Monthly Archives: July 2013

From Green to Blue… and Beyond?

Today’s post is written by Jake Pollack, program manager for the UO Sustainability Leadership Certificate Program.

Over the past few years I have carefully followed not only the colors that are affiliated with sustainability, and their implications, but how sustainability is paired (or not) with technology. So, while it may seem elementary (or primary in the case of blue, and secondary in the case of green—apologies for the educator jokes) the colors point to deeper implications of culture and the blending of different approaches to sustainability and technology. Back in 2009, when I read Andrew Kirk’s Counterculture Green, I started thinking about the historical aspects of the traditional rift between the environmental movement and the world of technology. Having grown up as a nature lover and digital native, I understood the tension between appreciating ecological systems and playing video games, but this, of course, is a much deeper discussion that can’t be covered in one blog entry.

However, what I can chart are some of the recent trends that are promising and point out a few challenges that I see in the future as we move ever deeper into virtual realms where machine-to-machine conversation is the norm, and our dependency on technology is assumed as “natural.” The first of these is the realization that cloud computing has an enormous environmental impact, whether you measure it in terms of water, e-waste, energy consumption, or any other concrete service that is required for large server centers. A recent webinar on Sustainable Industries describes this infrastructure and examples of the continuous improvement and innovation required to make these ventures efficient. A GreenBiz article describes a Stanford study which found that one-tenth of all electricity consumed in the US goes towards the Internet, and reports on the Future of Internet Power group, which is a response by Adobe, eBay, Facebook, HP,, and Symantec to “identify and publicize best practices around low-carbon power-sourcing for data centers in the United States.” Finally, Apple recently announced it will build a giant solar farm to power its Nevada datacenter.

This aspect of greening the cloud is important as big data seems to be on course to grow continuously, and it shows that the major players in both hardware and cloud-based software recognize this as an opportunity in the midst of an unpredictable and volatile energy market. The main challenge actually goes back to the deeper implications of culture and thinking about what all this computing power is actually used for and who is using it. In other words, the question remains whether to put this incredible computing power to use for further preservation and maintenance of the living systems of our planet, or to continue disseminating kitten videos across the Internet. At this time, that seems an oversimplification, but my guess is that in the future, we’ll be paying much more careful attention to the end uses of data and have to make some difficult decisions about these results. In light of cities moving to models of resilience and the recent release of President Obama’s climate commitments, there will be major implications for technology resources as well as the information that is passed through those networks.


Jake Pollack

Jake has worked in sustainability leadership settings internationally for the last six years in higher education and is currently the program manager for the UO Sustainability Leadership Certificate Program. He has mentored and trained students and professionals in aspects of sustainability ranging from cross-cultural communication to organizational transformation. His PhD research examined interdisciplinary and collaborative models of sustainability and a new triple bottom line of resilience, integrity, and commitment. Though his work in the field began in ecovillages and grassroots centers of innovation, he is now interested in the scale of cities and cultivating a cross-sector platform for professionals who wish to accelerate and incubate projects that address our most significant sustainability challenges.

The Internet of Things: Is Your Refrigerator on the Internet?

I have been thinking lately about “The Internet of Things.” This is really more a concept than a tangible device or product. It is kind of like the cloud. The theory is that physical objects will each have their own identity and will be connected to the Internet and be able to communicate with other physical devices also on the Internet. This is all possible today but here is the thing that concerns me: if each device creates and broadcasts data such as its location and condition, how do we process all of that information? We are already drowning in man-made data as it is.


According to Techopedia, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is a computing concept that describes a future where everyday physical objects will be connected to the Internet and will be able to identify themselves to other devices.”

Current State

According to TechTarget, “The technologies for an Internet of Things are already in place. Things, in this context, can be people, animals, servers, applications, shampoo bottles, cars, steering wheels, coffee machines, park benches, or just about any other random item that comes to mind.” Can you think of physical objects that you would like to be connected? Can you think of objects that you hope never become connected?

All That Data

With all of the data pouring in from all of these physical objects, how are we going to be able to process everything? How are we going to be able to make sense of everything and characterize all of this data into a form that we can understand? Can this all be boiled down to a visualization? Does it need to be? Am I thinking too humancentric?


I believe that it is no accident that “Big Data” and “The Internet of Things” are being discussed in the same space and time. It is almost as if they are meant for each other. The Internet of Things will create Big Data, but we need to look beyond our human construct. We need to work on ways to automate the extraction and filtering of data as well as the decision making based on that filtered data. If we think beyond the notion that we as humans have to touch and understand and make every decision, then we free ourselves to apply our unique capabilities to the intractable problems of the world. Physical objects can make rational decisions that benefit themselves. For example, could your coffeemaker consult your calendar to determine the likelihood of your presence? Could your calendar broadcast to other devices as well? Consider the efficiencies gained by stepping out of that decision-making process. We are cognitive beings that can better spend our time on real problems.

Do you take a utopian or dystopian view of this future? Are we headed toward the Jetsons or toward 1984’s Big Brother? Can we really figure out what to do with all of the data that is coming? Let me know your thoughts.


Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.

The Changing Role of the CIO

In our Information Systems and Management course we talk about the future of the office of chief information officer (CIO). Some argue that the title and office will disappear completely within the next five years. Others argue that when IT becomes embedded in every function of an organization, the CIO will be the most important person. Some argue that the CIO and the CEO role will merge. This question is and has been a moving target for years, but we can look at history and trends to get a good gauge as to the future.


In the early days of computing, one of the primary functions was to process and analyze financial data. Therefore, it was logical that the head technology person report to the controller or head financial officer.  Unfortunately, this trend continued long after the technology functions diversified into almost all areas of the organization. The CIO/CFO relationship has surged again in recent years with a Gartner survey last month reporting that 39 percent of surveyed IT organizations again report up through the CFO.


Technology has become pervasive throughout modern organizations and the IT function has gained views and responsibilities within all corners of the operation. The CIO is challenged to work not only with line of business executives but also the chief financial officer, the chief executive officer, and even the chief marketing officer. In a recent interview, the current CIO of Clorox and the former CIO of Pabst talked about their relationship with other organizations and how outside organizations are driving much of the IT spend and project mix.

As IT hardware and software becomes increasingly user friendly and data is being pushed more and more to the cloud, IT organizations will definitely have to reinvent themselves. They don’t “own” as many things but their influence is broader than it has ever been. The need to rise above the technology and help create business solutions is more critical now than ever before. Is your IT organization mature enough to fill that role in the future?


Last month AlixPartners’ blog post reiterated research first presented in the 2011 Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog on the future of the CIO.

In the HBR blog, the author contends that the CIO will be split up into four unequal quadrants:

  • – chief integration officer
  • – chief innovation officer
  • – chief infrastructure officer
  • – chief intelligence officer

For my money, I believe that it will only bifurcate into operations (chief operations officer?) and technology engineering (R&D?). The bulk of the resources will go towards operations, but that percentage will change as we move more towards distributed cloud computing and software as a service. The CIO (or new title) and IT organization will become even more valuable as they work on system and business function integration at a higher level.

What do you think the future holds for your CIO? Will there even be a designated role for this or will it be disbursed amongst other titles? Will they be more important or less important in the organization? Let me know your thoughts.


Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.

The Consumerization of IT

In a recent post on TrendMicro blog, Cesare Garlati likens the IT consumerization trend to an iceberg. The visible evidence of personal devices being brought to work (i.e tablets and smartphones) is only 10 percent of the problem. The other 90 percent of the problem lies under the surface and represents the hidden problems of company data leaving the company and potential viruses coming into the environment. The lines between consumer devices and work devices have blurred significantly over the last ten years but as IT professionals we often have not kept up on the problem of security. That security extends to our infrastructure and our networks.


In the early days of computing, there were no personal computers except for maybe the do it yourself Heathkit. Once personal computers came into fashion, there was minimal networking available, so it was a stand-alone device that transferred data back and forth with disks. As networking became more mature, we worked our way through dial-up modems, LAN cables, and then finally wireless networks which are fast becoming ubiquitous. The differences between a consumer device and a work device are quickly disappearing. Is your organization ready for this new reality?


As mentioned above, devices have essentially become smaller and much more sophisticated over the last thirty to forty years, accelerating in the last ten years. Often, employees are asked to carry a device for work so that they can check on work status or to keep in contact with customers and vendors. Increasingly, these are handheld devices, often a smartphone. Where is the line between a company device and a personal device? Applications increasingly have web interfaces so why can’t a person use their personal smartphone to access customer data and then download the latest version of Angry Birds? In the future, as devices continue to become smaller, an astute IT worker won’t even be able to tell when a consumer device comes in the door.


Networks today are becoming ubiquitous and increasingly user friendly. With the advent of 4G networks and widespread wi-fi, many are connected 24/7, no matter where they go. In a recent article, a partnership between Google and Raven Industries is set to launch helium balloons equipped with network equipment to provide connectivity to rural areas in the US and particularly in developing countries. The combination of smaller consumer devices and ubiquitous Internet connectivity is destroying the old command and control mentality of IT departments. No longer do they have the luxury of denying access to a particular device or class of devices. The prudent IT group will work to mitigate any risks involved in unsecured devices and work to educate employees.


Some organizations are now giving a stipend to employees to purchase their own computer. This of course makes it harder to maintain patch images for every make and model under the sun but, if executed correctly, IT does have a say in the security components that are installed.

How does your organization handle consumer devices in the work place? Do you embrace them, tolerate them, or fear them? Let me know your thoughts.


Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.

The Marriage of Art, Copy, and Code

In our current Information Design and Communication course we are talking about infographics and how they convey information differently than pure print or pure graphics. They take the best of both worlds and hopefully reach a mixed audience of people that are visually oriented or linear sequential (left to right, top to bottom). I have been thinking lately about how infographics can become animated or even interactive. This is already starting to happen in terms of self-directed information graphics. I have also been thinking about how this will creep into advertising and how we can create more personalized advertising. I recently viewed a video at that gave me a glimpse into the future: the marriage of art, copy, and code.


It used to be that art was very static and very tangible. Whether it be a fine painting or a sculpture, it is permanent and meant to be viewed by many people many times. Art is becoming more digital and more dynamic. With increasing screen resolution, images are more vibrant than those on a static canvas. Digital can also mean temporary, whether by design or by accident (forgot to back up). This new medium is increasingly being used in print and dynamic advertising and is very effective in communicating the message.


Someone still has to write copy for all of the advertising. In the age of social media, people are looking for concise information and advertising that breaks through the chatter and informs. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated and in many cases, more jaded. It does and will take a very talented copywriter to craft the script for future advertising. The same advertisement may be seen on a television, a computer, a handheld device, or other devices. How do you craft a story for all of those potential viewers, or do they each get their own custom version?


Here is where it gets interesting. Because of the dynamic nature of art and copy and a new sophisticated audience, it takes a skilled software person to knit it all together and make it personable, relevant, and timely. As in the example I shared above, the ad needs to be about you, where you live, what interests you have, and what possible connection you might have to the advertised product. It’s about me, here, and now.


In the future, will the same person possess all of these skills or will it continue to be a team effort? Is it possible to have art skills, copy skills, and coding skills in one package? Are we training upcoming professionals in all of these areas or at least to be aware of the other professionals that they will be working with? It will take some skillful teamwork to pull this off but, with the right collaboration, it can be real magic.


About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.