Open Insights 24: Consulting Conflicts of Interest

OPEN INSIGHTS Newsletter
Issue 24 – Consulting Conflicts of Interest
October 1, 2006

by Sean Hull
<[email protected]>
Founder and Senior Consultant
Heavyweight Internet Group

Welcome to our free monthly newsletter, discussing news, developments and business best practices at the intersection of Oracle and Open Source software.


In This Issue:

1. Feature: Consulting Conflicts of Interest
2. Audio Interviews
3. Current Reading
4. Lightweight Humor
5. Past Issues
6. Technical Articles
7. About Heavyweight Internet Group


1. Feature: Consulting Conflicts of Interest

A. Where There’s Interest, There’s Conflict.

I enjoy putting together this newsletter every month. It’s a bit like blogging, except it goes out to my list of colleagues, friends, and company associates past and present.

I’ve touched upon rates, and hourly billing in the past, but not in the context of the ironic twist that is a conflict of interest. As we all know, a conflict of interest is whenever you are faced with two conflicting loyalties. If you were in charge of hiring at a company, and were also taking a fee from the recruiting company for sending business their way that would be one. If you are giving financial advice to consumers, and also getting paid a fee by the companies you favor, that would be another big one. There are conflicts of interest in business, legal matters, or whenever you loyalties are at odds.

In consulting though, I’m talking about a much subtler conflict. Whenever we discuss hourly rates, we are putting a dollar value on an hour of time, but we are sidestepping the whole discussion about length of time. How much time?

The whole nature of hourly billing presumes you don’t have a sense of the time a project will take, otherwise you could forecast, and offer a flat fee for the project. But where’s the conflict? The conflict is that your loyalty to the client, to minimize costs is at odds with your loyalty to your small business, to drive and increase profits. Yes it’s a dirty little secret, but there it is. Efficiency is a very malleable substance. Work in an office with lots of interruptions and people talking around you, or in a cafe for that matter, you might be less efficient. Or perhaps you haven’t gotten enough sleep, or are working overtime on one project before getting to another. Do I bill for a five minute call, or roll it into forty five minutes of work later in the day? Are you checking your email while working on client work, or checking the news between tasks? Are you answering calls from other clients, or making a quick five minute call to your dentist? Anyone who’s wanted to get out early on a Friday, or before a vacation knows how efficient one can be when they really want to be.

B. Striking A Balance

Ultimately there is an amount of good judgement involved. When a client begins working with a consultant, without a history, or a glowing recommendation from a very trusted colleague, there is an element of distrust. From past experience, and dealing with an unknown resource.

The truth is after all is said and done, the client will judge what you did overall, and what it cost them for you to bring those solutions to their business. They may find themselves micromanaging your time, but this just means they need further reassurances from you that you have things under control and the project won’t unravel with endless bills, and no results.

In truth working on a project is as much about making the client happy as anything. Get too caught up in the nitty gritty of security, tuning, and problem solving, and forget about the client’s specific concerns and you will surely not win the day.

In my experience negotiating rates up front has always been an exercise in assurances and reassurances that they are reasonable and will produce results. Again and again I find clients are overwhelmingly happy with my work after the fact, and found it cost them much less than they thought it would. In technology there is so much unknown, about what the problems are, and how to solve them, that it is difficult to discern which resources will solve those problems, and in a timely fashion.

C. Stay On Your Toes

Surely clients, you should stay on your toes, do your due diligence on backgrounds, and experience. But also pay attention to the intangibles, such as timeliness, honesty and character. In the end, the success of your project will rely on trust as much as anything. Beyond contracts, and promises the relationship is your strongest insurance.

2. Audio Interviews

Ingres Chief Technology Officer Dave Dargo joins us this month in another podcast interview. We talk with him about the open-source Ingres Database, and the economics driving open-source software today. Great insights, and plenty of food for thought, so have a listen.

Do you use Open-source technologies in your enterprise? Would you like to talk about your experiences, and business successes? We’d like to hear from you. Email me at [email protected]

3. Current Reading

The Little Money Book – David Boyle

Now here’s an interesting book that you won’t be able to put down. Detailing everything from our move away from the gold standard, and causes of the Great Depression to understanding currencies, the IMF, the World Bank, and much more. Did you know that in 1975 foreign exchange transactions amounted to 15 billion, and today amount to 2000 billion? Read on to learn more.

Inescapable Data: Harnessing the Power of Convergence – Stakutis & Webster

When terms like “knowledge is power” or “time is money” are bandied about we usually think of them as true, but mostly in the abstract. But arbitrage is a real-world example of how disparities in knowledge can be very important. These two authors discuss the convergence of “data-everywhere” devices, wireless networks, and the advanced software that we’re building to rewrite the book on almost everything from financial transactions, to product tracking, and consumer feedback. Prescient material.

Naked Conversations – How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble

Scoble’s blog gets 3.5 million readers per year. So clearly when he talks, people listen. He offers tips on how to blog, and has lots and lots of practical advice.

4. Lightweight Humor

Just found this amusing humor site blaugh.com which I think you’ll enjoy. In th is strip, the search engine optimization expert is pitted against the doom-and-gloom anti-Google pessimist!
http://blaugh.com/2006/09/14/which-one-are-you/


5. Past Issues

Issue 23: Devil In The Details
Issue 22: Beware of Software Fashion
Issue 21: Open Season, Open Sesame?
Issue 20: Better Web Better Business
Issue 19: Managing Fixed Fees
Issue 18: The Cost of Consulting
Issue 17: Secrets Of The Interview
Archive: Past Issues

6. Technical Articles

Oracle 10g RAC on a Laptop: click here
Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here
Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here
MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here

7. About Heavyweight Internet Group

In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, admin and tuning of Oracle technology. I have 10 years experience with Oracle, wrote a book on the technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation.

Visit us on the web at www.iheavy.com.

Open Insights 23 – Devil In The Details

OPEN INSIGHTS Newsletter
Issue 23 – Devil In The Details
September 1, 2006

by Sean Hull
<[email protected]>
Founder and Senior Consultant
Heavyweight Internet Group

Welcome to our free monthly newsletter, discussing news, developments and business best practices at the intersection of Oracle and Open Source software.


In This Issue:

1. Feature: Devil In The Details
2. Audio Interviews
3. Current Reading
4. Lightweight Humor
5. Miscellaneous
6. Past Issues
7. Technical Articles
8. About Heavyweight Internet Group


1. Feature: Devil In The Details

We all have heard the saying, “the devil is in the details” but I wonder how often we remind ourselves of that when we need to. I have seen this situation over and over in ten years of consulting, and it is one that continues to challenge with new projects.

In science we call this phenomenon emergent complexity. Imagine you’ve some wires, or strings or ropes. Put them all in a bag to store away, and when you try to take them out again, somehow you always have knots and tangles! We have all experienced this problem with the wires behind our TV/Stereo systems, I’m sure!

Ever seen that commercial on TV for the PaintCrew sprayer? First they show someone struggling to paint their house by hand, and then they switch you to the happy person using the magic spraying machine. How easy my life will be if I just get one of those. Unfortunately they don’t have a shot of someone trying to clean that machine. I’m sure cleaning brushes would be easier. What’s more 30% or more of the house you have to use brushes anyway, so you’ll still have to clean them. And besides all that, the real work of painting a house, inside or outside, is taping it all up. So much for technology saving the day!

I hope by now everyone can see the parallels in consulting. When specing projects up front, there is often an incredible pressure to include the kitchen sink to “get it right” the first time. However in my experience, building small, starting modest at the outset, and then growing and building off of that is a much safer way to stay within bounds, on-time and under budget.

Also, please bear all these factors in mind when putting together a contract. Clearly outline what items will be completed, and what is in and out of scope. And converse back and forth between client and consultant, verbally reiterating what will be done and how. That’s because despite all efforts to outline perfectly on paper, there are always details that the client and the contractor envision differently. The more conversations you have going over those details, the more likely you’ll be on the same page as far as the spirit of the contract, even if the letter of the contract misses some minutiae.

Lastly a word of warning. This goes equally to consultants, as it does to clients to try to have a sense of perspective. Beware conversations saying “that should be easy”, and things of that nature. You will inevitably want to see it that way, before a contract is signed, as you want to get the contract in the first place. But as we all know, once you start digging there is always more complexity hidden away. In my experience statements like these also throw up a red flag because it is a coded way of saying we think this part won’t cost that much.

Try to emphasize that you’re available, convenient, and an outside resource, and so on. Emphasize the VALUE of having you solve the problem, and complete the project as a whole, and how your timeliness, and delegation of the project is a win for them. I always emphasize that we’re not the cheapest solution in town, but we have a very good track record of delivering what we promise, when we promise it. And that is worth a heck of a lot.

2. Audio Interviews

Ingres Chief Technology Officer Dave Dargo joins us this month in another podcast interview. We talk with him about the open-source Ingres Database, and the economics driving open-source software today. Great insights, and plenty of food for thought, so have a listen.

Do you use Open-source technologies in your enterprise? Would you like to talk about your experiences, and business successes? We’d like to hear from you. Email me at [email protected]

3. Current Reading

Andy Wibbels – Blogwild!
If you’re interested in blogging as a way to build or grow your business, this book is one you’ll want to check out. It is chock full of practical advice on how to use tagging, and RSS, and other technologies to build word-of-mouth attraction to your business. Of course, he has a blog.

Jim Collins – Built To Last
Jim Collins is the author of “Good to Great”, that essential reading for understanding the anatomy of successful businesses. In Built To Last, he takes a look under the covers at 18 companies that have been around for at least fifty hears, and applies that same ruthless logic, and research to find out what really makes them tick, beyond the media glamour, and star CEOs.

David Allen – Getting Things Done
David Allen is one of the fifty people to know according to business 2.0. If you’re looking for a very good book on organizing your time, and making creative use of every last bit of it, this is a great place to start. David also has a blog.

4. Lightweight Humor

If you’ve never visited Overheard in New York, don’t waste anymore time. It is a funny side, full of little anecdotes, and quotes from funny new york situations, on trains and subways.

This one is particularly funny: overheard in NY tourist!

5. Miscellaneous

Next time you’re mulling over consulting fees, and considering the fulltime overhead of benefits, vacation time, 401k, and training, consider this article on office waste.

6. Past Issues
Issue 22: Beware of Software Fashion
Issue 21: Open Season, Open Sesame?
Issue 20: Better Web Better Business
Issue 19: Managing Fixed Fees
Issue 18: The Cost of Consulting
Issue 17: Secrets Of The Interview
Archive: Past Issues

7. Technical Articles

Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here
Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here
MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here

8. About Heavyweight Internet Group

In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, admin and tuning of Oracle technology. I have 10 years experience with Oracle, wrote a book on the technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation.

Visit us on the web at www.iheavy.com

Open Insights 22 – Beware of Software Fashion


OPEN INSIGHTS Newsletter

Issue 22 – Beware of Software Fashion
August 1, 2006

by Sean Hull
<[email protected]>
Founder and Senior Consultant
Heavyweight Internet Group

Welcome to our free monthly newsletter, discussing news, developments and business best practices at the intersection of Oracle and Open Source software.


In This Issue:
1. Feature: Beware of Software Fashion
2. Audio Interviews – Dave Dargo CTO of Ingres
3. Current Reading
4. Lightweight Humor
5. Miscellaneous
6. Past Issues
7. Technical Articles
8. About Heavyweight Internet Group


1. Feature: Beware of Software Fashion

I was at lunch the other day with a CEO of a small web company, and a developer friend of mine. While the three of us were talking, the issue of Java programming came up, and she complained of the inanity of doing things in Java, and the poor performance. I commented that I thought Java was somewhat trendy and fashionable. This got some reaction from my CEO friend, as she hadn’t thought of technology as falling victim to fashions and trends.

Well folks, I hate to be the one to tell you, but it certainly does.

Object Oriented Databases

Do any of you remember Object Oriented Databases? These were the data repository end of the Object Oriented fashion trend, out to rid all application schemas of weak or missing primary keys, and incorrectly specified relationships. What would happen is that the tables and methods to access them would be hidden inside objects, which behind the scenes would do the right thing.

This had two consequences. One was that you left some of the implementation of your application up to the smarts of the framework designer, who didn’t always know what you wanted, or how to do it for you. And secondly, you would have a large layer of code between you and your data.

Without going into undue details, I’ll try to explain. Performance in software is almost always the fundamental, and most important criteria, outside of perhaps reliability. Whether you know it up front, you surely will when you have millions of web users hitting it. All the fancy bells and whistles of the programming language or framework are irrelevant to the business, as long as the software works as designed, reliably, and fast. If the shiny new technology features or paradigms don’t provide either better speed or reliability, one should question them.

The fact is sometimes you have to do unorthodox things to your application schemas and SQL code to make them perform better. The less distance you have between your application and your data, the better.

Upgrade Your Windows 98 for Security!

This is some of the most ironic news I’ve seen of late. Reports out of Microsoft encourage users to upgrade to Vista for enhanced security. Wow, this one takes the cake. Has anyone been counting the number of bugs, viruses, trojans, and other malware that have infected the newer versions of Windows? The fact is if you can afford to be on an older version of Windows, you probably won’t see much of any malware infect you. Also the viruses spreading are for the newer versions of Windows, and the hackers that are at work at this very moment are planning their attacks on Vista, bet on that. In fact the few people I know who do run Windows 98 report about as much malware activity as do Macintosh and Linux users. Go figure.

The more general point here is that the latest and greatest may not be what you need or want. Evaluate it on its merits, the risks, and advantages, and weigh them, instead of jumping on the bandwagon of whatever is coming out next.

Java as a Web Development Language

I have a confession to make, I actually like Java. There are some great features and ideas that were introduced in Java, that other programming languages found lacking. But one thing remains as a large problem is how large and slow the applications often are. Large libraries mean longer code-paths, which means slower execution. Want to build an application with a single GUI across various different Operating Systems, Java may be the right choice. Want to build lots of little pieces of code that get executed hundreds of thousands of times per minute, please don’t choose Java. Because that is what the web is all about. And in that type of environment you want your code to be very lean and very mean. You don’t want to have a complex middle tier application server if you can possibly avoid it.

There are better options out there for you such as PHP or Perl, all of which can interoperate with your favorite databases of choice. When choosing a web development language, do some benchmarking, and choose the fastest executing language you can get, with a good development community, and lots of libraries to choose from.

We Need to Move to the Latest DB Version

This is something I hear a lot. We have to move to 10g, the latest version of Oracle’s database platform. Sure it only came out yesturday, but hey let’s have at it. Sure 60%, no 70% of the code base was rewritten from scratch, let’s give it a whirl!

Ok folks, I know you want to stay current, keep your skills up to the latest version, and know what’s coming down the road. Nothing is stopping you, in fact as a DBA it’s your responsibility to get it installed in a sandbox, or on your desktop machine if you like. Play around with the new features there.

If you want to see it from the business side though, put yourself in the shoes of a remote dba company. Your business is to keep systems running, never have a hickup, monitor activity, applications, web-based performance, disk subsystems, you name it. Guess what you want? You want boring, you want reliable, you want the most stable systems you can get. You want software versions that have been around for a few years, Operating Systems for which the swirl of new vulnerabilities and bugs has died down, you want tried and true. In terms of Oracle, you want something that is still supported, but that every single bug has been found and documented for on Metalink. You want to know specifically what you might have to worry about, because it’s already been hit by lots of other customers who enjoy living on the bleeding edge. You don’t want to be fashionable, you want to be wearing the old standby.

Conclusions

I’ve ranted a little, exagerated a bit, and smoothed over the details here and there to make an important point. Beware of Software Fashion folks, because if you can’t spot it, you may become the victim of it.

2. Audio Interviews

Ingres Chief Technology Officer Dave Dargo joins us this month in another podcast interview. We talk with him about the open-source Ingres Database, and the economics driving open-source software today. Great insights, and plenty of food for thought, so have a listen.

Do you use Open-source technologies in your enterprise? Would you like to talk about your experiences, and business successes? We’d like to hear from you. Email me at [email protected]

3. Current Reading

Purple Cow – Seth Godin
Seth Godin’s “purple cow” is the phenomenon of building a product that stands out, and wins by doing something remarkable, or in a way that others have not had the chutspa to do. Read his blog, and then go buy the book.

Beyond Fear – Bruce Schneier
Bruce Schneier is really the first authority I turn to in all discussions on security. He is level-headed, and continues to provide deep thinking on tangled issues. This book delves into the real-world problems of security post-911 in a way few other authors have managed. You can also keep up to date by following his blog.

Rebuilt – Michael Chorost
After hearing an interview with Chorost I was intrigued and picked up a copy of the book. Rebuilt is his first person narative about losing his hearing, and then gaining it back, through a lot of difficulty, with a cochlear implant. The book is fascinating in it’s humanity, in how hearing plays such a key part in our lives, but also how putting software in the middle is fraught with surprising complexities. Check his site as well.

4. Lightweight Humor

By now you know I enjoy the Onion. If you’ve wondered why you’re stuck in a meeting, and know it’s going nowhere, you’ll enjoy this one. Employees Still Have No Idea What’s Going On After Attending Meeting

5. Miscellaneous

In an excellent article by Jonathan Taplin, Reinventing Journalism in the Networked Age talks about all the destabilizing new technologies of blogs, video blogs, and podcasts, and asks “How will quality journalism get produced if the news universe is dominated by amateurs?”

Execubooks is a great site for reviews and information about new business related books. They also have a great blog which you use to keep up with some of the great new material being published.

6. Past Issues

Issue 21: click here
Issue 20: click here
Issue 19: click here
Issue 18: click here
Archive: click here

7. Technical Articles

Laptop RAC – click here
Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here
Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here
MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here

8. About Heavyweight Internet Group

In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database
technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, administration and tuning of Oracle
technology. We have over ten years experience with Oracle. I have written a book on the
technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior
consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire
Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service
and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation.

Visit us on the web at