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In this Industry Buzz podcast moderated by Marty Parker, the UCStrategies Experts discuss the future of communications, based on an interview between Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute and UCStrategies' Dave Michels. The podcast also includes Kevin Kieller, Don Van Doren, Art Rosenberg, Jon Arnold, Phil Edholm, and Dave Michels.
Marty Parker: Hello, this is Marty Parker with UCStrategies and today’s podcast is on a very interesting topic – the Future of Communications. We are going to build on a post that our compatriot, Dave Michels, put up on “NoJitter.” So it is not here on UCStrategies.com, it is over on NoJitter. You will see the link in our podcast note here, if you want to go look at that. But he (Dave) interviewed Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute about the thoughts of what the future of communications might be and I would say essentially along the lines of future for communications in business. And Mr. Frey talked about the change in work and how work could be more granular and could be purchased from communities of people around the globe and using shared work spaces. He talked about the network being a digital nerve center and shortening the distance from information to your brain. And he talked about changes that might occur in education.
But rather than me trying to describe this; you, of course, can read it. I am going to call on the other UC experts on the call today and ask them each to address a couple of questions. What about the article caught their attention, and what would they say about that either reinforcing or modifying Mr. Frey’s comments? And, secondly, if they had any other productions they would want to make that they think are important and were not mentioned in the article itself, I would like them to please say that. So I am going to call on first Kevin Kieller. Kevin, what would you comment about this?
Kevin Kieller (1:35): Well, great. Thank you, Marty. So I want to share three items that really resonated with me from the article and then add a prediction of my own. So, firstly, when Thomas Frey speaks of project-based work and corporate colonies, this certainly resonates with me as it justifies at least to some extent what I have been trying to do or doing for the past 25 years. So I like that prediction.
Secondly, when Mr. Frey says, “The greatest industries today will pale in comparison to what comes next.” I like that because this fills me with optimism for both myself in terms of what I would hope to do in the future but also for my three children. I clearly feel that this increase pace of change, as opposed to being something that we are afraid of, I see it as Mr. Frey presents it as really bringing with it continual opportunities. So I thought that was a very optimistic statement that I liked.
Thirdly, when Mr. Frey comments that there are not enough teachers at the right time and place, it makes me realize that increasingly I really feel that upper educational institutions are ripe for reinvention with some of the new unified communication technologies. I look to fascinating examples of free educational resources that are made available through some of these communication tools such as the Khan Academy really as paths and indicators of what the future of education may look like. And when we think of education and talk about information accessibility and the evolution of Smart Phones to becoming more invisible interfaces to information, I think one key prediction that I would add is this – successful organizations need to transition from a knowledge focus to a decision focus. And what I mean by this is we are starting to see a key success criteria and the ability to take data, transform it into information, and then, most importantly, to act and execute based on this information. To be successful it used to be good enough to really know more than someone else and I guess a lot of people would argue that we consultants are still making a living knowing slightly more than some. But increasingly I believe you must know and act – really put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. And to be successful then, I see the communication tools are going to need to support the collaborative decision-making process, but UC as well must not only help people chat, but need to help people do.
An example of this is really the act of trying to select the right UC platform. Increasingly, I see there are still many people who do not understand the actual features of the different platforms, but there is a lot of people who even when they have documented their business requirements and understand the pros and cons of the different options, still they seem to suffer from analysis paralysis. Still they seem to have trouble acting and executing. You can certainly be overwhelmed by data, facts, statistics, but it seems equally you can also be overwhelmed by information, synopsis, opinion, recommendations and we are going to have to help teach people and provide them with tools that help them act on information to become what I will call decision workers, as opposed to simply knowledge workers.
In line with this, I guess, as you in the audience is listening, I would encourage you to consider how you will take this information presented here and in the original article and act on it. And with that I will act to send it back to you, Marty.
Marty Parker (5:22): Well, great, Kevin, very thought provoking. Thanks for that. Now I am going to call next on Don Van Doren. Don has some thoughts about how the work environment might evolve. Right, Don?
Don Van Doren: Yes, Marty, thanks. I think a couple of interesting things in the interview that Dave Michels did with Thomas Frey. I am going to comment about a couple of points there. One was this thing about the ability to control the work environment and how we have more opportunity to do that, decide who and with whom we will work, and how we do that. The growing attractiveness of this whole project-based work environment where individuals, freelancers, float from project to project and working for different companies in a way that matches skills to needs. Just sort of as a side note, he does speak, of course, about these co-working facilities, such as the one that he runs in suburban Denver. I find it kind of interesting that for that operation it is still a physical location. And I am curious as to whether Frey feels that physical proximity is a requirement for the future that he envisions because I think an awful lot of what is going on is that we seem to have different models coming about. Increasingly, as Kevin mentioned, I see individuals whose work is really independent of location, meaning really just connectivity and perhaps an occasional airport visit to a convenient airport. I know, Marty, you and I, of course, have created Unicomm Consulting following these kinds of guidelines. And personally I live off the grid in the middle of New Mexico, and yet, have good upload and download capabilities, etc., etc. So that model is certainly one that is becoming more and more common.
I also agree with another point that Thomas makes about the fact that we are currently in what he calls an experimental phase. And I assume what he means by that is some of the things that we have talked about here on UC Strategies for awhile – there are just too many of what I call blunt instruments around, when there is clear need for more precise control, more precise information, etc. Let me just quickly mention four of these. I think we need to learn to temper ways to be always on. He makes the point about exhausted teenagers who are up and online all night. And this extends to business colleagues as well. Too often, I think, people do not know how to control this new environment that we are all living in the middle of. Businesses, too, increasingly care about security and privacy issues and there is a clear need for more work on the part of the vendors to provide tools and capabilities to allow both individuals and businesses to control these things.
Secondly, I think for all the wonders of Google and search capabilities that we have got, the tools that we have are increasingly inadequate, I think, for the task at hand. Especially as we ramp up to adding terabytes of data every day, we obviously need ways to refine the search in a much more – much better way than we have been able to do before.
The third point is that I think we are still building communications islands. We have not done a good enough job with federation with partners and suppliers and customers. Even in a situation within a company sometimes we do not have a good ability to federate within our own business. Again, work has to be done to help bring about this future that he envisioned.
The fourth thing I will talk about in this area is that I think translating the tools of what has come to be called social media or social networking to be able to support the kinds of collaboration and decisions really, as Kevin alluded to, is still a work in progress. I think it is certainly hard to pound deep discussions into 140 characters and I think LinkedIn forums, for example, too often now are just thinly disguised advertisements for somebody’s products or services. So we are in this experimental phase, I think. We are getting better at it and, clearly, we are already seeing some trends in it. 140 characters, for example, can provide a subject and a URL. Again, though, we still come back to the search engine problem. How do we find those nuggets that we want to get at?
So all of these things, I think, are really important steps to solve and we are clearly making some progress along this. I think bringing his vision into reality is clearly one of the areas that unified communications is helping him. Obviously what he is talking about in a lot of cases is just the ability to do rich collaboration. Again, Kevin made that point very strongly. And I think that is what our industry is increasingly providing – persistent work spaces, the ability to find and connect with others that have the information we need, ways to blend synchronous and asynchronous communication strategies, better rules engines, etc. There is an awful lot coming here and I think marshalling these kinds of resources is really the thing that is going to help bring some of Frey’s vision to reality. Back to you, Marty.
Marty Parker (10:44): Yeah, great, Don. Thanks for those ideas. Very stimulating. Art Rosenberg, you have some thoughts about his comments on the digital network, I believe.
Art Rosenberg: Yes. Well, first of all, there is a one-line comment about business becoming very fluid and the driving force behind this is digital networks that connects buyers with sellers for faster and greater efficiency. Obviously, this is something dear to my heart because the contact center, especially as it becomes UC-enabled, is going to facilitate that, especially in the light of mobility. And this is an area that organizations do not have any control over as to what their customers, their consumers, will be actually using to communicate – interact – with the business at hand, whether it is to get information, perform transactions, get assistance, be notified, whatever it is. They are going to be using the device of their choice and this is where they are going to be – the Smart Phones and tablets come into play because accessibility will now be increased. On the other hand, they need the protection and privacy and so on and some control over such accessibility. But also they are now getting the flexibility of interacting with both people and with self-service applications in whatever modality is appropriate for their situation. Are they driving a car? Are they sitting in a meeting? Are they in a noisy environment? Can they talk? Can they speak? Can they look? Whatever. So that kind of flexibility is what the consumer marketplace is going to be bringing down on organizations that have to support them. And that will be a great challenge, but the technology is moving pretty quickly in that direction, but it is still not organized properly with things like having federation globally and inter-operable and so on. Thanks.
Marty Parker (12:48): Great, Art. Thank you very much for that. So going north from here, let’s go up to Jon Arnold in Canada. Jon, your thoughts?
Jon Arnold: Yeah, thanks. Thanks, Marty. And I think we could all go on these topics for quite a while. I want to just touch on two quick things. A lot of this kind of takes me back to if you remember a book called Future Shock that came out in the – around 1970 from Alvin Toffler. He talked a lot in very broad strokes about how the mobility in society is transforming the way we function as a planet, but also in terms of families and communities and society. And that same type of transformation is kind of happening here in the Information Age. It is a different type of mobility. But the mobility that we are getting out of wireless, the mobility we have with all our options are just making us almost overwhelmed with the choices we have for doing things. So the things that the interview here really touched on for me was this idea that we have too much information coming from all of these sources and the ability – coming back to what Kevin said – to make good decisions really rests on our skills to manage this information and use it in a meaningful way. For me there is a big difference between information and knowledge. And the risk I see here is if we do not know how to make decisions and filter out the things we actually need versus what is available to us, we are going to be in a lot of trouble because we are going to spend all of our days trying to manage these flows rather than making sense of them. And that points us to this kind of a new world coming of big data. And I think that is where a lot of these new industries that he talks about in the interview are going to start to emerge. You know, ways that go well beyond what Google is doing today, well beyond what Amazon can do with servers, etc. To use this information properly so that we can actually make good decisions, but also good use of it. Because we can create information all day long, but most of it is useless without a context to turn it into knowledge. And that is just a huge challenge. It has been the domain of the IBMs of the world for a long time, but, as was said earlier, we do not have all the right tools. I think Don was saying that. We are really short with these blunt instruments. We need more refined tools that will help us do that and I think some of this does play well into the world of UC.
That gets me to my second point and that is this issue he brings up about education. Not the education Kevin was talking about, but the fact that so much of this we choose ourselves. That was the big takeaway for me in his interview. We actually willingly want all of this information in our hands, but have not given any thought to how we are going to manage it. And the problem here, I see, is that we are all kind of learning this on our own. We do not go to school to learn how to manage information, how to make sense of data. We pick it up peripherally in certain types of courses, but most people do not have the skill set to do that. And if we bring this down a few thousand feet to the world of businesses and what IT guys have to go through in making UC successful, this is, I think, the big sweet spot where the channels can really bring a lot of value – is showing their customers ways to not just use the technology, but to train their employees to make valuable use of these tools. Because if they are not conditioned, they are not trained to learn these things properly, they are going to lose a lot of time. So any productivity you gain from collaborative tools will probably be washed away by all the time wasted trying to figure out what to do with all this information.
The younger generation, I think, gets this more intuitively. The older people maybe not so much; although our brains work in different ways. But I think there is opportunity here and definitely for the channel to step in and add that layer of value and maybe bring an educational component to the workplace to show people with all these tools all this potential that can be unlocked ways of using it productively without drowning in it, without be overwhelmed or intimidated by it. Because we want this technology to empower people. We want them to embrace new tools. But that is going to fizzle out real fast if all it does is bog down their day when it is just a matter of all they can do is just make a phone call and get something done – the old fashioned way. If that is what works, that is what they are going to do. But these tools will work well if they can learn how to apply them in ways that can make this information flood that they are seeing more manageable.
So I will leave it at that and I can go on all day with this stuff, but we have others to get to. So, thanks, Marty.
Marty Parker (17:24): Thank you, Jon. That is a very stimulating set of ideas and that is twice so far we have heard about this shift in decision-making. Very interesting themes. Phil Edholm, you had some thoughts that you wanted to share with us, too. Please.
Phil Edholm: Yes, I think, obviously, it is incredibly interesting when you think about the future not just from a technology perspective, but from a societal perspective, from a business perspective. There are a few areas that I think in this discussion really become interesting to think about and present opportunities for us. And the first is this fundamental change in the workspace and the workplace and the way we work. Obviously knowledge has to lead to decisions. I would argue that a knowledge worker who is not making decisions is not influencing, is not driving, is not really a knowledge worker. So what is interesting is that a lot of that discussion was, in fact, focused to that community. We also have to understand how does this actually impact the rest of the community – those information and service workers – the other 80%? I mean, we really have this interesting thing that we talk a lot about – the 20% of the market that are knowledge workers and do not talk a lot about the 80% that are not knowledge workers. So I think first is really to discuss how these technologies will impact them.
The second in that area specifically is this whole discussion around how do you facilitate working people working together over distance. And I will argue that it is in two dimensions. There is one dimension in terms of how do you manage your time, your focus in life, your balance of life? But, secondly, how do you become part of a group? As we move to this world where teams do not exist for a long period of time and people are essentially integrated for functional value, how do you build those longer-term relationships that we as human beings want? There is a lot of discussion about tribal – why we actually want to be part of tribes? How do you build that? That is a lot of the way most people actually think and operate. I think there is a lot interesting opportunities around that space.
I think the second area that was really interesting to me was a validation of a thought process around devices. If you extrapolate the path we are on, which is – a couple of things are happening. One, devices are getting smaller and smaller, while at the same time networks are getting faster and faster. So the function of a device is less and less a place to do something and more and more a place to present things that came over the network. And we see trends like, obviously, HTML 5 coming and Web RTC that are really driving that. And then you talk about wearable devices. All of a sudden devices move from being this functional platform to being something that is very specific. You may not buy the device two or three years from now based on its capabilities as a technology device. You may buy it purely based on aesthetics, on it being a specific design, on how it looks. And I think that begins to bring the advent of a dimension and devices that is going to be very interesting. One is on the consumer side, devices that are bought for fashion and style, and on the business side, a real trend for devices to become more and more application or functionality specific. And I think that trend may drive very much down into the information workers. As those devices become readily available, all of a sudden a device that is specific for a plumber could be very interesting versus a device that is specific for an electrician. So within in that – when we talk about devices, there are some very interesting trends for us in our industry to be very cognizant of.
I think the discussion of modalities was fairly interesting because I think it missed on this underlying point that says, “We need video, we need face-to-face, when we need to understand if the person we are interacting with clearly understands what we are saying or clearly agrees.” And coming back to the decision-maker context, the reason knowledge workers and decision workers need video is because often they are trying to understand if the person they are talking to agreed with them or is going along with the decision. There is a significant percentage – I would argue probably the majority of human communications – that are not about that selling collaboration, not about decision-making, not about understanding that. They are merely conveying information or data. And I think voice – I think to underestimate the value long-term of voice or the analog of that which is text, as a communication modality, I think you may very much be underestimating how people will interact.
And then finally, then, I think that brings me to the last point that is very interesting. Through this entire article you see the beginning of this concept that we humans are going to be aided by intelligence. You can look at Suri on the iPhone S – it really is a representation of a realization that we human beings no longer are capable of managing all of the things we need to be successful. There is too much information. There is too much information to remember it and store it. There is too much information to figure out how to access it. It is very convoluted and challenging today. You have to be very good at writing search terms to be able to find the things you want. It is very frustrating for people. The capability of intelligence of a machine-level of intelligence to augment human beings, to be able to understand how you want to remember stuff and keep things remembered for you, to be able to find things for you, to be able to manage things, I think is one of the powerful concepts that if you read through the article, it shows up in two or three places. Whether you think of it as the cyborg or the augmentation of the mind with the things that we as human beings actually are not good at in terms of volumes of information, in terms of search engines, in terms of those points. What is interesting is if you step back and think about what is the interface that probably is going to happen between human beings and that augmentative intelligence, while at first blush you would think that, “Oh, it is probably going to be that CRT screen or that screen that I use every day in my office at home.” But then you realize you are limited to a time when you can only focus on that one thing. When you are not doing that, you begin to realize that until we get to neural plugs, speech or voice or audio is probably a much more logical way to see that happen. I think there is this very interesting concept that comes out of the end of this presentation that basically says, “Human beings are going to get augmented. That augmentation is going to come predominantly through voice.” And I think that if you look at the UC technology space and the advent of a personal agent to manage your availability, migrating and morphing into a personal agent that looks at things on your behalf – that, for example, is looking at the stock feeder at any time a specific stock goes above or below a certain threshold point actually alerts you to that. And it does not alert you by sending you a message, but actually through an ear bud that is always there and says, “Hey, you should pay attention to this.”
So I think one of the things we may see and I think this augments – kind of predicts this as the concept that there is going to be augmentative intelligence. I think there is a high probability that some of that may actually come out of the UC industry. And I think a lot of that augmentative intelligence is actually going to be through audio initially until we actually change how it can interface with a human being.
So, all in all, I think it is really exciting. I think it really portends well for this industry and for everyone in this industry and how we can address some of these challenges that are coming. So, thanks, Marty. I will throw it back to you.
Marty Parker (25:17): Yeah, great, Phil. That also is very stimulating. It is interesting to me to notice how many times we have each suggested that things need to become – the tools need to be more advanced and more focused. That is a very interesting thought. So I am going to go to Dave Michels and, Dave, you have been hearing us talk about your interview. What do you think we missed and what highlights would you bring out in addition to what you wrote?
Dave Michels: Thank you, Marty. This is Dave. I am so glad we’re having this podcast on Thomas Frey. I think he is a fascinating individual and I really enjoyed talking to him and do enjoy talking to him when I have an opportunity to do so. What I find really interesting about Thomas is that he is very optimistic about the future. And I tend to get a little pessimistic about the future – I’m surrounded by fricking morons all the time, and I sometimes have doubts that we are going to make it much longer as a species. But listening to Thomas there is a lot of optimism in his ideas and he backs it up with some pretty impressive facts about how far we as a race and a society and a group are progressing and some really interesting and insightful thought about what we could be going toward. So I think that’s wonderful and I really appreciate his view, particularly because he doesn’t just say things about of opinion, he really backs up his thoughts with so many details and references that are very compelling – really makes you think type of conversations that I tend to have with him.
Let’s see – I think we have covered pretty thorough coverage of a lot of what he said in that interview. A couple of thoughts that spring to mind – one is about the cyborg stuff. And he’s right, science fiction has taught us that cyborgs are bad and resistence is futile, and Star Trek he mentioned. So many science fiction stories, have half-human/half-robot disasters. I could think of so many of them: RoboCop is jumping to mind, and I’ll buy that for a dollar. But the point or the fact is that we are becoming happy cyborgs and I think he raises some really interesting observations around that. You know, one thing that I am wondering about is if you are familiar with the Cochlear – I think that is how you pronounce it – Cochlear hearing aid implants. They are not really hearing aids. They are actually implants that go into your head that allow somebody who is completely hard of hearing or partially hard of hearing to hear things by bypassing, I guess, the hairs in the ear and going directly to an electrical format. And I wonder how far away that might be in things like headsets. I actually raised that up with Plantronics one time a few years ago and they looked at me kind of surprised. But people wearing Blue Tooth headsets is becoming fairly common. But it is an accessory that has to be bolted onto the ear. Will we see that type of technology in our heads at some point in the near future?
I think there are lots of other interesting things we are seeing with the happy cyborg type of stuff. There are iPhone apps that allow you to track your sleeping better if you wear a band around your arm or something like that. There are Siri that was mentioned earlier. We’ve got prosthetics that allow people to compete in sporting events that really cannot even walk otherwise. Of course, the Google glasses have been getting attention. So I think that this human augmentation is a reality – the Six Million Dollar Man, and it is an interesting way of looking at it because when you think of cyborg, you think of evil, terrible stuff.
Another thing that I think is interesting – there has been a lot of conversation about decision-making and one of the things that I think about or I thought about when I was talking to Thomas was I remember when IBM beat a human at chess. It took them several attempts and their machine, Deep Blue, finally beat a chess champion at chess. And it was a pretty big deal. It was doing it not necessarily through artificial intelligence, but through just raw computing and it was an amazing achievement for IBM to have done that because they had tried many times before. It was beginning to look like it was going to be an impossible thing. More recently – I think it was last year – with Watson, IBM beat the Jeopardy champions. And that was a totally different mode. Instead of artificial intelligence and raw computing, it was really effective searching. And the brilliance of Watson was being able to understand the answer that was given and effectively turning it into the question and effective searching. And I think that really is a lot of our future. All this decision-making conversation we have had on this recording, we are really talking a lot about effective sorting, effective searching to make decisions. Some of his points there about education – so much education to this day – involves memorization of ridiculous facts that are much easier to look up. I know some of the vendors that are still in our space that have various certifications still require an extraordinary amount of memorization. And I often question that. Why? Why are we memorizing facts? And so much more of it is around searching. And I think we are going to see a big shift around that.
So I guess those are my thoughts and loving the conversation and back to you, Marty. Thank you.
Marty Parker (31:22): Great. Well, thanks for that, Dave. Let me ask any other UC experts if you would like to make any comments or final additional points.
Art Rosenberg: Marty, this is Art. I just wanted to suggest – and it was kind of brought up by Phil – that it is not just decision-makers and information workers, but also the service workers or action workers, if you will – people who do things, don’t make decisions, they do not have information, but they are the ones who take actions and make something happen in the physical world. And so clearly that’s a group of people who have to be tuned in and connected with the other type of workers and they work together to get something to actually happen.
Marty Parker (32:08): Well, yes, Art. And I haven’t made many comments, so let me add just a couple. The first is I have been fascinated for nearly a decade on this idea that Thomas Frey brings out that work will become much more granular, much more atomic. The idea that a person might have 10 jobs by the time they are 30 years old today. And in a short while that might be 100 jobs. I am fascinated by what this might mean to society. Both the disaggregation of industrial societies, but also the possibility for the intelligent but poor or disadvantaged people of the world to come into play as a resource for a global society. I am just fascinated with that idea. I cannot say where it is going to go; I do not have any predictions, but I think it’s a huge possibility that is hard to imagine to the extent it will likely unfold.
And the other thing I would say is that, relative to devices and how things are going to happen, I have also been fascinated for the past four to five years with the idea of wearable glasses, basically goggles or glasses that project that screen that Phil mentioned on the desktop. But it projects it onto your retina at almost any time. The military has been using this for some time. A company called Vuzix makes these kinds of things today, but for an expensive price – $2500, $2,000 or so – when for $300 or $400 you can buy products from them just to watch movies. It is really fascinating. Obviously the prices will keep coming down and I think this whole evolution will proceed. But maybe Phil is right that this will be mostly audible. In which case, Phil, having the device read me that 140-character message will mean that a Tweet will actually be audible in the future.
Phil Edholm (33:57): Marty, this is Phil. I think that’s a great point. Just to come back to that, the challenge with visual interfacing is we actually are very interesting as human beings. We can multi-task well on audio. But we actually don’t multi-task very well on our visual interface. And it is an interesting question about will evolution change that over time? But for the current generation, I can find nothing more frightening than the idea of everybody on the freeway in the morning basically having a contact lens or projector into their eye trying to read their email while I am driving on the road with them.
Marty Parker: I understand that. Frankly, Google’s answer to that is to make smarter cars. And I saw an article in Wired magazine. They have a back page of Wired magazine every month that talks about the future. About three years ago the future was a heads-up display in every automobile. And one of the heads up items was a warning that the car in the lane ahead of you was weaving.
Phil Edholm: Exactly. And I think that is a great point – I mean, in terms of visual augmentation of reality is another discussion. When you think about things that are parallel to that – but anyway, it is a really excellent discussion. I think it brings up this view of the future of how much opportunity there is. Thanks, Marty.
Marty Parker: That is right. Thank you, too, Phil. Thanks, everyone for your contributions – fabulous set of ideas, and thanks, Dave, and thanks, Thomas Frey, for getting this all started. And anybody who would like to add to the conversation can certainly add a post to it on UCStrategies. Thanks, all. Have a great day.
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