Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Ins and Outs of Virtual Teams

The way companies are structured has changed as technology has grown. We often see companies reorganizing their teams into virtual teams, also called geographically dispersed teams (GDT). This enables people in different countries to collaborate on a single project. Like most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to this style of team and it is not for every business. Is it right for yours?

In the past, it was believed that productivity had a direct connection with proximity. The idea was held that the more face-time a manager was able to provide their team the more productive they would be. Managers are realizing that this may not be true, and that building a team out of people that work well together and have very specific skill sets can generate a far more significant result. Another strong factor impacting productivity can be the mindset of the individuals the group is made up of. Many people are encouraged by their personal desire to learn more so as to further their careers; this self-motivation is a trait that works well in a virtual team environment. Individuals who are motivated by social interactions or by the desire to avoid negative feedback may not be a good fit for a virtual team.

For some businesses, it is practical to use virtual teams.  Many organisations, large and small, have embraced this innovative organizational technique. Certainly businesses that require people to physically interact to perform a task, such as construction, aren’t candidates for virtual teams. If you feel implementing virtual teams as an enterprise wide strategy or smaller capacity is a good fit for your company, here are a few items to think about.
 
Advantages

  • Recruitment based on expertise not proximity
  • Team members are able to work during the times when they operate most efficiently
  • Teams consist of members who are self-motivated and self-driven
  • More accommodation for team members’ personal and professional lives
  • No commuting time or expense
  • Reduced overhead, as there is no physical location
  • IT expenses are reduced as most teams use web-based tools for collaboration
  • Managers can better examine the team’s performance because there are less social pressures

Disadvantages

  • Less social interaction, which can be a demotivator for many people
  • Loss of trust between team members if there is not guarantee that everyone is pulling their own weight
  • Creativity could possibly be stifled, because the physical dynamics are lost
  • Team members may overwork themselves as managers can not physically see the amount of time each task takes
  • Managers may lose track of the team’s progress, i.e. out of site out of mind

Virtual teams make use of a number of technology to interface. These include email, audio and video conferencing, and file sharing programs. Below is a list of a few programs that can be beneficial to virtual teams.

  • Go to meetings – an economical option to have remote conferences
  • Yammer – a exclusive social network for companies that enables quick communication and interaction
  • Drop Box – a free way to share files
  • Second Life – allows for interactive meetings with the use of avatars

If you would like more information on virtual teams in action, consider the articles below: 
http://www.theanywhereoffice.com/mobile-work/telework-viritual-teams-midmarket-companies.htm
http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/19/virtual-teams-meetings-leadership-managing-cooperation.html
http://www.openforum.com/articles/7-effective-tools-for-managing-a-virtual-team

Tech: Inflated like it’s 1999

Are we in the midst of a 1990s-style tech bubble? Some analysts think so.

 

Try this: Check out Google News and key in a search for ‘tech bubble.’ You’ll get a wide range of results. Fresh results.

 

But let’s pause for second. What, exactly, is a tech bubble? Here’s Investopedia’s definition:

 

Tech Bubble – a pronounced and unsustainable market rise related to increased speculation in technology stocks. A tech bubble is highlighted by rapid stock price growth and high valuations based on standard metrics like price/earnings ratio or price/sales.”

 

Hmmm. Can we find proof of speculation and inflated valuations?

 

Scanning the current headlines, we now have stories of acquisitions and IPOs (and impending IPOs) for a variety of hot domains, including LinkedIn.com, Pandora.com, Groupon.com, Zynga.com, and Twitter.com. And there are at the very least eleven billion articles and blog posts about Facebook’s eventual IPO.

 

If we’re in a tech bubble, it certainly has a social-media flavor!

 

So. Of these hot companies, how many are profitable? (This helps us gauge whether their valuations are inflated.)

 

  • LinkedIn – Earned $12 million in 2011 (its first year of profitability).
  • Pandora – Not profitable.
  • Groupon – Same story.
  • Twitter – A little!
  • Zynga – Way profitable! With a 35% profit margin in 2010.
  • Facebook – Quite profitable. With a respectable 25% profit margin in 2010.

Of course, simply because a few of these companies aren’t very profitable doesn’t mean they’re not brimming with profit potential. Look at Amazon.com. Launched in 1995, the business didn’t make money until 2004! But last year the company’s net income was well over $1 billion and it is now threatening Walmart’s retail dominance.

 

In other words, a lack of profits today doesn’t a bubble make (necessarily).

 

And as Mashable columnist Jolie O’Dell notes, today’s tech climate is much different than those heady days in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when you had hundreds of startups with half-baked ideas and flimsy business plans getting ridiculous opening day valuations. In 1999, the height of dot-com mania, there were 308 IPOs. This year, by contrast, there have been 25, and many of which have been mature businesses with healthy revenue (e.g. LinkedIn).

 

O’Dell notes another significant distinction between now and then: Internet usage. Back in the 1990s, relatively few individuals were online. According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, Internet adoption has nearly doubled among adults since 1999. Today 77 percent of American adults are online. Among teens, the figure is over 90 percent.

 

In the dot-com era, investors swooned for companies that didn’t have any users. The users weren’t even there. Today is different. Examine Twitter. Sure, it has struggled to turn a profit, but at least it has a large, influential and growing customer base. You couldn’t say the same for Pets.com, one of the biggest flops of the dot-com era.

 

But it’s still tough to say with certainty whether today’s eagerness is rational or irrational. Again, return to Google News. You’ll see good arguments on both sides

 

The Truth About QR Codes

We’ve all seen the bizarre black squares that are consistently being photographed by smartphone users. They’re called QR codes, an innovative re-imagining of barcode technology. Originally used for tracking components in vehicle manufacturing, these codes are now used in a much broader context. The application of QR codes is even finding new life in creative business ventures and interactive advertising.

What is a QR Code?

    A QR, or Quick Response code, is a specific matrix barcode that is readable by specialized scanners and, more generally, smartphones. Because QR codes are two-dimensional constructs, they can hold thousands of alphanumeric characters of information much like the traditional barcode found on most purchased products. They are useful tools for business because of their potential to hold huge amounts of easily translatable information.

    When you scan or read a QR code with your smartphone, the code links you to web-enabled digital content. Similarly to when a barcode is scanned to generate the price of a given item in a food store, in a much more complicated way, when a QR code is scanned, increased amounts of information can then be generated.

How are QR codes used in Business?

    Making a QR code is not difficult. It’s a simple process of entering the appropriate data into a QR generator. There are several free versions of this code online, if you’d like to check one out try using the Kaywa generator.

    After you’ve created your QR code, it is possible to print it on business cards, posters, billboards, or publish it on the web. After the code is available, potential customers are able to scan the code using their phone and then access whatever data you would like them to see.

Why it works

    Creating a QR code is a unique way of creating an interactive ad campaign. You give the mysterious code to the audience; the audience deciphers the code and is then rewarded with the information you’ve coded. It adds value to that information by making it a fun activity. Though QR codes remain new to America, they’ve been a popular way of creating brand loyalty in Japan for over a decade. If you’re trying to create a conversation with your prospects, think about using this innovative device.

Stay Connected, Stay Sane

Technology has advanced to a place that allows for constant connectivity. Getting a hold of someone is as easy (and as impersonal) as sending a simple text message.   Where ever we go, as long as we have a smartphone in our pocket, we are within reach. This has been a beneficial change in many respects, but what are the negative effects of growing up in the age of connectivity? Communication is developing digitally; aspects of this will be positive where others will be negative. In this blog we will take a look at a few of the pros and cons of staying connected digitally.

The Pros

  • Being connected means increased safety. There was a day when breaking down on a dark highway was a life or death situation. Now, thanks to high range cell phones, help is only a phone call away. Doctor appointments can be made online, routes to emergency rooms can be Googled and there’s an app for diagnosing minor ailments.
  • Staying in touch is now as easy as clicking a button. Ask any soldier deployed over seas and they’ll tell you that staying in touch with their families is now easier than ever. Sending a message takes only a second thanks to highly advanced Internet connections and international bandwidth.
  • Technology lets you take your work anywhere. Thanks to the advancements in cloud computing, the definition of a workspace is now more flexible. Working from home is easy, and a practical option for anyone on sick or maternity leave.

The Cons

  • Being connected means being always available. True, it is nice to be in touch with those you love, but we all need some privacy. We all have days when we need a little time alone and being constantly connected makes that time more and more difficult to find.
  • Technology has made it more difficult to leave work at the office. It’s increasingly hard to walk away from a long day of work, knowing that simply opening up your computer can effortlessly access any project you left unfinished. While connectivity has been a great productivity tool, it also enables people to become workaholics.
  • While connectivity can be hard to break, it can also encourage us to detach from those close around us. While technology has helped to make communication possible at a remote distance, it’s also made personal connections easy to ignore.

Digital communication is simply a new way for us to communicate. However, it’s important to remember moderation when choosing how connected we allow our lives to become. Connectivity is not inherently good or bad; instead its merit is dependent on how you utilize it.

For more information on connectivity, as well as an interesting look at unplugging yourself from technology, take a look at this article. 

Tablets Take Root running a business

When I think of tablets — the iPad in particular — I think of watching videos, browsing the web, and enjoying games. Putting things off, in other words. But what if there’s a legitimate place for tablet computers in the workplace?

Infoworld recently ran an article about a New York law firm named Proskauer that equipped its sizable team of lawyers with iPads. This wasn’t merely a generous bonus for a job well done. Proskauer’s attorneys are now predicted to use their tablets for their primary computing hardware: “Today, more than 500 Proskauer lawyers use iPads to generate superslick PowerPoint slides, Excel spreadsheets full of sky-high figures, and verbose Word documents. Lawyers pass this electronic paperwork back and forth among clients. They even present material on their iPads to judges.”

The utility of tablet computing is especially evident in the medical care setting. As more medical practices change to electronic health records systems (EHRs), doctors and nurses are finding that using portable hardware is a natural (and necessary) shift.

And tablets are spreading far beyond the clinic and courtroom. CIO.com recently published a slideshow of tablets in action (hat tip to Infoworld). You can see these slim instruments at archaeological sites, on the battlefield, and even in the cockpits of planes.

For Proskauer, the switch to a tablet-centric office had its hiccups. “Rolling out the iPad actually turned out to be quite a significant investment in time, much more than I would have thought,” said Steven Kayman, chair of the technology committee at Proskauer, in an interview with Infoworld. “There’s just a hundred decisions that have to be made along the way.”

Call it the early adopter tax: technology trailblazers must solve hitherto unknown problems on the fly, with no template to follow. The law firm had to address these questions: Would lawyers pay for apps they needed or would the tablets come with a preset menu of apps? Would personal use be allowed? How would tablets impact the network — specifically security?

Though these questions weren’t simple, they were undeterred. And the firm isn’t looking back. “You’ve got to be forward-thinking,” Proskauer COO Gurwitz told Infoweek. “It’s clear the world is transforming.”

The future according to spam

Traditional spamming consists of sending out an extremely high frequency of emails from a spam-hosted account. In the early days of the Internet, the was an extremely profitable, though illegal, business model. However, the Internet has developed to a point where this practice is no longer viable. This doesn’t mean the Internet will soon be saved from spammers, but rather that spamming will soon take on a different form. The fundamental question is, why has traditional spamming declined? The second is, how will spam change to adapt to the new Internet.

Profitability

    In 1997, spamming was an extremely profitable business. However, in the past 14 years, the Internet has become an increasingly difficult place for spammers to navigate. The amount of hardware and time needed to run an active spamming business outweighs the profit. This means that spamming is more expensive than it’s worth and, with all things considered, a business model that manages to lose money. Currently, traditional spamming would pay less money per hour than a minimum wage job.

    While traditional spamming is no longer worth the money, spammers are a crafty bunch, known for adapting to new environments. In what ways will spammers change in order to once again make money?

Smart Spam

    Classic spamming was known for mass emails. This is a kind of blunt force approach. Now, these messages are routed subversively. Spammers are beginning to utilize classic hacking techniques. Legitimate email accounts are being hacked, and lower frequencies of spam messages are being sent from them. This technique was recently used on actor Simon Pegg, causing over 1 million recipients to receive a spam link from one of his accounts.

    While there will always be a security answer to new spamming techniques, the best way to protect yourself is through personal diligence. Always be wary of a suspicious link, even if it is sent from a trusted account. Be mindful of any suspicious Internet activity that you encounter and do your best to stay ahead of spammers’ tricks. For more information on how spamming is evolving, make sure to read this article.

How do you define the Internet

A several years ago, we all laughed at then-U.S. senator Ted Stevens when he described the Internet as “a series of tubes.”

In the same speech, Stevens also seemed to confuse the Internet with email, recalling how one of his staffers “sent an Internet” on Friday that didn’t arrive in his inbox until the following Tuesday.

We all hate it when that happens.

But in the midst of our laughter at Stevens’ expense, we secretly hoped that no one would ask us to think of our own definition, because, well, what the heck IS the Internet?

It’s that thing we can’t imagine living without. It’s the way we work, buy stuff, watch videos, communicate, share memories, conduct research, tell jokes, catch up with friends, etc.

But what is it?

Lucky for us, the folks at Business Insider (BI) have assembled a slideshow that walks through the basics. Check it out here.

Here are the salient points:

Internet = interconnected network; it’s a network of networks. The Internet is a collection of computers (servers, desktops, laptops, etc.) that share information via telephone wires and satellite links; these computers are all connected by a common software standard called Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP). Most us get connected to the Internet via an Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as AT&T, Comcast, or Road Runner (the three largest ISPs). BI: “When you connect to an ISP, your computer becomes a part of its network. That network is already connected to another larger network, and that network is connected to yet another network, and so on and so forth across the globe.” The Internet is composed of servers and clients. Servers are machines that provide services with other machines. Clients (desktops, laptops, smartphones, etc.) use these services. BI: “So when you sign online at work, your computer becomes a client that’s accessing a Web server. Every device connected to the Internet has a unique numerical IP address The web ≠ the Internet. Invented in the late 1980s by Tim Berners-Lee, the web “is actually a subset of the Internet; it is all the pages that can be accessed using Web browsers [e.g. Explorer, Firefox].” All domain names have a corresponding numerical IP address. Example (courtesy of Wikipedia): the domain name www.example.com translates to the IP address 192.0.32.10. The Domain Name System was created to make the Internet more user-friendly (domain names are easier to remember than long strings of numbers)  
The physical infrastructure that supports the Internet
As it happens, Stevens’ conception of the Internet as a series of tubes wasn’t far from the mark. There exists a physical dimension to the Internet. A 2009 Wired magazine photo essay, Andrew Blum followed the path of a single bit of information as it traveled from the UK to the California coast, photographing the physical infrastructure that makes such a long (and blisteringly fast) journey attainable. Here’s a look at one leg of its journey.

When our bit hits the Big Apple, it passes through the beating heart of the American Internet: 60 Hudson Street (right), in downtown Manhattan. More transatlantic and transcontinental lines come together in New York than anywhere else in the country. Western Union opened the building in 1930 as the telegraph junction between Wall Street and Main Street. The ducts that once carried high-gauge copper wire are now filled with thousands of strands of glass fiber owned by hundreds of networks. Techs physically connect them to one another in a “meet-me-room,” neutral territory run by a company called Telx.

Is there a meaningful difference between ‘tubes’ and ‘ducts filled with glass fiber’?

If Stevens were alive today, I might be inclined to send him an ‘Internet’ apologizing for laughing at his tube-based definition of the online world.

The need for consumer-based technology

Creating consumer-based technology has been a popular trend in recent years; developers have noticed success with their products by tailoring them to fit with consumer needs and trends. A perfect example of this is the Google search engine, known for its usability. The reason Google has been so successful is because the technicians who design the functionality behind the search engine do so in response to consumer needs. It is evident that technological innovation is being motivated by consumer trends, but what does this mean for technology on a higher level? Here are some thoughts:

User-Generated Content

Consumer-based technology has created a stronger market for independent developers because consumerist technology favors the creative.  Proof of this is the recent onslaught of user-generated content. Small and independent development groups create some of the most popular apps for the iPhone and mobile-based devices. If you want to build an app to tell you which restaurant is the best in your area, you no longer have to look to Microsoft or Apple for the answer.  Instead, you can look to the coding expert who works in your office.

User-Friendly Applications

Because consumers drive the technological market, technology has been developed with user friendliness in mind. Remember Windows 97? Had Microsoft not updated each version of its operating system with more user-friendly features, they may not have maintained their status as a leading OS developer. Consumer-based technology has motivated developers to design easy-to-use products, which has affected the direction of technological innovation.

User Involvement

With recent generations growing up with advanced technology, current consumers now want to interact on deeper levels with their technologies. Those products that allow greater interaction between user and device are quickly becoming the most successful. For example, the Xbox Kinect is a gaming system that allows the user to move independently of a handheld device in order to interact with the game.  As demand increases, Microsoft has already found more innovative applications for this. With a wave of a hand you can browse movies on Netflix, send a message by email, and navigate the web.

Many of these consumer-based technological advancements may seem to only consider the pleasure of the user and have little sensible implications.  It’s important to consider how these new technologies will affect the future.  User-generated and friendly content could one day allow hospitals the ability to develop personalized monitoring programs for each patient; code writing and development could be accessible to everyone. User involvement has endless implications for the development of new devices. Though consumer-based technology is motivated by profit, the possibilities for future technologies are still valuable to society as a whole.

To see some specific ways consumer technology is being implemented practically, take a look at this article.