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Category: News

Do Ideas have a life cycle or are they just thoughts?

We all have them. Ideas, right? How many times have you thought of something… and then sometime later you see it happen? Someone else has done it. Someone has re-invented or improved something that you’ve already thought about. It’s what drives us to buy new products. If we had to compare a new car to the same model from two years ago, there are many upgrades and new features.

Generally, we express our ideas through conversation and social gatherings. It might be accidental like voicing your frustration while using something that could really work a lot better, like those old can openers. Often, it is intentional: we convince ourselves that our idea is so good, that it could turn into a fantastic business or marketable product. We thus bounce our ideas off other people… and most of the time, this is where ideas die. We bounce them off the nay-sayers; which comprises the majority of people, who are sceptical, risk-averse and definitely not known for their abilities to evolve ideas into anything. And then…. we listen to those nay-sayers. Yes, we do. We buy into their version of why our idea cannot work – instead of researching for ourselves – and, generally, that’s where the idea ends.

At other times, we never even share the idea with anyone. Because great ideas can sometimes be just that: an idea. We don’t all use a defunct tool and on the spot decide to invent and build a better one.

Some of us might take a leap of faith and build a prototype. Many do, but many projects fail at this stage too, just before completion. Why? Because it’s not easy. It’s like building your own home. The last 5 to 10% is the really difficult part!

It’s the same in any company trying to encourage innovation. Aside from the naysayers discouraging their team members to share ideas… There are many great ideas, fewer qualified ideas with prototypes and even fewer ideas that have evolved into business solutions. Without the drive and passion to evolve an idea into practicality, it will always be just another idea, even if it’s a great idea. Organizations that want to keep ahead of the competition and keep innovation alive, have to employ positive people who have drive and passion to evolve ideas into solutions.

It’s okay for people to highlight risks and tell you what you cannot do – sometimes it might be of great help in refining your ideas. But don’t let it discourage you, don’t give up on your ideas. All great ideas start with a blank page, but it takes someone with great drive and passion to turn it into a completed project.

I have not answered my own question and I still wonder. Do companies record ideas and decide which ones to execute or do the thinkers have to jump to action to make their ideas happen?

Emile Biagio

CTO

10 Positive Experiences From a COVID-19 Lockdown

Because we are inundated by the many negatives related to this pandemic daily, I decided to rather highlight some positive experiences… So, if you were looking for more politics or more negativity, you’ll be sure to find it – but you can close this page now. 

For those who are open to some positive news: the below is by no means a complete list, but rather just a few personal positive experiences. 

Most of us can work from home

Technology has advanced immensely. Gone are the days of trying to use a home telephone line and an analogue modem to connect into a corporate network after receiving a beep on the support pager. We now have fiber, cell phones, VPN connections, and laptops with the latest security encryptions which enables us to do everything we need from home. 

The best part is dreaming about future possibilities. What if you could continue to work from home, but your home moves to a cottage in the mountains, far away from the busy city life? It does not seem that far-fetched anymore, does it? 

Video conferencing software works well

Before lockdown, I really hated video conference calls from one meeting room to another. Even worse…. a voice conference call. It just never seemed to work well. The person sitting the furthest away from the microphone would never be heard and when the person closest to the mic put their pen down on the table… it sounded like an explosion interrupting conversation for at least 4 seconds!

Video conferencing actually works very well when each participant has their own camera, speakers – or headset – and microphone. 

Less strain on corporate networks

It might just be my perception, but I’ve noticed less strain and interruptions on corporate networks when fewer people are on the internal network. This is really good for the systems that service the business. Stability = Productivity. 

New business opportunities for old businesses

Yup, some businesses are thriving, and some are barely surviving, but it’s always good to look for new opportunities, given new circumstances. I’ve read so many articles on how some businesses are tweaking their operations to morph into renewed businesses. One should never just accept any forecasted fate. Rather keep reinventing new ways to stay afloat or create other revenue streams. 

Company savings on generic staff expenses

It’s been quite a while since I’ve signed off a purchase order for toilet paper, stationery, coffee, milk, etc. I wonder at what point staff might approach management to report that their living expenses at home have increased dramatically. Perhaps companies might have to look at WFH allowance? (To Sintrex staff reading this: No – you cannot request this, kindly move on to the next point to see where you’re saving!)

Personal savings on travel

Yup, here you go. Most of us have a long-distance or high traffic commute to and from the office. I used to fill up my car weekly. I’m now on a tank a month. If you do a few mathematical calculations on your local supermarkets’ home delivery fees versus your lockdown travel expenses, it might be worth your while to just order everything for delivery. This lessens your risk of COVID exposure too. 

If you’re unlucky and don’t fall within a delivery radius, consider selling your car and buying a delivery scooter. Then offer delivery services to your neighbours, make a fortune and retire young! Ok, not really, but do the math and keep dreaming…

Environmental improvements due to the lowered carbon footprint per person

It’s as if nature has been allowed to take a deep breath with less pressure on our ecosystems. There are countless environmental improvements, which is a huge collective positive, as it’s so difficult to make a difference in this regard as an individual. Let’s hope that it continues and helps us focus more on preserving nature and its resources. 

Everybody seems to be going the extra mile

Is it just me, or has everyone else noticed that people are stepping up to prove their worth? It’s as if nothing is a ‘given’ anymore and everyone is showing their worth by contributing more and taking ownership of what needs to get done. 

Home DIY projects

This might not be true for all, but since I’ve spent more time at home, I’ve become a lot more aware of those little things that just need to get done. Saving 2 to 3 hours of travel daily gives me time to fix lights in a room or re-varnish a table. It’s little things, but they give me a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. Maybe when we’re back at the office we should all contribute to the maintenance of the office? I wonder if we’d feel more pride sitting in an office that we helped paint. Sounds like a social experiment worth conducting. 😉 

Appreciation for what we have

Many are suffering through ill health or uncontrolled circumstances, but I can also see that those who do get the opportunity to work, hold on to work and give their all. Those who receive grants and those who have the opportunity to be among the support structures of their loved ones, seem to be very grateful. It’s as if we are so uncertain of the future, that we are just happy embracing any positives right now. 

Outro

Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty and controversy. 

Yes, there is loss and tragedy and corruption and negativity.

Yes, many things are beyond our control, but – like all things – this too shall pass. 

We cannot foresee the impact or lack thereof, therefore we should do our best to look for the opportunities and stay positive.

Emile Biagio

Sintrex

The blame game

The blame game

By Emile Biagio, Sintrex CTO

In these challenging times, it is interesting watching the politics evolve. A couple of months ago USA and China were big buddies – and now look at them… flinging mud at each other regarding the origin of COVID-19.

It reminds me of us IT geeks when systems or applications start giving issues. The problem is never on our side. It must be on your side! Always.

The legacy scenario looked something like this: the Network Department says it’s not the network, it must be the application; the Application Team then says it’s not an application issue, it must be the database or maybe the server CPU.

Enter cloud and work-from-home, and the “us” and “them” finger pointing has no limits. It is your home Wi-Fi, or your ISP, or your VPN, or your application provider, or it’s that friggin’ undersea fibre cable again… who knows?

That is currently the reality. COVID-19 has forced many companies into a digital transformation, whether they wanted it or not.

I’ve been watching this evolve over the last couple of weeks and it’s fascinating. Everything is working relatively well, but if a few executives at home decide that something is not working well enough, then chaos erupts.

Payments are withheld, cages are rattled, mud is flung – and we all start pointing fingers like we’re looking for Douglas Green!

Don’t you find that you usually have to prove that the problem does not lie on your side by probing into someone else’s domain? Any message or metric that can be used to show problems on “the other end” will be used as ammunition.

The reality is that some IT operations are more mature than others, meaning that their staff have control. They know how things work, how systems fit together and always know the moment there is a glitch in the matrix.

Others sadly rely on fault finding methods only when they are called upon to do so (i.e. when the execs start losing their marbles).

Inherently (for some odd reason), we as humans don’t like to share everything – much like political leaders.

How many times during heated sessions to resolve issues have problems just disappeared? Someone fixed something but was not mature enough to fess up and share their learnings.

I personally think that owning up to issues and explaining what happened demonstrates high intelligence and not only matures operations and systems – it also matures relationships with and between key stakeholders of the system.

It makes the next glitch so much easier to investigate. It’s also so much easier to work with people that are mature enough to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll take a look” or “I don’t know, can you help me?”.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
” – John Lennon / Paul McCartney

COVID-19. Read. Understand. React.

COVID-19. Read. Understand. React.

By Emile Biagio, Sintrex CTO

If you have a look at the average global statistics, as cited on Worldometer, 5% of those who contract COVID-19 will die. In South Africa’s context, that is about 3 million people (assuming everyone gets infected).

The probability of that being you in SA is probably very low… But it is an average. There are better statistics to review – and then there’s the worst case.

Like Italy’s death rate: 12% of those contracted might die.

Then there are other statistics to look at, like the outcome-based cases. In other words, cases that have been closed – either people who have recovered or who have died.

For Italy, that statistic sits at 42%… If we apply that statistic to just half our population, 11.5 million people will die. This is both alarming and sad.

What’s the point of this article? It’s like every other statistic that has ever been published. Know what you’re looking at, look at the best case and look at the worst case – but make sure you know what you’re looking at.

Understand the influences of the statistics, understand why things may be better or worse in certain circumstances and try to use that information to contextualise in your own environment.

What would another country’s statistics look like in SA? Do we have better or worse medical care? Do we have an older or younger population? Did we react quickly enough to flatten the curve? Does our population follow the rules? What other pre-existing conditions might influence the impact?

If you take a subset of the statics and apply them to your own life, how does it impact your inner circle?

If you are the average family, with the average two-and-a-half children and elderly parents, you could rest assured that you’re fairly young and that the virus does not really affect our younger population, so your kids should also be fine.

However, what if your child infects one of your parents – or what if one of your kids have a pre-existing condition? How comfortable are you with the statistics now?

If we apply the ‘elderly’ subset of the Italian statistics to our elderly population, then the outcome looks horrific. Yes, not worse than the common flu over time – but influenza does not spread like this and usually the medical resources are able to treat a trickle feed of flu patients. That’s the difference: rate of infection.

I work for a company that spews out statistics like they are free. It’s generally all useful but our biggest task is usually to educate people on what they are actually seeing and to react to make the necessary changes.

Every individual needs to review and understand the statistics to make an educated decision on how they intend to react but please – don’t look at averages alone!

Crunch the numbers and in your own context: Read. Understand. React.

Source: Coronavirus – Worldometer https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus

(Note: All COVID-19 statistics cited in this article have been collected from Worldometer and were accurate at the time of writing.)

Sintrex & Covid-19

Dear Client,


In light of the COVID-19 virus recently being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the declaration by the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, of a national state of emergency from 15th March 2020 – Sintrex has deemed it necessary to convey its policy towards
‘social distancing’ to its current clients, potential clients, partners, providers and suppliers. The following measures have been put in place:

As far as possible, Sintrex employees will try to avoid face-to-face meetings and situations.

Digital meetings will be encouraged and held using video conferencing software like Skype, Zoom or Teams.

In the unlikely case that a face-to-face meeting must happen, Sintrex employees will have to ensure that:
a) no one in the meeting has been in contact with a person who has tested positive for the
COVID-19 virus;
b) no one in the meeting has travelled to a high-risk area in the past 21 days;
c) there are no more than 10 people in the meeting.

Visitors to our premises will be screened for a) and b) above.

All employee travel to high-risk areas has been cancelled and local travel has been minimised.

On-site resources will adhere to the policies of each specific client, provided these are not in contradiction with the laws laid down by the South African government.

For the time being, our staff will keep operating from our premises in Bellville and Midrand. In the event that our employees have to work from home, we will ensure that our high levels of professionalism and work ethic continue.
We count on your support in this matter and trust that you will find this in order.
These are trying times globally – but I believe that, by standing together, we can overcome this crisis.
Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Take care,
Adrienne Kotze
CEO

Sintrex invests in its capabilities and gears for growth

For the official launch of our newly upgraded Sintrex premises, we rolled out the red carpet, invited our most valued clientele, arranged a celebrity guest speaker and put our best foot forward.

The day started off with breakfast canapés and a few introductions to ensure that everybody was comfortable with each other before our opening presentation.

After the welcoming, Laura Barker, Sintrex’s Training and Content Manager, shared her insights and strategy. Interestingly, she showed how our internship final exam was – at one stage – known as “the impossible exam”.

It’s an eight-hour exam with an 80% pass mark. Many interns, leading up to the exam, used to feel that it was unachievable.

Yet, instead of relaxing the standards, Laura’s staff put more effort into the training material and mentorship of the interns. The results now show that there is a higher success rate and less anxiety before final assessments.

Emile Biagio, Sintrex’s CTO, followed with current market examples of how data (and thus information) is the most valuable resource in the world… In fact, it has become more valuable than oil.

The idea that information is more valuable than oil was introduced by The Economist in 2017 – and, based on current market trends and examples, it seems to be the reality.

Some thoughts were shared on how this impacts us all in our current businesses and how we should embrace the opportunity.

Guest speaker, Dr Steve Harris, former ‘Mind Coach’ to the Springboks, ended with some personal insights and practical tips on “Surviving to thriving in business and life in general”.

The session was concluded with a guided walk through the new 24/7 Network Operations Centre. This was conducted by team leaders, Mariam Samodien and Wayne Humphries.

Over lunch, feedback and casual conversations were encouraged to understand client challenges and strategies – all of which were positive and left us with a sense of excitement for the near future.

We would like to thank everyone for their attendance, and all involved for making the day such a success… We cannot wait for next year!

The official launch of the newly upgraded Sintrex premises in photos

Emile Biagio, CTO of Sintrex

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Guest speaker, Dr Steve Harris

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Laura Barker, Sintrex’s Training and Content Manager

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Sintrex’s 24/7 NOC

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Lunch

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Networking

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Old school thinking, new school stinking…

25 February 2020

By Emile Biagio, CTO of Sintrex

Sintrex recently hosted a coaching company to enlighten our staff on their personality types and behavior patterns… One of those really cool HR session where you learn a lot about yourself and your colleagues.

I arrived at the office about 15 minutes before the session started and checked in with the facilitator to make sure everything was ok – which it wasn’t.

She was panicking. She arrived early to set up and her laptop, but it did not want to project her slides. “That’s not a problem,” I said to calm her down, “we’ll just get our tech support in to assist.” “They’ve already been here and could not assist,” she responded.

Really?! Wednesday Thursday Friday! Apparently, the engineer walked in, looked at the setup, said, “Oh, it’s a MAC,” shrugged his shoulders and walked out.

Just like that.

Now, I thought long and hard about this (after the fact).

Why?

That’s the biggest question I had. Why would an engineer simply refuse to try and assist? It then became a discussion point within my network of friends and we’d reminisce about the good old days when we used to do tech support and there was just no opt out.

You owned a problem until it was resolved. No. Matter. What.

It forced us to try different things, test scenarios in labs and replicate the problems until we found solutions.

We used to communicate with each other, with service providers and whoever we thought might be able to give us just one more thing to try. It worked! We solved problems, all of them!

Is this something that’s been lost? Do our millennials or GenX’s just walk away when there is no quick fix? Have we created too many silos in IT and confined technologists to certain boundaries?  Is this why systems struggle?

Do we only look after our little portion of the problem and fail to see the bigger picture?

I may still struggle to understand the logic of what happened – and I’ll keep trying – but it took me 5 minutes to get the MAC projecting. Without Google 😉

Don’t sit back and watch things break, drive changes for improvement!

17 February 2020

Don’t sit back and watch things break, drive changes for improvement!

Monitoring systems that statistically indicate that things are bad, implies that certain actions must be taken to rectify. “But you’re telling me what my users are already telling me” is NOT the desired response.

Yes, monitoring systems will measure your users’ experience and provide you with factual proof that the user experience may be terrible, which you may require.

More importantly, however, it will also tell you why the experience is bad. This is why you need to understand the information – so that you can assist with actions to rectify.

There is no silver bullet, and nothing beats elbow grease to get systems running optimally.

So, for monitoring to add true value, you should:

  • understand the statistics and measures that you’re looking at and
  • be prepared for a service improvement project or focus group to action a few things to resolve.

The first bullet point above should be fairly easy – your monitoring provider can teach you all about the metrics and measures.

On the second point, however, you should be willing to do a little research and interact with more departments and/or service providers.

Example: you measure (monitor): network performance, application response and transaction speeds to the back-end database and find that users experience slow responses because of the database. You would then need to start investigating all aspects around the database.

This may not be an area that you’re familiar with or responsible for, but it’s an area that you need to stick your nose into because, in this scenario, it’s the area that needs tweaking to improve user experience of an application.

A monitoring tool does not fix things for you, despite development and progress in AI and machine learning – we’re not there yet.

Keeping to the above example/scenario, you could start by finding out who maintains the database, who looks after the hardware or VM that hosts the DB.

Then ask those people about maintenance, performance, size, speed, optimization options, etc… Ask “silly” questions and Google a lot. Each of these interactions should spawn a few actions that could improve the performance of the database.

After each action, re-check the measured user experience until you start noticing performance improvements.

In this way, you are not a passive consumer of data which ultimately adds no value – you are an active force of change, that helps improve performance! Remember to document your learning in a knowledge base… and keep measuring!

“We all know how important it is to ensure that business-critical applications are constantly up and running, but this is dependent on the effectiveness of the underlying infrastructure. It has never been more important for companies to understand how critical business services, the IT infrastructure, and applications work together, because a failure in one area can have a negative domino effect on others,” says Sintrex’s CTO Emile Biagio.

He adds that having an infrastructure that works does not necessarily mean that it’s healthy or available, monitoring is therefore a vital aspect in obtaining the insight needed to ensure optimal functionality. “The failure of one switch might not seem like a big deal, but can become mission-critical in one area of the business. The underlying infrastructure might be working, but if glitches occur, users will encounter challenges and complain about their IT ‘not working properly’.”

Maintaining a stable and functional infrastructure rests on an end-to-end monitoring approach. “An overview of your entire estate”, Biagio points out.

All of the elements that make up the business system need to be looked at from the perspective of the infrastructure, the applications, and the end user experience.

Only with this holistic approach can companies gain insight over their availability, health and ability to trade.

“The business is connected through a network – whether a local area network (LAN), a wide area network (WAN), or both. If there is a problem with a connection at any point on any of these networks, the users often associate the challenges they encounter with the applications they are trying to access rather than the network. Similarly, many workers these days are mobile, and can encounter problems accessing the organisation from external locations. Monitoring the IT infrastructure must therefore start with evaluating the connectivity enabled by the network.”

Connectivity is a key foundation upon which any infrastructure is dependent on, but workload and applications availability fuels any business’s productivity on a daily basis, therefor these areas must be monitored to ensure business continuity.

“The right monitoring approach can provide a comprehensive overview of the health of the infrastructure. This can be achieved with different levels of insight, so business can have an overview without having to know the specifics of the technical aspects, while IT can gains deep understanding and useful fast effective problem resolution time,” Biagio says.

“Proactive awareness of what is going on across the infrastructure allows for improved user experience as well as pre-emptive fault resolution. Not only is understanding the health of the infrastructure vital to the smooth operation of any business, it reduces costs in the long run, mitigates risks and effective planning.”

Do you know the health of your infrastructure?

13 December 2019

Do you know the health of your infrastructure?

An IT infrastructure is the central nervous system of a business. It allows the company to function, ensures that operations are smooth and seamless, and ensures that the productivity companies require, remain constant and available for successful trading.

“We all know how important it is to ensure that business-critical applications are constantly up and running, but this is dependent on the effectiveness of the underlying infrastructure. It has never been more important for companies to understand how critical business services, the IT infrastructure, and applications work together, because a failure in one area can have a negative domino effect on others,” says Sintrex’s CTO Emile Biagio.

He adds that having an infrastructure that works does not necessarily mean that it’s healthy or available, monitoring is therefore a vital aspect in obtaining the insight needed to ensure optimal functionality. “The failure of one switch might not seem like a big deal, but can become mission-critical in one area of the business. The underlying infrastructure might be working, but if glitches occur, users will encounter challenges and complain about their IT ‘not working properly’.”

Maintaining a stable and functional infrastructure rests on an end-to-end monitoring approach. “An overview of your entire estate”, Biagio points out.

All of the elements that make up the business system need to be looked at from the perspective of the infrastructure, the applications, and the end user experience.

Only with this holistic approach can companies gain insight over their availability, health and ability to trade.

“The business is connected through a network – whether a local area network (LAN), a wide area network (WAN), or both. If there is a problem with a connection at any point on any of these networks, the users often associate the challenges they encounter with the applications they are trying to access rather than the network. Similarly, many workers these days are mobile, and can encounter problems accessing the organisation from external locations. Monitoring the IT infrastructure must therefore start with evaluating the connectivity enabled by the network.”

Connectivity is a key foundation upon which any infrastructure is dependent on, but workload and applications availability fuels any business’s productivity on a daily basis, therefor these areas must be monitored to ensure business continuity.

“The right monitoring approach can provide a comprehensive overview of the health of the infrastructure. This can be achieved with different levels of insight, so business can have an overview without having to know the specifics of the technical aspects, while IT can gains deep understanding and useful fast effective problem resolution time,” Biagio says.

“Proactive awareness of what is going on across the infrastructure allows for improved user experience as well as pre-emptive fault resolution. Not only is understanding the health of the infrastructure vital to the smooth operation of any business, it reduces costs in the long run, mitigates risks and effective planning.”

Your 3-minute guide to career success

Your 3-minute guide to career success

By Emile Biagio, CTO of Sintrex

Twenty years ago, “Brain Drain” articles were common and I remember thinking that I’ve chosen the right career. Forecasts at that stage predicted that in ten years, most companies would struggle to find or retain the right tech skills for their businesses.

Fast forward to today – we know that the struggle is real. We’ve literally built a business on providing skills where our clients struggle to retain them.

  • Click here to learn more about how Sintrex can help your business

However, I don’t want to reflect on how to attract skills or delve into the impact that organisations face as a result. I would rather share some of my experience. It’s a conversation that I’ve had with many of my staff and younglings that are eager to become MD’s, CTO’s or Managers in their first year of employment… We all have these employees: they are ambitious, but are unfortunately the ones that are aggressively targeting the position and not the knowledge or experience.

I’ve always said that if you work for an organisation, work for one of two things: work for money or work for your CV. If you can do both – jackpot!

Let me explain…

We are employed at a certain cost to company for a specific job function. Once employed there are many things that hopefully keep us engaged and make our work experience a positive one. There are also times when our work is difficult and challenging and other times when opportunities present themselves. These are the times that I say you should buckle up and react positive to the challenges and grab the opportunities with both hands!

Why?

Not only will you grow and learn, you will also show your colleagues that you have a “can do” attitude and are willing to go the extra mile and help save the day. And if your company’s leadership invests in their employees, they will recognise this and (hopefully) promote you or increase your salary to “retain your skills”!

…and if they don’t?

Well, this is where the CV part comes into play. Keep doing the positive things and grabbing the opportunities. If you don’t, you will remain somewhere on the scale between dead-weight and average. Any project, task or challenge that you can learn from or complete can be added to your CV. You’re investing in yourself and even if you do not currently get the recognition for your inputs, then at least you’re growing your skills and experience, which results in a solid, strong CV. That CV will help you step up to the next environment that might be more appreciative of your skills, experience and track record.

It’s a strategy that’s served me well over the last 30 years and also serves a motivator to keep recognising the good that employees do within our company.

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