Bill Would Double Cap on H-1B Visas
A bill before the U.S. Congress would double the number of immigrant worker visas
available each year under the H-1B program.
The Innovation Employment Act, introduced last month by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.,
would raise the H-1B visa cap from 65,000 a year to 130,000 a year. In addition, there would
be no cap on H-1B applications for foreign graduate students attending U.S. colleges and
studying science, technology and related fields. Currently, there’s a 20,000-a-year cap on
visas for graduate students in all fields. The legislation would increase the H-1B cap to
180,000 in 2010 to 2015 if the 130,000 cap is reached the year before.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates called for an increase in the H-1B visa cap while testifying
before the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee in March. “We provide
the world’s best universities…and the students are not allowed to stay and work in the
country,” Gates said. The legislation “would boost America’s competitiveness by giving U.S.
employers the flexibility they need to hire the best talent available to fill a severe
shortage of qualified U.S. high-skilled workers,” the company said in a statement.
The bill would increase penalties for H-1B fraud and allows the U.S. Department of Labor to
reject applications for “clear indicators of fraud,” in addition to the current rule of
rejecting only applications that are inaccurate or incomplete. It also puts important
safeguards on the H-1B program in place, says C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Giffords. It
would prohibit companies from hiring H-1B workers, then outsourcing them to other companies,
he says. Opponents have complained that outsourcing companies are among the top users of
H-1B visas. The legislation would also prohibit companies with more than 50 employees that
have more than half of their staff as H-1B workers from hiring more H-1Bs, and it would
prohibit employers from advertising jobs as available only to H-1B workers, Karamargin says.
Critics say the bill does little to address worker concerns. “It doesn’t require any kind of
labor market test—demonstrating that a shortage actually exists before hiring an H-1B,” says
Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and former
chairman of the Career and Workforce Policy Committee at the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers-USA. The bill also doesn’t fix “serious problems” in setting wage
floors for H-1B workers and does “nothing to curb the practice of companies bringing in
computer programmers for $12 per hour to displace U.S. workers,” Hira says. “If this bill
were to be passed as written, it would do serious damage to the American information
technology labor market.”
Now Businesses Can Get Mashed Up
Mash-ups are going corporate. IBM recently announced it has created code to secure mash-ups
for businesses. Analysts say the technology will let companies merge data from websites or
corporate systems to create rich Internet applications without exposing proprietary
“This technology will allow people to create a mash-up without worrying that it will go
phishing for personal data or financial information,” says IBM Vice President of Emerging
Technology Rod Smith. IBM calls the technology Smash, short for “secure mash-up.” Big Blue
contributed the code for Smash to the OpenAjax Alliance, a vendor group dedicated to the
adoption of open and interoperable Ajax-based Web technologies.
According to IBM, the technology keeps mash-ups secure by separating the code and data from
the two applications being combined. Once the code of the applications is separated, it
merges the apps by opening a secure communications channel.
Smith says that business users, not just developers and technologists, will be able to
utilize the tool to create their own applications. He adds that the apps can be pushed as
widgets onto corporate workspaces on the intranet or over the Web. “They can grab snippets
of information or parts of applications,” he says. “They need the flexibility of assembling
information based on their current business needs.”
Developers still must do some work to make Smash more accessible to the novice user on the
front end, notes Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond. “The technology provides the framework
or the basis for users to do it on their own, but [developers] will need to build on top of
it first,” he says.
Computers That Read Faces
Your computer may soon know when you’re in a bad mood. Researchers have developed
an algorithm that can recognize a person’s facial expressions and categorize them as
expressing anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.
Researchers at the Department of Artificial Intelligence of the Polytechnic University of
Madrid’s School of Computing worked with Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University to develop a
prototype software that can process a sequence of moving faces and recognize the person’s
facial expression. The software monitors facial movements in several parts of the face,
examining up to 30 images per second. The data is compared to expressions captured from 333
sequences of people from the Cohn-Kanade database, with an 89 percent success rate.
According to the researchers, applications that might take advantage of these capabilities
include advanced human—computer interfaces, metaverse avatars and e-commerce.
Paul Williams, a software architect at LexisNexis Examen, believes the technology would make
a great usability testing tool to help developers learn whether users are frustrated by the
software or device.
“This kind of objective measurement would be far more useful and accurate than subjective
measurements, such as surveys, questionnaires or even third-party observation,” he says.
Hanging Up on Landline
The cell phone has finally passed the landline as the hardest communication
technology for people to give up. It also beat out the Internet, television, e-mail and the
BlackBerry (or other wireless e-mail devices).
People say it would be harder to give up:
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project
|Blackberry or wireless e-mail device
China Emerges as Largest RFID Market
Radio frequency identification technology has generated considerable buzz among
American businesses. However, the largest concentration of RFID applications in use isn’t in
the U.S. Look instead to China.
The Chinese government’s national identification card program is currently the biggest RFID
project in the world in terms of overall value, according to the recent ID TechEx report,
“RFID in China 2008-2018.” The rollout has an overall estimated worth of $6 billion, which
includes all the associated RFID tags and systems, such as card readers.
The Chinese ID card project began in 2005. Once it
has been completed at the end of this
year, nearly 1 billion government ID cards embedded with an RFID chip will
issued, states a recent ABI Research report.
“Unfortunately, all good things must end,” writes ABI’s Research Director Michael Liard,
noting the project’s upcoming conclusion. “That one program
generated significant revenue
for local vendors and stood out in terms of its size and scope. However, China must prepare
for RFID’s next wave and the
applications that will keep China in the RFID spotlight.
According to ABI Research, a wide range of application initiatives are on tap in China:
transportation ticketing, animal tagging, anticounterfeiting, real-time location systems,
asset tracking, e-ticketing and contactless payments. The total market revenue for all those
projects in 2008 will reach nearly $1.4 billion, states the report.
Ban Social Networks
Companies continue to clamp down on social networking sites at work. Nearly 20
percent of organizations surveyed by security vendor MessageLabs blocked social networking
and dating sites in February due to concerns about employee productivity and malware.
“Organizations need to raise awareness about the risks of these sites,” says Paul Wood, a
security analyst with MessageLabs. IT departments, he suggests, need to update electronic
use policies to reflect newer Web 2.0 technologies. “Some of the policies are not up to
Wood says it wasn’t always clear how malware entered users’ computers or networks as a
result of using social networks. However, he cited a case where a user visited a fake
MySpace page that served a pop-up ad that looked like a Microsoft software update. Clicking
The report echoes the concerns IT leaders expressed in a recent survey of consumer
technology by CIO. Nearly 10 percent view social networks such as Facebook and MySpace as
the biggest consumer technology threat to their organizations. Around 18 percent cited
consumer-based e-mail like Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail as the greatest threat to their
However, Wood says, “It’s not just about e-mail anymore. People need to know how to conduct
themselves on blogs, IM and social networks.”
If IT institutes electronic use policies that educate users about the sites they visit,
better security will follow, Wood argues. “It’s more of a management issue than a technology
issue,” he says.
When Bigger Means Better
Can you see your way to wasting less time?
One new study says yes: Organizations that upgrade their employees’ standard-format monitors
to wide-screen displays can realize productivity gains equivalent to 76 extra workdays a
year per worker, as well as annual cost savings of more than $8,600 per staff member. (That
math assumes a staffer who makes $32,500 annually.)
The study, called “Productivity, Screens and Aspect Ratio,” was conducted by the University
of Utah and sponsored by NEC, a maker of computer monitors.
Ninety-six university staffers, faculty and students, broken into three different computer
aptitude sets&mdash:novice, intermediate and advanced—participated in the study, which took into
account the time needed to complete set spreadsheet and editing tasks, editing performance
and monitor preference, among other factors. All three groups were significantly more
productive using 24-inch or larger wide-screen monitors (1920×1200 resolution, or larger)
compared to 18-inch displays (1280×1024 resolution), according to the research.
The study found that upgrading workers’ 18-inch, standard-format monitors to 24-inch
wide-screen displays cut the average time to complete such tasks by more than 30 percent.
Additional findings include:
Large wide-screen or dual-monitor configurations are better suited for work that involves
multiple documents or applications.
Twenty-four-inch wide-screen displays are better suited for text editing than both single
standard-format (17-inch and 19-inch) and dual standard-format (17-inch and 19-inch) monitor
Dual wide-screen configurations in 22 inches or larger are better for spreadsheet editing
than single wide-screen or standard-format displays.
Net annual cost savings of using 24-inch wide-screen monitors in place of standard-format,
18-inch monitors, including electricity and monitor costs, is roughly $2.1 million a year
for 250-employee companies and about $4.3 million for firms with 500 staffers.
Theory of Efficiency
It’s not enough that mid-market IT shops have to feel slightly envious of
big-company IT departments and their access to seemingly unlimited resources, tools and
staff. Now an analysis of
recent data trends shows that IT departments in Fortune 1000
enterprises are more productive and effective service providers than mid-market
counterparts&mash;and it has nothing to do with the amount of staffers or money spent.
“The staff-versus-budget argument is based on a false assumption—it improperly assumes that
resources committed to IT are used efficiently and effectively. However, in the majority of
IT organizations, they are not,” writes Hank Marquis, director of IT service management
consulting at Enterprise Management Associates, in the report “Are IT Budgets Too Big?”
Conventional wisdom holds that large companies’ IT shops are more effective since these
companies have deeper pockets. That logic is incorrect, according to Marquis. He suggests
looking instead at the “user-to-IT-worker” ratio in midsize and large companies. “Larger
companies of the Fortune 1000 support almost three times—2.9 times, to be precise—as many
users per IT staff member than mid-market companies,” he writes. This makes “mid-market IT
organizations only about one-third as effective as their larger Fortune 1000 cousins.”
The problem? “It’s not more staff that’s needed,” Marquis concludes. “Existing staff must
become more productive.” The report offers several tips for improving productivity.
Manage human capital. Invest in training and new skills for staff and actively measure
Improve business process management. Research process-oriented frameworks like ITIL,
Sigma or formal IT project management.
Service customers efficiently. Encourage IT staff to communicate with end users in order to
understand their needs.
By the Numbers
Why IT Modernization Should Be on Your Radar
strategy If IT modernization isn’t a top priority at your organization this year, it should
be, according to a recent report from consultancy Gartner. The reason? By 2010, more than a
third of all application projects will be driven by the need to deal with technology or
skills obsolescence, according to the report.
Gartner defines IT modernization as a movement that recognizes the strategies for and
approaches to managing the evolution of business processes and applications, and supporting
technology portfolios for optimized value, cost and risk objectives. To achieve that goal,
CIOs need to address strategic planning capabilities and focus them on IT asset
Three main factors drive the need to modernize now, says Dale
Vecchio, research VP in
application governance and strategy at Gartner. The most significant is the skills crisis.
“It’s a big deal. It’s the first time a generational shift in developers and consumers of IT
has been felt,” he says. “Baby boomer retirement is becoming real. These retirements impact
the availability of skills, and CIOs will have difficulty filling those open slots.” Other
factors include the agility gap (IT’s ability to respond to business demands) and portfolio
diversity (managing too many systems, resulting in additional costs). Digital natives
brought up on Facebook, IM and the Internet are another factor. These employees have a
different expectation of how IT systems should work, says Vecchio. Today’s systems, he says,
aren’t necessarily built for that.
So how do you know if your organization needs to modernize now? Review the status of your
long-term strategic plan. If your IT management team has weak or nonexistent processes for
keeping up with and replacing systems, IT modernization should be on your radar.
Drive the agenda. As CIO, expect to drive the discussion around IT
using the full resources of the IT management team.
Gather information. Identify key asset portfolios across the IT domain, and assign
management responsibility across the IT management team for each asset portfolio.
Identify a point person. Find the best individual to take responsibility for comprehensive
IT planning across all portfolios. Make this person
a direct report.
Get the big picture. Organize an offsite planning session where asset owners can explain the
IT maturity and modernization issues inside their own portfolios.
IT Modernization Moves Up As Issues Mount
of employees with IT legacy skills will be eligible to retire in the next three years. At
the same time, many artifacts (old programs, databases, platforms, etc.) will need to be
replaced between 2008 and 2015.
CIOs list legacy modernization,
upgrades or replacements as their
No. 4 priority for 2008.
In 2006 it ranked No. 10.