Why I just bought Google Glass

Google Glass - Active, charco

Google Glass - Active, charcoalWhen Google Glass first appeared on the scene in April 2012, I knew I wanted a pair. But, I’m not a developer so I had no way to contribute to the program. For some time now Google has been hinting at a consumer version to be released in 2014 but there’s no hard information in public yet about that. And so, with Google offering the Explorer version to the public today, I went online and bought a pair.

I was an early adopter of the PC, carrying a personal laptop on my travels as far back as 1989. Then, one day in April 1996 I was on a flight from St. Louis to Houston and the guy next to me pulled out a US Robotics Palm Pilot. I got off the plane, went straight to CompUSA and bought one for myself. In 1998 I moved to Paris, France. I upgrade my Palm, added a modem, and developed a habit of downloading my e-mails before leaving my apartment so I could read them on my bus commute to work.

For quite some time I resisted the BlackBerry as the Palm’s of the early noughties had much broader functionality in their application landscape and BlackBerry only really mastered e-mail. But, since my company wasn’t going the Treo route, I eventually caved and retired my Palm.

I avoided the early iPhones. Again, my employer wasn’t buying and I didn’t want two phones. When I left that employer I was allowed to take the BlackBerry with me and so I stuck with it. While my wife bought an iPhone 3, I tried the T-mobile G1 – a rebadged HTC Dream. I never really liked it and after a few months I returned it for another BlackBerry.

Then Apple announced the iPad. Brilliant! I saw such great potential in the iPad that I immediately ordered the 3G version for delivery on the first day of availability, April 30, 2010. I still have that iPad and still use it daily but I’ve not yet been driven to buy an upgrade. My beef with the iPad is the lack of memory and its ‘Appleness’ that renders it less than seamless in a Microsoft driven business world. Perhaps the recent release of Microsoft Office for iPad will change that, but it won’t run on my 4-year-old device, stuck on iOS 5.1.1. I want more memory, a lot more. Why? Because at the max 128 GB, that still won’t hold a full backup of a single vacation’s worth of photos so I’m forced to drag around a second piece of kit just to do that. The iPad did, however, finally get me off the BlackBerry in 2010 and onto the iPhone 4 and now the iPhone 5.

So here enters Google Glass. I tried a pair for just a few minutes with back in February. I was traveling with an Explorer in Death Valley and he had a few minutes to show some of the navigation and recording features. As there’s no cell signal through most of Death Valley, he wasn’t able to demonstrate in great depth but I’d seen enough to know I wanted to dive deeper into wearable computing.

I find it strange how many people say that Glass is unnecessary when you have a smartphone but I don’t see it that way. How do you operate a smartphone? With both hands. What else can you do with those hands while you’re using your smartphone, nada, zip, zilch. We just stand or sit there, transfixed by our screens, scrolling through information and missing the world passing by just mere feet or even inches away.

Professionally, I help companies realize the value and potential of their IT investments. Few companies get a real return on their IT investments and in most cases it’s because they’re trying to solve yesterday’s issues with yesterday’s solutions. Projects are overly ambitious and take too long to deliver, the problems they set out to solve no longer being the problems the business is facing when the project is finally delivered.

For a significant part of my career I’ve worked with ERP and EAM systems – systems that are designed to deliver the information needed for someone to perform a task or activity effectively and efficiently to smooth the flow of business. In the fields of Maintenance and Supply Chain, that means users who inevitably have to stop doing something to interact with a device – a keyboard, or a scanner, or a set of drawings and instructions. Solutions such as bar codes and RFIDs go some way to streamlining activities, but usually the worker needs to have a device in his hand to scan or read the codes.

I frequently use the scanner on my iPhone to read bar codes to reorder items, or to read QR codes to open web pages. I imagine doing the same without using my hands. I envision looking up schematics or maintenance procedures and having the information displayed right in front of me while I have both hands free to perform the task required of me. I can even record what I’m doing to aid my supervisor in knowing the job was performed, and performed properly. I imagine a pair of geolocated Google Glass presenting me with with contextual information – like the augmented reality app Layar, but without me having to hold my phone up to ‘see’ the street.

Obviously there’s a lot of noise around Glass, mostly issues around privacy. Social networking  users willingly give up their privacy to the social networks and allow them to mine their data for their own revenue generating purposes. The privacy settings are a theatrical device allowing you to decide how to present yourself to other users but have no impact on how the algorithms mine the content you create to return to you ‘relevant’ news and advertising. We go about our day oblivious to the security cameras already recording much of our lives. We have already all become data points in someone else’s Big Data project. Over time, those privacy concerns will be addressed and I believe we’ll come to accept wearable computing as we’ve come to accept smartphones. It may be, as Robert Scoble has posted, that Google Glass is still a few years from mass adoption, but I don’t see the concept of the personal heads-up display being uninvented.

And so, I just bought Google Glass so I can get in on the ground floor of this technology. Will I be disappointed? Probably, to some degree. But, I think there is tremendous potential here for improving the delivery of contextual information to actors in the business to better present them with the data they need to perform the tasks assigned. Many companies are still wrestling with Windows XP but Windows XP is the distant past. For IT to deliver value IT leaders need to be looking forward to the future. Further iterations of PC, new versions of SAP or EBS are not going to game-change your industry, but mobility already has and wearable computing might just re-imagine your business once more.



Because the Answers Have Changed

Becuase the answers have changed - Albert Einstein

This quote comes from a delightful story about Albert Einstein. The story is that one year when he was teaching at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, it was time to set examinations. When Einstein handed over the exam papers to his teaching assistant, the assistant noted that it was the same paper that Einstein had set for that class the year before. The assistant queried the master, “Isn’t this the same exam you gave this class last year?”. “Yes, yes it is.” replied Einstein. Emboldened, the assistant asked, “But how can you give the same exam to this class two years in a row?” “Becuase,” Einstein replied, “the answers have changed”.

Last Wednesday I was invited to sit on a panel at the HMG Strategy 2013 Houston CIO Executive leadership Summit. The theme of this summit was, ‘The Epic Revolution: Leading, innovating and Transforming in a Connected World’ and my panel was discussing ‘The New Enterprise Architecture’. This theme parallels what Gartner terms ‘The Nexus of Forces’ – the social commons, mobile communications, cloud computing and information – that is increasingly challenging existing business models and processes and introducing new competitors.

At one point during the Q&A with the audience, a question came from the floor concerning why we all seem to be reinventing the wheel all the time. That was when Einstein’s line, ‘Because the Answers Have Changed.” flashed into my mind.

When we look at the Nexus of Forces, they are at one level simply new answers to age old questions. How can we collaborate across distances? How can we engage others in our conversation? How can we seek out new customers and retain existing customers? How can we reduce the fixed cost of IT?

Social, cloud, mobile, information (big data) are just the new answers to these old questions. But what is interesting is that these new answers are coming from new entrants to the business. The established names of IT are playing catchup here, not leading the way. Their inertia and high fixed costs of doing business leave them at a great disadvantage to new entrants, cloud based with low fixed costs and highly flexible and scalable business models. For the established enterprise, the element of risk rushes to the forefront as they ponder the question, “What have we go to lose?”, while the new entrant ponders the opposite question, “What do we have to gain?”.

The phrasing of these two questions puts the established business into a defensive position while the new entrant is in an offensive position. This informs both their strategies but as with the French and the construction of the Maginot Line between World War I and World War II, when an established business informs its defensive strategy with the old answers, new entrants are able to Blitzkrieg around those defenses using the new answers.

So the net time you’re asked, “Why do we have to do social within the enterprise? Why do we have to go to the cloud? Why do we need to adopt mobile? What’s all this big data about?” now you know.

It’s because The Answers Have Changed!

Data Warehouse or Data Landfill?

A few months ago I coined the term ‘Data Landfill’ as a means of describing my experiences with Data Warehouses over the years. As I’ve used this term with various industry contacts I’ve noticed how the term has resonated with them, suggesting Data Landfills are relatively common.

At the recent TechExecs CIO and IT Leadership Forum in Houston the subject came up again, although I didn’t use the term. We were discussing with the panelists the low cost of consumer grade storage and managing data. One opinion raised was that with cheap storage and effective search, the pack rat mentality was taking over and everything was being kept.

On the topic of SharePoint sites, several admitted to having more SharePoint sites than users! Of course, many of these sites were dormant, oftentimes the owner having left the company.

Perhaps its just my background, but to me the term ‘warehouse’ implies some degree of order, the ability to put something in a certain place, log where it is and be able to retrieve it when the time comes. ‘Warehouse’ implies regular inventory counts and disposal of obsolete items or items past their use-by date.

Too often enterprises start off with the best intentions in building their data warehouse but somewhere down the line they run off the rails and start over stuffing the shelves or leaving stuff lying around in the yard. It just becomes a mess and, with the discipline gone, the mess multiplies and you now have a ‘Data Landfill’.

My first job in the US was managing a hazardous waste site. I constructed a landfill for that site. The landfill was designed to comply with RCRA-D regulation. It was elaborately designed by qualified engineers, constructed by trained construction crews and tested by certified testers. Once built, we just backed the 10-wheel trucks into it and dumped the qualifying waste into it in piles. There was no need to log where in the landfill certain loads were dumped as we had no intention of retrieving them in the future.

With the Data Landfill, however, the intention to bury the data is rarely stated at the outset. The data just piles up over time. There are no inventory counts, no checks for obsolete or out-of-date data, instead more storage is added to hold ever more data or entire shelves are emptied with no real review of the contents or their value.

The contents of the ‘Data Landfill’ can be just as toxic as those of a hazardous waste landfill, but hazardous waste landfills are deliberately constructed and constantly monitored to ensure they’re not leaking.

So do you have a Data Warehouse or are you sitting on top of a leaking Data Landfill?