IT departments are not leading innovation in firms

An article in The Economist’s December 23, 2006 holiday double issue caught my attention. It reported on how Arizona State University was converting their email system over to use Google’s free hosted service, under the “Google Apps for your Domain” offering that I blogged about back in August last year. I’m still using the service for my email and it works great.

Unlike the university’s old system, which stores emails [sic] on its own server computers, the new accounts reside on Gmail, Google’s free web-based service. [The IT department at ASU] is not forcing anybody to change but has found that the students, many of whom were already using Gmail for their private email, have been voluntarily migrating to the new service at a rate of 300 per hour.

Unfortunately since The Economist protects its online content and I’m not a subscriber, I don’t have access to the online version of the story and cannot link to it in its entirety. Shame.

[The new head of IT at ASU] is ahead of his time because most IT bosses tend to be skeptical of consumer technologies and often ban them outright. Employees, in turn, tend to ignore their IT departments.

That passage really resonated with me. I think accounting firms have the most extreme cases of this happening since so many employees of firms are young like me and have used these technologies since early high school. I know more of my peers at work with banned software on their computers than I know without.

But as long as IT departments are so out of touch with their own area of expertise, it will continue. Just last week our IT department sent out an email with this gem: “Windows XP is extremely stable…”

I can’t figure out whether they were trying to put on a strong face about our critical IT infrastructure, or whether they actually believed the fiction that Microsoft products resemble anything close to stable.

There are myriad free tools available to improve productivity in corporations. Accounting firms should lead the charge given that auditors are most often out of the office at client sites where IT resources are varied and usually inadequate for our needs.

Tools like Basecamp for organizing and collaborating with audit team members, IM using Google Talk or MSN, and web-based email such as Gmail which integrates smart calendaring and the aforementioned IM, would lead to massive productivity gains. Security is the only issue at this point, but with the right approach to mitigating the risks, it can be done, and it can be done now, rather than years from now.


Vista not even out yet but still pirated

Microsoft’s upcoming operating system, the successor to XP, isn’t out yet but it has still managed to be cracked (in a sense). Vista will be out Jan. 30, 2007 to consumers, earlier for Microsoft’s preferred big business clients.

With Windows Vista only just going “gold” … the first cracked versions have already hit the pirate boards. [It’s] called Vista BillGates. It doesn’t feature any activation cracks itself, and the supplied product key is just for the installation. The activation crack is a separate download, and works by replacing the licensing components with components from beta builds. Then using a product key from Beta 1, Beta 2, RC1 or RC2, the Gold version of Vista can be activated online. In this sense, it’s not a true crack.

It’s going to be a lot harder this time around to crack Windows and continue running the cracked version for any extended period of time, because Microsoft has tightened up their activation requirements. Windows XP got increasingly more difficult to maintain if you were running an illegal version, and I have a feeling Vista will carry the trend.

A full version of Office 2007 Enterprise was released on the boards a few hours after Vista. Unlike Vista, Office 2007 uses Volume Activation 1.0 (no activation required), so it’s unclear how Microsoft is going to be able to counter its dissemination in future.

It looks like Microsoft’s problems with piracy aren’t going to go easily. Not only do they have the lion’s share of users, making for a nice big target, but the software still doesn’t seem airtight. Not to mention all the features they scrapped just to bring it to market. Not like they have anything to worry about at my firm – we’re still tightly wedded to the Windows regime.


Apple brings in new director: Google’s CEO

It has been announced recently that Dr. Eric Schmidt, currently the CEO of Google, is joining Apple’s Board of Directors. Boards are responsible for overseeing management, protecting shareholder interests and overall strategy.

The move has been hailed as a signal of future partnership between Google and Apple in their joint fights against Microsoft. I have to admit it basically looks that way to me too. I would even go so far as to say a Google-Apple alliance poses the biggest threat to Microsoft’s continued dominance on the desktop, ever.

I’ve always wondered why some Boards have an even number of members, what with the possibility of vote tying. They must have some other method of resolving those situations when they inevitably crop up.

Steve Jobs is obviously an exception to most rules, but it’s rare to see someone in management on the Board in a public company, because of the inherent conflict of interest. I think Jobs is invested in Apple long-term though, so that’s no doubt why he gets away with it.


Microsoft invites Firefox developers to test for Vista

Microsoft has invited the Firefox guys up to Redmond to test Firefox and Thunderbird on Vista to ensure compatibility. The move isn’t entirely unexpected, after all, Firefox has been steadily eating into Internet Explorer’s market share ever since it was released.

It isn’t a wholly benevolent move, however. Microsoft is making sure all the big applications run smoothly on Vista because if they don’t, people won’t upgrade from XP. Microsoft is seeking out big developers now in a big effort to get all the major programs tested.

Previously Microsoft had focused exlusively on commercial developers but Sam Ramji, Director of the Open Source Software Lab at Microsoft posted on the newsgroup in an effort to get the ball rolling.


Microsoft splurges on more Microsoft stock

We’ve all been wondering just what Microsoft was going to do with that massive reserve of cash it’s been sitting on for years, not unlike a corporate Smaug. Turns out, they’re buying some shares in themselves.

It isn’t news that Microsoft is buying back some of their shares, but what is news is that they have decided to buy more back than originally announced. It sounds like Microsoft found a surefire way to increase their stock price without having to do anything productive with their assets like, oh, say, innovating.

The stock is getting the expected boost from the buyback, but I can’t but help wondering why Microsoft doesn’t have better things to invest in. Isn’t their industry just brimming with opportunities?