Tag Archives: communications

Technology Trends: 2016 Year In Review

Image of a butterfly on a robot's finger.This blog post is a review of 2016 technology trends and their impact on how we will work and live in the future. Many of the advances are continuations of work from years past, but we are getting ever closer to a different world.

Communication Technologies

MIT Technology Review publishes a Top 10 Technologies list and this year it included research from the University of Washington on passive wi-fi devices. The UW team has developed breakthrough ultra-low power devices that reflect the signal or backscatter from a nearby connected wi-fi transmitter. This is important because it will allow Internet of Things devices to be embedded in areas that can’t always rely on a traditional wireless signal. MIT suggests that this will be commercialized in two or three years and will help spread the popularity of small, connected devices.

Another emerging communication technology is the conversational or natural language interface. With the introduction of Amazon Echo, Google Home and other devices, it is common to have a spoken interface as opposed to typed instructions. We are finally moving away from text input thanks to innovations in speech recognition. In a recent report in the MIT Sloan Management Review, vendors are taking this one step further and capturing chat or speech conversations via bots in order to offer associated services. For example, your next pizza order could be through natural language input to an app while conversing with a bot recording your instructions. Surely with your pizza and bread sticks you must need a salad or soda that just happens to be on sale right now. The bot processes information from the context of the conversation and makes decisions and offers on the fly.

Cognitive Computing

Artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning is a technology that data scientists have been developing for many years and will continue to develop. Cognitive computing combines AI, natural language processing, speech, vision, and advanced data processing. These systems take input and match it to massive databases to form responses and learn new pathways. By learning and creating new algorithms, the system and applications are better able to serve you in the future. Examples of cognitive computing are IBM Watson and Google DeepMind. In the case of the pizza order above, cognitive computing is an example of how a computer can learn preferences and build responses appropriately.

Autonomous Technologies

Robotic and autonomous technologies have made strides this year as they move closer to mainstream adoption. Robots have been used for some time in industrial and assembly applications where consistency and precision is important. They also play a big role in areas where there are life and safety threats, such as search and rescue or in an area contaminated with toxic chemicals. We don’t have the same regard for the “life” of a robot as we do for humans. In that sense, they are very much welcome into our ecosystem.

Autonomous automotive technologies also made progress in 2016. Automakers are introducing applications like steering assist or autonomous steering and adaptive cruise control. New vehicles are slowly being equipped with technology that will eventually render them completely self-driving. Makers such as Volvo and Mercedes are testing more autonomous vehicles on public roads. Self-driving vehicles require advanced vision and learning systems provided by improvements in cognitive computing mentioned above.

Thoughts

Advanced communications, cognitive and autonomous technologies have all been in play in 2016. These are all interrelated advancements that often benefit each other. While exciting, these developments also bring worries, including economic and safety concerns with robotics and privacy concerns with learning systems and communications. It is important that we march into the future with a balanced perspective.

What do you see as the upcoming technologies in 2017? Will we see any breakthroughs? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Inclement Weather: Employee and Business Safety Planning

Photo of a man wearing a hat and parka, sitting at a desk in a snowstorm.One of my favorite short courses in the AIM curriculum is Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning, which covers the steps necessary to protect yourself and your business from potential outages due to natural or technological disasters. I have previously written about the necessities of such planning. With the official start of winter just weeks away, I want to highlight safety planning for weather hazards that may not throw your business into disarray but could certainly provide a temporary hazard for employees. The good news is that there are ways to mitigate such disruptions and keep workers safe.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Here in the Pacific Northwest winter flooding is always a possibility and we do get occasional snow and ice storms. A couple of years ago a river that had breached its banks and was flowing across the road blocked one access road to my home. While this was a minor inconvenience for me, think about how this might affect employees trying to get to or home from work. A recent Business Journal article highlighted a basic weather office safety plan that included documenting inclement weather scenarios. How would your business answer these questions:

  • If a storm prevented at least half of our employees from coming to work, could we still operate?
  • Do we have a way to notify employees to stay home in the event of an emergency?
  • How do we determine what constitutes a hazard that would limit or shut down the business?
  • What if a weather event strikes while employees are at work and they cannot get home? Do we have a plan for temporary housing, even for one night?
  • How many employees have the ability to work from home and can they effectively do so?

While continuing business operations is important, it is even more important to protect the safety of employees.

The Best Laid Plans

The key to effective employee safety is planning and communications. If you are making plans to deal with bad weather it is best to do it in the heat of the summer, well before any snow, ice, or rain. As part of the safety/communications plans consider:

  • At what point will we decide to shut down the business?
  • How will we communicate that to employees?
  • Does everyone know our method of communication?
  • How can we help employees develop their own safety plan?
  • Do we have supplies on hand to take care of employees temporarily?
  • Can technology help us operate without asking employees to travel?

This takes input and coordination from several departments including HR, information technology, and communications. We may take it for granted that someone is thinking and planning for this, but often no one does. Make sure a safety plan and structures are in place and then rehearse that plan at least once a year. A plan buried deep in a notebook or file is the same as no plan at all.

Thoughts

I think it has become a cliché to say that employees are the most important asset, but it is definitely true. Without workers business stops, so it is prudent to think of employees first. Does your business have a safety plan? Do you have a personal plan for you and your family?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Information Umbrella’s Best Blogs of 2014

Happy New Year from the AIM faculty and staff!

Our blog writers’ curiosity took some surprising turns in 2014, which sparked us to ask what resonated with you readers. Below is our list of most popular blogs of the year, with a special challenge to astrologers to make sense of the odd coincidence involving publication dates.

Hand holds the world#5 Our Shrinking World

AIM blogger Kelly Brown ponders the question “With everything we have in place, are we really tapping the potential of a shrinking world or still limiting ourselves to the familiar surroundings and friends to supply us with answers and advice?” From April 15, 2014.

parade
#4 So We Had a Parade

Guest blogger Tim Williams, a 2000 AIM graduate, an adjunct instructor for the AIM Program, and COO of Sesame Communications, shares his thoughts on his experience in organizational culture and team building. From July 15, 2014.

digital vortex#3 The Dark Side of the Deep Web

Kelly Brown’s curiosity takes him deep into the layers of the Web. Think onions and murky depths. From April 8, 2014.

overstuffed garage#2 A Terabyte of Storage Space: How Much is Too Much?

How much storage is enough? Kelly Brown calculates just what will fit into 1,000 gigabytes. From July 8, 2014.

 

child using computer#1 Too Many Coders?

Are there too many coders to meet the needs of the future? Not enough? That question resonated with more Information Umbrella readers than any other in 2014, rocketing this blog post to top spot for the year. From February 18, 2014.

 

What do you want to read about in 2015? Send us a message with your ideas.

Don’t miss The Information Umbrella next week when Kelly Brown scores a touchdown with a timely topic!

How Much Privacy?

Eye peering through computer codeI read an article recently in the MIT Technology Review titled “Laws and Ethics Can’t Keep Pace with Technology”. It helped me to understand that laws naturally follow our actions and experiments and there can sometimes be a lag between the action and the law. As technology development cycles become shorter, I expect the lag to become greater as we wrestle with exactly what needs to be regulated and in what form. With that in mind, I started thinking about privacy and security. Specifically, what message are we sending to our lawmakers about privacy? Do our words match our actions? Are we asking for laws that we are not truly passionate about, at least in deed?

HIPAA

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed in 1996 in response to a need to protect health information and the need to transport patient information securely from doctor to doctor. Within the HIPAA legislation, there is a privacy rule and a security rule. According to the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS):

The Privacy Rule establishes national standards for the protection of certain health information. The Security Rule establishes a national set of security standards for protecting certain health information that is held or transferred in electronic form.

The Security Rule operationalizes the Privacy Rule and sets standards for maintaining and transporting patient information. This is a case where a privacy need was met but it did not come to fruition until there were some lapses of security surrounding patient information. It took a strong call to action before standards were formulated and established.

Current Privacy Debate

There are some serious lapses currently in how we handle customer or personally identifiable information (PII), such as credit card and social security numbers. I am thinking of TJX and the security lapse that lasted from mid-2005 to December 2006. It is estimated that 47.5 million customer records were stolen. More recently was the Target security breach, which left customer information vulnerable to theft. Target announced that they are moving to a more secure “chip and pin” card system, but this is of little consequence to those Target customers that have already been affected. The barn door is open and the cows are out. When breaches such as this happen, we are all outraged and there is a temporary furor, but then we go back to using the same card, downloading unsecure apps and shopping at unsecure websites. Are we really angry enough to ask for laws calling for stronger protection of our personal information? What if it inconveniences us? What if we could no longer find our best friend whose smart phone is constantly broadcasting their geolocation?

The Flip Side

I believe that there is a lot of complacency and apathy today in terms of privacy and security. There are a lot of apps that gather our personal information. They can and do so because we allow and enable them. While there is a growing number of people concerned about their privacy and security, flawed applications and flawed financial cards have become a way of doing business. It is becoming difficult to find alternate paths to work in a secure world. Although flawed applications and flawed financial cards have become a way of doing business, there are a growing number of people who are concerned about their privacy and security.

Thoughts

I don’t think that new laws are necessarily the best way to generate a sense of responsibility for our own security, but we need to stand up and vote with our feet and our pocketbooks to say, “I choose to keep my personal information private, and I will only deal with others that will do the same”. Let me know your thoughts.

About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Trends in Higher Education

Woman and child with laptopI have been talking with people this last week about education and their needs. Specifically, I have been thinking about trends in education. How are our needs changing, and is the education world changing fast enough to meet those needs? Here are some current trends that I think we need to be talking about and that need to be addressed.

Education for Skills

Because of the recent recession, it is even more imperative that students are trained for tangible and applicable skills. Often, college is seen as a time for exploring career options, but that can be a very pricey journey, given the current tuition rates. I would like to suggest a series of low-price courses at the beginning of the academic pursuit that allow students to briefly explore different career options. Such an approach would ensure that the bulk of college experience is applied to preparing for a career of the student’s choice. This is one way to minimize the time spent in college and money spent on the education journey.

Rising Tuition

Rising tuition over the last several years has brought about two fundamental shifts. First of all, students are borrowing more to complete their education, which means they are saddled with debt. Tuition hikes are also pushing students who are unwilling, or unable to take on that debt, out of the college experience. This makes it even more important that we educate for skills so that the learning is directly applicable to a vocation. In the end, it is employers who will dictate what skills and qualifications they expect to see in a prospective hire, which may include undergraduate, graduate, or even less expensive vocational or certification training. Employers need to be clear about their preferences and expectations so students can make their choices accordingly. This clarity will help students avoid costly mistakes by being overeducated or overqualified.

Changing Demographics

We are currently going through a generational shift as baby boomers are starting to retire and the next two generations are working their way up or into the workforce. The next generations do not necessarily have the same learning styles or expectations as their parents; they are more computer savvy and more comfortable learning outside of a traditional classroom. Are we changing our delivery methods to accommodate them or are we still clinging to the same educational models used in ancient Greece? I am suggesting that we may have outlived those models and need to be responsive to other methods of learning.

Changing Technology

With the advent of pervasive computing, the Internet, and mobile technologies, there are so many more methods available to deliver quality education. I think that employing a combination of these will help drive down the cost of education in the future. It is possible that students can continue to live in their hometown while pursuing an education from a remote college. Will that reduce their academic experience or will it prepare them that much more for an increasingly distributed work environment?

Thoughts

The purpose of this post is to get us thinking about the business of academia and question whether we are doing all that we can to deliver the promise of a first rate education to as many students as possible. Are we being creative enough in developing options or are we clinging to models that are becoming irrelevant and obsolete? Do you feel that you are prepared for our changing professional world? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Jobs of the Future

I have been thinking lately about the jobs of the future and what kind of education and training will be required to perform them. A recent article about the need of a tech hero in the trucking industry caused me to wonder what other new skills will be in demand.

Tech Hero

In the article above, the authors lament the fact that trucking relies on an increasing array of digital devices, both mobile and stationary, within the vehicles. GPS tracking and mobile communication are now the standard. The fleet owner or truck driver, however, just needs to get the load from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible. The technology helps them do that, but it is a double-edged sword because of the overhead and education it requires to keep all of the devices up and running on the latest revisions. There are other industries that could also take advantage of a tech hero, and it will be necessary to have someone to smooth the digital connection.

Home Systems Integrator

I never thought that I would see the day when home network hubs are a reality, but they are becoming more widespread. With the growing popularity of devices like the Nest home thermostat and smoke detector, and other connected appliances and entertainment systems, the home is becoming a sophisticated network. Already, it can be difficult to set up a new home entertainment system and make sure that it connects and stays connected with the other entertainment devices such as game consoles, movie streaming devices, and the home wireless system. Someone who knows the difference between HDMI and a DVI port could be in high demand because there will be a need to integrate all of these systems.

Personal Digital Assistant

I am not talking about an old Palm Pilot but an individual that would consult with other individuals to make their digital devices work better and connect with each other. As an example, there are thousands of apps available and some interact with other apps and other devices. While we have come a long way in developing a better user experience, certain devices, apps, and programs are not for the faint of heart. We already have the Geek Squad from Best Buy, but I think that people are going to want a more personal experience from someone who understands their unique situation and needs. This will become a growing opportunity for people with the right skills.

Education

The person prepared to take on these new jobs will need to possess a combination of technical, communication, and entrepreneurial skills. Such specialists will have to be well grounded in various aspects of networking, connectivity, and consumer devices. More importantly, they will need to keep up on developments and changes related to this field. Excellent communication skills will be paramount to communicate with individuals—some of whom will require a lot of assistance and others very little. These professionals will need to be skilled at working with people from different backgrounds and of different generations. The entrepreneurial skills will be necessary to start and develop a personalized business niche of such services to individuals and small businesses. I believe that these jobs will be in demand but it will take a special individual to cultivate all of these skills.

Thoughts

Can you think of other new jobs that will develop in the near future? Are you preparing yourself now to tackle those jobs? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Learning Styles, or How I Learned to Put On Chains

Recently I was thinking about the way we learn after being forcefully reminded about my own inclinations and limitations. There are four identified preferential learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. It is believed that most people favor one or two of these learning styles when tackling a new subject or even performing day-to-day tasks.

Several weeks ago, Oregon experienced unusually heavy snowfall, which meant that I had to put chains on my vehicle to get in and out of the neighborhood. Usually a need to chain-up comes up only once a year and I was out of practice. As a result, I got the chains hopelessly tangled and was reminded once again that I am not a tactile giant. No amount of writing or lecturing could get it undone. The only saving grace to my ego was the fact that I spotted a young man in the exact same boat as myself. At least there are two of us in this world!

How do we learn?

The question I pondered was this: do we know our preferred learning style and do we work from that strength? How do we compensate for our weakest inclinations? A visual learner prefers demonstrations and graphic descriptions of a problem. An auditory learner understands best through verbal instructions and listening. A kinesthetic learner grasps the concepts through motion, particularly when he/she can participate. A tactile type learns by feel and manipulation. Most people can learn through all four methods but they prefer one or two. My style is mostly auditory and visual, whereas my son is the complete opposite of me and prefers anything tactile or kinesthetic. This has been reflected even in our chosen vocations.

Teaching

We all have the opportunity to be teachers, even though it may not be our chosen or current occupation. We have formal and informal moments each day where we can teach those around us; it is important that we understand what their preferential learning style is and try to cater to that style. I believe that such an approach is the key to effective teaching, because if the students can learn using their preferential style it will increase understanding. I challenge you to take a moment and reflect on your own learning style and then observe and reflect on the learning style of those you teach. Mix up your teaching style to try and reach all types of learners.

Thoughts

My question is this: can understanding your own preferred learning style help you be more successful in your career and life? Can you find alternative ways to learn a concept so that you learn it faster and more thoroughly?

What is your learning style and how does it present itself in your daily activities? Do you apply your personal preferred learning style to your teaching or do you explore different methods for reaching all learners in your group? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.