The net effect of nothing

Staying disconnected from digital media for any period of time is such a challenge these days for most of us.

There is a definitive impact of the Internet on my attention span. I can feel it on an everyday basis. When I am doing research for work, the need to pepper in some wasteful social media and news article reading time is often very strong; to the extent that the inability to have the distraction becomes a burden in itself. Sometimes, I have to force myself to get to the end of a document or article before switching tabs. Honestly, when I force myself to focus in this manner, I find myself having to re-read entire sections of said document or article due to a lack of focus! I often wonder how I would fare if I were tested for attention-deficit-disorder (ADD) now. I am pretty sure attentiveness was not an issue ten years ago in my life but I cannot say that with any conviction today.

I conducted a little experiment back in May 2014. I was going on vacation and I refused to get online for 4 full days. Well- almost not online. Since I was going to be on a Caribbean island and my Indian mother was determined to freak out without daily check-ins, I was offline except for a daily “I’m still alive” text message to her.

The surprising thing about being offline is how much more active your mind can become. You can develop almost a renewed sense of appreciation for the world around you. I have never been a good photographer and I count that as one of the blessings in my life. The camera is, in my opinion, one of the earliest examples of how you can lose out on experiencing the moment in your endeavor to capture it for posterity. I believe that’s true for habits such as using your cell phone to pass the time when you’re standing in line at the grocery store. These mundane situations are rich with possibilities for having serendipitous interactions with other real, live human beings that you may never get to say a word to otherwise. Your mind and body thrive on these interactions. It’s a shame that we don’t indulge these needs more- because our digital crutch has truly made us impaired!

If anything, I hope this article forces you to think about just how dependent you are on electronic media/digital devices. I was going to say electronic approval- but that’s a whole other topic for another day! I will leave you with this link to similar ideas and dicussions on the Scientific American NetLoss: Secintific American Article

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The Open Internet- what is it? Why is it important?

Let’s start from the very beginning. The Internet that we know and love today is an open channel that uses free standards for communication. It is an equal-opportunity channel when it comes to traffic/content creation and delivery. The bottleneck is primarily the bandwidth that each individual user has available.

Now let’s say there are two companies providing media sharing capabilities using the SaaS model. Today traffic to and from Company A (mega establishment) and Company B (fledgling start-up) are treated equally by the broadband service provider. Today it is illegal for the broadband provider to treat the traffic from the two companies differently (assuming similar and legal content from both companies).

Now imagine if the broadband company could tell these companies- hey if you pay me an additional fee- your traffic will get higher priority on my network! It’s easy to see how Company A could easily edge out any competition from a startup like Company B based purely on its financial advantage. Bigger and better funded companies can bury competition by simply buying out the bandwidth from the Internet providers.

This essentially can kill technological innovation.

The Openness of the Internet is not a privilege we enjoy- it is and must be a fundamental right. We have a chance now to go and tell the FCC that we want the Internet to remain a free, fair and equal-opportunity channel. The FCC is taking comments from the public on this proceeding (also referred to as preserving Net Neutrality).

The site will remain open for 120 days (starting May 15 2014).. so the clock is ticking!

File your comment here. Proceeding number is 14-28

http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/hotdocket/list

Net Neutrality is important- or else all the content, access and service we get over the Internet will be based on the highest bidder for bandwidth usage.

Take action. Do it now! #NetNeutrality

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Making a Sales call- the importance of research, common sense and story telling

Have you been on the receiving end of a Sales call where you know that the rep is from a company that plays in the same market space as yours? This has quickly become one of my biggest pet peeves. Here are a three important things that every sales person must do before making that call to a prospect, lead or contact:

1. Research: Visit the company website. Arm yourself with basic information about the company- what do they do, how big are they, how long have they been around, who are their immediate competitors, has there been any interesting news about them in recent times? Look up the contact on social media sites such as LinkedIn.

2. Common Sense: I was tempted to couple this with research but I do believe this deserves to be mentioned separately. While researching the company and the contact- stop and think. Are you following up to a specific conversation or is this a cold call? If it is the latter- then consider if this company is a potential competitor, potential partner or potential customer. What is the purpose of your call to this contact? Why would they be interested in talking to you? If you’re just going through a list of leads with the same script- then you’re most likely wasting your time and theirs.

3. Story Telling: It is completely okay to call me even if you play in the big data analytics or the BI space. However I am not and cannot be a regular sales call. If there is a specific reason I should take the time to talk to you- then be prepared with a compelling story ahead of time. If you are calling a more promising prospect- then of course- the importance of your story cannot be over emphasized. Remember that you story must be malleable to fit their needs. Don’t forget to listen for the needs before starting the pitching. Nobody likes a pushy sales person.

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The third coming of Natural Language Processing

    “SAP tried to introduce natural language processing based BI tools about five years ago and failed. Why would I use yours?”

      Yesterday I was explaining to a customer that the QuickLogix natural language query engine would make it easier for his business users to ask questions and make meaning out of their data. Being the IT Director of a multi-billion dollar company, this was a question I was expecting him to ask and he didn’t disappoint! So why indeed does Gartner project that Natural Language processing is the next big thing in the world of data analytics and business intelligence? Why- if it has been tried before- not 30 years ago- but barely 5 years ago- and it didn’t really take off then?

        It boils down to one major tech Trend in the past 10 or so years and one major Event in the past 3 years.

          The TREND
          I remember the days when the leading edge of innovation was done in the Enterprise world and the benefits bled into the consumer market. Sometime around the mid 2000s, perhaps with the introduction of the iPhone, that trend started reversing. Consumer products and requirements were on the leading edge of technological creativity. All things new and exciting in the enterprise world (cloud computing, SaaS products etc.) are dictated bleed-outs of the consumer market. More mobile devices meant more data being transferred(volume), more content being generated (variety) and more demand for quick turnaround on data accessibility and processing (velocity). Yes the familiar 3Vs of Big Data are a direct result of demands in the consumer market.

            THE EVENT
            When it comes to natural language processing, I like to think of the world as pre-Siri and post-Siri. Apple introduced Siri to the world with the iPhone4S in October 2011. Ever since, there has been a renewed focus among all other phone OS manufacturers to provide (or improve upon) a similar service. Google has been around a long time with their ground-breaking natural language search. However it is the advent of Siri that has set the average consumer expectation that all interactions- personal or otherwise- can (and should) work by using simple English.

              The Trend and the Event together have subliminally revolutionized the mindset of the workforce. More and more business specialists and users are becoming inclined to use natural language in their work. The mobile evolution will serve as a potent catalyst for the acceptance of NLP by business users in their everyday functional tasks. The challenges of training them to ask the right questions and make meaning out of the results will remain. But the adoption of the technology in itself? It was tried in the 1950s & 60s, in the late 1990s and early 2000s- but in this third coming- natural language processing is here to stay.

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5 things you need to know about Data Lakes

    Here are five important things to know about data lakes:

      1. What is a data lake? That’s a good place to start any conversation! A data lake is essentially a landing zone to store all the data that an organization collects. The main advantage over a traditional enterprise data warehouse (EDW) is that there is no need for extract-transform-load (ETL) processes to ingest the data from any operational systems or to access the data from the data lake itself. In addition, it is relatively inexpensive and massively scalable.

        2. Traditional EDW systems also have restrictions on the data types that they can support. All enterprise organizations today collect more data than they process. The data lake can be used to store data of any type and in any format. As a result, the cost of transforming herewith inaccessible information (such as text, images and other unstructured data) is eliminated or at least substantially reduced. What this really means for any organization is that new operational systems can be easily added into the data lake and users can start deriving insights from them almost immediately.

          3. Why isn’t everyone adopting data lakes? There are a couple of pertinent reasons. To begin with, a lot of organizations have invested heavily in the infrastructure, support and services offered by the large EDW solution providers (IBM, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft) and making a transition needs many levels of business justification. Also, the data lake technology (and the Enterprise Hadoop ecosystem) is new and evolving. As a result, early adopters will only include organizations that want to be on the cutting-edge of technological advances, those that would like to capitalize on the financial advantages of the data lake or those that are willing to hedge their bets on revolutionary solutions offered by up and coming players like QuickLogix (www.quicklogix.com. full disclosure- I am affiliated with this organization).

            4. Data governance has been a challenge with EDW systems. It is only going to gain more prominence with the advent of data lakes. Gaps in data quality and reliability will be more easily exposed. We should collectively be applauding this development. IT teams can shift their emphasis from working on ETL processes to move the data into the common store to ensuring that the data collection (operational) systems meet stringent quality standards.

              5. Data lakes are not for everyone. One of the common complaints from data architects and technologists is that their organization is simply not suited for a shift to scale-out, parallel, no-SQL systems. It is true. To dig a hole, you might just need a spade not a jackhammer. However, it is important to assess current and future technological requirements of the organization while making these choices.

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Value: The 5th V of Big Data

    I’m a gen-Xer and unabashedly addicted to texting. I was on a marathon session with a friend when he said something that struck a chord with the Big Data technologist inside me. He said “Doesn’t all knowledge lead to questions and vice versa?”

      Indeed. Isn’t the primary purpose of putting Big Data technologies in place to satisfy this quest for knowledge and insights? And isn’t the best technology solution one that will not only let you get you the answer to the first question that you started with- but allow you to satisfactorily explore the potential possibilities that can be validated by all the disparate data that you have gathered as an enterprise? So if you’re looking to adopt a big data technology-based solution- why would you not make accessibility a primary RoI criterion? And why not tack on the requirement that the solution must add VALUE beyond the obvious?

        Value is the fifth V of the Big Data world and when it comes to value- it’s all about what the technology can do for the organization. This is exactly what we set out to do with the QuickLogix Genie solution. It’s the solution that encourages you to ask the next question in your data-exploration journey. This results in better business insights and better business decisions. All using Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology- so you don’t have to be a SQL or scripting guru to gain access to the knowledge buried in the data. Visit http://www.quicklogix.com to learn more.

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Let’s talk real responsibilities

    The best talks I’ve ever heard always had one thing in common- they gave me goose-bumps and made me teary-eyed! The topics have ranged from technology (yes nerd-alert!) to politics- but most recently- it was education. Yesterday I attended the SxSWEdu Education Expo and sat in on a series of presentations. When Sarah Mabry walked on stage, the first thing I noticed was the bold-white frame of the eye-glasses she was sporting and the second thing was her magician-robe styled outfit. When the third sentence in her speech was “Sarah Mabry is not a wizard”, I knew this was going to be interesting! I wasn’t prepared for inspirational. Ms.Mabry was kind enough to share a written copy of her speech with me- but there were lines she uttered that aren’t contained in the text I now possess. Here are some of my favorites from her presentation:

      “A nation is ONLY as strong as its educational foundation”
      These are powerful words. She did reiterate this line three times. The message they contain is beyond powerful- it carries an urgency that cannot and should not be ignored. From 2008-2013, the United States fell from being #1 amongst 48 countries in its Global Competitiveness Index ranking to #5 (per the World Economic Forum). Let’s not forget that economic strength is valuable political capital.

        “We are all stakeholders- so we must all be investors”
        Yes this gave me those goosebumps. There is no doubt that our children are our future. Providing them with the resources to do better than we could is a fundamental responsibility that we all shoulder- as adults, parents, teachers and citizens. Unfortunately, the availability of these resources and opportunities appears to be in sync with the socio-economic divide. We know that the profile of the student population is projected to be over 50% non-Anglo American in the next 20 years and we also know that a majority of the disadvantaged youth population belongs to that same demographic bracket. Talk about predictive analytics- this is a pattern staring us in the face- and one we cannot afford to ignore.

          “From those who have been given much, much is expected”
          Slightly reminiscent of the Spiderman dialogue “With great power comes great responsibility”!! I think Ms.Mabry’s version is clearly a call to action. The challenges that our educational system faces today are not (and never have been) limited to the socially, economically, linguistically deprived sections of society. It’s a national emergency that requires everyone to listen, participate and contribute.

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