Saturday, October 29, 2005

Utah Ranks First in the Nation in Households Owning Computers

Nearly three in four Utah households own a computer, a higher percentage than in any other state, according to a new census report in the Deseret News.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Seniors Enraged Over Web site Flops

Well, that's not quite how the headline went in the Salt Lake Tribune but that was the gist of the article. Medicare's website has been promising since October 13th to have a web application deployed that would compare the costs of various drugs to seniors under different prescription insurance plans. Right now in Utah, for example, there are 50 such plans available. The Tribune covered a meeting at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City yesterday where seniors remain confused by Medicare's new prescription drug benefit. Sally Brown from the Utah Division of Aging expressed the crowd's frustrations when she said: "We just have to wait until that stupid Web site is up and running."

I guess we have come a long way from Web sites that were "brochure-ware" with the director's picture the size of a small pachyderm displayed next to "under construction" signs that blinked at you in yellow or orange and graced with content that was almost always many months out of date.

A mission critical component of the Medicare program grinds to a halt when a web application doesn't get delivered on time. I want to make the point of reminding people that after the dot.com crash it was the rage was to give e-government a premature burial and assign it to the trash heap of irrelevance, and then gloat about it to boot. Maybe the "diviners" and "prognosticators" spoke it bit too soon.

I interviewed Matt Mizewski, the CIO of Wisconsin and the new NASCIO President this past week and asked him if he thought "E-government was dead." He said what essentially was "dead" was the hype surrounding it, but the need for web-enabled services was more important than ever before. The Medicare debacle drives this point home.

There will come a time in the future where lack of access or interruptions in web services will lead to large protests and maybe unfortunately in some cases, even riots. In the meantime, three cheers for Sally Brown. You go girl!

In support for my former boss and now HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt...I'm sure he is lighting a number of fires right now so some people will feel the heat. He knows the power of IT. Now its his challenge to get all 60,000 of his employees and contractors (including the project manager over the Medicare Web site) to feel his passion in the same way he does, and then translate that passion into some concrete actions.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

PHONE COUNSELING PROVES EFFECTIVE

In a past life, before my IT career, I worked as an executive and researcher in public sector human services arena, so I found the excerpt below from the FUTURIST UPDATE News & Previews from the World Future Society November 2005 (Vol. 6, No. 11) to be pretty interesting. Would a self-paced online workbook/faq/distance education approach be as effective? What about other problems besides weight and smoking? Would they be equally effective? Sounds like a great opportunity for a social services type with a streak for the entrepreneurial...

Smokers and dieters who live far from clinics could get the professional help they need from new phone-based programs offering direct access to counselors. A University of Kansas program found that obese patients using its telephone counseling services lost as much weight as those receiving face-to-face counseling. For providers of counseling services, the telephone program could significantly lower costs. And for patients, it means less trouble to schedule counseling sessions around work and family commitments. A similar program for helping smokers quit has been launched in Maine.Health professionals counsel the callers needing help coping with the side effects of nicotine-replacement therapy. A recent study found that participants using both nicotine-replacement therapy and phone counseling had the highest quit rates.

SOURCES:University of Kansas, http://www.news.ku.edu/2005/October/Oct19/phonediet.shtml
Center for the Advancement of Health, Health Behavior News Service
http://www.hbns.org/getDocument.cfm?documentID=1144

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Different Types of "Memory" and "Processors"

I got into the IT field from a different direction. I never had a formalized education program in CS so I've been "backfilling" my IT knowledge base ever since. I'm now taking an adult education class on how to build a computer. I'm not sure I will be assembling computers from parts on a regular basis but that's not why I took the class. I've always been quite interested about how the "innards" of the PC all fit together and I've been having great fun learning about plugging in video cards, RAM, hard drives and installing motherboards.

At the same time, Sherwood Consulting Services is moving ahead and I am enjoying exploring having my own business and trying to be patient on the other side of government regulation.

Recently, I had the opportunity to brief and be briefed by a telecommunications provider, on their strategy and how they might work better with government. The process went like this. The client team talks about their offerings and which ones they think might be interesting to government or are currently being used by government. Then my colleagues and I discuss what types of "hidden" oppportunities might be available for them to pursue.

From this experience I "re-learned" (forgot and had to be reminded by the experience) how, out of all media devices, the telephone is my least favorite. So, what bothers me so much about the phone? It is verbal-only real-time communication. Not only am I devoid of visual cues but I'm expected to react on the spot in real-time to strangers I've never met. Some folks might interpret this difficulty simply as shyness. "This person should never have a career in telemarketing!" But that's not it. I've found I do reasonably well on the phone if I have a long established relationship. I go jabbering about whatever comes to mind but since I have jabbered with them so much in person I can "see" their face and even pre-suppose their emotions since I have seen them so many times before. I also do reasonably well talking on my feet if my feet are in the same room as the audience.

Secondly, I'm a visual learner. My recall and attention is best maintained by looking at a picture, reading something or seeing someone's face and mouth move. I often sit in the front of the room if I'm attending a lecture.

Thirdly, and to the title of this article, I do not have what I call huge amounts of "RAM memory" but my "hard drive" or "offline storage" isn't half bad. Often my favorite response to a presentation of an idea is: "Hmm...let me think about that, and I'll get back to you with some thoughts..." [probably in writing.] Conversely, I have known people who are desribed as "fonts of knowledge." One of my colleagues on the call thankfully was one of those people given the rules of the game for that encounter.

In some circumstances, I'm able to provide immediate feedback but usually this is in a circumstance where I am pretty heavily involved in the operations side of a project. This is not quite the same as: "Based on our strategy what is the best direction we should take to get the best market share of the e-government business." That's more of a "Hmmm...I'll give that some thought" type question.

Usually, with a bit of research and a clearer understanding of where the client is trying to position themselves, some ideas will come to mind, but not immediately during the time of a conference call. However, particularly after a bit of research, something will begin to gel. It will often come to me in a flash, as I wake up or just about anytime, other than when watching TV. I see patterns begin to emerge and then lots of ideas start flowing out. Other folks store information like a large RAM drive and process directly from it. They seem to recall most things they ever encountered...even if they only have encountered them once. It's a different type of intelligence, and we all need to recognize that, and play to our strengths.

So, I’m the guy running through the streets shouting “Eureka,” not the one “filling up the board” with “off the cuff” comments...and that's just fine too. Only, next time I'll try to vary the structure a bit to accommodate those "Eureka" moments when they come.