May 29, 2008

JotSpot Reborn !

Okay, a few months back I made a Google Apps wish list in the hopes that someday many of these will be heard by their developers - and it did! One of the things I included there was the early release of their wiki app from the company they acquired a couple of years ago (JotSpot).

JotSpot is a Wiki app where you can model your own applications that you may need like: directory, crm, inventory etc. and share it within your own small group. It was really a novel idea until they were acquired by Google. JotSpot has reincarnated as Google Sites and now forms part of Google Apps for your domain. So what exactly is Google Sites you say?

Google Sites is a "build-your-own-site" application where you don't actually need to do any coding at all. You can embed any available gadgets like: presentations, documents, or add file uploads capability, directories and news announcements. Surely, there will be more things you can do to make it conform to your business or personal requirements.

(a screenshot of our company intranet built using Google Sites)

Since our company is now under Google Apps, we are using it initially, as our corporate intranet site. It's like an electronic bulletin board where all company announcements, news, calendars, company policies and file downloads are posted. I would say that this is a very significant development for Google Apps for our domain because it bring together all the collaboration services like mails, documents and calendars into a single startup point. However, it required me some minor tweaking for me to be able to do that.

This way, whenever our employees logs into their mails or calendars (like:, it wouldn't go directly to their respective mailboxes but instead it will be redirected and land first at our local company intranet. If it is not done this way, our intranet will just be another menu that no one will care to open and read so I made sure that the first thing they would see are our news.

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May 18, 2008

The 20 Percent Factor

I found a very interesting article posted by ABC News about Google's 20 Percent Factor (Read Story) and how corporate America is changing its views on productivity. The 20 percent factor basically allows Googlers (Google employees) to spend their one day per week to do anything they want to do. They can work on their little 'pet' projects on the side either as a team or individually.

The objective of this process is to extract the creative juices of their bright and young engineers to come up with new ideas that may become a mainstream project of their company. True enough, several of these '20 percent projects' were now part of their company's revenue earning services.

My 20 Percent Version

This has inspired me to somewhat replicate this practice and achieve the same objective.I called it as 'Saturday Projects'. Upon announcing this nifty idea from Google, I immediately saw the eyes of my team lit up like light bulbs and were itching to get started. Yes, just like the original idea, they can do any projects they want on Saturdays. There we some basic rules and guidelines that I set just to make sure they are not breaking any company policies yet still, this is something they can truly call their own time.

Last Saturday, my two best programmers were working on their little projects and were happily conversing each other on ideas. Saturday is a no-pressure work day for us and I don't intend to make it one. As a leader of my own technology group, I have to be patient and creative to bring out the best from my team. This practice is one of the many implementations.

Since this is still an experiment, I will keep a notebook and share my best practices of my company's 20 percent factor. What's your 20 percent factor?

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May 5, 2008

Ways to keep your productive IT staff from moving out

I must admit that I am not spared from losing precious and productive IT staff within my department. The reasons are very diverse and almost endless and I’d say I’ve heard almost every excuse anyone can imagine. I for one had made the same excuses during my early years as professional programmer and I know keeping me from leaving will take more than just a raise.

With more IT businesses opening up very year, the competition for IT talents gets even more rigid. With promises of better pays, more bonuses, and travel incentives; what other creative ways to keep them from leaving you for another company? You’d be surprised that many of the answers listed below require more common sense than creativity.

I have made a short list of advice that I think will work for your business:

  1. Be clear with your department’s objectives.

This is the most important and often overlooked practice. We tend to immediately train the new staff on processes and policies and not making clear to him immediately the IT department’s goals and objectives. Why is this important you say? Your department’s objectives give the new staff an idea on how he should be working in unison with other colleagues in meeting its objectives. This also portrays an image that the department has a clear understanding of what it wants to do and ways to achieve them. If the staff you’re hiring is in it for the long run and yet you’re not being clear on your objectives, I bet he’ll be hitting the street looking for a new job in no time.

  1. Stick with the job description.

Another turn-off to many IT staff is their being too ‘spread-out’ on a lot of tasks that aren’t in their job description. Like having the programmer fix someone else’s computer or make your daily morning coffee. It takes away the professionalism in their jobs if you keep on doing this on a regular basis. If it ain’t in their JDs better hire someone who can or, you can do it yourself.

  1. Have fun.

Your IT staffs are and will always be eternal geeks! Having fun is their only avenue to creative thinking - especially when they are under pressure on meeting deadlines. This also promotes healthy camaraderie among colleagues. Yes, you can be a mortician and still have fun!

  1. Nurture creativity and uniqueness

Every individual is unique and everyone has its own way of solving problems. Your department should be promoting creative thinking and trusting them to deliver their jobs well. IT staff always loves new challenges and solving them. Allocate a few hours a week for open-for-all ‘brainstorming’ sessions; introduce an idea and you will see light bulbs flash in an instant. If you do this, you will be surprised on what they could think and come up next. It may be the next killer app!

  1. Give ‘milestone’ incentives.

This can be a motivating factor especially for programmers developing on projects that would run for more than 6 months. It can be very boring when they just continue on working on huge projects until they finish it. It’s just like being in a long drive without taking a stop. Incentives may be in the form of cash, movie tickets, pizza break or whatever small ways your IT team really digs.

  1. Provide new learning opportunities.

Another very important and certainly not to be ignored is your IT staff’s opportunity for learning new things. This can get them really excited and can’t wait ‘till they get their hands dirty on new stuffs. This may be in the form of trainings, seminars or conferences that they can use within your company.

  1. Ample supply of tooling resources.

What spurs creativity is always the limitation of resources but limiting too much can always means disaster. It’s always smart to invest on basic development tools that they would use regularly such as: Diagramming tools, DB Administration Tools ( if your staff is a database administrator) or a handy IDE for your programmers. I think this is the area where IT department should never scrimp on.

  1. Be kind.

Yes, and that means treat them as your equals and not just someone who works from paycheck to paycheck. Let’s face it, you need them as much as they need you and your success depends entirely on how you handle your people first before they can handle your customers genuinely. I have had the experience at shouting at my staff once or twice but it didn’t result to anything productive. They always ended up resigning or just merely disappearing.

I have learned this hard way and since then, I changed my tactics on managing people. Here are some things that you should never do: 1) humiliate your employees in front of others 2) shout at them 3) be respectful at all times and 4) keep your cool.

  1. Put bonds.

As a last guarantee so your employees wouldn’t just leave you outright is to put a bond on them. A bond is an investment you made for training and grooming them to be a productive IT staff. Make them sign a contract stating clearly that there is always cost involved in having them and that whenever they decide to resign within a minimum period say 1 year, they will be liable to pay back all the investments you made for that person. If the new hire refuses to sign on the contract, this simple means that he doesn’t plan stay long and would save you all the trouble for looking a new replacement.

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