Sunday, November 17, 2013

Clone your jeans?

Like many people, I have a favorite pair of blue jeans. I picked them up when I was in Germany back in 2010 -- stuck without casual clothes when a volcano exploded in Iceland closing down the airports. I could work, but only having two suits, I needed more clothes. (See For Polycom Users, It's 'Business As Usual'.)

However, three plus years later, I can't seem to find any other jeans that fit me properly. They're all too big, too small, or don't fit right. I've tried probably 15 different brands and 50 different styles. I'm not sure why they don't fit right, but they just not as great as my favorite pair. As a birthday present, my wife saw my favorite jeans getting tattered. She found They will take your favorite jeans create a clone of them. You (frighteningly) mail them to an address in New York which forwards them overseas and a few weeks later, get back the original plus a clone of your favorite blue jeans.

This is nothing new, it's how it was done all through history. You'd go to a tailor or a cobbler and they'd make you clothes or shoes. Only relatively recently, with the era of mass production do shoe sizes exist.

To me, this is the beginning of a whole series of individualized personalizations...again!

The next step is walking into a store, having your body 3-d scanned and then selecting your materials and having your new clothes built by automated systems in the back room (or shipped overnight to your house).

This that's far fetched? 3-d scanners are already at the $1000 level. Automatic fabric cutting machines are <$10k. Robots are doing everything from cars to microsurgery. 

If you can consider the reduced inventory carrying costs (stores don't need to keep as much in stock--they just create more!) it's not all that hard to imagine.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying my new jeans.  They fit just like my favorite pair.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cisco releases H.264 royalty free. Does it matter?

My personal thoughts on A.E. Natarajan, EVP of Engineering at Polycom's post  and the Cisco announcement about making H.264 available royalty free (or rather paying the MPEG licensing costs): 


I've seen Polycom releasing codecs codecs royalty free for long time: 
  • 1999 – audio codec Siren 7 to the ITU  (became G.722.1) 
  • 2005 – audio codec Siren 14  to the ITU (became G.722.1C)
  • 2008 – audio codec Siren 22 to the ITU  (became G.719)
  • 2012— video codec H.264SVC royalty free (through UCIF)
It's nice for Cisco to start doing the same-- for acting like they want to make voice and video interoperable and not just saying they support it. 

Interoperability is good.  Imagine if a Verizon cell phone couldn't call a cell phone on AT&T, or an iPhone couldn't call a Android.  That's bad for the users.  

The video space is still rapidly expanding.  New products are being taken to market by startups.   Free helps drive innovation. 

IMHO, whether WebRTC uses H.264 or VP8; H.265 or VP9 as the underlying codecs probably in the long term won't matter much for the users. However, given that we still have video devices that are almost old enough to drive in the real world, that "long term" can be a long time away.  

Video thought leaders like Polycom will need to ensure we build solutions that continue to make video as easy to use as clicking a hyperlink, dialing a phone, or saying "Siri, call my boss video."  Full integration with calendaring and social, mobile and cloud are a must -- and transcoding when necessary without user intervention. 

What ever the magic in the codecs, it's still the user experience that matters: 
 -- Simple. Secure. Supportable. Scalable. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rediscovering the power of visual communications

The day before Julie Reed of IBM came out with her blog post: Confessions of a camera-shy product manager ... I lead a webinar with David Price.  It's made me think.  I realized that I'm not destined to be a radio announcer.  I like need crave the two-way interaction in my communications.  Conventional wisdom is that somewhere around 80% of all communication is visual.  If you're in the room with me, I get that communication.  If we're separated by distance, I need technology to get it.  If we're on audio, then I miss the interaction.

Leading a training session is all about interactivity, all about working towards a common goal (which in this case was education.)  On a webinar, you read the script and share, teach, opine, or somehow try and get the message across.  You can't look into your attendee's eyes and see if they're confused.  You can't see if they're engaged. It's truly one-way communication.  I'm a radio announcer.

Maybe it's the teacher in me and maybe I've become spoiled with the interactivity and feedback from living in Polycom's two way video world.. Either way, I'm not sure I want to lead a webinar again.  I just don't feel I can do a good job unless I can see people paying attention, laughing at my corny jokes, and maybe even learning.

After all; which would you rather see?  A microphone or smiling faces?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Iconic and yet invisible--the perfect product!

Dear Designers:

I went back and rediscovered a quote I'd read a couple of years ago:
“You can read a J. Crew catalog, visit their website, store, or social media site, and have a consistent experience that allows you take off the logo and still know you’re at J. Crew,” -- Jim Joseph, President and Partner of Lippe Taylor Brand Communications 
I’m a technical guy, a business guy.  I'm anything BUT a marketing guy.  And I am a user-guy.   I see we’re missing that one-ness shared by J. Crew in many, many of the products that are released today.   

If I think about the first time I held an iPod 1 with the wheel, the design was so simple that I just knew how to work it intuitively.  We’re missing that intuitiveness in products, even the latest iPhone.  Yes I know it’s very difficult to build products this way, but we need it!

Like many others, I'm flabbergasted when I have different experiences with different products from the same company.  Often, they all have radically different out-of-the-box experience.  Not just the different UIs, but the initial configuration procedures are different, startup/configuration is different, default usernames & passwords often vary.   I guess I’m looking for the feeling of a product that is simple, straightforward to start; with powerful flexibility under the covers.  When I learn how something works, please don't make me relearn it just because it's new.  (Think about the disappearing Windows Start button.) 

Few products I see have that innovative design, that Xerox PARC feel.  Even from Apple, we're not seeing that Apple classic design—where all the elements work together to produce an item that elegantly achieves its purpose.  One of the best things about the Polycom RPX Immersive Telepresence room is that the technology is invisible.  The best products have the technology functions embedded into the form.  

They have to be iconic and yet invisible like a red double-decker bus in London, a yellow taxi in New York City, or the PolycomSoundstation speaker phone.

Dear Designers, please go watch the video IBM 100 x 100  or learn about the IBM Grand Challenge.  Think about what John E. Kelly says – it’s either incremental innovation or it’s a leap forward.  Be inspirational and take that leap.  

But this product has to fit together.  It has to hold the above contradictions or disparate pieces in one form.   Please designers, keep these thoughts in mind when you design the next generation of: 

Golden Gate Bridge   IBM Selectric typewriter  
VW Beetle 

Your users thank you.

n.b. It was correctly pointed out that in the original version of this post, I used an image of the Polycom VTX1000.  I've replaced the image it with an actual Polycom SoundStation.  Thanks for the comment!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What if you could figure out how good a waiter was, without having to eat at the restaurant?

I was a waiter and for a period of a couple years in high school, I terrorized served the patrons of my local Friendly's Restaurant. As was painfully obvious to my peers, I wasn't very good. I was much better making sundaes and frying up burgers. It took a while, but (thankfully) the managers finally realized and had me stop serving customers.

That experience came to mind when I learned recently about the company, Objective Logistics and their product "Muse". Muse can determine who actually are the best waitstaff.  Objectively.  With analytics.  Now I have never used the software, but from reading some articles and their web page, it's pretty clear they can rank your staff for you.  Obviously, it can rank staff based on average size of check (a key restaurant metric).  To me, the power is in more than that it does that, but the power is in how else it can take that data and make it actionable.

To me, the breakthrough becomes the ability to get deep into the data.  To ask why, then why again, and why again, until you really understand what's going on.  Creating more sophisticated analytics based on more sophisticated understanding of your business.  What if you could determine who were you best staff based on profitability? A good restaurateur knows how much each item costs and how much profit is in it.  If a restaurateur can see and then train their staff to highlight the higher margin tomato & buffalo mozzarella instead of the similarly priced duck appetizer, the restaurant makes more money.  Additionally, wait staff who have higher customer service skills will arguably make a higher percentage in tips than their peers who don't treat the customer as well. Could you track tips to see who's over achieving with customers?  Survey them to see who's most happy?

To me, what gets even more interesting is if you can take it to the next level.  Kenexa (now owned by IBM) provides software and services to better recruit and retain employees--the BEST employees! What if, together, the two companies could develop a metric that said how good the waitstaff were.  Employers could then either develop training programs where the best waitstaff partnered with average ones to help them improve.  Some will learn and some will not improve.  You'd be able to even determine who are the best trainers and maybe even calculate if they're more valuable to the restaurant as a trainer than an individual waiter, and potentially justify a higher salary.

What if you could calculate a Klout-like "Restaurant Score" and track an employee's abilities and skills over time.  Taking the information from Objective Logistics and come up with a score that says how good the waitstaff are.  Obviously it's a metric that could be used in promoting and giving staff within a chain the best shifts.  But it's more.  What if you could determine when or even if a server should be promoted from a server  at Outback Steakhouse to Flemings Prime Steakhouse and Bar; from lower to higher end restaurants?

If I was a hiring manager at a restaurant, and knew that a one candidate has a had a higher restaurant score (better customer service and more profitable) than another candidate, it could be an obvious (and certainly more objective) factor in hiring decisions.

knowledge + action = powerBranding specialist and executive coach John Antonios has a great blog entry about knowledge + action = power.  It seems to me that the combination of the Objective Logistics and Kenexa to develop actionable knowledge on restaurant waitstaff would lead to the perfect partnership.  The staff would win.  The owners would win.  And maybe we could even get better service from our local restaurants.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Privacy, Security, and Olmstead

I've been reading articles on privacy for a while and I stumbled upon these wise words:
But [since the writing of the US Constitution] "time works changes, brings into existence new conditions and purposes." Subtler and more far-reaching means of invading privacy have become available to the Government. Discovery and invention have made it possible for the Government, by means far more effective than stretching upon the rack, to obtain disclosure in court of what is whispered in the closet.
Moreover, "in the application of a constitution, our contemplation cannot be only of what has, been but of what may be." The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wiretapping. Ways may someday be developed by which the Government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.
Justice Brandeis
Now, that seems to be very contemporary given the recent Snowden disclosures about the US NSA.  But it was really written 85 years ago by Justice Brandeis of the US Supreme Court in, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 473 (1928).

Yes, I'm a firm believer in these two seemingly contradictory thoughts:

  1. People have a right to expect a certain level of anonymity or privacy; to go about their lives without unreasonable intrusion.   
  2. The government has a responsibility to keep it's citizens safe in much the same way as parents have a duty to keep their children safe. 
I guess it boils down to where is the line...that there are times that for the protection of the citizens and enforcement of the laws, the government, needs to be able to invade that privacy.  I'm not always sure how to balance it, but even Justice Brandeis was concerned.  And he couldn't have ever imagined anything like the power of the internet.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Marathon Monday

One Fund BostonMy wife & I celebrate Marathon Monday as the anniversary of our first date. In our years together we have probably been to 18 marathons. Some with the kids.  Some alone.  My office was on the Marathon route for about 5 years. My wife watched the runners literally run by her front door.  It is special to us.

We have been to at least 3-4 marathons where we were within 100 yards of where the explosions were today.  I am shocked.  A number of people and organizations have sent out messages of support. AJC's seems to sum up my thoughts:

Our hearts are broken. Our city is in shock. Bombs wreaked havoc at the Boston Marathon finish line. Our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their lives.  We extend our deepest wishes to all who were injured for a full and rapid recovery.  We trust that law enforcement will fully investigate this act of terrorism, and bring to justice those responsible.
The Boston Marathon is a day which brings together diverse people from across our community, the nation, and around the world, to celebrate the virtues of hard work and perseverance in one of the world’s epic sporting events.  It will be that again. 
I also know that in this area of Boston, there are many world- class hospitals and doctors.  Between MGH, BIDMC, Tufts, Boston Medical Center, and all the medical staff that was on site at the end of the race to tend to the runners, I know they'll get great care.

For now, lets be careful, lets be diligent, and lets come together.   This is the time for us to show strength and unity.

My family and friends are all safe.   I hope you are too... Not ok, but safe.