Category Archives: Enterprise IT news

Enterprise IT news

IBM expands patent troll fight with its massive IP portfolio

After claiming more than a quarter century of patent leadership, IBM has expanded its fight against patent assertion entities, also known as patent trolls, by joining the LOT Network. As a founding member of the Open Invention Network in 2005, IBM has been in the patent troll fight for nearly 15 years.

The LOT Network (short for License on Transfer) is a nonprofit community of more than 600 companies that have banded together to protect themselves against patent trolls and their lawsuits. The group says companies lose up to $80 billion per year on patent troll litigation. Patent trolls are organizations that hoard patents and bring lawsuits against companies they accuse of infringing on those patents.

IBM joins the LOT Network after its $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, which was a founding member of the organization.

“It made sense to align IBM’s and Red Hat’s view on how to manage our patent portfolio,” said Jason McGee, vice president and CTO of IBM Cloud Platform. “We want to make sure that patents are used for their traditional purposes, and that innovation proceeds and open source developers can work without the threat of a patent litigation.”

To that end, IBM contributed more than 80,000 patents and patent applications to the LOT Network to shield those patents from patent assertion entities, or PAEs.

Charles KingCharles King

IBM joining the LOT Network is significant for a couple of reasons, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif. First and foremost, with 27 years of patent leadership, IBM brings a load of patent experience and a sizable portfolio of intellectual property (IP) to the LOT Network, he said.

“IBM’s decision to join should also silence critics who decried how the company’s acquisition of Red Hat would erode and eventually end Red Hat’s long-standing leadership in open source and shared IP,” King said. “Instead, the opposite appears to have occurred, with IBM taking heed of its new business unit’s dedication to open innovation and patent stewardship.”

IBM’s decision to join should also silence critics who decried how the company’s acquisition of Red Hat would erode and eventually end Red Hat’s long-standing leadership in open source and shared IP.
Charles KingAnalyst, Pund-IT

The LOT Network operates as a subscription service that charges members for the IP protection they provide. LOT’s subscription rates are based on company revenue. Membership is free for companies making less than $25 million annually. Companies with annual revenues between $25 million and $50 million pay $5,000 annually to LOT. Companies with revenues between $50 million and $100 million pay $10,000 annually to LOT. Companies with revenues between $100 million and $1 billion pay $15,000. And LOT caps its annual subscription rates at $20,000 for companies with revenues greater than $1 billion.

Meanwhile, the Open Invention Network (OIN) has three levels of participation: members, associate members and licensees. Participation in OIN is free, the organization said.

“One of the most powerful characteristics of the OIN community and its cross-license agreement is that the board members sign the exact same licensing agreement as the other 3,100 business participants,” said Keith Bergelt, CEO of OIN. “The cross license is royalty-free, meaning it costs nothing to join the OIN community. All an organization or business must agree to do is promise not to sue other community participants based on the Linux System Definition.”

IFI Claims Patent Services confirms that 2019 marked the 27th consecutive year in which IBM has been the leader in the patent industry, earning 9,262 U.S. patents last year. The patents reach across key technology areas such as AI, blockchain, cloud computing, quantum computing and security, McGee said.

IBM achieved more than 1,800 AI patents, including a patent for a method for teaching AI systems how to understand implications behind certain text or phrases of speech by analyzing other related content. IBM also gained patents for improving the security of blockchain networks.

In addition, IBM inventors were awarded more than 2,500 patents in cloud technology and grew the number of patents the company has in the nascent quantum computing field.

“We’re talking about new patent issues each year, not the size of our patent portfolio, because we’re focused on innovation,” McGee said. “There are lots of ways to gain and use patents, we got the most for 27 years and I think that’s a reflection of real innovation that’s happening.”

Since 1920, IBM has received more than 140,000 U.S. patents, he noted. In 2019, more than 8,500 IBM inventors, spanning 45 different U.S. states and 54 countries contributed to the patents awarded to IBM, McGee added.

In other patent-related news, Apple and Microsoft this week joined 35 companies who petitioned the European Union to strengthen its policy on patent trolls. The coalition of companies sent a letter to EU Commissioner for technology and industrial policy Thierry Breton seeking to make it harder for patent trolls to function in the EU.

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McAfee CEO Chris Young steps down, Peter Leav to take over

Chris Young is out as McAfee CEO, and Peter Leav is in.

McAfee appointed Leav to the role of CEO on Friday, succeeding Young, who “has decided to step down” according to a statement from the cybersecurity vendor.

McAfee said Young will remain in an advisory role during the transition period and will become a senior advisor at TPG Capital, which acquired a majority stake in the vendor from Intel in 2016. Leav will be appointed to the cybersecurity company’s board of managers when he joins on Feb. 3.

Leav has CEO experience in his most recent two roles at BMC Software and Polycom. He also previously held leadership roles at NCR Corporation and Motorola.

As McAfee CEO, Young led the initiative to spin out the company from Intel, after joining the chip maker two years earlier and serving as senior vice president and general manager of Intel Security Group. Intel had purchased McAfee in 2010 for $7.7 billion in an effort to beef up its security presence. TPG maintains a 51% stake in McAfee, while the other 49% belongs to other stakeholders including Thoma Bravo and Intel.

Eric Parizo, senior analyst at Ovum, called the move “absolutely shocking,” adding that, “While McAfee characterized the change as being Young’s decision to step down, there’s little doubt that Young was essentially fired.”

Parizo credited Young for much of the progress the vendor has made in recent years. “It’s unfortunate because Young has been the architect of a largely successful multiyear effort to renovate McAfee top to bottom,” he said. “From the launch of its MVISION cloud-based product portfolio to its new brand and revamped go-to-market strategy, McAfee today is more competitive than it’s been in years, thanks to Young’s efforts.”

Parizo also said Leav’s appointment could spell out TPG’s future plans for McAfee.

“Leav is a veteran technology executive, but his expertise lies in resuscitating struggling companies like BMC and Polycom and ultimately preparing them for sale,” he said. “I expect the same pattern to play out here; making a sale or other transaction involving McAfee increasingly likely. Even an acquisition by or combination with NortonLifeLock, which seemed farfetched until yesterday, is no longer out of the realm of possibility.”

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AI in e-commerce helps product sales

Over the last few years, e-commerce companies have made buying and selling items online easier by using AI. EBay, one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world, uses computer vision, natural language processing, machine learning and deep learning to help users.

EBay has invested heavily in developing and deploying AI capabilities. While it doesn’t necessarily do anything unique — competitors including Wayfair and Amazon have developed similar AI in e-commerce tools — what it does appears to benefit sellers and buyers on its platform, which differs markedly from its biggest competitors in being auction-driven and oriented primarily toward sellers.

EBay provides several tools for images, including a search by image function and photo cleanup.

Image recognition

Using the mobile eBay application, buyers and sellers can take a photo of an object, which, using computer vision and deep learning, eBay matches with similar images on its platform. The feature has been available since 2017, and has since been improved as more images have been uploaded for the machine learning algorithms to train on.  

Comparable features are available on a number of other platforms, including Google and Amazon. These platforms also have object recognition, enabling users to take a photo of something and see comparable items.

By also considering product descriptions as well, the search function optimizes accuracy. Sellers are able to get automatic pricing recommendations, although that wasn’t always so.

EBay screenshot
EBay uses AI to automatically identify images and to do image cleanup

“Historically we did a really bad job with [pricing models],” said Scot Hamilton, vice president of engineering.

EBay has a lot of unique inventory, Hamilton explained, making it difficult to find true peers to benchmark against for some objects.

Looking at characterizes such as the images, price range, descriptors and titles of the listed object, and by comparing it to similar objects, among other things, eBay attempts to automatically determine a relative price for an object.

The suggested price is generally slightly lower than the market average to keep inventory moving, Hamilton said. Casual and hobby sellers adopt the suggested price point around 80% of the time, he said.

AI in e-commerce

The platform also boasts an image cleanup capability for sellers. The feature, still in beta, takes an image and tries to automatically separate the featured object from visual clutter in the background.  

“Search engines these days require, in many cases, a white, clean background on photos,” said Harry Temkin, vice president of seller experience.

Sellers, he continued, “often take pictures in very interesting places,” like on the stairs, in a kitchen or in a garage.

The beta feature crops the featured item automatically from the photo. Now, manual input is still required in many cases, with users having to swipe around the edges of an object. However, the feature is getting sharper, Temkin said.

It is software that is continuously learning.
Harry TemkinVice president of seller experience, eBay

“It is software that is continuously learning,” he said. The more photos that go through it, the better it will work.

Besides its image features, eBay provides home-grown automatic translation, enabling buyers and sellers in different countries to see listings in their own languages.

The translation happens behind the scenes, Hamilton said, with users not necessarily realizing it’s even happening.

According to Hamilton, eBay’s model is 5% or 6% more accurate than off-the-shelf products.

“Being a global platform … not everyone speaks English,” Temkin said. “Being able to use machine translation to convert an English listing into a German listing or a Spanish listing or a French listing is useful.”

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Cisco Webex Edge for Devices links on-prem endpoints to cloud

Businesses using on-premises video gear from Cisco can now get access to cloud services, while keeping their video infrastructure in place.

A new service, called Cisco Webex Edge for Devices, lets businesses connect on-premises video devices to cloud services like Webex Control Hub and the Webex Assistant. Customers get access to some cloud features but continue to host video traffic on their networks.

Many businesses aren’t ready to move their communications to the cloud. Vendors have responded by developing ways to mix on-premises and cloud technologies. Cisco Webex Edge for Devices is the latest offering of that kind.

“It gives users that cloudlike experience without the businesses having to fully migrate everything to the cloud,” said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research.

Cisco wants to get as many businesses as possible to go all-in on the cloud. Webex Edge for Devices, introduced this month, tees up customers to make that switch. Companies will have the option of migrating their media services to the cloud after connecting devices to the service.

Webex Edge for Devices is available for no additional charge to businesses with an enterprise-wide Collaboration Flex Plan, a monthly per-user subscription. Alternatively, companies can purchase cloud licenses for the devices they want to register with the service for roughly $30 per device, per month. The service won’t work with gear that’s so old Cisco no longer supports it.

Video hardware linked to the cloud through the service will show up in the Webex Control Hub, a console for managing cloud devices. For on-premises devices, the control hub will provide diagnostic reports, usage data, and insight into whether the systems are online or offline.

Many businesses are already using a mix of on-premises and cloud video endpoints. Webex Edge for Devices will let those customers manage those devices from a single console. In the future, Cisco plans to add support for on-premises phones.

Businesses will also be able to sync on-premises video devices with cloud-based calendars from Microsoft and Google. That configuration will let the devices display a one-click join button for meetings scheduled on those calendars.

Another cloud feature unlocked by Webex Edge for Devices is the Webex Assistant. The service is an AI voice system that lets users join meetings, place calls and query devices with their voice.

In the future, Cisco plans to bring more cloud features to on-premises devices. Future services include People Insights, a tool that provides background information on meeting participants with information gleaned from the public internet.

Cisco first released a suite of services branded as Webex Edge in September 2018. The suite included Webex Edge Audio, Webex Edge Connect and Webex Video Mesh. The applications provide ways to use on-premises and cloud technologies in combination to improve the quality of audio and video calls.

Cisco’s release of Webex Edge for Devices underscores its strategy of supporting on-premises customers without forcing them to the cloud, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research.

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AIOps exec bets on incident response market shakeup

AIOps and IT automation have been hot topics in IT for about three years, but the ultimate vision of hands-off incident response has yet to be realized in most IT shops, says Vijay Kurkal, who was appointed CEO of Resolve Systems on Jan. 16. Kurkal had served as chief operating officer for the company since 2018.

Kurkal’s key priority in the first quarter of 2020 is the release of Resolve Insights, a platform that folds AIOps IP from the company’s August 2019 acquisition of FixStream into its IT automation software. While enterprise IT pros have been slow to trust such systems — which rely on AI and machine learning data analytics to automate common tasks such as server restarts — they have begun to find their way into production use at mainstream companies.

Vijay KurkalVijay Kurkal

Resolve faces a crowded field of competition that includes vendors with backgrounds in IT monitoring, incident response and data analytics. had a conversation with Kurkal this week about how the company plans to hold its own in this volatile market.

Your product pitch sounds familiar to me. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you there are many vendors out there pursuing a vision of proactive IT automation assisted by AI. How will Resolve and FixStream be different?

Vijay Kurkal: There are two ecosystems we’re playing with. There are application monitoring tools like AppDynamics, Dynatrace, New Relic, etc. The users that they are going after are the application operations team. FixStream is complimentary to them. But they have limited visibility into hypervisors and deep into the network infrastructure. FixStream builds out a visual topology of every single infrastructure device that a particular application is touching, and all the events are overlaid on that. It’s [built] for the IT operation teams that are supporting critical applications.

Some of the other AIOps vendors using AI technologies, they have tons of algorithms, but any algorithm is only as good as the source data. It’s a garbage in, garbage out. Our starting point is always around relationship dependency mapping and getting data in context, and prioritizing what to act on. A second differentiator is that AI/ML algorithms are all based on a probabilistic model. [They] say what they believe are the potential root causes [of an issue], but they can’t say that with certainty. Where we’re taking it is, as soon as those events trigger an alert from FixStream, Resolve automates diagnostics. Typically, that requires a network engineer. We’re already trying this out with some pilot customers and by end of Q1 are going to have a product there. Most AIOps companies identify events; they don’t resolve them.

Most AIOps companies identify events; they don’t resolve them.
Vijay KurkalCEO, Resolve Systems

Is there a plan for IT automation beyond diagnostics?

Kurkal: The next step, and I don’t think most customers are there yet, is, ‘I’ve done this 10 times, and I feel very comfortable, just run this [process] automatically.’ You’ll have categories of events — there’ll be 30% that are not super critical. As the organization gets comfortable, these can be completely [automated]. Then there are 50% that are critical, and we can give them diagnostics, and point them in the right direction to solve them pretty quickly. Then 10% will be outliers where no automation can help, and that’s where IT ops experts will always be very, very relevant to run the business.

Another important aspect of observability is informing the development of the product at the other end of the DevOps pipeline. How does your product work within that process?

Kurkal: The people who build the applications know exactly what stresses their application is putting on various elements [of the infrastructure]. We want to equip the DevOps team with a drag-and-drop system to write automation — to tell the IT operations team, here’s the configuration of the infrastructure I’ll need, and here’s a set of diagnostic scripts, and remediation automation that’s pre-approved. And then it’ll be a closed feedback loop where the operations teams can give feedback [to the developer]. We’re not saying we’ll solve every need of the application, but we are trying to bring together these two teams to drive automation and intelligence.

There are some tools that specifically tie outages or incidents to changes in code — could Resolve make another acquisition in that space or further build out its products to address that too?

Kurkal: For us, it’s a strong possibility in late 2020 or in 2021. It might be an organic development of our products, or potentially, an inorganic acquisition around that. But we do see that’s where the market is moving, because no one wants to be reactive, and they want to have it all together.

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Veeam’s Timashev discusses selling company, next steps

It’s the end of an era at Veeam Software.

Ratmir Timashev and Andrei Baronov are stepping away from the backup, recovery and data management company they founded in 2006. Private equity firm Insight Partners said last week it would acquire Veeam in a transaction that valued Veeam at $5 billion. Timashev said it was his decision to step down from the board of directors and from his position of executive vice president of sales and marketing. He will remain in those roles until the sale closes, likely by the end of the first quarter. Baronov has left his CEO position and will relinquish his spot on the board.

Timashev held the CEO job from 2006 to 2016, and has been the most public face of Veeam. Timashev said he feels he’s leaving Veeam in good hands. For example, William Largent, who has served in various positions since the beginning of the company, returned to the role of CEO.

“At some point, the founders have to step down,” Timashev said in an interview.

He expressed confidence in Insight Partners as the new owner. The firm had invested $500 million in Veeam a year ago and first invested in the company in 2013.

Timashev seemed excited for the future of Veeam, which started in backup for virtual infrastructure and has since expanded to cover cloud and physical environments. It has grown in that time into a billion-dollar annual revenue company and claims 365,000 users and 70,000 partners.

Timashev said Veeam has conquered the VMware backup market and will next tackle the hybrid cloud in its “act two.” He specifically called out four targets in Veeam’s focus: AWS, Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Google. The transition includes a move to subscription pricing.

Timashev, 53, this week discussed why the founders decided to sell the company, what the sale could mean for customers, and what he plans to do next.

What was behind the decision to sell the company now?

Veeam's Ratmir TimashevRatmir Timashev

Ratmir Timashev: We felt that it’s good timing for us to accelerate our growth globally, but also specifically in the U.S. Insight has been our strategic partner since 2013. But I’ve known Insight since 2001.

We believe right now the whole industry, as well as Veeam, is in a transition to what we call “act two.” For us, “act one” was dominating the highly virtualized, modern, on-premises data center, from the data management and backup point of view. And we’ve done a great job in the last 10 years.

The whole industry and also Veeam is going through a large transition to a hybrid cloud and pay-as-you-go subscription model. It’s a difficult transition, but we believe that we will be successful.

So, we thought that Insight, with the industry experience — and experience with different business models and software companies — would be a great partner to take us to this next level.

Will you still be involved in Veeam?

Timashev: I will be involved in the transition and then my role will be more on a consultant basis.

How long do you see the transition lasting?

Timashev: We don’t know — [at least] until the deal is closed, which is expected by the end of Q1. The transition might [end] sometime after that. But I will not be employed by Veeam when the transaction closes. 

What would you like to see during the transition period? What are some of your goals while you’re still employed with Veeam?

Timashev: We want to make sure that employees understand that not a lot of changes will occur. This acquisition is not about reducing the cost or shrinking the expenses. It’s about growth.

Sometimes when a private equity firm buys a company, in an industry or segment that is not growing, their goal is to reduce the costs. That’s not the case with Veeam because we are in a high growth area with a leading position. And we’re extremely well-positioned to capitalize on this expanding market for us.

We believe that we have a very strong executive management team.

Considering your relationship with Insight, could you have stayed on after the deal closed, as an executive?

Timashev: I could have, but that’s not our plan.

Why, since you’ve been there from the beginning, why is now the time that you want to step away?

Timashev: In general, I want to spend more time with my family and kids. I worked very hard in the last 20, 30 years building two companies. [To start Veeam, the two invested the money they made from selling their first company, Aelita Software, to Quest in 2004.]

Andrei is in a similar position — we are the same age. And we have kids and want to spend more time with family.

Since you’ve been with the company since the beginning, will it be hard to step away?

Timashev: It’s always hard, it’s like a baby. Friends of mine are asking how difficult it is. I asked them, ‘Is it difficult to sell your child for $5 billion?’

Is there anything that’s unfinished that you wish had been completed by now? Do you have any concerns that you hope get resolved in the near future?

Whoever wins this new market is going to dominate. Veeam won the VMware market. When a new market opens up, you only have two, three, four years to win that market.
Ratmir TimashevCo-founder, Veeam Software

Timashev: Not really — right now, we are going through a major transition, which represents some challenges, as well as opportunities. Whoever wins this new market is going to dominate. Veeam won the VMware market. It took us two or three years to win that market and then we basically rode the wave.

When a new market opens up, you only have two, three, four years to win that market. And there will always be three winners — number one, number two, number three, and then there will be a whole bunch of others.

We’re very well-positioned.

So you don’t have your third company in the works yet?

Timashev: We always have some ideas — always definitely to find another billion-dollar market opportunity. And I always say it takes three things to create a successful technology company — to be at the right time, at the right place, and create a brilliant product. And me and Andrei have done it twice now.

So, I’m sure that at some point after taking some time off, we might come up with a new idea.

What do you think the sale means for your customers? Have they expressed any concerns going forward following this news?

Timashev: No, they look very positively [on the sale], especially the U.S. customers. As part of this transaction, we are going to become 100% U.S.-shareholder owned. And with the executive management that is primarily U.S.-based, that news is very positive, especially for our U.S. customers. We have lots of large enterprise customers in the U.S., as well as federal customers, and they are taking this very positively.

What will it take to make your product the best for the hybrid cloud era?

Timashev: We have to follow our playbook. We have done it twice. Back in the ’90s, we won the hearts and minds of Windows administrators [with Aelita]. And then 10 years later in 2008, 2009, we won the hearts and minds of VMware administrators. Now 10 years later, we just have to win the hearts and minds of AWS, Azure, Office 365 and Google users.

What does it take? First, the product has to be brilliant, simple, and we have to listen to our core customers. Our core customer used to be [running] VMware. Now it’s going to be a different buyer — AWS, Azure, Office 365, Google buyer. They have their own budget. Sometimes they belong to IT. Sometimes they belong to DevOps.

We have to offer them the simple, flexible and reliable product. That’s what Veeam is known for: simple, flexible and reliable.

Can you give more detail on what your consultant work for Veeam might entail?

Timashev: Just sitting down with [Insight Partners managing director] Mike Triplett, with Bill Largent on a regular basis, and advising them how to attack this new market, how to play the Veeam playbook to win the new markets of AWS, Azure, Office 365 and Google. Those are four big markets.

Will there be any big changes in terms of Veeam offices? What will happen to the headquarters in Switzerland and the people who work there?

Timashev: No, no big changes. We will be looking at U.S. headquarters. We already have two very large offices in Columbus, Ohio, and in Atlanta, Georgia. We have probably around 400 people in each office. So probably one of those will become the U.S. headquarters.

Our office in Switzerland will continue to operate the way it is now. We are unique in the sense that we have always had our management team very distributed. We don’t really have a single office where everybody needs each other.

What do you see generally, for the future of the backup and recovery market and data protection?

Timashev: The market, if you look laterally, it’s backup and recovery, [but it’s also] data management. We believe that there are other components to data management in addition to backup and recovery — [for example] replication, cloud mobility, governance and compliance, analytics.

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Storytelling using data makes information easy to digest

Storytelling using data is helping make analytics digestible across entire organizations.

While the amount of available data has exploded in recent years, the ability to understand the meaning of the data hasn’t kept pace. There aren’t enough trained data scientists to meet demand, often leaving data interpretation in the hands of both line-of-business employees and high-level executives mostly guessing at the underlying meaning behind data points.

Storytelling using data, however, changes that.

A group of business intelligence software vendors are now specializing in data storytelling, producing platforms that go one step further than traditional BI platforms and attempt to give the data context by putting it in the form of a narrative.

One such vendor is Narrative Science, based in Chicago and founded in 2010. On Jan. 6, Narrative Science released a book entitled Let Your People Be People that delves into the importance of storytelling for businesses, with a particular focus on storytelling using data.

Recently, authors Nate Nichols, vice president of product architecture at Narrative Science, and Anna Schena Walsh, director of growth marketing, answered a series of questions about storytelling using data.

Here in Part II of a two-part Q&A they talk about why storytelling using data is a more effective way to interpret data than traditional BI, and how data storytelling can change the culture of an organization. In Part I, they discussed what data storytelling is and how data can be turned into a narrative that has meaning for an organization.

What does emphasis an on storytelling in the workplace look like, beyond a means of explaining the reasoning behind data points?

Nate NicholsNate Nichols

Nate Nichols: As an example of that, I’ve been more intentional since the New Year about applying storytelling to meetings I’ve led, and it’s been really helpful. It’s not like people are gathering around my knee as I launch into a 30-minute story, but just remembering to kick off a meeting with a 3-minute recap of why we’re here, where we’re coming from, what we worked on last week and what the things are that we need going forward. It’s really just putting more time into reminding people of why, the cause and effect, just helping people settle into the right mindset. Storytelling is an empirically effective way of doing it.

We didn’t start this company to be storytellers — we really wanted everyone to understand and be able to act on data. It turned out that the best way to do that was through storytelling. The world is waking up to this. It’s something we used to do — our ancestors sat around the campfire swapping stories about the hunt, or where the best potatoes are to forage for. That’s a thing we used to do, it’s a thing that kids do all the time — they’re bringing other kids into their world — and what’s happening is that a lot of that has been beaten out of us as adults. Because of the way the workforce is going, the way automation is going, we’re heading back to the importance of those soft skills, those storytelling skills.

How is storytelling using data more effective at presenting data than typical dashboards and reports?

Anna Schena WalshAnna Schena Walsh

Anna Schena Walsh: The brain is hard-wired for stories. It’s hard-wired to take in information in that storytelling arc, which is what is [attracting our attention] — what is something we thought we knew, what is something new that surprised us, and what can we do about it? If you can put that in a way that is interesting to people in a way they can understand, that is a way people will remember. That is what really motivates people, and that’s what actually causes people to take action. I think visuals are important parts of some stories, whether it be a chart or a picture, it can help drive stories home, but no matter what you’re doing to give people information, the end is usually the story. It’s verbal, it’s literate, it’s explaining something in some way. In reality, we do this a lot, but we need to be a lot more systematic about focusing on the story part.

What happens when you present an explanation with data?

Nichols: If someone sends you a bar chart and asks you to use it to make decisions and there’s no story with it at all, what your brain does is it makes up a story around it. Historically, what we’ve said is that computers are good at doing charts — we never did charts and graphs and spreadsheets because we thought they were helpful for people, we did them because that was what computers could do. We’ve forgotten that. So when we do these charts, people look at them and make up their own stories, and they may be more or less accurate depending on their intuition about the business. What we’re doing now is we want everyone to be really on the same story, hearing the same story, so by not having a hundred different people come up with a hundred different internal stories in their head, what we’re doing at Narrative Science is to try and make the story external so everyone is telling the same story.

So is it accurate to say that accuracy is a part of storytelling using data?

Schena Walsh: When I think of charts and graphs, interpreting those is a skill — it is a learned skill that comes to some people more naturally than others. In the past few decades there’s been this idea that everybody needs to be able interpret [data]. With storytelling, specifically data storytelling, it takes away the pressure of people interpreting the data for themselves. This allows people, where their skills may not be in that area … they don’t have to sit down and interpret dashboards. That’s not the best use of their talent, and data storytelling brings that information to them so they’re able to concentrate on what makes them great.

What’s the potential end result for organizations that employ data storytelling — what does it enable them to do that other organizations can’t?

With data storytelling there is a massive opportunity to have everybody in your company understand what’s happening and be able to make informed decisions much, much faster.
Anna Schena WalshDirector of growth marketing, Narrative Science

Schena Walsh: With data storytelling there is a massive opportunity to have everybody in your company understand what’s happening and be able to make informed decisions much, much faster. It’s not that information isn’t available — it certainly is — but it takes a certain set of skills to be able to find the meaning. So we look at it as empowering everybody because you’re giving them the information they need very quickly, and also giving them the ability to lean into what makes them great. The way we think about it is that if you can choose to have someone give a two-minute explanation of what’s going on in the business to everyone in the company everyday as they go into work, would you do it? And the answer is yes, and with data storytelling that’s what you can do.

I think what we’ll see as companies keep trying to move toward everyone needing to interpret data, I actually think there’s a lot of potential for burnout there in people who aren’t naturally inclined to do it. I also think there’s a speed element — it’s not as fast to have everybody learn this skill and have to do it every day themselves than to have the information serviced to them in a way they can understand.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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5G vs. Wi-Fi: Verizon says cellular will win

Verizon’s long-term strategy is to make mobile 5G a Wi-Fi killer. While analysts don’t see that happening this decade, it is technically possible for the next-generation wireless technology to drive Wi-Fi into obsolescence.

Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, recently entered the ongoing 5G vs. Wi-Fi tech debate when he predicted the latter’s demise. Dunne said his company’s upcoming 5G service would eventually make high-speed internet connectivity ubiquitous for its customers.

“In the world of 5G millimeter wave deployment, we don’t see the need for Wi-Fi in the future,” Dunne told attendees at a Citigroup global technology conference in Las Vegas.

Today, the millimeter wave (MM wave) spectrum used to transmit 5G signals is often blocked by physical objects like buildings and trees, making service unreliable. Verizon believes its engineers can circumvent those limitations within 5 to 7 years, bringing 5G wireless broadband to its 150 million customers.

Most analysts agree that Wi-Fi will remain the preferred technology for indoor wireless networking through the current decade. Beyond that, it’s technically possible for 5G services to start eroding Wi-Fi’s market dominance, particularly as the number of 5G mobile and IoT devices rises over the next several years.

“If the CEO of a major cellular carrier says something, I will take that seriously,” said Craig Mathias, principal analyst at Farpoint Group. “He could be dead wrong over the long run, but, technically, it could work.”

As an alternative to Wi-Fi, Verizon could offer small mobile base stations, such as specially designed picocells and femtocells, to carry 5G signals from the office and home to the carrier’s small cell base stations placed on buildings, lampposts or poles. The small cells would send traffic to the carriers’ core network.

Early uses for 5G

Initially, 5G could become a better option for specific uses. Examples include sports stadiums that have an atypically high number of mobile devices accessing the internet at the same time. That type of situation requires a massive expenditure in Wi-Fi gear and software that could prove more expensive than 5G technology, said Brandon Butler, an analyst at IDC.

Another better-than-Wi-Fi use for 5G would be in a manufacturing facility. Those locations often have machinery that needs an ultra-low latency connection in an area where a radio signal is up against considerable interference, Butler said.

Nevertheless, Butler stops short of predicting a 5G-only world, advising enterprises to plan for a hybrid world instead. They should look to Wi-Fi and 5G as the best indoor and outdoor technology, respectively.

“The real takeaway point here is that enterprises should plan for a hybrid world into the future,” Butler said.

Ultimately, how far 5G goes in replacing Wi-Fi will depend on whether the expense of switching is justified by reducing overall costs and receiving unique services. To displace Wi-Fi, 5G will have to do much more than match its speed.

“It’ll come down to cost and economics, and the cost and economics do not work when the performance is similar,” said Rajesh Ghai, an analyst at IDC.

Today, Wi-Fi provides a relatively easy upgrade path. That’s because, collectively, businesses have already spent billions of dollars over the years on Wi-Fi access points, routers, security and management tools. They have also hired the IT staff to operate the system.

Verizon 5G Home

While stressing the importance of mobile 5G vs. Wi-Fi, Dunne lowered expectations for the fixed wireless 5G service for the home that the carrier launched in 2018. Verizon expected it’s 5G Home service to eventually compete with the TV and internet services provided by cable companies.

Today, 5G Home, which is available in parts of five metropolitan markets, has taken a backseat to Verizon’s mobile 5G buildout. “It’s very much a mobility strategy with a secondary product of home,” Dunne said.

Ghai of IDC was not surprised that Verizon would lower expectations for 5G Home. Delivering the service nationwide would have required spending vast amounts of money to blanket neighborhoods with small cells.

Verizon likely didn’t see enough interest for 5G Home among consumers to justify the cost, Ghai said. “It probably hasn’t lived up to the promise.”

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Cloud consultants set for massive workload shift to cloud

Cloud consultants take heed: Customers are pushing the bulk of their workloads to cloud infrastructure and a significant number are adopting related technologies such as containers.

AllCloud, a cloud and managed service provider based in Tel Aviv, Israel, said 85% of the 150 respondents to its cloud infrastructure survey expect to operate the majority of their workloads in the cloud by the end of 2020. Twenty-four percent of the IT decision-makers polled said they plan to be cloud-only organizations. The respondents work for companies with at least 300 employees and represent a range of industries.

AllCloud’s survey, published Jan. 15, also points to growing acceptance of containers, a trend other cloud consultants view as accelerating. More than 56% of respondents reported at least half of their cloud workloads use containers or microservices.

AllCloud CEO Eran Gil said cloud adoption, as reflected in the survey sample, is further along than he anticipated. He also said the amount of containers adoption surprised him.  

“It is interesting to see how many organizations are leveraging them,” he said of containers. “It’s far more than I expected to see.”

Eran Gil, CEO at AllCloudEran Gil

For cloud consultants, the transition from small-scale, individual workload migrations to more decisive shifts to the cloud may open opportunities for IT modernization.

“We are talking to [customers] about modernizing their infrastructure — not just simply taking what they have on premises and hosting it on AWS or other vendors,” Gil said.

Amid broader cloud adoption, AllCloud plans to expand in North America. The company in 2018 launched operations in North America, acquiring Figur8, a Salesforce partner with offices in San Francisco, Toronto, New York City and Vancouver, B.C. AllCloud is a Salesforce Platinum partner and an AWS Premier Consulting Partner.

“We are focusing on growing North America in particular,” Gil said, noting the company has received a new round of funding to support its expansion. “You will hear us announce acquisitions this year in either one of our ecosystems.”

The funding will also help AllCloud grow organically. Gil said the company plans to hire an AWS practice leader, who will report to Doug Shepard, AllCloud’s general manager for North America. Shepard previously was president of the Google business unit at Cloud Sherpas, a cloud consultancy Gil co-founded in 2008. Accenture acquired Cloud Sherpas in 2015.

Gil said the fundamental drivers of cloud adoption have changed dramatically since the launch of Cloud Sherpas. Back then, he said, cost was the main consideration, and security and reliability concerns were obstacles to acceptance. Security, however, emerged in AllCloud’s survey as the top consideration in cloud selection, followed by reliability. Cost ranked fourth in the list of adoption drivers.

“All the factors 10, 12 years ago that were the determents are now the drivers,” Gil said. 

New channel hires

  • DevOps lifecycle tool provider GitLab has appointed Michelle Hodges as vice president of global channels. GitLab, which plans to go public this year, said Hodges’ hiring is part of an initiative to ramp up the company’s channel strategy. Hodges joins GitLab from Gigamon, where she served as vice president of worldwide channels.
  • Avaya named William Madison as its vice president of North America cloud sales. Madison’s prior roles included vice president of global channel development and channel chief at Masergy Communications.
  • Managed services automation company BitTitan hired Kirk Swanson as its corporate development associate. Swanson will help BitTitan pursue acquisitions in the enterprise cloud market, targeting companies with SaaS products and relationships with IT service providers and MSPs, the company said. Prior to BitTitan, Swanson served as an associate at investment firm D.A. Davidson & Co.
  • Exclusive Networks, a cloud and cybersecurity distributor, named Christine Banker as vice president of North American sales. Banker will lead vendor recruitment, inside and field sales, and Exclusive’s PC and server business, among other departments and teams, the company said.
  • Anexinet Corp., a digital business solutions provider based in Philadelphia, has appointed Suzanne Lentz as chief marketing officer. She was previously chief marketing officer of Capgemini Invent NA.
  • Workspace-as-a-service vendor CloudJumper named Amie Ray as its enterprise channel sales manager. Ray comes to CloudJumper from PrinterLogic, where she was national channel account manager.

Other news

  • WESCO International Inc. has agreed to acquire distributor Anixter International Inc. for $4.5 billion. WESCO outbid Clayton, Dubilier & Rice LLC. The deal is expected to close in the second or third quarter of 2020. According to Pittsburgh-based WESCO, the combined entity would have revenue of about $17 billion. The pending deal follows Apollo Global Management’s agreement to acquire Tech Data Corp., a distributor based in Tampa, Fla.
  • Lemongrass Consulting, a professional services and managed service provider based in Atlanta, has completed a $10 million Series C round of financing, a move the company said will help it build out its senior leadership team, boost product development, and expands sales and marketing. Rodney Rogers, co-founder and general partner of Blue Lagoon Capital, joins Lemongrass as chairman. Blue Lagoon led the new funding round. Mike Rosenbloom is taking on the group CEO role at Lemongrass. He was formerly managing director of Accenture’s Intelligent Cloud & Infrastructure business. Walter Beek, who has been group CEO at Lemongrass, will stay on with company as co-founder and chief innovation officer. Lemongrass focuses on SAP applications running on AWS infrastructure.
  • Strategy and revenue are getting a heightened focus among CIOs, according to a Logicalis survey. The London-based IT solutions provider’s poll of 888 global CIOs found 61% of the respondents “spent more time on strategic planning in the last 12 months, while 43% are now being measured on their contribution to revenue growth.” The emphasis on strategy and revenue comes at the expense of innovation. About a third of the CIOs surveyed said the time available to spend on innovation has decreased over the last 12 months.
  • IT infrastructure management vendor Kaseya said it ended 2019 with a valuation exceeding $2 billion. Kaseya added more than 5,000 new customers and had more than $300 million in annual bookings, according to the company. Kaseya noted that the company had an organic growth rate of about 30%.
  • Cybersecurity vendor WatchGuard Technologies updated its FlexPay program with automated, monthly billing for its network security hardware and services. Partners can acquire subscriptions from WatchGuard’s distributor partners in various purchasing models, including one- and three-year contracts and pay-as-you-go terms, WatchGuard said. In the U.S., WatchGuard Subscriptions are available exclusively through the Synnex Stellr online marketplace.
  • Copper, which provides CRM for G Suite, rolled out its 2020 Partner Ambassador Program. The referral program has four partner tiers with incremental incentives, marketing resources, and training and certifications.
  • GTT Communications Inc., a cloud networking provider based in McLean, Va., has added Fortinet Secure SD-WAN to its SD-WAN service offering.
  • EditShare, a storage vendor that specializes in media creation and management, signed Key Code Media to its channel program. Key Code Media is an A/V, broadcast and post-production reseller and systems integrator.
  • Accenture opened an intelligent operation center in St. Catharines, Ont., as a hub for its intelligent sales and customer operations business. Accenture said the location is the company’s third intelligent operations center in Canada and its second in the Niagara region.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

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Data-driven storytelling makes data accessible

As organizations wrestle with an abundance of data and a dearth of experts in data interpretation, data-driven storytelling helps those organizations make sense of their information and drive their business forward.

Most business intelligence platforms help organizations transform their information into digestible data visualizations. Many, however, don’t give the data context — attempt to explain why sales dropped in a given month, or rose in another, for example.

Some BI vendors — Tableau and Yellowfin, for example — have added data-driven storytelling capabilities.

Narrative Science, a vendor based in Chicago and founded in 2010, meanwhile, is among a group of vendors whose sole focus is data storytelling, offering a suite of tools that give information context. Narrative Science recently introduced Lexio, a tool that turns data into digestible stories and is particularly suited for mobile devices.

 Nate Nichols, vice president of product architecture at Narrative Science, and Anna Schena Walsh, director of growth marketing at the company, co-authored a book on storytelling entitled Let Your People Be People. In the book, published Jan. 6, the authors look at 36 ways storytelling — with a particular emphasis on data-driven storytelling — can help change organizations, improving operations as well as helping employees not trained in data science use data to their advantage.

Nichols and Schena Walsh recently answered questions about data-driven storytelling. Here, in Part I of a two-part Q&A, they discuss the importance of data-driven storytelling. In Part II, they delve into how data-driven storytelling can improve an organization’s operations.

In a business sense, what is storytelling?

Anna Schena WalshAnna Schena Walsh

Anna Schena Walsh: When we think of storytelling at Narrative Science, we spend a lot of time here thinking about what makes a good story because our software is data storytelling, so we’re going from to data to story. What we realized is that the arc of a good story, when it comes to software, also applies to people. No matter where you sit in a business you are a storyteller, whether you are a salesperson, a marketer, an engineer, and at some point in your career you need to be able to tell a good story. Whether it’s to advocate for yourself, to sell a product or other various different ways, that’s an essential skill for everyone to do precisely and to do it well.

Honing in more narrowly on business intelligence and analytics, how do you define data-driven storytelling?

Nate NicholsNate Nichols

Nate Nichols: It’s what Anna said about storytelling and applying it to data. The real shift here is that there’s been this idea that getting to the right number, or doing some analysis and looking at a number or a chart, was sufficient, and that was where the process stopped. You got a number and then it’s an executive’s job to figure out what to go do with that, or someone else’s job to figure out what to go and do with those numbers. I think what our customers are looking at and what the world is waking up to is that the right answer is just the beginning of the problem. You have the right answer, but then the real work is the communication, and that’s the piece — the storytelling part — that can actually change the world and bring people along with you.

No movement was ever led by just stating an answer and then everyone realizing that was right and joining up of their own accord. It’s really telling the story, giving it the cause and effect, the context, the why.
Nate NicholsVice president of product architecture, Narrative Science

No movement was ever led by just stating an answer and then everyone realizing that was right and joining up of their own accord. It’s really telling the story, giving it the cause and effect, the context, the why. With all of the data and analysis that’s out there, you need to still actually do the work of mobilizing it.

How does data-driven storytelling manifest itself — how do you take the information and turn it into a story?

Nichols: One of the key components is using language, so when our system is writing stories it starts with a question from the user. They want to know how their sales pipeline is, how [operations] were last quarter. There are a lot of systems that can answer that — our system can answer that and tell you how many deals were made, but then it goes into a storytelling mode where it gives a reader the context, why this is happening or what else is happening around this — that context becomes really important. It’s cause and effect, and knowing why things are happening becomes super important.

It starts with an answer, and then brings in all those storytelling elements to express things in a way that makes sense to a person. A computer is good at saying, ‘Sales increased 22 percent week over week,’ but a human would say, ‘Sales are doing great,’ or, ‘Sales jumped a lot, sales shot up.’ It may be less numerically precise, but it’s a lot more intuitive and works with our brains better. Our system is adding on that layer, bringing in the context, bringing in the characters, and then doing a lot of work to put that in a single story that someone can sit down and read and has a beginning and an end.

Your book looks at different ways storytelling can be used by businesses — what are some of them?

Schena Walsh: The book looks at 36 different ways you can use storytelling. One is how to tell a better story, and then how to create a storytelling environment, and at then at the end how to use data storytelling to enable you to realize your talent. Here at Narrative Science we have software that surfaces the story and brings the data we need to us, which allows the employees here not to be spending time looking through analytics, and then also gives them the data points they need to tell their own stories as well. So we actually spend a lot of time here training our people to tell their stories. Nate actually leads a storytelling workshop here at Narrative Science, and a lot of the elements of what we teach our employees and our clients is … in the book.

Why do businesses need to improve their data-driven storytelling abilities — what does it enable them to do that they might not otherwise be able to?

Schena Walsh: One big trend I’ve seen is companies leaning into what was previously referred to as soft skills. As you see a lot more automation of tasks happening, these skills have become more and more important. For us, we truly believe that storytelling unlocks incredible potential for companies. We know we need to spend a lot of time with data, we need that information, and data storytelling allows us to be able to able to tell stories about ourselves, about our companies, about our jobs really well and really precisely.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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