Thursday, December 21, 2017

CIOs, listen up: voice recognition meets the printer!

First published on SETHspeak (
Voice/speech recognition is increasingly a part of the new technology paradigm the CIO is confronted with. The sector is rapidly evolving and what was hitherto considered a home-fad is rapidly making inroads in the office environment. Google, Siri, Alexa, Cortana, et al, are all very much upping the ante to bring voice control to the office of the future.

AWS:reinvent 2017, held November 27 to December 1, 2017, lived up to its promise as “AWS kept the announcements coming at a frenetic pace this week.”
Amongst the ones that interested me a lot was “Amazon is putting Alexa in the office.” The reason that it piqued my curiosity was that amongst the first custom skill use cases that Alexa for Business touts as part of its Alexa Skills Kit is related to printers in an office environment (full disclosure: I work at Xerox):
“For example, you could build a skill that lets a user report a printer problem to IT, and the skill could use the device location so that IT knows which printer is broken.”
Reminds me of how Andy Slawetsky described what he saw at a Xerox new product launch event earlier in the year:
Donna Davis of Vision-e showed us an app they built that adds these new Xerox copiers into the Amazon Alexa ecosystem. Walk up to the machine and tell it to color copy 50 pages, two-sided and stapled and watch it go. I saw it work. Those of you that have an Alexa get how powerful this is. Those of you that don’t, can’t appreciate it properly until you try it. While it may look like a gimmick or just cool “thing,” it’s much more. It’s a true time-saver around the house, adding things to grocery lists without interrupting what you’re doing, playing music, giving you the news and weather, looking things up for your, etc.
Take that mentality to the office and ask yourself how much easier would it be for customers to walk up to the MFP, drop the documents in the feeder and say “email these to Andy,” and it just does it. “File these invoices” and they wind up in the system. There’s some real opportunity here. Or authenticate with voice instead of a card you need to swipe every time. And guess what. Xerox didn’t think of it. Xerox enabled it. This came from a dealer’s development company.
Not only has Xerox created a platform that enables their channel partners to customize the products while building net new recurring revenue streams, they’ve gone further by allowing customers to develop their own apps. And this is what could put the MFP at another level.
Check out the cool video of Alexa voice recognition interacting with the Xerox Multifunction printer.
Gets even more interesting even more interesting when in addition to executing direct commands like "print copies" the voice agent uses its net connectivity and AI to actually find and deliver output "Alexa, can you print me the outstanding task list for my project" or "Alexa, print me a list of all vendors providing XYZ services." And then in the next incarnation both the voice agent and the printer become part of a seamless AI driven office workflow.
Voice assistants have moved over from being just a fad to a legitimate office efficiency enhancement tool with the voice-recognition market estimated to be over half-a-billion-dollar industry by 2019.
GoogleSiriAlexaCortana are all very much upping the ante to bring voice control to the office of the future.
Alexa getting into the office is not a great stretch of the imagination since starting from the home she had already made her way to our cars (You'll soon be able to start a Ford via Amazon Echo) and so it was just a small little hop, skip and jump to get into our offices.
What does all this mean for you as the CIO or a technology leader:
Be ready! Alexa, Siri et al may be in your workplace soon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


First published on SETHspeak (

SD-WAN offers multi-cloud enablement, improved network performance, centralized control and cost rationalization opportunities for the forward-thinking CIO. The sector is in a state of flux and the ‘Goliaths’ (Cisco, VMware) with Gen-1 SD-WAN products are being severely challenged by the ‘Davids’ (CloudGenix, et al) with transformative Gen-2 SD-WAN solutions.

If you are a CIO wondering what the SD-WAN buzz is all about, don’t worry, you are in good company. The remote office network connectivity market is a huge one: 25 million offices; $25Bn market opportunity. However, less than 5% of the market has adopted SD-WAN - metered as it were by the limitations of first generation SD-WAN products. Coming up to speed is imperative because the pundits predict 50% of customers will be using SD-WAN within the next 36 months driven by compelling Gen-2 SD-WAN offers such as those by CloudGenix.


What SD-WAN (Software Defined – Wide Area Network) does is provide remote office locations seamless, secure connectivity across multiple communications channels and across the entire corporate application portfolio from a single centrally managed operational console.
I first wrote about SD-WAN about a year ago, after I had met some start-ups in the space ("Corporate IT meets startup innovators").
One year is a very long time in this space, and a lot has happened in the space since then. as when I met him today, he had some exciting news to share. SD-WAN has grown explosively over the last year: some of the biggest customers in the Fortune 500 across manufacturing, banking, retail, healthcare etc., retailers with thousands of locations, global manufacturers with international locations, banks that form the financial back-bone of the industry – all use SD-WAN today for their remote office connectivity needs.

Market consolidation and flux

The network connectivity market in a state of major flux and consolidation. The most recent examples being market leader Cisco's $610 million acquisition of SD-WAN vendor vIPtela and another leader VMware announcing plans to purchase VeloCloud.

Evolving technology spectrum

The first Generation (Gen-1) SD-WAN players (CiscoVMware et al) have focused on delivering communications cost savings by enabling customers to integrate broad-band connectivity through existing carriers.
On the other hand, Gen-2 players (CloudGenix et al) have not only enabled this baseline of connectivity across diverse transports, but also enabled the application-centricity needed in a cloud-first world. CIOs need WAN solutions that align with a multi-cloud strategy – this is at the core of the Gen-2 SD-WAN value proposition.
Here are some questions which you as CIO grapple with when evaluating network connectivity options.

I am locked in with my existing legacy hardware (routers, etc.) which are not yet fully depreciated. How will the financial model work?

SD-WAN can coexist with existing infrastructure and you can continue to get depreciation on existing hardware. You can put SD-WAN software to work in tandem with existing routers which can be removed once they are fully depreciated. It also gives you the financial leeway to move from a Capex model to a subscription based Opex model.
However, knowing that IT organizations operate at different points on the Capex-Opex continuum, SD-WAN vendors offer several alternatives:
  • Fully capex model: Customer buys an appliance (Intel Server) preloaded and optimized for CloudGenix software
  • Customer buys the software and installs on own in-house infrastructure.
  • Fully OpEx model: A subscription based cloud hosted solution.
Also in terms of the sales cycle model SD-WAN vendors can respond directly to RFPs, working through an integration partner or with a Channel Partner.

Why should I not stick to bundled offerings from my existing telecom service provider (AT&T, Verizon, et al)?

That is an option, but one often ends up with limited operational freedom to drive costs down leveraging different telecom rates at different sites. Also, one is stuck with a plethora of hardware at different sites and burdened by response times and finger pointing when problems arise. Lots of money spent on change control.
SD-WAN solutions allow inter-operability across many communication modalities. Network traffic can be driven based on cost or performance policy considerations which can be consistently defined and applied for all sites from a single centralized operational console.

Do I get locked in with a specific cloud services provider?

Check if your SD-WAN vendor is agnostic to the CSP choice. They should have strong technology partnerships with all the major players- AWS, Microsoft Azure et al. They should be able to work with any of them and having them deployed should simplify the process of migration between providers.

My applications are not all deployed via cloud. Also, many are legacy in-house custom applications. Can they be accessed effectively at all my remote sites with a SD-WAN solution?

The vendor should realize that applications are amongst the most important technology assets a company can have. Lots of emphasis should be placed on understanding applications at a very deep level. This is irrespective of whether it is CRM, ERP, Database, off-the-shelf, homegrown in-house et al.
The focus of any SD-WAN solution should be on delivering applications effectively to the remote office whether they are hosted on-premises in a datacenter, in the cloud, or from a SaaS provider.
Look for a vendor that has a powerful application identification engine that looks beyond simple packet details (like IP addresses and ports) and examines actual application transactions. As soon as a new application is identified and “learned” the new learning should propagate to all remote nodes. So there should be no time lag in deploying application capabilities to remote sites. All these benefits should be there even for home grown applications. 

What about security?

This is a very important question. The SD-WAN solution should complement and supplement the existing security environment and protocols by providing the ability to centrally define, monitor and enforce network policies. Firewalls should easily be enabled and configured within the SD-WAN software. They should also have strong integration with cloud security solutions from vendors like Palo AltoZScaler and Symantec to ensure a consistent security perimeter for all sites.

What does a Gen2 SD-WAN bring to the table that Gen1 SD-WAN does not?

Gen-1 SD-WAN products from Cisco and VMware are architecturally limited to being packet-routing or Layer 3 devices. This means they can help with broadband integration but often force carrier dependencies. That’s the reason they were unable to move the market beyond less than 5% adoption.
A Gen-2 product delivers Application Networking for multi-cloud – meaning they are “Layer 3-7” solutions. They understand applications, sub-applications and metrics from their transactions and sessions, and coupled with those same networking metrics, allow for more fine-grained policy and enforcement based on how the apps are actually performing. It’s a top-down view that centers around user experience rather than packets. This allows people to create policies for actual applications like Google Docs or Microsoft Lync and even sub-apps rather than just having policies for “Internet HTTP” and “Enterprise HTTP” and ensure the best user experience possible. It’s the second generation of SD-WAN and is crucial for any customer that wants to make sure that they have a Cloud-ready strategy rather than generically sending Internet HTTP traffic out via broadband and Enterprise HTTP out via MPLS.

What comes next? Where is the technology environment headed?

This space intersects with data science, machine learning and AI. Think of self-driving cars and how those same principles apply to networking to create self-healing and self-governing networks. With legacy solutions, there is massive manual intervention in the network to keep it operating. With Gen2 SD-WAN solutions, the network learns based on past cost and performance data and then reacts automatically to emergent situations. Check if your vendor is heavily invested in this space.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is another interesting play albeit in its early stages. Network connectivity for millions of embedded Point of Sales (PoS) and inventory tracking devices at thousands of remote retail locations is a use-case model SD-WAN vendors should be actively engaged with.
In conclusion, if you are looking to a multi-cloud strategy, deliver great user experience, automate your network and reduce WAN costs, Gen-2 SD-WAN makes now the perfect time to evaluate your SD-WAN options.
First published on SETHspeak (

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Why CXOs need to jump off a plane

Being ready to metaphorically jump off a plane seems to be a key requirement to deal with the rapid pace of technological and organizational change. Discomfort is the new comfort zone, and individuals as well as teams must learn to adapt to that.

Originally published on my blog - SETHspeak
Last year I stepped out of a small airplane at 10,000 feet for my first-ever tandem skydive. I was celebrating a milestone birthday.
As I reflected on it the next day, I could not help but think of the parallels with the IT project execution context.
Starts off with trepidation and uncertainty – a vague understanding of what lies ahead but little clarity. (Project is initiated.
Then comes the chaos of the free-fall. Noisy. Rushing wind. A couple of flips and somersaults while hurtling down. Sensory/information overload. Things happening too quick, too fast. Am I following the instructions correctly? (Scope being defined.
The drogue parachute then deploys. It stabilizes the free-fall but does not reduce the speed. Things are still a blur but clarity emerges. (Scope, costs, plans emerging.
Then the main canopy deploys at 5,500 feet. The sudden jolt. And then serenity of the view. Controlled descent with some twists and turns. Nothing unexpected though. Bliss. Systems and processes are humming. (Plans being executed.
Hit the ground. Prepared for it but still a little choppy, bumpy. Ground winds stronger than anticipated. (Go live/cutover/day one.
Is it already over? 
And, yes, there was a backup safety chute, which could have been deployed if needed. (Risks identification and mitigation plans.
Interestingly, what seemed like stepping out of the comfort zone at the outset does not appear so in hindsight given the people (instructors), processes (skydive tips and techniques) and technology (parachutes, backups) at work to ensure a smooth ride. 
Similarly there are the people, processes and technology we have going for us in all project efforts.
Which brings us to:
Comfort zone
  • It’s a place where we feel secure and where risk is contained. It’s also a place where our performance is not severely tested.
Step out of your comfort zone. Why?
  • This is where the growth happens.
  • This is where the solutions are.
  • This is where fulfillment resides.
In short, the really important stuff happens outside your comfort zone.

Stepping out of the comfort zone: Employees

Challenge your personal comfort zone:
  • Escape conventional norms by taking on professional challenges beyond personal comfort zones.
  • It also means collaborating (often virtually) with new peer groups – inside and outside traditional silos – to find and apply new solutions to critical work challenges, thereby advancing personal and professional growth. It also helps to be aware of the “blind spots” that keep us from seeing an opportunity for change or the value of constructive criticism.
Never stop learning:
  • You need to make continuous learning a permanent part of job description. In the perpetual discomfort zone, it’s not what you know today that counts – it’s how you acquire, refine and apply new knowledge for tomorrow.

 Stepping out of the comfort zone: Corporations

Compete on code and manage on meaning: 
  • To compete in the discomfort zone, enterprises must decode the rising volume of data surrounding customers, markets and products.
Agility is the killer behavior: 
  • Business agility has a dual mandate: to drive greater effectiveness and efficiency, and invest in growth-enabling innovation.

Functioning in a perpetual discomfort zone

  • Think fast, meaning abandoning prolonged strategic debates in favor of rapid, real-time, data-driven decisions. Don’t become mired in discomfort, be agile in responding to it.
  • Think forward, meaning create new business models, processes and workplace environments that enable organizations to ride the next wave of innovation – intentionally establishing new areas of discomfort.

How can you maximize trips out side your comfort zone?

  • Acknowledge the value.
  • Lean into the experience.
  • Notice your fear.
  • Don’t overthink it.
  • Play full out.
  • Celebrate the victory.
  • Pause to reflect.
And the caveat? Consider your own personal threshold. Some people thrive on being outside their comfort zones, others don't, and some people are in the middle. Consider where you are on this continuum and then recognize how much you can handle. Don't avoid things outside your comfort zone out of fear, but also know yourself and when something is simply too much for you to handle.
Originally published on my blog - SETHspeak

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The CIO's data dilemma: The paradox of plenty?

Classical data strategies have focused on "what the data looks like" and can it provide "answers." Newer approaches provide the ability to move beyond that to "how can I use what I have" and can it provide "directions."

Originally published on my blog: SETHspeak
"Data, Data, everywhere, Nor any information to think"
-Paraphrasing Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous lines from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Often at time it does feel like we are in a "paradox of plenty" kind of situation, somewhat akin to a resource curse where historic corporations with an abundance of data are finding themselves losing the race of market competitiveness to newer players who have much less data. 


My initial thoughts were that till recently the focus of most corporations had been on mining their "historical" data.
However, with the world of today generating a steady and ever-growing stream of "real-time" or "near real-time" data, corporations need to wake up to the new reality that much of their historical data is not as relevant or valuable as they think it is.
In the absence of real-time data, historical data is often used as a proxy to make some predictions. But with real-time data being available now, that proxy is no longer needed or is no longer as relevant.
This has a big benefit – corporations that feel that they had fallen behind in the race to mine historical data do not necessarily need to play catch-up. They can make up for the lost opportunity by creating a framework to leverage real-time data streams.
Essentially, corporations can leapfrog and catch up with or even move beyond other players without getting caught up in what I'll call the legacy data trap – ditch it, since most of it may not be as relevant as you think. Food for thought?

What does the Data Doc think?

I bounced this idea off Tom Redman, "the Data Doc." He was skeptical. While, he agrees that companies need to wake up, he had two reasons for his skepticism. 
First, real-time and historical data support different sorts of analyses and opportunities. He did not see one as a surrogate for the other.
Second, the biggest "gap" is the ability to analyze data and sort out what to do with those analyses. Real-time data does not address that gap.
Tom made some great points.

My response

Till now most of the energy and resources of corporations were devoted to "historical" data, since the capabilities to harness real-time or near real-time data did not exist. Now suddenly there has been an explosion in both the volume of the real-time data as well as the tools to manage it.
As a result, there will be a shift of attention and resources from historical to real-time since both attention and resources are fixed and limited. Also, for many areas, an effective handle on real-time data is all that may be needed.
For example, we drive on the roads just using real-time data presented on the dashboard (speed, rpm, engine temperature) with no need of any historical data to meet the immediate need of going from point A to point B.

What do you think?

This could be an interesting survey question to ask CIOs and CDOs:
Of your total data management spend how much will you allocate to mining historical data vs. managing real-time data and why?
This may offer some interesting insights on how this entire area is evolving.

What implications does all this have on data strategy?

  • Exact vs. Roughly Right: For historical data, the emphasis on getting all data in the right formats, with right definitions and in common data stores, needs to go. Such an approach has led to the mental and execution block that no meaningful insights are possible till considerable time and resources are spent on getting it all "right."
  • Consolidation vs. Federation: Approaches where data is pulled from various data sources into a single repository need to be replaced by approaches where data stays in its parent repositories but gets "pulled" as needed. A federated data application framework? IBM Watson Discovery Service does something like that but seems like it does it only for unstructured data. Fraxses seems to do it for both structured and unstructured data. With the kind of capabilities available now, physically moving data into a distinct data store (lake) may not be required. The lake may be virtual. This may be a quicker approach too.
  • Internal vs. External: In most corporations, data strategies have been inward looking. That is, they have focused on internal data. In today's world, any meaningful data strategy has to focus on internal as well as external data. How can you combine internally available data with publicly available or acquired external data to deliver business focused insights is a question the strategy needs to answer.
  • Defense vs. Offense: Data strategy should enable support of both "exact" reporting (e.g., for finance and accounting purposes) as well as "directional" reporting (e.g., for strategy and business development purposes). Till now the focus has been on exact, which has meant all available data has not been effectively utilized. There is always a significant amount of data which is not "exact" but can still provide meaningful insights when weighted appropriately (e.g., Watson when playing Jeopardy did not come up with just one correct answer but several with appropriate weights). A recent Harvard Business Review article, "What's your data strategy?" described it as defense vs. offense: Companies make considered trade-offs between defensive and offensive uses of data and between control and flexibility in its use. Leandro DalleMule and Thomas H. Davenport summed it up well in that article:
There is no avoiding the implications: Companies that have not yet built a data strategy and a strong data-management function need to catch up very fast or start planning for their exit.
(Originally published on my blog: SETHspeak)

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