The Sound from the Fury: Positively Disruptive Telecommunications Technologies*

Written by: Jess on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 | Leave a Comment 

“Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time. Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time. It’s time we gave this some thought.”

Where do you think the above quote comes from? Maybe it’s from yesterday’s Times story about some startup full of Millennials, printed below a picture of them sitting on a ping-pong table and running out of venture capital. Maybe it’s from the script for your new HR representative’s “5 Key Practices for Healthy and Happy Work-Life Balance” meeting.

Here’s the answer: it was said by the famous systems theorist, inventor and futurist, Richard Buckminster Fuller. He was born in 1895 and fought in World War I. He’s also the only person in history to have both a carbon allotrope and an EPCOT ride named after him.

It’s clear that ideas, stories and theories about the benefits of multipurpose space and mobile productivity have been around a long time. They have implications for many aspects of a business, including efficiency (both of time and of resources), work-life balance and company culture. What makes these storylines so popular today is that, unlike at the turn of the 20th century, we have now refined our communications technologies to the point that reliable, instantaneous and user-friendly remote communications are truly possible.

Over the past 10 years, there have been several major technological advancements on the mobile communications front. One is VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, which has made huge strides in the business space – in 2008, 80 percent of all new PBX lines installed internationally were VoIP lines. Makers of ATAs (analog telephony adapters) and VoIP desktop phones, such as Grandstream, offer connectivity solutions for businesses that go beyond setting up extensions – employees in VoIP-based offices can have their calls routed to any phone on the network, including one installed at their home office, without loosing the protection from their IT department.

In addition to hardware VoIP phones, a “softphone” can make staying connected even easier for those who travel often. A portmanteau of “software” and “phone,” a softphone is an application that runs on a computer, smartphone or tablet, and allows users to make calls via the internet rather than a cellular connection. Adding softphones into a VoIP PBX network could do a lot to save costs and remedy Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) problems.

Another real breakthrough in mobile communications has been the refinement of personal audio technology. No matter how strong your mobile telecommunications infrastructure is, it’s useless if the people connected can’t clearly hear each other. Fortunately, headphone manufacturers like Etymotic and VXi have made serious progress with personal audio over the past decade. Wireless, lightweight and reliable headsets are making dialing in to a call as easy at the airport as in a conference room. But possibly the most important technology is noise cancellation, which reduces the ambient noise transmitted through the phone to the call’s receiver – for an example, watch this video of a VXi BlueParrott headset being used next to an idling tractor-trailer.  Also interesting is Etymotic’s Awareness! app, which lets users program their headphones’ noise cancellation to allow certain sounds, like boarding announcements, to pass through. This lets mobile users decide what to ignore and what they’re willing to be interrupted by.

When Buckminster Fuller started thinking about how to maximize the efficiency of our home and work spaces, most Americans didn’t even own a telephone. Today, with the arrival of modern telecommunications technology, I’m predicting some serious efficiency and productivity gains.

Zach Pearson is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_p_pearson

Governor’s Life Sciences Focus Will Benefit the Bay State*

Written by: Paul on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 | Leave a Comment 

Governor Deval Patrick has had a few solid wins of late. At the risk of sounding partisan, the Governor’s varying initiatives to create new jobs is good news for all Massachusetts residents.

Whether he’s rallying the clean/green sector through the Green Communities Act, encouraging the growth of the Bay State robotics industry or pushing big data as the next Massachusetts IT sector, his various initiatives to help the local economy recover are encouraging.

Last week the Governor attended the grand opening of a new Thermo Fisher Scientific Center for Excellence in Tewksbury. The facility promises to add another 100 jobs in research, development and manufacturing over the next five years. The Tewksbury ribbon-cutting ceremony marks another event in a series of announcements preceding this week’s BIO International Convention at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Back in 2008, the Governor inked a 10-year, $1 billion investment package designed to spur research, investment, innovation and commercialization in the Bay State’s life sciences industry. Apparently it’s working: The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council reports that R&D jobs in Massachusetts increased from 46,380 in 2008 to 48,647 in 2010. The biopharma sector has seen more than 52 percent job growth since 2001, and statewide more than 80,000 employees currently work in life sciences or related industries.

Many experts believe that number will increase as more companies—especially European-based biotechnology and life science players–set up local operations in Massachusetts. In fact, “at least 15 companies from Europe have set up shop or expanded operations in the Bay State over the past four years,” according to a recent article in the Boston Globe.

No matter how you cut it, this is great news for Bay State businesses, consumers and job seekers. Keep up the great work, Governor.

Barbara Call is director of content at Greenough.

Massachusetts Big Data Initiatives Can Spur Economic Growth*

Written by: Paul on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 | Leave a Comment 

Last week Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, joined by key representatives from MIT and Intel Corporation, announced the “Massachusetts Big Data Initiative,” a collaborative effort to position the Bay State as a global center for the big data industry. Big data refers to the business of dissecting and analyzing the enormous stream of digital information generated everyday by consumers working, shopping or socializing online.

This announcement, paired with the Governor’s focus on expanding both the Massachusetts renewable energy and robotics industries, bodes well for our state’s economic recovery, and it could provide a model for other states to follow.

According to a recent report from the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC), 120+ Boston-area companies are currently working with big data technologies and those firms employ about 12,000 people in the Bay State alone. MassTLC estimates that an additional 58,000 related workers, including data scientists and data managers, are working in such industries as healthcare, online media and financial services. Most importantly, MassTLC estimates that growth in both areas could add 50,000 jobs by 2018.

We applaud the efforts of industry leaders such as MIT and Intel Corporation, other big data innovators, such as Endeca (recently acquired by Oracle), and smaller companies that include Tokutek and Hadapt.

Bring on the big data—we’re ready for the next technology chapter in and around the Massachusetts Route 128 belt.

Barbara Call is director of content for Greenough.

 

Developing Vendor Content? Go Global, but Go Local*

Written by: Paul on Monday, June 4, 2012 | 1 Comment 

IT professionals in many developing countries and regions “are ready to listen to IT vendors from the developed world,” according to a recent survey of 3,217 IT professionals in 114 territories from IDG Connect. One traditional way of starting a conversation—using vendor content—still works, but the study shows that many of the IT professionals in these developing nations want “local content.”

What, exactly, is localized content? Content that addresses the particular challenges these IT professionals are facing in their specific city, country or region. In other words, local analysis, regional reports, localized case studies or “in-the-trenches” thought leadership, to name a few.

Lest you think developing a stream of local content requires a significant cost investment, think again. There’s a relatively easy way to research those local and regional issues—use your salespeople, executives or product managers in the countries where you do business (or the countries you’re targeting). Use your army on the ground, so to speak, to engage those customers on a regular basis. Much like a trade journalist who asks his readers, “What are your pain points?” then goes on to write about those issues, your foot soldiers can ferret out the local concerns or problems.

The next step: Set up a formal process for collecting and gathering this “intelligence,” then implement a plan for turning that fact-gathering into meaningful localized content.  It can be as simple as a thought leadership blog post that identifies how your company is solving XYZ in country ABC or a case study that demonstrates how your company solved issues A, B and C for your customer in XYZ.

Bottom line, according to IDG Connect? “In most of the rest of the world outside North America, the demand for content is extremely strong. And meeting this demand with some degree of local customization will almost certainly pay dividends in terms of engagement.”

Have you been successful at developing localized content? If so, tell us what you’re doing and why it works.

Barbara Call is director of content at Greenough.

 

With Innovation, There’s Always a Catch*

Written by: Jess on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | Leave a Comment 

Even in the absence of its legendary leader, Steve Jobs, Apple has yet again taken the market by storm with the introduction of its iPad 3, released earlier this month. With improved graphics, camera and video capabilities, greater text readability and a dictation function, many will argue that the iPad3 is the best tablet yet.  A recent Computerworld article written by Ryan Faas argues that improved graphics, video and gaming capabilities make the iPad3 a winner. Now, companies in the mobile ecosystem, from mobile gaming companies such as Zynga and Glu to mobile marketing/advertising companies such as Jumptap, can display stunning, interactive graphics, and users will have a field day with the device.

The Computerworld article goes on to suggest that while the iPad3’s consumer appeal is unquestionable, it is also very well suited for businesses. The healthcare industry, for example, can take advantage of the device’s new graphic capabilities as an alternative to medical imaging workstations. Media, design and other creative firms can also take advantage of the retina display and improved graphic performance. And the list goes on. Furthermore, because of its consumer appeal and because every business user is also a consumer, the new iPad will ride the building “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) wave. In other words, the device will inevitably become a widely-used business tool.

While the iPad3 offers new, innovative, functionality and potential business benefits, it also poses challenges to IT departments that must manage how this new device connects to corporate networks. IT administrators who have already been contemplating mobile device management (MDM) strategies to secure their corporate networks will now have an even greater challenge as different devices, equipped with new functionality and capabilities, come to the market.

It is essential that future MDM strategies be scalable, flexible and able to evolve with the mobile market. After all, by the time you’ve ordered your new iPad3 on Amazon.com, another better, faster, smarter tablet is likely already in development (or in the marketplace). Don’t believe it? Rivals to the iPad3 have already shown up. The Asus Transformer Prime, which offers a detachable keyboard, has recently drawn praise from CNET, proof that the mobile market is continuously evolving.

The iPad3 and other tablets can not only delight consumers, they can also positively transform industries, and we are already beginning to see this happen. With innovation, however, there is always a catch. The opportunity for the iPad and other tablets to revolutionize business is clear, but this window of opportunity may close slightly if companies do not invest strategically in MDM now. How companies strategically and intelligently use and manage evolving mobile technology will help dictate which businesses move forward fastest and which will fall behind.

Jessica Boardman a senior consultant at Greenough. She can be reached via email at jboardman@greenough.biz or follow her on twitter @J_Boardman.

Give ‘Em What They Want*

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 | 1 Comment 

So, you’d like a few tips, yes?

IDG recently issued a series of research briefs on aligning content and topics to social media platforms and buyer interests.  While the research focused on IT vendors and buyers, I’d guess that the findings apply to other markets as well.  One key lesson is that buyers report a significant preference for best practices on blogs.  So, without further ado, here are a few best practices for you, based on the IDG research.  (For the full reports, please visit the IDG Knowledge Hub)

The key lesson is this: align the format and subject matter of the content you offer to the social media platform.  According to IDG, "The number of available marketing content assets offered by vendors has increased by 60 percent over the past five years. Now, with the advent of social networks the rush is on to tie conversations into all that content. But the randomness of these efforts leads buyers to report that only 39 percent of offered links from social conversations to traditional content are relevant, resulting in buyer frustration and lost sales momentum."

Below are the top-ranked content topics and linked content types for a number of popular social media platforms.

1.    On blogs:

a.    Share: Best practices, news and case studies
b.    Link to: Case studies, ads and tutorials

2.    On forums

a.    Share: Evaluations, news, case studies
b.    Link to: Tutorials, free event registration, evaluation version

3.    On Twitter and Microblogs

a.    Share: News, perspective on industry issues, customer support
b.    Link to: Ads, technical knowledge, free event registration

4.    On Social Networks

a.    Share: News, insight on organization/political challenges, customer support and best practices
b.    Link to: Free event registration, ads, ROI calculators and planning worksheets

Overall, when linking to your company’s content from external sites, maintain an even balance between educational and promotional content.  Buyers responded that they prefer educational content about 43% of the time and promotional content 42% of the time. Don’t overdo it with marketing, but make sure people know about the great company behind the tips you’re providing. 

IDG’s research is valuable in initiating discussion about the importance of tailoring content and links to conversation platforms.  However, the results should not be taken as definitive, due to an extremely small sample size (about 100 respondents).  As IDG notes, "These aggregate findings only represent a starting point for discussion.  There is significant variance by investment type, buying role [and] focus."

In the end, despite the ease social media brings to publishing, it’s still important to know your audience and your surroundings when telling your company’s story. 

Contributed by Catharine Morgan.  Follow her @c_morgan

‘Tis the Season to Tame Your Inbox*

Monday, December 28, 2009 | 1 Comment 

The holidays are here and as part of my "2009 clean-up" efforts I’ve got my mind set on getting my inbox under control. It’s not that I’m disorganized or lackadaisical about managing e-mails; it’s just that I get a lot of them and sometimes the process of culling through everything can be a bit daunting.

Manual clean up is a necessary evil, but I’ve started to realize that effective e-mail management really boils down to the ability to quickly search for and prioritize e-mails in the midst of a hectic workday. Keeping this in mind, I did a little digging online and found a few free inbox management tools I'd like to install on my desktop (pending approval from Paul, our IT guy, of course).

There are number of great options out there, but I felt that Xobni and Liaise were the most user friendly and comprehensive of the free tools available.

Xobni
Xobni (inbox spelled backwards) is a simple plug-in for Microsoft Outlook that makes it possibly to instantly find e-mails, attachments and contact information using a search box. Think of it as the “find” option on steroids.

Why it’s worth downloading?

Liaise
Liaise is a free beta tool that helps you identify key tasks/priorities within your flood of daily e-mails, so you can search for projects, assign tasks, update calendars and address pressing client issues more efficiently. It gives you access to everything you need to streamline conversations and projects right at your fingertips.

Why it’s worth downloading?

I can keep rattling off features, of course, but the easiest way to get a handle on this tool is by checking out a demo on YouTube. See below.

Both Xobni and Liaise make managing e-mails, tasks and client contacts easier, while streamlining the way you use Outlook. I’m in the midst of getting permission for Liaise, and hopefully Xobni, so I plan to dedicate a follow-up post to how these tools work in practice, and not just in theory, sometime in 2010.

- Contributed by Gretchen Doores. Follow her @canadiangal84

Catch a wave, and you’re sittin’ on top of the world*

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 | 2 Comments 

Recently I was working on a writing project for our client Numara Software and was invited to use Google Wave by a product marketing manager there.  He was testing it out and thought it might cut down on the number of e-mail attachments we had flying back and forth and help us collaborate more easily.  I’d seen the buzz about Google Wave in the headlines, but didn’t really know what it was about.  But, hey, something invite-only from Google?  Of course I’d try it!

So I set up my account, signed in, and got ready to wave… whatever that could be.  I had something that looked like an e-mail inbox on my screen, and in it something suspiciously message-looking called “Welcome to Google Wave.”  I clicked and was greeted by a “Dr. Wave” in a white coat breaking glass in a pitch black science lab.

Thinking that I was smarter than this crazy mad scientist, I started clicking around elsewhere on my screen.  Dr. Wave disappeared.  Then I couldn’t get him back.  The video was nowhere to be found.  45 seconds into my Google Wave experience, I was confused.  (Never fear, a little sleuthing on YouTube, and I successfully tracked down the escaped mad scientist.)

If you haven’t used Google Wave yourself, it’s hard to conceptualize what it’s like.  Computerworld’s Preston Gralla provides a helpful, straightforward review in “Google Wave: It’s innovative, but is it truly useful?

Google describes Wave as “an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.”

“An online tool for real-time communication” – Wave can be used like a simple instant messaging tool, but as such, it annoyed me, because I had to move from keyboard to mouse to click “Done” each time I finished a message (lazy, I know!).  And when Google says “real-time communication,” it means real time as in “oh crap, another typo, I can’t type when I know someone’s watching each letter pop up, whoops another one” and “uh oh, I should rephrase that, I really hope no one’s paying attention, because that was really not how I meant for the tone to come across.”

“For communication and collaboration – A wave can be both a conversation and a document.” – I think Wave’s primary strength right now is its ambition and vision.  There’s no shortage of innovative and good ideas that went into creating Google Wave – real-time group collaborations, keeping conversations about content and content in the same place – but sometimes it’s overwhelming.  Google Wave feels a little like trying to use e-mail, Word, and IM – at the same time in the same screen.  A great idea in theory, but I didn’t like it in practice.  Sometimes I didn’t want the conversation part happening right within the document-esque part.  It’s distracting, and I lost pieces of it.  My “inbox” would tell me there were new contributions to conversations, but they didn’t appear right at the top (like an e-mail chain) or right at the bottom (like an IM conversation).

Once I got over my insecurity about my typing skills, I was able to use Google Wave effectively to collaborate on the writing project, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as I wanted it to be.  Google Wave lacks the instantaneous, intuitive usability we’ve come to expect from our technology.

In my opinion, Google also faces a challenge because of its heritage.  Google’s search technology changed the world, and Wave’s organization is based on searching.  If you’ve ever missed being able to sort by sender or by oldest to newest in Gmail, you’ll have a small idea of why replacing organization entirely with phenomenal search capabilities can be frustrating.

The bottom line?  Google succeeds because its innovation pushes limits, but Wave is trying to push too many limits in too many directions all at once.  Google has never tried to hide that its product is a beta version, I’m not a developer (despite the IT nerd jokes I get in the office), so I don’t have access to some of the latest and greatest features people all over are working to create…but if Wave succeeds, I think it will look vastly different from the way it looks now.   I won’t rule out success, but I think it’s still a fair way down the road.

Contributed by Catharine Morgan.  Follow her @c_morgan

The Rise of the Social User, IT Beware*

Friday, October 23, 2009 | 1 Comment 

It’s time to face facts. Employees are tech savvy, mobile and social. New technologies and platforms, from Twitter to iPhone apps, have created a fundamental shift in behavior and culture, which has tipped the scale in favor of the end user. How? It’s simple. Thanks to social networks and mobile apps, end users can now circumnavigate their IT systems and access alternative means of communication and information that are difficult (if not impossible) to control.

Yes, IT can still manage or deny access to certain applications and monitor activity on their systems, but they can’t cover everything. And this rapid change in behavior has created some tension between IT management and employees; employees protest harsh restrictions on their ability to access or share information, while employers bemoan the increased risk to company assets and confidential information.

It’s a struggle for both sides and Patrick Thibodeau of Computerworld explains this power shift in his latest article, "Top 10 IT management trends for the next five years."  In the article, he outlines important new technologies and trends in IT, saying, “The top trends affecting technology infrastructure over the next five years can be summed up as largely a list representing where IT and users are battling for control over technology.”

Within this list, he highlights the importance of social media and mobile applications, cautioning companies not to be too restrictive or sluggish to adopt them, as users will find clever ways to get what they need regardless.

Thibodeau's comments echo Gartner’s recent announcement, which identified the “Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2010,” and (surprise, surprise) number six on that list was “Social Computing.”  In the Gartner release, they suggest that workers don’t want to have two separate channels of communication, one for personal “external” use and the other, more restrictive one for work-approved means. The release also explains how social media affords a new opportunity for companies to bring internal and external communities together through social forums/networks.

That’s all well and good, but how can IT departments ensure they can open up without exposing themselves to unnecessary risks? The answer doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require careful planning.

Both the Gartner release and Thibodeau's article allude to the importance of establishing clear guidelines and parameters for employees. In turn, helping employees to understand that they have access to social networks and apps on their phones, but anything they send out can reflect poorly on or negatively impact the company in which they work. Plus, these guidelines help IT managers reduce some of the risk associated with information leaks (e.g. tweets about acquisitions prior to public announcements) or push back from users looking to use Twitter or Face book.

That’s an important step, but how do companies make this happen? Should the IT team send memos on “responsible social media tips” or is a company-wide meeting in order? And, who gets to determine these rules?

It's a unique opportunity, but it’s tough to say who should take the lead on establishing guidelines and monitoring tools for highly-social employees. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for more collaborative decision making? We’ll have to wait and see.

Contributed by: Gretchen Doores  Follow her @canadiangal84 

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Cloudy with a Chance of Democracy*

Monday, September 28, 2009 | Leave a Comment 

While Oracle’s Larry Ellison has received quite a bit of buzz himself for maintaining that cloud computing is little more than a buzzword, sometimes there’s something to be said for hype.

True, the use of “cloud” to denote the internet or network as the source of a service is not as new as much of the energy, confusion and discussion surrounding it.  However, while cloud computing may be neither new nor clearly defined (Gartner calls it “a style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are provided 'as a service' to external customers using Internet technologies”), the buzz is not without action.

Recently the U.S. government took a major step toward reversing its reputation as technologically behind the times and slow to adapt when federal CIO Vivek Kundra unveiled Apps.gov.  Companies, too, have their heads in the clouds these days, as a recent Wall Street Journal article notes. 

Over at CNET, James Urquhart wrote a great post, Five ways that Apps.gov is a trendsetter.

One of the most interesting points, I think, is how Apps.gov democratizes technology, allowing individual agencies to choose the applications they need as they need them and cataloging services in a way that matches users’ needs.  As Kundra wrote in a post on the White House blog,

"Like a utility such as electricity or water, cloud computing allows users to only consume what they need, to grow or shrink their use as their needs change, and to only pay for what they actually use. With more rapid access to innovative IT solutions, agencies can spend less time and taxpayer dollars on procedural items and focus more on using technology to achieve their missions."

In a world where we can scan our own groceries at the supermarket and never speak with a human teller at a bank, it sometimes seems like technology can help us with everything except technology itself.

Cloud computing, it seems, has the potential to change that by giving individuals and smaller groups of people more control over how their computing needs are met. Of course, security remains a top concern when it comes to cloud computing, and the answers to that question are still “up in the air,” if you will.  However, it seems that the buzz around cloud computing is shifting away from questions of adoptions towards questions of how and when.  Looks like the cloud has a bit more weight to it than just buzz.

- Contributed by Catharine Morgan.  Follow her @c_morgan

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