FRAMINGHAM (04/03/2000) - AGRICULTURE: A New World for Old MacDonaldYou could say that John Mascoe is dripping with enthusiasm. But then, the North American sales manager for Vienna, Austria-based Adcon Telemetry is really excited about a new technology that helps farmers know when, where and how much to water their crops.
Adcon's addVantage system uses a combination of wireless in-ground probes and solar-powered radio transmitters to monitor air temperature, humidity, wind, rainfall and nearly a dozen more environmental conditions. The data is collected every 15 minutes and can be transmitted to any Windows PC located within a 45-mile radius. Previously, farmers either had to send someone out into the field to take readings manually or they had to install a cable-sensor system that could be damaged by plowing or storms.
The system is already in use in several states, including California vineyards that use it to monitor the irrigation of grapes. Software models developed by Adcon also interpret the data collected by addVantage to help grape growers combat threats posed by insects, fungus and other pests.
"The general perception of the farmer is someone in overalls driving a pickup truck," says Mascoe. "But technology is rapidly moving agriculture into the wired world of the 21st century."
For more information, visit www. adcon.com. -John Edwards SMART LINGERIE CROSS YOUR HEART Watch out Microsoft Corp.--Kursty Groves' wired bra gives new meaning to the term "tech support." The 26-year-old graduate of London's Royal College of Art is developing a smart brassiere that can detect if its wearer is attacked and will notify police if that happens.
Groves' Techno Bra is equipped with a heart-rate monitor, a global positioning system locator and components of a cell phone, all of which are discreetly concealed within removable gel pads. The bra is made of a special fabric that transmits the wearer's pulse to the monitor, which is sensitive enough to distinguish between changes in heart rate induced by physical activity and those from fear. Once the monitor detects a sudden change in the wearer's heart beat, she has 30 seconds to deactivate the bra in the event of a false alarm.
If not, a GPS satellite receives a signal, determines the location of the assault and dispatches a text message to local police or to a loved one's phone. "It will take some time before people accept the idea of being wired," says Groves. But she believes the Techno Bra will "enhance, not limit, its user's quality of life."
The Techno Bra (which clasps in front) can withstand any washing machine's spin cycle, so never mind the hassle of soaking your dainties in a sink full of Woolite. However, you must remove the electronics before tossing it in.
Groves expects her bras to be available by the end of 2001.
No word yet about matching Techno Knickers, but we'll keep you posted.
CHARITY ONLINE FIGHTING HUNGER COULDN'T BE EASIER For all too many people in the world, hunger is a terrible fact of life. Someone dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds, and three-fourths of those deaths are among children. About 24,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes.
Those are sobering facts, but now you can help with just the click of a mouse.
At The Hunger Site (www.thehungersite.com), one click on the "Donate Free Food" button results in a donation of food to a starving person, at no cost to you.
Corporate sponsors provide the food in exchange for free advertisement and links.
The site is operated by GreaterGood.com. By the end of January, more than 9 million pounds of food had been donated. Donations are distributed through the United Nations World Food Program, which has projects in 80 countries.
Each visitor can donate once a day. One look at the site's world map, which dims a country each time someone there dies from hunger, and you'll want to make sure you do.
BY THE NUMBERS Compiled by Derek Slater
CALL CENTER MANAGEMENT BEST PRACTICES FOR IT CAPTURE The most common--yet potentially misleading--metric for call center performance is average call duration. Longer average calls require more staff, and more staff costs more money--that's the usual logic. However, John Sansbury, head of the call center practice for Compass Management Consulting, notes that, for the most part, call duration depends on the caller and not the call center agent.
And, in fact, overemphasizing call lengths in assessing agent performance can lead to poor customer service.
IT does play a pivotal role in reducing call duration by putting the right information on the agents' desktops with an intuitive, consolidated interface.
Even better than making calls shorter, though, is eliminating unnecessary calls altogether. "You can make small gains with attention to average duration, but you get diminishing returns. Think how much better it would be if you could fix something in your organization that gets rid of 30 percent of the calls altogether," Sansbury says. For example, imagine that a large number of customers call back after placing an order to ask when their purchase will arrive. Those calls can be cut out if the call center system prompts agents to give out ETA information at the end of every sale. Tacking an extra line onto the agent script is counter to the goal of cutting average call length, but in this instance it serves a greater good.
The key practice is to have the technology and process in place to capture what callers are actually asking for. Information systems should make your call center the eyes and ears of the company, not just the mouth. Proper IT systems capture and summarize product and information requests, and let agents give their feedback and observations. Are your callers asking for yellow widgets instead of blue ones? Do customers need more information on the packing slip?
Are the FAQs on your website missing a common question?
Correlate Sansbury gives the example of an agent who consistently racked up the highest sales totals and won the monthly bonus as a result. Unfortunately that agent also had the highest return rate, because he made sales by overemphasizing the return policy: "If you're not satisfied completely, it's not a problem--just send it back." Counting the return rate, that agent would actually score as one of the least profitable performers in the call center.
"You have to look at down-the-line costs associated with sales," Sansbury says.
Information systems can automatically make these kinds of correlations.
Suggest future topics to firstname.lastname@example.org JEWELRY DOTCOM DESIGNS For those who wish they worked for up-and-coming internet startups but remain too comfortably ensconced in more traditional companies, now there's at least an easy way to express that cutting-edge, new economy spirit: internet jewelry.
Yes, that's right--even if you work for the stodgiest old manufacturing firm, you too can sparkle with internet lingo. Comtesse Delphine de Grasse, a Los Angeles-based lifestyle/fashion-design company, has created sterling silver chains featuring the terms "www," ".com" and "@@@." Available in lengths of 7, 8, 16 and 18 inches with small, medium or large links, the silver chains are priced from $22 to $71. (On request, the chains are also available in 14K or 18K gold; prices for those range from $180 to $1,100.) For more information, visit comtesse.safeshopper.com or call 818 789-2062.
ROBOTS OF PURRS AND GRRRS Last year Sony Corp. made headlines when it released Aibo, a robotic pet dog complete with artificial intelligence software that let it respond to human commands (see "Trendlines," CIO, Oct. 1, 1999). Now there's a feline counterpart for Aibo to chase--a robotic cat known as Tama, developed by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. in Osaka, Japan. Not only is Tama cute and furry, but it needs no litter box. The life-size robocat automatically says "Good morning," jumps, purrs and even delivers the local news when plugged into a phone line.
Speech recognition and sensors allow Tama to identify its owner. And that's integral to the goal of its development, which is to relieve stress for senior citizens in need of a companion. (Funding for development was provided by Japan's Association for Technical Aids.) The robot develops a familiar personality using autonomous agent technology. This activates the robot automatically and initiates dialogue with its user. There is also a memory chip that stores recent information logs that can let nurses or doctors know when and how the robocat interacted with its user. Weighing a little over three pounds, the futuristic kitty runs on eight AA batteries, is scheduled for completion in 2001 and will cost approximately $4,000.
Of course, once robotics entered the animal kingdom, it was only a matter of time before it began to venture beyond the household pet--in some cases, way beyond. To wit: The European Association for Research in Legged Robots (EARLR) is in the midst of re-creating the dinosaur age. EARLR's Palaiomation Project will replicate a 13-foot Iguanodon artefieldensis with a "robosaur" featuring multiple sensors and control systems that allow it to roam museums, chew on plants, blink, simulate breathing and interact with visitors.
"This is an exciting project," says Designer Vassilios Papantoniou, who works for EARLR in Lamia, Greece. "It requires and brings together expertise from many different fields, such as paleontology, biomechanics and robotics." The new attraction is currently half its ultimate size and has full power for about one hour. The full-scale dinobot is scheduled for completion in 2001. Visit www.earlr.gr. -Kelli Botta WOMEN GOOD NEWS...AND BAD NEWS While the representation of women in corporate America has been steadily increasing, women are still poorly represented in the upper echelons of the business world. So says Catalyst, a nonprofit advisory organization based in New York City that works to enable women to achieve their full professional potential. Catalyst has been studying women corporate officers and top earners for the past five years, and the latest census, which looked at this group in Fortune 500 companies, revealed that in 1999 11.9 percent of corporate officers were women, up from 8.7 percent in 1995. And the number of companies with no women corporate officers decreased from 23 percent to 21 percent in the same period.
Yet even though women are making gains in the workplace, Catalyst found that overall women hold only 6.8 percent of line jobs (those with profit-and-loss or direct client responsibility), while men hold 93.2 percent.
Why the disparity? "We hear over and over again that the top barrier is stereotypes and preconceptions, not just about ability but also about commitment," says Katherine Tobin, the director of research and advisory studies for Catalyst who directed the census. Tobin points out that once a woman is married, the assumption is often that she is going to start having children and decrease her commitment to the company. As a result, women more often find themselves steered toward staff positions like human resources and public relations.
"Staff jobs are not going to get you to the corner office," says Tobin. "We encourage companies to take a look at where their women are and then open up some of the walls so that they can move beyond functional [positions]," says Tobin. -Meg Mitchell ON THE MOVE Compiled by Tom Field CHANGES BREWING AT STARBUCKS Ted DellaVecchia, former CIO of Capital Blue Cross in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, joined Seattle-based coffee retailer Starbucks in January as senior vice president and CIO. He replaces Debbi Gillotti, who will become senior VP and general manager of Starbucks X, a division that includes direct-to-consumer sales and other e-commerce initiatives.
Though a newcomer to retail sales, DellaVecchia has plenty of technology and business experience. He championed e-commerce strategy at Capital Blue Cross, prior to which he was CIO of marketing, sales and services for IBM's then-new PC division. DellaVecchia's new challenges are to maintain the projects and partnerships Gillotti initiated, and to help Starbucks expand globally.
"I've got to step into a fairly large set of shoes," says DellaVecchia, who was wooed to Starbucks by what he describes as the company's passion for growth.
"Starbucks reminds me of some of my early career challenges at IBM, where we built the PC business. There is a similar passion, focus and commitment to the work here. People love what they do, and it shows."
DellaVecchia has two immediate challenges. The first is staffing--the Pacific Northwest, in general, and Starbucks, in particular, is feeling the bite of the IS staffing shortage. As the new CIO, DellaVecchia has to set the tone for recruiting and retaining the best IT talent. To do this, he says he wants to be known as more of a people person than he has been in the past.
He also has to learn the nuts and bolts of Starbucks' business--retail sales, point-of-sale technology, food marketing. Toward this end, DellaVecchia is enrolled in Starbucks' vaunted immersion program, which places senior executives out in the field to learn the business from the ground up. He's already spent a week at a Pennsylvania roasting plant, and next he expects to be assigned to mixing brews at a Starbucks retail store. "I just hope I learn to make the best beverages I can," DellaVecchia says.
PLAYER'S GUIDE Michael J. Day, RSL Communications Ltd. has been promoted to CIO of RSL Communications of New York and Bermuda; previously, Day was the company's European director of billing and management information systems.
Keith Dennelly, State Street Global Advisors has been named CTO of State Street Global Advisors, the investment management unit of Boston's State Street Corp.; Dennelly replaces John Fiore, who previously was named CIO.
George L. Frantz, Park Electrochemical Corp. After nearly 26 years as an IT executive at Atlantic Richfield Co., Frantz joins Park Electrochemical of Lake Success, N.Y., as senior vice president and CIO.
Armand Morin, Private Healthcare Systems Inc. has been named CIO of Private Healthcare Systems of Waltham, Massachusetts; interim CIO since last September, Morin is expected to bring his extensive IT and health-care experience to bear at PHCS, a managed health-care provider.
Zachary Patterson, American Cancer Society is the new national CIO of the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society; formerly, Patterson was the CIO and commander of a U.S. Army Strategic Signal Brigade for the Military District of Washington, D.C.
Bruce D. Parker, Sapient Corp. former CIO of United Airlines, joins Sapient as executive vice president; a member of Sapient's board of directors since 1995, Parker will lead corporate development and strategic growth initiatives for the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based e-services consultancy.
I.T. HUMOR THEY JUST KEEP GETTING STRANGER I.T. professionals have long exchanged stories about the weird user requests they've heard, and it seems those bizarre requests just keep on coming despite the increasing prevalence of technology in modern life. RHI Consulting, a Menlo Park, California-based consultancy, recently surveyed 470 IT professionals about the strangest requests they have ever heard. Among their responses were the following gems.
"How do I prevent the coffee cup holder (CD-ROM drive) from going back into the computer?"
"Please warn me the next time my computer is going to crash."
"Why doesn't my mouse work?" (User was waving mouse in the air rather than using it on her desktop.) "My large floppy is stuck in the small disk drive--how can I read it?" (User had folded a 5-1/4 inch floppy in half and inserted it into the 3-1/2 inch disk drive.) "How do I push those buttons on the screen?" (User was unaware that the mouse was necessary for navigation.) "Can you please help me open the shrink-wrap on my software?"
"Do I need to plug in my tape drive before I back up data?
"I write 'click' but nothing is happening!" (Help desk technician had asked end user to "right click.") INTERNET MOVIE COMING SOON TO A MONITOR NEAR YOU Do you love movies but hate competing for parking spaces and then paying through the nose for popcorn? If so, you're in for a treat: A new movie, set for release in May, will first be released on the internet. Called The Quantum Project, the film is being produced by Metafilmics, the company that produced What Dreams May Come. The movie tells the story of a physicist who has a mystical experience. It will run approximately 40 minutes.
The technology backbone enabling the film's online release is being provided by online video store Sightsound.com, which used compression technology from Microsoft to make the files faster to download. According to Jennifer Pesci, marketing director for Sightsound.com in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, download times will vary depending on the speed of the internet connection, but high-speed users should be able to download the movie in 15 to 45 minutes. A one-day rental will cost $2.95. For more information, visit www.sight sound.com.
HOT TOPIC I.T. VALUE SHARING THE WEALTH By Katherine Noyes Proving the value of some IT investments is easy, but for others it can be a bear. Infrastructure investments, in particular, can be difficult--you know they're necessary, but it's not always easy to find numbers that show it.
That's because most companies leave out some critical elements when valuing infrastructure, argues Douglas Hubbard, principal for Glen Ellyn, Illinois-based Hubbard Ross, which specializes in applied information economics. CIO asked him to explain.
CIO: HOW DO MOST COMPANIES VALUE INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENTS TODAY? Hubbard:
Either they're not doing it at all, or they're trying to make an argument entirely on the basis of IS productivity or TCO--meaning that it makes IS support people more productive, for example. The big piece they're missing is that the infrastructure is subsidizing other applications, but valuation of those applications does not incorporate the infrastructure costs. So the applications that use the infrastructure get to claim most benefits without reflecting all their costs. That's like leaving the cost of keyboards out of your application valuation and having to make a separate cost-benefit analysis for keyboards. How should companies value these investments?
There are three methods they should use. First, continue looking at TCO considerations, because those are certainly valid.
Second, they should acknowledge that infrastructure often subsidizes applications and reflect that by allocating marginal costs to the applications.
So if you have infrastructure costs that go up because of some application investment, the application should show those additional costs.
Finally, companies should use options theory in valuing their infrastructure investments. Increasing your capacity now gives you an option for dealing with unexpected growth--it gives you some flexibility and might let you avoid some costs in the future. So to justify an infrastructure investment, that basically boils down to multiplying the potential future cost avoidance by the probability of it occurring. That can be a pretty technical analysis, and many organizations will need the help of an options expert. But it's one that's well worth making, given that infrastructure investments are normally large.
Companies should be prepared to conduct a serious analysis and to spend 1 percent to 2 percent of the total investment amount just on valuing it properly.
HOT TOPIC LEADERSHIP EDUCATING RITA...AND BOB, AND JIM By Polly Schneider As corporate hierarchies dissolve in the internet economy, companies are expecting more leadership from both seasoned and junior managers. In IT, for instance, managers must be able to lead "laterally"--both inside and outside their organizations--as the number of outsourcing contracts and other alliances increases, says Michael Useem, professor of management at The Wharton School in Philadelphia.
There are a number of leadership education programs that can help, but many of them take more time than your average time-strapped manager has to spare. Not only that, but many programs are broadly focused and don't provide the real-world tools managers need. As a result, companies are increasingly looking for programs that are relatively short in duration and incorporate classroom learning with on-the-job projects.
Conoco's 3-year-old corporate university has a new program called Trailblazers that was developed about a year ago for the oil company's rising stars.
Designed for the top 200 to 300 employees, Trailblazers puts managers through three weeks of education over a nine-month period. Each class consists of 25 to 30 managers from all regions and disciplines of the company and requires them to bring a critical business challenge they currently face at work into the classroom. Over the nine months, managers take lessons they learn from the formal classes--a combination of business strategy and personal development sessions taught largely by outside experts from institutions such as the London Business School and the Center for Creative Leadership--back to the office to solve the challenges at hand.
Useem, meanwhile, who is director of Wharton's center for leadership and change management, teaches leadership courses for mid- and senior-level managers that run anywhere from three days to five weeks. CIOs account for about 8.5 percent of the student body. Wharton sends instructors to company sites on request and focuses on replicating real-life experiences. Useem has even escorted classes to Mount Everest and to Civil War battlefields in Virginia. "The idea is to bring people to the proximity where life and death situations take place," he says.