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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Technology In Fashion Retail

I wrote earlier this year about changing retail habits and the resulting empty malls, or dead malls as they have sometimes been labeled. More people are ordering goods online and having them delivered directly to their home. That is all well and good for batteries or electronics, but how do you shop for clothes and fashion accessories online? How can you tell if something is going to fit or if it will look good on you without going to a store to try it on? What is the future of fashion retail? Will retail clothing stores fold completely, or will they revamp their offerings to stay relevant in the digital age? How will technology play a role in fashion and the shopping experience?

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Pokemon Go introduced us to augmented reality by placing on-screen characters in the physical world. Retail stores such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus are working with developers to trade Pokemon characters for clothing and accessories. New technology such as Memory Mirror is being developed to allow someone to try on clothes without actually trying on clothes, at least not repeatedly. Memory Mirror will be a kiosk which looks like a mirror but can be controlled by hand gestures or voice commands and has icons for changing color or size. It can even project accessories such as various belts or handbags. It will connect to social media so shoppers can send pictures of themselves in the new outfit to their friends for a thumbs up or thumbs down. This technology is designed to limit wardrobe changes, which tend to drive customers out of a store. Products such as Zugara’s Virtual Dressing Room has partnered with Microsoft Kinect to create a similar product, but their offering will be available as a web app as well so you can see how online merchandise may look on you before buying. Most of these products are in development but promise a functioning product soon.

In this case, the old department store may turn into a giant dressing room but all of the sales channels will need to be synchronized so a person can buy the clothing while shopping, or order it online via smartphone. From first encounter to purchase, the technology will need to work flawlessly to provide a seamless shopping experience.

Visual Search

Visual search lets you search via an image as opposed to text. With modern smartphones, a shopper can capture an image of an item and search online for the best price for that particular item. This is bad for brick and mortar retailers because it turns their stores into showrooms without sales, especially if the shopper can find the item cheaper on Amazon or Zappos. The retailer is paying to display the merchandise but without the resulting benefits. GPS technology could turn that around for them. If the search engine knew that a customer was standing in Macy’s, for example, it could push the store higher in the search results and possibly offer a coupon for being a loyal customer. In this case, technology would enhance the traditional shopping experience by keeping the customer focused on your store.

Look

The new Amazon Echo Look, which is currently available by invitation only, promises to be your style assistant as well as a hands-free camera. As an extension of the Amazon Echo, you can take hands-free full length photos of yourself with depth perception technology and store those photos for comparison. You can get a second opinion of your outfit by something called Style Check “…a new service that combines machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists.” If I were a retailer I would try to find a way to insert ads to push Alexa to recommend my physical or online stores.

Thoughts

It’s not clear if retail stores will ever regain their preeminent position, but just as fashion trends change, so does the way we interact with these stores. Whether it be online through a computer or smart phone or actually talking with a sales clerk, we have more choices than ever before as to how we buy fashion.

Do you still visit stores to browse or buy clothes or do you purchase strictly online? What would draw you back into a store? 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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Relevancy in Higher Education

I was recently at the University of Washington in Seattle marveling at the 1800s architecture that still graces much of the campus. Many of the colleges on the West Coast were established in the mid-to-late 1800s; University of Washington in 1861, Berkeley in 1868, University of Oregon in 1876 and Stanford in 1885. The West was young and states were trying to establish an economic and academic base. This was in the early days of trains in the West, long before automobiles, connected electricity, or even the hint of modern computers. Students were eager to make their mark on the world in engineering, economics, the arts and other areas.

As I soaked in the 19th century architecture I pondered whether higher education is staying relevant to our current needs. Are we preparing students to lead and innovate, or are we stuck using 150-year-old educational paradigms? Part of this blog post is a personal exploration as to how I can improve my teaching, but it is also a call to action for those seeking relevancy in our world. I hope you will contribute insights and comments as we strive to improve education.

Modern Education

I am currently teaching the AIM innovation course and I continue to be amazed at the workplace complexities facing my students, structurally, organizationally, and culturally. It’s a miracle to me that any innovation emerges at all given the barriers they face. To combat this I try to present simple, sound models they can tailor to fit their needs and hopefully cut through that complexity on their way to an elegant solution. Part of my job is to teach sound principles, then watch as students extend and apply those principles to their own situations. I have to be flexible enough to recognize that we are trying to solve real problems, not just following rigid academic exercises.

Industry Partnerships

I believe that to maintain relevancy we need to form closer partnerships between universities and employers. It seems disingenuous to grant degrees to students without preparing them for life in the workplace. Many employers have extensive onboarding programs just to prepare new employees to adjust to their workplace. I think those onboarding programs could somehow be integrated into the academic curriculum so new graduates could start contributing right away. How would we know what was needed in such a transition program? The simplest answer is to ask employers what specific technical, social, and cognitive skills they require of their employees. Are we covering those areas in our curriculum, or are there gaps? Are we staying relevant to the needs of those who will employ our students? Are we rigid in our curriculum, or are we willing to add in a corporate, governmental, or non-profit component that could be co-taught by practitioners? Are we really preparing our students to tackle today’s complex social, political and technical issues?

Thoughts

It is important that we stay flexible in our teaching, stay current on workplace needs, and bring employers behind these 150-year-old walls to build strong partnerships. I think this is what 21st century relevancy looks like. What are your ideas? I look forward to hearing 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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Baseball Technology 2017

With the 2017 baseball season approaching the midway point, I have been reading about the decline of fan interest, ticket sales, and athlete recognition. An article from my local newspaper reported that not one baseball player is among the 100 most famous athletes in the world, based on endorsements, social media following, and internet search popularity; those spots are taken by soccer, tennis, football, basketball, and even a few golf stars. I wonder what technology could do, if anything, to pull baseball out of this popularity slump.

Sensors

Technology is showing up in some unusual places, including wooden baseball bats. Sensor manufacturer Zepp has teamed up with the Old Hickory bats to create a smart bat. A device is built into the knob of the bat that records data points like swing speed, angle and motion and shares that information via Bluetooth to a connected device. A visualization shows the swing and connects to previous data to compare that swing with others, which allows the player to correct any issues in order to reach maximum performance. These sensors are available for tennis rackets, golf clubs and softball bats. While smart bats are meant for improving player performance I wonder if the visualization can be shared with fans as well, perhaps on the Jumbotron, to give tech-savvy fans something to do between pitches.

Of course, technology is also used for tracking statistics on pitches. For stadiums equipped with TrackMan, fans in the stadium and at home can track live information on pitch velocity, spin and exit speed among various radar tracked data points. This is sophisticated technology but I wonder if data driven fans even need to go to the ballpark any more or can they sit at their computer and analyze every pitch and swing as it happens? Is it more important to see the action or analyze? I foresee the day when machine learning enters into baseball and a computer directs players on their next move based on historical and real time statistics. Hackers could have a field day with that interaction.

Stadium Technology

We can now track every player and every swing but that still does not get people in seats, which is a real problem in baseball today. To try to overcome that problem, stadiums are being built and retrofitted with wireless access points for between inning entertainment and high definition cameras and displays so you won’t miss any action, even if you don’t have the best seat in the house. Various baseball franchises have developed fan apps that allow you to watch instant replays and view statistics on your smartphone or tablet while in the stadium. Apps also allow you to order up snacks and have them delivered to your seat, for a premium. The stadium experience today is a combination of live action and device interaction. There are virtual reality applications in development that will allow you to get a bird’s-eye view of the action or zoom into one particular area of the field using cameras positioned around the stadium. Reality meets virtual reality.

<h4Thoughts

There are a number of new technologies introduced or in development designed to bring fans back to baseball, either in the stadium or watching at home or on a mobile device. Time will tell if they are successful but with the price tag of new stadiums, there is a lot at stake. Have you been to a live baseball game recently? How was your experience? 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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Leadership Lessons I Learned at Day Camp

I volunteered recently at a day camp for boys ages 7-10 and learned a lot more than just how to be a kid again. I created an obstacle course that presented challenges for each boy. As the boys came through my station and worked through the challenges, I saw some important management principles emerge. I want to share those unexpected lessons with you.

Ownership is King

I set up the obstacle course ahead of time and it included things such as a rope bridge, a rope swing, tires to crawl through and various other obstacles. This was my design and the boys enjoyed it. After the first couple of days I allowed them to make modifications to my design. Of course, some of the modifications would have caused great injury had I allowed them but such is the nature of a young boy.

I realized that as they changed the design to fit their tastes, they became more invested in the obstacle course. Comments changed from “great course” to “best obstacle course ever!” because it was now their course and not mine. As managers, are we guilty of handing down a vision or a scripted playbook for employees to carry out without giving them ownership of their work? Would they be more motivated if they had a hand in designing their own processes? Would they feel more invested if they contributed to the vision rather than simply executing it? Perhaps stronger ownership would lead to comments such as “this is the greatest workplace ever.”

The Suggestion Box

I told the boys early on that I would welcome suggestions for improving the course. I am not sure they took me seriously but they did offer several suggestions. Some were simple changes that I could make overnight and some were incredibly complicated and would have required super powers. I made the changes I could and the boys were surprised and delighted to find their ideas incorporated into the course. As they saw the changes they pointed out their ideas. One boy even suggested water balloons throughout the course and went so far as to bring some balloons to fill. He was totally invested in the outcome. In short, I took the ideas in the suggestion box seriously. As managers, do we welcome suggestions and try to implement them as we can? Extra effort in this area could result in more motivated employees.

Cooperation Increases Productivity

I allowed groups of boys to modify the course to fit their interests. I found the groups fell into two categories, those who agreed and executed the plan and those who were fractured and could not get beyond arguing about who was right. Those who agreed to work together had a lot more time to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but some groups never even got off the starting line. They split into factions that each tried to implement their own vision. I realized that while it is important to create and execute a shared long-term vision, it has a definite impact on short-term productivity. The longer it takes to agree on the future, the more it impacts current work. Does your team have a solid vision and is everyone working toward that future or do you still have factions trying to move in a different direction?

Thoughts

I never thought I would relate day camp to management principles but the parallels I found while observing the boys were unmistakable. I thought I was going to enjoy a week of sunshine and interacting with youth, and I did, but I also came away with new leadership and management 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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Eclipse Viewing

I am looking forward to the total solar eclipse that will travel across the USA next month. My house lies just south of the path of totality so if it is a sunny day I should be in for a treat. While a total solar eclipse is visible from somewhere on earth every 16 months, the August eclipse is rare in that it will pass over a highly populated area as it travels coast-to-coast from Oregon to South Carolina.

So how does current technology change how we observe and experience this particular solar eclipse? I expect that it will be the most photographed eclipse ever but I set out to find out what else will be different in our modern connected world.

Eclipse Megamovie

The good folks at Berkeley, Google, The Astronomical Society of the Pacific and others are using crowdsourcing to recruit 1000 photographers to take pictures of the eclipse along the path of totality. They will then combine those pictures into what they call an Eclipse Megamovie. These combined photographs will be valuable not only to casual observers but also to scientists. This is a great application of current digital photography, data storage and photo editing capabilities.

Viewing Choices

Modern transportation will also change how some people observe the eclipse. Alaska Airlines has chartered a plane to follow the totality. It will be open to astronomy enthusiasts except for two seats that will be given away through a social media contest. This will give some lucky observers a chance to see the event from 30,000 feet and should eliminate any chance of clouds obstructing the view.

This is not the first time that an eclipse has been seen from the air. A group of astronomers chartered a supersonic transport in 1974 and flew in totality for 74 minutes in order to observe a similar solar event. They were able to fly across the African continent at twice the speed of sound so that they could stay in the path of near darkness as long as possible. We have available to us great tools for expanding our understanding of the universe.

Thoughts

This upcoming solar eclipse may well be the best observed, recorded and analyzed event. There will no doubt be many terabytes of photos taken and shared on social media. Scientists will likely use modern computing power to reconstruct the event and study it for years to come. This is all part of our modern observed life using technology.

Are there technologies that you think will enhance the upcoming solar eclipse? 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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Beginnings: Never Too Late

We celebrated the 2017 AIM graduates last week and look forward to starting a new cohort this week. In a way, these are beginnings for both groups. Our new students are just starting their AIM graduate careers with perhaps some uncertainty as to their new journey. Our newest alumni now have options open to them in terms of discretionary time and they will possibly pursue a passion or career position or even choose to continue their academic journey.

I think we often tie beginnings to specific events such as graduation or a new job or starting a degree program or any number of life events. In reality, we can declare fresh beginnings at any time for any reason. In this blog post I would like to explore ways we can move beyond our self-limitations and break out in new and productive ways.

Simple Steps

I have written about this topic before but I feel it is important to revisit. This message is as much for myself as it is for my readers. Beginnings do not have to be large undertakings. It can be as simple as taking a class on something you are interested in that is completely outside of your career field. If you have goals to improve your health and fitness, it is not necessary to run a marathon tomorrow but a simple step would be to get out and walk and enjoy nature. That can lead to other greater goals that could lead to running a marathon someday, or it can simply lead you down the path of better health. Sometimes it takes just simple steps.

One of the dilemmas of a new undertaking is devoting time to it. This could require giving something up. If you are like me, you may have habits and routines and commitments that fill your day. If you were to pursue something new, which of those routines would you be willing to give up? Sometimes this is the hardest part of starting down a new path and requires an examination of goals and values.

Thoughts

Congratulations to all of this year’s AIM graduates. I am proud of your accomplishments and am honored to have played a small part in getting you to the finish line. This is not an ending or a final resting place as such, but a beginning. Take advantage of your new knowledge and relationships that you forged and create the world that you want. Often, it starts with a simple step.

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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