Monthly Archives: October 2013

Anatomy of a Startup – Part 2

On the heels of my last blog post about the opportunities for a startup, I have been thinking more about the technology infrastructure it takes to launch that startup. It turns out that it is easier than ever, thanks to managed services and distributed computing. There are a lot of very smart people willing to provide services that will help get your new product or service off the ground. In the last blog I talked about the three things you need for a startup: a great idea, awesome people, and a funding source. This week I want to focus on the work behind the curtain.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

There is very little need to deploy your own big iron any more. You can purchase and configure servers in the cloud easily. This gives you the infrastructure that you need so that your developers can create your new service or product and provide the storage necessary for all of those tasks. One of the big benefits of cloud- sourced infrastructure is scalability. You can deploy as much or as little of these resources as you need. When starting out, you can contract a small amount of services and as you grow, the infrastructure can grow with you. The set up time and learning curve are also eliminated, as well as the risk of physical equipment failure. Some vendors in this area are: Amazon Web Services, CA Technologies, HP, and GoGrid.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

If your new product or service is primarily digital, then this will allow you to deploy development, testing, and production platforms for your developers. Again, there is no need to deploy actual hardware at your startup site to have platforms available. Deploy as little or as much as you need and, again, it is scalable and additional resources can be deployed on demand. Vendors in this area are: Amazon Web Services, Google, and OpenStack.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Finally, the top layer. These are the applications that you and your new employees use every day such as customer relationship management and tracking, office applications, e-mail, accounting applications, and so on. These applications can all be maintained by others and accessed through an interface on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. There is no need to maintain your own computers and your own expertise, thanks to many, if not all of these day-to-day applications. was one of the early pioneers in this growing field by hosting customer relationship management applications. Other established and emerging companies are SAP for on-demand enterprise resource planning and to provide you with necessary finance applications, through the cloud.


It used to be that one of the drawbacks of starting a new company is that you had a lot of startup costs associated with procuring IT infrastructure and applications. Now, what was once a barrier is an advantage because you have no legacy IT to deal with. You can start fresh and easily deploy just the right level of services to meet your needs. This frees up you and your team to finally bring that great new product to a waiting market.

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 and business topics that keep him up at night.

Anatomy of a Startup–Part 1

I have been thinking recently about startups and the technology and information strategy around startups. This blog post will cover the basics of a startup and my next blog post will cover the information technology structure needed to accompany a successful startup. Technology needs change constantly, and I believe that it is easier than ever to start a new enterprise.

The Three Most Important Components

I believe that the three most important components of a startup are:

  • An insanely great idea
  • Awesome people
  • Enough money to get your idea off the ground

And, of course, a solid business plan, to pull all three of these together.

Great Ideas Are Out There

This is the most important component. Your product or service must be something that customers actually want. There are at least two different types of great ideas. There are those that are disruptive, or completely change the way that we live or do business and those that are innovations and improvements of existing products. An example of a disruption is the smart phone which is several devices all built into one mobile unit. You can talk, chat, e-mail, or browse the web while walking down the street. How cool is that? An example of an innovation is Google. Search engines existed before Google but they improved the process.

The Best People

Surround yourself with smart people who share a passion for your product or service. Involve them from the very start and let them help you formulate the startup plan. Look through your social media contacts to find people that have the time, talent, passion, and energy to help you succeed. After all, you have all those Facebook friends for a reason, right?


There are several ways that you can fund your new endeavor. One way is self- funding which means digging into savings, or by funding the second unit from the first unit’s profit, and so on. This can be a slow process and can deplete your own reserves quickly. The second approach is to use angel investors who can be family members or others willing to put up money in exchange for a share of your success. The third approach is a venture capitalist that can be persuaded to lend you large sums of money to go big. In return for venture capital, however, you often turn over portions of your rights to the idea and to the company.


In my next blog post I will talk about the information technology strategy needed for a startup. What infrastructure do you really need to start a new company and what is the most efficient and cost effective way to get your name, your idea, and your product out in the public eye?

Do you have an insanely great idea that you think others would want? Have you ever thought of going big enough to be able to put that idea into production? What is your biggest obstacle? Let me know your thoughts and ideas.

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 and business topics that keep him up at night.

Yesterday’s News: Telephone Operators, Pay Phones, and Postage Stamps

I was reading an article recently about the possibility that the US first class stamp may rise another three cents and I wondered if maybe the US Postal Service is heading towards becoming an anachronism. At most, I use maybe fifty stamps per year, right now. At the rate I am going, I can probably buy enough forever stamps to last the rest of my life. I then pondered the reason for the slide and I believe that it is due in large part to technology. I pay a lot of my bills electronically. I can transfer documents electronically and get notices electronically. I use e-mail extensively, so I no longer send or receive personal correspondence through the traditional mail. The mail that I do get is largely unsolicited.

I think this is a case where technology will soon make a long-standing service obsolete. I then thought about other services that have already become what I call technology-induced anachronisms. Here is my list:

Telephone operators

When was the last time you placed a phone call that required a telephone operator? When was the last time you called “information” for a phone number and talked with a live person? Advances in phone switches, networking technology, and voice-activated response systems have made the telephone operator largely obsolete. I am even not sure what would happen now if you dialed “0” from your phone.

Public pay phones

Along those lines, when was the last time you saw a functioning public pay phone? These have been made obsolete by cell phones. Even if you forgot to bring your cell phone from home, chances are you could borrow one from a friend or stranger.

Photo film and film processing

Think about how quickly we have moved from traditional silver halide film to digital photography. It is difficult to find traditional film today, let alone a photo processor. Digital photography does have a lot advantages over traditional film such as the fact that it is less expensive, you get instant picture review, and you can take many more photos, depending on your storage capacity.


How much cash do you have in your wallet or purse right now? I have $16 and that is probably enough to last me for the next two to three weeks. While this one will not go obsolete as quickly as some of the others, I think that debit and credit cards and some of the latest apps will reduce or eliminate the need for consumer cash transactions. With the new phone swipe apps and devices, even my neighborhood lemonade stand will soon be able to take a credit card.


I hope you will take a minute and think about all of the changes that you have seen in your lifetime or even in the last twenty years. Take a minute and reflect on how technology has changed your life, hopefully for the better. What is your favorite technology-induced anachronism? Do you think there is a product or service headed for obsolescence? Let me know.

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.

Informatics and Health Care Reform

There is a lot of attention right now on health care and health care reform. The focus is on providing health care for everyone at an affordable price. There exists a lot of political wrangling over the method of achieving the goal of affordable universal health care but I would like to suggest that IT can play a big part in making health care more efficient and therefore cheaper. Specifically, health informatics can create patient record efficiencies and cost savings.

Health Informatics

Health informatics is really the storage, processing, and display of personal health records. Health informatics has grown from the old days of hand-scribed paper records to a complex electronic system of networked data. Health care itself has grown as well, from the country doctor to the point where a single patient may have multiple doctors and specialists. According to a study by the Rand Corporation, “Most chronic conditions require multiple clinicians to coordinate care, and most patients who have these conditions visit providers from many different medical groups. This creates obvious logistical challenges, such as making sure all providers are up to date on the current care plan, as well as their respective roles and responsibilities for keeping track of the patient. Additionally, patients with more than one chronic condition—who incurred roughly 93 percent of Medicare spending in 2011—require coordination among an even greater number of providers.”

This is where IT and health informatics can shine. This is our specialty. We are very good at processing, dissecting, and compiling information and making it available to everyone, everywhere.


Some of the funds for implementing and upgrading health informatics systems are available from government stimulus via The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). This legislation authorized incentive payments through Medicare and Medicaid to doctors and hospitals when they use Electronic Health Records (EHRs) to achieve specified improvements in care delivery.

According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine “…the federal government will commit unprecedented resources to supporting the adoption and use of EHRs. It will make available incentive payments totaling up to $27 billion over ten years, or as much as $44,000 (through Medicare) and $63,750 (through Medicaid) per clinician. This funding will provide important support to achieve liftoff for the creation of a nationwide system of EHRs.”


We have the incentive to create systems that can provide information that can lead to a breakthrough in a patient’s care and recovery. We have the necessary funds provided, at least partially. We have the skill to create, process, and display information in such a way that a skilled practitioner can provide the professional judgement that leads to quicker diagnosis and treatment. In turn, the care is quicker, cheaper, and more effective, which is the whole point of the current political debate.

Can it really be that simple? Do we just need to bring together the skill, the funding, and the professional expertise to make health care affordable and thus available? I think it boils down to just that. Do you work with electronic health records? Can better and more readily available information really create breakthroughs in this arena? 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.

Should Data Be Free?

There was a mantra in the IT community in the late 1990s and early 2000s that went like this: “Data Should Be Free.” The thought was that we should unlock the value of data by removing restrictions such as copyrights and intellectual property rights. If barriers such as this could be removed, then we could create new and useful ways of combining information to make our lives better. This movement spawned organizations such as Creative Commons, the Free Software Foundation, and Project Gutenberg. While I generally applaud these efforts and have benefitted from several of these projects, I think there is a fine line between freeing data and respecting property rights.


Data, or information, is quickly becoming a product in and of itself. It is now traded, sold, and reconfigured to create a differentiator for a company or organization. The argument for free data is that people can create derived works based on the original data and these can be used to enhance understanding or to create a whole new product. Think mash-ups.

A recent article titled “Playing With Maps” spurred my thinking in this area. The author cites the dilemma of trying to find playgrounds in Toronto. Since playgrounds are not businesses they do not pay to be added to Google Maps and therefore do not show up on a cursory search. The author was trying to find a source of geospatial coordinates that already tagged playgrounds that could then be mapped. This is an excellent example of how free data could be derived and used to build new functionality.

Open Source

The entire open source movement sprung from this notion that data should be free. It has spawned entire operating systems and applications such as Linux and any of the Mozilla products such as Firefox. In fact, Mozilla’s tagline is “Doing Good Is Part Of Our Code”. BUT, here is the dilemma: many of the coders that create Linux variations, Mozilla products, or any number of open source products are doing so on their off hours. Their working hours are often spent coding commercial products that are bought and sold. In other words, a company with proprietary and protected code that is sold for financial gain is paying for the services of a coder and is allowing that coder to create open source or free products on their off time. A symbiosis has to exist between companies that are selling “not-so-free” data and coders that wish that all data and all applications were free.


I believe that there is a time and place for free data and free applications but they must coexist with applications and information that are protected by copyright laws and sold commercially. It is those commercial products that in part allow the free versions to come to market. Do you have a particular open source application that you use? Tell me your favorite. Do you believe that all data should be free? 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.