Our Brains on Technology

A recent University College London study suggests that overuse of satellite navigation systems, or GPS, is actually shutting off parts of our brain. Researchers say that the pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus sections of the brain are stimulated when navigating streets and choosing potential routes but are turned off when following GPS prompts. Just as we develop muscles in our body through exercise, mental activity activates parts of our brain. The authors of this study don’t claim that the evidence is conclusive but it leads me to wonder what other brain functions are not being exercised because of our use of technology. This post is dedicated to the idea of a balanced, not blind approach to technology.

Evolutionary Changes

Could it be true that our brains are changing due to emerging technologies? If so, what implications does that have? Is it a net loss in intelligence or is it simply that one area of the brain gets stronger while another gets weaker? I wonder if early society worried about changes when we went from primarily a spoken language to a spoken and written language. Would we get lazy because we no longer had to remember the oral traditions of our forefathers to pass on to future generations? How did writing change us as individuals and as a society? In the same vein, how are digital technologies changing us today? Are we becoming net smarter? So many questions.

London Taxis

A 2011 report highlights biological changes in the brain structure of London taxi drivers. The study shows that these drivers, who study London maps for three to four years before their licensing examination, have increased activity and capacity in one section of their brain but decreased capacity in another part. In other words, by studying routings of London’s 25,000 streets their spatial skills increased but other cognitive functional capacity was lost. They are obviously good at their jobs so is the shift in their cognitive abilities a bad thing or is it just different?

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

In a 2008 article in The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review Editor Nicholas Carr asks a similar question when he muses whether Google is making us stupid. To be more precise, he questions whether search engines are changing our reading and study habits and pulling us away from deep reading. He cites his own growing inability to read a long article or an entire book because of his habit of skimming many sources instead of concentrating on one paper or book. He asks the same questions that I pose. Is this change in our cognitive ability good, bad or indifferent? Several studies point to the human brain’s incredible plasticity and ability to adapt to changing stimuli so perhaps the answer is simply that it is different and perhaps evolutionary.

Thoughts

New technologies are changing the way we live our lives and perform everyday tasks. I think it is worth asking whether it is changing our habits and thinking for the better or is it just simply change, neither good nor bad. 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.

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Filling the Cybersecurity Talent Pool

I seem to see a new article weekly raising the alarm about the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs. A 2015 report from (ISC)2 projects the shortfall to rise to 1.5 million worldwide by 2020. A recent Harvard Business Review article highlighted the gap in the number of skilled cybersecurity professionals and offered some insight into how we can bridge that gap through educational programs and by hiring non-traditional employees. My aim with this post is to start a dialogue on creative ways to attract fresh minds and new faces to the field.

Traits

First of all, what traits are most desired in a security professional? I would submit that a strong sense of curiosity is important. Those creating hacks and spreading malware are certainly curious about how much trouble they can cause so it stands to reason that those tasked with detecting intrusions should also be curious. The next question is are people born curious or can it be learned? The authors of a 2015 Fast Company article suggest that we are all born curious but many lose their sense of curiosity, and it can be regained through discipline.

It is also important to have a keen sense of patterns. I believe that everyone seeks out patterns in order to make sense of chaos but some have an innate sense of irregularities that others cannot see. As pointed out in the Harvard Business Review article, machine learning is augmenting that pattern searching and discovery but it will still take human intelligence to find security anomalies.

Education

In order to train and retain more cybersecurity professionals we are going to have to change our thinking on where they come from. They don’t necessarily all come with a four year computer science degree in their pocket. Some do have that credential to be sure and they excel in the field, but we are going to have to cast a wider net in order to fill the gap. When I think of the traits of curiosity and pattern recognition I think of trained musicians. Is it possible that someone could be a security expert during the day and a musician at night or vice versa? Do we need to look closer at how we match up hobbies and vocations? Can the lines be blurred between the two?

Harvard offers an eight week introductory online course in cybersecurity through HarvardX. This is one of several online courses that allow a prospective professional to test the waters. This is a great way to match up potential security enthusiasts with information on the field. A graduate of this course may decide to go on and take advanced courses either online or at a nearby college training center. This will hopefully lead to certifications and a job offer in the field. As employers facing a skills shortage, it is important to be flexible in who we seek and how we view their academic and professional background. Perhaps expanded internships are in order for the right candidate.

Thoughts

These ideas can apply to other fields facing employee shortages but I think it is important to stay flexible on who we view as potential hires. If we continue to look at a narrow pool of candidates this gap is only going to grow. 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.

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The Future of Advertising

I have been thinking about the world of advertising in the age of social media. No longer do we consume advertisements exclusively through television, print and billboards; we have many media channels and opportunities to learn about new products. Customized ads are pushed to our computers and smartphones, sometimes taking advantage of our proximity to a particular retail outlet. Advertisers have to divide their dollars much differently in the 21st century but have the opportunity to target a much narrower demographic with their pitch.

A recent article in my local paper highlights how this advertising shift is compounded by an array of new technologies. Retailers and manufacturers can now use technology to custom deliver advertising to consumers, even from a billboard. In this blog post I explore some of the technologies available and in development to help advertisers convert their message into sales.

Smart Billboards

Traditional billboards are static, giant advertisements that reach every driver in a shotgun approach. It is a one size fits all model and while they are potentially reaching thousands of drivers every day, depending on their location, the sales conversion rate is fairly low. The next step was to create digital billboards which can shuffle through several ads in hopes of appealing to a range of drivers. There is one on an interstate near me that is very bright and annoying, especially at night. This, like the static billboard, is random in that they are targeting a very broad demographic that may be on the highway at a particular time of day.

Smart billboards are an attempt to remove the randomness. Synaps Labs has created the first smart billboard in Moscow and will bring their technology to the U.S. sometime this year. This billboard is a combination of connected cameras and machine learning. Cameras are set up ahead of the billboard and when a particular model of car is detected, the billboard will display an advertisement targeted at that driver. The billboard in Moscow had ads for Jaguar cars. The advertisers decided that particular brands of Volvos and BMWs housed drivers that may be enticed to switch to Jaguar. Advertisers are still making demographic assumptions based on a car model but they are narrowing their target audience. The picture also changes depending on whether it is night or day or summer or winter. An advertiser could play with many variables at once. Going beyond the billboard, they could also push the same ad to the driver’s cellphone as an extension or reiteration of the message.

The Future of Billboards

Advertisers are looking forward to a world of autonomous vehicles where drivers/riders have the freedom to look around instead of concentrating on the road. In this future, a consumer can follow up on the impulse to purchase the advertised item while still in the car. Better yet, with a corresponding push to the smartphone, that purchase could be only one click away. While this is intriguing to advertisers, they are asking a fundamental question about consumer behavior: when riders are free to do and look at anything, will they actually be concentrating on billboards or will they be buried in their smartphone or on-board entertainment system?

Thoughts

With modern technologies there are many possible outcomes and it will take a lot of trial and error until we understand how people will behave. Do you think targeted ads on billboards would sway you? Does your car really represent your demographic, or is that grasping at straws? What is the future of advertising in the digital world? Do you think that we are becoming more discerning consumers? 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.

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What Drives You?

Photo of man outdoors, arms raised in celebration.In a recent course we discussed motivation and what exactly drives a person to perform or even excel at a job or a task. A big question in my mind is this: what is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and is one better than the other? Will I perform better because I am offered a reward or but because I am personally driven to do the best job I know how? Academics have studied this very question for many years in a field called the science of motivation. The answers from this study can help leaders and teachers understand what drives individuals and how to draw the best from them.

Management Models

Author and career analyst Daniel Pink highlights past studies which show that external motivators really only work when performing simple tasks. This is the 20th century management model. Reward people with money and promotions for performing these rote tasks well and punish them for doing them poorly. In this century we are doing more knowledge work, or cognitive work, such as coding and analysis. The old management model is starting to break down and people are not motivated as much by pay and the reward of a promised position. In some cases money can become a demotivator. Pink highlights three areas that drive us now; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy

I have always appreciated and sought autonomy over my own work. Train me and then step aside and let me find ways to do the task faster, more efficiently, and with greater accuracy. While good pay is nice, I like to own my work and the outcome of that work. I have a domain that I am responsible for and I want to try and perform to the best of my ability. Once I have mastered that task or set of tasks, I will seek out more complex jobs so that I can continually learn. Give me autonomy and I will excel.

Mastery

Once I am in charge of my own domain I will do all I can to master the inputs, outputs and processes associated with that job. I am motivated to do this not so that I can then work less but so that I can grow and learn new skills. If I master something, then I can mechanize it or give it away to someone who can find even better ways to perform the job. I once had a wise manager who told me that my job was to work myself out of a job. I was surprised by this advice but have since come to understand that by excelling at one position I can then move on to find something that perhaps aligns even better with my life purpose.

Purpose

I will be the first to admit that you won’t necessarily find a life purpose right out of the gate, but life has to have some purpose and meaning and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. This is that internal motivation I talked about. Maybe you’re fortunate to find meaning and purpose in your work, or perhaps you work in order to have time and resources to pursue a hobby or volunteer work that gives you purpose. It takes time and experience to refine your life purpose so enjoy the journey and try different jobs along the way.

Thoughts

What motivates you? If you didn’t need money, would you continue to do what you do? How do you motivate others, or is that even possible? Are you really just buying their time? These are some of the things I think about. Please share your insights.

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.

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Trends in Dental Technology

Here is a question I have been pondering: with all of our technological advances, how can we create a quick, painless, less-expensive trip to the dentist? This seems to me to be an area ripe for improvement so I set out to research the latest in dental technology. I am hoping that some of these technologies will show up in my next visit. Here are some trends that are changing dentistry in the 21st century.

Lasers

Lasers are not new but they are still an emerging technology in dentistry. A laser can drill tooth material as well as a traditional drill but faster and with less pain, and they can provide pinpoint accuracy when removing cavities. They also remove the need for injections to deaden the tooth and surrounding areas. A different wavelength laser is used to activate a bleach substance to speed tooth whitening. Lasers can also be used to help harden a filling and improve bonding to existing tooth material.

Digital Imaging

Digital scans are beginning to replace old x-rays. They produce 90% less radiation than the old film method and they do not require processing so the image is available immediately. A digital probe that can move between teeth is available as well. The probe is small enough to be comfortable but comes with its own light source and can take video or still shots. This technology makes scans quicker, safer and more accurate.

3-D Printing

This is still in the development stage but should be coming soon to a dentist’s chair near you. A dentist could provide an image from the tool discussed above and then print a new tooth or a crown for an existing tooth. The process will be much quicker, although not instant, than creating a mold and sending it out to a lab to be made and then fitted and shaped during a second visit. This technology could benefit patients through lower cost and faster turnaround.

Remineralization

Some devices are being introduced that claim to remineralize teeth through a few micro-amps of electricity. Remineralization takes place naturally through eating or drinking calcium rich foods. These devices promise to accelerate that process so that teeth repair themselves and rebuild strong enamel, which would fight off cavities. This is a new technology and could prove to be revolutionary.

Thoughts

All of these emerging technologies are designed to reduce costs for the patient and the dentist, speed up routine procedures and reduce or eliminate pain. They will all require a fairly sizable investment from dental professionals so they may be slow to appear. My big question is this: when will we have do-it-yourself dentistry? I’d like to remineralize my own teeth or print a new one should something go wrong. I think the answer is that we will always need a professional but the procedure will become a lot easier.

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.

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Smartphones: What Comes Next

Photograph of woman wearing futuristic high-tech glasses.Samsung recently introduced its new Galaxy Note 8 which has updated features such as advanced security, memory management, a new display, enhanced cameras and wireless charging. Apple is expected to announce the new iPhone 8 today with similar technology enhancements. The announcement and rollout of updated smartphones is becoming an annual event anticipated by customers and tech followers alike. The technology continually improves and battery life gets extended, but the new devices look very similar to the original iPhone introduced in 2007. Some are looking beyond the incremental improvements and asking the question: what comes after the smartphone? What will computing and communication look like in the future? In this blog post I will explore some of those questions and some of the predictions. I look forward to your feedback and ideas as well.

What Comes Next

One of the new features of the Samsung device is the ability to dock it with a full size keyboard and monitor, thus expanding the computing power of the handheld. I still remember the first time I docked a laptop, which meant that I could get rid of the big box on top of or under my desk. Just as laptops have largely replaced the desktop box, it appears that the smartphone may take over the laptop for ease of use and functionality.

The small screen and keyboard on a smartphone are inconvenient at best and often are an outright pain. I can often be seen typing with my little finger because I can’t figure out how to get my thumbs any sharper. What if we could get away from the need for a keyboard for input and a screen for display? We are still using the QWERTY keyboard which was first laid out in 1872 in order to slow down typists, not to speed them up.

The Return of Glass?

In an April ZDNet article, Steve Ranger predicts that we will move away from the smartphone and towards Google Glass type devices coupled with virtual and augmented reality. That satisfies my criteria by replacing the screen with a projected image and the keyboard with voice commands such as those spoken to Siri and Alexa and Bixby. Google Glass was great technology but it had an image problem and was not well received by those not wearing the glasses. There were concerns about privacy stemming from the fact that they had a camera that could be turned off and on with minimal indication, allowing covert use. There were also safety concerns, since wearers could easily be distracted while crossing a busy street, although staring down at a smartphone clearly has its own safety issues. The Glass technology is ready, but there is still a stigma to its use and acceptance.

My Wish List

I wish for a device that is always connected to the cloud and lets me project several large screens at once on surfaces such as a wall, a building, a sidewalk or even suspended in air. I also want to be able to share that image with others at any time. I want it to flawlessly understand my voice commands and dictation and understand contextually where I am at and what I might request next. I want it to connect seamlessly to other devices such as my smart car and my smart home devices. Finally, I would like to get rid of the small device in my pocket or in my hand so I can be free to explore the natural world with full attention.

Thoughts

What does your ultimate computing/communications device look like? Are we close to your vision or are there still some hurdles to overcome? Let me know what your dream device looks like.

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.

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The Future of Commuting: Autonomous Transportation

Last year I wrote about flying cars. The first flying car school had just opened in rural Roosevelt, Utah to teach people to fly the Pal-V Liberty from the Dutch company Pal-V.  I wrote about the idea that individuals would soon be able to drive a combination car/plane. There are still questions about FAA licensing, training, and potential safety regulations. Pal-V is one of several companies worldwide that are working on these flying cars.

Airbus division A3 recently announced they will begin testing pilotless air-taxis this fall from an air hanger in Pendleton, Oregon. Competitors, including Boeing, are testing this same idea for autonomous short-range flight. There are a number of technologies converging on the problem of breaking traffic jams and I will highlight some of these in this blog.

The Jetsons Meet Uber

The Jetsons animated cartoon from the early 1960s portrayed a space age family that had flying cars, robots, and video-conferencing systems. I believe this show and others at the time helped shape our vision of what is possible in travel and everyday commuting. Once cutting edge, technologies such as electric cars and autonomous vehicles are giving way to experimentation with flying cars and autonomous planes, and several companies are hoping to have a commercial product available as early as 2020.

All of this is made possible by technologies such as cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT), and advanced battery development. In the case of Uber, they quickly went from a ride hailing service using smartphone and GPS technology to testing autonomous taxis in an experiment with Volvo. The next step for them, as with Boeing and Airbus, is autonomous, flying taxis through their Elevate program.

So Close but yet so Far

I have not yet seen any unpiloted planes over my house but they will soon make test flights at rural airports like that in Pendleton. A number of these experiments are with vertical take off and landing (VTOL) crafts. This means that they can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like a plane. While they are not as large as a helicopter they still need room to maneuver so will need a field or a helipad. There are logistical problems to overcome, like a lack of helipads, what airspace they will fly in, reliability and safety. The anticipated 2020 commercial service launch is not that far away so these issues will have to be worked out soon.

Thoughts

Would you be the first passenger in a driverless flying taxi? How might they change our cities? Would people choose to live in rural areas knowing they could easily get to work or would they continue to flock to urban centers as they are doing now? How would this technology change our lives? I am excited for the future. 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.

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Blending Realities: Creating Richer Social Experiences

I have seen the future. While on an auto rally last week with my son I experienced a blend between a physical event and a virtual social event. This blend may offer a generational link. The rally took us through California, Oregon, Washington, and back to California. While the days were long with many miles on the road, other rally drivers were always close by via social media.

In the rally, participants drove from checkpoint to checkpoint and documented having been at each spot through a photo or video posted to Instagram. You could easily follow other drivers as they passed each point and in turn they could follow your progress. If you made it to the hotel early enough each evening you could meet up to brag about your driving and any repairs you had to make that day. By posting progress during the rally, friends and family who were not in the car could follow along virtually.

The Next Best Thing to Being There

I have seen several articles that bemoan the gap between tech savvy Millennials and less adventurous Baby Boomers. The argument follows that the younger generation wants to spend all of their time in the virtual world and forego any physical activities, while the older generation uses technology to complete tasks but not to communicate. I don’t believe that either argument is completely accurate but after spending many hours in a car I started thinking about ways to bridge that gap. The rally to me was an example of a physical and virtual activity blended into one.

The Need to Communicate

After my epiphany, I started to think about other activities that could be blended. Travel of any type can become a shared adventure through various social media channels. It used to be that you took pictures during travels and afterward had them developed into photos or slides. Then and only then could you share them with friends and family through a boring slideshow or a stack of photos. With smartphones and social media, the sharing happens as soon as you upload your latest video or photo, which makes it more meaningful to people following you virtually. Followers also get the chance to like your adventures and post comments or questions. Instead of being an isolated traveler, you have your virtual community along for the adventure.

Thoughts

The younger generation is often perceived as less social, but I argue they are indeed more social with many more avenues to connect with friends and share experiences. Being in the rally showed me you can hang out the window and talk to fellow drivers and enrich the experience throughout the day by sharing photos that are meaningful to you. One form of communication is not necessarily better than the other, but together they offer a powerful and rich connection.

What other ways can you think of to blend physical and virtual experiences? Do you have a favorite social media app that lets you keep up on various adventures? Let me know and in the meantime, stay safe on the road.

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.

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Digital Transformation: Path to Improving Your Business

This is an open letter to businesses and agencies attempting to transform their enterprise through the use of digital technologies. Each organization is at a different point along this path in an effort to engage customers, suppliers, and employees through digital technologies in order to remain competitive and profitable. I would like to suggest some ways to accelerate that transformation.

New Technologies

Management consultants Bain and Company suggested in a recent article that there are six basic design rules that can accelerate a company’s digital transformation. These include breaking boundaries, being open, inducing insights, and being user-friendly. I would like to add a couple of others that I think will help move you down the road to your destination.

Internal Partnering

Many companies are reworking their internal and external processes to achieve efficiency and build a digital presence that will hopefully draw customers. Even my local hardware store and ice cream shop have websites. They are for the most part static pages with information like location, phone number and store hours but at least that keeps me from having to dust off the yellow pages. They have taken the first steps towards moving to a digital world.

Whether you are moving back-end infrastructure, applications and software to the cloud or experimenting with a web presence for the first time, it is important to partner with your technology department. As a business, you know WHAT you want to do but the employees in your information management department know HOW to do it. Partner with them at every turn to combine business knowledge and technical knowledge. I suggest you even consider embedding some technical people in your business. This is a great way for them to learn more about your needs so that they can custom design a solution for you. We used to worry about technology people “going native” if they were embedded in the business, but now I think that crossover is necessary and will result in better and more effective solutions.

External Partnering

One of the design rules from Bain is to focus on the user experience. What better way to do that than ask users themselves? Sometimes this requires getting out of the office and asking customers their opinion of a new mobile app or a change to your website or even a new digital product that you are considering. I will be the first to admit that traditional surveys leave me cold. Every time I get near the local Home Depot store my smart phone asks me to rate my recent visit. I never comply. If a business I frequent were to put a device in my hand and ask me to try out a new digital product I would be much more inclined to reply. There are different ways of partnering with and surveying customers, but it is important in order to design a user experience they will accept.

Thoughts

Wherever you are on the digital transformation continuum, I hope you will consider these ideas to make your journey smoother. They can help you in implementation and customer engagement. How is your digital transformation progressing? 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.

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The Shiny Penny Syndrome

We recently finished our AIM innovations course and are starting the information management course. As I transition between the two, I can’t help but think of the shiny penny syndrome. A new shiny penny is perceived to be more valuable and sought after than an old tarnished penny, even though the two have the same value. This metaphor has been used in dating to describe a new love interest versus an old one but is also applicable to business and technology. In this blog I want to talk about the pitfalls of chasing after shiny pennies when perhaps the old penny just needs cleaning and polishing.

New Technologies

Often there are good reasons to implement new technologies, like the end of support for a legacy system or the need to interface with other updated programs or systems. The new technology can also result in efficiency gains and long term cost savings. When developing an innovation or technology plan it is important to ask whether this technology is a shiny penny or will it improve your throughput and create real revenue gains or cost savings. Acknowledging this early on will save time and resources that can be spent on improving the existing technology or choosing a new solution that really will deliver benefits.

Business Improvement

Businesses often chase after shiny pennies when they choose to acquire other companies to augment or enhance their own offerings. The wisdom is that it is easier to buy existing capabilities as opposed to trying to develop them from the ground up. This strategy often works, but sometimes it is a case of chasing a shiny penny. I have been involved in IT integration of acquisitions in the past and after a deep dive it is apparent that there was more flash than substance in the purchase. While it would have taken longer, the organization could have developed the same capability for less money and gained valuable experience in the process.

Leadership Changes

New leadership sometimes resembles a shiny penny. It’s tempting to think a new CEO or CIO will bring fresh ideas that will help get us turned around or get us back on track. While it sometimes works, there may be deeper systemic issues that can’t be solved with a new manager or a new team. After the honeymoon period, the old problems surface and the new leader can’t get any better traction than the previous executive, and then the new leader is sometimes replaced by even a newer, shinier penny. We can stop this rotating door by honestly acknowledging that we are trying to compensate for unresolved deep-seated issues with the organization or processes. It is admittedly hard to recognize and fix the real issues but doing so leaves us in a better position to succeed in the future.

Thoughts

Next time you face a major change such as new leadership or a new technology or adding new capabilities through a merger or acquisition, take just a second to acknowledge whether this is a new shiny penny or will it truly leave the organization in a better position to be competitive and successful.

Have you ever chased after a shiny penny? Did it work out? Let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear about your experience.

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.

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