The Technology Vacuum

Like many, I follow with interest the trajectory and vectors of technology trends in our time.   As I read the 2016 surveys, however, I am struck by the esoteric nature of the developments and the lack of context of the engineering investments made by today’s technology companies.

Based on readouts from firms such as Deloitte, Goldman Sachs and others, the consensus seems to include and focus on the following developmental platforms:


  • Cognitive computing
  • Machine to Machine wireless communication ( Internet of Things)
  • Continued development of Big Data and analytics
  • Cloud computing
  • Semiconductor advancement

For purposes of length and space, I won’t go into each of these individually, but, taken together, they represent and decidedly incremental leap in computing power and potential reach.   For me, the key word is potential – and the question remains as to the applicability of these platforms to the everyday lives of ordinary people.

For example, I live in South Central Pennsylvania – a region whose economy is largely driven by working, family farms and small businesses. As I review these trends, I reflect on how the engineering investments made by large technology firms match the market needs of a region like this.   And, more universally, how do the developers envision the use of their innovations to improve the quality of life for the disenfranchised American middle and lower income classes.?

I believe that the working and poor families of this country do not pay attention to the technological initiatives being put forth by companies like AT&T, IBM, Cisco, Wipro Technologies and others.   There is a large dichotomy between the end user demand for these technologies and the forecasted revenue engines that they represent to corporate interests.

Clearly, innovation is a hallmark of American capitalism.   And innovation in software engineering is front and center in today’s information based economy. Correspondingly, many prominently attribute our current educational and jobs crisis on a lack of a national skill set in the areas of software and code development.   But the nagging thought remains that until companies find a profitable way to apply technology to the social and economic needs of the full compliment of the population, then they will be left with a glut of supply and a skeptical and questioning market demand.

In other words, if you build it, they will not necessarily come unless the design and purpose of technical innovation matches the urgent needs of our societal crises.




Orson Welles and the Art of the Self

May 2015 marked what would have been the 100th birthday of Orson Welles.   Actor, Director, Producer, Magician, Welles has been largely regarded as one of the great artists of the 20th Century and one of its most curious and enigmatic.   Active in film, radio, theatre and television, he produced works of notoriety and critical acclaim amid continual struggles with the Hollywood studio system and, through Citizen Kane, the powerful news media controlled by William Randolph Hearst.

Welles first achieved fame at 23 as the voice and creative force behind his Mercury Theatre’s radio production of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938. The broadcast simulated an alien invasion of the United States and reportedly caused widespread panic among its listeners.   This was followed by Citizen Kane in 1941, a roman a clef depicting the life and downfall of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane. While the film received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Actor and Best Director for Welles, its only Oscar was for Best Screenplay shared by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz. ( see Raising Kane by Pauline Kael). The Hearst newspapers boycotted the film and, while producing continual excellence in film for many years, Welles’ relationship with Hollywood would never fully recover.

Welles went on to produce many seminal films and theatre productions over the next 25 years. The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, Mr Arkadin, Touch of Evil, Chimes at Midnight, F for Fake, an all African American production of Macbeth – all superb in their innovation and commitment to the creative process. Strangely, ss any of you who are my age will remember, Welles, in the latter part of his life, was a frequent guest on talk shows and was ironically famous for the Paul Masson advertisement tagline “ We will sell no wine before its time.”

As a point of interest however, along with the obvious excellence of his produced work, is the long and rocky list of unfinished projects that are littered along American cinematic history.   There are many reasons for this abandonment – lack of creative control, budget problems, shaky financing from the Shah of Iran – conspiring to create an image of Welles as a highly talented but incomplete artist. When looking Welles’ career, one cannot help but to think not so much of his accomplishments but , rather, of what might have been.   For many years I have thought of Welles as a dynamo of potential – instead of a fulfilled and sustained artist.

Part of the problem comes because of Welles’ seeming detachment from the material and emphasis on innovation as a standalone goal.   Each of his film, radio and theatre productions can be seen in an almost experimental light.   Camera work, lighting, set design, narrative structure – all designed to dazzle, to entertain, to challenge. One can only imagine what he would have done with the technology of today. Welles by avocation was a magician and there is a certain amount of conjuring inherent in all of his work.   It is stylized, it is flamboyant – but is it art?

Welles’ productive output was a reflection of his talent and creative power.   It is not about those rare and beautiful moments when art is created.   He was daring and courageous but in the end his work was simply self reflecting, the curse of the auteur. And watching him perform magic tricks on the Merv Griffin Show only substantiated the feeling that this was an incredibly talented person whose time had passed and was left with only illusions and extraordinarily clever monuments to himself.

Modern Networks and Self Service Portals

Modern Networks and Self Service Portals

With today’s critical emphasis on job creation in the US and elsewhere, it is important to examine the relationship between economic growth through employment and the inexorable rise of optimization in corporate environments.

Network modernization and the rise of communication environments is an apt microcosm of that paradigm. I would like to examine those modernization trends with you and discuss the evolution of carrier portals as a critical vehicle to achieve the benefits associated with applied communication technologies.

Significant among those changes has been the technological migration from basic private line and packet networks ( Frame Relay/ATM) to MPLS – based Virtual Private Networks ( VPN). VPNs offer customers an inherent benefit of optimization precision through Class of Service ( CoS) designations.

In addition, carriers such as AT&T and Verizon now offer customers a wider range of adjacent services designed to add value as well as build sustainable customer relationships and competitive firewalls. Managed Hosting, Internet Access, Security Services, Platform as a Service (PaaS) Machine to Machine ( M2M) and Virtualization are good examples of carrier offerings that have gain IT wallet share and have expanded the management scope of corporate telecom staffs. As with VPNs, usage visibility is critical and fundamental to the effective management of these services and, as such, carriers must provide it to their customers.

While emerging services such as those noted above represent significant change, it is important to note that there is still a very large base of packet and private line networks in place. The management of those networks, however, is functional in nature – reliant on basic fault, ordering and provisioning management.

This functional management, while remaining critical to network reliability and performance, lends itself to an optimal approach through the use of carrier portals and electronic bonding connections.

The transition of work associated with the management of legacy networks from manual to online portals actually can be fairly seamless and offer customers multiple efficiencies. In a manual environment, for example, customers generally must contact their carrier representative or call an 800 number to open a trouble ticket or place an order. In this world, potential problems loom.

First, there is an inherent time delay due to call backs from representatives or call center queues. The timetables for alarm resolution or order provisioning are delayed as the requests work their way through carrier operational processes. In addition, billing errors can occur downstream causing customer payables reworks and receivables issues for carriers.

By contrast, online portals allow customers to enjoy access to carrier maintenance and ordering systems and processes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Back-end flow-though portal functionality allows customer input to be imported directly to carrier systems -minimizing errors and transposition. On-line billing and analysis functionality provide customers with detailed efficiency in reconciliation, trending , variance identification and dispute management.

When considering the management of the evolving service environment discussed earlier, however, the equation changes significantly.

For example, VPN transport allows customers to deliver voice, data and video traffic in an optimized manner and, as such, require the IT manager to be in closer touch with his or her business partners to ensure that the network design supports the core and departmental competencies of the firm.

Here I’d like to emphasze two points:

  1. Each of these management opportunities require visibility into the environments which are being managed. Carrier self-service portals can perform this role as they move beyond functional capabilities and offer customers robust performance reporting and network monitoring.
  2. Portal applications should provide users with functional integration. For example, as network engineers identify optimization opportunities, those opportunities need to be turned into order requests that can be quickly (near real-time) provisioned, monitored, and tracked for billing integrity.

When considering these trends, incorporating self-service carrier portals into IT processes and organizations is both useful and necessary as an integration enabler and driver of efficiencies. The challenges that remain, however, are decidedly human ones. Technology drives us, as always, to the difficult conclusion that while we may need fewer workers, the ones that we will need will require a different, informational kind of mind.

However, as budgets begin to be distributed across departmental units, IT managers must build larger and better business liaison functions within their organizations to ensure the interoperability of departmental and enterprise applications and networks. And the continual evolution of network, hosting and Software as a Service (SaaS) environments will require sophisticated project management skills and capabilities.

Taken together with the utilization of online carrier portals, these changes offer enterprise IT departments and workers great opportunity when the elements are combined in a cost-effective, optimized manner.