Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Month: July 2015

Spam is Dead! Long Live Spam!

Back in Part 1, I talked about the decline of personal email for communications. Our failure isn’t limited to email though. Here’s a quick story. I spent the better part of this past Father’s Day weekend working on my father-in-law’s computer and then again with my wife’s uncle’s computer. This started a lot of conversations on their purpose.

When my in-laws’ computers were first purchased, email was a much larger part of the personal communication experience. It was THE way to stay in touch, but now both computers are used for simple functional tasks like personal email, and banking with a new personal communication tool in the mix, social networks.

They both like their computers still, but had the same opinion when I asked about their personal email. They could take it or leave it if they got new computers. There was no need to migrate their old personal email as much of it was just spam. Balance this against the recent Quartz report about the decline of spam and this is where things get interesting.

Spam’s nature remains the same, but it has changed. While there are still blatantly obvious spam emails that are now better filtered, thanks to Google and Microsoft, we now opt into our spam. Most of my personal email is from consumer based sites that I shop at frequently. Spam is no longer something we avoid. We embrace it as part of our consumer productivity. As a result, we’ve moved personal communication into social networks for one to many (let’s leave text messaging out for now since it isn’t strictly computer based).

Through our journey of personal communication, we’ve killed physical letters, evolved into email and then killed that too again through social networks. Spam has followed us all the way through at each stage. Social networks are the ultimate method to embrace spam and kill personal communication.

“The beauty of social networks is you can get users to send it themselves”
– from Kevin Haley, director of Symantec’s security response

As an exercise to prove spam exists and that true personal communication is dead on social networks, let’s run through the top interactions through my personal email, Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s my current top personal emails outside of the pre-filtered spam.

– Banana Republic sales
– Various emails from Amazon
– Emails from XBox, DC comics, Humble Bundle and various custom T-Shirt sites
– Billing and payment confirmations

As you can see, I have bought all in to being a consumer in my personal email. There is not a one to one communication to be found.

Next, let’s take a look at Facebook.

– Political post
– Photos of kids I don’t know
– Funny video
– Religious post
– Consumer re-post
– Photos of kids I don’t know

Granted, I control my Likes on Facebook pretty well, so I don’t get too much spam. Mostly, I get a filtered down version of a complex issue distilled into black and white. While I do enjoy trying to keep up with my old friends and their families, I’m not truly getting a personal interaction. I see the photos or posts and comment or move on.

Lastly, here’s Twitter.

– Witty comment from a stranger
– Witty comment from a known company
– No clue, inside joke from a stranger
– Not witty comment from a stranger
– Local news article from newspaper
– Too many other things to see in the 10 minutes since I checked last

Twitter seems to be the best for one to one personal communication, but the relationship is missing. You can’t build a meaningful conversation out of a Tweet.

Is spam to blame for the decline of personal communication. Well…not really. I think we just have too many choices and have built ourselves into consumable information and consumerism though to build real relationships.

Social networks aren’t adding to real one to one or even one to many personal communication. While they have their uses, we still aren’t keeping in touch as we once had. We’re at a point where personal email has become functional and consumer based. Social networks are also consumer based and lacking either the personal interaction or relationships we need to truly build connections with each other. While great monumental shifts in culture take place online, the unique individual is what I see missing. How can you connect with one person ever again?

Ladies and gentleman, we’ve come full circle. I’d like to re-introduce you to the indispensable tool of businesses everywhere – the telephone.

Email is Dead! Long Live Email!

As I check my personal email, I realize it has died. Yet, I still grab my phone and check my work email constantly. There is definitely a disparity today that wasn’t so apparent all those years ago. While business email has thrived with Microsoft Exchange and now Office 365, personal email has become a wasteland.

I started my personal email journey with a Penn State student account, then an Enter.net account, moved into Hotmail, then GMail, my own flockofsekols.com domain (still in use) and back to Hotmail (now Outlook.com) again. As I look through my old personal emails from over the years, I realize it has been dead for most of the time.

Stage 1: The Demise of Personal Interation
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I received quite a bit of personal email on Hotmail while my family and friends used other various email systems to keep in touch. I received emails to engage in personal conversation, but eventually, with the dawn of increasingly rich content on the Internet, personal email became funny or relevant links and pictures.

I still used my personal email, but adjusted my interaction. I, along with others, started to attempt to one-up others. Forget about actually engaging with someone! There was now a race to send something funny or relevant to your circle before someone else discovered it. The payback was the replies of innocuous approval.

Personal email had become nothing more than a modern Facebook or Twitter – friends and relatives sending information or links with little original thought. This shift in discourse was about to open us all up to a BIG problem…

Stage 2: The Rise of Spam
As personal email became the social network of its day, scammers moved in. After all, it was easy to slip in advertisements and scams amid all the other content being thrown around.

Corporate email systems meanwhile were still being used mostly productively. I’ll admit there was a brief growing pain here while people still figured out how to use a personal email account and a business one. Spam helped us all figure that out though.

Spam forced companies to start managing email at a different level. Looking  back, it seems so obvious now, but back when email started no one really saw the risk. In our corporate lives, spam checking solutions were implemented and email was refocused to the business, meanwhile our personal accounts became hotbeds for phishing scams, spam and other seedy activities.

But then, something even more ridiculous happened.

Stage 3: Google Kills It and We Embrace the Spam
At this stage, Google changed the landscape of personal emails in two ways. First, they offered larger mailboxes and second, they started in initiating spam scanners.

Here, we built up on personal mailboxes as throw away. With ever growing space and search calling up emails, we just kept everything. There was really no need to reply because nothing insightful was ever sent. Personal email became the basement of the internet. Just store what you don’t really need down here and come get it whenever you want.

Any communication left here was destined to die under the guise of archiving. In this new system, recipients felt safe in ignoring any sort of interaction.

While this happened, legitimate corporations realized that email was the perfect form of communication to reach real consumers. IT systems were upgraded and suddenly we could shop and pay bills online. This vastly changed the landscape of our personal email.

Our personal Inboxes were suddenly filled with legitimate spam and here is where it dies.

Stage 4: The Death
Certainly, its application, if ever used anymore, is not personal discourse or keeping in touch, but consumerism. We have entered a functional stage, where it is providing a service where we shop, consume and pay bills.

Sure, we might send an update out there once in a while, but likely it is through a social network of some kind. Personal email is surely dead. I suggest you play taps for such a short lived way to track your friends and family.

Email Isn’t Dead!
In the business world though, the demise hasn’t happened. Of course, other systems have arisen, just like in the personal space, but business email remains an integral part of work, despite efforts to kill it off over the years. There are a lot of great reasons why work email hasn’t died yet, but there’s one that stands out.

Regardless of your company’s email platform, you can still communicate over a standard protocol (SMTP) with all of your external partners. Nothing special is needed. Every business can use any email platform today and be sure that they can still compete and communicate in the global environment.

Trying to kill corporate email is like saying that there is one new web platform that is not based on HTTP.

Will email ever die? Well, likely something new will come up, but it won’t be born out of something created by a corporate entity. It will have to be something for everyone, like the simplicity and ubiquity of SMTP – Send and Receive.

About Matthew Sekol:
Matthew Sekol is a Microsoft Solutions Sales Lead with a degree from Penn State in English. With a mix of creativity and a passion for computers, he has a unique perspective on life, business and technology.

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Who’s in Control –
You or Your Fear?

I admit it, I have a fear of flying. It might stem from having flown Kuwaiti Airlines during the Gulf War when I was 17 or a particularly disturbing 6 hour flight I took right after 9/11. Whatever the reason, I’ve been working on overcoming it for the past 2 years through an excellent program called SOAR, which has helped greatly. Lately, I’ve found that I’m not really bothered by flying so much anymore. While this program undoubtedly helped, I recently realized that something else was allowing that fear to continue.

I had been working at a global semiconductor for about 7 years as a technical lead and architect when I got promoted to manager of the team. Things were going well. Despite having most of my team across the nation and around the world, I never had to fly anywhere for my job. Instead, I adjusted my working schedule and used productivity tools to conduct meetings. This worked out great!

When large projects came up for our remote offices, I let others fly under the guise of giving them an opportunity or I would argue out of it. Granted, I didn’t get face time, but I still provided significant value to these projects and developed great relationships with my co-workers.

During my tenure, job offers would come up. Every job was a great leap forward, but seemed to require that I would have to fly somewhere. My brain shut down when I heard this. I was so comfortable in my job without having to fly, I couldn’t even entertain the opportunities that required travel, even light travel.

I had become complacent and my fear kept me down.

So, I continued to turn down jobs. Of course, my comfortable job couldn’t last and didn’t! The company I was working for was acquired, and the new company valued face time and travel over video collaboration and other cost saving efficiencies. The new company was also based out of Singapore and I live on the east coast. Not a good sign!

I was now being asked to fly to plan a migration, resulting in my team’s eventual demise. I had avoided flying for so long, but couldn’t anymore. Latent fear surfaced, but something else happened.

My perspective changed.

It was one thing to fly for career advancement or an exciting project, but to fly with the end goal of losing your job is a miserable prospect. Well, I did end up flying and it wasn’t horrible. 9 months later, I was out of a job.

In my new role as Microsoft Solutions Sales Lead, I have the opportunity to fly again, but this time the upswing is huge. I now have the opportunity to help grow the business by interacting with Microsoft, customers and other partners.

For 9 years, I allowed complacency and fear to rule my career. It took a real shock, losing my job, to realize that this was a mistake.

Here’s an analogy. I’ve been teaching my kids how to ride a bike. My middle daughter cannot maintain her balance because she doesn’t control the handlebars too well and she is afraid, just like I was. She wants to have the security of me holding onto her as she rides. This is what we yell over and over as I run along side her:

“Who’s in charge of the bike?”

“I’m in charge of the bike!”

My advice is – don’t get too comfortable where you are and allow fear to dictate your path. Let go of your fear and take control!

How Microsoft Can Gain Traction in the Smartphone Wars

With the recent departure of Stephen Elop from Microsoft, there have been a number of articles speculating that this means 3 things:

1. No new Microsoft flagship phone is forthcoming.
2. Microsoft’s focus has shifted to iOS and Android apps.
3. Microsoft is existing the smartphone market altogether by killing Lumia.

As I sit here with my old iPhone 4s thinking about this, I am greatly discouraged. I certainly don’t believe this is the case. While Microsoft has been making waves across Europe and in other regions with Windows Phone, can it gain traction in the US?

Let’s look at ways Microsoft could drop some bombs in the Smartphone Wars.

You Can’t Spell ‘Apple’ without ‘App’
Apple revolutionized the mobile industry with the introduction of apps and created a massive app industry. Android followed suit and has had similar success. Microsoft has been floundering in this space though for years on its own platform. Many developers, frustrated with the lack of support from businesses (Sonos, for example) have developed their own unsupported apps to fill the gap (Phonos, for example).

While Microsoft has a renewed focus in their apps on iOS and Android, this is more a reflection of Microsoft’s realization that not everyone uses their platforms. Better to be as ubiquitous as possible than completely shut out of a market due to your own stubbornness.

Microsoft’s announcements around the Universal App Platform, Continuum and their code portability options from iOS and Android are a major shift for the company. They are hoping they can not only leverage the existing Windows application sets, but that they can allow developers to port existing code into Windows easier than ever before.

If there’s money to be made, those business’ developers may not have much of a say in where their code goes. Soon we will find out if developers’ interest in a platform outweighs revenue. Microsoft is pinning a lot on this hope.

The Phone Market is More Volatile than It Looks
I have owned Windows, Android and iOS phones at various times over the last 15 years. I’m certainly not married to a particular platform. I’ve switched around and it’s partly due to the nature of the mobile market. Apple and Android may be building their own demise.

With Apple, frequent release cycles ensure consumers are constantly upgrading their hardware. Some carriers even allow you to upgrade for a reduced cost mid-cycle because phones are disposable now. As a result, at least every 2 years, you have the opportunity to revisit your decision to commit to a mobile hardware platform and pick something new. Microsoft can take advantage of this by offering some amazing hardware as well as high performing, low cost phones. Apple will never compete in the low cost space.

For Android, they have the same risk, but one more as well. Their platform is too fragmented. Every hardware provider for Android overlays a unique experience, making it even easier to switch to a new mobile platform, hardware or software. Since the Android platform has the majority market share, Microsoft could easily insert itself here.

Besides inserting itself into the refresh cycle, Microsoft has the opportunity to streamline the mobile interface, as Apple does. This allows for a consistent experience across platforms and will reduce the complexity of the platform, relying on hardware providers to use the hardware as a differentiator. Microsoft can also push out updates across all devices quicker, regardless of hardware vendors or carrier.

And Speaking of Hardware and Carriers
The one mistake Microsoft absolutely cannot make is to have their flagship phone (hopefully phones) exclusive to a particular carrier. This will absolutely kill the platform since it fighting so hard to gain market share. Apple could afford to do this with AT&T at the start of the iPhone, but anyone attempting to penetrate needs to have a strong showing across carriers.

If Microsoft chooses to not release a flagship hardware device, it will be a strong signal to the world that they are not serious about growing mobile outside of emerging markets. They must have a flagship.

Next Steps for Microsoft
The next steps for Microsoft are crucial. With the news from Redmond sparse – any new hardware announcement from Apple, who clearly has a strong supply and distribution channel in place, could derail the best laid plans. Android can’t really disrupt Microsoft, but a well timed Google phone could.

Microsoft needs to buckle down, get Windows 10 out and show Windows 10 mobile on a flagship device in order to be taken seriously by consumers. If they come out with a non-committal showing and more low end phones, all hope is lost.

IT as an Industry Needs to Disappear

I’ve worked in the IT industry, focused on Microsoft mostly, for 17 years. Certainly I’m not on the high end, but I did get in at an interesting point. In the late 1990’s, the internet was booming and IT departments were forming. For me, this is where the IT industry really started. Before this, IT was a bit more undefined and commoditized.

Today, every IT department is unique and each one can exist in a different stage, depending on budgets and the value they provide to the business. In the earlier stages, IT is aligned to the IT industry, but as IT moves into later stages, the impact to the business is greater. When this happens, the IT industry disappears and IT becomes aligned to their company’s industry.

Stage 1: IT as the Cost Center
This is where traditional IT (and I) got started. Traditional IT is responsible for making sure the network is up, that you get your email and that your PC is working. All of these things cost salaries and capital. Frankly the value of this work, while important, isn’t very measurable.

Traditional IT closely follows a refresh cycle budget. Sometimes, the budget is based on break/fix work and no real planning. With proper planning, IT can make great leaps in cost savings through proven strategies. Some smaller IT shops remain stuck here due to budget constraints.

I worked at a company like this briefly. They are still at the same point they were at years ago with little movement. I’m not saying you should jump if you’re stuck here, but don’t be too comfortable to move on if a better opportunity comes up!

The way to jumpstart a traditional IT shop is to find just one efficiency and build on it, then prove value. A few years ago, VMWare played a huge role in this by providing cost savings through the efficiencies brought on by server virtualization. The savings came from a more effective way to operate, helping the business save money.

Stage 2: IT as the Cost Saver
With virtualization, IT figured out that the traditional bloated way of operating wasn’t the best and that within technology itself lied the way to making the most out of the investments made. Standards, operating processes, server consolidation and long term planning became the norm, allowing IT to better prove out their value (and budgets).

This coincided in my own career during the recent economic downturn. Everyone was being forced to do more with less. Many IT shops started figuring out innovative ways to save money while still serving business needs. We used a combination of virtualization for Windows servers and blades to save a lot of money.

Out of this simple cost savings measure, IT found other ways to leverage processes and automation to save money for repetitive tasks (DevOps). At the same time, companies like Amazon and Microsoft began to offer their extra capacity and solutions, managed in a centralized way to help companies reduce costs further (Cloud).

These technologies enable the move to Stage 3, which is where the IT industry starts to fall away.

Stage 3: IT as the Revenue Enabler
This is where the bravest and most innovative companies now find themselves. No longer constrained by their employee size or capital budgets, IT can make a massive impact on their employees and customers with easy to manage recurring operational expenses that are tied directly to performance, scaling up and down when needed.

Here, IT has mostly shifted away from the necessary evil of spending money with unquantifiable benefits, to a group within your business that can build revenue through the software and the solutions they can provide. This requires a little more specialized knowledge of your company’s industry.

A recommended way to maximize efficiencies is by running an IT model called Bimodal IT, which I cover in another article. Basically, you have 2 IT groups, traditional IT to keep things running and another modern IT group to focus on innovation at the speed that you business demands without shadow IT forming. This is directly tied to the speed at which cloud services enables you to work.

If you can’t operate this way or are looking to ramp it up, engaging a partner (like the one I work for) is a great way to get started! Once this is set up, the result is helping your business move at the speed it demands in a supportable and secure way.

What Next for IT?
I don’t think the next big leap won’t come through IT, but IT will continue to enable it. End users will continue to push and shape IT into what the business needs to provide unique value to the market. To some extent, this is already underway.

Every business out there now
is a software company.
-Satya Nadella (Ignite 2015)

This quote is very telling on where the IT industry is. Never has technology been so accessible to enable businesses to drive value to their customers. IT needs to adapt and become savvy enough in their unique company’s industry to give their end users an edge in the market.

Whatever the next stage is for IT, end users will be in the driver’s seat. If future IT is doing their job right, the IT industry will disappear into the industry they serve.

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