by Steff Gelston

Trendlines From April 1, 2008: New, Hot, Unexpected

Mar 19, 2008 12 mins
Developer IT Leadership

In this issue: New York Talk Exchange maps telecommuting traffic; Vanity Googling pays off professionally; Microsoft implements energy-saving strategies; American companies embrace mobile apps; Retailers see the value of BI; Tech CEOs press Congress for R&D funding; EDS breeds future CIOs.

Wired to the World

Telecom: New York City is known as both the epicenter of global business and the city that never sleeps. And, thanks to a new research project led by MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory, anyone can see visual representations of why those reputations are true.

The project is called New York Talk Exchange, and it shows the daily telecommunications traffic coming into and out of New York City. That traffic data, a combination of Internet protocol (IP) and voice communications, is represented on three large visualizations that hang in the Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Design and the Elastic Mind.” They also appear on the Senseable website.

The project “reveals how New York connects with the network of global cities,” says Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Laboratory and associate professor of urban studies and planning at MIT. In looking at the city’s data flows, which come from AT&T’s networks, Ratti and his team discovered the complex and varied connections New Yorkers make with the rest of the world. “The pulse of the planet, with its different time zones,” he says, “is also the pulse of New York.”

Globe Encounters is the first visualization. It uses 3-D, real-time animations and glowing virtual lines to illustrate New York’s connections to other cities—a sort of “globalization in real time,” according to the team. The greater the glow, the greater the amount of IP traffic. The second, called Pulse of the Planet, reveals how those connections change over the day. It shows how the city follows a 24-hour schedule, as if it were always awake to connect to the rest of the globe, according to the project overview.

The last visualization, The World Inside New York, examines the five boroughs, demonstrating how global connections vary by neighborhood. The team calls this “globalization from the bottom.” For example, Mumbai ranks 24th as the origin of calls into Manhattan and 11th in calls into Queens. Toronto is a main destination for calls out of Manhattan but accounts for just 1 percent of calls from the Bronx. Columbia University professor Saskia Sassen notes in the project catalog, “The striking piece of evidence coming out of this project is that global talk happens both at the top of the economy and at its lower end.”

Using British Telecom data, the team also compared the relative connectedness of business rivals London and New York. The data shows New York has more reach into Asian and South American business hubs, such as Beijing and Bogota. London reaches more into Europe and the U.S.

The team will also explore how the structures of global cities evolve, the dynamics of globalization and whether more data transfers across the globe affect travel. The exhibit runs until May 12.

-Thomas Wailgum

It Pays to Track Your Reputation Online

Career:: Take a good, hard look at what you find the next time you get that urge to Google yourself. What others have to say about you online—or the pictures or videos that they post—could come back to haunt you professionally.

Eighty-three percent of executive recruiters use search engines to learn about candidates, according to an ExecuNet survey. Forty-three percent of recruiters have eliminated candidates for jobs based on information they found about the candidates online.

With those statistics in mind, it behooves you to conduct regular searches of your full name on the Web to find out what, if anything, is being said about you, say Kirsten Dixson and William Arruda, personal branding consultants and authors of Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand. Managing your reputation is an absolute necessity in a world where it’s easier than ever to post or find positive and negative information about an individual.

If you find negative information, Dixson and Arruda recommend trying to have it cleaned up or removed. “If you can’t,” they say, “add your own positive content alongside it and let readers draw their own conclusions.”

And while you’re messing about online, establish a profile on a social networking site. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Ziggs are excellent ways to create or expand one’s online identity and network at the same time, say Dixson and Arruda. If used appropriately, they can also provide you with an opportunity to put your best foot forward online with recruiters and potential employers.

“To get the most out of these sites, make sure your content is consistent across all of your profiles and matches your resume,” they say.

-Meridith Levinson

Microsoft Thinks green

Energy: Microsoft will release best practices for administrators running data centers, focusing on energy-saving strategies the company is implementing in its own operations.

Those tips will cover issues such as how to pick a good data center site, how to deal with heat and manage power consumption, CEO Steve Ballmer said last month at the Cebit trade show in Hannover, Germany.

The move is in response to growing concern over the release of carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels to create electricity. In addition, power demands are ever-increasing, Ballmer said. “Information technology is one of the most rapidly growing power consumers on the planet. We think we have a real responsibility…to reduce power consumption by the IT industry.” (Read a related story, “A Little Bit Green”).

Ballmer said Microsoft has studied how to engineer its products to consume less power. For instance, Windows Vista, its latest operating system, consumes 3 watts per hour in idle mode, versus 100 watts per hour for Windows XP. In some configurations, Windows Server 2008, the company’s next-generation server, uses 40 percent less power than Windows Server 2003.

To increase its ability to offer hosted applications, Microsoft has built data centers in Quincy, Wash., where there is cheap, hydroelectric power, and in Dublin, Ireland, Ballmer said. Emerging innovations could reduce power consumption in data centers by a factor of five, he said. “We’ve tried to be a pioneer…in our own data centers,” Ballmer said. “These new data centers put us on a path to be among the most power-efficient and ecologically sound data centers in the world.”

-Jeremy Kirk

Every Move You Make

Workplace Nearly a third of employers fired employees for abusing corporate e-mail, according to the 2007 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance survey. The reasons:

64% Violation of company policy

62% Inappropriate/offensive language

26% Excessive personal use

22% Breach of confidentiality rules

12% Other

Source: American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute

Cutting the Cord

Mobile Applications: The number of U.S. companies using mobile data applications for business purposes is now 94 percent, up almost 20 percent in 2007 from the previous year, according to market research firm In-Stat. And while that growth is expected to slow in the coming year, the company predicts spending will continue to grow by 30 percent each year through 2012.

The last 10 years have seen businesses nearly double their usage of mobile business applications each year, driven primarily by basic horizontal applications, In-Stat says. But as they reach the saturation point for such products, attention will turn to the slower-to-implement vertical applications.

Horizontal wireless applications—like those for e-mail, Internet access, instant messaging and personal information management (PIM)—are by far the most widely used since they prove the simplest to deploy and serve a variety of employees, according to In-Stat. A survey the firm conducted last year showed 88 percent of companies used wireless e-mail, 84 percent provided wireless Internet, 65 percent employed mobile instant messaging applications and 60 percent managed business information, such as calendars and contacts, via mobile devices.

“As business users approach saturation for horizontal mobile data applications, most of the growth potential remains for vertical market applications,” specialized for sales forces, for example, said Bill Hughes, In-Stat principal analyst, in a release.

In-Stat is also reporting that the global smartphone market is expected to increase by an average of 33 percent per year during the next five years, while the number of business users with corporate phones jumped 34 percent from 2006 to 2007.

-Al Sacco

BI: Retailers’ No. 1 Tech Priority

Business Intelligence: All the frothy hype over business intelligence tools is justly warranted in the retail industry, according to a recent report from the Aberdeen Group.

The report’s findings, that BI tools can “build customer knowledge, improve visibility across the enterprise and drive sales,” are based on survey results from more than 200 retailers. Nearly 70 percent of the retailers currently use BI tools, and 26 percent plan to adopt a BI system.

Aberdeen defines BI not as a single reporting or analytics application applied to a specific data set. Rather, BI “involves the ability to access information affecting the business, often as the data is created,” write analyst Jeanette Keene and research director David Hatch. “This can involve one or a multiple set of data sources, and can affect one or many sets of decisions, actions and people.”

The top reason retailers implement BI systems is “to quickly react to changes in customer demand.” They also say they need to be more predictive with forecasting capabilities (38 percent) and improve customer loyalty and retention (also 38 percent). Aberdeen’s report offers three suggestions to help retailers jump-start their BI efforts.

1. Go beyond segmenting customers. BI can help separate profitable customers from unprofitable ones. “Retailers that can identify and segment these groups are able to shift awareness and tactical marketing spend toward more profitable activities,” says the report.

2. Prioritize real-time alerts and updates. “Consumers have quickly learned to utilize all of the tools at their disposal to educate themselves about products and prices,” the researchers write. “Do not let a lag in data access cause lost opportunities.”

3. Train end users. BI cannot be fully utilized if users “are not adopting the tools and using them to their fullest potential.”

-Thomas Wailgum

Tech CEos to Congress: Where’s R&D Funding?

Politics: Congress should keep the promises made in the America Competes Act of 2007 and restore funding to three federal agencies that conduct basic research, a group of tech CEOs said.

The Technology CEO Council, a group responsible for public policy advocacy for the IT community consisting of the CEOs of IBM, Dell, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and six other companies, sent a letter to congressional leaders in February urging a funding increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The agencies’ fiscal year 2008 budgets were a combined $918 million short of targets promised in the America Competes Act, which was signed into law last year. It was expected to double funding at the three agencies over 10 years in an effort to improve U.S. science and technology programs.

According to the American Physical Society, an advocacy group for physicists, research funding fell short of promised levels by 91 percent in the DoE’s Office of Science, 77 percent at NSF and 70 percent at NIST.

The funding shortfalls at the DoE’s Office of Science will cause universities and research labs to lay off about 550 scientists, engineers, technologists or support staff, the letter from the Technology CEO Council said. Scholarships and research grants for promising science students as well as the agencies’ ability to train math and science teachers for grade schools and high schools will also be affected.

Bruce Mehlman, executive director of the Technology CEO Council, stressed that funding for federal research is important for U.S. competitiveness in a global economy. “American competitiveness starts with our innovative capacity, our infrastructure’s strength and our ability to grow and retain talent.”

And according to Mehlman, “In the world of $3 trillion budgets,” finding the money should not be difficult. “So many people have given great, soaring speeches that they’re for competitiveness and they’re for innovation,” he said. “But you’re not for it if you don’t fund it.”

-Grant Gross

How EDS Became a CIO Launch Pad

On The Move: Like GE and PepsiCo, EDS is a sprawling company that’s fertile ground for sourcing candidates for CIO positions. Since December 2007, at least three companies have found their CIOs at EDS:

United Airlines plucked Keith Halbert from his CIO gig at the services provider.

A.H. Belo Corp. lured Matthew Bieri, VP of global delivery for EDS’s human resources outsourcing organization.

IT outsourcer CompuCom hired Laurie Simon, who worked for EDS as a client delivery executive responsible for managing mobile communications and help desk support.

Breck Ray, president of executive search firm Ray Partners, says the company’s size, scope and technology expertise attract corporate recruiters and headhunters who are seeking IT leaders. EDS employees often focus on an industry, so they develop expertise in that sector, says Ray. Thus when an energy company, for example, seeks an IT exec with deep industry expertise, EDS is on its radar.

What’s more, since EDS manages its clients’ technology, employees are exposed to many hardware and software vendors, says Ray. Thus, they combine a solid understanding of various technologies with their industry expertise, which makes them attractive candidates. EDS also has good training and leadership development programs. The company’s acquisition of consultancy The Feld Group in 2004 further filled its ranks with CIO talent.

Also key is the openness of EDS professionals to recruiters’ calls. “You have a receptive audience when you call,” says Ray. “Typically, companies are prime recruiting ground when their stock is way off or they’ve been through massive turmoil, which EDS has gone through.”

-Meridith Levinson