Apple: Record Profits Amidst Uncertainty in Silicon Valley [VIDEO]

Mac OSX Lion was launched a day after Apple reported record profits in the last quarter. There are predictions that Apple will go on to turnover $120 billion in this fiscal year.

However, the PriceWaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree Report, also just released, points out that although VC investment has been at its greatest in the first quarter of this year since 2008, there are indications that the VCs themselves are having trouble finding funding.

While there is much debate about whether Silicon Valley is in the midst of a bubble or not it does seem that growth in the tech market sector is very mixed.

Cisco Quad: A Social Network for the Business Enterprise

Quad is Cisco’s enterprise collaboration platform. It is a system where the social tools that are widely used in Facebook and Twitter and other social networks such as; newsfeeds, groups, relationships with friends and followers, contacts and the ability to be able to see activities that other people in our social network are doing, have been adapted to meet the demands of the business world. The emphasis here, however, is more on enterprise than social network.

The social networking capability that we are used to having with Facebook or Twitter has been enabled for integration with the enterprise systems that nearly all businesses have, and which already deal with the demands of CRM systems, document management and numerous other tasks.

Cisco developed Quad because they found that there was a need to provide integration between social networking and the requirement to maintain commercial security and fulfill various legal compliances. It was time to bring social media into the grown-up world. Quad transforms the idea of social network systems from being a fun tool to stay in touch with family and friends to a cutting edge business tool to aid communication and productivity.

Keith Griffin, Lead Architect of the Enterprise Collaboration Platform at Cisco, is based in Galway, Ireland. The Cisco site there is heavily involved in the field of unified communications: the combining of video, audio, instant messaging, online meetings and other collaborative solutions. Using their knowledge and experience, the team in Galway were able to make a large contribution to the work being done on the core development of Quad taking place in San Jose, California.

As Keith explains, “What we are doing here is adding horizontal social interconnectivity to a vertical directory structure. You can see in my profile (pictured above and below) that I have got directory information here. You can see my latest microblog about a research meeting that took place the night before last and my recent blogs and tags which I share with everyone else. If people want to go to this page, they can see all this. It is not just a static web page. It’s a full Web 2.0 environment.

“In the directory, I can see the reporting line. You can see all the people I am following in the directory. If I hover over anybody on the list here, I can see for example that so and so is not following, but this person is. That’s the difference between the ‘following’ model and the ‘friend’ model. If both people follow each other they are friends.

“When we did this integration (at one point there was in excess of a hundred thousand people participating,) the social activity was immense. As soon as people could see where they were in the directory and where they related to other people, they started sending friend requests and following requests.

“It just showed to me that vertical integration remains the backbone of the organisation, but it’s of limited value without this horizontal social activity because that represents the interactions that people do in real life, and in the virtual teams they work with, and so on.”

As it was felt that people have a little more to say in the business world, Quad uses 400 characters in its microposts. There is also the ability to have a ‘watch list’ where a separate filter of the main feed’s social activities can be displayed. This can allow the watch list to be used as a de facto to-do list. It gives the user the ability to respond to the news, requests and information that is most pertinent and relevant to them.

How easy does Quad make it to access the vast and varied amount of resources and expertise that a company like Cisco has?

“A big trend that we borrowed from the Web is the concept of social relevance. If I am an expert on something and I offer an opinion or write a blog, that tends to be given a pretty heavy weighting. If someone offers an opinion and perhaps they don’t have a background in a certain area, then it tends to stay as an opinion with a lesser weighting.

“In a social network, because you get to see all the activities, you can see who is active in any particular area. Over time, if people aren’t getting the answers that they expect from somebody who has been represented with having those skills, then in a system like this you would see less social activity associated with those topics for those people. So their relevance and ranking overall can drop.

How is Quad modeled?

“What we have done here is modeled our entire system on people, communities and information. Those are the three dimensions of the system.

“If I search for something like the Semantic Web, which is something we research quite deeply with the people at DERI, it will bring us back a three-dimensional search result. We’re not doing anything special with search, but what we are doing is interpreting the results in the context of social network rather than in the context of a keyword search on a number of documents.

“What it is about is providing a richness of information in any given search.”

A natural by product of social activity is the creation of communities. How are they handled?

“When people have a certain interest and that’s an ongoing interest, whether it is a project or it could be a sales campaign or a feature that they are working on, they can set up a community. The community can have a number of owners and contributors. We can have wikis and other Web 2.0 tools of the sort which you would expect, as everything running here is completely within a browser environment.

“Just like on the Web, crowdsourcing in an enterprise is significant as well. It is not just based on the hierarchy of our team. Anybody can come in and contribute their ideas. We use the crowd within our own organisation to get things done.”

While Cisco and companies like Cisco have been using instant messaging technology in preference to emails and telephone conversations for a number of years, particularly in the areas of engineering and software development, there is a major benefit to be had in harnessing one of the real powers of social media – persistence.

Persistence means that a message is kept alive and relevant because it can be seen in the context of its usefulness and relevance by the people engaged with that conversation. Important ideas don’t get lost in emails or are forgotten to be passed on after isolated conversations on telephones.

As it is easier to see the relationship between different messages and their place in the context of activity, it makes it easier to obtain a better perspective on what has already happened, and as a consequence be more appropriately placed to make better decisions about what to do next.

How does Quad help with the issue of time zones in a company as large as Cisco?

“I work an awful lot with San Jose and I am not sure if I could get through my day without Quad. As soon as I come in, I get a snapshot of all my colleagues and all the projects and technologies they are working on.

“It’s not as good as the coffee machine conversation, but I can get a sense of what is going on. The alternative is reading lots and lots of individual emails which doesn’t give me the same context or the same conversational view.”

A tool or a piece of software will only go so far. There has to be a desire for a company to collaborate and want to work together. There is an organisational and business process that needs to happen with this technology as well. Software, as ever, is just a facilitator. It is just something to make things happen. But perhaps when people look at the powerful possibilities that technologies like Quad can offer, it can inspire them to drive the sort of changes needed to enable organisations to work more collaboratively and, hopefully, make things better for everyone.

Cisco’s Carlos Dominguez: “Cooperation Is The Killer App”

The most remarkable thing about meeting with Carlos Dominguez, Senior Vice President at Cisco Systems, was how we met. I was in Galway, Ireland and Carlos was in New Jersey in the United States, but it felt as though he was sitting across the table from me.

The technology we used for this meeting was called Telepresence. The experience was overwhelmingly real but at the same time so natural and unobtrusive that minutes into the interview I had quite forgotten that we were, in reality, separated by thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean. At one point I became concerned that should I jog the table I might knock over a coffee cup (visible in the picture above) which Carlos had placed close to his computer. There was nothing to fear as the cup was empty but the feeling that I could have a direct physical effect on someone else in another country remained.

Cisco has over 900 of these Telepresence sites across its network and they are starting to appear in locations where members of the public can have better access to the technology. The JW Marriott Grand Marquis has recently opened a Telepresence site in its hotel in Miami which it rents out by the hour. A major advantage of Telepresence technology is that it saves travel time, airfares and room rates – which for a team of people can mount up very quickly. It also saves on travel induced stress.

This is something Carlos knows about from personal experience, “If I go back to 2006. I travelled almost a million miles on airlines and if you do the calculation that’s almost traveling every single day for 365 days. Some days I traveled more than once. It took a tremendous toll on me.

“In 2010, I’m traveling 70,000 miles maybe 75,000 miles but here’s the punchline; I am seeing two to three times more customers and it’s the technology that’s enabling it.

“The question that comes out all the time is, “Oh, well, but nothing replaces a face to face meeting.” Well, true, it’s great to see you to shake your hand or maybe we’ll get a cup of coffee, a dinner, a lunch or maybe a glass of wine or a beer… and nothing replaces that bonding. But the experience of doing [Telepresence] is very, very different.”

Video and video-conferencing are not exactly new technologies so we asked Carlos what had changed?

“As a young man I remember going to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and AT&T had the Picturephone. A telephone that had video on it. I remember being amazed and that was fifty plus years ago that they demonstrated that technology. In the eighties there was video-conferencing everywhere but the challenges there was that the quality of the video wasn’t very good. It was very hard to operate. You needed a whole staff of people to do it. People were zooming in and out, the quality of the audio was horrible. It was horrific.

“So when we set out to design this we said, “What are all things about video[-conferencing] that we dislike and how do we change it?”

“We took all the bad things away. We have super high quality video. We’ve taken into consideration the lighting, the colour… We spent months just analyzing the colour of the wood so it gives you a very natural reflection. We went to Hollywood to work with designers and lighting designers to make it all very simple.

“But I think the reason why it is so powerful has to do with physiology. We had body language before we had language. I spend time with people, coaching them, and I know exactly what they are thinking. I can see every little part of your face so I know if you are connecting with me or you are not. Those are the things that I think are really transformational in the way we are doing this and why this technology is so powerful.”

Telepresence is scaled for different price points with different unit sizes and is available for different budgets and different needs. There is even a Telepresence system for the home called Umi which is being rolled out in the US at present but should be arriving on European shores soon.

A very useful facility that Umi has is the ability to email you when a video voicemail has arrived. All you have to have with you is the ability to run Google Video. You can check your video message while in a cafe or a bar or while in transit.

“It’s all about video.” Carlos says, “In order to collaborate you have to have the underlying technologies to collaborate with and I think video is one of the really strong enablers that allows that to happen. Now we see dramatic changes inside the company on how we do things by leveraging video and cooperating differently.

Cisco also has a service called WebEx Connect which gives you the ability to have online meetings where you can share your presentation via a small video window.

“Cooperation is the killer app.” Carlos explains, “One of the challenges right now for Social Media is when you are talking about Facebook and Twitter and large corporations. Last number I read is that 54% of Fortune 500 companies block Facebook and Twitter. It’s alarming to me that such a powerful tool is not being embraced. But I hope that with technologies like Quad we can bring them into businesses and show them that there is extreme power in doing it.

“We’ve been using a lot of social media technology…If you look at the power of Social Media and those technologies and what it allows you to do – to be able to share and to be able to communicate with people – they are better tools than most enterprises have. Most enterprises are very reliant on email. Email is very antiquated. 90% of email is spam.

“So, what we started thinking about three years ago is, “How do we leverage the power of Social Media and bring it into the enterprise where it is safe and secure. And also put on some bells and whistles which are very pertinent to a business user.””

Cisco Quad is an internal social media service that allows for collaboration within a corporate structure. It was developed by an R&D team led by Mike Conroy working out of Galway, Ireland. We plan to devote a subsequent article to talking to Mike and finding out more about how Quad works.

In the final part of the interview we asked Carlos about his views on future developments.

“Technologies allow a vast majority of people to really collaborate on something. The more diverse a group of people that are collaborating is; by age, where they live, religion, culture; the more varied those dimensions are – the better the group is at solving complex problems.

“Information evolves with the tools as one person sees it and someone else from a different background sees something else. That information, every time it goes through a person with a different background becomes more and more valuable.

“The pace of change is going to accelerate. I think in a world that is moving so fast I think embracing change is very, very important and I think experimenting is very, very important.

“I talk to a lot of CEOs and really senior people and they always ask me, “How do I keep up with everything? What do I do?” I always tell them you have to experiment. You have to set up a culture that is constantly trying all these things.

“When you experiment you learn what works and what doesn’t. And when you learn you eventually get to Utopia which is [where] you get leveraging.”

It’s a four step process:

  • You embrace change
  • Experiment
  • Learn from the experiment
  • Leverage.

“You can’t get the leverage unless you go through the process. In a world that is changing rapidly you have to start being open to all the things that are going on.

“The good news is that as technology gets more and more sophisticated it will get much easier to use. The technology will learn how we operate.”