SaaS – a safer choice for SMBs

I had many opportunities to talk to stakeholders in different organizations, big and small, about software as a service and cloud services in general. A typical major concern is security. People usually fear what they don’t understand or what they perceive outsider their control. Questions like “where my data sits?” or “who has access to my data?” are reasonable and must be addressed properly by the service provider in order to win customer trust. But I firmly believe an average cloud service provider will deliver better and safer services compared to an above average SMB IT staff. Why?

These days I am going through Cisco’s 2016 Annual Security Report ( which, by the way, is a very good read for every IT professional. There are many interesting topics and industry insides but one of them got my attention and supports my statement above. Are Small and Midsize Businesses a Weak Link to Enterprise Security? As any other company in an economy, SMBs are entrusted with customer information. Actually there are many small companies that hold similar data about me to what big names of the economy hold. SMBs are as responsible to protect this information as Enterprises are.

Cisco’s report shows instead that SMB’s defenses are getting weaker, not only compared to larger companies but also to their previous security levels. I will only take two examples: 48 percent of SMBs said in 2015 that they used web security; 59 percent said they did in 2014. Only 29 percent said they used patching and configuration tools in 2015, compared with 39 percent in 2014. Moreover SMBs don’t usually have a higher ranking responsible for security and also don’t think they are a high-value target for online criminals. Processes to analyze incidents and eliminate root causes are most the time missing. Resources are also scarce as security is less a high priority topic compared to larger companies.

I think my point regarding security level in SMBs is quite clear, leaving me with only a few words to add on SaaS and cloud services. Even an average provider of cloud services will have dedicated and trained staff, better processes and more resources dedicated to security compared to most of the SMBs. Service providers live on this services revenue and they cannot afford public exposure for data loss or corruption. Software platforms used for SaaS services have better chances to be up-to-date, patched against known security issues, better protected by dedicated security mechanisms and better looked after by qualified staff. In fewer words: a safer choice for SMBs.

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Highlights on IT Industry for 2016

2015 and 2016 year written on sandy beach sea. Wave washes away 2015. The concept of 2015 is gone, come the new year 2016.

It’s quite a while since I wrote the latest post and this year I set a target for myself to be more focused on what I read and to write more. To keep the long story short, I will resume my writing with a short post on what I expect this year from IT Industry in Romania. It’s far from an extensive analysis and I will only refer to the important factors that I believe are most relevant for 2016.

The development and the adoption rate of technologies are always heavily influenced by the political and economic context. So, what will 2016 bring?

What’s happening on the political and economic stage?

If I think on a single word to summarize the beginning of the year it’s uncertainty. Economically speaking, the uncertainty is generated by two critical factors: the dramatic oil price drops and China’s growth fragility. The emergent countries are also sailing on shallow waters and the fear for the future is well resented on the markets.

Politics are also not very good. Without entering deep into causality and conspiracy theory, the epicenter of the political world these days is in the Middle East. For Romania (and Europe) the most significant implication is the 1milion refugees that entered Europe in 2015 and consequently the increased security risks.

An additional stress factor for Romania, are the legislative and local elections. The tendency in the election years is to reduce the investment in critical public projects and to spend the public money on actions with limited long term value but with high impact on votes.

What should we expect in the IT Industry?

Speed up cloud services adoption

Cloud is not a technology in itself but rather a way of consuming technology. There are 2 key advantages in using cloud services that are important during uncertain times: they do not require significant investment for the customer (those reducing risks and pressure on financial budgets) and they are highly flexible (basically you pay only what you consume). Of course there are drawbacks that require attention but the economic benefits will be stronger in today’s world.

Increased interest for security technologies

IT Security business growth was below expectations in the recent years but I think 2016 will change that. Why? Only a few days have passed since the beginning of the year and we saw significant military acquisition in Romania (air defense radar and anti tank missiles). This is a strong trend that includes also IT security technologies and will dominate both public and private space. Surveillance technologies (Internet and physical surveillance) worth mentioning because keeping an eye on unwanted activity will be a priority.

Internet of Things adoption

This is the last, but certainly not the least important trend that we will see in the IT Industry. A lot of things happened in this space during the last 2-3 years and I think the technology and service providers reached an optimal level of maturity. Significant standardization effort is happening (fragmentation of technologies is a big issue in IoT space) and the ecosystem is starting to deliver real value. And value is like music to the ears for companies looking for new business models and new revenue streams in the turbulence around.

These are my bets for 2016 which, by the way, I expect to be a fascinating year. I will go into more details on each trend mentioned above in the following posts. Stay tuned.

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Grown-up games

Colonistii_din_catanPlaying is an essential activity for human development. By playing children develop skills from the simplest to very complex ones. But the role of playing is not limited to childhood, on the contrary, it transitions to adult life and it continues to be part of human life until the end. I dare to say that the one who forget to play from time to time, give up a great personal development tool.

For example, last week I rediscovered a game that I loved to play a few years ago: Settlers of Catan. It’s a game with relatively simple rules, aiming to colonize an island with roads, villages and towns. The island is composed of hexagons with resources (wood, brick, iron, wheat and sheep) and the island’s banks have commercial ports that offers certain benefits. At each round one player rolls the dice and all players can get the resources they have in the neighbourhood, if their number on the hexagon correspond to the dice.

Settlers of Catan stimulates the development of certain skills and I want to emphasize two of them, with significant impact on your career or business success. The first one is positioning. In the game, it is essential that you position the first two settlements in such a way to have a better chance in collecting as many resources as possible. The second element is the development strategy that you choose. Depending on the position you’ve managed to occupy on the board, you must choose the right strategy to effectively exploit the resources you get. Common sense things but with major implications.

Let’s see first how these two aspects can be translated to career and business. What is the meaning of positioning and what are its implications? Like in the game, positioning involves choosing the place where you will perform your activities, where you will bring value. Of course circumstances will greatly influence the positioning but, depending on how well you chose your position, you will be able to better use your own resources: time and skills. This will determine, in large measure, the success in many areas of life. Why so few manage to position themselves correctly? Three key elements are necessary for proper positioning: understanding the environment, understanding resources (skills) and goal setting. The problem is that none of the three is simple. It would take too long to discuss each one in detail so I will devote some future articles for detailing.

I was saying that the second key element of the game is strategy development. Depending on the position you are in, proximity of resources and commercial ports and depending on opponents movements you must choose the game strategy that will allow you to maximize the resources that chance offers your. That’s exactly the same in real life. Most of the times you can’t control the environment, you can’t control what people do and you can’t control the events that occur along the way. But, depending on the context and on your goal, you have to develop a strategy. You must choose the path that will lead you from the point where you are to the goal you want to reach. But this is not easy. On one hand it involves a constant effort of researching and understanding the environment and, especially, a constant effort to refine your goal. Why refining your goal for? Because of two reasons: the first reason is that there will always be forces (outside or inside of you) that will try to derail you. These forces range from laziness, to well-intentioned people with different viewpoints, to malicious persons who don’t wish you well. The second reason is that as you approach the goal, the details become clearer and it is necessary to elaborate your goal. It’s like you see a city from a distance and you decide to get there but when you get closer you see that it is composed of streets, buildings, parks and it is necessary to precisely choose the destination.

I briefly described two skills that can significantly impact our careers or business and that we can learn by playing. Sure that these two skills can be learned in different ways, but experimentation in real life will certainly involve a much higher price. So, happy playing!

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The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker – Book Review

About the Author

Born in Austria in 1909, Peter Drucker is one of the most influential business writers of the 20th century. He taught management beginning with 1950 until 2005 (when he died) at New York University and Claremont Graduate University. He wrote more than 30 books on business and management, most of them translated in over 20 languages. BusinessWeek Magazine called him: “the man who invented management”.

Book description

The first edition of “The Effective Executive” appeared in 1966 and it was republished several times since. If most of the management books are on how to conduct other peoples, this book is about how to manage ourselves. The focus of the book is on the executive, or decision maker, and what he or she must do in order to be effective.

In the first part of the book Drucker clarifies 3 essential aspects:

  1. who is the executive
  2. why effectiveness is a vital subject
  3. what is effectiveness

The second part of the book, the largest, describes thoroughly the 5 habits that determines the effectiveness of an executive:

  1. understand and control his time usage
  2. focus on contribution and results
  3. build on his own strengths and on the strengths of his superiors, colleagues and subordinates
  4. focus on the areas where superior performance leads to outstanding results
  5. make effective decisions

My favorite quote

Effectiveness, in other words, is a habit; that is, a complex of practices. And practices can always be learned. Practices are simple, deceptively so; even a seven-year-old has no difficulty in understanding a practice. But practices are always exceedingly hard to do well. They have to be acquired, as we all learn the multiplication table; that is, repeated ad nauseam until “6 x 6 = 36” has become unthinking, conditioned reflex, and firmly ingrained habit. Practices one learns by practicing and practicing and practicing again.

My Comments

I will not get into the details of the book, as I don’t want this review to replace reading the book. By contrary, my goal is to make you curious enough to read it. This is why I will briefly comment only on two topics:

Who is the executive

The correct identification of the decision makers within an organization must start from a key concept, namely, from responsibility. This will help avoiding the trap of automatically putting equal between managers and executives (decision makers). Why would it be wrong? Because Drucker is saying that not all managers are decision makers and decision makers are not all managers. Then, what is the correct definition of an executive? Based on the concept of responsibility, we can see that a modern organization needs two types of characters in positions that involve responsibility, authority and decision-making capacity: The Manager – meaning the person managing a group of people who are his subordinates – and The Individual Professional Contributor or, the knowledge worker, as Drucker likes to call him.

So, in the modern organization, a manager or individual professional contributor is an executive if by virtue of his position or knowledge, he is responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results. This may be the capacity of a business to bring out a new product or to obtain a larger share of a given market. It may be the capacity of a hospital to provide bedside care to its patients, and so on. Such a man (or woman) must make decisions; he cannot just carry out orders. He must take responsibility for his contribution.

Building on strengths

Any person, object or situation has both strengths and weaknesses. As a result, there are two ways on which we can act: cover/correct weaknesses or exploit strengths. What is the correct path? Drucker says that, in order to get results, you must use all available strengths of your partners, superiors or of your own. Performance can only be build on the strengths and, therefore, harnessing strengths is the only purpose of the organization.

Why is this idea so important? Because there is a bad tendency, especially when it comes to personal assessment, to look for ways to remedy the situation when someone concludes he has weaknesses in some area. The idea to correct is not wrong in itself but the purpose of the correction must be the right one. There is no universal genius and nobody should try to be good at everything. Correction must be aimed at controlling the negative effects (damage control). A very interesting book on this subjects is “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham.

Unlike other practices that determine effectiveness, harnessing strengths, is both a practice and an attitude. If we discipline ourselves to look for the potential of a person or situation and not for the weaknesses, we develop the habit of identifying and building on strengths.


Although written in simple words and easy to read, the book is not superficial. It is not the “5 steps to effectiveness” kind of book. It is a competent analysis that manages to make tangible a vital concept for an executive. With clear ideas and eloquent examples, the book worth reading and I recommend it to every person aspiring to a position of responsibility.

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Apple is loosing the supremacy

This posts starts from an article I recently read, according to which, Apple was granted with a patent on using applications during calls. I have never been an Apple follower and most probably I will not become one very soon. Although they have very good and stylish products, I believe their force is coming from the way they managed to educate the market and to create a consumer culture. A culture that is almost exclusively based on user experience. I’m not sure if it was based on deep understanding of the consumer or it was based on intuition, but what Steve Jobs did was a work of a genius. I appreciate him very much for this and there a a lot of stuff to be learned from him.

What is staggering for me is that I (almost) never heard an Apple user saying that he or she chose an Apple product due to its capabilities, although we are in the context of highly technological products. All the time people are asking me: is this a good computer? Does it worth the money? But I never got this question regarding an iPad, or iPhone, or any other Apple product. The acquisition of these products has all the time to do with the experience. The only brand, that I know, that works on the same principle is Starbucks. Very rarely I heard somebody going for a Starbucks drink because of the taste. The coffee is good, no complains about that, but the choice has to do, again, with the whole experience Starbucks is offering.

In this conditions, why I do believe Apple is slipping downward? Of course Steve Jobs is not with us anymore and this will have for sure an impact but that’s not what I have in mind. Of course Android market share is increasing but this is more an organic growth than a revolution, and it has to do with the maturity of the software platform and hardware terminals available on the market.

My mind sticks to the article I mentioned in the beginning. Lately, Apple started a war with everybody. Of course they have to protect their innovations but this sounds to me like a guerrilla war that Apple cannot win. They had a few years advance in the field but the competitors, like Samsung, HTC, Motorola and even Nokia, the sleeping giant, are getting closer (at least). If Apple is fighting all of them (publicly), they will undermine their innovation leader position they have in the eyes of the users. I think this is very wrong.

At no tine their success relied heavily on the technology. Sure, they had to produce excellent products, otherwise nobody will pay the money, but their great skill is to translate technology into human experience. This is their greatest strength and, in my opinion, they should stick to it.

I don’t think Apple can gain anymore market share. I even think they will lose a part of it, mainly some of the users that bought Apple because of the technology. But Apple has a strong core or users that do not care some much that the competitors got on the same level or beyond. They should continue to do improve where they already are the best. Buy the way, Samsung understood very well the power of Apple and produced some very good commercials to hit them.

For sure in one month or one year the Apple Store will have the same good position in the shopping mall and most probably people will still wait in queue for the next release, but, their world domination chapter is close to the end (at least this one). They will be only one of the many players in the market.

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Relationships and Influence

Year 2011 is running out fast and it’s the time for evaluations. In this period, the majority of the companies are organizing different sort of events for customers, partners or employees. Thousands of emails are being sent and the managers are sending the “standard” holidays messages to their subordinates. Unfortunately the majority of these actions are superficial, they are party of the business etiquette. Everybody knows it and people don’t really pay to much attention to these messages.

Although, I consider appropriate to communicate appreciation and last week I had an interesting thought related to this subject. What if I take this business practice to personal level? I am thinking to the people I related to this year, which of them influenced my life in a considerable way? Who helped me grow? Who brought positive changes to my life? I like categories so, I split the influence in 3 categories: personal, spiritual and professional. Now, I have to choose the VIP for each of these chapters and to find the right way to show them my gratitude.

Going one step further, I have to ask the following question: Who did I influenced this year and in what way? Is anybody a better person also because of me? Did anybody achieved success, be it personal, spiritual or professional, with my support? One of the problems of our society is the lack of good models, the lack of valuable human landmarks. Even worse, the models and values heavily promoted in media are non-values.

We are social beings. We can develop in healthy way only in the presence of other people. I think we should seriously consider the relations we have. We have to evaluate them and evaluate ourselves. We need to limit the negative influences on us, we have to treasure the people who lift us and I believe it is a wonderful thing to show them our appreciation. And, I also think we have to learn to be models for the people around us. We are responsible for the influence we are having to the world around, be it good or bad. I encourage you to think for a few minutes on this topic when you’ll evaluate year 2011. Happy holidays and many blessings for the year to come!

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Videoconferencing for businesses

I worked several years in a position that required me to travel quite frequently. I enjoyed the opportunity to visit many places that I would have never visited on vacation, but I also had to accept disadvantages not always easy to overlooked. Those who travel often for business purposes are aware of these disadvantages: broken plans, frustrations of the family, life or health risks, fatigue, missed important moments, etc..

In the last weeks I worked on a project about the benefits of videoconferencing solutions for business. Besides the direct benefits to companies such as cost savings, flexible and homogeneous teams or shorter time to market, there is an particular added benefit for the employees: improved quality of life. How is this happening? There are two main directions: support for teleworking and avoiding a significant part of business travel.

At least in theory, teleworking opens an unexpected opportunity for employers to recruit from anywhere, being able to choose the best resources on the market. We are not there yet, at least not widely, but the opportunity to regularly work from home is used frequently as a benefit offered to employees. One thing worth mentioning is the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the employee, which, at least in terms of work ethic, must deliver a similar quality of work as the activity conducted in the office. In this context, videoconferencing is a great tool that can help maintain team cohesion while its members are located in different points. I even know departments leaders who chose the videoconference as a permanent replacement of the weekly status meetings with the team leaders.

Most often we think of videoconferencing as a replacement for travels to countries at the end of the world. The advantages are obvious in this case, but why looking so far when the examples are right under our eyes? I do not know how many of the people working in big cities see love to go from one to another company’s headquarters, located at the opposite end of the city. Many times I lost 2-3 hours in traffic for a discussion of 10-15 minutes. It is frustrating, costly and it’s not environmentally friendly. From personal experience I know that face to face discussions are necessary in some cases, as phone conversations often distort the message. However, even if not considering telepresence, full-size video conferencing that creates almost a natural experience but is very expensive, I think that in 9 of 10 cases requiring eye contact, meetings could be successfully replaced by a videoconference.

To be clear, when I say videoconferencing, I’m not referring to Skype. Skype is a nice tool for personal use, but it’s not applicable to business. Experience provided by this kind of tool would not raise to the required level. Videoconferencing for businesses must meet strict requirements regarding the quality and high availability of the service.

I am not for the total replacement of human contact with technology tools. They lack the social component and distort to some extent the message, but when the situation allows it, I recommend using tools that make life easier and better balanced. Instead of 2 hours lost through traffic, I prefer to have one hour in the park:)

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