The autonomous-car guys at Google have got to love the 2015 cult comedy sequel Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Not because they thought it was a good film — I think they’re probably too smart for that — but because in the sequel, the future is a bright one for driverless cars. In director Steve Pink’s 2025 — the year most of the cast from Hot Tub Time Machine get transported to — cars take directions from people and cart them about, expertly ride through highway curves and stop on a dime. (They also try to run down humans who are rude to them, which may scare people who yell at their laptops.)
As for the real 2025, a lot can happen in nine years — and a lot will have to happen before cars can motor their way out of human control, according to MIT’s John Leonard.
The mechanical engineering professor and artificial intelligence researcher told an audience at the recent Brain + Machines symposium at Harvard University that Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk’s declaration of self-driving cars as “a solved problem” was more than a little optimistic.
“Just very respectfully, I disagree,” Leonard said. “And I think that driving exposes fundamental issues in intelligence, fundamental issues in how the brain works. And we might be a very long way away.”
Though he thinks Google Car is “an amazing project that might one day transform mobility,” the technology today is overhyped and misunderstood.
Bumpy road ahead
Leonard studies simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM, a technique for building maps that vehicles use to direct themselves. He led the team behind MIT’s autonomous car in the 2007 DARPA Challenge, a competition for driverless cars held at a former Air Force base in California.
A video taken at the event of a collision between cars from MIT and Cornell University illustrates his point. MIT’s car tried to pass Cornell’s and hit it instead. The problem, Leonard said, was one of spatial reasoning. The computers running the cars, aided by algorithms, were missing the “semantic understanding of the world” that people have.
Leonard discussed other unsolved challenges facing autonomous driving. One involves the human interaction that often enables car travel. He showed a video taken by a camera fixed to his car’s dashboard as he drove in his hometown of Newton, Mass., a Boston suburb. At a busy intersection with no traffic light, making a left turn would have been nearly impossible without waving at an oncoming car to signal his intention.
In another video, a police officer is standing in the street waving people through a red light at an intersection.
“So if anyone here is a programmer, how do you write the code that says, ‘Always stop at red lights, unless there’s a man on the side of the road waving at you’?” Leonard said.
Unexpected changes to things like road surfaces can also throw off automated cars. Google cars, for example, use precise maps that tell them where they are at any given point on a journey. But if Mother Nature drops a foot of snow, or if a road gets repaved, a driverless car may easily get confused, Leonard said.
Then there’s what’s called the “handoff problem.” When a car can’t figure out what to do on the road, how does it get a human to suddenly pay attention and take the wheel?
“Humans are actually pretty bad at that,” Leonard said.
Until cars can be 100% autonomous — which Google is pursuing — Leonard advocates what he calls a “guardian angel system.” In it, a human has to pay attention the entire trip; auto-driving kicks in only when he makes a mistake or when an accident looks likely.
Thinking about thinking
Leonard is looking at neuroscience to help solve the problems driverless cars face — specifically at how the brain of a person or an animal gathers information and creates an inner vision, or “representation,” of where it is in physical space. He is experimenting with visualized maps that can help a robot negotiate its way through a room or the MIT campus — without crashing into a chair or colliding with a moving object, like a car.
“My dream is to achieve persistent autonomy of lifelong map learning. Say, a robot car that, as it drove around Boston, it would get better and better,” Leonard said. “It would learn about the world.”
The problem: Petplan Insurance Agency LLC, a 140-employee company founded in 2003, wanted to offer its customers a more personal and more relevant shopping experience. The pet insurance company, which recently ranked #59 on the Forbes list of America’s Most Promising Companies, was looking to integrate online and offline points of contact with customers for marketing campaigns.
“We have this treasure chest of data, we just really need to find the key and open it up,” said Petplan’s chief digital officer Gerry McGoldrick, who was hired in May to lead digital and mobile initiatives. McGoldrick reports to Natasha Ashton, Petplan co-founder and CMO.
The strategy: McGoldrick set his sights on integrating call center data and online data. “The theory is that anyone who calls probably dealt with us through a digital experience at some point,” he said. Before purchasing a policy, Petplan customers may visit the website as many as four times, often seeking a quote for comparative shopping. With each visit, customers leave behind digital breadcrumbs and, in some cases, valuable data such as the breed and age of the dog or cat they’re looking to insure. To connect the online and offline dots, McGoldrick invested in BlueConic, a marketing platform, with the director of IT’s blessing.
The results: The BlueConic platform enables Petplan to take online data and build customer profiles, which are then served up to call center agents who can use them to tailor conversations. “Someone coming in through search will act differently than someone coming in through an email campaign,” McGoldrick said. And the more personal the conversation can be right off the bat, the better. He described the technology investment as “dipping our toe in the water” of personalization and hopes the platform will eventually incorporate data from its internal CRM and CMS for marketing use cases and beyond.
High-profile cyberextortions like the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack in 2014, the one last year on infidelity dating site Ashley Madison and even a lesser-known hack on InvestBank in the United Arab Emirates must have spooked a lot of people.
According to a study released in January by Cloud Security Alliance and security software vendor Skyhigh Networks, 25% of organizations said they’d be willing to pay a ransom to hackers to stop the release of sensitive information, and 14% would pay more than $1 million.
“To me that is disheartening, and it does tell us that both we’re not doing a good enough job in the industry protecting information,” said Jim Reavis, co-founder and CEO of Cloud Security Alliance, “and also that our use of technology is so vast that there are so many threats out there.”
And they keep happening. The Boston Globe reported just this week that the town of Medfield, Mass., paid a ransom after “ransomware” — a virus that locks a computer or device and demands the user pay a cash sum — shut down its computer network for about a week.
I wrote last week about the “culture of security” at Equinix, a Silicon Valley provider of data center space. CIO Brian Lillie described it as a companywide awareness about threats to information security – achieved through relationship building and support from top execs down — combined with an array of technological tools and a CISO to make sure all departments check out.
Now is the time for more companies to take Equinix’s lead. Traditional security practices like doing backups and tools such as intrusion detection software and antimalware are all compulsory to maintaining a strong security posture, but the fact that organizations are willing to give in to hackers’ cash demands — and in practice do — is testament that more is needed.
The human element in information security often gets short shrift. For example, many still believe that training programs don’t work and aren’t worth spending time and money on. But the best security defenses in the world won’t be successful if even one employee doesn’t know a phishing email when he sees one. And today, it’s easy for business departments to order a cloud service or download an app to a corporate smartphone. People who don’t know what’s kosher and what isn’t are practically courting disaster.
Everyone — from chief executives to business departments to the newest of hires — needs to be keenly aware of the threats out there, how to prevent them and how to counter them if they do occur. The more an organization can instill its people with a security mind-set, the more it can bolster its defenses against an increasingly bold and innovative underground.
It’s easy to resort to labels when talking about the CIO position: strategic CIOs versus operational CIOs, the digital visionaries versus the keep-the-lights-on types, team players versus the so-called rock stars. A recent survey from Deloitte’s CIO Program adds to the litany. Based on the responses of 1,271 CIOs and senior tech leaders from 43 countries, Deloitte uncovered three categories of CIOs:
- Trusted operator
- Change instigator
- Business co-creator
Unlike other expert commentary that suggests one type of CIO position is better than another, however, the Deloitte study doesn’t choose sides. Instead, it makes the welcome observation that the CIO role will and should vary from business to business — and even in the same business, change over time.
“There is no judgment around one versus the other. The best category is the one that is matched to what your organization needs in the moment,” Karen Mazer, U.S. CIO program lead at Deloitte Consulting LLP, said in a webinar reviewing the survey findings.
If the business is in cost-containment or reduction mode, it likely needs a trusted operator in the CIO position. A business trying to set a vision for the future and leverage cutting edge technologies to do that, needs a change instigator. A rapidly expanding company deciding on the long-term tech investments required to accommodate growth, probably needs a CIO who is a business co-creator.
Rather than fret about which category they fit in, Mazer suggested CIOs first answer these questions:
- What CIO pattern do you identify with and are you aligned with the business needs of today?
- What does the business need to be doing? Should it be looking more to the future, and how are you preparing yourself for where the business needs to go? Do you have the skills and confidence to drive the organization forward?
While Deloitte does not pass judgment on the roles that define the CIO position, survey respondents had definite ideas about which type of CIO they aspired to be.
Over half the survey takers who identified as trusted operators or change instigators said they would like to be business co-creators. Mazer said it is important for those types of IT leaders to identify the reason their CIO positions are not aligned with their personal aspirations. Is it because they’re not where their organization is, or is it because they lack the CIO skills required to be in that category?
“The best CIOs can adapt to the needs of the environment they operate in and change with the times,” Mazer said.
For detailed descriptions of the three CIO categories, go to part two of this post, “CIO report: Three CIO archetypes and how each delivers IT value.”
Based on the responses of 1,271 CIOs and senior tech leaders in its recent global survey, Deloitte identified three CIO personas: the trusted operator, the change instigator and the business co-creator.
The first part of this two-part post, “Defining the CIO position: Don’t box yourself in,” explained that Deloitte’s study doesn’t claim that one persona is better than another. Rather it argues that the mode of delivering IT value should ideally match the business’ needs at the moment. Misalignment — whether because IT fails to operate at the level the business needs, or because the business is simply not prepared to follow IT’s vision — is not good.
“CIOs who can adapt and adapt quickly to changing business needs are the ones we think are going to are going to go a long way in driving very significant value for their organizations,” said Khalid Kark, director at Deloitte Consulting LLP and a principal author of the CIO report.
This post provides a rundown of the three CIO archetypes Deloitte derived from the survey responses, as well as the top business priorities, leadership traits, relationships, and technology investments associated with each.
Trusted operators deliver IT excellence by focusing on cost, operational efficiency and performance reliability. They provide enabling technologies, they support business transformation efforts and align IT strategy to business strategy. This category comprises the largest percentage of survey takers: 42%.
Business priorities: Of the five business priorities cited by all the CIOs taking the survey — performance, cost, customers, innovation and growth — survey respondents identified as trusted operators singled out cost and performance as their top two.
Leadership: CIOs in this category rarely lead business innovation, nor do they spearhead growth efforts. “Technology operations,” “execution” and “communication” as their top leadership talents.
Relationships and influence: Trusted operators typically report to the CFO and they actively engage with their IT workforce.
Tech investments: Digital technology will have the most impact on their businesses in the next two years, followed by analytics and cloud.
Change instigators lead transformation efforts and act as the change agent within the organization, according to Deloitte’s CIO report. This category represented the smallest number of CIOs taking the survey.
Business priorities: Customers and innovation are the top business priorities for change instigators. These CIOs are often brought in to change the status quo and look outside the enterprise for ideas.
Leadership: Change instigators see “communication” and “understanding” as their top two leadership strengths.
Tech investments: Change instigators see analytics as the technology that will have the biggest impact on their organizations over the next two years.
The primary aim of business co-creators is to support and drive business strategy. This group accounted for about one-third of the survey respondents.
Business priorities: Business co-creators rank all five business priorities almost equally, striving to balance performance and cost goals with customer, innovation and growth goals.
Leadership: They see “communication” and the “ability to influence internal stakeholders” as their top two leadership skills.
Brian Lillie, CIO at data center builder Equinix, a company where security is “embedded in everything we do,” said that doling out general advice for bolstering IT security in the cloud computing era is difficult because all organizations are different. But there are guidelines they can follow to take advantage of the lower costs, faster setup and better user experience cloud systems offer — and maintain solid cyberdefense. Here are his three tips for better cloud security:
- Have a cloud-first strategy. To Lillie, cloud today means cloud-first. “If you can solve a business problem in the cloud, do it,” he said. “Because that is where all of the investment is going. It’s where most of the [vendor] innovation is happening and more and more and more, their solutions are going to be in the cloud.”
- Accept the reality of hybrid IT. Most companies won’t be 100% in the cloud, Lillie said. Some applications, for example, will have to purpose-built, and those will most likely have to stay on premises — so will highly sensitive applications and ones that are “too core to IT.” So hybrid IT — or an integrated mix of on-premises and cloud systems — should be the aim.
- Wrap it all in security. Organizations can’t stop at defending their data centers. As they look more to cloud applications, they need security policies, processes and tools to safeguard those as well. “You’ve got to make sure your data is safe in transit,” Lillie said. “You’ve got to make sure that your integration strategy between your on-premises and your cloud is not only secure but high-performing.” And no one technology does everything, he said. His team has around 25 security tools to keep Equinix’s cloud applications safe, including gatekeeper software called a cloud access security broker, federated identity management for ensuring users are who they say they are, and a Web application security scanner to detect weaknesses in applications. “I actually think that a set of tools layered is the best defense,” Lillie said.
Figuring out who to hire and what to pay for IT job skills has never been a cut-and-dried affair. Even when IT salaries are relatively stagnant, as they have been in recent years, demand for certain IT job skills — and therefore the premiums paid for those skills — can change in a matter of a mere three months, a phenomenon David Foote understands well. Foote Partners LLC advisory and research firm, founded in 1997, tracks pay for 835 IT skills every 90 days.
“The truth is that there are so many skills that employers find worthy of extra pay, and for these skills either certifications don’t exist or the ones that do are perceived as too easy to attain,” Foote said in the firm’s latest release on IT job skills pay from Oct. 1, 2015 to Jan. 1, 2016. “Besides, employers have always had their own ways to evaluate and accredit skills expertise. They are comfortable using their own methods to qualify the strength and value of skills and how they factor into their workers’ capabilities on the job.”
In rapidly changing business climates — as is the case in today’s massive shift to digital business — premium pay for IT jobs skills is particularly volatile, Foote explained in a phone call following up on the report. A good example is what has happened to compensation for big data skills over the past two years. For all the media buzz about the importance of advanced analytics in gaining a foothold in the digital marketplace, pay premiums for 58 big data-related skills and certifications declined an average 4.7% in the last nine months of 2014.
“Companies started going into big data, hiring people out of Google, out of big tech firms — and then found nothing was happening. ‘We’re putting money into this,’ they told us, ‘and we’re not getting any results,'” Foote said.
Big data pay on rebound
Doing big data is about data sharing and transparency and breaking down business silos, Foote said, something many hierarchal companies find difficult to do. Another reason for the pullback in big data pay? An institutional reluctance to embrace data-driven decision management. “These companies want to build a new business model to compete in a digital era — and then find that their culture just completely gets in the way of doing it,” he said.
But as companies have found their “sweet spots” in big data, discovering what they can and can’t do, compensation for big data skills has rallied, rising nearly 6% in market value overall in 2015 and predicted to increase over the next 12 to 24 months.
“Big data capabilities are just too critical for staying competitive. They’ve expanded in popularity from a few industries to nearly every industry and market,” he said. The growth of Internet of Things (with predicted compound annual growth rate of 30 % over the next five years) — and the pressure to turn IoT data into actionable business intelligence — will further spur pay for big data related skills, he said.
Here are some other findings on IT job skills from Foote Partners’ latest research:
DevOps gets “serious traction:” Acceptance of DevOps methodology is growing. The latest premium pay data for 2,745 employers tracked by Foote Partners shows a 7.12% gain in average market value for DevOps skills in the past six months.
Cloud skills demand strong, but pay eroding: Talent supply for cloud skills is catching up with demand, resulting in a modest 1% gain in average value in 2015 for 73 cloud-related certified and noncertified skills.
Security skills gap deepens: Market values for the 76 information security certifications tracked by Foote Partners have increased an average 9.7% over the past two years. The report states: “The bad news is that while cybercriminals and hacktivists are increasing in numbers and deepening their skill sets, the ‘good guys’ are struggling to keep pace. … CISOs will have to become more aggressive about getting the skill sets the organization needs, plus [they] will need to build sustainable recruiting practices and develop and retain existing talent to improve their organizations’ cyber resilience.”
Read more about Foote Partners’ latest findings in, “Digital business disruption roils the manufacturing sector.”
David Foote, whose research advisory firm, Foote Partners LLC, specializes in tracking compensation for IT skills, knew digital business disruption was real when he started getting calls from companies like Fender Musical Instruments Corp.
“Fender makes metal and wood products — musical instruments, amps. And they call me and say, ‘We’re putting together this digital group and we have no idea what to pay these people and how to reward them,'” Foote said. “‘Wait a minute,’ I said, ‘You’re a manufacturing company, what does this mean?'”
The storied guitar maker told Foote it wasn’t exactly sure, but it was looking for ways to grow its business. Guitar is a hard instrument to master. It had a couple of ideas for digital products that would make it easier for people to learn how to play — and help sell more guitars.
All corners of the manufacturing sector are seeking digital skills compensation data, Foote said, citing Lowe’s Companies Inc. and Honeywell International as two more examples. “Lowe’s is the store you walk into when you want to build a deck on the back of your house. We’re working with them and find out they’re doing stuff with NASA on all this crazy robotics stuff and 3D imaging,” he said. Honeywell, making a big push into the connected home market, now has “nine, very well-staffed digital innovation groups around the United States and Canada,” according to Foote.
“It’s not that people are doing digitization that’s so amazing. It’s that the companies calling us and asking for help now are hard-core manufacturing companies. They’re all getting into digital software, and things are getting serious,” he said.
GE picks up and moves to a digital hotspot
A marquee example of a hard core manufacturing company in the midst of business digital disruption is General Electric. Foote, who lives about five miles from what will soon be G.E.’s former headquarters in Fairfield, Conn., said the manufacturer’s move to Boston isn’t just about tax breaks. “They are going digital in a very big way and they want to put their headquarters closer to the action,” Foote said, referring to Boston’s thriving high-tech ecosystem. Indeed, CEO Jeffrey Immelt recently asserted that the industrial powerhouse would be a “top 10 software company” by 2020.
Digital skills held back by culture
As the manufacturing and other sectors come to terms with doing business in the digital era, the questions for companies and CIOs, as well as for Foote Partners, is what IT skills and roles are required to deal with digital business disruption, and what do companies need to pay these people to be competitive. But hiring the right people doesn’t necessarily put companies closer to digital transformation.
One example, said Foote, is the role of DevOps engineer. DevOps — the blending of tasks performed by a company’s application development and systems operations teams — has been around for a long time, but only recently has there been enough compensation data to follow the role of DevOps engineer.
Foote had long wondered why more companies hadn’t gone after a skill that would help them integrate their IT, operations and business strategy — and conceivably give them a competitive edge.
“Then I realized after talking to companies is that DevOps is really not a technical skill; it’s a whole mindset. And a lot of companies were really turned off by that, because they don’t adapt very well when they have to change. Change is tough.”
For more on which skills are hot, and which not, in digital business transformation, check out part two of this post, “IT job skills, digital mind-set in short supply.”
PTC Inc., a software company based in Needham, MA, is in the midst of a transformation. Known for its design software, PLM and service management products, PTC is placing big bets on the Internet of Things and augmented reality technology.
“The digital and physical worlds are converging,” Jim Heppelmann, president and CEO at PTC, said at last week’s live streaming Thing Event. “This convergence is transforming everything. It’s transforming how we design and manufacture things, how we operate and service them.”
But, added Heppelmann, one area that hasn’t converged just yet is how people interact with smart, connected things.
That’s a gap PTC believes will be filled by augmented reality (AR) technology. Unlike the artificial environment created by virtual reality technologies, AR layers contextual information over the real world in real time. Think Google Glass, which uses eyewear to, say, display a map view to the user with directions to a destination.
In addition to changing how consumers interact with the world around them and how companies market to those consumers, PTC believes AR technology will change how employees get work done within the enterprise. “The number of potential applications for AR in the enterprise is limitless,” Heppelmann said. His list includes everything from validating product designs to training new employees on how to use a product in the field.
PTC is using AR to help businesses fix and maintain complicated machines. Deere & Co, a manufacturer of agricultural, forestry and industrial engines and equipment, and KTM-Sportmotorcycle AG, a global company that designs and manufactures racing motorcycles, are two PTC customers using AR to this effect.
At KTM, for example, one of the challenges the company encounters in new growth markets is the lack of technical experience needed to service the bikes. “This can make it difficult to make repairs correctly and it can be difficult to make those repairs on time,” Jens Tuma, head of customer service at KTM, said during the webcast.
KTM is using AR as an interactive resource to guide new technicians when making repairs. Using a tablet, the technician can run a diagnostic test on KTM’s smart bikes, isolate the problem and then follow step-by-step visual instructions overlaid on the bike itself that shows how to make the repair.
“Augmented reality will help us deliver more consistent service around the globe,” Tuma said.
PTC’s IoT and AR play has been years in the making. In 2014, PTC acquired Axeda and ThingWorx, companies that specialize in building Internet of Things applications. In 2015, PTC acquired Vuforia, an AR platform for developers, and ColdLight, a predictive analytics platform.
PTC’s acquisitions total up to more than $700 million, which is a sizable investment to equip the company with connectivity, cloud and analytics technology. “PTC needed to transform our technology portfolio to align with the transformation happening in products today,” Heppelmann said.
Terry Kline is a proponent of innovation contests because he’s seen how they can change the work dynamic. “What’s made me do it everywhere I’ve ever worked is that I’ve had employees who say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea, but no one will listen to me,'” Kline, senior vice president and CIO at Navistar International Co. in Lisle, Ill., said in an interview with SearchCIO. So Kline creates opportunities for employees to pursue those great ideas right in the workplace.
Innovation contests or hackathons are a way to crowdsource ideas for new products or new ways of doing things. In the last few years, as the engineering talent wars rage on and as new competitors continue to emerge from unexpected places, innovation contests have become popular in the enterprise and beyond. Kline has used the technique for years, even before taking up his IT post at Navistar, a manufacturer of industrial vehicles and engines, in 2013.
Kline hosts innovation contests at least once a quarter, but he doesn’t do so on a set schedule. Instead, he uses innovation contests as a leadership tool when he either needs to find the most efficient way to execute on an idea or he’s interested in teasing out new ideas. One critical component? He doesn’t limit innovation contests to the IT department.
Instead, with the backing of the CEO to whom he reports, he encourages cross-functional teams to work together whenever possible. “IT by itself is back office, under the covers,” he said. “So if you don’t have a business problem or a solution, [the results are] not as attractive,” he said.
Top ideas are awarded prizes. (Kline has been known to gift his spot in the executive parking area for a month. “I give things away that you can’t buy,” he said.) And the very best ideas are implemented. Over-the-air re-programming, a feature in some Navistar engines that will enable drivers and fleet owners to update engine control modules over a Wi-Fi connection rather than having to return to a service bay, came out of an innovation contest. “It started off as a 1.5-page idea that was then turned into a prototype,” Kline said. “Now it’s a real project, funded, and everyone in the company knows about it.”
Innovation contests are just another process
Innovation contests have the potential to yield great results, but to get there, CIOs should think about them in a basic way: At the core, innovation contests are just another process, according to Tim Kastelle, a teacher of innovation management at the University of Queensland Business School.
In a column he penned for the Harvard Business Review, he wrote that idea generation is the easy part. It’s all of the steps required to turn an idea into practice that’s hard. Ideas have to be sorted, employees have to be given a chance to execute on the selected ideas, cheerleaders have to keep the organization enthusiastic about the idea, and marketers are needed to “get your great new idea to spread,” he wrote.
Kastelle provided readers with a couple of tips on how to build a successful innovation practice: First, evaluate the organization’s innovation strengths and weaknesses; second, invest in improving those weaknesses, he said. “It will likely involve making genuine changes in the way things are managed,” he wrote. After six months to a year, Kastelle recommends repeating the evaluation process.