Saturday, April 25, 2009

Harvard Crimson alumni lunch

Saturday afternoon finds us at the Sheraton Commander in Cambridge,MA, with a gathering of present and past Harvard Crimson editors. Mr. Mark Penn, CEO Worldwide, Burson-Marsteller and President, Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, is speaking to a polite crowd.

Penn regales us with highlights of his undergraduate hijinks. It seems he exposed corruption at HSA, whilst baring shocking undergraduate exam scams involving hammers to hands.

Penn's 2007 book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes

Penn makes the point that both the extreme right and the extreme left are effectively exploiting new media methods and getting their messages out. It is the moderates who have not got their message out. He cites the Huffington Post. He thinks the Huffington Post will be more valuable than the Washington post soon. Blogging is the newest profession, everyone is doing it. But he points out that blogspots have fewer employees. They do not keep stables of reporters, they do not have union press shops. Blogging are paid as freelancers, mostly, which is unfortunate, he feels. The ultra-specialization of bloggers is another phenomenon. One change is that journalism never covered in depth many beats that bloggers can now cove. There will be the tycoons of the blogging industry, and those who aren't tycoons.

9% of voting households made over $100,ooo. In the 2008 election, 26% of voters made over $100,000. The Obama voters included 4x as many lower-income voters.

Penn observes that the professional class was largely responsible for electing Obama, and he wonders what will happen in this economic climate.

"Rationality is on the upswing for most people," among what he calls "impressionable elites." Working and middle-class voters have become more consumers of information about candidates' health care programs, while elites are more interested in sound bites.

Also people are researching everything nowadays.

Value is the new Green. The idea of value is an equally important notion. Not just providing it, but having it in people's consciousness, like Wal-mart. He points to hybrid cars as an example of where actual value of cars on offer has gone up, and people are valuing green.

Penn feels it's NOT a young people's world. There have never been so many old people. When JFK was elected, there were twice a many people under 29 as over 65. Today that is flipped, it is 1.5x as many elders as young people.

He worked for Hillary Clinton, the person he "had hoped to become the next president." He points out that a lot of top positions like Congress are still dominated by men. But he notes that women are the majority of university presidents. He notes that boys "re not doing so well," because they are dropping out of school at hight numbers than men.

So where does all this leave the Crimson? One day there will not be a print edition of the Crimson, Penn forsees.

Taking questions from the audience, Penn states he feel the Obama administration has been more effective than, for example, the Clinton presidency, which lost both houses of Congress after the first term.

When asked about the Republican party at this time, he feels unsure if there is actually currently a republican party philosophy. Maybe they should split up, he ponders. Sarah Palin boomeranged because she embodied an anti-education image, while the country is becoming more educated.

Penn observes that McCain did not win the "3am phone call" crisis-handling test. The 3am call was the economy. McCain did not handle the crisis well during the election, Obama did, and he feels thus went the election.

Current trend in media today? Penn feels that the media is overlooking the LAS's, the "long attention-spanners." He notes the web is long and full of wordiness. The recent theory has been that writing was too long and people would not pay attention, but he feels the opposite is proving true.

He calls the Bush second term the "biggest failure of communications," in modern time. Bush couldn't get any legislation passed, he couldn't get anything accomplished, and yet he wasn't impeached. Should presidents make decisions on the basis of polls? When should they set aside those considerations?

What is the direction of polling? Online or with handheld devices like cellphones? Penn sees groups like Harvard undergraduates will best be polled by handhelds, but general population need to be polled online. He notes that people love to answer polls and questions about themselves.

Future of blogging? Don't bloggers simply comment on content of news actually generated by traditional journalists? Penn notes opinion is significantly cheaper to generate than actual news coverage. He sees the most effective method of getting attention is getting on "Live on 5" and motivating them to then go online and leveraging the live appearance. There are currently 20 million bloggers, and when they were asked if they derived their primary income from blogging, 1% or 200,000 said they were.

How can the Crimson integrate blogging? How many blogs does the Crimson have now? asks Penn? It has "sort of one, now" responds Childs.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bob Brennan, Iron Mountain CEO, at Harvard Business School

by Sarah Cortes

This morning at Harvard Business School. Bob Brennan, President and CEO of Boston-based Iron Mountain,
delivered a vision for the future and reflected on the notable mid-recession growth and profitability of this perennial giant in the world of Records Management, Data Storage and Disaster Recovery.

Casual observers marvel at how the company not only survives but has recently exploded galactically into the S&P 500. It seems counterintuitive for a company that seemingly shares the same challenge we see each week on the popular TV show, The Office, namely, a core business built around a mundane, semi-obsolete medium, paper, (and similarly semi-obsolete medium, magnetic tape), in a hip digital age.

At the breakfast gathering in HBS's sparkling and sun-drenched Spangler Center, sponsored by the HBS Association of Boston, Iron Mountain materials summarized the firm's fortunes: "In 1998 Iron Mountain was a $400m physical box and tape storage company with operations entirely within the United States. Today, they have $3b revenues, operate in 38 countries on five continents, and have completed more than 250 acquisitions."

Make that 300 acquisitions, according to numbers Brennan quoted this morning. Things have been picking up in 2009, it seems.

His vision for the future and ambition is similarly galactic: "Adding technology services that increasingly will bring us into competition with IBM, EMC and Microsoft." We asked Brennan to throw a spear to pinpoint his definition of "technology services." Iron Mountain's growth has largely been fueled by its Document Management Services (DMS) division, which pretty much means image storage. A huge area with room for growth, but storing images of printed paper is a different goldfish pond than the growing online, real-time digital data backup and storage business. For their largest client sector, financial services, which Brennan today revealed accounts for 20% of Iron Mountain's business, data storage and backup means transaction records in database form. It also means, if not real-time backup, for example, via EMC's SRDF technology, then at least daily database synchronization in a batch backup, transmission and storage cycle.

"IBM." said Brennan, meaning, clients seeking that service should addre
ss themselves to Big Blue. "We have no clue about online data storage." Good to be clear about core vision. With an enormous slide projected behind him as he speaks, of a goldfish in a small bowl and another goldfish leaping into a larger bowl, set before a vast ocean, Brennan made the point that Iron Mountain's unarguable success in this economic holocaust, is due to leaping into bigger ponds like DMC, but not drowning in the ocean of online and realtime data backup and recovery. Iron Mountain sees its present and future in "inactive data" rather than online, real-time transaction-based data, according to Brennan. "Let us eliminate your noise," he says, summing up the approach.

Brennan also seeks to make Iron Mountain the leading provider of digital computing, now known as cloudshare. "In the old days, we called it timeshare," jokes Brennan. He compared his firm's market share in this arena to that of, another recent juggernaut.

His biography outlines a path to the executive suite reminiscent of Craig McCaw, who cobbled together the stupendous McCaw cellular empire in the 1990s. According to the company website, Brennan joined Iron Mountain through the acquisition of Connected Corporation, where he served as Chief Executive Officer. Before Connected, he was a general manager for network and service management with the highly successful and flamboyant Cisco Systems, Inc., a global leader and the "junkyard dog" of the networking and communications equipment business. He was CEO of American Internet prior to its acquisition by Cisco.

"We are not a software company and we're not a real estate company, and we're not a transportation company, although we maintains a fleet of 5,000 trucks making 75,000 stops," summarized Brennan.

Iron Mountain faces challenges as it continues to reinvent itself and move into cloudshare and other digital arenas. Brennan distinguishes himself from his counterpart on The Office, Michael Scott, the notorious (anti-)manager, by squarely facing the transformation required of Iron Mountain's 21,000 employees around the globe. Brennan clearly takes pride that his firm has managers who have worked themselves up from the warehouse to running multimillion dollar business lines, but acknowledges it is largely a blue collar workforce. With this in mind, he brought together the 200 company leaders from around the world a few weeks ago and focused on the company's strategy. At this gathering, Brennan articulated his management philosophy: "Lead with kindness - we have to pull, not push, people. And develop people." This philosophy is creating discomfort for some of his managers, and "it's creating a lot of discomfort for me, too," joked Brennan. "I've been getting a lot of feedback since I put this out there a few weeks ago."

copyright 2009 Sarah Cortes

Disclosure: The author was SVP and head of Disaster Recovery at Putnam Investments on 9/11 when parent company Marsh & McLennan's data center collapsed on the 96th floor of the
North Tower of the World Trade Center and failed over to Putnam's facilities while hundreds of colleagues died. Iron Mountain played a critical role in Marsh & McLennan's remarkable recovery, driving thousands of magnetic tapes across the country while airlines were grounded. Her technology consulting practice includes, among other areas, advising companies how to negotiate their Iron Mountain contracts and pricing. You can read her other Tech columns at IT Knowledge Exchange
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Monday, April 6, 2009

5-digit Key protected by an AES blocker

peer-to-peer cellular trace from a GSM ID

establish a secure VPM

connecting through a DNA node

Friday, April 3, 2009

Carlin Wing's Squash photographs

by Sarah Cortes

Photography show at Anthony Greany gallery, 460A Harrison Avenue, South End, Boston, Massachusetts, US, until May 16, 2009. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 12-6pm and by appointment. 617-482-0055.

Friday night finds us at the hip Anthony Greany Gallery opening reception for Carlin Wing's new show, "Hitting Walls (V.VII)." Located in the ultracool SOWA district (for SOuth of WAshington Street) in the South End of Boston, here in the US, we astonish ourselves by finding parking right across the street. This bodes well for the evening, as any Bostonian knows.

Michaela Larsen's upscale Rocca Restaurant a few doors away and Gaslight, an Alsatisn bistro, on a nearby sidestreet, give a feel for the experience-what could be more fun on a Friday evening?
For the four hundred or so people who filtered in and out of the two rooms, capacity 75, in the SOWA gallery complex between 6 and 10pm, apparently, nothing.

For those who don't live in Galaxy Squash, here's what the artist looks like:

Once inside, along with the wine, cheese, crackers and strawberries on offer, we are struck by the clean, white space and the bold placement of two enormous photographs, 57" x 70", about 6'x7'. To squash enthusiasts, the images are immediately unmistakable as one of the most prestigious and fun events on the circuit, with one of the most coveted titles among the pros, John Nimick's Tournament of Champions. Even non-squash players will recognize the stately proportions of New York's Grand Central Station, captured vividly in Wing's work.

Over and over again throughout the evening, we find our eyes drawn to the photographs and the little details. The distinct silhouettes of certain famous players and spectators, and characters in the insular squash world can be picked out of the crowd. Suddenly, one realizes, the players themselves are invisible on court. Wait a minute, we check the list of works, which clearly states, Willstrop vs. Abbas. The seats are full and the spectators fixated on invisible action apparently taking place between these two famous top ten players on the glass court before them. It's a kind of trompe l'oeil. One keeps looking back.

I had to check my own photos of the event to be sure there actually were players on court during that match. Yup, here's what they looked like by an ordinary photographer (not Wing's work, clearly):

Juxtaposed cleanly with the large photographs on exhibit are smaller ones, almost postcard-sized, and a video, around which visitors tended to cluster, from which emanated the familiar "whack..whack" sound of a squash ball against a wall. Only a former world-class professional squash player like Carlin, Harvard-pedigreed, could successfully capture the intersection of sport, art and event buzz. We can only hope these works find a home here in Boston, rather than, say, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where they would seem, curiously, equally at home.

copyright 2009 Sarah Cortes

You can read Sarah's other tech columns at IT Knowledge Exchange