The funny thing about innovation inspiration is that it sometimes needs to be teased out by your team. Take the Swiffer, for instance. At one time, Swiffer’s parent company, Proctor & Gamble, employed the most PhD holders in the country. As a company, it lives on innovating consumer packaged goods. It invents things we had no idea that we couldn’t live without.
Over a decade ago, the company was looking at improving upon a common household chore: mopping. It studied how people mopped their floors by going into homes and watching them mop. Of course — just as I clean before our cleaning people arrive — their studied homeowners were pre-cleaning their floors before the P&G folks ever got there. Makes it kind of tough to study dirt when you’re cleaning a clean floor, right? The researchers had to get sneakier. They started arriving with dirty shoes and surreptitiously spilling dust as they showed up. At one home, a practical grandmother walked over to her roll of paper towels, wetted it under the tap and then spot-cleaned the dust off the floor. And in that moment, the Swiffer was born.
When the Swiffer came out in 1999, I was working at a big data company, helping Wall Street analysts understand the impact of the new products on stock share. We watched as the P&G shares hiked 130% in Swiffer’s first year. By 2008, P&G stock was trading at 37 times what it was before Swiffer’s debut.
When I heard the story of Swiffer’s innovation inspiration — the wet paper towel — the first thing I thought was, “My grandmother did that all the time.” It’s true: throughout the 70’s and 80’s, whenever we tracked in mud or dirt, she’d chase after us with a wet towel, erasing our footprints as we walked. Incidentally, my grandfather had worked in the P&G paper mills for his whole life, making that very same paper towel.
Just think: that innovation inspiration was right there at P&G’s fingertips back in the early 70’s. If only they had engaged a dialogue with their own employees about how they were using the products in real life. Think of the impact on their fiscal health if those gains had been realized 20 years sooner.
Chances are that your next great IT innovation has already been discovered by the people you see every morning when you get your coffee in the cafeteria. Your employees are already doing things, right now, that might change the face of your business tomorrow. It’s up to the CIO to tease that innovation inspiration out and into something that can benefit your bottom line.
Like the zombies of “The Walking Dead,” data growth is threatening to overrun us. Managers worry about the right data that can be captured and used effectively, but what about the right data that is missed? That data can be costly — and in the case of zombies, deadly.
As in the show, there is great debate about what’s right, only in this case, the debate is about what’s the right data for an analytics project and what isn’t. SearchCIO.com Senior News Writer Linda Tucci writes that today’s data quality theories pit clean data against big data. She tells the story of Greg Taffet, CIO at Miami-based U.S. Gas & Electric, whose team spends many hours making sure the data they’re using is the right data.
The other theory holds that there can never be enough data, and that the data many companies purge from their systems actually is hiding important knowledge all its own. This is the camp of big data gurus such as IBM’s Jeff Jonas.
Jonas has a proven track record of working with dirty data to answer difficult questions — such as ‘”Who is stealing from my casino?” — but big data solutions should not be for all companies. To really make big data work for you, you have to have lots of data, and plenty of system and software sophistication, to make big number-crunching cost-effective.
There have been a lot of exciting things afoot at SearchCIO-Midmarket.com recently. We’re dedicated to engaging midmarket CIOs on a one-on-one level, and finding out what amazing things you’re doing to innovate and drive your companies through excellent leadership in IT.
This month, Features Writer Karen Goulart and I traveled to Madison, Wis., to sit down and interview several CIOs during the annual Fusion CEO-CIO conference. You’ll meet William Caraher, CIO at the von Briesen & Roper law firm, who is doing exciting things with open source intranet systems. We’ll also talk to Igor Steinberg, CIO at Madison Area Technical College, and Phil Shelley, CIO at Sears Holdings, about what big data and Hadoop mean for midmarket CIOs. And that’s just a taste of the excellent leadership videos and stories in the coming weeks.
We’ve also been working since November on the 2012 SearchCIO-Midmarket.com IT Leadership Awards. You might remember seeing a call for nominations last year. Since then, we’ve vetted and reviewed almost 500 nominations from IT professionals around the globe. We also gave those nominees an opportunity to review, refine and add to their nominations. Back in January, our distinguished panel of CIOs and former CIOs began the painstaking process of scoring and ranking those nominations based on five areas of IT leadership — cultural innovation, green IT, technological advancement, business harmonization and customer experience — as well as searching for those qualities of leadership that make for one exemplary IT leader who will be named SearchCIO-Midmarket.com IT Leader of the Year.
After calculating the judges’ scores, we are happy to name 16 finalists for the SearchCIO-Midmarket.com IT Leadership awards. Over the coming weeks, you’ll get to know the finalists and read about their excellent IT leadership in action. There are many fine examples to inspire you, from Kevin Soohoo’s theory that “every little bit helps” when it comes to green computing, to Nicole Bradberry’s dedication to improving patient satisfaction through IT. And any CIO who has ever inherited a legacy nightmare will be able to relate to Jamie Gianna’s stalled electronic health records project. You’ll get to peek into Clay Stidham’s success with BYOD adoption. You’ll also meet Mauricio Vicente, who spearheaded a Video Remote Interpreting platform to assist with foreign language and American Sign Language interpretation. This project has earned him a spot as a finalist in not one, not two, but four of our six awards.
It’s an exciting time to be a leader in midmarket companies, no doubt about that. We now live in the future, as many CIOs at Fusion CEO-CIO said. I’m absolutely inspired by these examples of excellent leadership, and I’m confident you will find a few ideas to adopt in your own CIO career.
This wasn’t a new story, but it was to me. So, I was a little disappointed to read about the dangers of wind power. Dangers? From a clean, renewable energy source? Yes, the magnets used to build wind farm turbines are made of the rare earth metal neodymium, which, while not toxic itself, creates a mess of the environment when it is mined.
Many New England residents and even the late Sen. Ted Kennedy fought wind farm development off Cape Cod, but it wasn’t really because of neodymium. It was about the view. Either way, it’s an example of how we can find so many issues with alternatives to fossil fuels. Let’s take a look at the energy hit list: Coal, bad; oil, running out; nuclear, fugetaboutit. Read about what hydroelectric dam projects are doing to the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. Now, wind. Is there any solution that isn’t a danger to people or the environment?
Well, there’s conservation for starters, and solar. I’ve given kudos to one office park developer that is turning the roofs of its parking garages into solar power stations.
And now a nod to Kevin Soohoo, director of IT at Air Systems Inc., a finalist for the Green IT Award of SearchCIO-Midmarket’s 2012 IT Leadership Awards. Soohoo, who also is a finalist for the Outstanding Midmarket IT Leader of the Year Award, has deployed a variety of power-saving gadgets and systems throughout his company, including smart power strips, solar keyboards and PC power management. Though small, each contribution to energy conservation adds up big on energy cost savings and usage. It’s a good place to start for all of us.
Each week, we cover all the best blogs and give an executive summary for busy CIOs. Things were shaking in the world of IT last week, with the breaking news that there’s a risk of data privacy on Skype and the very revealing study that women are considered better leaders than men. And let us not forget that the new iPad release dropped on Friday.
• As predicted when the new iPad release date was announced, throngs of Apple faithful waited in line to buy the new iPad last Friday, including the Woz. However, at least one store had more Apple employees than waiting customers.
• Are you on Google+ yet? Mike Elgan feels that after years of ineffectual social media marketing, Google+ is the best thing that ever happened to his career.
• The Sistine Chapel is now digitized and allows you to fly around examining Michelangelo’s crowning achievement. Does the Vatican have a CIO?
• According to a Harvard Business Review survey, women are considered better leaders than men. However, looking at the reasons why, this is hardly a coup for women in IT.
• Think your Google Fu has what it takes? Maybe, but we bet you don’t know each of these 10 Google search tricks.
• our next Skype internet telephone call might have an unwanted visitor. Microsoft and Skype have built a backdoor into the Skype internet telephone application that allows for “Lawful Interception” — aka eavesdropping.
• If you celebrated the new iPad release with a fresh tablet device, here’s how to transfer everything from an old iPad device to the new iPad painlessly.
This week, the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced that its most recent print run would be its last, ending a 244-year run of printing out giant tomes. The $1,395 print-bound sets were swooped up by libraries and embassies, but for those without the largess of government funding, the company offered a $70 annual fee for a Britannica online edition, which will be the company’s primary encyclopedia offering going forth.
As only 8,000 sets of the 2010 print edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica have been sold and another 4,000 are sitting in a warehouse, one has to wonder why the company took so long to devote itself to the Britannica online edition. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, has been around for over a decade, has more than 16 million authors and is the sixth-most visited website in the world. Meanwhile, Britannica.com is ranked 6,509th most-visited website in the world. Ouch.
For more than 200 years, the Britannica was the trusted source for facts in the world. In the span of two decades, the world changed — and Britannica’s business model didn’t change fast enough. It may have gotten along with the $70 annual Britannica online edition in 1995, but once Wikipedia hit the scene as a free online encyclopedia, it was a wake-up call that the Britannica business model was being challenged.
While library lovers may moan for the loss of those beautiful gilded volumes on bookshelves, CIOs can take a reminder that innovation is not an option but a necessity. Obviously someone at Britannica had read the signs — the Britannica online edition was definitely a step in the right direction — but the corporate culture at Britannica is steeped in tradition. And every CIO knows — tradition can be the death by a million cuts.
I was thinking about automated content development before it was possible. Now it’s a reality.
My first job in journalism was to take calls on Friday nights from high school football coaches, who would relay the stats and a few details about the game. A bunch of other college interns and I would take the information, create a box score and write a short story about the game, which would then get compiled into a conference “wrap.”
The job was interesting but so repetitive that I used to say that robots could do it. It turns out I was right.
It’s being done now by Automated Insights, a Durham, N.C., startup. The company has married big data and content creation with developers and writers to create completely automated news and information services. I met with founder & CEO Robbie Allen at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and he explained how he started out in sports but is now looking to branch out.
“We have done a lot in sports, but we’ve done a lot in other verticals as well, like finance, real estate and traffic, and others where there are large sources of data,” Allen said. “We are moving forward with the approach that we are not just sports, but a B2B company that’s leveraging customers’ big data to generate unique and interesting content that they can use in a variety of ways.”
I should be worried that computers have finally replaced real writers, but when you consider the demand for content around large data sets (think fantasy sports or rush-hour traffic reports), there is a real need.
Automated Insights’ writers design what the content is going to look like and the developers translate that into code, Allen explained.
“The writers determine what are the things that go into a game recap; what are the data triggers that we would want to generate a sentence or paragraph about,” he said. “And the developers are responsible for marrying that design with the available data to generate actual content.”
With Apple’s launch of its new iPad, the world is buzzing with tablet hype. Apple’s newest device, which will be available March 16, might have you wondering whether you should do away with laptops altogether and issue these shiny new tablets to your entire company. Or maybe you’re contemplating whether the high price tag is worth it to add another gadget to your workplace. According to TechTarget’s 2012 Global IT forecast, 34% of companies plan to implement tablets in the workplace in 2012. Although some have argued the possibility of tablets replacing laptops in the future, keep in mind that organizations and employees differ and have different preferences and needs.
Tablets are one way to ensure that employees can get work done while they’re out of the office, particularly if they are remote workers. A poll conducted by Sybase Inc. found that “working outside the office” is the No. 1 reason U.S. consumers give for their using a tablet. Half of those responding to the same poll said they are most likely to use a tablet to work on the go. On the other hand, laptops can do these things as well, although even the thinnest laptops are heavier than the lightweight and convenient tablets.
Many assume that replacing laptops with tablets is an economical move. In some cases, this assumption is correct. For example, the Kindle Fire averages $199, whereas the price of a laptop can range from $350 to $1,000 — sometimes even more. The Kindle Fire, however, doesn’t offer what a laptop does. With regards to work, you can check your email on it, but typing lengthy reports and analyzing data are more difficult than they would be on a laptop. If you are looking for a tablet with better business capabilities, you might have to be willing to spend about as much as you would for a laptop, if not more. The popular iPad starts at about $500 and can go up to $829; however, it has a long list of practical business apps that can help to compensate for the high price. These apps include business intelligence analytics apps, and IT dashboards, to name just two.
If you do decide that tablets can replace your company’s laptops, it will certainly take some easing into. It could be a viable strategy if you employ many remote workers or employees that are constantly in and out of the office. Still, tablets can be hard to work on for extended periods of time: Consider keeping desktops at office locations for employees who prefer them or who are working on a large project. Also remember that you will get what you pay for. A $200 tablet will not have the same functions as a premium tablet. Most importantly, listen to your employees. A fancy new technology is futile if nobody wants to use it.
Sarah Blanchette is a journalism student interning as an editorial assistant at TechTarget.
Big data, big picture, big salad. It really doesn’t matter, according to IBM’s Jeff Jonas: The more the merrier. Jonas, the big brain behind IBM’s business analytics efforts, spoke about the latest technological developments in crunching big numbers at the recent IBM PartnerWorld conference in New Orleans. And what’s going on is a big deal — very big.
Jonas, chief scientist of the IBM Entity Analytics group and an IBM Distinguished Engineer, doesn’t fear large data sets. He’s working on systems that work better and more efficiently, the more data there is to crunch. “Big data, new physics,” he calls it.
“It’s really about big data in context,” he said. “On this journey, with context, you end up with having higher-quality predictions because both your false positives and your false negatives are declining.”
Whereas data managers for years have worried about data cleansing, data hygenics and data sterilization, Jonas says that more data — and more information about that data — helps define patterns in data that otherwise would not be found. “Your bad data becomes your friend. It turns out you don’t want to overly clean your data.”
The next generation (dubbed G2) of business intelligence systems Jonas is working on will be able to evaluate new observations vs. previous ones in real time, he reported. It also will be able to handle “abstract entities” and “exotic features,” and become tolerant of “uncertainty or disagreement.” In other words, G2 will be able to “learn.” And all in a response time of less than 200 milliseconds.
Is there any limit to our ability to understand the world around us through data? That’s the big question.
We’ve tracked down the hottest blog posts and the best tech news that’s fit for consumption. This week, we’re narrowing in on the Apple iPad 3 release date, the problem with the original iPhone on the new AT&T networks, the latest work of the hacker group Anonymous and the philosophical question of how all this technology changes our perception of loneliness.
If you have an original iPhone in NYC, you’re about to become very sad when you attempt to make a call on a 2G network.
Is technology making us lonely? Or is it alleviating loneliness when we’re alone? Perhaps it’s two sides of the very same coin.
Remember how everyone was upset last week when it was discovered that iPhone apps were stealing copies of your personal photos? Android apps are doing it too.
Is it the project manager’s job to fix companies? Elizabeth Harrin ponders the role of project managers in portfolio management and delivering cost efficiencies.
Rumor has it that Yahoo’s new CEO Scott Thompson is gearing up for some big layoffs at Yahoo over the coming months.
Is being targeted by hacker supergroup Anonymous ever a good thing? It is when it’s a wake-up call for companies like Sony and the latest to fall, geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor.
It’s time for another round of Apple iPad 3 release date rumors. Where is it? Is it en route? Is it on the way? Is it a unicorn? Frantic fan boys are imagining all kinds of Apple iPad 3 release date scenarios while they salivate over the next precious Apple deliverable.