“The number of requests we get for an on-premise solution is down 90%. It used to be one of the most common requests. Now it’s almost completely disappeared.” – Phil Libin
I was going through my Pocket reading list yesterday to archive some of the content, when I came across this 2013 article from Stowe Boyd via GigaOm on the “consumerization of work”. It’s fascinating to see the traditional view of software and IT infrastructure erode so rapidly, both in terms of cloud adoption as well as employee expectations about the technology they use to get their jobs done. Stowe writes a lot about the need for a change in the very structure of work itself, and these technical changes are the underpinnings of that change, I think. Large or small, the companies that are most successful in the coming years will be the firms that take these shifts seriously.
I was talking to a colleague yesterday about the Fitbit, as she was considering buying one, and she had seen my Force on my wrist. It’s been a little over a month since I got my Fitbit Force, a birthday present from my wife and children. In that time, I’ve discovered that on an average day I take about 14,000 steps, climb 26 floors a day, and burn about 2800 calories a day. The device scratches my itch for knowing more about my activity each day, and I like checking my dashboard every morning to see what my day was like before.
But has the Fitbit actually changed my behavior? Has it made me more fit, more active? Probably not significantly, although you might argue that simply being aware of my activity (or on a few days, my LACK of activity) has shaped my behavior. I haven’t started a new fitness routine, but I do make sure I get up and walk around during the workday now and then, so that I don’t see large gaps of movement in my daily timeline. I also tend to get out and climb 15 or 20 flights of stairs at least once a day at work now, since I’ve set a target for myself in my Fitbit Dashboard to climb 40 flights a day.
I’ve seen a number of blog posts from people lately talking about how they’ve abandoned their Fitbit / Fuelband / etc, because they didn’t feel it actually did anything for them. I’m sure there are an awful lot of people who have abandoned their diets and New Year’s workout resolutions as well, and the real reason behind that is likely more due to simple human behavior and the difficulty of making new habits than anything else. So far, I’m still committed to the Fitbit, but that’s likely because I like looking at the digital trails of my life and analyzing them to see how I can change them.
But in my mind, we’re in the very early stages of what personal fitness trackers will do, akin to the days of the original Palm Pilot or the Motorola Razr flip-phone. I still rely on my iOS app Strava to track my cycling training, because the Fitbit doesn’t accurately track cycling activity. I’m still shopping around for a heartrate monitor, because the Fitbit doesn’t track pulse (or other biological metrics). In short, to capture all of the information I’d want to capture, I still have purchase and carry multiple devices, and in many cases, I still have to rely on manual entry of data (I don’t track my weight or calories consumed because that seems like more effort than it’s worth for me right now).
Someday soon, devices should be able to automate a lot of those things that they don’t today, and offer a much more complete picture of one’s health and fitness. And while athletes of all shapes and sizes might benefit from this evolution, everyday individuals could also benefit, particularly individuals who suffer from chronic disease. Google’s “smart contact lens” is just one example of the ways that we’ll be able to monitor and track key health metrics and upload them to the cloud, to be combined with other metrics and help us form a better picture of ourselves.
Of course, as my colleague noted yesterday, that comes with some interesting challenges as well. Who will “own” that data, and who will access it, and for what purposes? Will insurance companies insist on having access to your activity logs in order to qualify you for a “fitness discount”? And will we be ok with that? (I think I would, provided there’s adequate protections on my data). And then there’s the question of whether we’ll all be better off with a lot of data about our health. Will we tend to self-diagnose ourselves, and will we do it correctly? Will our relationship with our doctors become better, or more distant? How can we use all of this data in an intelligent fashion to improve our health, not jeopardize it? As with most elements of technology, the implications of what’s coming go far beyond the capabilities themselves, and we’ll be challenged to make smart decisions in order for the technology to work best for us.
I hate to admit this, but there’s a phrase that I cringe hearing, but it’s one that I’ve uttered myself on far too many occasions. Most people who have sat through a business presentation based on PowerPoint have heard it, probably many times:
“This slide is kind of hard to read, but I put it in because…”
Yeah, you just lost me. The limitations of PowerPoint are pretty numerous, and all you have to do is listen to a talk by Edward Tufte if you disagree with me. While Tufte might argue that the use of PowerPoint can be downright dangerous, I won’t go so far here. The reality is that PowerPoint has become a default tool for most companies, but it’s important to recognize the limitations inherent in the platform, and work to overcome them. Anyone who’s giving a presentation needs to consider the audience when designing material to support a talk, and there’s just no excuse for putting up a slide that requires that disclaimer before you make your point.
And yes, I’ve said it before, and I don’t feel good about that. I know that sometimes you run out of time to “get it right”, or you’re working with someone else’s slides, or you just don’t think it’s worth the time to refine a hard-to-read slide into something more palatable.
Here’s my solution to this challenge: I’m making a resolution here and now, that when I find myself with a slide that will require a disclaimer, I’ll do one of two things – Fix The Slide or Delete It.
In Summary: Consider your audience when creating presentation material, and don’t disrespect them by being lazy.
When I started the year, I decided to take a more formal approach to managing my life, with an eye towards improving my ability to get the important things done, and reduce the amount of time I spend on “timewasting” activities. I hesitate to call it a New Year’s Resolution, because I think those tend to become devalued, but the entire process is part of an ongoing shift I started a couple of years ago to create more positive habits.
One of the interesting things I’ve discovered, is that habit-building, for me anyhow, is a skill that’s strengthened with use. I’ve historically been challenged to build new habits – I get rolling for a few weeks, then start to slide, and then before I know it, I’ve abandoned whatever habit I was trying to create in the first place. Maybe I just chose the wrong habits and I’m better at selecting useful, relevant ones. But maybe, the act of creating and sticking to one habit, gives you a little bit more strength and willpower to create another. I started by getting up earlier each day, so I’d have at least an hour or so to focus on some of the things I tend to let slide in the evenings, like reading, managing finances, working out (or folding laundry!). Once I had successfully managed my wakeup clock, I found myself taking advantage of the extra time, and I was able to make a lot of progress on things I had been letting languish for a very long time.
As I approached 2014, I decided to take a new approach, and set some broad personal objectives for the year, break them down into monthly and then weekly tasks, and measure myself against them. So far, about 5 weeks into the year, I’m pretty happy with the results. I haven’t accomplished everything on my task list, but I’m moving through things with more progress that I’ve been able to manage in the past. As a bonus, I find that I’m better at doing some simple things that I often neglected, like flossing every day, moving around more during the workday, and watching my sugar intake. I’ve got a long ways to go, as I’ve set some pretty aggressive goals for the year, but I’m liking how this is going so far.
The game itself wasn’t much of a contest – literally from the very first (mis) snap, the Broncos seemed to be cursed, and the Seahawks did very little wrong. But as always, it was entertaining, from the commercials to the hyped half-time show to running commentary on Twitter (sorry, Facebook, I never even checked you.) A few thoughts…
Hours before the game started, I headed to the grocery store for my weekly run. Yes, it was busy, but I was a bit surprised to find just about everything I went for. That is, until I got to the “sauce” aisle after deciding to make chicken wings for the game. There were plenty of bottles of sauce on the shelf, except for one – Frank’s Red Hot. Apparently, a lot of people decided to put that S%^t on everything, because there was a huge hole where the Frank’s Red Hot used to be. It was the only sauce even close to being sold out, and in it’s place was a solitary bottle of Louisiana brand hot sauce. Tip: Louisiana brand actually is pretty damn good.
The always over-hyped commercials were just eh, I thought. I did like the Radio Shack “Back to the 80′s” ad, although I’m not sure it will do much for Radio Shack’s reputation. (I wonder if they still ask you for all that information when you go to check out). There were the requisite tear-jerkers from Budweiser, and the salute to Lt. Chuck Nadd was well done. Most of the others sort of blend into one another, although I thought the Bob Dylan Chrysler commercial was just plain sad. Apparently money can buy anything, even 60′s icons.
The strange pairing of Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers actually worked for me. Mars got the pace rocking with his opening numbers, and the Chili Peppers took it a notch higher, while Mars played right along. It was loud, bright, over the top, and just right for halftime. As someone pointed out on Twitter though, I wonder when Mars and any of the Chili Peppers will actually speak again, though.
Oh, and the game…well, the game was, as too many Super Bowls seem to become, a bit of a snooze fest. Even the Fox commentators gave up towards the end of the 3rd quarter and deemed the game “over”, after trying to concoct scenarios at halftime for Manning to engineer a comeback. It’s hard to reconcile the Denver Broncos team we saw 2 weeks ago dismantle the New England Patriots with the team that couldn’t even run their first play from scrimmage without the other team scoring. It was nice to see the underdogs take home the trophy, even though I didn’t actually stay up to see any of the post-game festivities. All in all, it was less of a sporting event than an entertainment one, and it managed to capture my attention for 4 hours, and I guess that’s what it’s all about.
For the first time in years, I watched the Grammy Awards last night…well, I watched the first 2 hours or so, anyhow. While I’ve always been a music fan, I didn’t watch to see any one particular act. What drew me into the show was the notion that I could watch the digital commentary on Twitter during the broadcast. I was the only one in my household who wanted to watch the show, and so communing with a few million people online seemed like an interesting way to take in the show. Looking back, I might have been more entertained by the running “MST3K-like” comments of the Twitterverse than I was by the scripted jokes of the presenters.
I know that the idea of combining social media, especially Twitter and big event broadcasting isn’t a new thing – Twitter has been focused on driving more engagement through TV for several years now, and has actually hired a number of really smart, interesting people to focus on exactly that. For more, check out this Fast Company article on the whole thing.
I think there’s a ton of possibility in this model, although l’m not sure how that might translate into a viable business model for a digital property like Twitter (and they seem to be still trying to figure this out too). Whether you’re watching alone, as I was, or in a group, the idea of being able to sit around a “virtual couch” and share thoughts and experiences about a television event as it’s happening can make the broadcast itself far more engaging – just look at what happened to Sharknado.
Interestingly, I found myself continually scrolling through the Twitter stream, and sometimes not paying too much attention to the show itself, especially during the commercials. This might be a problem for brands, who don’t need another way for people to check out of their commercials in the time-shifted, short attention span world we now live in. While advertisers (hello, Pepsi) can buy tagged, sponsored tweets to try and catch people’s attention, I found them a bit annoying, to be honest, Perhaps, though, it just takes the right KIND of engagement – rather than shilling the “Pepsi halftime show” (which was kind of a letdown, frankly), brands might be better served PARTICIPATING in the conversation. At the end of the day, that’s what Twitter does really well – enable conversations among people with common interests, and conversations aren’t what most brands do well yet.
As I write this, my kids are in bed, and in a few moments, when I go to wake them up for school, they’re going to be really disappointed. After two days of watching local forecasters predict a “big winter storm”, with 8-10 inches of snow forecast for our area, I’m looking out the window at about 2 inches of fluff. The plows never even made it out for this one, at least here.
There’s no doubt that this storm was big – just south of Boston, a number of communities were approaching the 1 foot mark for snow totals before midnight last night, and by the looks of the radar on weather.com, it’s still snowing in a lot of those places. But this storm stayed a lot further south than forecast, or perhaps, as one local meteorologist surmised last night, the dry arctic air being pulled down from the north prevented a lot of the snow from falling north of Boston.
Either way, this winter is demonstrating rather convincingly how challenging meteorology forecasts are, even in today’s era of “big data”, satellite recon, and huge amounts of processing power. A few weeks ago, we ended up on the other end of the weather stick, when a similar storm dropped almost two feet of snow at our door, when forecasters were calling for much less snow. Just this past weekend, a “dusting” of snow turned into about 4 inches of heavy, wet snow, and even the local meteorologists were joking on Twitter about how the storm defied their predictions.
I’m pretty sure that forecasts are more accurate today than they were 10 years ago – within a two day window, I think the forecasts are largely fairly accurate. But I also think our expectations are raised, in this age of instant information, and unsurpassed processing power. If we can ask Siri or Google who won the American League batting title in 1928 (Goose Goslin, who won it on the last day of the season), then we start to expect that same accuracy about the future. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is still fickle, or perhaps more accurately, there are still far too many variables that impact the weather than we can model in our computers. Perhaps someday we’ll be able to call snow days in advance of storms with precision, but for now, my kids are going to be surprised some days, and disappointed others. Such is life…
Like many people my age, I’ve spent my share of time visiting doctors, going for lab work, and having assorted medical tests done over the last several years. While our national political dialogue is focused primarily on the cost of healthcare, I’m fascinated by the state of the healthcare customer experience. It’s very clear that our current system is designed around two priorities: cost management, and risk mitigation (for the provider, not for the patient). Our insurance system mandates so much of the customer experience, and yet that doesn’t provide for a very positive experience for the patient (customer), not does it seem to drive much value in terms of patient outcomes.
This is what today’s healthcare experience is like from my experience:
- Nearly every healthcare provider today asks you to sign some kind of document when you arrive for your appointment, typically to acknowledge an understanding of their Privacy policies, and to authorize them to bill your insurance carrier for the visit. This usually is captured on a paper form with a ton of boilerplate language, and I’m guessing that at least 95% of people just sign the document at the “x” without reading a single sentence. That paper form gets filed away somewhere, or maybe it gets scanned and filed digitally, and is probably never seen again.
- Then there’s the “interview”, in which the receptionist validates all of the information the provider has on file for you – do you still have the same insurance? same address? are these people your emergency contacts?. This entire process typically takes place as the receptionist is looking at a screen, clicking through the data on a keyboard and mouse – there’s no eye contact here, and rarely any sense of personal service. After completing this process, which takes between 5 and 10 minutes, you might be given a wristband to identify you in case you keel over while onsite, and then you’re asked to wait.
- Once your name is called, in most cases you’re first brought to a station to take your vital signs and get your weight and sometimes height measured. This is all typically recorded on a clipboard, for later transcription to digital records. When you finally do see the provider, often he or she spends much of the allotted 15 minutes looking at a computer screen and recording your responses to the questions posed. Again, hardly a warm and personal experience for something that’s the most personal of services, when you get down to it.
In addition, based on my observations and conversations with doctors and nurses, the systems that providers use to capture all of this vital patient information are extremely difficult to use and likely contribute to errors in data capture. More than once, when finding out that I work in software, a nurse or doctor has said to me “ah, so maybe you can help fix this system!”, and then goes on to catalog their frustrations with the technology.
What if we could reimagine that experience, using tools and techniques that are becoming standard in other parts of our lives? It might look something like this…
A few days before my appointment, I get an email from the provider reminding me of the appointment day and time. This email contains a quick survey that I can complete to verify or update all my personal information and record acknowledgment of the required privacy and billing approval info. This would also include a link to a short video explaining exactly what I’m acknowledging, so I actually can understand it if I choose. I could also be invited to download the providers mobile app (this might be an interesting product opportunity for a startup – more later, perhaps). The day of the appointment, I’d receive a reminder notification, along with directions to the office and an estimate of the time it will take me to get there from my current location.
Upon arrival at the provider’s office, I find a comfortable reception space, with a concierge carrying a tablet. If I’ve downloaded the provider’s app, my presence is detected via a local beacon network, and I’m automatically added to the list of patients who have checked in (I might confirm my presence via a prompt on my phone). If I have any questions, or if the provider needs additional information from me, the concierge can approach me and resolve anything right on his/her tablet. My smartphone app can also tell me approximately how long I can expect to wait. When it’s my turn, I might be prompted via smartphone alert to proceed to the intake station, where a nurse greets me and takes my vital signs. All of the equipment (scale, BP machine, etc) are networked to automatically update my records, and the nurse simply verifies them on his tablet. I’m then brought to the doctor’s examining room, where the doctor is waiting for me, having reviewed my history on her tablet. She’s able to have an actual conversation with me about the issue that’s brought me there, recording her notes and observations on the tablet. When the visit is complete, I’ll receive a summary of the visit, including my vitals and any notes or any actions to take, via the provider’s app. Any prescriptions needed are automatically sent to my local pharmacy, and I’ll get a notification when the prescription is ready to pick up.
Aside from the potential cost efficiencies that this model might offer, I think the smart use of technology allows a provider to design an experience that’s much more personal and welcoming to a patient. Of course, the key here continues to be the people involved – better systems won’t fix much if the provider staff isn’t focused on offering a positive experience. But at a minimum, eliminating some of the frustrations inherent in today’s systems and procedures should make it easier for providers to focus on the experience and that’s certainly better for us all.