Courseware & Insight at the Intersection of Tech & Strategy by Prof. John Gallaugher, Carroll School of Management, Boston College

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The Week in Geek – Aug. 31, 2009

Free Online Textbook: Draft is up!
The latest draft of 11 chapters / cases for the textbook “Information Systems: A Manager’s Guide to Harnessing Technology” is now available free online (as of this post we were still waiting for final edits to be posted, so if you see a 13 chapter version, check back).  The book includes business-focused cases on Facebook, Google, Netflix, Zara, and chapter coverage that provides what I hope is an engaging intro to key biz/tech concepts as well as cutting edge introductions in under-covered areas such as Social Media, Cloud Computing/SaaS, and more. The text will remain free, so do share with others!  Flat World Knowledge will sell print versions for <$30, about one sixth the cost of the best-selling IS textbooks.  The text is pretty solid (early adopters of draft content include UC Berkley, U. Maryland, U. Minnesota, and USC), but if you’ve got feedback, do let me know!  Improvements will be crowdsourced (sorry, no equiv. of a Netflix prize on my salary).  I also wrote a brief post on the FlatWorld blog titled ‘Winning Back the Tech Majors‘, where I discuss why I chose to bring my book out through Flat World Knowledge, and what I hope to accomplish.

New Site
I’ve also updated my website for the semester.  Included are links to my online textbook and a Ning-hosted community for faculty using the book.  Definitely worth a look is the new Recommended Resources page listing must-reads as well as Boston-focused tech/startup events & organizations, and some other features.  I hope you like it!

The Cultural Revolution – Which Side are You On?
A must-read for New England tech-folks.  The Globe’s Scott Kirsner offers a run-down of how Boston’s startup culture, long a distant laggard to Silicon Valley, is being recast.  Kirsner lists a number of organizations, events, meetups, and programs.  Heading out to any of these events?  Drop an e-mail or tweet!  Scott’s become a bit of a local hero, single-handedly initiating the Boston-area Innovation Open House series.  The events can be a great way for folks to get Tech Trek style visits with firms and startups not yet on our roster.  Students as well as firms wishing to sponsor visits should join the Facebook group!

How Netflix Gets Your Movies To Your Mailbox So Fast
Talk about secrecy – if you work for Netflix Chicago-area distribution center, you sign a contract agreeing not to divulge its locale.  But the Tribune was invited in to the undisclosed location (no logos, hidden behind another office park building) to provide the inside scoop on what it’s like inside one of the firm’s 58 hyper-automated hubs.  At the Carol Stream, IL facility, 42 people in the 28,500 facility move 60,000 discs daily. 95% of the firm’s inventory is watched each quarter.  The routine looks like something out of a Japanese factory – red-shirted staffers inspect 650 discs an hour, then each 65 minutes, take an orchestrated calisthenics breaks.  To keep the veil of secrecy, unmarked trucks ferry discs to and from the post office. Netflix can’t have customers dropping off their own discs (many who have discovered warehouse locations have tried) – that slows down the process.  Even warehouse staff have to use the mail.  According to the U.S. Postal Service, Netflix is the fastest-growing source of first-class mail.  Good for the USPS and good for Netflix.  The firm recently saw a 21% revenue jump despite being a consumer-brand operating in a recession.  The 27 image slide show that accompanies the story is a great supplement for faculty using my Netflix Case.

Computer Hacking Made Easy
Russian hackers recently went after a Georgian blogger critical of Russian actions in the former Soviet republic.  Hackers launched a bot-net, marshalling thousands of hijacked ‘zombie’ machines (your PC might be one of them), instructing each to to flood the blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts of their Georgian Nemesis.  While the Russians were after one guy, the attack hobbled Facebook, blog site Live Journal, and completely shut down Twitter.  Thing is, these attacks aren’t tough to launch.  The nefarious can actually rent bot-nets, cloud computing style.  BusinessWeek maintains the sign-up is as easy as renting servies on Amazon. And since there are now dozens of networks with a million or more hijacked computers, demand has pushed prices south.  Know the right bad guys and you can now rent 10,000 machines for just $200 a day, a tenth or less the going rate just two years ago.  For insights on how crooks have tried to use bot-nets in ad-fraud (and how ad-networks can stop this), see the section Search Engines, Ad Networks, and Fraud, in the Google Case.

Arrest Over Software Illuminates Wall Street Secret
Think geeks aren’t paid much?  Without tech talent, Wall Street couldn’t move greenbacks, euros, and yuan. The former head of markets systems at Fidelity Investments says “A geek who writes code — those guys are now the valuable guys”.  Hedge fund The Citadel Investment Group recently revealed that it paid tens of millions to two top programmers over seven years.  But get caught leaving a firm with some of the code you wrote and expect to do time.  A New Jersey man and former Goldman Sachs coder was recently detained and held on $750,000 bail when logs showed that just prior to resigning, he transferred Goldman code out of the firm and into a German server. The Goldman code allegedly gave the firm a tiny fraction-of-a-second advantage in trading.  But the systems and super-fast networks allow automated trading that can play arbitrage and lock-in pricing before slower firms lumber in with more visible market moves.  While GS has aggressively recruited our technology studies these past several years, the alleged perp was not an Eagle!

New Event Pokes Holes in Startups (but in a good way)
runs Boston-area cocktail schmooze fests, but has also launched a new webcast called “Pokin’ Holes,”, where you can watch as an entrepreneur gets expert feedback after presenting an idea.  BCVC teams – tune in and get tips!

NetApp’s Georgens, Warmenhoven see Bright Future
Dan Warmenhoven helmed storage giant NetApp, creating the only multi-billion dollar US hardware firm of the past decade in a half. Warmenhoven was Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year, one of BusinessWeek’s Managers of the Year, and led his firm to be ranked first on Fortune’s 2009 list of Best Firms to Work for in America.  Dan didn’t just build NetApp, his generosity helped BC build TechTrek.  He personally delivered nine master-classes to our students over the past several years.  Dan was even a keynote speaker at the E. Coast Boston College Technology Council dinner a few years back. Dan leaves NetApp in great shape as he passes the baton and jumps to Executive Chair.  BC remains grateful for all he’s done for us!

Google Now Able to Diagnose Clogged Arteries
Once upon a time you needed to build a sensor network to get reliable traffic data.  But since all but the most basic new mobile phones will be GPS-equipped in the next few years, Google figures the sensors are in your pocket and you can help it crowdsource the data!  Careful monitoring of opt-in participants (you’ll be anonymized, Sergei and Larry clearly understand the privacy concerns of identified tracking) will allow Google to reveal which back roads are backed up, and which are detour-friendly.  A great example for faculty using the Moore’s Law for Manager’s Chapter.

What’s Really Happening to the VC Industry
Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital offers a spot-on primer on supply, demand, and institutional risk concerns that are plaguing the VC industry.  A great read for anyone trying to make sense of what’s happening in startup financing and how this impacts VCs, LPs, and entrepreneurs.

Video: Social Media Is Bigger Than You Think
This one’ll give you goosebumps
– a great video by Erik Qualman, former Yahoo who now runs Global Marketing for education giant EF over in Cambridge.  Definitely worth showing in class as a jump-start to the Social Media, Peer Production, and Web 2.0 chapter.  Run across any other killer video?  Please share your links & I’ll post for all and add to our Chapters page!

myYearbook Finds Profitability In Hyper-Competitive Social Networking World
Two years back my students and I were privileged to have co-founder Catherine Cook come speak to us.  Catherine started her site as a sophomore… in high school.  Having raised millions in VC coin and rebuffing several buyout offers, it seems the teen-focused site is now pulling in over $1 million a month.  Once named one of BusinessWeek’s Young Entrepreneurs to Watch, Cook’s success continues to inspire.

The Mercenaries in Facebook’s Midst
Facebook has $500 million in revenue, it’s the fourth largest site in the world, and it grew twice as fast as Twitter in July. New revenue streams (such as ‘real gifts’) loom on the horizon. Still, the firm’s $100 million program that allows employees to cash out up to 25% of options before going public, is oversubscribed. The buyout offer comes through Digital Sky – a firm that invested in Facebook earlier in this year at a valuation of $10 billion. The buyout offers value Facebook at $6.5 billion – a nice bit of arbitrage for the Russian investors. Interesting side note: Sarah Lacy, who wrote the BusniessWeek column above & also writes for TechCrunch states that TC has been valued at $30 million!

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