Blog Posts

Ten Years of Innovation

A look at one of my favorite Marc Benioff keynote lines and reflection on three ways that technology has changed in the last 10 years and how it has really changed the way I live my life.
It always makes me think when during one of his highly anticipated keynote speeches Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff talks about how the technology industry changes greatly over a ten year span. As he mentions, the industry is always overestimating what you can do in one year but constantly underestimates what can be done in ten. He uses this phrase to point out that technology is ever evolving and that cloud computing allows you as a user to ride the wave of innovation and not have to necessarily "keep up with the times" as the sheer fact that your leveraging the cloud will afford you the ability to stay current without really thinking about it. Instant upgrades, scalability and elasticity, security, and system optimization are things that you just don't have to think about. There are many technologies that have evolved over the last ten years but I thought I would pick three that have really made strides and have changed beyond my wildest imagination.


I Want My HDTV

 
I can still remember watching Yankee games on my 13" television set. I often times think to myself, how did I even see the game? When I upgraded to a "large" 32" tube I thought to myself, wow, I have a big TV, this is awesome! Little did I know that a 32" TV would soon be considered small and the tube would be obselete. The first High Definition televisions were available in the United States in 1998 but there was little to no content. Who would have thought that over the last ten years the majority of people have an HDTV and almost every channel is broadcasted in HD. I honestly can't imagine watching an action packed movie on HBO or a football game on a standard definition TV ever again.
 

I Want Everything Yesterday

 
About ten years ago now I got my first cell phone. It was a bit bulky and it had keys on it just like a regular cordless phone. It was amazing to me that I could be in the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden a phone in my pocket, connected to nothing, could start ringing and I could communicate like I was home. I also remember sending my first SMS (text) messages and started to get really good at typing words on the standard phone keypad. This was the start of real-time collaboration for me - it was like instant messaging on the go. Now before I get out of bed in the morning I pick up my iPhone and check my email, my Twitter, Facebook, and download a podcast for my commute to work. Oh, did I mention that I also use the iPhone to actually wake me up using the alarm clock. I walk around with a computer as powerful as the laptop I used in college and I use it as a multi-faceted real-time constantly-connected communication device. With the advances to mobile devices over the last ten years I can run my business and my personal life - just about everything - from a thin portable communication device that fits in my pocket.
 

Awesome Apps Please

 
Of course the last topic I am going to touch upon is cloud computing and the advancement of running applications in the cloud. Ten years ago who would have thought that entire businesses could be run from a technology perspective without owning a single server. If you would have talked to an IT executive in 2001 they would have said that you are crazy. There were some services available like Webex and of course Salesforce.com but they were fledgling - nobody could have predicted that they would not only be major Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors but in addition to that there would be IaaS and PaaS players infiltrating the enterprise at a staggering pace. The industry has taken such a turn that at this point you wouldn't even start a business without saying "what CAN'T I use cloud computing for" rather then the exact opposite which is how people thought ten years ago.
 

The Times They Are a-Changin

 
Benioff hits the nail on the head, with technology things are always advancing, always innovating, and always changing. Even these three examples though are likely to change a great deal over the next ten years. Who knows what might happen with 3D TVs - maybe we won't need those glasses soon? Mobile Devices are getting smarter and smarter by the year - soon enough we might not even need laptops or desktops - we may just have phones and tablets. As for cloud computing, we are still at the very begining of a movement. Ten years from now we may be at the point where no business at all is operating without large portions of their processes living in the cloud. What might that cloud even look like - will it be collaborative, social, and open? All likely and I dare not guess the rest.
 
To discuss more about this blog post feel free to tweet me at www.twitter.com/justedelstein or comment on this post on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/arkusinc.  

 

A Quick Review of the Salesforce.com Chatter Superbowl Ad

Salesforce.com introduced Chatter to the world during the Superbowl. This is a quick look at what was good, not so good and what's hopefully next.
A Quick Review of the Salesforce.com Chatter Superbowl Ad

Baby Peas!

For all of us Salesforce geeks, not only did we see the superbowl commercial but most of us sat glued to the television before halftime to make sure we didn't miss it. I have to admit, it was pretty cool to see the Black Eyed Peas promoting the software-as-a-service platform I know and love, but did it deliver? Here's what this Salesforce geek thinks.

The Chatterati

The fact that Salesforce.com has made it to primetime is an amazing step in itself regardless if the full message got across. To think in less than five years, enterprise social software has gone from a mere concept to a superbowl ad viewed by millions. What I was scratching my head about at last year's Dreamforce has got me telling every business owner I know how Chatter can help their business. The other big thing is it costs nothing to get started. If the ad at least got you to go to Chatter.com, a free offering warrants a try. If one trys, then they tell a friend and so on and so on.

Just Chit-Chat?

Both commercials seemed a little rushed and not fully informative. As one tweet put it, "Apparently with Chatter.com, the Black Eyed Peas can make donkeys and elephants make out, nice." (link to that tweet) Is that going to get people to go check it out and on top of that, what audience did it get the attention of? Most business owners I know aren't listening to the Black Eyed Peas and when I asked some of them what they thought, they had nothing to say. Not till I explained what they can do with it did they start asking questions.

Next up for Chatter?

I give Salesforce an A for effort but a C for the final product. The commercials didn't give enough information for someone to open the laptop and Google it but might of started enough of a buzz to give evangalists some good talking points to help spread the word. Hopefully this isn't a one and done and the commercials get more play time in different venues. In a few months I will revisit with a part two of this blog to see where it has gone and what impact it has had.

Avoiding Email Bankruptcy with Mail.app Smart Folders & Flags

A take on starting off the new year right, without going bankrupt on your email.

With the increasing onslaught of emails comes a new idea and term, which is to go bankrupt with your email, wiping away all of your overflowing inbox and starting again fresh and new. The problem with email bankruptcy is that the debt isn't to a bank and the action might hurt more than your credit score such as your work or relationships with others. The start of 2011 is a good time to outline some tips and tricks on dealing with emails to avoid going bankrupt on family, friends and colleagues.

Search > Folders

The first thing to understand is that modern email search is much faster, easier and effective than putting things into folders. I can search over the 15 years of emails in 7 different accounts (131,718 messages to be exact) in seconds. I have since given up the traditional idea of moving emails back and forth between different folders. Mail.app gives two different folders for each email account in Inbox and Sent and search can be started at any level.

Inbox Zero

The second thing is that dealing with an Inbox of over 20,000 emails is overwhelming and I am not suggesting anyone click on that inbox every morning. Stealing from the great work of David Allen and Merlin Mann I use the "Inbox Zero" methodology which is to say my goal each day is to empty my inbox down to zero emails having dealt with each email along the way. The question is how do you have over 20,000 emails representing years of activity in an inbox but not look at all of them everyday and feel totally overwhelmed. Enter Smart Folders in Mail.app.

Get Smart Folders

Smart Folders are just persistent searches or filters used to define and re-run every time they are clicked on. In Mail.app they are stored in their own section and dragging that section to the top of the left navigation pane really helps increase their visitibility. The first smart folder I

Smart Folders

 suggest is one I call "Inbox Zero" and is all unread, non-junk email. Any new email that comes into one of my email accounts and that is not automatically dealt with by some other filter shows up in this view. From here I use the Getting Things Done methodology of doing, deleting, delegating or archiving. While deleting and delegating are obvious, for arching my main action is no action since it already exists in the proper inbox, if I read it and do nothing it is automatically archived. Problem solved. The doing part is either responding to it immediately or flagging it which brings in my next trick.

Raise The Flags

Since I go through my emails in short scheduled periods of work (ie: Sprints) so as not to spend all of my time doing email and not every email needs a simple and quick reply, I flag (SHIFT + COMMAND + L) any email that I need to deal with later. This allows me to get my Inbox Zero to driving through the hundreds of new emails, flagging the ones I need to work on and deleting, delegating and auto-archiving the rest. Flagged

My second smart folder "Flagged" is just a collection of all flagged emails from any account. I work through the Flagged smart folder a few times a day, depending on my work load and give more attention to those emails that need more or require more work. If an email has more work in it than can be handled in a single day I capture that work into my task/project list (OmniFocus) and un-flag it since it is now captured somewhere else.

Arkus

Arkus

Another good tip is to create a combined smart folder for any area of focus. For me that is Arkus, my company and this smart folder just combines all Inbox and Sent emails into one threaded view. This is useful for starting another search or for quickly finding the last few emails in a the hierarchical thread they were sent and received.

Not Responded (Yet)

Not RespondedThat last smart folder I suggest is one that is a view of all emails that are not junk or sent and from actual people that have not been responded to in the last 8 days. I use eight days since I review this folder once a week to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks. You can add your own filters to remove things like order invoices and discussion lists.

Hopefully these tips will help you avoid your own email bankruptcy and keep your time and attention on the things that matter. If you have any tips or tricks, including your own smart folders feel free to tweet them to me @JasonMAtwood

References

Watson Beyond Jeopardy

Watson is a supercomputer built by IBM to understand and solve the question and answer problem facing computers today. They plan to demonstrate it's capabilities by playing a game of Jeopardy against past grand champions.
Watson Beyond Jeopardy

IBM is building out Watson to compete on Jeopardy.

Have you seen commercials recently on television about Watson, an IBM project aimed at winning Jeopardy against grand champions? I have, and I am totally interested in seeing this super computer in action. The challenge of answering questions by understanding context, linguistics, semantics, and syntax is an incredibly difficult one for a computer. Sure, ask a computer to calculate complex scientific equations and it performs in a jiffy with great accuracy but throw a pun at it and ask it to answer in question form and it may choke a bit. The task of understanding context and semantics is a great one and one that humans have a distinct advantage over computers. Jeopardy is a perfect challenge for Watson to see just how far computers have come in the question and answering space - particularly when the data it's being asked to answer is unstructured. 

 

How Does It Do That? 

 

Watson itself is a self contained clustering of servers that has a limited knowledgebase to draw it's answers from. It is built on a mega stack of IBM computers with over 3,000 cores of processing power. It doesn't just query a database of structured knowledge for answers either, rather it has been fed a mix of structured and unstructured data such as books, knowledge articles, the Elements table, newspapers, etc. It is also equiped with algorithms that can calculate meanings of words, natural language processors, confidence calculations, and hundreds more. How else would Watson be able to buzz in to answer a question in under 6 seconds if it wasn't able to calculate all of this data, understand the meaning of the question being asked, and calculate a confidence score to determine if it should even buzz in at all.  

 

There is obviously much more to how Watson does what it does and if you are interested here is a great video (22 min) that goes into greater detail:  

 

Amazing Machine, Meet Real Problems 

 

Not to diminish the real-world problem of winning Jeopardy but the first time I saw what IBM is doing with Watson I immediately thought of customer service and the service cloud. One thing to consider is that Watson's knowledge is limited by what you feed it, but in theory it doesn't have to be. It could go out and query the entire Internet if we wanted it to which would require some serious computer power behind it to render an appropriate answer - yay cloud! Here is a hypothetical scenario where Watson's technology would work really well with a Salesforce.com service cloud implementation in a perfect world: 

  • We have structured data about our clients in our sales and service cloud
  • We have unstructured data surrounding our client in our Chatter feeds 
  • We have unstructured data in the form of documentation, files and knowledge articles
  • We have a history of past occurrences with this product for clients just like the current one we are dealing with
  • We have a history of past occurrences with this product for clients just like the current one we are dealing with
  • We also have a deep understanding of their issues contextually with what Watson brings to the table - meaning we can sense different issues and problems by analyzing the way that they asked the question
  • Add into the mix what we can find out about this client using the Internet and Social Networking
    • Interests 
    • How the client speaks and how they frame their questions
    • Did they already ask the question on Twitter therefore increasing our urgency to answer fast and correctly 

 

With all of the above at our fingertips we ought to be able to solve almost any problem that a client brings our way. The ability to deeply understand what our clients need and want surrounding all the data we have collected about them as well as the products that we support should allow us to pinpoint answers in seconds leading to a much better customer experience.  

Your Watson? 

 

I wonder what other people are thinking about Watson. Let me know what you see as a potential good use case in the business world for such powerful technology. I mean hey, if it can compete and win on Jeopardy then it can certainly understand and contextualize a lot of business problems that we face today and are likely to face in the future.  

To discuss in more depth tweet me at twitter.com/justedelstein or post a comment on this blog post on our Facebook page at facebook.com/arkusinc.  

iPhone: The Clone Wars

The iPhone is now available on the Verizon network. Here are some thoughts about how this might impact the marketplace and will it have a negative or positive effect on the service of both Verizon and AT&T.
iPhone: The Clone Wars

The iPhone Wars

    Last week the world was introduced to the iPhone on the Verizon network. As a former Verizon customer who moved to AT&T for the iPhone I thought it would be good to provide a little insight as to whether it's time to jump ship again. I broke out the comparison into three key areas to consider.

    No New Features

    Based on the press release, the actual features of the iPhone on Verizon are really no different then the one on AT&T. So for those hoping for more features and functions, you will have to wait for the next version of the iPhone, probably coming in Summer. The only thing that was changed of note is the design to avoid the "Death Grip" issue. I personally never had an issue and actually got a free case out of the deal.

    Better Phone Service

    As a former Verizon customer I used to think hands down that Verizon had a leg up on AT&T and would cause a mass exodus for existing iPhone owners. Now, I'm not so sure. Since being on AT&T, I have to admit that it's not a real problem. I've had limited dropped calls and AT&T provided us with one of their Micro Cells to solve the "No Service" issue in my office. It's still dumbfounding to me that in the heart of Time Square I cannot get good service and we will see if the Micro Cell works out. The phone has nothing to do with the no service but does it have something to do with dropped calls? I've heard some people say that every time an iPhone is activated, a dropped call occurs. If that is the case, what will happen with it on Verizon? And do they have the right plan in place to solve it? Only time will tell. If you are gonna jump, maybe wait a few months to see what others experience.

    Speed, Speed and More Speed

    Times have changed. Everyone is now mobile and the need for data services is greater then ever. Texting someone is much quicker then calling and why pull out a laptop and click away when I can touch a button on my phone to change my Facebook status. In a recent article in PC World, they tested the two phones and AT&T actually "trounced" their rivals in the thirteen urban areas they tested. In addition, AT&T tested 90% reliability in 10 of the 13 urban areas tested and Verizon didn't score 90% in any. That is pretty impressive and I want my data fast, fast, and faster. Also remember that AT&T technology allows for both voice and data at the same time, while Verizon does not. This might be a deal breaker for some.

    I don't see myself changing networks anytime soon. If AT&T can keep winning the data war, I see no reason to move unless there is some new feature I can't live without. I'm also curious to see the release schedule for the iPhone upgrades and also how the price will be affected. Rumors have the next iPhone being built with the ability to handle all networks, so you won't have to buy another handset to switch carriers. With Sprint rumored to get it in February of 2011, the competition could get even more fierce. For now, AT&T is my choice.