How IoT is improving processes, interaction, even computer vision

NEW YORK—When a meetup isn’t just a meetup, it’s an actual learning experience. Vaughn Shinall, head of product outreach at Temboo, did more than the usual company profile in his talk by providing the audience with some valuable tips for bringing IoT (Internet of Things) to anyone’s business at the Hardwired meetup last November 16 at WeWork in Chelsea.

Shinall’s Temboo, which offers software stack for IoT applications, gave the following tips:

  1. Start with a small but real, concrete problem
  2. Focus on saving time or money to create real value at the start
  3. Quick wins will help build confidence and expertise for IoT
  4. Get internal backing based on having a working system
  5. See how the data and functionality you’ve created can have additional uses
  6. See how existing applications can be modified for other uses
  7. Build new IoT capabilities on top of existing ones

Providing these tips is essential, as over half of business processes are projected to incorporate IoT by 2020, with about 22 billion IoT devices estimated to be connected already to the internet by 2018.

Shinall showed a factory that has retrofitted its existing operations IoT capabilities to reduce waste. It added automated alerts and sensors to its processes.

It was the modular music studio BLOCKS, however, that was the highlight for the evening for people hearing it for the first time. ROLI, the music tech startup behind it, has raised $43 million from FirstMark Capital. It will reportedly be in all Apple stores globally this holiday season.

The other presenters were Charlie Key, founder and CEO of Losant (IoT solution platform); David Lyman, founder and CEO of BetterView (drone marketplace for aerial photography jobs) and Leif Jentoft, co-Founder of RightHand Robotics (intelligent machines for e-commerce order fulfillment)

Key of Losant talked about real time GPS asset tracking which is expected to grow, as sensors, GPS units and cellular modems have become readily available.  About 38 billion devices are equipped with tracking capabilities. As such, many now see the value of tracking the location and health of nearly everything, including shipments.

The actual devices used will rely on cost, physical size, environmental conditions, geographical location and many more. Losant provides systems integrators and product manufacturers with the flexibility to choose and connect to any hardware using any communication method on any network. Its application services and additional platform capabilities cover remote asset management, GPS tracking and mapping, reporting and M2M data integration.  Understanding GPS data natively to visualize locations and geofence the information is crucial.

How does it make money? “People pay us based on data points,” explaining that the compay “works with companies with physical assets like tow trucks.”

As a platform for capturing and analyzing drone data, Lyman of BetterView claimed that they have software that makes it easy to capture data.  It reportedly combines drone-gathered, expert-analyzed imagery with public data like assessor’s permit, fire station proximity, and historical weather to pinpoint risks, estimate costs, and drive action around buildings and properties.

Founded two years ago, BetterView combines public data, drone imagery and computer vision plus human experts to analyze data to its 70 customers. It claims to have a 3,500 pilot network, analyzed, 4,200 rooftops or the equivalent of 130 million square feet.

Lyman said if you’re too early (in the drone space), you can get burned. If it holds its promise, he estimates the industry to rake in 1.8 million sales in by 2020. “We see adoption in commercial business.”

Already, drones and AI are improving insight and transforming how we interact with the physical world.

Another presenter, RightHand Robotics provides end-to-end solutions that reduce the cost of e-commerce order-fulfillment of electronics, apparel, grocery, pharmaceuticals, and countless other industries.

Analyzing data and extracting insights from IBM Watson Analytics

NEW YORK— Last November 10, the meetup called Data Science & Analytics for Communications Industry showed us how IBM Watson Analytics is making it easier for business professionals to analyze data and extract insights for businesses across data intensive disciplines, including marketing (social media and networks), sales, operations, finance and human resources.

Host Rachel Wells showed us how Watson Analytics works a smart-data discovery tool with guided data exploration, automated predictive analysis, dashboard creation and visualization service. It is designed to help different professionals — from salespersons to company CEOs – find patterns and pursue ideas for their business.

In collaboration with industry partners, its new data discovery models called Expert Storybooks is aimed at helping guide users on how to understand, learn and reason with different types of data sources to surface the most relevant facts and uncover patterns and relationships for predictive decision making. Examples of the types of Storybooks IBM will make available are as follows:

  • AriBall – a Storybook that will help users analyze the performance of baseball players to build predictions about player performance that they can use to gain an edge in their fantasy lineup.
  • Deloitte – a Storybook that measures the effectiveness of incentive programs to help sales leadership determine how and when to effectively deploy short term incentives for revenue uplift.
  • The Weather Company – a Storybook that helps users incorporate weather data into their revenue analysis to understand how weather is impacting their business.
  • OgilvyOne – a Storybook that shows users how to analyze marketing campaign data while integrating disparate data points such as weather information to bring creative inputs into campaign planning.
  • Twitter – a Storybook that helps users analyze social media data from Twitter to measure reputational risk, and also get a better understanding about how social sentiment could reveal drivers behind fluctuations in stock prices in real time.
  • American Marketing Association – a Storybook that helps users identify and analyze the key drivers of customer profitability.
  • Nucleus Research – a Storybook that enables users to benchmark projects for return on investment (ROI) and to project expected returns for proposed technology projects based on Nucleus Research data from more than 500 ROI case studies.
  • MarketShare – a Storybook that helps users achieve a clear understanding of how their investment strategy compares to industry standards, as well as a view into how to optimize investments across online and offline media channels such as TV, paid search, digital display, online video, radio, print, and others.
  • Intangent – a Storybook that will help finance managers examine the relationships between pay, performance, and credit risk in lending to better align incentive compensation with risk taking.

Instead of fumbling over data, searching for answers or testing hypotheses, the Watson Analytics user can focus on understanding the business and effectively communicating results to stakeholders. Business users often struggle figuring out what analysis would be relevant and how to tell the story in a report or diagram. Watson Analytics automates these steps to accelerate users’ ability to get to the answers quickly and on their own.

As users interact with the results, they can fine-tune their questions and the data to surface the most relevant facts and uncover unforeseen patterns and relationships, which will enable predictive decision making for all levels of users.

However, Wells is quick to point out the differences between IBM Watson, which means the whole process of reasoning which does its full A to Z job, while IBM Watson Analytics is all about helping anyone explore data easily.

So many visual storytelling ways, but who’s watching?!

NEW YORK–“I don’t believe in VR (virtual reality),” said Olivier Laurent, editor at Lightbox, a blog by the TIME’s photo department, in a meetu on the topic, “Visual Storytelling and the Future of Photos” last November 2 at the Libris by Photoshelter in Union Square. It was  certainly a gutsy admission, considering that tech titans have rolled out or are launching their own VR devices with fanfare.

Laurent moderated the discussion with panelists Paul Melcher, founder of Kaptur Magazine; Ben Plomion, chief marketing officer at GumGum, a computer vision company and; and Peter Krogh, photographer for PBS and The Library of Congress, among others.

Laurent challenges VR’s potential by referring to technological devices in the past, “Who has a 3D TV?” There was one raised hand in the packed room. What Laurent is saying makes perfect sense, of course. Yes, Facebook has the Oculus; Google recently launched its Daydream VR. Samsung and Sony have their own VR devices as well. This was not the main topic of the evening but it resonated with us because some tech products get some hype but never hit critical mass (eg. Google Glass).

But companies are latching onto VR because there’s always a craving for new ways to tell stories. Photographers, videographers and all practitioners then try to adapt to the new tools–for the purpose of adding a skill as the market demands.

Whether we want to embrace this or not is no longer a question, though. At some point, everyone will need to use cinemagraphs, VR, 360 and still movement in camera and gif, as enumerated by Melcher. There’s GoPro, Drones and many more.

“(Over the years), professional photographers have had to learn Photoshop and LightRoom,” he said. That was years ago but with more tech tools coming out, it seems the visually inclined will need to acquaint himself with more tools, software and equipment as technology keeps reinventing ways for us to tell stories.

However, there’s an even more problematic scenario other than the constant flow of new tech tools at our disposal. How do you get people’s attention span when a study by Microsoft last year pointed to how the ill-focused goldfish is said to have the attention span of nine seconds? How do people compare? We now lose concentration after eight seconds, it turns out. The survey consisted of 2,000 participants whose brain activities were studied using electroencephalograms (EEGs).

These are all compounded by the billions of images uploaded daily. Who has the time to tell their visual stories, if not absorb them?

Laurent, however, may be a purist in his observation about what images stick with people the most. He cites how the Tiananmen protester’s photo blocking a tank is remembered more than its video where he was shown moving left to right to block the tank.

What is future of photography? It may be about create an image that will feel like you’re in there, according to Melcher. “It may be better than any set of cameras.”

“We are developing a new vernacular. Image as data,” Krogh said.

On images as ads, Plomion said, “Ads that follow you. This already started four years ago. There will be more ads catered to us.”

Going back to the future of VR, Melcher said VR is mostly focused on hardware but the growth will be in content.

“In terms of aggregated reality, we’re not there yet,” Plomion said.

General Assembly’s sprint process; Meetup’s rebranding

NEW YORK — If you’re rebranding and you didn’t go to the Design Driven meetup last November 1 at WeWork, you missed the outstanding presentations of Bryan Berger, Product Design lead at General Assembly and Jennifer Gergen, Design director at Meetup.

Among the presenters in the New York meetups this year, Berger and Gergen seem to have the most material for the audience, if only there were enough time for them to present them. The two took their time to explain the design processes of their respective companies.

General Assembly holds bootcamp-style tech, business and design classes in the Flatiron district, while Meetup offers a platform for people to form communities based on their interests.

For General Assembly, Berger took us to through the results of its “distraction-free” design sprint, taking us to the company’s product design process “to position ourselves to be more effective.”

“We mapped out who’s who and where we are,” he said.

It was interesting to learn how they took the initiative to look back into its library of materials to see if they are still relevant. Not many companies would bother to do so and to see if previous works still mattered, as the torrent of materials can be overwhelming, for any company.

“This is how I do it with my team: ‘Get aligned, set expectations, pre plan, get buy-in and make it real,” Berger said.

In aligning objectives, Berger said General Assembly followed patterns that champion reusability, consistency and efficiency across products and teams. “We had a single style guide to help our production cycle. We spoke the same languages across design and engineering.”

“We optimize team efficiency and design impact, fix processes and sunset old cluttered systems and shed light on things that have been overlooked,” he added.

After its sprint, Berger was only too willing to share its learnings:

  • Empower your team
  • Draft a design team charter
  • Pair new hires with veterans
  • Cross-product design collaboration is very powerful
  • Make research insights accessible to everyone
  • Frame stakeholder discussions in the present

(It’s easier to work with wish lists if we understand the facts first)

  • It’s extremely inefficient to achieve growth and future goals without the foundational pieces in place
  • Teams can now visualize the complexity and work to simplify it
  • We stubbed out a huge chunk of our Pattern Library
  • We identified key areas for additional research in our ecosystem
  • We have actionable roadmaps to tackle each initiative in order to keep the momentum going

What to avoid? “Silos are destructive,” he said. “They resist change. They promote one-off solutions. Scalability isn’t top of mind. They burn people out.”

Gergen talked about the redesign of Meetup, which now sports a new logo that captures the spirit of the platform: it’s a swarm (of people).

Her presentation was very illuminating because she talked about the company’s journey, its beginnings as a company that “didn’t have a design team when we started and who did usability before design.”

It helped explain the time it took the company a long time to rebrand since it was founded after 9/11 when there were no apps and UI was an abbreviation still alien to many. There was a lot to “unlearn.” There was a need to define design. Its rebranding, unveiled this year, took 2 years. It included a “remade Meetup that is personal, lightweight and a (good) mobile experience.”

Gergen showed how a design director’s job goes beyond the creative, as she made use of spreadsheets to do a health checkup and a design team health benchmark for Meetup.

She also made sure that everyone was involved. The primaries: the key decision makers; the secondaries: the designers who know their work and the subject matter experts. Depending on the tasks, it had IOS experts providing assistance for its app development or marketing people for its marketing efforts.

How do you get your team to become design driven? “Get lucky,” she said.

She elaborates, “Do user research. Do stakeholder surveys. Do a company wide survey.” For the latter, some staffers produced essays that were 10 pages long.”

Because its company actually makes people meet in person, she had some of her design team go to actual meetups. “We organized teams to go to meetups and interview people.”

Percolate and TeachersPayTeachers were other presenters.