Monday, February 21, 2005

Gaia Hypothesis

I came across Jim Lovelock's "Gaia - A New Look at Life on Earth" from another book "Complexity - Life at the Edge of Chaos" by Roger Lewin. I bought this book from Amazon.com a few years ago. In the book, Lewin researched on life science and evolution based on the Chaos Theory. He used one whole chapter recording his meeting and the intimate discussion with Lovelock on his 1979 book and the Gaia Hypothesis. Lovelock particularly mentioned a section of the book on how the coming of the Homosapiens has changed the nature of Gaia, the Earth Goddess.

"She is now through us awake and aware of herself. She has seen the reflection of her fair face through the eyes of astronauts and the television cameras of orbiting spacecraft. Our sensation of wonder and pleasure, our capacity of conscious thought and speculation, our restless curiosity and drive are hers to share."


(portray of Jim Lovelock)

The Gaia Hypothesis states "Life, or the biosphere, regulates or maintains the climate and the atmospheric composition at an optimum for itself." It argued that the earth's biological and physical systems are tightly coupled in a giant homeostasis system. Gaia, in the language of complex systems, is regarded as a self-organized, giant self-regulating entity. The hypothesis received a lot of criticism, mainly because it defied the rule of evolution: the process of natural selection. Critics said that Earth could not evolve to such supposed adaptations, as there was no possibility of competition among Earth-like bodies. The notion that life changed Earth in an deliberately adaptive way in order to ensure its own existence was also under attack. People did not accept that there is a purposeful Gaia.

In 1981, Lovelock wrote a computer program of a population biology model, linking population of species with sunlight luminosity and global temperature. The model demonstrated the behaviour of complex adaptive systems, that such systems, like Gaia, were conducive to the emergence of homeostasis mechanisms. There is no need for a purposeful Gaia, or a being of higher intelligence. Gaia is just a complex adaptive system with life playing a part, together with the chemical and physical systems, to maintain an equilibrium for existence. However, the notion that Gaia, or mother Earth, being a superorganism, sentient and able to heal itself is still too much for some biologists.

Lovelock is steering the Gaia Hypothesis to the Gaia Theory. When questions raised by the hypothesis are answered and the theoretical framework is strengthened, the hypothesis will become theory. We shall have to wait and see how things develop. In the mean time, if you are really interested in the subject, try the books I mentioned above.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Planning IT Infrastructure

This is another fine example to demonstrate how IT management work has evolved from the technology-oriented approach a few decades ago to the present day management-oriented approach owing to the growing complexity of the technical details and the high demand of management skills to put the technology to effective use. This has in fact separated the IT technical stream and the IT management stream. EOs as management experts are capable and suitable for the latter.

Colleagues may wish to read the web article "Managing Next-Generation IT Infrastructure" in The McKinsey Quarterly February 2005 at http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com. If you are not a member, just register for a free membership.

Planning IT infrastructure is a big issue in an organization. While there are technicians and vendors proposing technical options, the emphasis on resource management and IT management is enormous. The article declares that the days of building to order are over and the time is ripe for an industrial revolution.

The prime mover is cost. Organizations have worked hard to reduce the cost of the IT infrastructure, i.e. the data centers, networks, databases, and software tools that support businesses. Some leading companies are beginning to adopt an entirely new model of infrastructure management—more off-the shelf than build-to-order. Instead of specifying the hardware and the configuration needed for a business application, developers specify a service requirement; rather than building systems to order, infrastructure groups create portfolios of "productized," reusable services. CIOs must also put in place novel governance mechanisms to deal with capacity planning.

The article advises that, to make sure the new infrastructure is running efficiently and to sustain performance improvements, IT managers should focus on five key areas:

1. Demand forecasting and capacity planning. A key goal of the new infrastructure model is to match supply and demand more closely, thereby minimizing the waste of resources. To achieve this objective, the IT group must work closely with business units in order to forecast demand and thus improve capacity planning.

2. Funding and budgeting. Product demand drives budgets. Since the new model uses real demand forecasts, budgeting is easier. Moreover, with pricing transparency comes knowledge. Business units will now know what their IT choices are going to cost; the infrastructure group will understand the budget implications of user requests and be able to create a more accurate capital plan.

3. Product-portfolio management. The infrastructure team should examine product-portfolio two or three times during the first year to ensure that they are appropriate given projected workloads and emerging end-user needs. Thereafter, a yearly review usually suffices. Teams should monitor all phases of the product life cycle, from planning and sourcing new products to retiring old services and redeploying resources.

4. Release management. To ensure that new technologies or upgrades are integrated effectively and that change causes less upheaval and lost productivity, leading companies carefully manage the release of both infrastructure products and applications in parallel. Moreover, to plan ahead, application developers need to know about any impending change in the infrastructure catalog.

5. Supply and vendor management. IT leaders must ensure that computing resources are available to meet the contracted service levels of product portfolios. Infrastructure managers should revisit their sourcing strategy annually, seeking opportunities to lower costs and improve productivity.

Colleagues will notice that the above principles are familiar management concepts applied to IT. It is not difficult to develop a team of IT professional managers in the grade, but we need to act fast and seize the opportunity quickly.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

IT management work

Pursuant to my last article on IT management duties for EO, I wish to share what actually are being done by an IT manager. ITSD is doing a good job in supporting IT management. Most of the information I append below can be found in the ITG Infostation at http://www.itginfo.gov.hk, or at CCGO.

[Purchase of hardware, software and services]
To implement an IT project, we need to purchase hardware and software. More importantly, we need services to study the feasibility of ideas, design systems and implement them. IT is progressing so fast that the usual government red tape cannot cope with the speed of change. Colleagues in accounts and supplies work will know all the standard government rules in acquisition of products and services and the long lead time required. For IT products, the rules just do not work effectively. In IT management, there are easier ways to deal with them.

[SOA - Standard Offer agreement]
For purchase of hardware and software of computer workstations, local area network, backbone network and server systems, ITSD and GLD have searched the market and set up SOA with a number of suppliers. These suppliers are pre-qualified and the list of products are constantly updated with state of the art products available in the market. Quotations can be obtained directly with the suppliers under the SOA and orders placed with the lowest quotation. The purchase procedure can be shortened to a few weeks.

[ITPSA - IT Professional Services Arrangement]
IT managers do not need to have any specialized technical knowledge. They just need to have a general idea of an IT project and the rest can be left to IT professionals. ITPSA is for such professional services. ITSD and GLD have again selected through open tender a group of pre-qualified IT services providers. Departments can just acquire the services through invitations of proposals. All terms and conditions of the services have been pre-determined by the ITPSA contracts signed by the providers and ITSD. This make the acquisition of services very easy. Services that can be acquired include almost every types of IT projects such as -
Departmental Information Technology Plan (DITP)
Feasibility or Technical Study (FS/TS)
System Analysis and Design (SA&D)
System Implementation and System Integration
System Maintenance and Support
Web Site Development
Web Site Maintenance and Content Management
Network Planning and Design
Network Implementation
Office System Implementation
Network Support Service
Security Risk Assessment and Audit Services
Security Management Design and Implementation Services
IT Security Monitoring and Incident Response Support Services

[Financial management]
Resources for IT projects come from ACPC - Administrative Computer Projects Committee. ACPC maintains a block vote for the funding of IT projects up to $10m. Above that, funding approval has to be obtained from FC, with the endorsement of ACPC. $10m are a lot of money and could accommodate most IT projects. Thus IT managers do not have to wrestle within the department for money. They just fill in a standard FAF - Funding Application Form and submit it online to ACPC through the e-ACPC website.

[Project management]
This is the bread and butter of IT management. Throughout the project life cycle, the IT manager has to oversee the progress of all stages of the project. Most of the work is actually done by the ITPSA contractor, normally following the favourite methodology used by ITSD: the PRINCE methodology, which means PRoject IN Controlled Environment.

In essence, under PRINCE, the institutional framework of an IT project comprises a PSC (Project Steering Committee) which is the highest decision making body, a PAT (Project Assurance Team) responsible for the running of the project, the Project Team and the User Team. The project team is responsible for the production of project plan, stage plan, technical plan & resources plan with deliverables including a Project Initiation Document, Current Environment Description and User Requirement, etc. There are frequent progress and quality control activities including PSC and PAT meetings, checkpoint meetings, highlight reports, and end-stage assessments reports. This involves a lot of management work on top of the technical system design and implementation.

[IT Planning]
A job for the IT manager is the overall planning of IT activities. They may be in the form of ISSS (Information Systems Strategy Study) or DITP (Departmental IT Plan). For a big department, such work can be contracted out under ITPSA. However, planning is a major managerial function and IT managers are heavily involved in the process. In fact, the input of the IT managers greatly affect the outcome of the planning process.

[Other IT initiatives]
There are other IT initiatives which I think are most suitable to be performed by EO as follows.

(a) IT Security - As in other forms of office security and information security, as well as the application of the Security Regulations, EO are involved in this respect as the resource and system managers. Technical aspect aside, EOs should be responsible for leading any initiatives involving the security of the office and all the systems in use.

(b) ESD (Electronic Service Delivery) and ETO (Electronic Transaction Ordinance) - These are how government conducts her business in future. The world has now turned to the use of electronic communication and the Internet for government services. Citizens are using electronic means to transact. Resource management and system management will have a new face pretty soon in this new areas. EO must ride the wave and be the forerunner.

(c) IF (Interoperability Framework) - This is an initiative led by ITSD. Basically it tries to establish a framework whereby related activities can operate and interface with each other as an integrated activity. It starts with IT systems and tries to establish a standard so that each system can be compatible with others. But the notion is far-reaching and the IF concept goes beyond IT into every aspect of government operation. Again, it seriously affects resource and system management for which we must be prepared.

So much for IT management work. I hope that colleagues will agree with me that it is not just EO duty, but essential EO duty.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

IT management

Many colleagues enquire what is IT management, and many are quite afraid of such assignment because they do not possess the technical skills. I therefore try to share my experience on IT management assignments with you. I have only been formally posted to an IT management job for less than a year, but I was involved in IT management work in almost all my postings. It is everywhere and it is essentially managerial duty.

First of all, technical skill is of second importance to such work. In fact, too much technical skill is hazardous to good performance in IT management. If you have a whiz kid who does ICQ all night, he probably will not be a good IT manager. It is necessary though to have some knowledge in IT, same as other jobs such as HRM or FM that you need to have the basic understanding of the respective area. IT job has a technological aspect which should be handled by the technological people. I would suggest that no matter how good you are with the technology, you will not be able to compete with a professional network engineer or a professional web designer in the technical arena. So even if you have a degree or the technical training in IT, please don't downgrade yourself to the technician level. Remember you are paid to be a manager.

I observe that IT management work for EO normally are in three categories: office network and web, dedicated MIS and other computer projects.

Office network and website management
Many colleagues are now involved in the management of the office network and website. It is normally part of the job for departmental administration or the General Section. Many applications common to all government departments have to be implemented in the office network. These include e-mail and confidential mail, file servers, anti-virus, government bulletin and most recently departmental portal and eLeave, etc. There are a lot of rudimentary technical work, as well as clerical duties in daily system administration. They are usually performed by technical assistants and clerks. The higher level network engineering work is contracted out. IT managers maintain an overview in project planning and implementation. You can easily obtain the necessary information and help from ITSD and other colleagues on such duties. All required information are posted in the InfoStation website and all departments are doing the same thing.

Website management is essentially information or content management. Just consider yourself maintaining a detailed newsletter for which content should be updated regularly. The technical and the design work are normally contracted out. If you browse various Internet websites at leisure, you are already equipped with the skill to manage one, i.e. to appreciate whether the website is effective in conveying the message. Do not be tempted to design one yourself. Leave it to the design people who can do it better and need it to earn a living.

Dedicated MIS
By dedicated MIS, I mean those information systems that are dedicated to the normal work of EO, such as HRM system, document management system, financial information system, and other databases system for event management or information analysis for which EO are responsible. As EO are the main users of these systems, they are assigned the duties of managers, team leaders, senior users or chairman to working committees. These systems are meant for our areas of work and there should be no problem of our understanding the data, the functionality and user requirements. For the technical part, it is again contracted out. IT managers have to work closely with the contractors and exercise their managerial ability. The golden rule is: always leave the technological aspect to the technical people, but always check the results to see if they are working in compliance with the user requirements.

Other computer projects
This is an area where we should compete as IT managers capable of performing managerial duties in managing any IT projects. Computer projects in this category are not for normal EO work; examples are: computers for schools, computerized building plans, immigration control system, etc. Departmental officers are using these systems and the functionality and user requirements come from them. Sometimes they need help in project management which can be performed by either departmental staff, IT staff or EO. If we can demonstrate our managerial ability, departments will be willing to draw in EO to the project teams. EO are good resource and system managers. We also have knowledge on HR and financial management which are crucial to any projects. Again, the work involved are mainly project management which is not heavily technologically related.

I shall also share with you some information on IT project management later. I wish to state that IT management is way beyond IT technology. I read the curricula of some IT management Master Degree courses, and note that the knowledge required does not centre on technology. IT management has been declared an EO job and is also one of the core competencies of EO. According to our posting policy, we should post those without IT management experience to IT management jobs. To be practical, we should develop IT management expertise at an early stage and expose EO I and II to these jobs, and then groom some colleagues with aptitude for the job intensively in such work stream.

Monday, February 7, 2005

Work Life balance 2

About 10 years ago, the fad was work hard play hard. To go with the fad, kids played hard; so hard that it must be balanced by working less and the first phrase was forgotten. It was the e-generation, not the cyber e but Ecstasy. When I was in ND, I got the research result from USA that the average time for a kid to be offered Ecstasy in a party was 30 seconds.

Now the direction has turned to work life balance. To go with the fad, people rushed to balance work stress by staying calm and peaceful. Now parties offer K. Just a few years ago, the pharmacy experts in ND only knew ketamine as an anesthetic used by veterinarians. Now it is widely used by kids to stay peaceful.

The four elements health, wealth, wisdom and relationship are a good way to keep one's balance. Take life activities for example, the first rule must be staying healthy. That's why I cannot go trekking in Tibet owing to my deteriorating health. I'll try some luxury tours to Tibet with air-conditioned coach later. The second element is wealth. We should be able to gather wealth, especially mental and spiritual wealth through life activities, and fulfill the highest hierarchy of needs: self-actualization. The third is wisdom. Play wise and be wiser after you play. It requires a very good understanding of the activities and exploration to get answers. Relationship is mentioned as the last but not the least element. The article points out that relationship extends to family and friends, colleagues and the community. We need to make sure that life activities must enrich all these relationship.

I think the key to such life activities is dedication, often found in hobbies. Like the speakers of the WLB seminars, they have good hobbies which they spent a lot of the time and their hearts on. They are dedicated to a theme, love it, work on it a lot, perfect it, and share it, taking in all four elements. This is different from our daily selfish enjoyment like I sneaked out without my wife for a sci-fi movie.

We ourselves hold the key to time management. But time apportionment is not the only measure for balance. It is the quality that counts. We only need to spend the right time in the office. The boss will be satisfied as long as quality work is delivered. Also, we only need to spend quality time with the family. Long time no love doesn't count. Unless your hobby is athletic, just a small time of exercise each day, some say 20 minutes, is sufficient to stay healthy. Actually the most dangerous activity is hobby. Some spent a lot of time on it.

Sunday, February 6, 2005

Work Life balance

Work-life balance is a fad in recent years. I think the main concern comes from the white collars being more health-conscious, partly because of the booming health industry and their advertising campaign. In my view, work-life balance talks are on the wrong path of advocating less work and more play. Work-life balance actitivies are now mostly on stress management and relieving oneself from work. They are very useful but they are only cure for the imbalanced people. We need the right message to promote a work-life balance culture, i.e. work well and play well.

The article below from CLC is a good attempt which views work-life balance in a new perspective. The four elements: health, wealth, wisdom and relationship are the cornerstones for a sucessful prefessional and personal life. Actually, if you focus on all elements in either activity, you don't have to worry about any imbalance. Of course the most important is the Fifth Element, which is yourself.

Living through the Success Elements by Greg Langston

Much has been written about finding a harmonious balance between work and life, and this article does not intend to discredit any of it. It is essential to strike a balance between the professional and personal. True success is multidimensional, and if you focus exclusively on work your personal life suffers, and vice versa. Limiting your perspective of success to the two dimensions of work and personal life can lead to a lack of balance within both professional and personal success. To separate life and work into disparate entities misses the point of true success.

The Success Elements

There are elements of success that are the building blocks of professional and personal life. The Success Elements principle is founded on the four elements of Health, Wealth, Wisdom, and Relationships. By achieving balance in all of the Success Elements, you can be assured that your success will transcend both your work life and personal life.

Applying the Success Elements

The application of the Success Elements in your personal life is easy to see. If you focus on Wealth too heavily, your family life will suffer. If you neglect your Health, all other areas of life will suffer. Even focusing on Relationships too much - which on the surface seems laudable - can disrupt everything else.

So now that we have established that the Success Elements are applicable to your personal life, what about business?

Health

Good Health benefits more than your personal life. In business, success in Health will lead to fewer sick days, less burnout, increased focus, greater profitability, and more energy. Health can also lead to a longer and more fruitful career.

Wealth

This has the most obvious application in professional life and needs little explanation. As long as you realize that exclusive focus on any one Success Element can be disastrous, pursuing Wealth is good. Pursuing Wealth, though, does not imply that money is everything. Wealth is about complementing the pursuit of excellence in the other Success Elements.

Wisdom

The Wisdom element can have tremendous impact on your business life. The modern economy rewards innovation and flexibility, and Wisdom is about the continuous pursuit of knowledge and insight. You should seek to constantly expand the horizon of your skill sets, as this will assist you in reaching your professional dreams.

Relationships

At first glance, many think that Relationships only applies to friends and family. But Relationships also applies to your supervisor, subordinates, colleagues, mentors, customers, and community. It is essential for business success to develop strong relationships with everyone in your professional circle. Seek to add value to everyone in your network.

And by all means, do not forget to build a network!

The unique aspect of the Success Elements is that they transcend the individual and can be applied corporately. A company cannot afford to neglect any of the Success Elements. Each element has a place in the business world, and balance among the Success Elements is just as essential for companies as it is for individuals.

So ask yourself, is there balance in your life - in all areas of your life?