Earth Day 2017: A Call for Education and Action … Because it Takes a Village (Truly!)

On Saturday, the world will come together for Earth Day 2017. I believe this is one of the most important days of the year because it’s a reminder of the responsibility we have to protect our planet, future generations, and each other (and we can all use reminders). This year’s campaign is about strengthening environmental and climate literacy. This is an especially relevant theme considering there are people who still challenge and debate the science driving climate change programs, initiatives, and legislation. To this end, it’s critical for us to recognize that unchecked pollution is the cause of climate change, and work to become climate literate so we can be voices for change. Remember, knowledge is power and that leads to action and progress—our only defense against the unprecedented threat that is climate change.

I have the good fortune of working for Avaya, a company that recognizes the unique opportunity we have to drive positive social, environmental and economic impact. We call this our Corporate Responsibility, and this spirit is reflected in everything we do, from upholding high ethical standards in the ways we conduct business to volunteering in our local communities and designing products that are energy efficient and require less hardware. (Learn more in our new Corporate Responsibility Report for Avaya’s 2016 Fiscal Year.) The primary reason for the environmental strides we’ve made can be attributed to our people. Corporate Responsibility is a mindset at Avaya. Our leaders and employees are educated, committed and active, and we continue to show we can move mountains with tight budgets and resources.

Why Companies Need to Lead in Protecting People and Our Planet

If we don’t, who will?

Look, it can be challenging. Getting the green light for programs that aren’t directly tied to revenue often requires perseverance. But we disregard the environment at our own peril. I believe businesses today have a moral obligation to act in ways that are thoughtful, balanced and compassionate, simply for the health of our people and our planet. Beyond that, though, behaving and acting in ways that positively strengthen our communities and the environment is just good business. It’s what customers and top talent have come to expect. Let me explain.

Millennials have recently surpassed boomers as the largest living generation. Also, as a whole, millennials are more passionate in their support of corporate social and environmental efforts. According to a study by Cone Communications, 24% of millennials believe they can make a difference in their community by buying products that support social causes, and 68% say a company’s social/environmental commitment is important or extremely important when deciding which products to buy. Similarly, according toNielsen, 51% of millennials will pay extra for sustainable products, and another 51% actively check the packaging for sustainable labeling. These are customers, and they’re paying attention.

What’s more, in just three years, millennials will account for 50% of the workforce. Now look at the following: A PricewaterhouseCoopers study reported that 88% of millennials prefer companies that emphasize corporate social responsibility, and 86% would consider leaving if their employer’s Corporate and Social Responsibility no longer met their expectations. If your retention and attrition strategy isn’t considering this data, you need to rethink it.

From where I sit, the connection between a meaningful corporate responsibility initiative and revenue is clear, and it’s direct.

Engage Your Employees

People ask me all the time how to do a lot with a little. After all, we’re operating in a time when budgets are scarce and resources are little. My answer is always this: turn to your employees. And Avaya has a great story.

The past several years, our company experienced a lot of change in its transformation to a software and services company. In spite of this, in 2015, we introduced our first-ever Avaya Month of Giving, a spirited 31-day campaign designed to bring together employees, suppliers and partners to make a difference in communities across the globe. In the run up to kick-off, I had a few people share with me their doubts that we could make this program successful. The thinking was that employees were busy, we had it in July during a high time for vacations, etc. But I never wavered in my belief it would be successful. I knew if we “leaned in” on our Avaya teams from around the globe, they’d deliver. And boy did they! In the words of Margaret Meade, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Collectively, the campaign raised approximately $250,000 for global charities, and engaged 60 employee teams across 32 Avaya locations and resulted in thousands of employees dedicating volunteer hours to charitable causes. Stunning! We followed that up with Month of Giving 2016, raising more than $200,000 for charities around the world. We’re aiming to exceed these numbers when Month of Giving rolls out later this year. #AvayaStrength

We’ve come full circle, back to where we began: our collective responsibility to our planet and to future generations. I can’t think of one reason for any company or individual to not invest all they can to help reverse the effects of climate change. In fact, there are more than a billion ways you can engage. #NoExcuses

As you head out on Saturday, hopefully to give back to your community in some way, I encourage you to keep top of mind the words of former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” #EarthDay2017

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A Business-First Approach to Digital Transformation

In part I of this series, we explored the definitions of Digital Transformation, IoT, and Smart Enterprise.

Digital transformation goes beyond normal organizational evolution. It is a metamorphosis enabled by new sources of information and new ways to interact with an organization’s eco-system. It’s said that “necessity is the mother of invention”—meaning we are satisfied with the status quo until some external force motivates us to change. An evolutionary breakthrough requires an external force that threatens organisms’ very existence—they must adapt or die. The Ice Age was a massive external force that caused many organisms to change. Likewise, today digital transformation is forcing change in businesses. And note that today’s external forces behave more like an incoming meteor than a slow-moving glacier. Slow evolution will not work here.

Over the last three decades, we have seen organizations change with the Information Age. The Data Warehouse phase illustrated valuable information existed in operational financial data that could be used to improve efficiencies within organizations. While working for EMC (now DellEMC), I had a lot of conversations with customers about building storage infrastructures for data warehouses. When sizing a storage infrastructure, knowing how much data is going to be written and how long the data will be stored is required. I was always amazed at how little guidance was provided to IT organizations from the sponsoring Business Unit as to the amount of data needed to be stored in the warehouse. The BU didn’t know what data they were going to collect, nor did they have any idea how long the data would need to be stored. We were often faced with sizing a project to collect everything and keep it forever. Bottom line: the BU didn’t have a clear set of objectives and believed if they didn’t jump on the data warehouse bandwagon, they would be destined to fail.

I am of the opinion that many organizations today are facing similar situations with IoT. Amara’s Law states, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Gartner’s research methodology, based on Amara’s Law, portrays its curved Hype Cycle in five phases. We may never know exactly where we are on the Hype Cycle—we can only tell where we were. For example, we can’t identify the peak until we see a decline.

I think we are somewhere on the left-ascending slope with inflated expectations and believe we have yet to reach the peak. I also consider the trough is an industry phenomenon and one that individual organizations don’t necessarily have to experience. It is the old story of missing goals: was the goal too high and, therefore, unattainable or was the goal appropriate and execution was faulty? Accurate goals are predicted by experiences. New technologies, by their nature, are hard to accurately predict since we don’t have the experience to base the prediction upon.

A Digital Transformation Game Plan

Just because we are early in the hype phase doesn’t mean organizations shouldn’t be investing in IoT, but they should think business first and technology second. For example, when data warehouse customers approached their projects with a clear set of business challenges and objectives in mind, their projects were more successful than those who led with technology. This doesn’t mean that organizations that started with technology first weren’t eventually successful; they just spent more time and resources getting there.

A smart enterprise is one that looks at their place in the world today, seeks to understand how their environment is changing, determines how they need to evolve, and looks to technology, people, processes and data to determine how to reach their goals. As I point out in my blog about data loss, if you defined yourself in the 80s as being in the record business, you had a short life expectancy. But, if you defined yourself as being in the music business and were able to take advantage of the digital transformation at the time, your brick and mortar storefront could have evolved into a worldwide enterprise. As history showed, it was the new businesses that profited from the digital music industry emergence.

An Illustrative Example

Let’s take a look at a couple of anonymous hoteliers—Property A and Property B. Both properties are full-service five-star providers catering to business and leisure travelers. Both are seeking to improve their on-premises guest experiences. Marketing at Property A has determined their customers want star treatment. Their customers are looking for a high-touch experience, where the staff and employees know their names and can anticipate their every need (based on past experience). Property B determined their customers want a fully-automated experience—minimizing staff interaction, while maximizing guest independence. Both organizations:

  • Set clear objectives
  • Identified the loyalty app on their guests’ smart phones as the key to providing the desired guest experience

When a guest arrives at the front desk at Property A, the concierge greets them by name with their room reservation already pulled up on the console. The guest’s loyalty phone app identified the guest with the property’s wireless location-based service, prompting the guest’s photo to be displayed on the concierge’s console. When the guest stepped up the desk, the concierge selected the correct picture to get the guest’s information displayed on the screen. To the guest, it appears the concierge personally recognized them like they were a sports or entertainment star.

When a guest arrives at Property B, the guest’s loyalty phone app signals the wireless location-based service that the guest has arrived. The guest is checked into the hotel automatically. The guest room number and electronic key is pushed to the app on the phone and the guest goes directly to their room without ever talking to property personnel. The app may even provide turn-by-turn directions for the guest to get to their room in order to avoid asking for directions.

Both properties are similar with two different business goals. Looking at the two solutions from the Internet of Everything (IoE) perspective presented in part one of this series:

  • IoT: In these examples, an app on the smart phone is the networked device.
  • Data: The high-touch model requires photos of the guest and/or their family members. Property B needs to tie PCI information to the app with requisite data protection requirements.
  • Processes: These solutions need to tie the new functionality into the existing systems. If these properties belong to chains, how will information be updated and shared with the other properties. Will data be replicated locally on-demand when guests book a reservation? How long will it take for data to be updated? If the guest books a reservation from the parking lot or cab, will the data be ready when the guest walks into the lobby?
  • People/Personnel: Property A needs to train the desk clerks and other personnel that are expected to provide the star treatment to guests. Sensitivity training on how to handle the guest accompanied by a woman that does not look like his wife would be valuable. Property B personnel need to be trained how to respond when the app doesn’t work correctly and how to interject themselves into the process with minimal impact and maximum efficiency to the guest.

For more about digital transformation in hospitality, read the Avaya blog Five Ways Hotels Can Build a Successful Digital Strategy.

IoT and other emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, are providing the capability to respond to environmental pressures and business opportunities in significantly new ways. I propose that while everyone will be successful with IoT (eventually) or become extinct, the enterprises that start with business requirements first and apply technology (old and new) second, will become smart sooner and last longer.

Wrangling the IoT: The Next-Gen Architecture We’ve All Been Waiting For

Technologies like AI, the IoT, virtual reality and data analytics are no longer enterprise luxuries, but means of survival in an era of rapid digital disruption. They’re transforming traditional processes, redefining roles and responsibilities, and reimaging the customer/brand relationship. Consider that five years from now, more than one-third of skills needed in today’s workforce will look different because of technological advancement. Three years from now, 100 million consumers are expected to be shopping in virtual reality. Data algorithms are now being used to positively alter the behavior of workers.

These technologies are no longer the basis for science-fiction movies like “The Terminator” or “The Matrix.” They’re here and now. Today, millions of people can watch chatbots argue with each other for entertainment. People are spending days in virtual reality, essentially living in an alternate universe.

Who’s to say that far-reaching movie plots like “Her” and “I, Robot” won’t become reality 30 years from now? We can’t say for sure, however, one thing we do know is that businesses must transition from legacy, hierarchal architecture to a next-generation platform so they can flexibly respond at today’s speed of digital change.

In a recent blog, I explored five key areas of this next-generation platform that every business must consider: next-gen IT, the IoT, AI/automation, an open ecosystem, and the customer/citizens experience. I tackled the first of these five areas: next-gen IT. Now, let’s explore what businesses should know about a next-generation platform in terms of the IoT.

The Only Way to Bring Legacy into Today’s Next-Gen World of IoT

Capitalizing on the IoT is an exponential challenge when core systems and applications are still running in a legacy-dependent environment. To succeed, companies must bring legacy into today’s next-generation world of IoT—a process with its own set of unique challenges.

For starters, the IoT is a vast and loosely defined concept. Some define the IoT simply as sensorous technology. Others, the interworking of various embedded devices that can collect and exchange data. The way I see it, anything that can connect to either a network or provide any sort of service (not just data collection and exchange) should be considered part of the IoT. Because virtually anything can be considered part of the IoT, it becomes difficult to implement one single solution designed to target all IoT requirements. Because of this, we see many IoT solutions on the market today (i.e., Bluetooth, WiFi, ZigBee, LPWAN) that support a range of different requirements.

These solutions also typically don’t use IP protocols, making them impractical in today’s world of any-to-any communication. With billions of connected devices in use today, companies must migrate away from non-IP technologies towards converged architecture to begin building process workflow automation based on IoT analytics. For example, consider a utility company that can automatically notify customers of the impact of an impending weather storm based on predictive analytics from sensors deployed throughout its power lines. The provider can then increase the reliability of their services while keeping customers informed on the severity of the storm using real-time data. As you can see, breaking the silos between various “data sets” (Big Data) is the key to building workflows that are impactful to customers and/or citizens.

The end goal of the IoT is to create automated (and in many cases data-driven) processes that generate the exact business or customers/citizens outcome you’re looking for. The right technology foundation is essential for turning this goal into a practical reality.

So, what’s the answer? An open, software-enabled, meshed architecture platform. This next-generation platform makes it easy to migrate from legacy architecture to begin securely deploying IoT devices that drive higher levels of efficiency:

  • Open, SDN architecture supports unmatched levels of IoT intelligence. The platform continuously learns and changes conditions as needed via constantly updated traffic flows. Consider, for example, asset utilization reports that detail up-to-the-minute operational activity, enabling decision makers to change course as needed for continual improvement and cost savings. Meanwhile, an open-sourced ecosystem offers programmable APIs that allow companies to customize their IoT services and applications to meet their exact needs.
  • End-to-end network segmentation delivers built-in, point-to-point security for up to 168,000 devices that can run on any vendor’s network. This is achieved through three core components—hyper-segmentation, native stealth and automated elasticity—that work in unison to effectively isolate and filter traffic from IoT device to destination. End-to-end network segmentation is inherently designed to secure the IoT ecosystem, and yet only 23% of companies currently have such a solution deployed.
  • An SDN-based IoT controller seamlessly manages the integrated IoT environment. Based on a multi-protocol controller that manages all service modules within the framework, the IoT controller can assign service profiles to open networking adaptors, manage interfaces into SDN program environments, expose north and southbound APIs, and more.

The fact is this: the IoT is a reality that’s only going to substantially accelerate. Three years from now, it’s expected that companies will be spending up to $2 trillion on IoT devices. Five years from now, analysts predict that the IoT will save consumers and businesses $1 trillion per year. In this same period, though, it’s expected that more than 25% of identified enterprise attacks will involve the IoT. During this time, many businesses will continue to struggle with IoT security and management.

We’re only seeing the beginning of what can be achieved with the IoT, but these possibilities are limited without the right technology foundation. The last three decades have seen humans manually providing input to generate desired outcomes, whereas digital enterprises are now using sensors as the input mechanism, combined with sophisticated automated workflows. Scary one may say, but nonetheless our reality.

Think about it: does a self-driving car need any input from humans? Not if the vehicle knows the driver’s calendar, destination and location of people you may need to pick up. It will automatically take the preferred route to keep you on time, find the closest parking space (smart parking), and even, if required, let people know you’ve arrived. At this point, humans are simply going for the ride! This is exactly why the right IoT foundation is so critical to digital transformation. It’s imperative that businesses invest in a next-generation platform that can deliver the simplicity needed to connect, secure and manage the ever-growing number of IoT devices. At the end of the day, a meshed architecture platform represents the best—and arguably the only—way to effectively reduce IoT breaches, rapidly innovate, and improve IT staff efficiency. The possibilities of IoT are seemingly endless for businesses with this foundation.

Up next, we’ll be tackling the third key area of a next-generation platform: artificial intelligence/automation. Be sure to check back soon!

Three Essential Elements in Hotel Back-office Digitization

It’s a fact that 89% of companies today are competing exclusively on the customer experience. They’re retooling their customer approaches, redirecting their external messaging, and investing in new customer-facing technologies. But here’s the thing: creating an amazing customer experience doesn’t mean focusing only on customer-facing processes. Back-office digitization is even more essential.

Allow me to clarify, as this detail is often misconstrued: innovating customer-facing functions is certainly crucial, but arguably it’s more important to innovate the back-office portion of a company. In the back office, administrative support and personnel operate behind the scenes of an organization. These are the employees who oversee daily maintenance, inventory, and operational accounting, for example.

Consider the role of these employees within hospitality: they’re the reason a customer has an amazing reservation experience, or why a favorite dish is always available for room service. They’re the reason that extra blankets can be delivered to a room in the middle of the night. The back office is the collective force behind every front-office experience that uniquely differentiates an organization. The back office is the engine that fuels every small but meaningful moment that makes up the contextual, end-to-end experience customers expect.

This makes back-office digitization vital in our smart, connected world. But just how much progress is being made in this area? Although we’ve been seeing digitization within hospitality, many of the innovations seem to be around the front end. We’re witnessing the rise of new guest-facing technologies like intelligent booking engines, intuitive mobile apps, and smart-enabled rooms. Meanwhile, in many cases, the back office continues to rely on siloed, hierarchal architecture that’s filled with challenges.

It starts to make sense, then, why only 5% of organizations today feel they’ve mastered digital to a point of competitive differentiation. The front and back offices must move at the same pace of innovation for hotels (or any organization) to enjoy true digital transformation. To this end, here are three elements in achieving the back-office digitization that every hotel needs:

  1. Property Management.

    60% of hospitality managers believe “the inability of staff to effectively communicate” severely diminishes the guest experience. Property management system (PMS) integration is a must. However, even more important is the ability for a hotel to extend and customize telephony and UC features into its PMS to innovate back-office communication and collaboration. Although out of sight, back-office employees must be able to effortlessly work behind the scenes to drive innovative new business outcomes.

     

    Property management technology is about so much more than a list of functions. It’s about being able to dynamically share data across the entire organization to optimize real-time decision making, maximize revenue generation, and reimagine the CX. It’s about making data easily accessible and sharable through open communication.

  2. Operational Accounting.

    Operational accounting must go beyond standard system integration to support an unmatched level of communications analytics—the kind that enables hospitality managers to continually learn and adjust processes as needed through constantly updated workflows. This next-gen solution lets managers strategically leverage reports on everything from daily operational activity to vendor management so they can make real-time decisions that improve spending, ROI and TCO.

     

    Using the data that flows through various connected platforms, managers can identify financial patterns and develop predictive insights that can streamline core accounting processes like accounts receivable and payable. The key here is ensuring point-to-point, built-in security that is inherent in systems designed to support this kind of analytics ecosystem (this is especially crucial when it comes to protecting sensitive financial data).

  3. Compliance.

    There’s no shortage of rules that hospitality organizations must follow, and complying is a complex, time-consuming and costly activity for most. As the regulatory landscape continually evolves, we’re seeing organizations increasingly digitizing risk and compliance to ease regulatory burdens and create competitive advantages. From automated workflow management to advanced data analytics, hoteliers can digitize compliance to drive down costs and identify links between risk and business performance (something that 85% of companies believe they aren’t fully capitalizing on today).

Overall, “the need to optimize hotel daily workflows” is listed as one of the highest-impact market drivers in the hospitality industry today. Undoubtedly, many of these critical workflows involve the back-office. As organizational boundaries blur and speed of change continues to accelerate, the back office will only further grow as a foundation for the next-gen customer experience.