Business · CIO · Cloud · Mobile · Social

My top most used business tools and applications when traveling

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What better way to kick off 2017 than to talk about the tools I find to be most useful? I wrote a post back in 2012 that outlined many of the tools I used back then. As many of you know, I travel a lot. Just about every week I am on a plane going somewhere in the world. Compared to many of my fellow corporate executives, it ranks in the excessive category for a CIO.

Considering the amount of travel, I am often asked what tools I find to be most useful. First, it is important to understand that I work under a minimalist perspective. That means, I try to travel with the least amount that I can. The lighter the load, the happier the experience.

LUGGAGE

First rule of travel: Carry-on, do not check luggage unless you absolutely must. There are many reasons for this. If you travel a lot, you need to invest in good-quality luggage. While I have a full collection of Tumi luggage, which I swear by, there are two pieces that I use most frequently:

Tumi Alpha 2: International Expandable 2 Wheeled Carry-On

Tumi Alpha 2: Compact Laptop Brief Pack

These two pieces offer the most flexibility when traveling both domestically and internationally and fit my technology needs very well.

HARDWARE

Ok, on to the technology part of the post. There are two fundamental components that I have used for years now; an iPhone and an iPad. With rare exceptions, these are the only two devices I travel with. Here are the details of what I am currently using:

iPhone 6s Plus: The iPhone offers the ability to make calls while traveling internationally. It also syncs with the iPad. The 6s Plus is the first time I am using the larger screen. In hindsight, the smaller screen size is probably a better choice for me. While the larger size is nice from a real estate perspective, the size is excessive for most things. In addition, it is almost impossible to do anything on the phone with only one hand.

iPad Pro 9.7”: This is an upgrade from the iPad Air, iPad 3 and original iPad I used previously. The iPad platform offers the ability to do a myriad of things using a single device (see software below). The physical size is both compact and not obtrusive when sitting on a desk or table in a meeting. I use the version with Wi-Fi & Cellular. I find that most Wi-Fi networks at hotels, airports, train stations, conventions are simply unreliable. Not to mention the security of those networks. Cellular access allows bypassing many of the issues and LTE is plenty fast.

Apple Pencil: This is a new, and welcome addition to the list. The Apple Pencil finally provides the ability to take detailed handwritten notes and drawing without the relatively crude capabilities that stylus’ offered.

Logitech Create Keyboard: The new Logitech Create keyboard for the iPad Pro not only offers a nice, protective keyboard plus case, but also integrates with the Pro’s Smart Connector and has a spot to hold the Apple Pencil. A good keyboard is a must if you write while on the road. By using the Pro’s Smart Connector, there is no need to use Bluetooth, or charge the keyboard. The keyboard itself is both backlit and has large keys suitable for larger hands. One side note, if you are flying economy, the keyboard and iPad combination is usable, unlike many laptops.

Bose SoundTrue Headphones: These are some of the most comfortable headphones you will find! The do not rely on putting pressure on the ear canal…which can lead to headaches and ear aches. While not noise-cancelling, they are the next best thing. I can wear these all day without ear fatigue.

Bose QuietComfort 25 Noise-Cancelling Headphones: These are a must for long-haul flights. I typically do not travel with them unless traveling across the country or internationally. If you have not experienced noise-cancelling headphones, I find that they dramatically reduce fatigue from long flights. One side note, I have found that the Airbus A380 is the quietest commercial airplane flying today…even more so than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The A380 is so quiet that you almost do not need noise-cancelling headphones.

Tumi 4-Port USB Travel Adapter: It offers (2) 2A USB ports and (2) 1A USB ports plus includes the different international plug adapters in a nice small package. The Tumi adapter is fused and a perfect addition to eliminate all the different bricks and adapters.

Mophie Powerstation XL: Battery packs are pretty much a necessity these days. However, I find that both the iPhone and iPad offer full-day coverage. The exception is when I travel to conferences and/ or am on the phone and/or iPad non-stop all-day. Or if I am going from breakfast meetings to evening events non-stop. Unlike finding a power outlet which then ties you to that spot while charging, the Mophie provides on-the-go charging.

Apple Airport Express: Traveling Internationally brings on a new set of issues. There are still hotels that offer Wi-Fi in the lobby, but wired connections in the room. This creates a problem when only traveling with an iPad. To combat the issue, I throw this small, self-contained, router in the suitcase when traveling internationally. Note that this is becoming less of an issue. As a side note, when traveling with the family, I use this router to connect all our devices without having to connect each device directly to the hotel Wi-Fi. Each of the phones and tablets are already configured to use the secure Wi-Fi setup on the router. Plus, it gets around many hotels that limit the number of devices connected in a room.

Apple Lightning Adapters: When presenting, you never know which interface you will need. Thankfully, both the iPhone and iPad use the same Lightning adapters. I travel with both VGA and HDMI adapters. I can then choose whether I present off the iPhone or iPad. Note that when presenting, it will quickly drain the battery…so plan accordingly.

SOFTWARE

Now on to the applications…

Microsoft Office for iOS: The first versions of the Microsoft Office apps for iOS were incredibly limited in functionality. However, the more current versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint are both feature-rich and integrate well with Box.

Box: Box provides an enterprise-grade solution that syncs well with both desktop and mobile devices. The iOS app allows me to choose which files and/or folders I wish to sync for off-line use. This is great for working on documents while on an airplane. The application also allows me to share file/ folder access with others to collaborate.

iThoughts: When creating a presentation, or brainstorming an idea, iThoughts provides a great mind-mapping tool.

Notability: Notability is one of the best note-taking tools I have used. The combination of Notability with the Apple Pencil has practically replaced the need for paper & pencil. When meeting with folks and needing to draw, it makes for a great whiteboard solution. I can take notes, draw pictures and quickly send copies via a myriad of ways including email and text.

Twitter/ Tweetbot: If you are on Twitter, one of these two apps is a necessity. I find that Tweetbot offers several features not available in the native application. However, they are getting closer with each release.

LinkedIn: Connecting via LinkedIn is key to engaging with others. The app, while not perfect, is a good companion while on the road.

WordPress: If you post to blogs based on WordPress, the app is a must. For my post workflow, I still write and edit posts in Word and then cut/ past into WordPress. This provides a backup and place to search across posts locally.

Skype: Skype makes it much easier to work with parties in different countries. Skype provides the ability to call and video-conference across geographies.

Slack: There are a myriad of different communication tools on the market today. Different teams use different tools. However, I find that several of the groups I work with prefer to use Slack.

Kayak: Kayak recently discontinued their Pro product by centralizing everything into their base app. I use Kayak as a single point to manage all travel (air, hotel, car, etc). You simply forward the email with your travel information and Kayak parses the details into ‘trips’. I then sync this information into my calendar to see everything in one place.

United: As a United Million Mile Flyer, and based from SFO or LAX, United provides some of the best flight choices to the locations I travel most. The app allows me to change flights, change seats, book flights and get status updates on-the-go.

Miscellaneous iOS Apps: In addition to the third-party apps listed above, I also use the native iOS apps including Mail, Safari, Calendar, Notes, Reminders, Music, Messages, Photos, Maps, Contacts, etc. One thing I value with the iOS platform is the ability to sync data and settings across devices.

Miscellaneous Apps: There are several other apps that I use, but they are less for business and more for personal uses. The iPad platform gives me the ability to work, play, read news, watch movies, read books all on one device. Again, less is more.

 

Hopefully that provides a glimpse of what I found to be most useful when traveling. I welcome your suggestions and recommendations too!

Business · Data · Social

A Proposal to Save Social Media and Twitter

Back in May of 2014, 30 months ago, I penned the piece What Happens if Twitter Goes Away? It was a provocative look at the decline of one of Social Media’s darlings and suggesting potential value between free and paid services. Has the Social Media industry reached an inflection point where “free” services need to switch to paid? What are the pros and cons to doing so?

LOOKING BACK TOWARD THE IPO

At the time I wrote that piece, Twitter’s (NYSE: TWTR) stock price had settled to $31.85/share. Twitter’s IPO was at $26./share. Shortly afterwards, the stock climbed to their all-time high of just over $60./share. Fast forward 30 months and today price of $17.49/ share…well below their $26./ share IPO. For almost a year now, the stock has trended below their IPO price and stayed there.

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DIVING INTO THE NUMBERS

In their 2016 Q3 earnings call, Twitter reported $616 million in quarterly revenue with 317 million Monthly Average Users (MAU).

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Annualized, that equates to $2.5 billion per year. But is there a way to increase revenue and provide greater value to users at the same time? I think the answer is yes.

FINANCIAL SCENARIOS: PROS AND CONS

There are a number of paths that Twitter can take. By taking the current path, they continue to face an uphill battle of grinding out revenue numbers with lagging MAU figures. In contrast, there are a number of other scenarios that may present a potential opportunity to both Twitter and users.

twitter-financial-projections

The fundamental changes offer the suggestion of Twitter charging a nominal amount per account. There are pros and cons to this approach. Note that none of the scenarios include Twitter’s existing revenue streams. Here’s a breakdown of the scenarios:

  • CURRENT: This is the current situation at Twitter. $2.5 billion annualized revenue with 317 million MAUs.
  • ALT 1: This scenario suggests that the MAUs remain constant at 317 million , however, each account is charged a nominal $4/yr for individual accounts and $20/yr for corporate accounts. The increase adds $2.3 billion in annual revenue.
  • ALT 2: This scenario takes into account a conservative figure that 50% of MAUs would disappear if Twitter charged for accounts using the ALT 1 figures. This still adds $1.1 billion in additional annual revenue.
  • ALT 3: This scenario suggests a 50% decrease in MAUs, but charges individual accounts $12/yr ($1 per month) and corporate accounts $20/yr. The assumption is that 20% of accounts are corporate accounts. Annual revenue increases by $2.2 billion.
  • ALT 4: This scenario is similar to ALT 3, but increase corporate charges to $50/yr/account. Even with 50% MAU reduction, annual revenue by more than $3.1 billion…more than double current revenue.

The big con would be that users would not pay for the service and MAUs would drop precipitously. Today, users are accustomed to using social media services for free. However, what if services charged a nominal amount per user. Would users pay?

The pros are that Twitter revenue would increase significantly. If Twitter used that revenue to reduce/ remove ads and/ or change the value model, the value would greatly outweigh the nominal costs. One of the big cons to Twitter today is the noise from bogus accounts, bots and the like. By charging, there is an upside that many of these bogus accounts would go away and therefore reduce the overall noise to the data stream. That would be a huge plus for those looking to monetize the Twitter data stream.

NEXT STEPS…

The next steps are in Twitter’s hands. However, as a user of Social Media that understands its value to enterprises and their customers, a change is needed. From an economic standpoint, if something is valuable, we should pay for it. Even at $4/yr/account for individuals and $20/yr/corporate account, the costs are really nominal. Unfortunately, free services skew the market and user base in artificial directions. It is time we consider a change.

What are your thoughts? Would you pay? Why or why not? How about for corporate accounts that you may manage? Add your thoughts to the comments section below.

Social

7 Ways Not to Engage Influencers and Independent Analysts

Are you looking to engage folks beyond the major analyst firms? Over the past few years, companies are engaging influencers and independence analysts more and more. However, there are some bad practices that have developed and ways you can overcome those. Before you think about engaging influencers and independent analysts, read this first to avoid stepping in those potholes. Your approach could mean the difference between a fruitful, engaged and positive relationship with top-tier folks versus a lukewarm and negative relationship with second (or third) tier folks.

  1. LAST MINUTE INVITES: Many companies invite folks less than 30 days (or less) before an event. This includes major events from large firms. Unfortunately, top-tier folks are in-demand and often booking their time as much as six months (or more) in advance. By waiting until the last minute to block time, the folks you may prefer to attend are not available and leave you with only second or third tier individuals. The higher value the individual, the harder to attract. Be sure to respect their time. Another side issue is when vendors try to make the individual feel bad for not being able to attend due to a prior commitment. I have had people invite me two days before an event from a major company starts.
  1. MISMATCHES IN EVENT TYPE/ FOCUS: Companies do not do their research to understand the focus and/ or interest of the individual to ensure that it matches the event’s focus. Many times, this is due to last minute invitations and not being able to attract preferred individuals. When you do engage independent folks, find a way to include them in influencer and Analyst activities. These folks are instrumental to engage beyond the large analyst firms. You would be surprised at the networks they have access to and the people they influence. In many cases, they may have as much influence as a major firm.
  1. CLEAR ABOUT PURPOSE OF ENGAGEMENT: This is dependent on the maturity of the team and organization. Are you inviting the individual to subliminally pitch the product and/or service? Are you looking for free advertising through amplification to their Twitter audience? The vast majority of top-tier individuals are not about to promote your product/ service as it would kill their objectivity and relationships. As you get further into second or third tier folks, they are probably less concerned or don’t consider the ramifications.
  1. TRAVEL POLICIES ARE CRAZY: Some events do not cover travel. This is a nonstarter for the top-tier individuals. Second and third tier folks are probably open to the idea of a free trip to Las Vegas, San Francisco or New York. Most companies simply leverage their internal corporate travel policies. Unfortunately, this is a huge disconnect for most individuals. For top-tier folks, they often travel far more than most internal corporate employees. In many cases, they are traveling almost every week of the year. The last thing they want is to take an international trip, in economy, for a one-day event. And because top-tier individuals may be traveling from one event directly to another, they may need to make other travel arrangements. Blocking them from covering their airfare or ground transportation because they book their own airfare is crazy. Just as crazy are those that require flying a specific carrier and/or time just because it is a couple of bucks cheaper. Or not covering their ground transportation because the company is not able to book the flights too.
  1. NO RESPECT FOR INDIVIDUALS TIME: Many events and companies expect these folks to attend without paying them for their time. This gets worse when you ask them to attend and present. Remember that there is preparation time for these folks before the event. This is real time that they must commit. Yet, there is little to no respect for the fact that they are essentially donating their time to participate in the event. Marry this with crazy travel rules, last minute invites and the rest…and you get the picture. Have respect for the time that they are committing to your event.
  1. RELATIONSHIPS MATTER: Many companies only engage folks when an event takes place. There is often little to no engagement between events. Unfortunately, it is challenging to build solid, fruitful and positive relationships when you are only in touch once or twice a year. Keep engagement going throughout the year. Find ways to include top-tier folks in your Analyst programs and workflow.
  1. EXPOSURE IS NOT VALUABLE: Too many times, companies will offer that attending an event will provide exposure. To top-tier folks, they already have exposure. That is probably one of the key reasons why you want them there. And let’s face it, you found them due to their existing exposure. Second and third tier folks may be more interested in exposure, but not always.

These issues are often very different for those that have a commercial agreement with the company. In those cases, there is often a pre-determined relationship and travel provisions that match the type of engagement and individual. Plus, the individual is paid for their time.

Does this mean that we do not want to engage with your company or event? No. We have reached an inflection point where something needs to change. Be flexible and understanding.  More and more, I’m hearing of top-tier folks that are declining invites due to issues outlined in this post. Plan ahead and avoid the potholes.

Business · Social

Three keys to building a successful community

As someone whom is part of several communities, and now being asked by companies to help build their communities, this is a topic I see firsthand. Having been invited to join so many communities, I have had to ask what the value is. This leads to being more selective on which communities I ultimately participate in.

It is important to note that there is a difference between the value to a community member and the community organizer. The value equation must factor both and be bi-directional. In sum, all parties to the community must see value in their participation.

THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY

In personal terms, a sense of community plays a key role in our societal interests and overall well-being. A community of individuals with similar interests is quite powerful in many ways. There is a saying that “It takes a village…(to raise a child)”. If said ‘child’ were a product, interest or company, the value comes from not just the product itself, but from the community built around the child. It is this very community that brings the true value to any product, interest or company today.

In a business context, the community may include buyers, consumers and influencers. Today, there is quite a bit of discussion about “Influencer Marketing”. Understanding the authentic influencer and therefore their true value is much more complicated than just looking at some social media stats. Unfortunately, social media has provided a megaphone for anyone to use. Providing value to a community, like raising a child, takes more than just reading a book, showing up on a list or having an opinion.

In my experience, there are three core components that drive the criteria: Relevance, Relationships and Respect. Communities are complex to understand. Communities are hard to build. Communities require constant care and feeding.

Community Three Rs

THE FOUNDATION OF RELEVANCE

The very definition of community ties back to sharing a common interest. The interest ultimately becomes the relevance to each individual’s specific situation along with that of the organizer. Relevance provides the common bond and interest between the parties. It provides a central rally cry that addresses a common, shared need or desire.

Individual interest is not enough. An individual may be interested in a specific topic, but if is not something they are passionate about, it may be hard to keep their interest over time. Even if someone is passionate about a specific interest, do they have the capability to provide a significant impact. Interest does not equal expertise. Just because you have an opinion, does not make you an expert. Not-so-subtle message here: Reach does not equal Relevance. And like value, relevance goes both ways. What is in it for me and for them?

RELATIONSHIPS PROVIDE THE GLUE

Identifying individuals with a common interest provides a certain level of value. However, the true value is in knowing (and maintaining) the level of interest and influence of the individuals over time. What are the nuances that an individual brings to the community? These nuances often do not show up in a profile, post or list. How have those changed over time? Remember that we are talking about humans here..which are complex.

The relationships span both community members and organizers. In addition, these very relationships will evolve over time. The relationship itself is not a binary thing. It will exist on many levels and take many forms.

NOTHING WITHOUT RESPECT

One would be remiss to talk about relationships and leave out mutual respect. Rather than talk about what respect brings, let us talk about the inverse. Simply put, without respect, a community does not work. During the course of conversation, opinions will differ. There needs to be a level of respect among the participants. Otherwise, there is a high likelihood the community will either disintegrate or worse, implode.

Respect is not something that is freely given. It is something that is earned over time. It, like relationships, must be cared for. Respect is something that takes time to build and can be torn down in an instant.

COMMUNITY, COLLECTIVE OR ORGANIZATION?

Each of these three core components directly tie back to the participants whether discussing relevance, relationships or respect. All three are essential to success. A community is not a one-time activity. The value of a community is the sum of the parts…over time. It has a lifecycle that goes through different stages of maturity.

If you have reached this point asking how this differs from the complexities of building an organization…you’re spot on! But how does one go about building a community? And how does one ensure that the community will help the child…er…business flourish? Ahh… that is for another post.

Cloud · Data · Social

IBM InterConnect Day 1 Impressions

InterConnect 2015 Las Vegas is the combination of a few IBM conferences. Past conferences carried quite a bit of overlap in content. As the conversations blurred, it made sense to combine the conferences. The challenge is the conference is spread across two hotels in Las Vegas that are not connected. A whopping 21,000 people are in attendance with another 15,000 joining via their online portal InterConnectGO.

Logistics aside, the first day kicked off with a bang. The opening sessions includes all the glitz and glamor one might expect from a Vegas show. The content covered a wide spectrum of IBM’s portfolio from cloud to data analytics.

In my opinion, IBM’s SoftLayer and Watson stories are gems among a varied portfolio. In addition, the social engine is in full swing here at InterConnect. Analytics play a great role in defining different social metrics and IBM is not missing the opportunity. But more about that in a minute.

All about cloud

The cloud story is starting to gel for IBM, but still needs a bit of sharpening. They covered all the buzzwords in cloud, but it left me wanting to hear more than buzzword bingo. Much of the story hinges on the success of SoftLayer. Taking a deeper look at SoftLayer, it addresses a number of the core enterprise requirements for the broader market. It is not everything for everyone, but doesn’t need to be. This is where the ecosystem comes in. Ecosystems are everything today.

During the opening session, IBM announced ‘OpenStack as a Service’. It is not clear how this fits into the overall strategy as it was glossed over. This is an area to watch closely from two perspectives: 1) What exactly is the offering and what market is it intended to address? 2) How will this affect and/or divert SoftLayer’s existing VMware offerings. Will it cause SoftLayer to abandon VMware in favor of OpenStack as others have done? Each of these questions could govern the future success of SoftLayer both short and long-term.

Coursing through the data analytics

Many references are made to the growing accumulation of data. Terms like ‘data lake’ and ‘data ocean’ are used to describe the growing mass of untapped data. During the opening session, IBM outlined several use cases where companies have leveraged their technology to gain insights to the data problem.

Many of the examples continue with the financial services and healthcare use cases. Healthcare is one, if not the largest industry ripe for disruption from data analytics. Citi joined on stage to talk about their approach to innovation. Their mantra: Unleash, develop, disrupt. In the case of Citi, “Nobody needs banks, but everybody needs banking.” Great analogy. For healthcare, May Clinic mentioned that only 5% of cancer patients are engaged in a trial. Meaning there is a huge disconnect (read: opportunity) in connecting patients to potential treatment courses.

Getting social

Cloud and data analytics aren’t the only topics here at InterConnect. IBM is heavily leveraging their analytics platform to demonstrate the value of social here. And the social media elite are in full force. There are a couple of mis-steps by use of the longer hashtags (#IBMInterConnect and #NewWayToWork), but otherwise, the twitter stream is flowing pretty heavily. The longer hashtags are definitely leading to a myriad of typos, which defeat the purpose of the hashtag. One change would be greater engagement in the conversations happening on Twitter. Like some conferences, the twitter feed is mostly one-way with little two-way engagement.

Aside from the downsides, it is impressive the flow of tweets coming from an IBM conference. Considering the perception of IBM, it appears they’re moving in the right direction socially.

On tap for Day 2 and beyond…

It’s all about the cloud. Looking forward to the cloud discussions today along with the Executive Session and Shark Tank presentations.

Overall, it’s apparent that IBM is turning the corner on the conversations. IBM does have it’s flaws as any company that is 400,000 employees strong. That aside, IBM needs to continue on their quest to drive toward cloud and data analytics dominance. SoftLayer and Watson are two shining gems in the IBM portfolio that will need to blossom as they mature.