Monthly Archives: June 2015

Benefits of the Greenfield Approach

Green meadow under a  blue sky.In the AIM course that I am leading right now, we talk a lot about innovation and the best ways to introduce a new product, process, or technology. One way to introduce new products or features is the incremental approach. This adds new features to an existing technology. Another method is the greenfield approach, where a new application or technology is developed with no consideration of what has been developed in the past. The term greenfield comes from the construction and development industry to define land that has never been developed, as opposed to brownfield, where you need to demolish or build around an existing structure. There are advantages and disadvantages to the greenfield approach that I would like to explore in this post.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage to a greenfield approach is that you can start fresh without any legacy equipment or applications to work with. You are free to innovate without having to consider previous iterations and restrictions. You are not tempted to create a small incremental change but are free to reinvent the core processes that were in place.

The disadvantages are high startup costs. With nothing already in place, you need to create new infrastructure, procedures, and applications. The fresh possibilities can be exhilarating, but the high initial costs can be daunting.

Greenfield in Action

In 2006, Hewlett-Packard used the greenfield approach when deploying new worldwide data centers for internal applications. They built six new data centers in Austin, Houston, and Atlanta and stocked them with new HP servers. All applications were ported to these new servers and off of the local servers in computer rooms and data centers around the world. I was involved in transitioning applications and shutting down the small computer rooms. There was a lot of weeping and wailing because people could no longer walk down the hall to visit their favorite computer. Some applications had to be shut down because they could not be ported to the new computers. In the end though, this approach yielded three main benefits:

  1. Reduced infrastructure and support costs from shutting down inefficient small computer rooms in many locations around the world;
  2. Decreased number of applications and data stores; and
  3. Improved computing capabilities, including enhanced disaster recovery.

There was an initial $600 million investment into these new data centers and equipment, but the cost was quickly recovered in better efficiencies and reduced support costs. This also showcased HP capabilities for external customers.

Greenfield Innovation At Work

When I was in Dubai in 2013, my host explained to me how a speeding ticket is distributed in that country. There are cameras located along the main highways and when you exceed the posted speed limit, the camera takes a picture of you, complete with license plate, and sends a text message to the phone that is registered to the owner. The owner can then pay the fine from their smart phone. Dubai is a relatively new country without a traditional traffic control system so they abandoned the old school police speed trap and court systems for this streamlined fine and pay system.

While not completely greenfield, I am also excited about the new parkbytext system in Ireland, the UK, and other locations, and a similar system in Russia. You can pay for a parking spot by texting your information and—in the case of the Russian system—you even get a refund if you leave the parking spot before your time expires. Associated with these systems is an app that allows you to locate an available parking spot. These are examples of where the traditional infrastructure and processes were abandoned in favor of a completely new approach.


It’s not always possible to start fresh, but it frees you up to imagine different innovations without being encumbered by structures and legacy systems. Do you have any examples where you were able to design something from scratch? Was it daunting or liberating? Let me know.

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 Virtues of Flesh Sensing Technology

Carpenter cuts wood with a table saw.I was visiting with a friend this weekend and he showed me his table saw from a company called SawStop, based out of Tualatin, OR. He is a part-time woodworker and cabinetmaker and, while his table saw is certainly nicer than mine, I was most intrigued by the safety features. SawStop has a patented flesh sensing technology that stops the saw and drops the blade within milliseconds if it detects skin. Instead of an amputation, you come away with a scratch. If you have been reading this blog for very long, you know that I love unique technology applications so I had to find out more about this one.


SawStop was formed in 2000 when cofounder Steve Gass invented the saw brake and sensing technology that is used in their cabinet and portable table saws. He shopped the invention to the likes of Ryobi, Craftsman, and Black & Decker but could not come to an agreement with any of them. In 2005, he gave up and manufactured the saw himself through the SawStop name. The other manufacturers were interested but were hesitant to raise the price of their product to compensate for this additional safety technology.

How It Works

The SawStop carries a small electrical signal through the blade. When skin contacts the blade, the signal changes because the human body is conductive. When the signal changes, a spring loaded aluminum brake is released into the blade, slowing it from 5000 RPM to 0 in approximately 1/200ths of a second. The force of the brake also drops the blade below the surface in that same amount of time. It ruins the brake, which is a relatively inexpensive replaceable cartridge, and also breaks the blade, which can be replaced. Comparatively though, it is less traumatic to replace saw parts than to lose a finger. This is incredible technology that can prevent a lot of woodworking accidents.

Fast Forward

This safety technology has only been available in the SawStop large cabinet saw up until early this year when the company also introduced a portable table saw with the same technology. Bosch’s new REAXX portable jobsite table saw, available this fall, is the first saw to copy the flesh sensing technology since it was developed in 2000 and commercialized in 2005.


So while I love this application of technology, my bigger question is this: why did it take so long for a competitor to copy this proven safety feature? Would consumers pay extra for this if it were available, or are we focused only on cost? I chose this blog topic today to highlight this technology but also to ponder on the bigger economic questions of safety features and marketability of a product. 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.

Will Technology Change How We Value Art?

Colorful computer generated fractal art in swirls of browns, greens and golds.I enjoy listening to classical music but am not a big fan of synthesized music. Maybe I have worked around computers too long to appreciate the fact that a computer can produce art. In other words, I question whether the bridge between technology and art can actually be bridged. I wonder also about computers that can produce visual arts. Are they comparable to those works created by a traditional artist? Will computers ever make traditional sound and visual artists obsolete or does their value lie in aiding the human creation process? Lately, I have been reading about some new applications that may be spanning that bridge between art and technology.

Sound Machines

German industrial automation company Festo has developed a robot controlled

music system that consists of five self-playing instruments. The system can “hear” or record a melody, then improvise and play it live with electrically controlled mechanisms that consist of one string and a sliding bar, which simulate fret action or the left hand of a musician. A hammer simulates right hand plucking or hammering or stroking of the string. They have built this mainly as a showcase for their factory automation capabilities, but it holds some real promise for creating and playing computer-controlled music.

Fine Art

Kenichi Yoneda, aka Kynd, is trained as a fine artist but has recently been creating computer-generated art that looks like traditional artwork in different simulated mediums. He is currently an electronics designer who programs computers to create artwork that looks like the real thing. His work can simulate oil, watercolors, or other techniques. To be clear, this is not a robot with a palette but digital artwork generated on a computer and printed or just displayed on digital monitors. Lately, he has been experimenting with artwork combined with sound in an attempt to improve on traditional computer animation. The results are very unique and engaging.


The two thoughts I have are these—first, what is art and second, how do we define it? I believe art is a personal expression. What is considered art by one person is simply noise to another, whether that be audio or visual arts or a combination. Secondly, will we, or have we already created a computer that will be able to create Mozart concertos, the works of the Rolling Stones, or artwork to rival Rembrandt or Andy Warhol? If so, will we still hold it in the same high regard as works created by an individual through training and inspiration? Do we value computer-generated artwork the same as human creations?

As we continue to refine computers and try to endow them with humanistic capabilities and reasoning through advanced algorithms, it is reasonable to think that we will have to face that question. What is art? What will art museums look like in the future? I would love to hear your opinion so that we can explore this topic further.

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.

Making Education Accessible and Affordable

book of knowledgeHow can we creatively make higher education more affordable and accessible? I am wrapping up preparations for a course on innovation later this month and my thoughts turn to ways to apply innovative ideas to higher education. There are some new ideas that have developed over the last several years such as online delivery, but they have not always been implemented in a deliberate and holistic manner. I am hoping that you will weigh in and help me figure out how we can create new solutions to this long-standing problem.

What Is Our Mission?

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen suggests that there are really three purposes of higher education and that we as universities and colleges often dilute our focus and try to cover all three areas with a confusing combination of products. The three suggested areas are:

  • knowledge creation, or research;
  • knowledge proliferation, or teaching; and
  • preparation for life and careers.

Christensen claims that universities use three different business models to deliver these value propositions, creating confusing products in the process. He suggests that we be clear and purposeful about our mission, our value proposition, and how we deliver our product. This clarity can help reduce program administrative costs and therefore help reduce tuition.

Innovations in Education

Universities and colleges have been working through different delivery methods in recent years to make higher education more accessible. Several of these have been centered around online delivery. Correspondence courses have been available since the mid-nineteenth century and as technology and networking improved, these morphed into online courses. To make education more accessible, massive open online courses (MOOCs) were developed that enrolled thousands or even tens of thousands of students in various subjects. These are free or low cost but do not generally grant credit. Some universities such as Stanford are experimenting with hybrid MOOCs whereby a student can take the online course and apply and pay for credit. The University of Pittsburgh is experimenting with what they call a HOOC or a hybrid open online course. In this model, the course is offered online and onsite simultaneously and at some point during the course, the online students can join the onsite students synchronously, often offering input through tweets or other discussion applications. Online education—in all its forms—has made learning more accessible to those that are not near a college or cannot take courses at the time prescribed.

Employer Criteria

One of the most important factors in aligning higher education with employment is understanding what an employer wants in an educated worker. Are they looking for someone with a broad four-plus year education and exposure to many ideas and thoughts, or are they looking for someone that has proven mastery in a particular area? Would a series of technical certificates prove the worth of a potential employee, or do they need to produce an advanced degree from a recognized college or university? I believe the problem is two pronged and we need to address both areas. As mentioned earlier, universities need to develop expertise delivering in a prescribed area rather than trying to cover all business models. Additionally, employers need to be precise in their requirements for employment and not add layers of education that are unneeded. If we can tackle these two areas, then we can come closer to matching delivery to expectation and drive down the overall cost of education while increasing accessibility.


Do you have specific thoughts on innovations that will help lessen tuition and make education more accessible? I know that greater minds than mine are working on this very problem and I welcome your input and ideas. Perhaps together, we can come up with a solution.

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.

In Case of Emergency: Weather Warnings, Amber Alerts, and National News

Cell phone alertI am traveling in southern Idaho and I got to thinking about the technology necessary for modern emergency notification and response. I got an AMBER Alert on my cell phone to watch for a vehicle involved in a kidnapping. First of all, I had never heard my phone make a noise like that and second, I didn’t even remember signing up for AMBER Alerts. That was the first alert I ever got, so I was intrigued by the infrastructure necessary for emergency notifications and I did some research to see how it works.

Emergency Notification

With the proliferation of cell phones, emergency notification becomes a lot easier and can be localized. In addition to the AMBER Alert I got this week, I also heard a tornado warning and flood warning from other cell phones. These all come through a program called Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA). WEA enabled cell phones from mobile carriers to automatically send these alerts through local cell towers. If you are in an area that broadcasts an emergency alert, then you will receive the message. Possible messages include AMBER Alerts, messages from the weather service, and emergency messages from the President of the United States. According to FEMA, you can opt out of weather and AMBER Alert messages but not messages from the President.

This makes it possible to broadcast to many people at the same time outside of the traditional television and radio emergency broadcast system. With the shift away from watching live television or listening to the radio, the broadcast system has adapted to reach us wherever we are.

Emergency Response

As with emergency notification, emergency response has been updated as well. Since cell phones can broadcast GPS signals, your call to 911 can be traced to your specific location, even if you don’t know where you are. This is most important when speed is critical for emergency personnel to reach you. Again, the system has adapted to our lifestyles and current technology. With enhanced 911, wireless and wireline calls are routed through a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) where your information and location are detected and relayed to safety personnel.


As we become more mobile and rely more on mobile devices, it is good to know that our emergency systems are broadcasting and collecting information through these devices. It may feel at times as there are few places left where we can get away from being connected but in an emergency, that’s a good thing.

Do you have any experience working with emergency systems? Are there still updates that would make it even better? 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.