions and atmosphere, and the skill with which The Worthwhile Company presented both of these.
- The next insight I gained was that the clients are not the only non-tech oriented people a developer will have to interact with.
- Developers should be prepared to communicate with, at the very least, user interface designers that are not well versed in technical computer jargon.
- The burden is on the developer to become familiar with the jargon of non-programmers in order to be effective in an organization.
- I was pleased to see biometric security in use in the fingerprint reader. Biometric security is not just a research topic but is actually being used to protect multi-million dollar data centers.
- My favorite part was hearing from David Ruse with how he is involved in every step of the production, from the beginning when they are interviewing the client to when the final testing is done before deployment.
This tour helps me accomplish one of my teaching goals of helping my students bridge the gap between the academic world of bits and the business world of bits. It is most encouraging when the start to “get it”.
We all get frustrated when things don’t work. Personally I believe this frustration is meant to point us toward our Creator and His amazing solution – the Gospel! But the results of living in a broken world is very evident. Even in the BIT world. The world of ones and zeroes. Information. Computers. Websites. Logins. Security. All of the stuff of which the bit business consists. My life is very involved in both the teaching and application of bit business concepts to my students and my clients.
This morning I hit yet another frustration which got me thinking about how my company (Worthwhile) can help our customers and their customers avoid these frustrations. I am a member of ACM, a professional group of people interested in advancing computing as a science and profession. They have a very extensive online book store. There was a new book called The Twitter Book which I wanted to order for The Worthwhile gang. We’ve had lots of great discussions recently about the value of social media and how to bring real business and personal value using it.
It had been a while since I had logged into Safari Books Online, so after digging out the keys to store I attempted to login, but to no avail. No errors, no warnings, no entry, NOTHING! I simply couldn’t get into the store. Now, I teach an e-commerce class to MBA students and one of the “big ideas” we discuss says “when there’s a person who wants to give you money MAKE IT AS EASY AS POSSIBLE!”. We’ll it wasn’t easy for this this morning! I got to thinking about the parallel in the atom world (brick and mortar). If I hopped in my car, and you should see my new Crossfire SRT6 sometime – wow is it sweet, and drove down the street to Barnes and Nobles, I could see right away if there was something keeping me from getting into the store – could be the crowds, the roads closed for construction, traffic lights could be out, the store could be closed, the store could be out of business, a vast number of things would serve as visual aids to tell me why I couldn’t get in.
But things are often not so simple in the bit world. Though if enough creative thought and energy went into it, I believe they could be! I have absolutely no idea why I couldn’t get into the Sarafi store. Was it out of business? Was my car out of gas? Was it too crowded? Where they closed for inventory? I have no idea. I find that to be very frustrating.
The lesson – when building interfaces and websites and plug ins and apps and you name it, for the bit business, you need to have a team with experience and dedication to think about how to present interfaces in such a way as to minimize or even eliminate user frustrations.
I’m confident that our dedicated team of bit builders and bit designers at Worthwhile will continue to create great user experiences that will make our customers and their customers ENJOY rather than simply ENDURE our creations!
In my “9 qualities of worthwhile software“, I refer to user-friendliness as one of the qualities which makes software worthwhile. I ran into a morning battle with the bathroom faucet in my hotel room this morning which got me thinking more about the role interfaces play in the things we use all the time. All things we use have interfaces, and software is no different. These interfaces come in all shapes, sizes, colors, etc. Some seem to be easier to use than others, usually because they are more intuitive. Interfaces help hide the functional details that make a device do something useful for the user.
A faucet is one of the more universal and simple interfaces most of us interact with several times a day. In terms of functionality, they provide the user with the following
- turn water on and off
- control the amount of water flow (some might only allow on or off and no level control)
- select between cold and hot
- control the combination of cold and hot
Some “high tech” faucets might also provide the following
- auto on/off via a sensor which senses the presence/absence of the user’s hands
- specified length of time to be on in order to reduce the amount of unnecessary water flow, these are especially popular in high traffic areas – rest stops, airports, etc
So while all faucets provide pretty much the same functionality, the way in which they deal with this functionlity varies. For example
- push, pull, twist, press, turn
- separate the cold and the hot
- continuous lever which combines cold/hot and volume flow at the same time
The one in my hotel was a single handle through which I could select hot/cold and volume. The challenge for me was knowing which way to move the handle to get the hot water I wanted. So what’s the big deal? It was labeled with an H (presumably for hot) and C (presumably for cold). My challenge was I turned it in the direction I assumed was hot, waited a few seconds, wasn’t hot, so I moved it the other direction, waited a few seconds, it wasn’t hot. I repeated my test of the interface and waited a longer period of time. Still not hot and didn’t seem to be even getting warm! Being the patient person that I am (NOT!!) I went to the other sink and turned on the hot water immediately. Before leaving the questionable faucet, I decided to extend my test by leaving it run in the position I assumed was most likely hot (don’t report me to the water usage department!). When I came back, several minutes later, behold, I had hot water! So now I know which direction is hot and which is cold.
I stood there a few seconds analyzing the situation to determine if this was the fault of the interface design. Perhaps the interface could have been improved by adding a couple of directional arrows to the H and C? But in this case I believe my challenge came not from a poor interface design, but from a performance problem! The hot water took way too long for me to be able to quickly tell if I had gone the right direction.
My point for bit building is this – don’t focus on a single quality of worthwhile software, they must all be taken into account together. The software interfaces must be intuitive, but the software must also perform well – not too fast, not too slow. Can software perform too fast? Absolutely, for certainly classes of functionality. Error messages are good example Users get very irritated if a program’s error messages appear and then disappear too quickly.
So when looking for good software, be sure to consider all of the qualities, don’t just focus on a single one. My job @ Worthwhile is to teach our bit builders how to balance all of the qualities into a single software product. Its sort of like putting together a great orchestra – all the stuff must be in balance with the right timing. So interface doesn’t make ALL the difference alone. It has to be properly combined with performance, security, correctness, etc. For a complete list see 9 qualities of worthwhile software.
I’m pleased to be the first person to blog on Ironwood’s very own blog site! This was a result of IronGeekWeek. We first did this event 4 years ago (May 2005) and decided it was time to do another one. The first time, Georg Zimmer and I, from The Worthwhile Company, came for a week & helped our good friend Dennis Mollet with the camp’s IT infrastructure. We also helped Sam Brock, camp director, improve the hosting of his website and email.
This year we brought an additional member on the team, Ian Wagner. Ian is one of my computer science students and is spending his summer interning @ Worthwhile in our growing Summer of Bit Building experience. Ian has proved to be an outstanding member of the team, allowing me to avoid the 2 all nighters the team has done so far this week! We also had another one of my students, Jaclyn Ong, from Chino Hills, join us for a day. It was a huge learning opportunity for this relatively new member of the geek squad from BJU!
A Day in the Life of IronGeekWeek gives a good overview of what we do.
Here is a summary of the hightlights of the week. We post this mainly for our benefit, for unlike most camp volunteers which paint and build buildings (all very atom-based activities), our work is done almost exclusively with bits. We post this list so we can look back and “see what we did”.
- setup a vistor portal that will give camp visitors filtered internet access w/o having to involve Dennis’ time helping them with all the bit settings needed to provide this safe, filtered access – Ian was primarily responsible for this
- installed a virtual host on the camp’s main server and virtualized their existing Business & Exchange Server – Georg was primarily responsible for this and it ended up requiring 2 all nighters in order to minimize the impact on the users
- analyzed the cost/benefit of leaving all the computers on at night in order for Dennis to be able to automate nightly updates for OS & antivirus upgrades – Dan did the research on this and we all agreed that the additional $26/year was a small price to pay for the massive time savings for Dennis!
- implemented to Windows Server group policies needed to keep users from shutting down their computers at night, forcing hibernation instead, so the auto updates could take place
- created an online virtual hosting environment to provide a home for a growing number of web-based applications
- created Ironwood Online as a place to put digital documents for Ironwood customers to download easily – showed Beth and Sam how to fill the shelves of this digital store with bit-based products
- created Ironwood Wiki to facilitate an easy to use online mechanism for posting employee related stuff – Dan used it to store the instructions on how to manage Ironwood Online
- created Ironwood Blog to allow Sam & others a place to easily communicate the blessings of the Lord in the lives of campers – Dan was privileged to create this first official blog here!
- moved the existing proxy server into a VM and created a new one for the visitor portal – Ian did the googling need to figure this out and the entire team had a hand in making it work.
- increased the storage capacity of their server from 1 to 3 terabytes, maintaining the reliability via RAID
- resolved some existing email issues with Exchange Server
- helped Larry the BBQ guy (and great provider of food – see photo below) get his email working properly on his iPhone – and now Dan has been hooked on iPhones!!!
- resolved several DNS issues
- built and setup a new backup server and installed RSnapShot to keep the growing number of valuable bits insured – Georg and Ian worked on this
- created a script to restart IIS everyday @ 3AM to save time and frustration for Dennis – Georg did this one
- helped Dennis install 2 new flat panel monitors which suspend above his desk!
- gave Dennis some worthwhile computer lessons on topics of his choice – firewalls, ports, TCP/UDP/GRE and basic network and application security
- spent 14 hours trying to get a donated backup server to work; finally gave up and built our own in just a few short hours! Lesson learned – beware of donated computer equipment; it may not be worth the time it takes to assess its value to the ministry.
All in all we had a great week! Here are a few photos to help us remember the blessings of God in allowing us to serve him thru this great Gospel ministry which is changing hearts for Christ out here in the high deserts of California.