Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Creating a Repeatable, Sustainable, Valuable, and Predictable SaaS Business: The Value Prop at the IBM Innovation Center in Cambridge, MA with Michael Skok

Approximately 75 intrepid attendees braved freshly falling snow (again!) to join MassTLC’s Cloud Cluster and Sales & Marketing Community in their joint program, Creating a Repeatable, Sustainable, Valuable and Predictable SaaS Business: the Value Prop. This event was the first of a three-part interactive workshop series with entrepreneur and investor Michael Skok. Special thanks to our event host and MassTLC Global Sponsor IBM and Cloud Cluster sponsor CenturyLink!

Next up: The Business Model and Turning Products into Companies.

Highlights of the Value Prop workshop included:
  • Michael led attendees through his Value Prop template with help from Co-Founder and CEO George Adams of ViziApps and Co-Founder and CEO Shantanu Dhaka of Modit as case studies
  • Many companies don’t have a good idea of what their true Value Prop is
  • Understand the problem you believe you are solving before you get too excited about your idea
  • Try to solve a problem that cripples businesses - problems needing to be solved should be: Unworkable, Unavoidable, Urgent, and Underserved
  • Customers want you to solve their problem first, then make it better - avoid using “Solution,” “Faster,” “Better,” “Cheaper” in your Prop
  • Big problems are big opportunities – it takes as much energy to tackle a big market as a small market, so why not go in for the big fight?
  • Realize that when you pitch that you are asking people to change their budget and make your solution a priority

Check out Michael’s recap of the event here.

Being Agile in a Value Prop Framework – Modit Case Study

Crystallizing our Value Prop and Fundamental Benefits for Customers – ViziApps Case Study 

Complete Event Recap

Every business needs a Value Prop. Chances are that your business was based around an idea that you believed was your Value Prop. As time passed, your idea evolved, the product started to come together, and now your sales deck is a bloated, incoherent mess that only you can understand and the true Value Prop is buried or completely lost somewhere between slide 1 and 60.

According to Michael Skok’s Value Proposition template, if you can clearly and concisely answer five critical questions, you can build a successful Value Prop:
  • Who is your product for?
  • What are they dissatisfied with?
  • What is your product?
  • What is the key problem solves?
  • Why is your product is better than anything else in the space currently?

To answer those questions he suggested following a three-step process:
  • Define the problem you are solving
  • Evaluate your solution
  • Build your Value Prop.

Simple, right? However, tackling each step of the process is going to be a bit of work.

Is your product solving a real problem? What defines a real problem? A real problem can be identified by 4Us:
·         Unworkable – If this problem happens, someone loses their job or the company goes under.
·         Unavoidable – Everyone in your market will encounter a time where your solution will be beneficial.
·         Urgent – The problem is currently causing issues and the customer will be able to benefit quickly.
·         Underserved – Don’t compete in a flooded market, your resources are finite.

After you’ve defined the real problem, look back at your idea and determine the real solution. Is it a breakthrough opportunity? Look for the 3Ds - it should be Discontinuous Innovation, Defensible Technology, and have a Disruptive Business Model.

With the solution now in hand, it’s time to evaluate it. Are the client’s gains from using your product going to outweigh the pains of trying it and implementing it? Could they get by with a competitors’ cheaper product, or even without doing anything at all? If there’s not a large enough gain to pain gap (gain >10x pain) you will have a difficult time getting clients to adopt which tosses you into the unworkable problem category! Focus on disruptive innovation with non-disruptive adoption.

Now – with all these insights in mind - take another look at your Value Prop to fill in the template:
  • Who is your product for?
  • What are they dissatisfied with?
  •  What is your product?
  • What is the key problem solves?
  • Why is your product is better than anything else in the space currently?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

MassTLC Welcomes National Telecommunications Company CenturyLink as a Global Sponsor

Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC), a leading technology association and premier network for technology executives, announced today that the third largest U.S. telecommunications company, CenturyLink, has joined the organization as a Global Sponsor, a category that includes companies such as IBM, HP, Rocket Software, Microsoft and other notable brands in the technology sector.

“We are thrilled to have CenturyLink come on board as a Global Sponsor and show their commitment to the region’s technology community. Their strong reputation for leadership in the areas of cloud infrastructure and hosted IT solutions will help to enhance the value of our Cloud Cluster community and beyond,” said Tom Hopcroft, President and CEO of MassTLC.

“MassTLC is a leader in this region in connecting thought leadership together in the technology industry and we are excited CenturyLink will be a part of this organization,” said Boston based Gary Sloper, Area Vice President of Solution Engineering and Operations. “Our goal is to help give back to the local community by serving as a stewardship resource in areas such as Cloud which has multiple definitions to various organizations.” 

About CenturyLink

CenturyLink is the third largest telecommunications company in the United States and is recognized as a leader in the network services market by technology industry analyst firms. The company is a global leader in cloud infrastructure and hosted IT solutions for enterprise customers. CenturyLink provides data, voice and managed services in local, national and select international markets through its high-quality advanced fiber optic network and multiple data centers for businesses and consumers. The company also offers advanced entertainment services under the CenturyLink® Prism™ TV and DIRECTV brands. Headquartered in Monroe, La., CenturyLink is an S&P 500 company and is included among the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations. For more information, visit www.centurylink.com

About Mass Technology Leadership Council
The Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) is the region's leading technology association and the premier network for tech executives, entrepreneurs, investors and policy leaders. MassTLC's purpose is to accelerate innovation by connecting people from across the technology landscape, providing access to industry-leading content and ideas and offering a platform for visibility for member companies and their interests. For more information on MassTLC, visit www.masstlc.org.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Transforming Healthcare through Technology and Innovation: MassTLC Healthcare Conference

What does a crash course in healthcare in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts look like? In short, it is full of lessons in innovation, advancements and the power of data analytics in driving better decisions for consumers and businesses. 

The December 3 MassTLC Healthcare Conference: Transforming Healthcare Through Technology and Innovation began with an inspiring keynote presentation by Roy Smythe, CEO of HX360 and Chief Medical Officer of Avia Health Innovation, who talked about the “Big Shift” in healthcare. Smythe boldly asserted that there’s never been a better time to effect change in healthcare in the US. He issued this challenge despite the government’s three failed attempts to improve the healthcare system over the last 50 years and with the US being ranked last in healthcare system performance in repeat studies by The Commonwealth Fund. Smythe posited that three vectors are aligning for change:  1) widespread acknowledgement that change needs to happen, 2) a digital revolution that is a forcing function for change, and 3) a large amount of investment dollars flowing into healthcare IT.

Historically, if you look past the last century, healthcare was available in our homes as we tended to our own. Our current medical system, however, is built around big box and small box facilities, namely hospitals, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes. As baby boomers age, healthcare facilities are not plentiful enough to meet the demands - there are not enough beds in skilled nursing outfits, for example. As individuals become more technologically savvy and empowered to care for themselves our current healthcare system has the chance to support new ways of providing and accessing care. The internet allows patients to research symptoms and diseases. Simple devices allow people to monitor and assess their conditions at home.  We can take such information and become our own advocates, our own health coaches, rather than defer to doctors as the ultimate authorities. We have the chance to become true partners in managing our care.

Dr. Smythe’s keynote was followed by a reaction panel comprised of key stakeholders in the Massachusetts healthcare system: a payer, a provider, an innovator, and a patient representative. Led by moderator Joe Ternullo of Kinematix, healthcare leaders Jason Robart, of Blue Cross Blue Shield, Eric Isselbacher, MD of Massachusetts General Hospital, Paul Grabscheid of InterSystems, and Nancy Finn of The Society for Participatory Medicine, used Dr. Smythe’s keynote as a springboard for delving into the Massachusetts healthcare ecosystem now, and what the opportunities are for future impact and innovation.

We have all decried the current fee-for-service healthcare system as misaligned between the goals of reducing costs and improving outcomes. I’ve heard our system described as a team without a coach. Companies like Iora Health, with their direct pay system where patients have health advocates, and Twine Health, which has created a collaborative care platform with an open API and plans to be open source, are bucking the status quo. Athenahealth is modernizing healthcare data systems by using something familiar and common in many industries today - the cloud. Use of the cloud allows athenahealth to share data findings across clients so they can all benefit from the collective knowledge.

The massive amounts of data generated and collected by healthcare companies and providers can be leveraged to ensure quality care. Innovative companies are utilizing predictive analytics to improve healthcare outcomes. SimulConsult has built a database of rare diseases, their symptoms, and differential diagnoses to help practitioners identify instances of those rare diseases.  While some may question the power of identifying rare diseases, Lynn Feldman, CEO of SimulConsult, points out that 8-10% of known diseases are “rare” diseases and so we can improve treatment when we better understand the cause. ConvergeHEALTH by Deloitte leverages claims and clinical data to develop healthcare models that can improve outcomes.  There are myriad examples of data innovation in healthcare, and opportunities abound as data systems mature within the healthcare context. This in turn increases the alignment of incentives between payers, providers, and patients, which will generate more possibilities to leverage data in creative ways.

Another area of rapid innovation is the digital space as patients, doctors, and healthcare companies become more digitally aware. New products such as wearable and at-home devices allow consumers more freedom and enable doctors to receive the data and monitor their patients without the need for repeat office visits for important but simple tasks such as documenting blood pressure. Remote tracking devices, telehealth measures and digital technology can be used to reduce costs while improving health outcomes.  Ultimately, adoption of consumer digital technology will not succeed with a web of technologies and interfaces, but rather, it will require creating a frictionless, integrated experience for consumers and providers. 

Naomi Fried of Boston Children’s Hospital and Pam Reeve of The Commonwealth Group concluded the MassTLC Healthcare Conference in an engaging conversation, urging participants to see the change that is on the horizon.  Dr. Fried noted that “Healthcare will look markedly different.  Instead of going to brick and mortar providers, people are going to be more digitally enabled.”  It’s a good time to be an advocate for change in healthcare.

Thank you to our Platinum Sponsor Deloitte!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Guest Blog: Internet of Everything – It’s all about the Ecosystem

By Ed Featherston | December 18, 2014

It seems you can’t have a technology discussion today before the phrase “Internet of Things” (IoT), or better yet, “Internet of Everything” shows up. This makes sense, as according to the latest Gartner hype cycle report on emerging technologies places “Internet of Things” at the peak of the hype cycle, ousting big data from the top spot, which is now hurtling down into the trough of disillusionment (love those hype cycle names).

IoT is so pervasive that I even had a conversation with my cardiologist this week about the topic. I was in for the annual 10,000 mile checkup of my pacemaker. I mentioned to him that at the recent MassTLC Innovation UnConference, the topic of devices like the pacemaker were a hot topic of the day (see my blog MassTLC Innovation UnConference 2014- Views from an UnConference Neophyte). This triggered a great discussion with my doctor. Many of the points he made I found very applicable to the technology as a whole and provided great insight into the world of “Internet of Everything” from the viewpoint of a key consumer of that technology in the health care industry.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Guest Blog: Five Tips to Help Companies Protect Themselves from Data Breaches

By Steve Bychowski of Foley Hoag

With every swipe of a credit card this holiday season, consumers put their faith in the companies that process and store their information.  Yet, it is no secret that data breaches are on the rise, hitting companies large and small.  Massive data breaches recently struck Target and Home Depot, to just name a few, and these two breaches alone affected hundreds of millions of consumers and cost the companies hundreds of millions of dollars.  Sony Pictures is still reeling from a data breach this month that exposed the private information of thousands of Sony employees.  With the New Year almost upon us, now is a good time for companies to take stock of their data security practices to ensure that they start 2015 on the right foot.  Not only is data breach prevention good business, it is also required by many state, federal, and international laws.  Here are five tips for companies to safeguard their sensitive data. 

  1. Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment.  You can’t protect the unknown.  The first step to effective data breach prevention is understanding what types of data the company stores, where it is, what is being done to protect it, and what are the risks if the data is stolen.
  2. Keep only what you need.  Hackers can’t steal what you don’t have.  Take stock of what information the company has and weigh the benefit of keeping the data against the risk of theft.  The company should have a good reason for keeping sensitive information.
  3. Create a written data security policy.  Document the company’s data security procedures and requirements.  This will help confirm that everyone is on the same page and employees are aware of their roles and responsibilities.  Such policies help protect the company in the event of a breach and are required by most state and federal data security laws.
  4. Plan for the inevitable with a detailed breach response plan.  When a data breach occurs, time is of the essence.  The company must quickly act to contain the breach, investigate its cause, and mitigate the damage.  At the same time, state and federal laws require prompt notification to those affected.  A comprehensive breach response plan will allow the company to act accordingly.  A key component of breach response preparedness is having agreements already in place with both legal counsel and a vendor to handle breach diagnostics, correction, and notification.
  5. Hold vendors to the same standards.  Data storage vendors, such as cloud service providers, offer a cost effective alternative to handling everything in-house.  The company must trust that the vendor will properly secure the data.  Vendor contracts should clearly set forth the vendor’s security procedures and each party’s obligations.  Data breach insurance is one way companies can manage the risk involved with vendors.  

While implementing these steps takes time and resources in the short term, they can help safeguard the health of your company for years to come. 

 post can be found here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

MassTLC Members Recognized as 'Top Places to Work' by the Boston Globe

Congratulations to the MassTLC members selected as Top Places to Work in the most recent Boston Globe survey!  Numerous MassTLC members appeared among the ranks of the state’s best employers. 
Workers at these companies completed confidential surveys in which they rated their companies on:
  • Direction
  • Execution
  • Connection
  • Management
  • Work
  • Pay and Benefits
  • Engagement

The companies that completed the survey process were separated into four size categories based on number of employees:  small (50-99), medium (100-249), large (250-999) and largest (>1000).  MassTLC member companies were represented in each category. 

The member companies and their rank within each size group are listed below:

3.    RunKeeper
17.  iZotope

10.  NetProspex
32.  Bit9
37.  Fiksu

9.    HubSpot
25.  NaviNet

1.   Kronos
6.   athenahealth
11. EMC
21. Comcast

MassTLC is proud to be part of such a strong community of employers and employees!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

unCon 2014 Recap: Views from an UnConference Neophyte

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the Mass Technology Leadership Council’s Innovation 2014 UnConference in Boston. I will start by saying I am an UnConference neophyte.  I fully admit I had no idea what such a beast the event was prior to attending; I did not even know what was involved. However, it turned out to be an amazing day of sharing knowledge, thoughts, and ideas with other technologists from around the area in a way that was engaging, interesting, and honestly more fun than any other conference I have attended prior.

Photo Credit: MassTLC

First, the logistics: how does one create an agenda for an UnConference?

The first unique aspect of the event I noticed was the lack of an agenda prior to arriving. All that was known were time frames for sessions and what rooms would be used, but there was no content defined. The only session with a defined agenda was the first one, aptly titled ‘Agenda Setting Session’. The room was full of attendees’ grouped in a circle. In the middle of the room there were two microphones and at the back, there were large poster boards with rooms and timeslots. People lined up from two directions at the microphones, each with a colored piece of paper in hand, and would propose a topic they would like to see discussed. The moderator then asked probing questions gauging attendees’ reaction to determine if this would be a popular topic of discussion. The person would then be sent to one of the coordinators to determine a time slot and room for that discussion. The piece of paper with the topic would be pinned to the appropriate location on the poster boards in the back. Multiple people were sitting on the floor in front of the poster boards with laptops, furiously entering the information as it was posted. Within moments, the agenda app on my phone (provided by the event coordinators) was quickly filling up with content.

Now mind you, this was happening at breakneck speed. The moderator reminded me at times of a barker at a carnival, talking quickly, getting consensus on a topic, and immediately moving on to the next person in line, alternating between the microphones. Within 45 minutes, my agenda app was full of topics for the days’ sessions with times and locations. I noticed in the next time slot that there was a session on ‘The Internet of Things – old and new’, which sounded like it might be interesting, so I headed to the room specified for the topic.

Just jump right in, feet first

On arriving at the specified ‘IoT’ room, I was impressed to notice that outside each meeting room was a small tablet device hanging on the wall proudly announcing it was powered by Roomzilla and displaying both the time, room number, and topic currently scheduled in that room – which I assume was courtesy of those people sitting on the floor with their laptops previously mentioned entering the data on the poster boards. In the room, there was the individual who had proposed the topic, Dr. Sheldon Borkin from StrategicAngles. The room quickly filled up and we started to attempt to do introductions, but the number of folks filing in made that problematic. Dr. Borkin explained the process: he would moderate the discussion, but that this was our session to talk openly on the topic; we, as a group, could drill down any additional areas we wanted to discuss. Dr. Borkin asked me if I would take notes and email them to the organizers-. I agreed as I planned on taking notes for myself anyway.

We then started on a very interesting and spirited discussion on the Internet of Things, covering a variety of topics, including such items as:
  • How do we setup the plumbing to facilitate all these devices?
  • How do we deal with security of the data?
  • Who owns the data? (very spirited discussion around this topic)
  • What do we do with the data? (analytics became a big discussion, which fed naturally into the next session scheduled for that room on data gathering and analytics)
  • How do we deal with product life cycle that might be measured in years?

The discussion topics were thought provoking, especially with regard to the last item. Bob Frankston raised the point in the context of medical devices, specifically implanted devices. This topic was near and dear to my heart, literally, as I had a pacemaker put in close to 10 years ago. In today’s fast pace world of technological changes, we easily forget there are some devices/technologies that must have a longer life span, a prime example being implanted medical devices. The software and the equipment that communicates with that device in my chest has to last more than a year or two, as constant surgery to implant the latest and greatest device is not a viable option. Planning for that and understanding the implications is critical in this particular area of the Internet of Things.

Brainstorming, crowd-sourcing ideas, and the feel of a tweetchat

The remaining sessions I attended throughout the day were just as energetic and enjoyable as the first. Being in a room and brainstorming with such amazing, diverse, technologically savvy talent from across a wide spectrum set this ‘UnConference’ apart. As much as I hate using the latest buzzwords, this really was ‘crowd-sourcing’ ideas and felt like a face to face version of a tweetchat (I have participated in many over the years). At the end of the day, all attendees went back to the same room the sessions were defined in. The hosts/moderators of the sessions reported back what the sessions were like and this recap was great because there were many sessions I was interested in that I could not attend.

Another upside to this ‘UnConference’ format was the large number of new people working in the technology space that I was able to connect and share ideas with. Overall, it was a great experience, great discussion and brainstorming of ideas and developing new contacts in the technology landscape of Massachusetts was invaluable. I look forward to next year, and will maybe even get up in line and propose my own topics/sessions!

Friday, November 14, 2014

unCon 2014 Session: Innovation in Boring Industries

Post by Adam Zand, principal at Almost Ubiquitous

This session was led by Ken Pickering, senior director of engineering at Enservio.

We first defined boring. It can be an “unsexy” or utilitarian industry that is underserved by the tech market. For example, insurance is slow to adopt. Technical solutions are slow to buy. The financial industry 20 years ago was harder to innovate. Banking, in general, is slow - still often done on mainframes. Recruitment was pretty standard, but now there is recruitment software. Security used to be boring - Threats made it exciting.

There is an opportunity and excitement to working in these industries. If there are fewer companies doing interesting things, it is easier to stand out and be a leader and have your innovations be adopted by industry.

How do you bring innovation to a company that already has revenue stream?
Extra growth is appreciated if the market is saturated. The challenge with boring industries is that people in them are risk averse. Newness means risk so need to find the champions. Advent of Internet-based companies can be a kick in the pants in markets like insurance. You see funny commercials for branding purposes - these companies understand that younger audiences need to be introduced to the offerings in interesting ways.

What other industries are ripe for this innovation?
We want to serve underserved areas. Boring industries can change quickly. Facebook was a status and photo app. Marketing ecosystem grew up around it. Now, there’s facial recognition opportunities.

All industries see a technology come in that makes changes. For example, PowerPoint was big within education, but is now common. Other industries built tools to support it. Practice of teaching became more interesting. Now, we have classes online anywhere, anytime.
Industry is changed by a technology that may not have been intended for it.

Incremental vs. disruption.
Most big business deals with incremental but it is very significant. There is great value in the volume. It may not be sexy for VC, but this is the foundation of our economy.

The session looked at how do you innovate -- balance incremental and disruptive. Helps to have a group that will support the disruptive ideas, sponsor, champion, and move forward if it makes sense.

A participant from Constant Contact shared that email marketing was looked at as spam, but an opportunity was convincing people who wanted to communicate in useful, welcomed ways. Needed to develop customer relationship and connections. Educate and shift the dialog. Technology pushed it along. At Constant Contact, some customers might be caught in the tradition of a three column newsletter that doesn’t work on mobile. Need to explain the changes and give them samples.

A participant from Trip Advisor shared: Hotels are not tech giants or often connected to the ecosystem. Lots don’t connect to online booking. Friction exists with potential clients. At TripAdvisor, they try to ballpark what people could get from an innovation or new approach. They share what competitors are doing. Some hotels will say our budget is done - they aleady bought an ad in a trade or business publication, but can’t show what the benefits were though.

Motivation for innovation often comes from:
  • Fear from outside
  • Demands of consumers

We discussed innovation as an in-house, incentivized program. A participant who once worked at  Warner Brothers shared there was an incentive program around DC Comics. They had a effort where anyone could pitch an idea. If your idea wins you get a huge TV. 75 people were competing to improve a process. Internal competition gets people excited. Can look at all the programs.

At Microsoft, you have a set amount of time to do whatever you want. Not part of your daily work. Lots of problems gets solved at those times.

This supports incentives with internal competition. One company shared that there is a pitch to VPs once a quarter. Facetime with VPs is important to many employees, however you might miss out on the introverts. Another person shared, this would spice up an innovation team that tends to meet monthly and can get stale.

Someone from Mitre shared that innovation is part of the defined research budget. Anyone can submit a proposal. There is a six month project that can be measured and continued if necessary. Eventually, needs to show successes. Homegrown innovation gets people excited. More buy in.

Are there people in your companies looking out for innovations, trends?
Need to ask: Is there a technology out there that will change our industry. Where is market going? What do customers want?

This discussion showed innovation is alive and well in seemingly “boring” industries. 

unCon 2014 Session: Branding in the Age of Fast Failure

Post by: Chris Nahil, Message & Medium,  Twitter: @cnahil

Iconic images though they may be, Nike’s “swoosh” and Apple’s “iEverything” are not the sum total of their respective brands. They are the expression of particular qualities and attributes, the combined power of which make up a brand. The authentic brand of any company is comprised of many factors from product strategy and customer service to Web copy tone and product packaging…and almost everything in between that can create an emotional connection with a customer or prospect. In an era when companies routinely pivot -- or fail fast – is branding still viable?  The answer in this session is “yes” and several of the digital marketing tools currently available make brand evolution less painful, more data-driven and more cost-efficient.  Some highlights from this unConference session, moderate by Meghan Gardner of Leap, included:
  • Customers today expect similar things from their interactions with B2B companies as they do with B2C brands. Today, even deep technology companies must have the kind of engagement and open approach to communications that most consumer brands have mastered.
  • The discipline need to define differentiated messaging still revolves around the central questions:
    • Who are we?
    • What do we do?
    • Why do we do it better than anyone else?
    • Why should anyone else care?
  • Every company has a community with which it can test messaging and positioning. Digital tools – surveys, LinkedIn company pages, email marketing, online forums, social media platforms, mobile – allow companies to quickly vet messaging and gather quantitative data on message effectiveness.
  • Brand is two-way conversation. If your company must pivot, having established a genuine rapport with your audience in advance is the best way to ease that transition.
  • Similarly, if a company has not bothered to engage its audience then it will wind up “branding in a vacuum” which is ineffective and expensive.