Technology changes by 2020

I read a great post by Sean Williams at Fool.com and it got me to thinking of the changes I foresee.  Most of these are his but a few are my own. Here are some technologies I see greatly changed by 2020:

Robotic cars will take over most driving – Google’s robot cars have proven incredibly reliable and safe.  In fact, the insurance industry has note the safety record of robot cars so vastly exceeds humans that I predict they will charge huge fees for human driven cars and give big discounts for robotically driven cars.  Who knows, maybe even a discount for proving you do NOT have a driver’s license!!  The government will have no coice but to go along given the huge difference in safety between robotic & human driven cars. This might be more of a 2025 change, but make no mistake, it is going to happen.

Digital Phones will dissappear – As Sean said,c’mon, you saw this coming, right?  Look at your smartphone.  It probably has better resolution then your old digital camera.  Plus it can do movies!!   This is one reason Eastman Kodak bit the dust (one of a dozen may I add) and is another reason why it’s crucial to pay attention to camera display sensor companies like OmniVision Technologies (Nasdaq: OVTI  ) that are driving camera innovation in devices from both Apple and Samsung. With new smartphones sporting 8MP cameras, and resolutions increasing yearly, why wouldn’t digital cameras go extinct?  Also note the incredible amount of research being done with smartphones.  Everything from 3d holograms that will float above your phone (using Microsoft’s Metro motion sensitive technology by the way), to reading brain waves to control your smartphone (or perhaps we should start calling it a “smart assistant”?).

USPS will go the way of the dinosaur – The postal service failed to make a required $5.5 billion payment to the postal union earlier this month as they posted a loss of $5.2 Billion.  Sooner of later the government is going to have to bite the bullet and shut the USPS down.  As Sean so adroitly noted, FedEx and UPS have a few years to figure out how to pick up the slack and take over mail delivery.  But the USPS will join it’s own Pony Express as ancient history by 2020.

Energy Drinks will be banned or tightly controlled – Sean hit this one on the head.  I know this is heresy to many teens and 20 somethings.  But sooner or later the FDA will put a lid on this “drug” that so many rely on.  Currently the FDA is concentrating on burying the tobacco inductry, but sooner or later they will take on energy drinks.

Credit Cards will be replaced – I have to add to Sean’s prediction here.  Credit card companies are seeing a decline in their customer base as people slowly move to Near Field Communication technology, or NFC.  First customers tried to move to debit cards, but the credit card industry was able to get the government to add fees that made them somewhat expensive.  Perhaps they see the writing on the wall as consumers will continue to move toward a more convenient form of paying for their Latte.  With NFC proving to be more safe, quick and convenient, you can bet this technology will grow inte future.  VISA, Master Card, American Express, et al, had better have plans to make the switch. So far, only companies like  Dolby Laboratories (NYSE: DLB  ) and NXP Semiconductors (Nasdaq: NXPI  ) are positioned to take advantage of the switch as they are pushing ahead on research and manufacturing on this technology.  NOTE:  This is ALSO based on smartphone technology!  Hint – this is where you should be investing – companies like Apple, Nokia, HTC, Samsung, etc.

The United States gets dethroned as the pre-eminent superpower: Another Sean prediction.  Though some disagree, the United States’ days as the world’s most important nation are numbered. That doesn’t mean the U.S. won’t hold its lead in innovation and manufacturing, but China is well on its way to dethroning the U.S. in countless other categories. China already lays claim to the world’s leading manufacturing output, energy consumption, and steel usage, and should, based on its current trajectory, easily surpass the U.S. in total GDP, retails sales, and imports by 2025. Simply put, people will be looking toward China to dictate global growth in the future first, not the United States.

Yes, the world is changing.  Are you paying attention?  Are you ready???

 

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Companies postponing projects pending outcome of Bush Tax Cut extension action

After a 4th large client postponed their large SharePoint project last week pending Congressional action on extending the Bush tax cuts, I am beginning to sense a trend.  Could Congress’s failure to extend the tax cuts cause additional slowing of the economy?  After reading James Rickards Currency Wars (Read a review by Forbes magazine here), I am concerned this tax break vote will  impact the economy and directly effect  my business.   Rickards talks about how going off the gold standard has destabilized currencies and economies.  Even more interesting is his assertion that historically, everytime a government has raised taxes, economies have slowed down and visa-versa.   Rickards explores economic history in depth, basing his arguments on past currency wars such as the one after WW1 between several European countries and the U.S., and why currency wars are a lose-lose situation.

In short, Rickards’s main argument is that countries around the world are devaluing their currencies in order to boost their exports (domestically produced goods and services will be cheaper for foreigners) thereby increasing their GDP. However, such actions will frequently be met by mutual currency devaluation by other countries or by some protectionist policy such as tariffs. Therefore, countries will gain a temporary advantage until other countries retaliate, the end result of which will be: inflation brought on from currency devaluation, protectionism and the halt of free trade, thus – wealth destruction. And in a worst case scenario, an outright military conflict.  (Another good question: Is the US going the way of Japan?  Perpetual high debt?  Japan carries a huge debt load).

Rickards also talks about the last great boom during the Reagan years.  He attributes that boom to the lowering of taxes, despite the inflation that went along with it.  He insists that raising taxes ALWAYS leads to economic decline and lower taxes to growth.  What he does not address is that along with growth we get inflation. As was mentioned above, I found Rickards’s thesis to be well argued and backed with plenty of historical facts.  An engaging book, especially his two scenarios as the only possible results.  Either we continue raising taxes and end up in a catastrophic economic war (or military war) that makes the credit collapse look mild by comparison, or we (and other nations) return to the gold/silver standard, and see the dollar rise form the ashes to a new golden era of growth. A fascinating read and very exciting, even if I do not agree with everything he posits as the ONLY possible results.

Several knowledgeable people have written predictions that I think are more grounded in reality such as  Prof. Lawrence White, of George Mason University, in his excellent Making the Transition to a New Gold Standard as published in freebanking.org.  Also check out the similar analysis so well explained in  gold standard advocate Lewis E. Lehrman’s 2011 The True Gold Standard.  Still, Rickards makes some intriguing points  that are hard to  dismiss completely as they are well researched and very plausible.

But back to how the tax cut extension effects my business.  If companies are indeed holding back funds  for potential tax increases and postponing or cancelling growth, then  should I plan on lean business pickings for the foreseeable future?  January through March were boom months as companies quickly moved ahead with projects that had finally been approved after the same kind of waiting game by financial officers and executives to be sure they had enough cash on hand for potential taxes and/or another economic slow down.  There is no questioning that companies have been building up their cash positions to be better prepared for slowdowns than they were when the credit crisis hit in 2008.  That crises took many by surprise and they were forced to trim staff which further exacerbated the rapid growth in unemployment numbers that have haunted the current administration (though we know economic climate is often a result of the previous president’s policies).

Still, there is some light at the end of the tunnel as 5 potential clients have moved ahead with large projects, so I won’t be checking into the local homeless shelter anytime soon and I can probably keep my 2 employees, though I won’t be hiring the 2 new ones I was hoping to add this year.   Are you listening economists and Mr Obama?  My hiring or laying off employees is very probably directly tied to this tax cut extension.   You want more jobs, you have to lower taxes to give companies more funds to hire employees and grow with new projects.  Here’s hoping Mr Rickards is offbase about the black and white scenario he paints for the world’s economic future.

How you are Judged

I recently read an article on what people look at when they view a LinkedIn page, especially recruiters.  The study involved 30 recruiters looking at LinkedIn pages over 10 weeks.  In the study conducted by TheLadders, an eye tracking heatmap shows that recruiters spend 19 percent of the total time they spend on your profile looking at your picture. Then, your current job position and education are glanced at, but not so much time is spent on your skills, specialties or older work experiences.

The fact that your photo carries so much weight was surprising to me.  Not only that, but we are quickly judged on our looks.  To quote Vivian “you may be dismissed from consideration regardless of your credentials — which quite possibly will never be examined ­– because you’re bald, overweight, too young, too old, wearing the wrong suit or, cruelest and most unreasonable of all, too beautiful for your own good.”  I believe this holds even more true for dating and other meeting sites!

So it is not our credentials, our achievements, or even our skills that matter, it is our looks!  This demonstrates the shallowness of  human nature to judge on looks.  This is especially disappointing when those making the shallow judgement are looking for prospects to review or contact for a possible  job.  Is it any wonder that psychologists have repeatedly proven that most hiring authorities fail to hire the best candidate?  I’ve seen several stories about how the new hire often requires adjustments downward to meet their skills or even worse release them due to lack of skills or compatibility to the position!  Shame on us!

I won’t try to claim that I am immune to this human weakness, but I do try to step back and review candidates with a more open viewpoint, setting aside my prejudices and preconceptions.  I really do try to look at qualifications first and the photo AFTER I have gotten  my initial impression.  In my many years of experience, I’ve learned that looks are not everything.  I only have to look in the mirror to confirm that fact of life.  In addition, some of my best friends and employees will never win a beauty contest, but they are very good at being my friend or doing their jobs in my company.  It does not mean I do not judge on looks, but I try to step back and really look at the person as a whole.  You should try it.  You might improve your company efficiency with that incredibly efficient/idea generating whiz-bang employee some companies are lucky enough to acquire and rely on to be a success.

Next time you look at someone’s profile, try to skip the photo and save it for last. Go right to the summary and qualifications (or interests on a meeting site). Then look at the photo.  See if the photo impacts your initial impression of this person.  You might be surprised.

Architecting a new site

Just thought I’d share some notes from a conversation with a very successful architect and IT evangelist.  Symon Garfield gives presentations world wide on the Art of SharePoint Success.  He mentioned to me (and in his 16 part blog) that 70% of IT projects fail and of the 30% that succeed, only 13% of the original tally are still in use a year after implementation.  These are fast & loose statistics, but generally accepted figures in IT.

There are 4 key elements to a successful SharePoint implementation:

  1. Governance
  2. Strategy
  3. Architecture
  4. Transition

Suffice to say that while planning is very important, understanding that a true SharePoint project is less a “project” and more of an ongoing organization change.  It is shallow to assume you are merely moving the organization to a collaborative environment when in actuality you are causing a huge fundamental shift in the way the organization is doing business, both internally and externally.

Without going into a long diatribe about how it all works, let’s just say following a plan that keeps the four part structure above in mind, is vital to a successful shift to SharePoint. The key steps include educating the client in what they are getting.  This includes different approaches for management, IT admin and users.  The steps I follow are:

Get the gist of the client’s goals – lots and lots of talking involved

  1. Set the expectations for what they will be getting – both more & less then they expect
  2. Gather the requirements from management goals, IT admin and user processes
  3. Analyze the existing processes
  4. Architect the system
  5. Get buy-in from the client
  6. Hand off the architecture to developers
  7. STAY INVOLVED!  With status reports, monitoring progress and issues, timelines, and payments
  8. Push the client to USE THE NEW SYSTEM and identify any needed changes

10.Get sign off

Moving to SharePoint is a huge change in the way your clients do business.  I believe it is almost always a move in the right direction.  Some processes do not require SharePoint.  There are cheaper, less capable systems that might suffice for their needs. But for any company collaborating on documents, projects, data sharing, anything using a timeline, forms management, order taking from customers, inventory management, and even more subjects, SharePoint can be a game changer.  It will bring a basis for establishing improved efficiency, better business tracking (dashboards anyone?), better communication, and improved tools for managing a business.

SharePoint is not the tool for everyone, but it is a tool that most organizations can make use of.  Symon knows this and so do I.  IT administrators fear losing control, even while complaining about their workload.  In reality, SharePoint shifts the business management tools more into the hands of managers where they belong, empowering managers to understand their business better and feel more in control while freeing IT to focus on the server room and less on making a site pretty or meet a manager’s idea of functionality.

SharePoint Adds to the War Between IT & Users

By Rob Moses, SharePoint Consultant, Caladan Consulting Inc.

I read with interest Scott Robinson’s blog “Why SharePoint Sucks Part II“.  While he made some excellent points about how SharePoint is under utilized and often mis-configured, he did not delve into the common war between users and IT found in many companies.  Yes, SharePoint IS absolutely under utilized and mis-configured (for example: using folders in libraries defeats the purpose of SharePoint).   There are many reasons for this and each deserves their own article.  But today I will focus on the “war” between users and IT that I’ve seen repeatedly in companies where I’ve worked as either an employee or a consultant.  I hope you will forgive my weak attempt at shedding light on this complex subject.  I’m no great writer even though I do have some good moments.  Just not often enough to satisfy everyone.

I find myself being denied work by IT managers as a SharePoint expert as I come down solidly on the side of business rather then what IT thinks is best for business. I can see both sides and both sides have legitimate gripes.  This subtle war going on at many businesses between the users and their IT departments and resentment is sometimes palpable and uncomfortable for us consultants.

Users want solutions to their challenges.  Something to make their jobs easier.  They don’t care about the complexity of designing a precise solution to do their job, they just want it.  It seems pretty simple to them. Frequently, a user’s favorite complaint is that IT dictates solutions that only complicates their jobs by adding new challenges like learning complex new software that is not, in their opinion, intuitive nor easy to master.  They see IT has living in their own world of cold server rooms interacting with their bits & bytes and complex electronic worlds where a piece of code solves all the world’s problems.

IT, on the other hand, has the challenge of meeting a wide variety of user needs and do it in a cost efficient way.  They know users often want the world, a precise solution to their specific job. Yet the (often overworked) experts in IT are tasked by management with finding a solution that has the widest application within the company and meets the needs of most users, even if those users have to adjust to an application that is complex and/or not quite right for their job. IT has the problem of being seen as geniuses who make excuses to avoid creating the perfect solution so they’ll have more time for their computer games (that must be what they do in there all day, right?).

Many consulting firms will tell you “the user is always right”.  Yet we all know the price of providing a precise solution can be expensive.  A good consultant will provide a variety of solutions with the advantages and disadvantages of each laid out, especially cost.  I know SharePoint can be the answer, even using just the OOB (out of the box) solutions…..if you are able to put in the time to research that solution and accept that maybe it is just not possible (rare) or worth the investment in time and resources to develop that solution when a third party solution or custom coded solution can provide exactly what you want (See Bamboo Solutions for a good example of prepackaged solutions).

One of my favorite complaints about those third party and custom solutions is that they lock the client into the present version of SharePoint requiring hiring a consultant or programmer to make adjustments or find new solutions when migrating to the latest version (Note that Microsoft tries to upgrade their apps every 3-4 years to add new functionality and of course, generate new income).

SharePoint has functionality that is as yet undiscovered by the majority of users.  Scott Robinson’s article correctly pointed out that even simple document management libraries are often mis-used as repositories to dump documents, articles, photos, multimedia, etc. instead of organizing them (which needs workflows (notification and archiving) and a library administrator using Approve and admin rights to assign permissions and develop views – that’s article in itself).  There are a myriad of functions within SharEPoint that require developer and frequent Administrative attention – projects, custom content (another large subject), current news and graphics, links, blog management, up to date wikis and many more you could fill a book with.

Back to the war though, IT members come from a background of hard won knowledge about providing solutions, often through fading technology like programmed solutions where a few hundred (or thousand) lines of custom code solved the issue.  Unfortunately, rather then dive into SharePoint (ANOTHER program to learn!” is a valid complaint for weary IT experts), they write a long coded solution and have SharePoint call it. Problem solved, at least in the short term.  Business users who don’t care about the effort required to constantly stay up on new apps, especially one as complex as SharePoint, feel roadblocks are being thrown into their paths and excuses are being made.  Both sides have valid arguments.

But then what I run into is hardened positions in IT blocking me from providing a solution or even letting business users know that someone like me exists to solve their issues!  Because this would cause business users to expect ever better service, no matter the exhausting effort required to meet those higher expectations.  Given that IT staff often work long hours hidden in refrigerated server rooms makes their hard work go unappreciated by business users. You think they like staring at code all day? (Ok, they do like it, but they’d also like to have a life outside the server room).

Yeah, I see both sides of it. I too want the user to be satisfied with a solution that meets their needs, makes their job easier, and gives them more time to surf the internet (oops, we aren’t’ supposed to notice that habit).   I want IT experts to have a life outside of the server room.  Both sides need to give a little, and many do.  But many do not.  When I am in between projects, being turned away from poroviding my skills and (sometimes limited) expertise, I too get a little emotional as I don’t like having too much time on my hands in the prime of my career.  But I too have to step back and acknowledge IT managers have valid concerns in offering to meet every single department’s needs too precisely by throwing unlimited resources at creating that perfected application that makes user’s jobs so easy that they have more free time for surfing or management can reduce staff, or add new tasks, etc.  Any way you go, the IT manager will only be a hero for a short while and trust me, he/she understands that very well.

So next time you complain about the other side (IT or users), try a little understanding.  SharePoint brings out the best and worst in this war.  It is powerful and huge in scope.  It CAN provide very nice solutions and it is very commonly under utilized and poorly managed.  But that is due to human nature, not IT or business user’s selfishness.   Not everyone is as diligent, perfectly balanced and fair-minded as you are (My ex-wife makes sure I know that I am way too flawed to make such a claim).

Rob Moses