IT Governance

Don’t you hate it when you state “I will post every day to my blog” and then look up from your desk to discover it’s been three weeks?

Anyway, I have just flown back into sunny (well, actually quite dark) Brisbane – much to my annoyance, the plane was delayed by an hour. Apparently an oven was broken in the plane. I am somewhat concerned that an oven is so central to the operation of the plane but apparently the Qantas manual says “thou shalt swap planes” and who am I to argue with people who know about how to keep planes in the air?

There was an ITM COE meeting in Melbourne today, and I suspect that I am suffering from a case of “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. I find IT Governance to be exceptionally interesting, and that is a topic that is well on the radar for the ITM COE – however, I could be accused for stretching the topic somewhat at times, as I think almost all business IT problems can be related back to poor IT governance in the first place (and if you’re not careful sometime, I’ll set you down and tell you all about it).

At any rate, here is a link to the IS Auditors’ association standard on IT Governance: COBIT

Desktop Search Tools

One of the fascinating new tools that have come to the fore over the past several years is an array of tools to assist you to retrieve the work you have already done – the work that is currently sitting in what could loosely be termed your knowledge library (if you’re not well-organised).

These tools include things such as Google Desktop Search (which is just out of beta), the MSN Search Toolbar, Yahoo Desktop Search, X1, and the Copernic Desktop Search. I have done a lot of research since this tool was mentioned at the IT Management Day (I chaired the day in Brisbane, at least partly because I chair the COE – oh, and I happen to live in Brisbane, so that may have helped) by Rob Roe of KAZ Technologies, and from the reviews I have read on the internet and my own experience, I think Copernic is a winner.

X1 costs – and since I am an accountant (there is a time-delay lock on my wallet), and the other tools are free and of great quality, it was never going to get a look in.

The MSN Search toolbar – well, apparently it doesn’t play nice with Mozilla Firefox (my preferred browser). It’s also from Microsoft (I like a lot of Microsoft products – they often just work without ten years geek experience), but the tendency I have seen is to bloatware and security issues. I was unable to confirm this, however, because the real killer for this product is it needs Windows XP to run, and like 40% or so of the business world, I still run Windows 2000 on my laptop.

The Yahoo search bar remains way too close to the beta program for me, so I didn’t really look at it too much. From reviews I’ve read, it seems to be a bit of a resource hog when indexing (even when you’re working).

Normally, Google would have been my tool of choice (what can I say – I already have one new verb “to Google”, meaning to thrash about and find stuff), but although it had a nice and simple interface, and the results were available in a browser, the Google tool is pretty much brain-dead in indexing just my local hard drive. There is a plug-in (too close to the old word, “hack”, for me) to search network drives, but it’s primogeniture is a little hard to determine and it comes with now arranties. Besides, this tool is only just out of beta.

Feeling a bit frantic, I downloaded and installed the Copernic deskbar, and it works for me. Although it doesn’t work with Groupwise (our email system of choice), that’s probably not a problem since neither do any of the other tools . Copernic works with network drives out of the box, it has a nice taskbar search tool, and the background indexing is nice and unobtrusive. I don’t understand why these other tools work only on the local hard drive – beyond the few script kiddies out there and consultants that work alone, it isn’t good practice to have valuable documents sitting on C:.

Some problems I did have with Copernic were when I tried to run it with Groupwise (I have Outlooked installed, so it tried to index Groupwise with somewhat disastrous results – the indexing essentially kept freezing my computer). It isn’t rated for Groupwise, so that’s probably not a surprise.

Also, I found that when I had the preview pane on, a couple of spreadsheets (I think with macros in them perhaps) caused a lovely blue screen of death – so I turned that off. I do suspect that may be a Novell incompatibility.

Finally, because the taskbar takes up some acreage, I decided to turn that off. Which I did. When I went to turn it back on – no luck. I racked my brains about it for 20 minutes how to resolve it and then decided the simple approach was best – I uninstalled the thing and re-installed, and then allowed it to reindex it. It took about half an hour of my life – and I won’t try turning off the taskbar again. The reindexing was unobtrusive (and continues to be) and I have 12,775 documents indexed fairly quickly, I thought, while I zapped out for a coffee.

So in summary, I am using Copernic on my laptop, and I have been very impressed so far (speed is excellent!). A side benefit is that if you show results by date, you can quickly see those files you have been working on recently (presuming, of course, the documents you have indexed are your documents – this will depend on how you work with a team). A tool like this raises issues for IT Governance, desktop stability, and IT installation policies, but that’s a topic for a different post.

Pits, Traps and Windfalls of Open Source Software (For Business)

One of the things that I have often come across when consulting with clients is, obviously, the phenomenon of open-source software, and next week (17 May 2005) I will be presenting to the local CPA Australia IT discussion group on the topic of Pits, Traps and Windfalls of Open Source Software.

Now, I happen to think that open source software is better than the proverbial sliced bread on a picnic, but it does come with some real dangers hidden with its benefits. A real commercial issue is that, for software that is “free”, no purchase order is required and a business can find itself heavily reliant upon the open source software (and the skills of the person who knows how to use it) without any of the usual gatekeeper controls to ensure people understand what it’s all about (many businesses require a business case to purchase new software – but, no outlay means no business case means no commercial considerations are part of the decision).

And once you get out of the top five or ten open source projects in a particular software category, your ability to find someone that can actually use the software decreases markedly (which usually means that, once you find them, you’ve got to pay them quite well thanks very much). So fairly soon, and without any real red flags to indicate that it’s happening, the business can become very reliant upon the skills of one single solitary person (who may or may not be a good bloke, but is still susceptible to the all-too-common “hit by a bus” problem).

But, I use Open Office at home (fairly seamlessly for most documents) and we do sponsor open-source software such as DotNetNuke to our clients, as it’s a category killer in open source portal tools, and is based upon some standard technologies. I think it will always be interesting to run the numbers for clients and see which way they are better off. And this is exactly why I’m presenting next week on exactly this topic. So if you’re in the Brisbane area, please feel free to drop in and say “hi” by registering and perhaps discuss the finer points or two of this topic in the business context.