Pittsburgh Technical Council

Tech Sampler: Assorted Sweet Insights of Trends & Issues

Tech Sampler: Assorted Sweet Insights of Trends & Issues

Article Published: March 5, 2015

When picking the brains of Pittsburgh’s top tech leaders about the trends and issues they are paying attention to, you get a pretty diverse response.

Some are thinking about Big Data. Others are obsessed with security around all that data. Others are focusing on mobile technologies, while solving age-old business problems with proprietary technology solutions keeps many more up at night.

When you cue up seven of Pittsburgh’s top tech minds to provide their unique views, the result is an amazing assortment of thought leadership—not unlike a box of chocolates.

But unlike Forrest Gump’s world-famous philosophy, you know exactly what you’ll get with this proverbial box of goodies—sweet insights that can guide you and your business, too.

So dive into the TEQ Tech Sampler! These treats won’t stick to your teeth, just your brain.

 

Data, Data, Everywhere: Balancing Security While Finding Meaningful Outcomes

By Eric Harvey, President & CTO, Imagine Careers

Just about every corporate CIO/CTO is closely watching the acceleration of data produced by their organizations and users.  Companies can now buy terabytes of storage for what gigabytes cost just over a decade ago, making cost no longer a constraint.  Management wants to save every input and transaction without deleting a single byte, creating massive security and privacy concerns, a-la Sony, Target, and other victims of hacking. 

Imagine Careers is paying close attention to what companies like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed, and others in the human-capital space are doing, both with the data they are collecting as well as access provided to it via API. They are gathering massive amounts of data about users, companies, jobs, and beyond. Our goal is to centralize this information and make it discoverable and actionable at the individual level.

As Imagine Careers builds out our talent-facing professional discovery and advancement platform, gaining access to this aforementioned data along with confidential personal information makes it mission-critical for us to be forward-thinking on issues of digital privacy and data access.  These are large and exciting challenges for any company, early-stage to mature.

The elephant in the room for any consumer technology company is how to leverage big data responsibly to create meaningful outcomes while mitigating risk. Today’s users are keenly aware that their digital footprints are discoverable, and Imagine Careers wants to continue to create trust by investing in best practices in software architecture, security and personal data-sharing.

 

IQ is Watching Mobile Payments

By Barbara VanKirk, CEO, IQ Inc.

A trend that IQ has been watching closely since 2013 is that of B2C and B2B mobile payments. In 2014, mobile payment spending reached $50 billion and is projected to almost triple in the next five years, according to a 2014 report by Forrester. One of the most popular use cases for this trend: customers paying for coffee at Starbucks using their mobile phones. Nearly 

6 percent of the coffee purchased at Starbucks last year was transacted via mobile payments.

The benefits of mobile payment capability to the consumer include added convenience, speed, and loyalty program perks; while benefits to merchants include increased sales and improved receivables turnover.

A technology that has thrust mobile payments into the “Smartphone Killer App” category is Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC enables smartphones and point-of-sale terminals to establish radio communication with each other by touching them together or by bringing them into proximity with one another.

All of the major smartphone manufacturers, along with mobile payment services like Apple Pay, Square and LevelUp and retailers such as Starbucks, Amazon and OpenTable, are quickly paving the way for mobile payments to become a common transactional occurrence. These companies, and many more, are contributing to the enormous trend in mobile spending that we’re now experiencing.

IQ is watching NFC technology and its use in the mobile payments space. In mid-2014, IQ released its first electronic payment product called IQ Payment Portal. This product enables merchants to charge customers’ accounts for services that have been rendered. It also enables customers to conveniently and securely pay merchants and vendors online for services, as opposed to writing checks or paying by phone.

IQ Payment Portal has delivered value to its merchant customers, by improving their receivables turnover ratio; and to its end customers, with added convenience, all to an encouraging extent. So much so that IQ plans to broaden the market reach of the IQ Payment Portal in 2015, and at the same time is planning a second electronic payment product aimed at consumers, which is also targeted for the latter part of 2015.

 

Data Center Needs: Infrastructure Management, Uptime and Change Management Top the List for 2015

By Chris Massetti, CEO, Donwil

One can hardly have a conversation around business without discussing data—“big data” or otherwise. Where do we process and keep it? The value and growth of the hosted computing environment are undeniable. The Pittsburgh region boasts many excellent colocation and cloud providers, which have become an increasingly large piece of many companies overall IT strategies. However, many users are still operating small- to medium-scale data centers and face a unique set of challenges when compared to larger-scale operations.

For the last decade, Emerson Network Power has hosted the vendor-neutral Data Center Users’ Group (DCUG) conference. This collection of approximately 500 data center users has generated a substantial amount of data that offers a clear picture of the changing concerns of today’s data center operator. Whether we are discussing a large hosting provider, manufacturer or healthcare provider, the needs and concerns of the data center operator are quite similar in 2015.

Just two years ago, when polled, the members of the DCUG cited energy efficiency as their top concern, and Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) as their second concern. Heading into 2015, DCIM takes the top spot and efficiency is relegated to fourth position. This is neither unexpected nor without good reason. In response, there have been major advances in DCIM technology which increases a company’s ability to efficiently utilize its infrastructure.

What is surprising is that availability is once again the second concern of the respondents for 2015. For many years this was their top concern. It fell to the bottom of the list, but has reemerged as an issue. One can only speculate as to why all of a sudden so many operators are now increasingly worried over uptime. As data centers strive for a lower Power Utilization Efficiency (PUE) metric and trends toward consolidation continues, it can often come at the cost of availability and drive increased uptime requirements.

Most agree that large-scale cloud providers are able to more successfully employ ultra-efficient, high-risk free cooling technologies. These bleeding-edge technologies can be quite effective when applied to very large, decentralized computing environments; however, when applied to a small or medium hardened enterprise data center they can be difficult to manage and cause unintended consequences.

Change Management is the third concern for 2015 and continues to be addressed with advances in DCIM software via a solid foundation in asset and workflow management.

Security—physical or cyber—does not even crack the top five, but it is safe to assume this is the top concern of the application and network teams within most organizations.

With all of these concerns, there is some good news for all users: the industry is listening. There are many great technologies that can deliver low PUEs without sacrificing availability for the small- to medium-sized user. DCIM software is now a reality, and it is helping more and more operators to drive efficiencies from new and legacy systems as well as more efficiently manage change within the data center. Security has proved to be a continuous improvement process and will evolve as needs arise.

Hyper-Scale users are seeing their share of innovation as well. Many are moving away from “stick-built” construction and opting for modular data centers that incorporate technologies such as skid-mounted power and cooling systems for ease of installation and rapid deployment. The most extreme example of this is the purpose-built modular datacenter that begins at the 1.2 megawatt (MW) size and continues to the stratospheric scale of 60 or 100 MW and includes power, free cooling, DCIM and the modular shell as standard. These technologies are rapidly trickling down to the smaller scale user.

All users are striving for higher performance, as data has never been more central to business operation. Whether a company is choosing a hyper-converged computing environment or a
100 percent cloud-based solution through a third-party data center provider, users are looking for better management of their environment, higher availability and better ability to adapt to change.

 

Embracing Automation: Technology is only becoming more complex

By Chris Foot, Vice President of Technology, RDX   

IT automation is a disruptive technology that promises to have a significant and sustained impact on our industry. Current product offerings break the paradigm of automating routine tasks by providing the functionality required to automate complex support activities traditionally performed by highly-trained IT knowledge workers.

Regardless of application, all automation implementations share the common goal of replacing human activities with technology to reduce costs and improve quality. Repetitive work activities that required little intelligent analysis and decision-making to complete were the traditional candidates for automation.

Automation products execute robotic tasks that perform actions and interact with data to make intelligent decisions. The data is processed using workflows, decision trees and embedded rules. The tasks can continue processing by executing additional workflows, prompt for human interaction or complete the automation by performing an activity.

Currently, most IT automation activities are performed by technicians that interweave various scripts, programs and products to automate tasks without adhering to a consistent architecture or strategy. To leverage automation’s benefits, organizations need to transform these opportunistic, ad hoc activities to a strategic initiative with a mission statement, clear set of goals and the project plans to obtain them.

A question commonly asked is “will I be automated out of a job?” I’ve been in IT for 25 years, having worked in “think tanks” for several Fortune 500 companies. During my tenure, I’ve seen product manufacturers and industry pundits make various claims that their product or the latest hot architecture will simplify support to such a degree that administrators will no longer be required. To the contrary, technology is becoming more complex, not less. IT professionals should embrace automation. It will allow them to automate mundane, repetitive support activities allowing them to focus on leveraging technology to improve business operations.

In the near future, service providers that manage large numbers of remote targets, like RDX, will be required to automate or they quickly will lose market share to those that do. It is how we intend to differentiate ourselves from our competitors and scale the rising costs of our rapid growth while allowing our subject matter experts to focus on higher ROI activities.

RDX is a Pittsburgh-based remote data infrastructure services provider. RDX’s offerings include 24x7 monitoring and administration services for all leading databases and operating systems. RDX also supports Oracle EBS and SQL Server’s Business Intelligence platform and provides database security monitoring and breach protection services.

 

Creating Value: In a Data-Driven World, CMOs and CIOs Must Partner

By Scott Barnyak, Principle Partner, SDLC Partners

We are in the “Age of the Customer.” No longer is business making the rules. The customer is king. Customers are more educated and empowered than ever.  With the capabilities to blog, Tweet, Facebook and Yelp opinions, customers are on a stage with an audience of hundreds to potentially thousands. This leaves little room for error, but ample room for opportunity.

The opportunity is in customer engagement. We can easily collect vast amounts of data from various channels and devices.  The key is to capture the right data and translate into deep insights that reveal the customer’s needs, wants and buying behaviors.  This allows companies to build better products and services while enhancing and customizing the customer experience. 

As Forrester sums up, “To serve customers well, firms must recognize that they will leverage many channels and that those channels must deliver a seamless customer experience.”  While new or improved products are nice, being competitive isn’t enough these days. It’s about staying relevant throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

With the customer being center stage and the abundance of data surrounding them, it is imperative for the CMO and CIO to forge a strong partnership.  Advice from Forrester reinforces, “As CMOs and CIOs look to turn collaboration into action, they must change their processes to better evaluate their shared strengths and weaknesses and identify opportunities for improvement.” 

CMOs must develop a more technical mentality. CIOs must grow into a customer service mentality. Both must share a business-driven agenda centered on the customer’s experience.  To achieve results, the CIO and CMO must work together because in today’s customer-driven business world, the collaboration of both roles are needed to create more value, more revenue and make a greater impact.

 

Solving an Age-Old Problem: New, Local Proprietary Technology Addresses Sales and Marketing Challenges

By Keith Giuliani, CEO, Savvior

In our travels with clients, the Savvior team often sees “behind the curtain” to the specific business, sales and marketing challenges organizations experience. One of the biggest barriers to organizations of all sizes, industries and verticals is the time and cost involved with closing sales deals.

 It’s an age-old sales challenge. Preparing proposals and sending sales collateral, white papers, and product information sheets to prospective clients is time-consuming, not very personalized, and often produces weak submissions which don’t win the business. The typical salesperson spends hours aggregating product/service information, drafting proposals, and trying to pull the latest-and-greatest information to send over to their prospective client. It’s tough to demonstrate true understanding of clients’ problems, and showcase the value they bring as partners, when getting this important information into prospects’ hands is so time-consuming and hard to find. It takes more than hustle and knowing the space.

Winning business requires a combination of the right price, right time, tailored messaging, and sending the most relevant information to prospective clients. Oftentimes, sales team members aren’t using the most up-to-date, customized sales/marketing information, because it takes too long and is tough to find. Result: lost opportunities, and frustrated sales team members.

Walk down the hall to Marketing, and you have marketers rightfully pulling their hair out when sales team members send out documents, which are inconsistent and not brand compliant. Countless hours spent on perfecting messaging, collateral and go-to-market positioning, wasted when not leveraged.  

It’s a “lose-lose” for both departments, and the organization as a whole.

If you’ve ever walked a mile in a salesperson’s shoes, or a marketer’s shoes, you’ll know what we mean. Everyone wants to close more business and leverage the strength of the brand. In the past, we lived this challenge here at Savvior, and so did many of our end clients.

The aforementioned scenarios led to the creation of one of our newest software tools, SavviDocs™, which is currently in development. This new product will change how documents are created, modified and submitted in a dynamic, secure environment.  

With this groundbreaking tool, forged from the front lines of sales and brand management, users can select precisely the right information to share with prospective clients, in an elegant, easy-to-use interface that not only saves time, but makes document creation personalized. It also allows for collaboration and contribution from other groups within the organization, such as the legal team, who want to ensure that the most up-to-date version of contracts are being used. 

With SavviDocs, organizations of all sizes in any industry can leverage an existing content library and use professional designs custom-branded to their organization to produce a customized, personalized document in just about two minutes. What used to take hours will now take mere minutes. Increased creativity and collaboration, lower sales and marketing attrition, and most importantly, closing more deals.   

Our goal here is to take what we’ve observed in the market and make organizations more effective by creating brand-compliant, prioritized and personalized documents.  SavviDocs will also be fully integrated with leading CRM packages like Salesforce, Hubspot, and SavviCRM, and is particularly powerful for industries that have fast-moving and changing data. 

We’re excited to share more information about the product with the Pittsburgh Technology Council community in the coming weeks.

 

Machines that Think: And the Wizards Behind Them

By Tom Anderson, CTO, C-Leveled

We have been witnessing the fevered imaginings of 19th and early 20th century science fiction writers turn into reality. Right before our very eyes, our kitchen appliances are communicating with each other and our cars are driving themselves. We’re on a trajectory… and it has a name. The Internet of Things (IoT) was first coined by Kevin Ashton, executive director of the Auto-ID Center at MIT in 1999. (See chronology: http://postscapes.com/internet-of-things-history.) 

There is mind-blowing technology hitting the market or nearly ready to be commercialized that will change our daily lives… forever! The question to ask yourselves is, what part will you play? Will you simply be a consumer—using your smartphone from a distance to monitor and communicate with your home—or will you be one of the wizards driving new applications, functions and solutions? Will you be one of the tech superstars contributing to IoT, making sure our cars, our homes, our appliances, our pets and even possibly our children are chipped with access to the internet so we can instantly see and know their status and location?

The progression of technology is clearly visible in the automotive industry. First we had services such as OnStar that could monitor the whereabouts of the car, remotely lock or unlock the doors, call for assistance, stop the vehicle if stolen and so forth. Then came GPS and turn-by-turn navigation, complete with knowing if we were lost or made a wrong turn and recalculating the route to get us back on track. The GPS functionality grew to alerts for traffic, sharing your route so friends and family know when to expect you, even alerts for speed traps. Cars began to be able to park themselves and even stop themselves if they were about to hit something. Now, these sensors and GPS have combined and gone to the next generation where they can actually drive themselves. Some are even starting to take wing and fly.

Technology itself is advancing, as necessary, to keep up with these inventions, in particular, as they relate to security. For example, medical equipment that monitors a patient’s vital statistics and sends alerts to nurses must be on a high-security device, be HIPAA compliant and integrate many other security-based technologies. In another case of technological advancement, devices are starting to talk to each other, as in the case of the door lock with a fob so that as you unlock the door, lights are programmed to turn on in your hallway or other areas of your home.

It is important to realize that the more successful thinking machines are those that solve problems such as driving safely, checking to see if I remembered to turn off the stove, finding a lost pet, child or item, communicating health status and so forth. It is intriguing and even a bit fun to think, “What’s next? Or what could be next? What problems do I, my family, my community have that could be solved through a chip or an app or both?

If you have an idea for a thinking machine and are interested in developing the product or launching a business, we at C-leveled are dedicated to helping businesses evolve, grow and reach the next level. Be sure and contact us to help your vision become a reality. For more information, visit us at www.c-leveled.com or join us the third Thursday of every month for our #CNBSEEN networking events. All wizards are welcome.

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