Tag Archives: information technology

Technology in Action—Utilities

On occasion I like to feature a job or profession that makes use of technology in new and unique ways. Recently I highlighted technology in farming and today it struck me as I was walking down the street that a lot of cool innovation is in use by our utility companies. This seems like a fairly staid industry at first glance, but utility companies are deploying some technologies that make their products (electricity, gas, water) more cost effective and their delivery and monitoring more efficient.

Electric Utility

Utilities such as Pacific Power here in the Northwest are installing automated meters that can be read from a vehicle on the street rather than requiring a person to enter a customer’s property. The new meters are equipped with a radio module for transmitting data and are read by a roaming utility vehicle equipped with a radio receiver and computer. That information is downloaded to billing and accounting systems to generate utility bills. Perhaps driverless cars can take over in the future, or data can be transmitted wirelessly to the utility, thus eliminating the use of a vehicle. This is a way that IT can add value to the electric utility industry.

Water Utility

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is installing automated water meters that  transmit water usage to nearby rooftop antennas. This eliminates the need to drive around reading meters, which in New York City is a big plus. The technology reduces the need for estimated billing based on prior usage, which was always a best guess and caused a utility to either charge too much or too little. Automated meters reduce the error and the need to adjust bills. This technology enables customers to view daily usage via an online interface and may inspire them to conserve water.

Gas Utility

Natural gas meters use the same automated devices as water and electric utilities. One of the benefits of these devices, particularly in places like New York City where data is transmitted up to four times a day, is the utility company can promptly detect and respond to a leak. Current data is compared to a known baseline or to an averaged norm and if there is a large anomaly the system can flag an inspector to investigate. No more dangerous gas leaks, flooded yards, or large gas or water bills. IT to the rescue!


I began thinking about this technology while walking down the street and noticing black mushroom-looking devices on the lids of pit meters embedded in sidewalks and driveway aprons. I had never seen them before and my curiosity got the better of me, and there was a utility worker nearby I could ask. Many cities have already completely converted to automated meters and enjoy the conveniences of accurate data collection and billing. In future blogs, I will continue highlighting technology in other sectors. Have you ever thought about unique applications of technology? Sometimes it can come to you out of the blue while you are walking down the street.

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.

IT Trends: How Will You Access Your Data in the Years to Come?

shutterstock_91611515I have been thinking lately about information technology trends and I want to highlight a few in the blog this week. This helps me to keep up on the latest in technology and I hope that it helps you as well.

The Cloud

According to a recent list from Gartner, one of the emerging trends over the next couple of years is that the cloud will become the most important data repository. This will have significant impact on IT organizations in the fact that devices such as PCs and laptops will be merely a window into the data and the applications. The computer will not actually house information; it will all be hosted in the cloud. Laptops could become simple terminals and more computing will be pushed to the tablet, which could serve the same function. With this push to mobile devices, the desktop PC could drop out of the scene completely. Device management will change dramatically, especially as employees become even more mobile.


Another trend identified by Gartner is an increasingly mobile workforce. This includes not only telecommuters, but also those working in a progressively 24/7 world on company-issued devices as well as on personal devices. The line is blurring between the two, and IT organizations need to get a handle on who and what devices have access to their proprietary information. This goes beyond a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policy and enters into the area of network design with an eye toward mobile security.


With the movement towards the cloud and mobile devices, Sophos—the network and server security vendor—predicts there will be more attacks on personal and corporate data. They also predict mobile devices will leave personal data more vulnerable to theft, particularly through the use of apps. With larger numbers of employees working remotely and passing corporate data across their mobile devices, this trend spells trouble for the IT organization. The spotlight will be on them to keep the corporate data safe on the inside and keep viruses and intruders on the outside. More emphasis will be put on security, particularly the mobile variant. The upside to all of this is an increase in opportunities for security professionals. According to Robert Half, the staffing specialists, security professionals are one of the technical specialties in highest demand. If the trend towards mobile and cloud computing continues, this demand will become even more acute.


One of the benefits of trend spotting is that it points to where future opportunities lie. There is a need now for security professionals, cloud computing professionals, and those that can integrate mobile platforms with enterprise applications. If you are at a crossroads in your career, I would explore one of these areas. If you are just starting your IT career or education, I think any of these will be solid fields for years to come, with options to branch out into the periphery. Have you seen any other IT trends worth noting? Let me know. I will highlight other trends in future blog posts.

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.

WANTED: More Cybercrime Sleuths

Internet theft - a gloved hand reaching through a laptop screen Last week, a report released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and McAfee suggested that “… likely annual cost to global economy from cybercrime is more than $400 billion. A conservative estimate would be $375 billion in losses, while the maximum could be as much as $575 billion.” This amount includes hard figures such as money stolen from a bank account or charged to a credit card. It also includes soft figures such as the loss of intellectual property, which is much harder to estimate. In any case, the estimated loss is more that the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries. The good news is that IT solutions exist that will help reduce this figure.

How IT Is Battling Cyber Crime

IT is battling cybercrime in two ways. One is education of the public on safe computing and the other is through better IT security applications both for server and mobile platforms. Law enforcement agencies around the globe are starting to add more IT security specialists to their organizations. They realize that cybercrime is not a physical crime but a virtual one, although real money or property is lost. They often are not equipped to detect or enforce this type of crime so they are turning to IT specialists to provide that expertise. Credit card companies and banks are also working to devise new IT solutions to detect cybercrime before it happens. I have been issued a new credit card twice in the last few years because of activities that I did not initiate. The first was caught because there was activity at online stores that I do not or would not frequent and the security filters flagged that and notified me. The second time, it appeared that my physical card had been used within twenty minutes in Oregon and Texas. Again, that was flagged as an impossibility, so I was notified. These are examples of how IT can and does play a significant role in stopping cybercrime.

Career Opportunities as a Cyber Crime Fighter

As mentioned above, law enforcement such as the FBI and local agencies are increasing their force dedicated to cybercrime. They are looking for IT specialists in the area of IT security. They are looking for those individuals that have a degree in IT security such as Carnegie Mellon’s master’s degree in Information Security and Technology Management or certifications such as the CISSP or Certified Information Systems Security Professional. This additional training prepares you to take on the challenge of fighting cybercrime. There are growing opportunities for those who have skills in the IT security field. If your current skillset is becoming obsolete, this would be an emerging field that you should definitely consider.


Have you ever been a victim of cybercrime? Did you lose anything or was it detected before a loss occurred? Do you have people in your organization that are dedicated to monitoring and fighting cybercrime? Let me know your story. 

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.


Tech Heroes Among Us

People standing with hero shadowsThis week I have thinking about the tech heroes among us. You may be one or you may know one. This is the person that helps you get a new app on your phone or customize your LinkedIn account. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, technology is not always user friendly, although it is improving. Interfaces are not always intuitive even though we now have dedicated user experience engineers. Until we get to that perfect understanding of every app, tool, and device every time, we need the tech hero.

Celebrating the Tech Hero

Cloud services hosting company Carpathia has a mechanism for nominating tech heroes. The chosen few receive a backpack filled with things that tech heroes need such as a notebook computer and toolkit, even energy drinks. Carpathia is also hosting Tech Hero events in various cities around the country to meet and celebrate tech heroes. The purpose is to recognize those unsung heroes that keep us going every day (and to sell cloud services to those that know exactly what that is).

Who Are These People?

I have found that tech heroes are not always the people with the deepest knowledge of technology but those people who have taken the time to understand the logic of computers and applications AND have the ability to explain it to the rest of us. That is sometimes a rare combination of talents. Perhaps there should be a designated position of “Tech Hero” within an organization. That way, the current tech heroes—currently just over the wall or around the corner—can get their real work done.

Who Is Your Tech Hero?

Tell me who your tech heroes are. I would like to recognize them in future blogs and give them their fifteen minutes of fame. Is it an IT guru, coworker, spouse, son or daughter? Or is it you? Add a comment to this blog naming your tech hero and explaining why they are so awesome. They may be quietly performing miracles, but it is time we honor them for the very necessary service that they provide. Let me know.


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 and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Inevitability of Change

In a recent article in the MIT Technology Review, author David Rotman quotes assertions by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee revealing that “impressive advances in computer technology—from improved industrial robotics to automated translation services—are largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10 to 15 years.” My initial reaction was one of concern but, at the same time, if their assumptions are correct, I would not want to throttle technological advancement to keep the status quo. For me, it comes down to the fact that the information technology world is changing and jobs are changing. The questions that I ask myself are these: “Am I changing, and am I in a position to take advantage of this changing world?”


Information has traditionally been tangential to main business processes but has never been the process itself. It is either used as an input to a business process or becomes an output. Now, there are whole companies and whole industries built solely on the brokering, storage, and exchange of information. Information now is the business process. Information is the product. While it is true that technology, and, more specifically, information technology has replaced some traditional jobs and careers, it has also created brand new fields and opportunities.

New Beginnings

I am just starting a new course today in Information Systems and Management; this new start always spurs my thinking about the changing landscape of information technology. I also think about the inevitability of change, especially in the IT field. We can either view change as an opportunity or a threat. We can either fear change or embrace it.

Fear of Change

As the information technology field changes, information professionals need to change also. This is a fast-paced field, and we need to keep abreast of the latest offerings, technologies, and breakthroughs. To be afraid of change is to be afraid of opportunities. A number of years ago, I had a colleague who was a computer operator (I go back a long ways). As the world transitioned away from central computing to personal computing, the computer room and the computer operator position disappeared. Unfortunately, my colleague did not keep up with the changes, mainly due to fear and apathy, and he eventually lost his job. It was unfortunate but inevitable.

The Next Chapter

The struggle today is how to deal with mobile devices and how to sort out and analyze increasing amounts of information. The challenge is to make sense of all of the data that we are generating and make intelligent decisions based on those findings. There are abundant opportunities out there if we are willing to stretch and learn and apply our skills. Are we learning all we can to meet the challenges? Do we have the right skill set to sort out the thorniest problems? What do we need to do to upgrade our skills and retool?


What are you doing today to prepare for the next chapter? What are your long-term plans? Are you ready? 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.

Bridging the Technology Gender Gap

There has been a big emphasis over the last few years on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Education initiatives are pushing STEM in elementary, middle, and high schools. With this emphasis we should see more young men and women entering college degree programs and careers in these fields. Will this push help to reverse the decline of women entering into the information technology field? Time will tell, but I have a few ideas for narrowing this gap.


According to a recent study by the National Center for Women In Technology, 57 percent of professional jobs in the US are held by women but only 26 percent of professional computing occupations were held by women. According to the same survey, only 18 percent of Computer Science and Information Science undergraduate degree recipients were women. The trend for women in technology appears to be getting worse and not better.


In a recent blog post, Jaleh Bisharat, vice president of marketing at oDesk, suggests three things that may invite more women into the technology and communications field:

  1. Make computer programming a requirement for graduating from high school.
  2. Aggressively combat the stereotypes of computer scientists.
  3. Expose the creativity involved in advanced math and science.

Her premise is that if we demystify information technology by exposing young people, male and female, to areas such as programming then they will begin to understand that tech jobs can be rewarding. The tech industry needs to shed its “nerdy” image in order to be considered a viable option for young women. As Ms. Bisharat points out, programming can be poetry and it is very much a creative field.


Here are some things I have been thinking about to attract more young women to STEM and keep them interested enough to pursue a degree and a career in technology or engineering:

  1. Bring more girls in contact with technology professionals, even as early as elementary school.
  2. Create better marketing by the technology industry to attract more young women to the industry.
  3. Make math hip by highlighting top-of-the-line applications!

If we are successful in introducing young people to technology and information professionals, they will understand that these are the people that help bring new devices and applications to life. In turn, the professionals can help reinforce the notion that math and science are cool and they are not limited to one gender. Finally, we need to do a much better job of marketing the technology industry. We have the Beef Council, why not a technology council, complete with a tagline and a jingle and a captivating app? Come and join us and help us invent the future! All of these efforts could help narrow the current gender gap in technology jobs and help us to employ the talents of creative men AND women.

Do you have other ideas for attracting talented women into the technology field? What do you think are our biggest barriers? Let me know your thoughts.


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.