Return on Investment (ROI) is often the line manager’s measuring stick when determining which technology investment to make.  Take the savings and revenue generation across a relevant time period and divide it by the investment required.  Then determine when the investment will pay for itself.

I’ve seen some multi-million dollar technology investments pay for themselves in just six to nine months. That’s entirely possible when the technology replaces a labor intensive process.

When figuring the costs, however, don’t just stop at what the salesman says the solution will cost. Take into account the entire set of costs over the useful lifetime of the product.  Don’t forget maintenance costs, support costs, training costs, etc.  This is known as the total cost of ownership or TCO.  Solutions that last longer will often compare more favorably to short term fixes that will require a replacement solution sooner.  Of course, estimating useful life has with some complications, so be sure to get several estimates from experts who know the space.

Finally, if you must make a determination among several unrelated projects, consider using the Six Sigma Lean approach known as the Pareto Priority Index (PPI).  The PPI takes the probability of success into account and time of completion.  It’s formula is (Savings x Probability of Success) / (Cost x Time of completion).  A higher PPI indicates a higher priority.


Choosing a Windows Laptop

Need to get a new Windows laptop?

Here are some  things to consider …

TINY:  netbook size is light to carry and will fit on most airline seat trays, but hard to see and work on for long hours.  Most displays are 11″ to 13″ and the keyboard layout is cramped.
BIG: 17″ displays are the easiest to read and best to show stuff to clients when you can’t use a projector – but they are heavy and bulky to lug around
MEDIUM: 15″ displays are a compromise on all fronts. Easier to read than a netbook, lighter than a 17″ device. Will fit on many airline seat trays, but not all.

Battery life: Do you work a lot from battery – during flights or in impromptu locations like coffee shops where power is hard to get to? The bigger the battery, the longer the working session.

Video: Do you watch or present a lot of videos? If so, the Intel I5 or higher chip is the way to go. It has powerful, on-board video processing. If you just use video occasionally, save the money and go with AMD or Intel I3. The I3 gives better battery life than AMD, but often costs a bit more.

KEYBOARD: Keyboard layout is the one thing that’s so personal. That’s why it’s worth trying a laptop out at a store before buying it. Placement of the Enter, Home, End. Page Up and Page Down, cursor arrows and the Delete keys are critical and often placed in different locations. Make sure they are where you expect and won’t drive you crazy if you use them a lot.

If you have a tablet, you probably won’t benefit from a netbook.  I do have an iPad and an Acer netbook and often carry them both on trips.   I ended up buying a 17″ HP, though when clients needed to see my screens. The netbook and iPad were just too small to present videos and powerpoints.  So if you have a tablet already get least a 15″ laptop. Get a 17″ laptop if you need visibility more than portability.

Brands I’ve had good success with are: Acer, Lenovo, Gateway and HP.*

Just some words of advice from the trenches.

– Rick

* I’m not employed by any of these firms, nor have I received any compensation for their endorsement.

Leveraging Social Media for Your Event

Thank you to the more than fifty very attentive attendees of my course “Leveraging Social Media to Extend the Reach and Impact of Your Event” at the  Exhibitor 2011 conference.  My key message:  Using a combination of blogging, Twitter and podcasting before, during and after the event is much more powerful than using any one of these alone.  You can cross-promote yourself this way. You extend your reach both in terms of readers and followers. You also can extend your reach geographically by encouraging Twitter back channel  activity during your event.

Speaking  of Twitter back channel. I described three modes of Twitter back channel use:  Single Channel Presenter Feedback, Single Channel Audience Feedback, and Multi-Channel Audience Feedback using Tweetgrid or Tweetdeck.  (Note that I did not include anything about “follower feedback” 😉 ).

Here is a list of inexpensive cameras that make creating YouTube Videos quite easy: Kodak ZX10 series,  Samsung HMX series and the really inexpensive Vivitar DVR series. The most powerful tip for improving video quality is to light the scene really well.  If you do you will find any of these capture video with acceptable results for YouTube.

I promised I would give a free virtual session on Getting Started with WordPress to any of the attendees.   I’m extending this offer to any of my blog readers too. Contact me if you would like to attend.  See for my email link.  You’ll also find the Tweetrr code for inside the firewall backchannel operation on that site.  Also contact me if you attended the session and didn’t get the handout.

I hope to hold the session by May 15, 2011 so let me know soon.

Vint Cerf Says It’s All His Fault: No More Internet Addresses

Vint Cerf admits it’s his fault that the world is  running out of Internet addresses next month.
The media says we are not prepared.

Royalty Free Music for Podcasts

My friend Stevie Puckett interviewed me about podcasting a few weeks back.  Though the interview is just for her subscribers at  Tech Savvy Career Coach , I’ll share one of the deliverables.   I did a bit of research and updated the list of royalty free music for podcasting. I can’t guarantee that all music found at these sites is all royalty free, but each site on the list does have at least some royalty free offerings. Remember royalty free does not mean free of charge, but free of royalty charges per play.   Yet I was able to find some completely free sources of music as well.  Also, many do not charge the even the flat fee up front fee for non-commercial uses only for commercial users. I’ve marked the sites charging fees with a dollar sign.

So check out the fine print at each site and add some life to your podcasts! And if you find some additional sources, please add them in your feedback to this blog.

Royalty Free Music Sources: free with attribution free with attribution free with attribution free with attribution free with attribution attribution, Optional $5 contribution $ but as low as $2.29 per song $ for commercial productions, free for non-commercial and students $ $ $ – This is the big list to look thru. Most sites on this list offer creative commons licensing,
but you need to verify for podcast use.


The Performance Support Revolution

Performance Support Revolution

The Performance Support community is getting active again. Bob Mosher and Con Gottfredson, two official gurus of the movement, have recently launched their new performer support website on Ning: (

They make a strong case for including performance support in the eLearning solution set. I think it’s even stronger than the case they make. Here’s why:

There are two major areas where performance support is a win, Formal and Informal training.

1. Formal training: The biggest problem with formal training is usually budget – everything from the resources to create it to the time commitment to attend it. Of course, it still takes some resource to create PS solutions, but including this solution in your repertoire means you have an option can eliminate formal training and turn it into a “just in time with just enough” solution. Having a job aid, reference tool, special calculator, or other support tool may be all the learner needs instead of attending a four hour training course. It is an efficient and effective solution to the budget issue of formal training.

2. Informal training. With all the resource issues swirling around formal training, who has time to improve informal training? Yet it’s clear that 90% of what people learn about their job is from informal sources. So even a small percentage lift in informal training has a major effect on employee productivity.

Everyone knows of the post-its found on the side of the screen that have those invaluable bits of information that make the job go easier. Every job has some arcane information you only hear about by the watercooler or at a conference or when getting to talk with someone in the “other division” who has come up against the same problems. Getting folks to share that kind of information yields big benefits for all employees who face the same challenges. Sharing this information on a forum, a wiki or blog is an easy way to accelerate informal learning. This provides a way of disseminating those job aids, cheat sheets, and helpful sticky notes of information you eventually come up with when learning the ropes of a new job to the folks who really need them, authored by the folks who actually use them.

So in the end what’s more revolutionary in training than saying you don’t need to be out for three days to take this training course when all you really need is a two hour module and a great job aid?  Or maybe even forget all the training and just use this job aid.

Viva la revolution!

Technology and Catastrophic Failure

Usually I spend a lot more time talking about learning technology in this blog as opposed to pure technology.  However, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is an example of catastrophic technical failure we are beginning to see much too often.  Whatever the ultimate analysis of the causes of this ecological horror yields, it is clear that some level of technical failure of a complex system, together with possible human error was in play.  The issues and ultimately the solutions involved are a mix of the realms of technology,  project management, and human performance improvement.  We all are invested in understanding how to prevent this.

Richard Cook, MD wrote an elegant paper in 1998 entitled How Complex Systems Fail.  It’s been referenced a few times since, usually after some major technical snafu.  Michael Krigsman of ZDNet invoked it this time to point out how informed  leadership must take a role in establishing a culture of safety when dealing with complex technical systems. I agree with his point.  However, Cook’s paper warns us of much, much more than that.

Cook outlines 18 points in his paper in his four page paper. Each one of them is worth a year’s study.  I won’t list them all here. I urge you to read the paper instead.  Here are two important themes from it:

  1. Because of their redundancy, complex systems are inherently unstable in many circumstances.  The redundancies are built-in “failsafe” responses to possible or even expected failure of some set of  component.  They are constantly operating at sub-optimal levels since the systems are designed to keep working despite component failures. All it takes is some novel occurrence beyond the finite catalog of anticipated failures to place a system in an entirely new state of operation – which, of course, could be wholly inappropriate.
  2. Humans are a huge source of variability in complex systems. Humans are necessarily interchangeable because of change of shifts, vacations, sick time, promotions, layoffs,  firings, mergers, etc. So even if complex systems are initially staffed with only top performers, this will change and the reliability of the systems will change.

The net effect of these two points is to say that the reliability of complex systems is continuously changing and can quickly slip into catastrophe when a series of seemingly minor incidents occur in such a novel fashion that completely unexpected major failure ensues.

The news is not good.  There is no magic bullet. No simple root cause.  At our current level of understanding, it takes more than just hard work to manage  complex systems without error.  Even with constant vigilance, preparedness, and training a series of  seemingly innocent failures in a complex system end up becoming phrases etched in the international consciousness like Challenger, Bopahl, Three Mile Island, Exxon Valdez, and the BP Gulf Spill.

It is clear that we must learn much, much more about building and managing complex systems.  Cooks’s paper tells us that the inherent nature of complex systems invites catastrophe. And now more than ever, we live in the age of complex systems.