October 31, 2016  2:04 PM

AI vs. BI: How do you sell artificial intelligence to the business?

Nicole Laskowski Nicole Laskowski Profile: Nicole Laskowski

Is artificial intelligence tech quickly becoming enterprise tech? Vendors are betting on it.

Last week at IBM World of Watson, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty laid out her vision for the technology: Namely, that Watson will reach a billion users by the end of 2017, and that the technology will underpin every major personal and corporate decision. Last month, Salesforce rolled out Salesforce Einstein, an AI system that analyzes data to identify trends in marketing and sales.

The list goes on, with Microsoft, Google, Apple and Facebook jumping on the AI train. IT consultancy Gartner recently released its top ten strategic technology trends for 2017. At the top of the list? Advanced machine learning and AI.

That’s why a question from a Welch’s Food employee at EmTech, an emerging technology conference hosted by the MIT Technology Review in Cambridge, Mass., brought things back to reality. At the end of a session on “Applied AI: Intelligent Machines in the Enterprise,” he asked the panel of experts: “How do you take this talk to business executives and tell them this is not BI?”

The big difference between AI vs. BI is what questions they’re used to answer, said Sameer Anand, a consultant with A.T. Kearney Inc.’s operations practice. BI is often used to answer what happened; AI, on the other hand, can be used to answer what will happen next. “What we see is companies are thinking about predictive and foresight, and that’s where I think this is going to be more AI and not BI,” he said.

Still, the audience member’s question suggests a disconnect between the pie-in-the-sky AI sellers and boots-on-the-ground tech buyers. How do employees like help bridge the gap? The panel had a few ideas.

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Houman Motaharian, chief revenue officer at LendingPoint, a startup focused on consumer lending, stressed the importance of getting executive level  support for AI — and even better, a CXO leading the charge. When he was at AmEx eight years ago, for example, it was the chief risk officer who advocated for bringing in machine learning and Hadoop to the company. The CRO vowed to start small by selecting appropriate use cases and building proofs of concepts. “Today, I know for a fact, most decisions at American Express are made with machine learning,” he said, but cautioned that even with the CRO firepower, AI adoption took time. “It didn’t happen overnight. It took six or seven years.”

Vijay Sharma, managing director with Deloitte’s strategy and innovation group, agreed. For companies that still need to win an executive over, Sharma provided similar advice: Starting small can help build a strong case and earn the trust of an executive sponsor. That, he said, is the “key to expanding” AI efforts in the enterprise.

Use cases as templates, not prescriptions

Like the other panelists, A.T Kearney’s Anand agreed that finding an executive sponsor to champion an AI agenda is key. Next, he said, “you try to bring in external use cases: Here are examples of what others have done.”

The AI use cases are for idea generation and not necessarily duplication. Instead, step back and consider how data, analytics and technology are used to solve a problem, he said. And, he said, “Talk to people. Ask what their journey has been.”

October 28, 2016  3:15 PM

Tech talk, hoofing it and diversion at Gartner Symposium 2016

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
CIOs, Gartner, IT conferences

Market researcher Gartner hosted more than 8,000 CIOs and other IT leaders at its annual Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., last week. The draws? Presentations on technology trends like cloud computing, the internet of things and artificial intelligence. And guest speakers Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO — who didn’t show up in person because of a back injury and instead spoke over live satellite — former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins.

And it’s hosted each year in Walt Disney World.

Dolphin Hotel

The recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo was held in Walt Disney World’s Dolphin Hotel, in Orlando, Fla., and nearby venues.

Analyst presentations were spread out among four hotels and convention centers, and walking distances between one to another could take 20 minutes. With 30 minutes between sessions, there were a lot of people in suits walking swiftly in the Florida heat. And there were a lot of people with blisters. SearchCIO’s editorial director, Sue Troy, learned from the attendant at the medical station that blisters are the No. 1 injury at the event. Sue was there for foot plasters.

But there were easier ways of getting around at Gartner Symposium 2016. Golf carts emblazoned with the Gartner logo zipped about from the Dolphin Hotel to the Disney Yacht Club to the Boardwalk Inn, picking up and dropping off passengers. Rickshaws gave drivers a workout on 80-plus-degree days, but attendees rode in style.

Attendees of the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo ride in a golf cart near the Dolphin and Swan hotels.

Attendees of the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo ride in a golf cart near the Dolphin and Swan hotels.

Rickshaw at Gartner Symposium 2016

Conference goers ride in a rickshaw at the  Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.

Around the venues, signs warned people to stay clear of the water — a grim reminder of the alligator attack in June that took the life of a 2-year-old boy. Inside, alongside sumptuous midafternoon desserts set out for conference goers was a display stocked with packets of sunscreen and insect repellent. There was a spot for hand sanitizer, but it was empty. There was lots of insect repellent, though, evidence perhaps that the Zika virus scare in Miami, three and a half hours away, was too far-off to seem like an immediate threat here.

Insect repellent, sunscreen at Gartner Symposium 2016

Packets of insect repellent and sunscreen are laid out for attendees at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.

The speeches drew crowds of thousands. One on Sunday night featured a guest speaker whose expertise is not technology but behavioral economics. Dan Ariely, a Duke University social scientist and author of Predictably Irrational, spoke about why people make the decisions they do, even when common sense may tell them otherwise.

He asked the audience how many people had texted while driving in the last month. A number of hands went up. It’s something we all recognize is a bad idea, Ariely said. No one tries to rationalize it with, say, a cost-benefit analysis.

“It’s not as if people say, ‘I thought about this text message: How much do I want to stay alive? How much do I want to kill other people?'” he said to laughs. “No. We know it’s stupid; we vow not to do it, but when our phone vibrates, we become different people.”

Dan Ariely

Behavioral economist and psychologist Dan Ariely speaks to an audience at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.

In the keynote speech, which set the tone for Gartner Symposium 2016 and advised CIOs and tech leaders to lead the way toward a digital future, Gartner analysts Daryl Plummer and Hung LeHong demonstrated an interaction with a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence, Amelia. She smiled and waved, answered some questions and then offered Plummer some unsolicited advice about exercise to alleviate stress.

Daryl Plummer, Hung LeHong

Gartner analysts Daryl Plummer and Hung LeHong speak onstage at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, while virtual assistant Amelia stands by.

“Have you noticed that all of the virtual assistants are female?” he asked the audience. “It seems that we run the risk of embedding gender bias into digital. We must embrace gender diversity in the digital world as well as we would in the physical.”

Thousands packed the ballroom at the Dolphin Hotel for the keynote speech at the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.

Thousands pack the ballroom at the Dolphin Hotel for the keynote speech at the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.

Within three to five years, Plummer said, 50% of all analytic interactions will be delivered through artificial intelligence.

Each year Gartner invites attendees to a “special event,” typically at a theme park in the Orlando area. Last year it was Epcot. At Gartner Symposium 2016 it was off Disney’s grounds, at Universal Studios Florida. People strolled through replicas of New York and San Francisco, visited The Simpsons‘ garish Springfield and had their pictures taken with a giant Transformer.

Universal Studios Florida

A sign welcomes Gartner Symposium/ITxpo attendees to Universal Studios Florida.

They also window-shopped in cobblestoned Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter book and film series. Looking for it, I walked straight past what looked like a London streetscape. Then I noticed a triple-decker bus — more Potter than Piccadilly — walked through an archway and saw an enormous stone dragon atop goblin-operated Gringotts Bank breathe a plume of fire.

Transforner at Universal Studios

A Gartner Symposium/ITxpo attendee poses for a photograph with a character from the Transformers film series.

More than meets the eye.

October 26, 2016  10:38 AM

Win ‘frenemies,’ influence people the Microsoft way

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
Digital ecosystem, Gartner, Microsoft, Satya Nadella

At its annual Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., last week, market researcher Gartner touted the idea of businesses partnering with other businesses to build “digital ecosystems,” which can create new products and services, vastly improving fields like agricultural planning, to feed a growing population, and elder care, to attend to a graying one.

Analyst Daryl Plummer said companies will have to participate in such ecosystems to ensure their success, but “partnering can become complicated, because of politics and competitive dynamics.”

Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer

Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer speaks during the keynote speech at the market researcher’s annual Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., last week.

Organizations will have to come to terms with collaborating with rivals, Plummer said, becoming frenemies — a portmanteau of friend and enemy — so they can tap the potential of new technologies. He gave the example of the R3 consortium of 50-plus big banks working together on blockchain, the digital ledger technology behind cryptocurrency bitcoin.

‘It comes with middle age’

In an interview, Gartner analyst Helen Huntley asked Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella how his company is able to attract business from frenemies — companies that may be competitors — on its cloud infrastructure service Azure.

“This comes maybe with middle age,” Nadella said, referring to the 41-year-old tech company he leads. He spoke over satellite from Redmond, Wash., to thousands of CIOs and other IT leaders gathered for the Gartner event. “You are very comfortable with complex relationships.” Take a company with an application that “has some overlap,” in Nadella’s words, with a Microsoft service. If that company chooses to  build and manage its app on Azure, Microsoft’s responsibility is to earn the company’s trust.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks over satellite to an audience at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., last week.

“Anyone who is building on Azure is building because they know they can count on us doing the best job of creating both the best platform for them as well as the best economic opportunity for having built on Azure,” Nadella said.

Ties that bind frenemies

When asked what companies Microsoft is bringing into the Azure fold, Nadella announced a partnership with SAP. The German software company will host its employee-management service SuccessFactors on Azure.

SAP bought SuccessFactors in 2011 and has hosted the cloud software in its own data centers. The move to Azure is SAP’s first “to supplement its own infrastructure and operate SAP SuccessFactors solutions in a third-party public cloud,” according to a press statement.

SAP and Microsoft have been partners for two decades and in May agreed to integrate their cloud services — like Microsoft’s Office 365 and travel and expense management software Concur, an SAP service — for customers.

“Our competitive advantage is our maturity to deal with competitive relationships,” Nadella said during the Gartner interview. “Trust is what we engender long term.”

Nadella talked about another partnership Microsoft announced last week: the expansion of its cloud service for government. The company launched a version of Office 365 and Azure specifically for the U.S. Department of Defense and has expanded the area in the U.S. where government agencies can host their data to two new regions, in Arizona and Texas.

October 25, 2016  10:56 AM

IT talent management systems stuck in the ‘Mad Men’ era

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci
Devan Dewey, CTO

Devan Dewey

IT talent management, a tough job for CIOs under any circumstances, is approaching albatross-level status. Even the best hires can’t be expected to possess all the technical skills they’ll need to keep up with the blistering pace of technology change and business demands.

So it is hardly surprising that the session on IT talent management at the recent SIM Boston Technology Leadership Summit — “The Fight for Talent: How to Mentor, Groom and Grow your Team” — drew a large crowd. The shocker? CIOs are not just fighting an uphill battle in the so-called IT talent wars, the talent management processes at their disposal — developed for labor markets that no longer exist — are worse than one might have surmised from personal experience.

“Deloitte did a study in 2015 in which 88% of companies said they were planning on rethinking or changing their employment processes,” said panel moderator Devan Dewey, CTO at NEPC LLC, a Boston-based investment firm.

As Dewey explained, the two-pronged focus of talent management systems — employee accountability and employee development — has its roots in the U.S. military. The merit rating system devised by the military in WWI to flag performance was by the 1940s in use at 60% of companies for measuring past performance and allocating merit raises. In WWII, the military changed its approach, devising a system to identify and develop promising officer candidates; by the 1960s, employers had decided they too should be in the business of employee development and goal setting.

Over the decades, corporate emphasis on the twin strands of these military-derived talent management systems has shifted back and forth depending on the economy. Since the turn of the century, however, there is growing recognition that practices — whether regarding employee accountability or growth — have not kept pace with reality.

“Bottom line, we’re in an environment that is changing rapidly. Finding and developing talent is difficult, and the systems we have to do that are in flux,” Dewey said.

Attitude and adaptability

Dan Sheehan, CIO

Dan Sheehan

The inadequacy of current IT talent management systems was borne out by the panel’s two veteran IT leaders: Joel Jacobs and Dan Sheehan. Jacobs is CIO at The MITRE Corp., a large not-for-profit that provides research and other services to the federal government. A MITRE veteran of 28 years, he oversees an IT team of 400 people.

Dan Sheehan, a veteran of the retail industry whose previous posts include CIO at Dunkin’ Brands and COO at Modell’s Sporting Goods, joined DentaQuest as CIO in Jan. 2015. He oversees a team of 270 IT staffers and contractors at the $1.9 billion oral health insurer.

For Sheehan, attitude is the No. 1 predictor of employee success. “I am always looking for not just what was done but how it was executed,” he said. People with the right attitude will want to learn skills they may lack. In his two years on the job at DentaQuest, Sheehan said he has struggled with finding those employees. The health insurance

ce business is undergoing many changes, but work processes — and performance metrics — are slow to change, so even new hires quickly get attached to the status quo. “It has been tough, I have to admit, because some people just don’t want to change,” he said. Or embrace new ways of working. “I can’t get folks to think beyond the process they’re in charge of.”

Everybody’s system ‘sucks’

Joel Jacobs, CIO

Joel Jacobs

Asked if this was also a challenge for him, Jacobs said, it is, in particular with regard to new hires. “I don’t have a magic formula for determining who is going to be able to learn and adapt. I wish I did,” he said.

But MITRE does invest a lot in training, Jacobs said. Everyone in his organization goes through customer service training; senior management goes through “trusted advisor training,” which teaches techniques for partnering with business partners. Those two skills, plus adaptability, are a big part of people’s success at MITRE.

In addition, MITRE decided two years ago it needed to rethink how it evaluated employee performance. Jacobs — one of the executives who led the project — took a course at Harvard Business School in performance and talent management, expecting to learn about the useful techniques and the many excellent talent management systems in use at other companies.

“What I heard was that every company’s system sucks,” he said. “I was stunned, but it left me in the position to say we can’t look to somebody else’s model … we have to determine what works for us.”

The network effect

MITRE wound up renovating its old performance management system — but not before a thorough re-evaluation that revealed a “thirst” for more accurate and effective assessment and employee development, Jacobs said. “We ultimately determined that we should be having a conversation about roles and results and behaviors,” he said. “It is a completely different process than what we had before.” The need for clearer expectations, more frequent interaction between managers and staff, and a better understanding of when people go “above and beyond the table stakes of their job descriptions” and when they fall short, drove the overhaul, Jacobs said.

The new system also takes into account how results are accomplished. “If you left dead bodies by the side of the road while you did the job, we ought to know that and maybe change the process.”

Another new wrinkle at MITRE? The company, with permission, has recently begun using the LinkedIn networks of MITRE employees to find new people, Jacobs said. People who work in a given space are more likely to be connected to people with similar skills. “We are in a war for talent, we want to get the best people we can and we can’t wait forever,” he said.

October 14, 2016  9:54 AM

Cloud adoption rates down? Yes, but not really

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
Cloud Computing, Cloud migration, Public Cloud

A recent industry report had a finding anyone in IT right now would find arresting: Cloud adoption rates have dipped.

Me: Come again?

Report: Usage of cloud applications is down from 2014. For example, 35% of surveyed organizations are using cloud analytics software. Two years ago, 53% did. Cloud email, collaboration, customer relationship management and financial apps all saw usages drops.

CompTIA’s latest “Trends in Cloud Computing” delivered the dramatic news.

It was the second cloud double take I had done this fall. Last week I wrote on Boston footwear manufacturer New Balance’s underwhelmed regard for cloud computing — at least, as the sole processing power behind an expansion that includes opening stores on several continents and developing its custom footwear services. This, from a company that, according to Ravi Shankavaram, its vice president of IT, has adopted a “cloud-first” strategy. Was an anti-cloud front moving in?

Hardly. Gartner predicts the public cloud market to grow 16.5% in 2016, to $204 billion. IDC forecasts spending on cloud infrastructure this year to increase 16.2%, to $37.4 billion. And Morgan Stanley found earlier this year that cloud is one of CIOs’ top spending projects in 2016 and predicted that 30% of application workloads will move to the public cloud by the end of next year.

Deciphering dipping digits

CompTIA knew that reported decreases in cloud adoption rates would cause some surprise, so it painted the context.

“In the early days of cloud, employees likely assumed that any off-premise application was cloud-based,” the report explained. “With a greater appreciation for cloud-specific characteristics, employees are honing their assessment.”

In other words, people know more about cloud now, so they’re more careful about IT services they’re taking on as cloud — and they can more accurately distinguish between cloud and non-cloud applications.

Vendors are partly responsible for the confusion; many label computing services that aren’t cloud cloud in hopes of drawing buyers. It’s a phenomenon known as cloud washing. For example, managed hosting — leased servers dedicated for a specific client — doesn’t always offer the same scalability and other benefits as true cloud options do.

Lauren Nelson, an analyst at Forrester Research, said she’s skeptical about numbers that say spending on cloud services are going down. Another explanation, she said, is users overstated their original adoption levels, or it could be other factors.

“Is it a developer answering that question? Is it an end user? What were the different data sources? Were there inconsistencies in that data set? I’d question a lot of that.”

The gathering cloud

Nelson said she hasn’t seen apps moving away from the public cloud; in fact, they’re expanding in it.

“This past year we saw the first interest and increase in cloud migration efforts versus building net new apps in the cloud, which is what the story has been over the last however many years,” she said.

CompTIA agrees, saying that the declines in cloud adoption rates — or “rebalancing” of how organizations do cloud assessments — do not signal that the market is in decline.

“Cloud, then, will be a major part of the enterprise technology landscape,” CompTIA said in the report. “A greater part of the total IT spend will shift to cloud technology, and cloud offerings will also expand budgets as they expand the limits of what a business is able to accomplish.”

So read the numbers, and rebalance yourself.

October 11, 2016  4:16 PM

MIT Media Lab uses ‘Electome’ to track political discourse

Christian Stafford Christian Stafford Profile: Christian Stafford
2016 elections, Election, MIT, politics, twitter

Still looking for a way to make sense of the current political season? MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines has created Electome, an analytics tool that tracks election conversation. Dubbed a “social machine,” Electome uses technology to “make sense of semantic and social patterns across the broad span of public mass media, social media, data streams, and digital content,” according to MIT Media Lab’s website.

The aim, said Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab and a keynote speaker at Boston’s recent FutureM conference,  is to get a deeper look at the conversations people are having about the election and “make the discussion around what people are talking about instead of about who will win.”

To do this analysis, Ito said some 5,000-6,000 news stories and 500 million tweets are being pushed through Electome every day.

One interesting point about this election that Electome helped to uncover, Ito relayed, was that Hillary Clinton, although she is former Secretary of State, “is associated more with the economy than with national security and foreign policy.” Donald Trump, on the other hand, “who is a business person, is extremely connected to foreign policy and national security,” he added.

Joi Ito

Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab.

Electome is also used to see what the followers of each presidential candidate are talking about in order to draw distinctions and identify any similarities among voters.

“When the Orlando attack happened, we were looking at conversations on Twitter, and guns were a really important topic,” Ito said, but supporters of the candidates did not interpret the event in the same way. “Clinton followers tend to talk about gun issues and LGBT issues, whereas the Trump followers framed it around terrorism.”

Some of the negative political discussions seen online are also coming from sources in Russia, according to Ito.

An agency in Russia, [composed] of thousands of trolls, that are paid for by the government, go around and spew negative stuff,” Ito said. The 2016 presidential election has recently and repeatedly been targeted by Russian hackers who have stirred up trouble through data leaks and data breaches. These Russian trolls are most likely the individuals who are currently targeting the presidential election, Ito said.

Indeed, for the first time, the Obama administration last week officially accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee and interfering with the presidential election. According to the Washington Post, Russia could face an array of possible penalties including indictments, economic sanctions and the ejection of Russian diplomats from the U.S.

October 11, 2016  11:04 AM

Google the underdog in office productivity suite arena

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
Cloud email services, google apps for business, microsoft office 365, Productivity Software

By now, you’ve heard. Google Apps for Work is no more.

Late last month, Google’s office productivity suite of email, word processing, spreadsheets and other applications was renamed G Suite and equipped with machine-learning capabilities. Google Calendar, for example, can propose meeting times and conference rooms in your office building, basing suggestions on people’s availability and past choices, and the Drive file-sync-and-share app can make guesses about what file you’re looking for.

But Google may have to do a lot more than rebrand and juice up its cloud apps to challenge Microsoft’s office-suite dominance. The vast majority of businesses run Microsoft Office.

Microsoft wins in an apple-to-apples cloud comparison, too. Among the 13% of publicly traded company using cloud productivity offerings, according to a 2016 study by market research outfit Gartner, Office 365 accounts for nearly 9%; Google claims just 5%.

There are multifarious reasons for the gap — businesses love Office and don’t want to give it up; they prefer Office features over Google’s; or they find Office just does more of what they need.

Microsoft 1, Google 0

Jonathan Reichental, CIO at the city government of Palo Alto, Calif., recently evaluated G Suite’s predecessor, Apps for Work, and Office 365. He chose Microsoft’s cloud-based office productivity suite because “Google doesn’t really get close to Microsoft in terms of functionality.”

Moreover, the city found that when year-over-year costs are figured in, Office 365 was 50% cheaper than Google Apps for the same set of features.

His analysis looked at rollouts of Google Apps in government agencies and found difficulties there. The documents patrons and partners sent them were in Word, and Google’s word-processing program, Google Docs, often didn’t render formatting well.

Workers in Palo Alto’s government were also just used to Microsoft and to running things like Active Directory, Microsoft’s directory service. The possibilities for integration with Office 365 were “very compelling,” Reichental said.

“It really wasn’t a hard decision when we did the analysis,” he said. “I thought actually that when we did the review ourselves, when we did this analysis, we’d be on the fence. But the clear difference and alignment with our needs became very easy for us to make that decision.”

One reader of a story I wrote on Google Apps vs. Office 365 took on what is often seen as Google’s advantage in the cloud productivity battle: collaboration.

“Real time co-authoring? Office 365 can do that, and with Skype IM integration,” wrote SoniaC, in the comments section. “Sharing outside the organisation without the recipient needed a login? Office 365 can do that too.”

When Office 365 first came out, in 2011, Google was the clear leader in cloud productivity software, but Microsoft’s product has come a long way.

“Those features that most people think are a Google only thing are now the tip of the iceberg of what Office 365 can do,” SoniaC wrote.

Staying productive

Others stand by Google’s office productivity suite.

“It works,” wrote a reader who goes by WutikraiXX. “We no longer send a boring attached document via mail.” Instead the reader shares the document, chats online with collaborators and makes necessary changes.

Another reader likes Google Apps, but the company she works for doesn’t.

“Unfortunately things like Google Docs are blocked,” wrote abuell, also known as Abby Buell DeBoni, a software engineer in South Bend, Ind. “It is considered as external/cloud file sharing, and we are not allowed to access anything like that on work devices.”

In other organizations, Google’s cloud apps are downloaded but without a stamp of approval, wrote reader Mike Corum, a test manager in Knoxville, Tenn., who uses the online handle mcorum.

“What I’ve seen come from that is the introduction of Google apps as Shadow IT because the users use them anyway, unless they are blocked.”

Sizing up?

While the Gartner study found that Microsoft was far more common in large companies — claiming more than 80% of companies with more than $10 billion in revenue, for example — Google’s popularity rises in smaller ones.

Reichental, from the Palo Alto city government, sees why.

“There’s no doubt that if I started up a little tech company I would use Google,” he said, “because I would just need the basic features, small team, low overhead — quick and simple and meets all my basic needs.”

Will machine learning help G Suite meet more of those needs, lure many, many more customers and cast a shadow on Microsoft’s productivity dominance, in the cloud or elsewhere?

Right now, with Microsoft matching Google on innovation, adding machine learning to Office and Office 365 — and claiming 1.2 billion people as Office users, according to Microsoft’s numbers — that’s a tougher hypothetical situation to conjure up.

October 3, 2016  4:04 PM

Lyft CTO: Future of transportation is the end of private car ownership

Christian Stafford Christian Stafford Profile: Christian Stafford
CTO, future, transportation

The advent of driverless vehicles — accompanied by the end of private car ownership by 2025 — represents the future of transportation, according to ridesharing pioneer Lyft. Pie-in -the-sky predictions? The ridesharing movement has already made its mark as an industry disruptor, eating into the taxi industry and supplementing public transportation. As driverless vehicles from the likes of Lyft and Uber and others make their ways onto our roadways, industry experts have no doubt this technology advance will have a tremendous impact on the automotive business.

But how exactly Lyft will make the transition to this new future — and do it without cannibalizing its current business — was debated at a recent event at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., featuring Lyft CTO Chris Lambert.

Speaking to an audience of students, Lambert detailed the current state of transportation in America, giving his take on the bold prediction made last month by Lyft Co-Founder, John Zimmer, on Sept. 18. On the future of transportation: Namely, that within five years the majority of Lyft rides will be by autonomous vehicles and by 2025 private ownership will all but end in major U.S. cities.

Lambert referred to this future as the “the third transportation revolution,” or, “the point where transportation as a service becomes more enjoyable and affordable.”

Students took a more granular view of this future. They peppered Lambert with multiple versions of the same question: How will Lyft differentiate itself from competitors once human drivers are no longer necessary?

One of Lyft’s core values since its inception has been its self-proclaimed unique driver-rider experience. Riders are encouraged to sit up-front and strike up a conversation with their driver, as if chatting with a friend. If cars become driverless, what will differentiate Lyft from any other driverless vehicle out there?

“The differentiation lies within the experience. The opportunity moves away from just getting from A to B to getting from A to B in the most productive and enjoyable way available,” Lambert said. In the future, riders could have the possibility of selecting different vehicles for different experiences: dining cars, social cars or gaming cars, he said.

Three phases to the future of transportation

In any case, drivers will still play a large role in Lyft’s business model for the next decade, Lambert said. Phase one, with human drivers, is currently underway. Five years from now is phase two, a “hybrid” system with autonomous vehicles manned by human drivers that can aid the cars if certain routes are unable to be performed by the car alone. In 10 years, we can expect “fully autonomous” Lyft vehicles, Lambert said, but even then human drivers won’t be entirely out of the picture.

“Depending on where you’re going or coming from, that route may be eligible to be dispatched with an autonomous vehicle or it might need a human driver.” Some routes may still be too challenging or even impossible for fully autonomous vehicles to drive on.

Driverless cars and the environment

Transportation is currently the second-highest household expense in America, according to Lambert, and the average vehicle remains parked 96% of the time. Lambert said autonomous vehicles will be hailed from a central fleet and alleviate parking space congestion along streets. Lambert said the 700 million parking spots in America are enough to pave Connecticut, accounting for a tremendous amount of, “unused space” that could be replaced with parks and additional housing.

Lyft has other plans to reduce the number of cars on the road: The company will start a subscription model in the future, where instead of paying per ride users will purchase a yearly subscription.  This will save consumers money by helping them avoid buying a new car every few years and spending even more on its maintenance and upkeep, Lambert said.

Lyft, valued last year at around $5 billion, often operates in the shadow of its competitor, the rideshare giant Uber, but Lambert said that Lyft has solidified its position in the ridesharing market after receiving a $500 million investment from General Motors (GM) to spearhead the development of the autonomous technology. GM is primarily responsible for the research and development of Lyft’s fleet of autonomous vehicles, whereas Lyft itself is responsible for the software side.

Lambert admitted that a big obstacle to the future of transportation and the autonomous car trend will be convincing consumers to give up driving. When asked what companies he considered to be Lyft’s competitors, Lambert said it was “behavior change.”

“It’s going to take a lot of investment and awareness to have consumers give up their cars,” Lambert said.

September 15, 2016  4:07 PM

The mobile future of business and Apple

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
Apple, iPhone 7, Mobile, mobile workforce

When Apple introduced the iPhone 7 last week, with no headphone jack, and its wireless earbuds, it was sketching out a future in which devices connect – to other devices, to the internet, to people — without cords. And though consumers were the target of the San Francisco event, it was the future of mobile devices in business that was on my mind.

I asked Christopher Voce, an analyst at Forrester Research, about the mobile future. What would the corporate world use mobile devices for five, 10, 15 years from now? Much, he said.

Today workers use smartphones and tablets primarily for viewing information, Voce said — reading the news, say, or shopping — and for communicating with friends and co-workers. In the future, they will use mobile devices more for “transactions.”

These tasks that can take multiple forms, Voce said, “whether that be an insurance adjuster on-site taking pictures or assessing an accident or a doctor with a patient or a field worker working in the energy industry taking readings.”

Certainly, some of that work is already happening on mobile devices, but Voce said Forrester surveys have shown that some worker roles, like engineers and designers, have been “underserved with regard to mobile,” — that is, they’re looking for mobile tools they might need to be more productive. Examples include computer-aided design systems or mobile software that lets them collect specs or show demos to customers. “That’s the next frontier for enterprises,” he said.

Apple’s mobile future

And while companies develop new business uses for mobile devices, Apple will most likely continue doing what it does, which is appealing to consumers.

“Talking about consumer versus enterprise with Apple can be a distraction,” Voce said. “They focus on the individual, primarily the consumer, but also somebody who goes to work — and the more that they can appeal to a person [who will] use a device at home and the office, that just helps them grow and sell their devices.”

It’s not certain yet whether the iPhone 7 will continue that tradition. Taking away the device’s headphone jack drew no shortage of social media jeers, as did the new earbuds, the $159 Airpods. Seeming to confirm the lackluster response was a poll by market researcher Morning Consult: 68% of people who’ve heard of the device weren’t planning to buy it.

But the more powerful, water- and dust-resistant new release was met with a number of positive industry reviews, and Apple’s early supply of the new phones sold out fast, pushing back delivery of some models to November. Appealing to the masses could be working — albeit in mysterious ways.

Better together

Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, said Apple’s role in a mobile business future will likely be one built on partnerships with other big tech companies. For example, there’s a much vaunted partnership with IBM that has churned out more than 100 mobile apps for industries such as retail, financial services, travel, healthcare and energy. And another with SAP, on apps that will mesh with the German company’s back-office systems. Cisco and eye-care company Bausch & Lomb are on the list, too.

“Most enterprises won’t be dealing directly with Apple,” Lazar said. Instead, they’ll look at “how the enterprises they work with today — SAP, Cisco, Microsoft, et cetera — at how well those guys play with Apple.”

How do Apple’s recent iPhone and Apple Watch rollouts affect CIOs? Read about it in this SearchCIO column.

September 6, 2016  9:46 AM

Starting smart city initiatives? Reach out to everyone

Jason Sparapani Jason Sparapani Profile: Jason Sparapani
accessibility, New technology, product development, smart city

What do smart city initiatives look like? Turning streetlamps on and off with Wi-Fi? Analyzing reams of traffic data to reroute how cars flow through city streets? Using video sensors to watch for crime?

Bring up the concept of using technology to improve city services with Bill Oates, and you’ll talk about connecting with citizens — all of them, including people with disabilities.

“Everybody means everybody,” said Oates, vice president and general manager of Perkins Solutions, the technology division of Perkins School for the Blind. “That means you need to think about how, as you become a smarter city, are you engaging folks that have to engage in different ways?”

Staying in touch

Making connections is a huge part of Oates’ job. Perkins Solutions ships Braille writers and other technologies to 170 countries and is now exploring how new technologies can help people who are blind or visually impaired. He and his team do that by working closely with teachers and students on Perkins’ campus, in Watertown, Mass.

Bill Oates

Bill Oates

Later this month, Perkins will release a mobile app that helps people with vision loss navigate to within a few feet of a bus stop. The project was sparked by a Perkins employee who is blind and had trouble pinpointing the exact locations of bus stops.

Oates is a longtime CIO, having led IT in Massachusetts’ state government and Boston’s city government — and the idea of technology improving how states and cities could reach out to their constituents was never far from his mind. When he worked for the city, he implemented Citizens Connect, a mobile app that lets residents report issues like a street light being out or garbage not being picked up. The program gained nationwide attention and became the model for similar projects in other cities.

Smarter cities, smarter states

The Perkins app, Oates said, shows that technology can be harnessed and put to use for people with specific needs — and he hopes cities and states looking to get started on smart city initiatives will take notice.

Boston and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which runs the Boston area’s buses, subways and trolleys, have been working with Perkins on the mobile app. A partnership with another city could explore using other technologies — beacons, for example, which broadcast signals — to increase location accuracy, Oates said. A second-generation mobile app could be used to find not just bus stops but train stations or other city landmarks.

Luiza Aguiar

Luiza Aguiar

Luiza Aguiar, director of products at Perkins Solutions, said the search is on for “smart city CIOs who are looking for innovation.”

The exploration won’t stop there, Oates said. Perkins has bigger aspirations yet, looking to state governments and even other countries to experiment with ever-newer technology — say, connected cars — and help make them more accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

“This app is just a first step for us, but we think it’s a really great place for us to be,” Oates said, “and hopefully gives us a chance to tell this story and make sure that it does get amplified.”

Read about the process that kick-started the Perkins bus stop app.

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