Saturday, February 26, 2011

Insurance Companies do noy pay out

My neighbour has parked his trailer outside our house filled with assorted discarded household items. 

I was initially disturbed by this but on enquiring I discovered they had been the victims of a watery deluge from a faulty appliance and their house now required extensive flooring replacement.

As if this was not troubled enough, on enquiring further I discovered that they had also fallen victim to a cynical insurance company’s determination not to pay out on claims.

The insurance company discovered a crack in the grouting in the bathroom tiles, on the second floor, whereby the water was allowed to escape to the lower floor. They claimed that this was the fault of the householder and the extensive damage to the flooring below was caused by their neglect and lack of maintenance.

I have to say that we live in an area that has excellent water pressure and that any leak quickly causes a small fountain to appear. Therefore, the water would have escaped down the stairs and caused the same damage had it not first taken a ‘shortcut.’

No amount of argument and protest would make the insurance company backdown and the next step would be taking expensive legal action against them, which my friends decided against. So the insurance companies win again in taking money in and not paying out.

It has been commonplace in the US that the companies do not payout on claims without the claimant taking out litigation against them, no matter how valid your claim is. In this way the companies avoid paying out on a very large number of cases and therefore increase their profit margins.

Most insurance companies now employ dedicated teams of people to discredit any and all claims against the company. These teams are paid bonuses based on how little they payout.

We have an increasing number of technologically advanced telephonic devices, which are increasingly expensive. Normal practice, when selling phone is to add a cost for loss or damage insurance but the ‘exclusion’ clauses in these policies make them very lucrative for the insurance provider and virtually useless for the user and payee.

The standard get-out is the ‘due care’ clause and that means if you do not take proper care to secure or keep your phone safe, then the coverage is null and void. So, if you leave your phone sitting on a cafĂ© table and walk away, or it falls to the ground and breaks, or it is snatched out of your hand, or most other ways in which you can lose or damage a phone, these are deemed ‘lack of due care’ and the company will not payout.

Try to be clear when taking out insurance that you are buying the kind of coverage that you want and be very specific, in writing, in asking direct questions on specific items and or the circumstances that you want covered. You may need to pay extra on your premium but at least you know what you are paying for.

It makes no sense to pay out on insurance premiums year by year knowing that they will not payout when required. Better to put that money in a safe savings account and draw on it, when required. My neighbour is certainly considering changing his coverage provider or just not paying any insurance companies, knowing they will not payout, no matter what.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Agile Approach to Change Management

All Agile methodologies include integrated practices and processes that manage evolving requirements to efficiently develop a continuous stream of new software capabilities.

However, what Agile does not address are changes related to enterprise support of the Agile process or tasks that fall outside the scope of the project work, including:

• How to effectively manage an organisation's internal personnel so that the appropriate stakeholders are available throughout the course of a project.
• How to gather and prioritise the most important features desired by the organization throughout the ongoing development cycle.
• How to adjust the notion of needing training in a continuous release environment.
• How to ensure customer team members are informed by the full breadth of stakeholders required for enterprise acceptance.
• How to secure timely approval of new technologies that a team would like to leverage.
• How to address stakeholder discomfort with cultural, business, social or other non-technical changes related to software implementation.

Each of these challenges is compounded when organizations operate multiple Agile projects simultaneously. Such unaddressed issues can cause IT projects to ultimately fail, even if executed perfectly within the scope of the development teams and meeting all project acceptance tests. It is no surprise that the vast majority of large-scale IT initiative failures are actually caused by factors other than technology.

Enterprise Change Management (ECM) provides a framework that addresses many of these missing factors. This article focuses on how organisations can leverage ECM practices in conjunction with their Agile development teams to foster IT delivery adoption.

To move stakeholders from negative thoughts and bad feelings, an ECM program must communicate a vision of the change that is compelling enough to not simply overcome negative preconceptions but also motivate positive participation.

Project and executive managers tend to treat those who will be impacted by software initiatives as if they were Vulcans, not humans. Of course, stakeholders are more like Kirk than Spock. Humans don't coldly and rationally evaluate information and form impressions based solely upon logic.

Instead of withholding judgment on an impending change such as a new software initiative, people tend to make gut-level intuitive leaps that are often negative in nature, and resistant to new evidence to the contrary.

This assumes, of course, that those impacted are even cognizant of upcoming changes. In "Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard," authors Chip and Dan Heath use the metaphor of "Rider, Elephant and Path" to describe three primary areas that must be addressed in change management.
The Rider is our inner Spock. A stakeholder cannot support a change until he or she can understand its purpose and the concrete changes that will likely occur. The type of 50-page technical documents and 100-element flowcharts that developers often create under a "waterfall" approach must be translated into clear, high-level infographics for non-technical stakeholders.
The Elephant represents our subconscious and emotional levels. ECM influences the elephant through communication that creates positive feelings and mitigates negative emotions such as mistrust, anxiety and anger. For instance, messaging may focus on how the change will solve an existing problem that vexes stakeholders.
The Path addresses the environment within which the change occurs, including changes to the physical environment such as the arrangement of office space, and processes or procedures such as kanban.
There are a number of formalised ECM models that have been developed to standardise change management within organisations, with processes and practices that support the entire lifecycle of a change initiative. The principles and activities described in this article can be adapted to any existing corporate ECM infrastructure.

They can also be applied within organisations that do not yet have an established ECM process in place.

The Unique Enterprise Change Management Demands of Agile Software Development

Ironically, the more successful an Agile project is in rapidly developing new capabilities, the greater the ECM challenge may be. Although Agile's customer-led iterative approach significantly reduces the magnitude of changes related to each software release, it greatly increases their frequency.

Instead of being asked to adapt to a single release that institutes a significant number of changes created within "waterfall's" typical multi-year release cycles, stakeholders must accustom themselves to an ongoing series of small, incremental releases every month or two.

Having an ECM program is especially important for enterprises transitioning to Agile from a phase-based development methodology. Corporate cultures that are accustomed to traditional development release cycles can be strained by a shift to more frequent releases and the ongoing interaction required by participation in the iterative process.

There is a higher level of stakeholder involvement required throughout the development process. The impact of a new Agile implementation cuts across technology and functional groups, from top management down to the frontline worker.

An ECM effort can help break down the organizational sensation of feeling burdened caused by the insistence of Agile teams for day-to-day customer involvement.

Introducing ECM to the Agile Team

Simply introducing basic ECM concepts to an Agile team can actualize the potential of existing Agile practices to foster positive change. For instance, customer-focused user stories and acceptance tests can be informed by ECM considerations.

This new perspective can tangibly improve the way IT and business sides of an organization work together. The resulting synergies build a heightened level of trust and provide a means to measure and track success of not only the technical quality of software, but its acceptance by end-users .

If the customer already has an institutionalized change management practice, bringing ECM personnel into the Agile team's release planning process is a good first step. They will be able to anticipate potential change management issues related to a release and work with the team to synchronize their efforts.

For customers who are transitioning to Agile from a traditional waterfall methodology, ECM involvement is a good tool to foster participation by business stakeholders.

When an organization is ready to integrate ECM tasks into an Agile software development project, securing an ECM subject matter expert for the team is the first challenge usually faced.

If the organization has existing ECM expertise, personnel can be shifted onto an Agile team. If there are no available resources, it may be necessary to hire an ECM subject matter expert or send an existing team member through an ECM training program.

Once staffed, a basic approach is to integrate ECM into the Agile development process by simply having ECM requirements progress through the same processes as technical requirements, including user stories, acceptance tests and the iterative development of deliverables.

ECM team member and developers participate in the same customer planning meetings and stand-ups.

Take for example the implementation of a portion of a typical change management plan. In conjunction with an upcoming Agile software release, change management requirements might include:
• Create a stakeholder list.
• Create a series of surveys on stakeholder attitudes.
• Contact these stakeholders, and socialize the survey results.

Tasks required for the delivery of iteration can then be broken down into stories, for example:
• Make a list of stakeholders in a certain business group.
• Create a survey covering these specific questions.
• Create an analysis spreadsheet.

Creating ECM stories in the same manner as their development tasks deeply integrates change management into the Agile process. In fact, these stories can be created in a test-driven development manner. For the above story examples, a test could be written proving that:
• A stakeholder from the business group is included in the stakeholder list.
• A survey covers a specific required content item.
• The analysis spreadsheet has a correct column.

At the start of each iteration, these tests would initially fail and would begin to pass as these change management stories are fulfilled. ECM tests and their pass/fail state can be illustrated on the Agile teams' continuous integration dashboards.

Making these dashboards available organization-wide provides all stakeholders maximum insight into teams' overall progress to heighten project awareness across the enterprise.

By integrating ECM into Agile development, the development team can escape the project stovepipe and extend its vision to the greater enterprise. Every veteran Agile manager has watched hopelessly as a project that met every customer requirement failed due to external factors beyond their control.

Although ECM does not give the project team absolute control over its destiny, it can substantively expand the domain of its influence.

Simple spit and blood tests might detect burnout before it happens

Your blood and the level of a hormone in your spit could reveal if you’re on the point of burnout, according to research undertaken by Dr. Sonia Lupien and Robert-Paul Juster of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital and the University of Montreal. In addition to professional and personal suffering, burnout puts distressed workers at further risk of physical and psychological problems if ignored. This is significant, as burnout, clinical depression, or anxiety related to the workplace affects at least 10% of North Americans and Europeans, according to estimates prepared by the International Labor Organization.

“We hypothesized that healthy workers with chronic stress and with mild burnout symptoms would have worse physiological dysregulations and lower cortisol levels — a profile consistent with burnout,” Juster explained. Cortisol is a stress hormone involved in our bodies stress response and naturally as part of our body’s daily rhythm. Cortisol levels are often high in people suffering from depression, while it tends to be low in cases of burnout. Too much cortisol can be as bad as too little when it comes to both mental and physical health.

Chronic stress and misbalanced cortisol levels can exert a kind of domino effect on connected biological systems. The term “allostatic load” represents the physiological problems or ‘wear and tear’ that ensue in these different systems related to risks for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and immune problems. By looking at various factors such as insulin, sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation, an allostatic load index can be constructed and then used to detect problems before they occur. “The strength of the allostatic load model is its flexible inclusion of numerous biological systems that get strained by chronic stress. Complementary use of saliva samples and validated questionnaires allows us to go beyond measuring susceptibilities to, say, metabolic syndromes or heart problems, but also into the realm of mental health,” Juster said.

The results of this first pilot study were obtained by testing thirty middle-aged participants. In addition to undergoing routine blood measures that assessed allostatic load, participants were instructed to collect saliva at home and during a laboratory paradigm. They also filled out questionnaires related to their current stress levels as well as symptoms of depression and burnout.

This research is part of a greater effort to develop personalized medicine in this field. Personalized medicine targets the customization of treatment according to the needs of the individual. “In an effort to advance person-centered approaches in prevention and treatment strategies, we have to investigate the biopsychosocial signatures of specific diseases,” Lupien said. “For conditions like burnout where we have no consensus on diagnostic criteria and where there is overlap with symptoms of depression, it is essential to use multiple methods of analysis. One potential signature of burnout appears to be fatigued production of the stress hormone cortisol and dysregulations of the physiological systems that interact with this stress hormone.”

Critically, people with burnout are often treated with anti-depressant medications that lower cortisol levels. If cortisol is already lower than it should be, this course of treatment could represent a therapeutic mistake. “The use of an allostatic load index gives researchers and clinicians a window to see how chronic stress is straining the person. In the future, we need studies that track people over time to determine whether this profile of low cortisol and physiological dysregulations is indeed burnout’s autograph. If so, science will be one step closer to helping distressed workers before they burn out,” Juster noted.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Credit Card Code

There’s hardly a more prominent financial product in the world today than the almighty credit card. Nearly everybody has at least one — almost 80% of consumers in 2008 – and many use it on a daily basis.

Without a doubt, there are also those consumers who know their credit card numbers by heart, makes online shopping and booking travel so much easier.

But how many of you know what those numbers really mean? Contrary to what you may think, they aren’t random.

Those 16 digits are there for a reason and, knowing a few simple rules, you could actually learn a lot about a credit card just from its number. This infographic shows you how to crack that code.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mobile Malware threats increasing

New mobile malware threats increased 46 percent in the fourth quarter 2010, compared to a year ago, according to McAfee’s quarterly report on emerging threats.

Not surprisingly, hackers are following popular platforms e.g. email spam continues to decline as usage drops.

Only 80 percent of email traffic was spam in the fourth quarter, the lowest mark since the first quarter of 2007. I do hope it doesn't surprise you that 80 percent of all email is spam and that it's really good news.

Instead of focusing on email, cybercriminals are moving to mobile devices and platforms. McAfee notes “a steady growth in the number of threats to mobile devices.” Key targeted platforms include Android.

SymbOS/Zitmo.A and Android/Geinimi were the two headliner malware threats for mobile. Symbian remains the most targeted for malware—largely due to market share.

McAfee said:
This quarter presented some of the most interesting changes of the year. In the past three months we saw the lowest spam volumes since 2007, but at the same time we identified attacks on new devices such as smartphones using the Android operating system. Mobile malware and threats have been around for years, but we must now accept them as part of the mobile landscape, both in awareness and deployment.

Other key odds and ends from the McAfee report:
  • Auto run malware, banking Trojans and downloaders are the most favoured malware in the fourth quarter.
  • Botnets delivered via spam appear to be dormant for now, but that could change.
  • 51 percent of the top 100 daily search terms lead to malicious sites. These search engine attacks are likely to target mobile devices in 2011.
  • Adobe’s Acrobat continues to be the most favoured software to exploit.