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Wednesday
Mar142012

Making Secure Passwords

How to make and remember secure passwords that are unique to each site

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with passwords.  Given the proliferation of sites that require you to login, one could easily have a dozen or more passwords to memorize. 

Sure you could always write them on a sticky note on your monitor, or use the same password for multiple sites.  It doesn’t take a security wizard to realize that neither of these are safe approaches to passwords. 

The idea is simple:  Site Based Phrase + Secure Phrase = Secure Password

Site Based Phrase

The first part of the password will be based on the site itself.  By applying a pattern to the name of the site you’ll be able to re-remember the first part of your password each time you need to login.  Let’s illustrate with several patterns using Twitter as an example.

Site:  Twitter

Pattern Site Based Phrase
First four letters of site name Twit
Consonants of site name Twttr
Every other letter Titr

 

Note that the first letter of the password is intentionally capitalized.  You could vary the patterns above by capitalizing a different letter – second, third, etc.

Secure Phrase

The second part of the password is a secure phrase that you memorize.  We’re going to add symbols and numbers to make it more secure.  Here are some examples based on ACC school names.

Pattern Secure Phrase
Wolfpack:  O to zero, A to @ W0lfp@ck91
Carolina:  A to @, L to one C@ro1ina98

Wake Forest:  A to @, E to three

W@k3Forest05

 

Yes, this part of the password is harder to memorize.  But you only need one of these phrases.

Combining the Phrases

To get a secure password, combine the site based phrase with your secure phrase.  Here are examples for a few popular sites.

Site Site Based Phrase Secure Phrase Password
Twitter Twit W0lfp@ck91 TwitW0lfp@ck91
Facebook Face W0lfp@ck91 FaceW0lfp@ck91
Gmail Gmai W0lfp@ck91 GmaiW0lfp@ck91

 

Conclusion

Would the National Security Agency endorse this approach?  Probably not.  It will, however, keep you off the Worst Passwords List and it’s much better than using the same password on multiple sites.

Monday
Mar122012

Building Great Software

Why it takes more than a couple of good programmers to build great software

Seth Godin wrote an interesting blog post about The Extraordinary Software Development Manager.  He describes how it takes more than a good programmer to build and deliver great software.

Why?  Because building great software is more than just writing code.  Writing code is the easy part.  It’s much harder to:

  • Understand the business drivers behind the project
  • Generate insights into customer needs and market trends
  • Think about the customer experience from the perspective of the end user
  • Identify and focus on the most important priorities of the system

To build great software you have to understand more than what you’re building.  You must also understand why you’re building the software and for whom

And while what the software will do receives intense debate, there is almost no discussion given to what the software won’t do.  The features you cut from a project can greatly improve the likelihood of project success, keep the team focused, and provide a streamlined experience for the end user.

All the while you’re working on why and whom, you still have to manage expectations of cost, delivery dates, and functionality.

Software project fail because teams:

  • Over promise and under deliver
  • Focus on “flashy” features and neglect core functionality
  • Rush to start coding too soon and make design decisions that are costly down the road
  • Assume that severa good programmers are the same as a few great ones

Seth’s article describes two approaches for your next project:

We don't have time to do it over so we have to spend the time to do it right.

Or, you can have some newbies hack something together real quick. Up to you.

Building great software is hard not because the programming or technology is difficult.  It’s hard because you can’t be lazy in answering the questions as to why you need the project, how it’s going to be used, and what problems it solves for the end user.

Thursday
Mar012012

Rethinking Your Business (Part 3)

How to review customer feedback and determine which ideas hold the most value for your business and your customers

In Part 1 of this series, we described why you need to rethink the role of technology in your business.  In Part 2, we started the rethinking process by focusing on the customer experience.  We outlined a process for listening and gathering feedback from customers.

Once you have a raw list of customer feedback, the next task is to review the list, looking for trends and common themes.  Try to turn specific requests into broader goals.  Look for the underlying problem or need being expressed.  For example, if someone asks you to send an email when their order ships, they are asking to be notified as the status of their order changes.

As you consolidate your list, don’t think in terms of a particular solution or technology.  It’s easy to get side tracked thinking of solutions, or even dismiss ideas all together because a solution is not readily apparent.  In the example above, your focus should be on notifications not sending email.  Email is one of several ways of providing notifications to customers.

Once you have a reasonably consolidated wish list, the next step is to determine which items can provide the most value to you and your customers.

For each item on your list, imagine that you have been able to solve and implement a solution.  Don’t worry about how; focus on the benefits you would receive.

  • How would it change the way customers interact with your business? 
  • Would you make more money?  How much?
  • Would it reduce your costs?  How much? 
  • Would it put you ahead of your competition?  How far? 

Does a particular idea have the potential to turn your customers in to raving lunatics for your brand, willing to stand in long lines in bad weather just to get the newest version of your product – it’s 3mm thinner! – even though they have the previous version and it works just fine?

Score each item in terms of dollars or on a scale of 1 to 10, whichever suites you better.  Again look for themes:  greater access beyond business hours, visibility into the process, notification of status, and so on.

Also look for items that resonate with your brand, business drivers, or core values.  Your customers already understand many of these and will take notice when you continue to improve them.

As you go through the exercise, some items may resonate with you more than others.  Trust your instincts and give those ideas a higher value.  Other ideas may not feel right.  Perhaps they take your business in a direction you are not comfortable pursuing.  Again, trust your instincts and give those ideas a lower value.

With any luck, you’ll end up with two or three items that stand out above the rest.  They reinforce the values of your company, address specific customer needs, and provide value to your business and your customers.

In Part 4, we’ll discuss how to evaluate and select technologies to address the top ideas you have identified and put together a business case for implementing them.

Tuesday
Feb282012

How to be More Responsive to Customers

I read a nice article by Brad Power on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network entitled Three Ways to Make your IT More Nimble.  Brad's focus is on how large companies can leverage IT to facilitate business process changes.  The goal is to be more responsive to customer needs and market opportunities.

Being more responsive to customer needs is a common theme these days.  This includes the rollout of new products and services, as well as the handling of customer service issues.  Nowadays, customers who feel ignored or neglected often turn to social media channels to vent their frustrations to a global audience.

A case in point is Dave Carroll.  Dave had his guitar broken by United Airlines during a trip in 2008.  Frustrated by the response from the airline, he launched a YouTube video that has been viewed over 11 million times.

So how can you get the various departments in your company to be more responsive to customer needs?

The first step is awareness.  Many leaders stay focused on internal operations, leaving little time for understanding customer problems and frustrations.  CIO Magazine reports that only 9% of CIOs spend time studying market trends and customer needs.

In order to be more responsive to customer needs, leaders need to step outside the walls of the organization and experience their company through the eyes and ears of their customers.  How hard is to get through to customer support?  Can you find the most commonly downloaded form on your web site?  Why do you need to download, print, fill out, and fax back a form in the first place?

Small improvements to your product or service may seem critically important when that’s all you know about.  When you walk a mile in your customers’ shoes, however, you’re likely to see new opportunities that have the potential for much greater returns.

There’s a great quote in Brad’s article from Anu George, chief quality officer at Morningstar:

Technology is integral to our business.  Our operations, quality, and technology teams work very closely with each other to drive process improvements that enhance the overall customer experience.

This is a great illustration of a best practice:  collaborate across departments to focus improvements on the customer experience.

So next time you think about improving the responsiveness of your organization, don’t focus exclusively on internal improvements.  Make sure you have an up-to-date understanding of your customer and the experience they receive from your company.

Wednesday
Feb222012

Rethinking Your Business (Part 2)

How to start the rethinking process by focusing on the customer experience

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed why you need to rethink the role of technology in your business.  The main drivers were:  changing customer expectations, increased competitive pressure, and the emergence of new technologies.

So you’re ready to rethink the role of technology in your business.  Where do you start?  Choosing technology begins with stepping into your customers’ shoes and rethinking your business itself.  Before you can select a solution, you need to understand what you’re trying to accomplish for your business and your customers.

With that in mind, start with the overall customer experience you want to create and work back towards the technology.  Think about your business and your customers and consider the following questions:

  • What do your customers really care about?  Time, money, convenience, risk?
  • What’s the ultimate benefit they receive from your products or services? 
  • What are the frustrations your customers experience?  Why?
  • How many of these are taken as givens by the rest of your industry?
  • What are companies in other industries doing?  Could these ideas be applied to your business?
  • Are there regulations impacting you or your customers?

The Importance of Listening

Chances are you’ll come up with several useful insights and probably a few additional questions.  So far so good.  Now it’s time to get out of the office and listen to real life customers.   

Here’s a great way to get the conversation started – ask your customers where they would invest in your business to get better results for themselves.  Ask why.  Listen.  They will likely tell you how to tweak what you already do well and point out areas where you need to improve.  Go through the above questions with them.  Again, ask why and avoid the temptation to defend your current practices and really listen.

“Why?” is a really powerful question.  Many times people respond with ideas and feedback in the form of solutions:  you need after hours support, or you should email me a confirmation.  Asking why can help you identify the underlying problem or need that’s being expressed.  Don’t take solutions at face value – keep digging until you uncover the real issue or objective.

During your conversations some people will talk about problems.  Others will discuss needs or ideas.  The only difference between a problem and an idea is the language used to describe it.  With a bit of creative thinking and word play, you can transform a problem into an idea that you can get excited about.

Get to Know Your Competition

The next part is trickier, but well worth the effort.  Talk to your competitors’ customers.  This is not a sales call!  What do they value most?  What improvements would they like to see made?  What drew them to the competition in the first place?  Did they consider your company?  Again, ask why and listen.

Understanding your competition can help you in two ways.  First, you may find that you actually serve different market segments.  For example, your competition may target customers that want to tweak and configure while you aim for customers that want a turnkey approach.  Guess what?  Your two companies should work out a referral or lead swap program.

Second, you may learn where you can, or do, offer a better product or service than your competition.  In both cases you have learned how to better differentiate your company.  You can now help prospective customers understand when they should pick you and why.

Rethinking the role of technology in your business starts with the customer.  What problems or frustrations do they have?  What improvements would they make if it were their business?   How can the customer experience be improved?

In Part 3, we’ll discuss how to organize the feedback you’ve received to identify common themes and determine which ideas hold the most value for your business and your customers.