Friday, March 28, 2014

Words of the Woz and other ETS Takeaways - we need Invention, not Innovation

If that headline is all you remember from ETS, I'm a happy guy.

Am back and mostly recovered from the Energy Thought Summit, held earlier this week in Austin, TX. This is definitely my kind of town, and if you missed the basics, here is my photo summary post from Tuesday. In short, ETS was the first conference put on by Austin-based Zpryme Research, and it was a great success.

If you weren't there, not to worry. Zpryme has posted video of the sessions, both on their site and on YouTube. Just poke around there and check out whatever strikes your interest - all the sessions and keynotes I saw were great, and I still need to check out the sessions I couldn't catch.

For those who don't know, I've been active in the smart grid space for several years now, mainly due to the overlap and opportunities for players in the communications space. I've got feet planted in both gardens, and as an Advisor to Zpryme, I have an ongoing role with their Premium subscription service industry reports, and a largely behind-the-scenes role in developing the conference.

Enough preamble. Let me share with you a few key takeaways from ETS, starting first with our star attraction, Steve Wozniak.

The title of this post is the main message for me. He's totally right - we need more invention, not innovation, and he wasn't shy to say that he's concerned about Apple in this regard. For the last while, they've mainly been tweaking (perhaps milking) their iPads and iPhones, but there haven't been any game-changers. I've been saying for some time that the business market - UC in particular - is there for Apple's taking, but I highly doubt they'll go there. Talk me later about that if you like.

Anyhow, there's definitely a difference between these terms. In my view, innovation tends to be about doing old things in new or better ways, and it's usually incremental. Invention, of course, is making up a whole new game, where everyone is starting from scratch, and by virtue of first mover advantage, you get to make up the rules. We're not seeing much of this these days, but when you least expect it, invention just shows up from left field. I'm absolutely convinced that the ultimate mobile device has yet to be invented - there are pieces of it here and there, but nobody has truly nailed it. Could Apple go the way of RIM? If they're not careful and stop inventing, you bet.

If you follow my writing, you'll know that I'm skeptical about how innovation has so much cachet in today's business lexicon. It's very easy for vendors to talk about how their offerings will enable innovation, and that's exactly what execs want their employees to do. Whatever. Technology is just a tool - no different than a typewriter or pencil and paper. Real innovation comes from hard work, inspiration and the infinite power of human imagination. Furthermore, innovation is usually the product of individual effort, not groupthink, so be careful when vendors infer causal links between collaboration and innovation. I'd better stop now.

The Woz is very much a pragmatist and an everyman when it comes to assessing the value of technology. It was refreshing to hear him talk about technology and smart grid in practical terms. He's more concerned with the health of the planet than lowering our energy bills, and he kinda walked the walk by arriving at the venue in a Tesla (electric vehicle), and rolling up to the stage on a Segway - amidst the common folk, down the aisle and not from a puff of smoke on stage. Gotta love that.

Finally, for the math geek in all of us, he left us with one of his ruling principles of life:

H = S - F

Got that? I don't know if he uses this for all his other talks, but I loved this one:

Happiness Equals Smiles Minus Frowns

So simple, but so hard to do. This could only come from the left coast, but I'm with Steve 100% on this one.

Otherwise, there were many other highlights, and I want to quickly share three here:

1. Andres Carvallo moderated the Smart Grid Realization panel, and while a lot of the dialog was dry, I took away one strong message - you need a strong grid before you can have a smart grid.

Well said, and it applies equally well to the communications space, especially with the big rush to the cloud. Do we really know how strong it is? How much has it really been tested? Don't all those security breaches worry you? Is there enough regulation in place to ensure a strong foundation? Do we have the right regulations and policies, or does this need a rethink?

These questions were certainly relevant at ETS, as the panel cited how emerging economies are making smart grid investments based on a weak foundation. The North American grid is aging, brittle and not very flexible. It performs very well most of the time, but not all of the time, and needs a major overhaul to keep up with how our needs are evolving.

2. Karl Popham moderated the electric vehicle panel, and joining him were speakers from major auto makers.

A core issue is how best to support consumer preferences when it comes to choosing between a conventional vehicle and one powered by electricity and/or batteries. I found strong parallels here between the need for telecom vendors to offer premise-based and cloud-based UC/VoIP, and the challenges faced by the channels in selling them.

Related to that is the existential threat raised by the likes of Tesla, who cannot access the existing channel system run by the dealers. It's prohibitively expensive to build their own dealer network, so they have to be creative- INVENTIVE - and find new routes to market. This is exactly why you see them on display in shopping malls - you have to create awareness before you can create demand, and an awful lot of people are discovering Tesla while out at the mall. Clearly, the crowd at ETS didn't need any help, and we had a real AHA moment, when the audience was asked if there should be an easier way to buy a Tesla. The reaction was an emphatic YES, and if you believe that the auto dealership model is broken in terms of providing choices that consumers want, this was a pretty good indication.

3. Keynote from John Scott of NASA

Another big highlight, especially for the space exploration fans and scientists out there - and there were plenty. Most of what he talked about was too much hard science for me, but there was one segment that really resonated. Mr. Scott presented a compelling breakdown of the timeline for how the atomic bomb came to be. Most of us know the high level history of the Manhattan Project, but he went deeper to explain how the science was developed, particularly in the context of how WW II  was unfolding.

Nothing drives the need for invention more than the threat of being conquered - forget about innovation - and before 1939, the idea of an atomic bomb was simply inconveivable. I loved the way he outlined the chain of events, tests and discoveries that unfolded during this process. When you consider the state of science up that point, it's incredible to see how much can be accomplished during the six year timeframe it took - starting with some vague hypotheses to full realization, and thank God we got there before the Nazis.

Most everything we do today with our "smart" phones is laughably trivial compared to this, and considering they didn't have computers or the cloud back then, I'm not sure we've evolved much as a species. Coming back to Steve Wozniak, we have fantastic tools today to truly make the world a better place, but the masses just want to play games and chat on FB. You'd like to think there would be a lot more invention happening, but innovation is just easier. Of course, invention is happening in disciplines like life sciences, and I think we're going to see more of that in smart grid once the grid gets stronger. In the communications space, I'm not so sure, but I'll save that topic for another day.

Thanks for bearing with me here. Your reward - a smiling Woz and another fun musical moment from ETS.

Very accommodating during the press session after his keynote. Got his biz card too - metallic - very cool.
 The Hot Nut Riveters. They were great - and yes, the guy in the middle is playing a saw - how's that for invention?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

ETS - Quick Highlights

Just have a short window to share some photos of Day 1 here in Austin at ETS - the Energy Thought Summit. This is the inaugural event put on by Zpryme Research, and I have been playing a quiet role, mostly behind the scenes. They've really put a great lineup together, and delivered a solid day of content, with a strong touch of Austin-style hospitality. Translation - lots of live music, courtesy of several local performers, for which Austin has an inexhaustable supply.

Will have more comments in a follow-up post, and just wanted to share a few photos of Day 1. I'm one of the MCs for Day 2, so will be pretty tied up most of the day here.

Otherwise, I'll steer you to Zpryme's website, where they've been posting streaming video of the sessions. Needless to say, the photos there will be much better than mine! They've done a great job documenting the content, and just as importantly, sharing it. Enjoy.

The Paramount is a 99 year old theater - fantastic place and great history. The prep area below the stage has a lot of character, with the walls covered with autographs and messages from performers. It's a bit like inside the scoreboard at Fenway Park where ballplayers leave their autographs wherever there's space. Here's one part with Carol Burnett and Woody Allen's momentos.

Andres Carvallo, welcoming everyone. He's been the main face of the show and he's everywhere.

This is how you open an event in style - Austin style. Below is Caleb Hans Polashek. He's the youngest tenured member of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, and he performed two original compositions - lucky us, huh?

You might expect to see this in New Orleans, but no music is out of place in Austin. This was part of the buildup to Steve Wozniak's keynote. He was driven up to the venue in a Tesla, then entered the venue from the front door all the way down to the stage on a Segway, and ushered in with this marching band. Tough act to follow, and he was great.

View from the balcony. They don't build theaters like this any more - beautiful!

Professor Massoud Amin, keynoting later in the day. If you remember the Smart Grid Summit events I used to run, you should recognize Massoud. He was good as always - great sense of history and perspective on tying the big issues together.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Next stop - ETS in Austin, TX

Travel has been light so far this year, but starting next week, I'll be on the go a fair bit more.

Next Monday and Tuesday is ETS - the Energy Thought Summit. Wearing my smart grid hat, I've had an active role with my partners at Zpryme Research. Conferences take a long time to put together, especially when it's your first, so I've been adding more than my smart grid expertise, mostly behind the scenes.

Our hard work is poised to pay off next week, and if you're coming, am sure our paths will cross. I won't be hard to find, and will likely end up moderating a panel or two. Also, I'm the MC for Day 2.

Registration is peaking now, and we have a first-rate lineup of thought leaders to make this worthwhile for anyone who wants to know where smart grid is headed. There will be several communications and IT-related tracks, including one on cybersecurity, which I'll be taking in for sure.

If you don't know by now, Steve Wozniak is our marquee keynoter, and he's speaking Monday morning at 10am. For the rest of the program and roster, check out the event website, and it's not too late to make plans.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Amazon Mayday and the Toronto Ice Storm

These references may sound a bit obscure, and that's understandable. If you don't live in Toronto, you probably don't know about the Ice Storm we had, plus it occurred three months ago. Hopefuly, you know about Amazon's Mayday button, so let me connect the dots a bit more.

I'm posting here about my monthly column that I write for TMC's Internet Telephony Magazine, Rethinking Communications. Print publishing has long lead times, and while this article was written in the wake of the Toronto Ice Storm, it's only just been published today in the digital edition of the magazine.

If you lived through the Ice Storm, then my analysis would be very appropos for how the concept of Amazon Mayday could have helped ease the anxieties around what happened. We've long since gotten over the storm, but the ideas are still highly relevant for any utility, and incidents like this happen all the time.

In general, utilities have a lot to learn about customer service, and the thinking behind Amazon Mayday could really help raise the bar. That's the main connection I'm trying to make, and if that piques your interest, I hope you read my article. As always, comments are welcome.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Top 100 Tech Podcasters as per GetVoIP - me and 99 Others! follows our space pretty well, and while their main business is being a channel/resource for buyers of VoIP, they provide some good content. Some of it they generate themselves, and some comes via industry watchers, myself included.

Everybody likes a top 10 list, and GetVoIP produces these from time to time, with the latest one coming yesterday. This was the top 100 "tech podcasters to follow on Twitter", and I'm happy to say they've included me, along with colleagues such as Blair Pleasant, Dave Michels and Don Van Doren. There are many other familiar names as well, along with others I don't know, so if you're looking to broaden your horizon of thought leaders in this space, you should check out their list.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

CTCA Spring Conference - Will be Speaking There

Things seem to go in waves for me, and after staying put for a while, I have a conference later this month, three in April and two so far in May. I'll be quite busy with ETS later this month, and first up in April is the CTCA's annual conference.

We've had some near misses the past few years, but this time around the calendars have lined up, and I'll be participating at their 2014 event, April 8-10, in Gravenhurst, Ontario. It's relatively local for me, and being held at a nice resort, it should be a great destination for attendees travelling from across Canada.

CTCA is the core community of telecom consultants here, so there's no better place to read the state of how communications technologies are being deployed in Canada. I'll be doing my part by giving a keynote to kick off the conference, and moderating a panel on the cloud later that day. For my keynote, I'll be talking about five themes and trends that are shaping the telecom landscape, and that should set the table nicely for the rest of the conference.

The cloud panel should be fun, as we have a mix of operators and vendors - Rogers and Cogeco, along with Interactive Intelligence and NEC. My keynote is at 9:15, and the panel rounds out the content for Day 1 at 4:15. Here's the link for the full agenda, along with more detail about each session.

I'll have more updates as the date gets closer, and hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

ETS - Energy Thought Summit - March 24-25, Austin - Coming?

As ETS gets closer, I need to wear my Smart Grid hat a bit more often and do my part to support and promote the event. My partners at Zpryme Research have done a great job putting the program together and drawing together a first rate lineup of thought leaders. If your goal is to learn from the best and brightest, this event is for you. It's not a trade show and we have a limit on how many attendees can participate.

In terms of star power, from the tech world, SteveWozniak needs no introduction. I'm involved in Smart Grid because of the rich intersection between communications technology and the evolving energy sector. Bridging Steve's perspective to the world of Smart Grid, we have thought leaders from across the full spectrum, including George Arnold, Andres Carvallo, Massoud Amin, Rajit Gadh, Mei Shibata, Emir Macari, Becky Harrison, Ken Laberteaux, and many others.

The speaker lineup alone is reason to come, but so will be the learning from the sessions and of course, the invaluable networking that comes from being in this intimate setting for two days. I'll be there in plain view, likely moderating a couple of panels, and will serve as the event MC on Day 2.

I'll do my best to keep this on your radar, and for full event and registration info, here's the ETS website.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Role of Multichannel in the Contact Center - UCS Podcast

Posting has been a bit behind on the UCStrategies portal, but the most recent podcast has now been added. The topic was the role of multichannel in the contact center - what technologies are being used, how well it's working, how well trained are the agents, etc.

It's a rich topic about a complex challenge, and we had lots to say about it. I only commented briefly, but there are many perspectives worth hearing, and the moderator, Don Van Doren, managed to make room for everybody. Here's the link, which includes a transcript if you'd rather just read what was said.

February Writing Roundup - My Top 8 Picks

Thought I'd start doing a monthly roundup post for my followers who don't religiously read every single post or article of mine. As you may know, I write in a variety of places, and I don't expect anybody follows them all - although you really should! - and even if you wanted to, you may not know where to find them.

On that note, if you don't know, a handy reference would be this page from my website. You might want to bookmark that.

Aside from Ziff Davis, the links there take you to my profile page where you can see an archive of my current posts - UCStrategies, ADTRAN, InformationWeek and Internet Telephony Magazine. For now, Ziff Davis is a challenge, but I will be getting a profile page there soon. Until then, the only way to see my writing there is to follow my tweets (@arnoldjon). I post there 2-3 times a week, and I tweet whenever there's a new article.

With that out of the way, this roundup post is for people who like my writing. I plan to do a monthly digest, so in one place you can click and read what I consider are my most notable posts for that time period. My intention is for you to get a fuller sense of the topics I write about - aside from my regular posts here on this blog - as well as the various outlets I share content with.

So, here are 8 posts from last month that showcase my latest thinking on the IP communications space:

All You Need is Lync - InformationWeek (if you like that, read this too)

How Bob Newhart Would Respond to UC - UCStrategies

Amazon Mayday - What it Mean for Your Contact Center - Internet Telephony Magazine, Jan/Feb issue

External Risk - Another Layer to Consider with UC - ADTRAN Blog

Is VoIP Putting Your Network at Risk? - guest post on No Jitter (more here on VoIP security)

Evolution of VoIP and Early Beginnings - (Ziff Davis)

No Office? No Problem! Decentralize Your Phone System with Hosted VoIP -

What you Need to Know About POTS vs PBX -

Monday, March 3, 2014

Evolution of VoIP Webinar, Tomorrow at 2 - Join Us!

Just a quick shout-out for my next webinar with Ziff Davis B2B. It's tomorrow at 2 ET, and the title pretty much says it all. If you want an overview of how we got here with VoIP, along with why it's a great time to be using it, you'll want to be there.

You can get there from here, and I hope to see you on the call!