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Remote work could cause mobile network problems in a pandemic

The move to make remote work the norm during the coronavirus pandemic could push mobile networks to the brink.

The pandemic has led to unprecedented changes, one of which has been the scale at which employees have been working from home. Mobile networks in the UK reported problems on March 17, although the carriers denied it was connected to the rise in home working.

Still, industry observers said the infrastructure that companies rely on to deliver work-at-home services such as video conferencing, virtual desktops or even phone calls could experience disruptions in the face of prolonged heavy usage.

Mark BowkerMark Bowker

“The spike in activity that has been initiated with work-from-home policies is going to test potential network choke points, bandwidth constraints and the ability of collaboration apps to scale to new levels,” said Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. 

Issues already?

Forrester Research principal analyst Dan Bieler said he had already heard reports of certain elements of mobile networks being under strain, and, anecdotally, said he had been on calls in which the quality and connectivity was not what it had been.

Dan BielerDan Bieler

“That’s not entirely surprising,” he said, given the larger percentage of people now working from home.

Bieler noted that everyone who has the same mobile phone carrier within a certain area is sharing the wireless spectrum. The mobile network could be under particular stress, he said, in areas where people use their phones as hot spots to conduct business.

“If you’re in a rural context, you’re already on relatively shaky ground when it comes to cellular connectivity,” he said.

Bill Menezes, senior principal analyst at Gartner, said it was difficult to tell whether networks had been affected so far.

“[There’s been] a couple of reports of issues in some areas — dropped calls and whatnot — but that’s the kind of thing that could happen at any given time,” he said.

An extended peak

To some extent, Menezes said, networks are built to handle high traffic, but such events are brief. Weekends, for example, create a similar situation, with many streaming Netflix or playing video games.

Bill MenezesBill Menezes

“These [networks] are designed to handle theoretical peak usage, but not necessarily when the peak is shifting — it’s coming not only on the weekend, but Monday through Friday now,” he said. “It’s conceivable that you’d start seeing some bottlenecks in areas — especially on the cellular network — that weren’t designed for the constant high level of usage the way the wired broadband networks were.”

People with inefficient home internet connections, Menezes said, might start using their mobile phones as hotspots, furthering the strain on the network. If mobile traffic climbs above weekend levels, he said, there could be disruption.

It’s conceivable that you’d start seeing some bottlenecks in areas — especially on the cellular network — that weren’t designed for the constant high level of usage the way the wired broadband networks were.
Bill MenezesSenior principal analyst, Gartner

“If you look at events that have happened in the past — like the Boston Marathon bombing — even the first responders, who had network prioritization for making calls or doing data sessions, were having trouble getting through, simply because of the overwhelming volume of usage,” he said.

Dealing with heightened traffic

Should the use of mobile phone networks exceed what the available infrastructure can provide, experts said, there is not much carriers can do in terms of bolstering capacity.

“Ultimately, the network infrastructure we have right now is the network infrastructure we will have in four months, six months — however long this situation will last,” Bieler said.

Beyond how long a network improvement might take, carriers may be leery of spending billions of dollars at a time when the economy is uncertain, according to Bieler.

“Nobody knows how long this will last,” he said. While it is unlikely people will be working from home for years on end, Bieler said, carriers face a lack of certainty.

Menezes said they may instead look at other means of freeing up bandwidth.

“One of the things they can do — and they’ve done this in the past — is slow data speeds if the network gets too congested. Obviously, that’s not an optimal type of situation,” he said. “It could either be slowing down speeds for the heaviest users — folks who are home and are trying to use 100 gigabytes of data because they’re doing online gaming. They may be the types of people who are throttled first.”

Another approach, Menezes said, would be a general throttling. For example, limiting everyone to standard-definition video streaming as opposed to 4K.

Bieler said carriers in Italy and Spain have already announced some form of throttling.

Given the hammering the economy has taken, Bieler expects to see the continuance of work operations — ensuring companies keep cash flowing and get projects done on time — given precedence over personal entertainment.

Encouraging people to use networks at off-peak times, Menezes said, could be another way to reduce the strain.

“You see the same thing with utilities, setting up time-of-use pricing. During peak hours, it costs more to buy electricity than during the early morning or evening,” he said. “That’s not necessarily going to help people who have to work from 9 to 5, but the carriers could use those types of methods.”

The future

Bieler said it will be interesting to see how the move to mass remote work will change the way people work and communicate. If the networks can indeed support the additional traffic posed by working and learning from home, it may lead to a fundamental shift in the way things are done.

Enterprise Strategy Group’s Bowker said the situation might emphasize how functional technology has become at enabling mobility and flexibility.

“[This is] a time to recognize how valuable business collaboration tools are during times like this and how employees, students, front line workers [and so forth] are staying connected and productive,” he said.

Among the areas that might be rethought, Bieler said, could be international business travel.

“Is it necessary for someone to travel to New York for a two-hour meeting?” he said.

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Slack redesigns app as Microsoft Teams hits 44 million users

Slack has redesigned its team messaging app in a bid to make the product simpler for workers who aren’t as tech-savvy as its earliest customers.

The refresh comes as Slack falls further behind rival Microsoft Teams in the race for users. The Microsoft product now has 44 million daily active users, up from 20 million four months ago, the tech giant announced Thursday.

Teams has gained 12 million daily active users in the past week alone, a spike the company attributed to the coronavirus outbreak. Slack had 12 million daily active users as of September 2019 but has likely exceeded that figure by now. Slack said it added paid customers at nearly three times its typical rate between Feb. 1 and March 18, netting 7,000 new accounts.

The Slack redesign contains several elements that make the product look more like Teams. The top of the app now features a search bar and navigation buttons. Slack also added tabs for files and notifications, such as when a user tags someone in a message.

Even more significant, Slack now lets paid users place channels within folders. For example, a user could put several channels in a “marketing team” folder. The setup is similar to how Teams groups channels — except in Slack, each user gets to customize the layout.

The inability to organize channels into groups had been a stumbling block for many Slack users, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research. Slack should be able to get some companies to switch from free to paid plans with the introduction of folders as a premium service, he said.

The redesign also lays the groundwork for Slack to introduce more real-time communications features. A newly reorganized sidebar within channels features a prominent phone icon that lets users begin a video call.

Screenshot of Slack redesign
Slack unveiled a significant redesign of its app interface on Wednesday.

In the future, Slack plans to “do even more with that call button” through partnerships, said Ilan Frank, Slack’s vice president of enterprise product. Frank declined to provide further details. Currently, Slack’s built-in options for voice and video calls are far less advanced than what’s available in Teams.

The prominent call button is an example of how Slack is trying to make interacting with its app more intuitive. Over the past couple of years, the vendor has given users new ways to access third-party integrations without resorting to so-called slash commands. Those commands require users to type, for example, “/call” to start a call.

A new shortcut menu introduced with the redesign lets users access integrations through a few clicks of their mouse rather than by typing a command. At launch, the menu contains shortcuts to Slack tasks, as well as to the integrations for Cisco Webex, Simple Poll and Freshdesk, a help desk app.

Slack is giving its newest users access to the redesign first. Like many collaboration vendors, Slack has reported an uptick in usage in recent weeks as people work from home because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“We want to make sure that those new teams that are formed right now, especially in this time of remote work, see this new interface,” Frank said. Everyone else will get the update within a few weeks, except Slack’s largest customers. They will get more time to roll out the new design.

Through its latest changes, Slack wants to make its app more palatable to nontechnical users. The move could help the vendor convince more customers to deploy its app companywide. Software developers were the first to adopt Slack in droves. But that cohort now represents a minority of Slack’s users, Frank said.

Slack needs to sell to more organizations with thousands of employees to become profitable. The company has made progress in that regard: Over the past year, the number of customers each paying more than $100,000 annually for Slack increased by 55% to 893 customers.

But Slack is facing an uphill battle against Microsoft, which has a stranglehold on the market for cloud productivity tools. More than 200 million workers use Office 365 every month, giving them access to Teams at no additional charge. And Microsoft is particularly good at selling to large organizations: Ninety-three of the Fortune 100 are now using Teams.

On a conference call with investors in December 2019, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield tacitly acknowledged he would have difficulty reaching a customer base equal in size to Microsoft’s. For example, Microsoft Lync, an older collaboration application that the vendor later rebranded as Skype for Business, had 100 million users in 2015.

In response to Teams hitting 44 million users on Thursday, Slack said in a statement that its app and Teams are “different tools used for different purposes.” The company said Slack is a collaboration tool that integrates with third-party applications. Nevertheless, Microsoft has integrated Teams with other applications too. Also, Teams has most of the same collaboration features as Slack.

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For Sale – Mac Pro 2009 (4,1) – with Mojave

Spare machine to go in order to make space…

Mac Pro 2009 (4,1) with firmware updated as (5,1) compatible
– Xeon Quad-core – 2.66GHz (to be confirmed)
– 32GB RAM (4 sticks)
– 500GB SATA HDD, brackets in all bays
– Optical drive
– ATI 5770 (up to El Capitan)
– nVidia GT 630 (1GB) (Mojave)

Still outruns the ‘Darth Vader’ MacPro (2013). With a (SATA) SSD (not included), the machine flies!

GT630 can stay for El Capitan (hence both GPU cards). Working with macOS Mojave; reportedly compatible with Catalina (but not tested).

5770 must not be present for Mojava (macOS limitation)

No monitor/display. No box. Expect scuff marks on external casing.

£350 collected from my office in the Science Park (Milton Road)

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For Sale – Dell 9370 i7 FHD, Dell 7590 i7 UHD touch, Alienware m15 r1 GTX 1070

Hi Adam

I’ll make an offer of £800 for the 7590.

Before you jump to the conclusion it’s a lowball offer it’s because I can get the same spec direct from the Dell outlet for £1295.

Refurbished Cheap Laptops and 2-in-1 PCs: Dell Outlet | Dell UK

The offer is based on the fact that I’d have a contract with Dell so if there’s any repeat of the expanding battery issue (or any other potential long term fault) I can go after Dell from a legal viewpoint, I can’t do that if I buy a unit second hand from a private individual. Legal liability is over and above warranty coverage and is worth that level of difference to me, simplistically if they decide not to undertake a warranty issue as they don’t ‘agree’ with the claim then there’s nothing I can do unless I bought it from them directly.

I realise you’re pretty unlikely to accept the offer but put it out there for you to consider.

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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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For Sale – Dell 9370 i7 FHD, Dell 7590 i7 UHD touch, Alienware m15 r1 GTX 1070

Hi Adam

I’ll make an offer of £800 for the 7590.

Before you jump to the conclusion it’s a lowball offer it’s because I can get the same spec direct from the Dell outlet for £1295.

Refurbished Cheap Laptops and 2-in-1 PCs: Dell Outlet | Dell UK

The offer is based on the fact that I’d have a contract with Dell so if there’s any repeat of the expanding battery issue (or any other potential long term fault) I can go after Dell from a legal viewpoint, I can’t do that if I buy a unit second hand from a private individual. Legal liability is over and above warranty coverage and is worth that level of difference to me, simplistically if they decide not to undertake a warranty issue as they don’t ‘agree’ with the claim then there’s nothing I can do unless I bought it from them directly.

I realise you’re pretty unlikely to accept the offer but put it out there for you to consider.

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For Sale – Brand New Alienware 51M – RTX 2080

I have Alienware Area 51M laptop for sale. It is brand new, never used. I just got it out of its box to make pictures to post. It has the top configurations which makes it £3450 when you choose the exact configurations at Dell: Alienware Area 51m 17 Inch Gaming Laptop with NVIDIA GPU | Dell…

Brand New Alienware 51M – RTX 2080

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H-1B lottery change may drive increase in visa applicants

The U.S. government’s new electronic H-1B visa registration will make it easier for employers to submit a visa applicant. But there is concern it might encourage more visa petitions and make it harder for employers to win the H-1B lottery.

That’s one of the issues raised by immigration attorneys who apply for visas on behalf of employers. They are also worried about the reliability of the electronic system once it goes live March 1.

The U.S. has put in rules to discourage employers from gaming the new system. Officials also insist that the technology is ready. But there’s still plenty of doubt and questions among users.

Previously, employers mailed a paper application and a check covering fees that could total in the thousands. The U.S. issues 85,000 work H-1B visas each year, but last year received 190,000 applications. An H-1B lottery randomly selects the visa winners.

With the electronic system, employers pay $10 and fill out an online registration to be entered into the H-1B lottery, which is held in April. If a company’s visa candidate wins, the employer then has 90 days to submit a full petition by mail with all the required fees.

Will the system work as advertised?

Immigration attorneys worry about the reliability of the electronic system. Could a flood of registrations on March 1 overwhelm it? The electronic system for H-2B visas for labor and agricultural workers crashed earlier this year.

Because entering the H-1B lottery is cheap and relatively easy, immigration attorneys also wonder if the electronic system will encourage more employers to enter candidates.

“I do think we will see an increase in the number of cases that are entered in the lottery,” said Chad Blocker, immigration attorney and partner at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP in Los Angeles. The $10 registration fee is “not enough to dissuade any employers from filing,” he said.

“There’s just no real downside to submitting a case,” Blocker said. He wouldn’t be surprised to see a 20% to 30% increase in petitions.

But Blocker does see merit in the electronic system. “What we’ve been doing in the past is terribly inefficient,” he said.

HR managers may coordinate H-1B hiring by working with their in-house legal staff or outside counsel. The electronic registration process is expected to reduce business costs because firms won’t have to pay to submit a completed visa application unless they win the H-1B lottery.

For its part, the U.S. government estimates it will save $1.6 million annually in H-1B processing costs as a result of moving to an electronic registration system. It is spending about $1.5 million to create the electronic system, although this is a one-time cost, not including annual maintenance charges.

USCIS rules to prevent abuse

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has established some rules it hopes will keep employers from flooding the registration system. They include prohibiting an employer from submitting more than one registration for the same beneficiary in the same fiscal year. The government also requires registrants to attest their intent that they plan to follow through with the visa petition, should they win the lottery.

Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, director of government affairs for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said it’s hard to predict how the electronic system will impact registration volumes.

There is, however, “general anxiety” among immigration attorneys about “how USCIS will operationalize this and whether it will be rolled out seamlessly,” Dalal-Dheini said.

The U.S. will begin taking H-1B petitions March 1 for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2020. The USCIS planned to launch the electronic registration for this fiscal year, but suspended it “to ensure that the system met requirements,” USCIS spokesman Matthew Bourke said in an email. The government “conducted sufficient stress-testing and evaluation before determining the registration process was ready for implementation,” he said.

Bourke said the pilot testing phase was successful, but added that “USCIS can suspend the registration requirement if it experiences technical challenges with the H-1B registration process and/or the new electronic system that would be used to submit H-1B registrations, or if the system otherwise is inoperable for any reason.”

The electronic registration period will run from March 1 to March 20. The government will lengthen that period if needed or re-open the registration if there are problems, Bourke said.

Worry remains, despite assurances

USCIS assurances aside, there is worry among immigration attorneys about whether the system will work without glitches. They also have questions about how it will work. Will they be notified, for instance, once a registration is accepted and submitted to the H-1B lottery?

Among those with concerns is Amanda Franklin, an immigration attorney at Moore & Van Allen PLLC in Charlotte, N.C.

There’s a lot of concern and a lot of questions about how this is going to work, and if it doesn’t work, then what?
Amanda FranklinImmigration attorney, Moore & Van Allen PLLC

Franklin expects filers to try to register March 1, the day the system opens. “The government’s ability to keep their technology up and running with high volume is notoriously bad,” she said.

“There’s a lot of concern and a lot of questions about how this is going to work, and if it doesn’t work, then what?” Franklin said.

Franklin isn’t sure the registration system itself will encourage more employers to file H-1B visa petitions. If employers want to hire someone, they’re going to do what they need to do, whether it’s a paper-based application or an electronic one, she said.

Punam Rogers, an immigration attorney and partner in the Boston office of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP, said she hopes USCIS “has enough IT support and help desk support to assist attorneys and employers who are going to be filing.”

Rogers, overall, likes the new process. It helps manage resources “so you don’t have to file all your applications all at once, only those that are selected” for the lottery. 

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Partners need to target SAP SMB market for cloud transition

SAP SMB customers make up a large percentage of SAP’s overall customer base. Most SMB customers rely on SAP’s extensive partner network for sales and implementation of SAP systems. And SAP, in turn, is relying on its partners to help transition its SMB customer base from traditional on-premises ERP systems to the next-generation SAP S/4HANA Cloud ERP platform.

In this Q&A conducted at the Innovate Live by SAP event in November, Claus Gruenewald, SAP global vice president of Global Partner Organization portfolio management, discusses the roles that SAP partners play in selling to and servicing the SAP SMB market. Gruenewald explains that partners who have been successful in selling on-premises SAP systems will need to change their strategy to become successful in the cloud.

Why are SAP’s partners important for the SAP SMB customer base?

Claus Gruenewald: The SMB market is one which SAP predominantly serves through and with partners. So the partner business is a very important one for SAP SMB customers. Most SMB sales are driven by partners, and most of the partners are local. Sometimes we see the global partners in the SMB space, particularly Deloitte, but we don’t see that often. It’s a very local business. These partners really know the market space; they are also trusted by their customers because the name of the brand is known in the local space.

How many partners are currently active?

Gruenewald: There are a little over 800 active selling partners for SAP S/4HANA on-premises, and there are 300 partners that actively work on cloud with around 100 partners actively closing deals for SAP S/4HANA Cloud. There’s such a difference in on-premises because the sales and service cycles are longer compared to cloud. If a customer decides to go for on-premises on purpose — and there are reasons for this — typically the partner needs a little longer in the sales cycle, and partners are able to do one, two or maybe three projects a year, depending on the size of the partner. So it’s not a volume business, it’s a value business for the partner.

Claus GruenewaldClaus Gruenewald

What are some of the differences between on-premises and cloud implementations?

Gruenewald: The sales cycle and the project scope is shorter for the cloud, and it’s more often led by best practices. In on-premises, you sell an ERP on-premises license and the customer comes with precise requirements about what it wants to solve with the ERP implementation. The partners can then make a customized, on-premises ERP that’s specific to the customer, which makes the sales and implementation cycle longer. One strategy for customers is that they can differentiate in their industry with a specific customized ERP, so they may choose on-premises. However, another customer strategy is to say that almost everybody in the industry already has ERP, so the strategic differentiator … is fast rollout and using best practices in the industry, so they may choose the cloud.

What are some of the differences in the ways partners approach on-premises or cloud implementations?

Gruenewald: The on-premises partner typically doesn’t do more than three to four projects a year because it needs the resources and it only has a given amount of consultants. With the cloud, the partner is successful if it has a fast go-to-market [strategy], which means going after many customers. The cloud business model only works if a partner has four to six customers a year. The money from the cloud customer comes in quarterly fees, so the partner has to cover a cash flow dip in the beginning. But if it keeps the customer for one and a half years, the cash comes back. So the partner does well if it has four to six customers in the first year. The first year of cloud business for everyone is an investment business, but after one and a half or two years with six or seven customers, the profitability and cash flow curve is super steep. That’s if you don’t lose customers.

How can partners who have been successful with on-premises implementations focus more on cloud business?

Gruenewald: We have trainings for that but it’s also a mind shift to get into that business. Make the customer understand that it’s best to take it as is, it’s a best practice in cloud. So don’t sell feature functions, sell best practices. Once your customer accepts best practices, then it’s a cloud customer. The customer will be happy almost forever because in ERP, a customer usually doesn’t change the vendor because [ERP is] mission-critical for them. They usually don’t do it because the switching costs are simply too high, whether it’s cloud or on-premises.

What are some specific ways partners can sell their customers on the cloud?

Gruenewald: The partners understand ERP very well but if the partner just goes in with too many feature functions to a cloud-minded customer, that will not succeed. The partners have to help customers understand that SAP has a pretty good understanding of their industry, and that these are the best practices. For example, here are the best practices that matter in consumer goods or component manufacturing — and that’s pre-configured in the system. You take it to your customer with a demo system and show them the software, show them the nice [user interface], show them what has improved using machine learning and AI, show how much automation has to be put into the system. It’s not the original ERP system anymore where everything was done manually, which was nice for a professional user 20 years ago. Now, the ERP application has changed and is much more automated. It’s not made for these super professional users for only that system. This saves them time, which they can use for something else, because the system automatically gives them not a decision, but a decision proposal. It’s not just a system that you have to feed all the time with master data and transactional data, it’s basically automated now and all that process stuff is going away.

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