Friday, June 27, 2014

MassTLC’s The Value of Things

By: Allison Ryder of Continuum

What can we make of the Internet of Things? I recently attended Mass TLC’s The Value of Things conference, a gathering of software developers, middleware providers, professors, data scientists, and software platform vendors, to educate myself on how startups and enterprise organizations are creating more sophisticated systems to capture data, making sense of what they gather, and identifying the human impact of these technological advancements.

We’ve really been thinking about connecting objects to the Internet since 1999, as a way to learn more about the world around us. A highlight of the day for many was the afternoon keynote from MIT Professor Sanjay Sarma, founder of the school’s Auto-ID center. Sarma spoke in detail about RFID tags and sensors, which could be placed in cars, under carpets, and–more recently–in retail stores to share information about clothing.

Sensors were a key topic, with the central question being, how do we capture data? Another focus was the acknowledgement that data needs to be turned into information, in order to make it meaningful to all parties involved.

One way to target the capture and to analyze the data is to create solutions that hyper-specialize in narrow verticals. Take, for example, panelist Leo Koenig of Woo Sports, a Boston-area startup that places sensors on sports equipment to measure performance. Not only is it key that Koenig is creating meaning for his customers by delivering proof that they are improving at their sport, but he also argues that mounting his device directly on a piece of equipment— such as a surfboard, skateboard, golf club, etc.—will ensure a more accurate reading of factors, such as height and speed.

Other speakers cited smart farming as a use case for IoT, where sensors measure crop and water needs. Also mentioned were patient monitoring systems for in-home, end of life care. The monitors signal in professional caregivers, but only when needed. Healthcare in general was identified as an industry ripe for smart uses of data.

While security was a hot topic, privacy was not. Implicit in the conversations, though, was that much of this data collection is passive; car insurance companies will track mileage and speed as a measure for coverage thresholds and costs, or sensors in a conference room carpet will register if they detect moisture, alerting a janitor to clean the space. What’s active is the translation of data into actionable information, and thereby value. Speaker Poul Peterson of bigml asserts that making sense of big data still requires human logic, and that makes predictive analytics hard. We’ve made strides in the collection of data, but segmenting, analyzing, and taking action remain challenging.


To continue reading the full article on Continuum’s website by click here

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Value of the Internet of Things

On June 18, a crowd gathered at Bentley University for MassTLC’s first Internet of Things Conference, “The Value of Things.” The day-long event featured many examples and ideas around the Internet of Things (IoT), a summary of some of which follows:

Jim Grubb, VP of Emerging Technologies at Cisco Systems opened with his keynote, built around Cisco’s idea of the Internet of Everything. Grubb pointed out that we are now at a similar point to where we were in 1993, staring down the barrel of a new, market-changing technology called the World Wide Web. From computers to phones to tablets and other devices, we are now just beginning to check off the other 99% of objects – shoes, engines, streetlamps, waste barrels – that are, little by little, being connected to the Internet, increasing 12 billion connected objects today to an estimated 50 billion in 2020.  The potential market opportunity? $19 trillion by 2022 (via

Grubb also stressed that the data companies glean from the IoT means a competitive advantage, as predicting consumer behavior and finding new efficiencies means untold revenue and cost savings opportunities. His final admonition? “Do it soon.” If companies wait to long to embrace IoT, it is an opportunity cost for them. He left the stage with an example of a model ”smart city:” Barcelona.

Click to view presentation

Mary Beth Hall, Director of Connected Solution at Verizon, provided a number of use case examples of IoT within the connected world such as: security, transportation, energy, retail, and m-health, and the connected city.

Click to view presentation

Later, a panel moderated by Woody Benson of Prism VentureWorks talked about the “Value” derived from IoT. Michael Campbell of MachineShop stressed that we need standards in order to simplify the ability to build on these new platforms.  Leo Koenig of Woo Sports spoke about the need to layer automated services on top of data collection to derive meaningful actions: for commerce, or even in the case of extreme sports, the ability to compile competitive data for athletes. The panel was rounded out by Brian Elolampi at MC10 talking about how they have spent a great deal of time honing in on the best technology and how they have chosen to target and succeed in niche markets and then to expand out.

The second keynote came from Sanjay Sarma, Director of Digital Learning at MIT and founder of the university’s Auto-ID Center. Aside from realting the story of how “Internet of Things” was coined by the Auto-ID Center’s Kevin Ashton, Sarma wondered aloud about the aptness of the term. He spoke of IoT really being about “cloud things.” In a proper hub-and-spoke model, he continued, things talk not to each other in a distributed manner, but to a central server (or series of them) – in the cloud.  One thing holding back IoT in these early times, said Sarma, is that lack of a dominant architecture, that IoT is too distributed as it exists now.

Next, Chad Jones of Xively and Christopher Rezendes of INEX advisors discussed what has worked when engaging business prospects in discussions of IoT. The main thread of the conversation was that discussing the technology itself only gets you so far, while placing the benefits of IoT in a business context – and discussing specific ROI over softer terms like “business transformation” – is more effective in convincing business leaders. Another concept that came up was the idea that “Big data ain’t a big deal yet,” while there is lots of “little data” in IoT that contains the real value (Woody Benson had said something similar in the earlier panel on Value).

In the panel “Analyzing Data to Get Actionable Intelligence,” moderated by Wikibon’s Jeff Kelly, the panelists got down to what to do with all the data that will be collected in the IoT.  Poul Peterson of BigML pointed out that IoT is providing more helpful data, data that can overcome the errors that occur from relying on intuition alone. As his example, Peterson said that intuition tells us that more people would buy sunglasses in Los Angeles than Seattle because it’s a sunny area; however, data tells us that more pairs are sold in Seattle, because people wear them less in that rainy city and lose – and replace – them more often. The panel also explored privacy and security implications; Nicholas Arcolano of Runkeeper described the need for a process to strip user-identifiable information so that hackers cannot “reverse engineer” to usurp privacy. Javed Jahangir of Oracle spoke specifically of the medical industry, where Internet-connected objects need to rigorously adhere to compliance regulations before being put into use.

Click to view presentation

Another lively panel explored the role of software in the Internet of Things. AS moderator Jeff Kaplan of THINKstrategies put it, “We wouldn’t be talking about any of this stuff if it weren’t for software.” The panelists then gave several examples of how the IoT can save through creating efficiencies and cost reduction. Bill Zujewski, of Axeda Corporation spoke of applications that can monitor after-hours industrial dishwashers so that staffing time can be reduced to emergencies only. Colleen Smith of Progress Software described how sensors can not only prevent waste management vendors from letting dumpsters overflow, but can know when dumpsters are full enough for a nearby truck to empty on its route, rather than coming back later. One point of difference with earlier panelists was stated by John Canosa of ThingWorx; he talked about the advantages of  the distributed nature of connected things, in apparent conflict with Sanjay Sarma’s “hub and spoke” statement. 

Click to view presentation

Finally, the event concluded with notes on security and privacy. Michael Curry of IBM laid out two laws relating to “Cybergeddon:” the first is that everything connected to the Internet can be hacked; the second, that everything will be connected to the Internet. Rather than preach gloom-and-doom, Curry relayed his six tips for security in the age of IoT:

   1.  Design for zero trust- assume you will get breached, and test;
   2.  Focus on detection and isolation;
   3.  Control the edges - don’t assume a firewall will solve your problems, but still protect that layer;
   4.  Know your data - selectively apply policy based on the type of data and its associated risk;
   5.  Encrypt end-to-end; and
   6.  Strip out personally identifying info and design for opt-in

Click to view presentation

Andy Thurai referred to IoT data security as a “disaster waiting to happen” and warned of coming cyber-terrorist attacks, both to disrupt the economy and to cause chaos. However, he, too, was confident of a solution; he left the attendees with an admonition on IoT security, twisting an old phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan: “Don’t trust but verify.”

Click to view presentation

Thank you to our Platinum Sponsors: Cisco, Oracle, PTC, and Progress Software.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Cloud Infrastructure Pricing Webinar – June 4, 2014

Regardless of your definition, public or private, cloud has moved into the mainstream. The MassTLC Cloud Infrastructure Pricing Webinar reinforced this reality as results from the Cloud Infrastructure Pricing Survey were shared and analyzed by speakers Jim Cuff, Vice President of Technical Operations at Constant Contact and Mark Dudman, Senior Vice President of Product Development at NaviNet.

Conducted by the MassTLC Cloud Cluster in late 2013, the Cloud Infrastructure Pricing Survey garnered more than 100 responses, ranging from start-ups to long-established companies, and yielded new insights into cloud pricing amongst respondents. Jim and Mark led listeners through key findings in the Cloud Infrastructure Pricing survey:
  • 55% of respondents are live with at least one cloud project, with 87% of those using public cloud.
  • As a factor when choosing Cloud services, COST ranked at the top of the list, beating out flexibility, uptime, service, security, other, Opex/Capex and Open source.
  • Cost is also the reason most companies switch to a different provider.
  • The public cloud market is becoming more competitively priced, with key players such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon implementing significant price cuts. Additionally, new services are being added, so while offerings are becoming competitively price-wise, there is also pressure for them to remain innovative.
  • The speakers discussed that while the low upfront cost and lower risk many incentivize many to start on a cloud with a big provider, in the long run, as you scale, you are in the opex/high MRC zone. However, cost optimization within a cloud provider is often a viable alternative to switching providers in many cases.
  • Even with competitive pricing, Mark noted that many companies experience a bit of a shock when they receive their first bill, but with diligent effort, companies can see cost savings. Jim compared cloud services to turning off the lights when leaving a room – if companies manage their environment by turning off services when they are not needed, that can yield cost savings.
  • Vendor consolidation is beginning to occur more rapidly to support growth, with 26% having switched cloud providers. While Amazon remains at the top of the market and has done a phenomenal job at true elasticity and consistently using innovation to solve consumers’ problems, Mark noted that it’s expected Amazon is likely to lose some market share in the coming year, and that significant shifts in cost are expected as the market continues to evolve.
  • Positively, 85% of respondents plan to increase their cloud expenditures over the next year, a finding which compares with national trends and expectations.

For the complete findings, please see the MassTLC Cloud Cluster Survey presentation.

If you are a MassTLC members who would like to access the recording of the Cloud Infrastructure Pricing webinar, please contact Margot Rodger.

We thank speakers Jim Cuff of Constant Contact and Mark Dudman of NaviNet for their participation in this webinar, as well as the MassTLC Cloud Cluster Sponsors:  Internap, Digital Realty and Logi Analytics. As always, we appreciate your continued support.

Please continue to check out the Cloud Cluster main page for ongoing updates and information.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Business Transformation: Creating an Agile Business Strategy

Article by Peter Gorman, Founder & Principal, Black Rocket Communications

The shift over to a knowledge economy has brought with it an influx of emerging technologies, shorter business cycles, savvier consumers, policy and regulatory implications, along with a number of other ever-changing factors and circumstances. With this, companies are looking at new and innovative ways in which to keep up with these changes while staying one step ahead of their competition.

Business transformation prevents complacency in the market, encourages competitiveness, and induces the creativity and innovation is needed in today’s marketplace. But business transformation can come in a number of ways. According to a recent Forbes/KPMG study, 93% of 900 respondents have completed, are planning, or are currently going through a transformation. This begs the question of whether executives are knowledgeable about the correct ways of transforming their businesses.

Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council’s (MassTLC) May 28th CXO Forum, “Business Transformation: Creating an Agile Business Strategy,” addressed this topic and offered local executives an open discussion and case examples on the key reasons for transforming their business.

Speakers at MassTLC’s event included:

Prior to start of the panel discussion, Heather Carey (@heathercarey), spoke about her development of the MassTLC Education Foundation. This noteworthy, new venture helps foster the education of K-12 grade students in the field of computer science. “Approximately 65% of today’s elementary school students will eventually gain employment in jobs that require some form of technology. Yet, there are no formal education programs in computer science education today,” said Carey. “Our goal is to raise awareness of the need for computer science standards within our elementary schools and to transform the K-12 programs within the Commonwealth, so that our children are better prepared for their futures.” While much preparation has been underway, the Education Foundation officially launched this month. For more information about the Education Foundation and to support this cause, please visit:

Dan Allred, Market Manager of Silicon Valley Bank, moderated the CXO forum and kicked off the discussion by offering metrics on the top triggers that cause businesses to transform, which, according to Allred, include domestic competition (30%); change in technology (29%); and changes in customer demand (33%).

Up first on the panel, Mohamad Ali highlighted the waves of transformation in the tech sector from mainframes to client/server, and from the Internet to social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing (SMAC).

With the emergence of mobile and Cloud computing, Ali emphasized the need for security, stating that it is a necessary component of Big Data. He also spoke about the need for businesses to shift in order to stay ahead of competition and his involvement in doing this by partnering with smaller companies.

“In 2005, I worked at IBM DB2 with Tom Reilly, HP’s VP and General Manager, Enterprise Security Products,” said Ali. “Technically, it was a bad company. The market didn’t care where you stored your data, but what you could do with it. In our efforts to improve DB2, we added stacks of capabilities on top of the data, including ETL (extract, transfer and load); federation (ability to point to specific data); and a BPM layer that was acquired from Filenet. In doing so, we helped transform the old DB2 business into Business Analytics, which today, is a major part of IBM’s business offerings.”

Sophie Vandebroek spoke about Xerox’s transformation from what is typically known as a printer company to much more. “While we manage over 1.15 million printers for clients, 75 percent of our revenues come from services,” said Vandebroek. Xerox’s client services today include the processing of information within hospitals, insurance providers and payers, customer care, as well as other areas. Xerox was able to transform itself to manage these services with its acquisition of Affiliate Computer Services (ACS) in 2010.

But transformation is not based on acquisitions alone. “To best manage transformation, you must know how to leverage your resources. You must truly understand the pain points and dreams of your customers.” Vandebroek explained that Xerox often hosts “dreaming sessions” with its clients to better understand their pain points and desires, as well as to quickly address how to address these needs. She also stressed the importance of diversity within corporate environments and the need for businesses to create open ecosystems. “You need to be prepared to make mistakes and to learn from them. You also need to be prepared to determine where you want to be.”

Bob Weiler of Oracle discussed Oracle’s transformations over the years through organic R&D, as well as through acquisitions – of which, there have been many. According to Weiler, over the last nine to ten years, Oracle has acquired about a hundred companies. Oracle’s roughly $40 billion in revenues can, in part, be attributed to these types of business transformations.

“While many business owners understand the need to transform their businesses, many don’t know the correct methods of going about it,” said Weiler. “Executives are often so focused on making improvements to their technology, they are not aware of how it should be monetized and if there is a market for it,” added Weiler. According to Weiler, executives looking for successful transformation must ask themselves whether there is a market for their offering; determine if it is a product or a feature; and whether it is sustainable.

With constant flux of integration between products and companies, Weiler spoke to how businesses need to constantly transform themselves to adjust to these changes. “Just a few years ago, we’d go on a trip and bring a laptop, a camera, a cell phone and perhaps a video camera. Today, all of this technology exists within our smartphones. Integration has always won in business…and since the development of the Internet, I’ve never seen a bigger time for transformation,” said Weiler. “Not too long ago, 70 percent of all tech spend was by corporations. This has since flipped, with the consumers now being the top buyers of technology.”

Weiler cited Williams Sonoma and Nordstrom’s as examples of businesses that got it right and understood trends early on. These were the first retailers to provide omni-channel retail marketing, allowing customers to easily read web site content and make purchases on a variety of devices, from their PCs to iPads, and smart phones. He also spoke to importance of knowing your company’s metrics and urged executives at the forum to run their businesses as if they were public. “Operating your business on a balanced growth model is critical. When Oracle investigates companies for potential acquisitions, understanding why an executive needs three pre-sales people for every sales rep gives us tremendous insight into how their company is run and whether their product is difficult to sell,” said Weiler.

A number of interesting topics were discussed the CXO forum’s Q&A session including:
  • The importance of Massachusetts to the tech market
  • The amount of time that businesses dedicate to getting in front of trends
  • Getting people to accept transformation
  • Inorganic growth, or how to go about making your company attractive for an acquisition

Incredible resources and excellent universities were among the top reasons why the panelists at the forum see Massachusetts important to the tech economy. While Oracle currently has approximately 500 employees in Massachusetts, many through its acquisitions of Endeca and Phase Forward, Vandebroek wished there were more larger tech companies headquartered in the state.

Reviewing how to get in front of market trends, Vandebroek discussed the importance of working closely with disruptive partners to learn from them and target your next move. She made the similarities of watching business trends to keeping your financial portfolio diversified. Weiler highlighted the importance of having technologists on your team that have vision and spoke to the constant morphing among businesses, citing how an insurance customer of Oracle’s recently wanted to learn more about retail. Ali added that, while we are focused on SMAC now, we would likely see a transformation in about ten years back to decentralized technology; whereas Vandebroek envisions a trend towards consumerism and personalization, which includes analytics and business automation.

While discussing how to get people to accept transformation, Ali sees a constant evolution of new and changing markets as a result of business transformation – such as the increasing need for security as a result of mobile and Cloud offerings, referring to what Ray Ozzie coined as “digital exhaust.”

In terms of positioning one’s company for an acquisition, Ali recommends becoming a business partner, as it enables the larger companies to better understand your products and your overall business models. Weiler added that Oracle’s customer needs are a key driver of what they look for when acquiring companies or their technologies.

During final comments of the Q&A, the importance of knowing the market and in not being afraid to pull the trigger on cannibalizing one’s older business models were emphasized by Weiler. While understanding the right time to pivot one’s business strategies top focus on newer trends, such as the Cloud, Ali added that executives should also not ignore their traditional offerings.

Overall, this highly informative CXO session helped seed ideas in the minds of business executives on the importance of transforming their businesses to lead competition, drive innovation and position their companies for future organic and inorganic growth. MassTLC’s CXO Series brings together the executive leadership of Massachusetts’ tech companies to share insights, learn about leading trends and foster discussion that can result in great innovation and growth. The series consists of two annual forums (one in the spring and one in the fall), several smaller round table discussions held throughout the year, and a VIP reception in December. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

House Bill Supports Growth of Innovation Sector

The Massachusetts innovation community had reason to celebrate on Tuesday as House Speaker Bob DeLeo announced economic development legislation that included a number of initiatives that will help expand our vibrant tech economy. The announcement is the latest example of strategic investments made by the Legislature and Governor Patrick in innovation, education, and infrastructure that have contributed towards making Massachusetts a more dynamic, flexible, and transformative environment for both starting and growing companies to scale.

One provision that jumps out is prioritizing computer science education. Currently less than 1% of our high school students are taking the Computer Science AP exam – a troubling statistic that is hampering expansion and job growth in our tech sector.  The bill also includes investments in big data innovation and workforce as well as initiatives to support the talent and financing needs of start-ups. Together, these initiatives go a long way towards ensuring that we continue to grow a strong and vibrant tech community and increase our competitiveness nationally and internationally.

Highlights of the package includes:

Computer Science Education -- The bill commits $1.5 million in funding for the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN), a terrific public-private partnership that works to develop and implement widespread, progressive computer science education in schools across the state. This has been a top priority of tech employers desperate for homegrown talent to fill the growing number of job openings in the field and this effort will help narrow that talent gap.

Big Data -- Big Data is one of the fastest growing clusters in the innovation economy and the $2 million in the bill for the creation of the Big Data Innovation & Workforce Fund will help promote and grow the big data and analytics industries by providing tools for related career development and exploring how analytics can help address problems of public concern like transportation, energy and public health.  Tech leaders have brought the important role of big data in the Massachusetts economy to the forefront and this new initiative confirms that policy makers and political leaders have received the message.

Mentoring, Internships, and Start-Up Financing – The legislation’s focus on growing and retaining talent and opening up new paths to financing for start-ups also zero in on what we need to take our economy to the next level through the following initiatives:
  • The nationally renowned Talent Pipeline does a terrific job of encouraging students and young innovators to get a head start by offering matching stipends for interns at innovative start-ups, and providing mentoring opportunities for new entrepreneurs, and the legislation includes $2 million to support those efforts.
  •  The bill provides $1 million for the Start-up Mentoring Program to connect early-stage entrepreneurs, technology start-ups, and small businesses with successful, experienced business enterprises and capital financing.
  •  It also sets aside $1.5 million for MassVentures which supports the innovation economy by funding early-stage, high-growth startups in Massachusetts as they move from concept to commercialization.
  • And the bill creates the Angel Investor Tax Credit making businesses eligible for a tax credit on the qualifying angel investments.

These and other initiatives are important indications that the Commonwealth can and will be a partner with the innovation sector as we seek ways to support and optimize innovation and opportunity in our economy.

There are some who were not pleased that the bill did not take up the Governor’s proposal to abolish non-compete agreements. House leadership cited the lack of consensus on the issue of non-competes and noted that any future resolution of the issue would likely not result in a proposal that is all for or against non-competes, but would instead focus on some common ground in the middle.  That is a goal we can embrace as we continue thoughtful dialogue on this issue in the weeks and month ahead.

But in the end, the tech community welcomes investments that help accelerate innovation and growth in the Massachusetts economy. This economic development legislation is another opportunity to grow our tech economy, create jobs, and make Massachusetts a world leader in innovation. Now on to the Senate.