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#WorkTrends: Remote Work Is More Than Staying in Your PJs

Remote work is a hot topic these days, and many people dream of working from home. And why shouldn’t you? Who wouldn’t want to keep their pajamas on, stroll over to their laptop and work from the convenience of home? And did I mention the savings in gas money?

If only it were that simple. Successfully working remotely takes a lot of effort, not just for employees but also for the organization that signs the checks. In order to seek some guidance, we turned to James Lloyd, co-founder and chief technology officer of Redox, a completely distributed company. We broke down all things remote: How to manage a remote team, how to lead a remote company and how to work remotely without losing productivity OR the human connection.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Remote Work: An Investment in People

Remote work is incredibly convenient for those who get to do it. But Lloyd says remote work is also an investment in the organization’s people. “Many of us have come from environments where your job is very geographically located, and when things happen in your life that may mean you need to move,” he says. “That means you might have to change your job, and that feels like a really low investment in the people that you work with.”

Distributed companies like Redox avoid this issue and have other advantages as well. “We can recruit from anywhere,” Lloyd says. “It helps us get the best talent possible.” This trust and investment placed in remote workers lead to a very positive outcome: “We see a remarkable amount of retention,” Lloyd says.

The Challenges of Building a Remote Team

There are a lot of potential employees out there who are interested in working for a remote organization or having the option to work remotely. But building a remote team is not without its challenges, Lloyd says. As he and his co-founders grew the company, they kept a tenet in mind: “We definitely want ‘remote’ to not mean ‘isolating,’ ” he says.

Lloyd and his team quickly learned that face time was incredibly valuable. At the start when there were only eight employees, the team got together every six weeks. Now the company gets together twice a year for three to four days at a time. “It’s really important for just getting to know each other and meeting people who aren’t normally on your teams,” he says. “We typically use that time to align around our goals and our strategy.”

Providing social support for employees is also very important, he says. “For many people who have a lot of experience in an office setting, they may find a lot of their friend groups and social circles being formed with coworkers, because you have that proximity,” Lloyd says. This typically isn’t an option for remote workers, so Lloyd and his team have created settings for his employees to interact online regarding things outside of work. However, the Redox team also looks to support its employees in their hometowns, by connecting them with meetups and volunteer programs.

How to Make Your Remote Workers Feel Like They’re Part of the Team

Not every company is completely distributed, but many organizations have remote workers or employees who work remotely part of the time. This has created a conundrum: How do you better connect the people off-site to their colleagues who are at the office?

Lloyd says setting protocols for meetings can go a long way toward helping remote employees feel more of a connection. His team uses the videoconferencing tool Zoom for internal meetings, and they require every person to use Zoom, even those who are in the same location. “Even if there are three people in a conference room and one person in a different state, all four people have their webcams on,” he says. “It really helps to prevent alienating the person who is not in the same room.”

Additionally, Lloyd recommends doing as much preparation as possible for meetings ahead of time and to do it in writing. This allows meeting-goers to focus, and it also respects the differences in employees’ schedules. “Everybody feels like they can make an equal contribution independent of their location or time zone,” Lloyd says.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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L&D Blog » Challenging Perceptions in L&D

As an L&D professional, you’ll likely have spent most of your career developing a suitable learning strategy for your organization and its learners. You’ll have used tried and tested methods that you know will engage and educate them.

But how can you be sure that you’re delivering what they truly need and want? Sure, you have the experience, but the modern learner is changing and developing as fast as the iPhone! The truth is, in order to deliver a successful learning strategy, we all need to stop acting on instinct and start acting on hard facts.

In our latest webinar with our sister company, Towards Maturity, we took a look at the findings from our recent white paper, “Challenging Perceptions.” The paper explored ways that learners can weave quality learning into their daily lives.

L&D Challenges

In a 2018 survey, Mind Tools identified three top L&D challenges for Learner Engagement. These are:

The biggest challenge for most learners is time. Many people feel that they just don’t have enough time to dedicate to learning. So, getting people to engage can be a struggle, initially.

This leads us to the second challenge — development is not seen as a priority. If learners can’t see the benefit of learning, why should they take time out of their busy schedules to do it? L&D professionals must be able to demonstrate the value of learning to people upfront.

The third challenge is lack of resources. Many learners believe that the type of learning on offer is not relevant to them. Everyone has different and specific learning needs. So it’s important that organizations provide a wealth of resources that allow each learner to find what they want.

How Can We Improve?

Our white paper also looks at the key areas in which L&D professionals want to achieve better results. These are:

  1. Improving learner engagement.
  2. Increasing self-determined learning.
  3. Facilitating new ways of learning.
  4. Integrating learning into the workflow.

A big area of improvement cited by L&D professionals is helping people to become more engaged with learning at work. But what about the learners themselves? Interestingly, our research uncovered a disconnect between what learners and L&D practitioners feel about learning.

A significant disconnect was discovered between how learners and L&D professionals feel about putting learning into practice quickly. Only 16 percent of L&D professionals believe learners can do this, compared to 70 percent of learners themselves.

The results show that our perceptions are often misaligned with what is actually going on in our workplaces, and the wider market. The trend continues when we look at learners’ efforts as well…

According to our research, 26 percent of L&D professionals say self-directed learning is common practice in their organization. But 86 percent of learners report that they are learning all the time as part of their everyday work. This demonstrates just how much people are willing to engage with learning at work, albeit at a time that suits them. It also shows just how difficult it can be to record the workplace learning that is going on. Just because it’s not documented, it doesn’t mean that it’s not taking place!

How Top Organizations are Winning 

Many organizations face similar struggles implementing learning at work. So, over the past 10 years, Towards Maturity have recorded the habits of top performing companies in L&D to see whether anything can be learnt from their strategies.

Coined as the “Top Deck,” these statistics come from the top-performing 10 percent of Towards Maturity’s data sample.   

The results show the difference between top performing organizations’ approach to learning and that of average organizations. In order to demonstrate where top organizations are thriving, we’ve produced a handy infographic. You can use this to pinpoint focus areas for improvement and share the findings with the rest of your company. Just download your copy, here.

If you’d like to listen to the webinar in full, click here. Alternatively, if you want to access the full research report, you can download our white paper, “Challenging Perceptions,” here.

Are you a top performing organization or does your company have a long way to go? Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the Comments section, below!

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Empowering financial services to achieve more

It’s a transformative time for the financial services industry. In the fast-changing, tech-driven world banks now live in, they recognize that technology can play a role in helping them meet both their customers’ expectations and challenging regulatory requirements. Coming to Microsoft from that world myself just two weeks ago, I’m now leading the team responsible for helping our customers do just that – regardless of where they are in their transformation journey.

After 20 years in financial services, I’ve seen the impact technology can have, and recognize we have been approaching an inflection point for some time – and are at the tipping point.

We’re approaching the close of a decade, and the industry has a tremendous opportunity to accelerate use of cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) as a catalyst to improve competitiveness, drive growth, elevate customer experiences and keep ahead of changing regulations and cybersecurity threats.

To take full advantage of what Sibos 2019 describes as a hyper-connected world, more banks are making broader cloud platform choices – moving beyond infrastructure services – and extending their cloud investment to productivity, data and AI, and agile customer relationship management services.

They’re making this platform decision to seize the opportunity at hand and evolve to meet the rapidly changing needs and expectations of customers. They recognize technology can help them create the new business models required – even integrate past, present and future.

As we look ahead, key to this will be the ability for financial organizations to:

  • Deliver differentiated ​customer experience​ by accelerating growth and loyalty through deeper customer insights and relationships ​
  • Modernize payments and core banking​ with agility to roll out new products and services​
  • Manage risk across the organization​ with deep insights and compliance with regulatory requirements​
  • Empower employeesthrough teamwork​ and improved employee productivity and accelerate workplace modernization​
  • Combat financial crime​ by protecting your bank and customers while lowering compliance costs​

Because of the hyper-connectivity, we know that regulatory compliance is and must be a top priority, which is why Microsoft continues to work with financial services regulators and customers to ensure our cloud services help customers meet their strict regulatory requirements.  Our team has been a part of the consultation period in sharing perspectives on updated outsourcing guidance by the European Banking Authority (“EBA)” and the final issued guidance, which takes effect on Sept. 30, 2019.  This longstanding engagement with regulators around cloud computing is one of the reasons more than 90 percent of Global Systemically Important Financial Institutions (“GSIFIs”) depend on Microsoft cloud services. As a company we’ve made the investments and commitments to ensure they can meet their regulatory obligations.

To accelerate digital transformation, Microsoft has focused on removing barriers to adopting cloud technology – such as regulatory and compliance, and beyond. At Sibos, we’re unveiling several announcements to further underscore this effort:

  • Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection general availability and new feature addressing wrongful declines: This cloud-based solution will be generally available on Oct. 1, 2019 and is designed to decrease fraud costs and help increase acceptance rates for customer payment transactions with e-commerce merchants. Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection is designed to benefit merchants and banks while also improving customer shopping experiences by providing a seamless purchasing experience. The solution combats payment and account-creation fraud with AI technology that continuously learns and adapts to evolving fraudulent patterns. When generally available, the service will include a new feature (Transaction Acceptance Booster) that addresses wrongful declines – a common issue negatively impacting both merchants and banks. Among the first to deploy the new solution is Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting Group in India to reduce the fraud rate for their ecommerce platform FMCG players like Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting Group can opt into this feature to increase acceptance rates for authorization requests they make to their issuing banks participating in Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection.
  • Microsoft Banking Accelerator adds BIAN API implementation: Following the general availability of the Microsoft Banking Accelerator in July, today we are releasing an API sample implementation on GitHub for interoperability with the Banking Industry Architecture Network (BIAN) API service domains. BIAN is a not-for-profit association to establish and promote a common architectural framework for enabling banking interoperability. Microsoft and BIAN have been working together to help unlock new open banking opportunities by allowing organizations to more seamlessly and consistently share banking-specific data across disparate systems. In addition to the BIAN API samples, Microsoft released an update to  Banking Accelerator on AppSource bringing additional use cases for retail banking.
  • Microsoft is the first cloud providerto receive a comprehensive cloud assessment from TruSight, an industry-backed, best-practices third-party assessment utility. Today, TruSight delivered a comprehensive on-site assessment of Microsoft’s Cloud Computing environment, including Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, and Microsoft Dynamics 365. The assessment was conducted using TruSight’s stringent best-practices assessment methodology. The new TruSight report gives financial services organizations a high-quality assessment of Microsoft’s cloud services based on standardized, industry-designed control assessment methodology. TruSight and its third-party assessment utility was created by leading banking institutions for the collective benefit of all financial services participants. The utility gives financial institutions the ability to access assessments on the most widely used third parties across financial services, rather than having to individually conduct assessments. Microsoft is the first of the major cloud providers to complete the assessment, which covered 27 control domains such as information technology, cybersecurity, business resiliency, privacy, physical security and risk management. Visit the Microsoft Trust Center to learn more.

Microsoft customers share their success stories 

Microsoft is focused on empowering financial services organizations to achieve more. That requires being focused on trust, and always enabling our customers – through innovation, and security and compliance investments, as well as industry leading cloud scale. We continue to put our customers at the center of everything we do by sharing their inspired stories from our customers’ success since last year’s Sibos. We see momentum increasing worldwide as our customers tell their transformation stories – answering the questions about how they overcame obstacles, pitfalls to avoid, keys to success, why cloud or AI, and why Microsoft. Here are just a few of their stories:

Microsoft partner news 

At Sibos 2019, we’re excited to showcase our partners’ progress in helping our mutual customers with their technology needs. Microsoft is the only cloud provider with a mature partner program and has the largest partner ecosystem in the market with more than 68,000 partners worldwide. Our partners are equipped and prepared to work with financial services organizations of all sizes across all their needs.

We’re featuring the following partner successes and collaboration efforts:


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Getting Real About Artificial Intelligence

What’s the most exciting technology on the horizon? Is it self-driving cars? Voice-activated computing? Computer-assisted medicine? While each of these technologies is exciting and has the potential to revolutionize our lives, they’re all based on a single technology: artificial intelligence.

The potential impact of AI is incredible. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this technology. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, AI could deliver $13 trillion in annual global productivity gains by 2030.

Shaker/Montage is a leading entity in the field of AI and its applications for business. I recently had a conversation about the current state and future of AI with Shaker’s Eric Sydell and Isaac Thompson. Sydell is executive vice president of research and innovation, and Thompson is principal data scientist. Here’s some of what we discussed.

What Do We Mean By ‘Artificial Intelligence’?

AI is loosely defined as computers that can learn and adapt to input and feedback. Many applications of AI today are based on the concept of “deep learning.” This technique of using computers to analyze enormous sets of data for patterns and insights is behind everything from computerized chess programs that can defeat the best players in the world to radiology systems that can diagnose cancer earlier and with more accuracy than can be done by humans.

Are There Any Drawbacks to AI?

Just like any other powerful tool, AI can be used in good ways and bad ways. It falls on us to use AI in a way that is fair and equitable, and that leads to good outcomes.

Is There an Inherent Bias in AI

Humans have innate biases, while AI evaluates the data it is given without any built-in biases. If the data we feed an AI system is itself flawed, limited, or biased, then the resulting prediction will mirror those issues. Programmers need to ensure that AI is developed using good data, and must be careful to avoid unintended consequences like bias.

Is AI a One-Size-Fits-All Solution?

Different companies will use AI in different ways. One of the biggest problems with AI today is that many companies are rushing solutions to market without fully understanding how they work, let alone how they’ll perform in the real world. Developing beneficial AI solutions that solve real-world problems requires a great deal of research and revision to get them right.

What Should We Expect in the Future of AI?

Our field and world are in the early stages of exploring the power of AI. We expect the benefits above to be developed over time, and AI to gradually learn to make better decisions than people do. This process requires a lot of data and a lot of research, so it won’t happen overnight. There are also hurdles and pitfalls of which we must be aware.

Artificial Intelligence is one of the most powerful technologies humanity has ever developed. It has the capability to revolutionize our world. And yet, even with the power of this technology in our hands, we must choose how to use it to make our world a better place.


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A Match Made in Heaven!

What makes the perfect partnership? Shared interests? The same values? Mutual respect?

In the case of Mind Tools and SPX Flow, it was “all of the above!”

During our latest webinar, SPX Flow’s Global Director of Talent, Scott Schoenbrun, talked to me about how the relationship between our two organizations began, and why it continues to flourish.

A Passion for Learning

Scott has been an advocate of learning at SPX Flow for more than 10 years, and he firmly believes that learning is about more than information. As he sees it, learning has to involve application.

A leading manufacturer of innovative technologies, SPX Flow has long known that people drive business success. As a result, the company sought out the right tools to develop strong, empowered leaders and managers.

And they wanted to make sure that their teams learned through experience, in the flow of their work.

Enter Mind Tools!

The Challenge at SPX Flow

To begin their journey, SPX Flow had to ask themselves what their end goal was for learning and development – and exactly why they wanted to achieve it.

From early on, they knew that they had to move away from a “classroom” approach, and provide their people with on-demand learning.

And, according to Scott, the “why” was also clear. “With classroom learning, you lose that personalized experience that individuals need. So, we want to be able to focus expectations on the individual and make it relevant to what that person needs, right now.”

They were faced with leading a major change project with a relatively small L&D team. So they decided to focus on their people managers, particularly during their onboarding and management training. It turned out to be a very smart move.

Give the People What They Need!

What those managers needed, they said, was the right information at their fingertips whenever they come across a new issue. Crucially, they also wanted it in a form that suited them.

“With Mind Tools,” Scott explained, “the information is extremely relevant, there is new information coming out all the time, there are various formats. Not everything is a video, not everything is a white paper. This allows our people to choose the format they need to learn. And that’s something that we really like.”

By providing instant access to useful material, Mind Tools has enabled SPX Flow’s people managers to develop the skills and behaviors necessary to be better at their jobs. And that in turn has accelerated the organization’s performance.

Scott’s convinced that this is because his company defined its L&D goals – and then, in Mind Tools, found an approach that matched.

“It’s high quality, and it’s microlearning. We are all extremely busy, so we need to provide information in short bursts that don’t take people away for long periods of time. Mind Tools does this and includes enough information for people to apply and help them on their journey to become successful.”

Engaging Learners at SPX Flow

Scott Schoenbrun is passionate about building on this success. He’s committed to a long-term strategy for providing inspirational L&D, and is determined to keep strengthening engagement among his 900 managers.

To assist with that, our Client Success Team has worked closely with SPX Flow to ensure that Mind Tools is at the forefront of people’s minds. We’ve helped the company to choose resources to supplement quarterly training programs.

We’ve also made sure that the right material is available whenever people need it. As SPX Flow doesn’t use an LMS, we’ve worked together on a system for sharing content via emails and deep links.

“We send a learning tips email every single Monday, as soon as people come into the office,” Scott explained in our webinar. “These are relevant to what’s going on in the business, and we then provide a link where they can go to Mind Tools and learn more about X, Y or Z.

“We want them to be thinking, ‘this is what I need – go to Mind Tools. Here’s a problem I have – go to Mind Tools!’ If we can get that automatic reflex, we’re winning the game.”

Success Stories

The partnership between Mind Tools and SPX Flow has already produced clear results. Equipped with the right tools, managers are now carrying out increasing numbers of effective 1-2-1 and appraisal meetings. And positive development conversations are also on the rise.

“These weren’t happening several years ago to the level they are today,” Scott confirmed. “This has improved by providing people with the right tools, internal communications, and holding them accountable. We did a survey recently and we asked our population: during your last performance review, did your manager talk about development? Almost three quarters of the population said that they had. This is a number we have not seen before.”

And 73 percent of his people are visiting the Mind Tools site every single month.

“That’s something we’ve not seen before with other tools we’ve had out there, and the reason for that is the partnership. If we just launched this ourselves without the support of Mind Tools, we wouldn’t have seen this success. This partnership between SPX Flow and Mind Tools is so significant and has been so rewarding. It is so nice working for a partner who wants you to be successful!”

What’s the Future for Mind Tools and SPX Flow?

Things are looking bright. Mind Tools will continue to work with SPX Flow as a strategic partner, helping to drive their commitment to learner engagement.

Like all the best relationships, it’s dynamic – and exciting on both sides! As Scott put it in the webinar, “Mind Tools resources follow our learning philosophy of access, learn, apply and evaluate. Tools should be applied immediately; it’s not good enough to learn about feedback and then wait a month until I next give feedback to someone.

“And this is what makes it such a good match for us.”

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Why You Should Join the Cool Kids at HR Tech Connect Summit 2019

Over the past decade, we’ve seen big changes in HR — so many that I’d say that now we’re the corporate cool kids’ table. It’s a crazy thing to say about HR, but the amazing advances in HR tech have given us some amazing, shiny new tools that have transformed our jobs and made us the envy of the org chart.

(And since we’re talking about HR, I just want to make one thing clear. We’re a lot better than the catty cool kids’ table we didn’t get to sit at in high school. We’re diverse, inclusive and always down to make new friends!)

But no matter how cool we are, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest in HR tech. Sometimes even we cool kids need a little help, which is why I’m excited to announce that I’m serving as co-chair for a very cool event: the HR Tech Connect Summit, which will be held Nov. 17-19 at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Why Your Boss Will Love for You to Go

Dreading asking for time off so you can attend HR Tech Connect Summit 2019?


You see, HR Tech Connect Summit isn’t like other conferences. It’s completely hosted, meaning that airfare, hotel, meals, registration — you name it — are provided to all qualified attendees. This means you can attend without putting a dent in your company’s travel budget and that you can feel even better about lounging outside in the Florida sunshine during your downtime.

Oh, and it also provides an incredibly intimate, unique opportunity to meet vendors and the movers and shakers shaping the world of HR tech, without worrying about the stress of the lines that accompany the expo booth shuffle.

Unfortunately, a hosted conference means space is limited — but we’re going to try to accommodate as many cool kids as we can! For more information on registration, click here.

Who’s Going to Be There

Co-chair Jessica Miller-Merrell will kick off the conference on Nov. 17 with a roundup on the future of work. And if that’s not enough to get you there, here are a few of the amazing speakers and sessions you don’t want to miss:

  • Workday Chief Technology Officer Joe Wilson: “Unlocking Organizational Agility to Drive Digital Growth.”
  • Dr. Jarik Conrad, senior director of HCM innovation at Ultimate Software: “HR Mega Trends for 2020.”
  • Lou Fiore, vice president HRMS, payroll operations and HR shared services at Sodexo: “Do’s & Don’ts: HR Technology Implementation Recommendations & Lessons Learned.”
  • Amy Weber, community engagement specialist at MOD Pizza: “The Power of Employee Connectivity to Build a High Performance Workplace.”
  • Sadia Ayaz, director of talent management and transformation at Waste Management: “The Massive Shift from Automation to Productivity: Enabling Business Operations Through HR & Technology.”

And if that’s not enough, I’ll be moderating a panel on Nov. 18 on employee engagement with Heidi Gerhard, head of leadership organizational capability and culture at BASF.

Additionally, we’ll have representatives from dozens of innovative HR technology companies, such as AllyO, HiredScore, Beekeeper, WorkForce Software, Humantelligence and many more. We’ll be learning how their platforms are providing measurable benefits for organizations — and the value they can bring to yours.

Want to get involved? Visit the HR Tech Connect Summit website, or send me a DM on Twitter or LinkedIn. We’d love to have you there!

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The Intelligent Edge revolution – The Official Microsoft Blog

I’m old enough now to have experienced several distinct waves of transformation brought by digital technology. As a kid, the personal computing revolution captured my imagination and energy with gaming and programming and new ways to create and do work. As a young adult, personal computers were everywhere and the internet and the World Wide Web connected them, and more importantly, the people using them, in ways that allowed communication and information to flow freely, and for work, commerce, creativity and leisure to be done in radically different ways. In my 30s, the smartphone and an incredible ecosystem of apps and services extended the internet to our pockets, making our connections to information and each other more ubiquitous, helping us navigate our way through the physical world, allowing us to buy almost any good or service we can think of, entertaining us in wonderful new ways, and making collaboration to get our work done more powerful than ever.

Even though that’s already a lot of transformation in a short period of time, and technology has never been more present in our lives, I feel like we’re just getting started. The next wave – one that’s already happening – comes when cheap connected devices with powerful sensors become truly ubiquitous in all of our physical environments, and when those devices become powerful enough to use the techniques of artificial intelligence (AI) to interact with their surroundings and the people in them. We call this combination of connected devices with powerful sensors and AI the Intelligent Edge. A year ago, I shared my belief that the Intelligent Edge would unfold as a platform over the next several years in ways that would surprise us by its breadth and diversity. And it already has.

The Intelligent Edge is proving to be the last mile in the convergence of the digital and physical worlds. –whether it’s a mixed-reality device like HoloLens providing a technician with a digital overlay of analytics, diagnostics and documentation for a piece of equipment they are servicing, or smart devices making the places where we live, work and shop more responsive and interactive, safer and more efficient. Intelligent Edge technologies are already making our homes smarter, improving the yields of our farms, monitoring the environment, helping us navigate our work more effectively, and improving our health and safety.

We’re in the middle of a revolution that is more than just smart speakers, security cameras and clever thermostats. Right now, we have in excess of 12 billion devices connected to the internet. It’s forecast that by the end of this calendar year, that number will rise to 20 billion. We anticipate that billions more of these devices are going to connect to the internet in the next few years. It’s a staggering thought. This Internet of Things (IoT) is already many times larger than the universe of personal computers and smartphones combined, and devices on it are becoming more powerful and more intelligent every day. With the advent of 5G, with its higher throughput, lower latency to the cloud, and higher device densities at the edge, we are likely to see the growth of the Intelligent Edge accelerate even further.

It probably comes as no surprise that I’ve been super stoked by each of the big technology platform waves that I’ve personally experienced, from PCs, to the internet, to smartphones. The Intelligent Edge is no different. I can’t keep from tinkering with these technologies, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’m using bits of the Intelligent Edge platform to build, of all things, an AI-powered siphon vacuum coffee machine. Instead of screens and buttons, my machine has a camera, a microphone, a speaker, a small digital brain and a connection to the cloud. When you focus your attention on it, it notices, and will ask “Would you like a cup of coffee?” When you respond “Yes,” it guides you through the brewing process with a short dialogue. And if you like, it will remember you and your preferences so that you can get your next cup of coffee more quickly.

My coffee machine probably won’t be commercially viable, and no one should mistake my weekend tinkering for a product that might one day show up in the Microsoft store. But one thing that’s become very clear to me as I build this machine is this: The Intelligent Edge parts of the device are neither especially hard nor expensive. I’m having a tougher time designing a safe steam boiler than I am with the AI! The hardware I’m using to run some of the local AI is cheap and readily available, and the software techniques I’m using to split the AI computations between the edge and the cloud are relatively straightforward. The Intelligent Edge and Intelligent Cloud platform that’s already out there for everyone to use is already quite capable. And even though to some, my coffee machine sounds like a crazy sci-fi project, making it a reality doesn’t feel as challenging as writing my first PC program, internet service or mobile app felt in the early days of those platforms.

What I’m most excited about with the Intelligent Edge is not what we’ve already done, nor even what I can imagine might be done with this new platform, but rather, what others will imagine and create as tens of millions of developers, entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers start building new products and businesses with this technology. Given the magnitude of growth ahead of us, and the fact that the platform is becoming more powerful every day, the opportunities for creators, entrepreneurs and businesses are huge. As with any successful platform, the true measure of the Intelligent Edge’s success will be in the breadth and diversity of the things built on top of it. There, I have infinite faith in the vision and ambition of others.

The IoT Signals Report (an annual research survey published by Microsoft) identifies key, industry-relevant trends in IoT. The survey, conducted by individual interviews with more than 3,000 IoT professionals based in Europe, Asia and North America, found that IoT is considered mainstream. Businesses are seeing tremendous value and opportunity in their ability to improve their bottom lines through IoT adoption. Right now, we’re seeing significant advancements in what I call a new world order with the demise of Moore’s law[1] and the collapse of Dennard scaling[2]. This means that compute is no longer becoming cheap at the exact same time that machine learning is becoming an insatiable consumer of compute power. But while this shift is impacting PCs, we will still see a few years where the power and compute capabilities of Intelligent Edge devices will continue to improve exponentially without much increase in cost.

IoT devices that are part of the Intelligent Edge provide businesses with invaluable insights on how to transform processes for operational efficiencies, such as improving the maintenance of vital of equipment before a costly shutdown and accelerating innovation while simultaneously improving safety, for example. As the IoT landscape continues to expand, we can bank on critical breakthroughs in areas that benefit humanity, such as healthcare, conservation, sustainability, accessibility and disaster recovery.



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The Truth About “Free” L&D

I’ll always remember Christmas 1996. After endless, painful months of waiting, my brother and I finally received the gift we’d been longing for.

That morning, we got our hands on a brand new PlayStation. And it felt like life would never be the same again.

A Glimpse of the Future

What a moment! Suddenly, we had the power to play incredibly good computer games without having to leave our living room. No longer did we have to listen enviously to stories of our friends’ on-screen adventures. Now we had the cutting-edge kit: a vast built-in memory, CD-quality music, 3D graphics…

For once in life, the reality more than lived up to the expectation.

The only problem was, we couldn’t afford any games. Even if we pooled our allowances, it would take us months to save up for anything new.

Playing for Free

But what we did have was “Demo One.” This was the CD that came in the PlayStation box, containing sample versions of about 20 games. And it was great. If you ask anyone from my generation, there’s a good chance they’ll go glassy-eyed when they reminisce about their “Demo One” disk.

I genuinely loved the variety and potential offered by those scaled-down games. They kept my brother and me engaged and excited for months.

Thankfully, we did get hold of new, full-version games eventually, and we saw what our PlayStation could really do!

But I’ll always remember “Demo One.” And I often think about it when I’m talking to prospective clients – particularly if they mention Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs), or say that their people can just search for what they need online.

Because both of those approaches tell me that they’re limiting themselves to cut-down, disconnected, “demo disk” learning.

Free L&D?

“Free” L&D can – like my beloved “Demo One” – be extremely appealing. It beckons to the battle-weary HR leader, sick of being criticized for falling engagement levels and underused resources. On offer: a very modern-looking technology solution from Silicon Valley. (It likely has a cool logo, too.)

But if that leader looks a little closer, they’ll soon see why they’re not paying much for this stuff – if anything. In L&D, as in the rest of the life, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

So, how do these “bargain bucket” providers do it? They use five key techniques – all of which come with warnings attached:

1. Open Source Content

When an LXP takes you into the farthest reaches of the internet, or scoops up user-generated content to share around, who’s testing its quality?

Everyone who uses it should try to check it for accuracy, authority and relevance. But we all know that’s not going to happen.

And when the learners in your organization don’t know what they’re going to get, or how good it is when it arrives, they’ll struggle to engage. As a result, there’s very little chance of them building up the cohesive body of knowledge and skills they need.

2. Advertising

If a company can create content that achieves good SEO traffic, it can make its money from advertising. Unfortunately for readers, the adverts are likely to become more and more intrusive – which is a particular problem when you’re trying to learn.

Ads can also devalue the text they sit in. Serious, relevant subject matter quickly loses its credibility when seen alongside gaudy, flippant advertising.

Some sites even interrupt you with ads mid-flow. “Sorry to bother you, but would you mind answering a few questions from our sponsor?”

For me, personalized ads are the most distracting of all. If I’m investing time to develop myself and my career, I really don’t want to be reminded about the car, holiday or cleaning product I searched for six months ago!

3. Donations

However politely you’re asked to contribute, and however worthy the cause, this is another approach that just doesn’t support good learning.

It’s hard to commit fully to a service that keeps telling you it needs more money to stay in business.

Donation requests can disrupt your train of thought – especially when you’re already pushed for time.

They’re also constant reminders that your company hasn’t provided you with a high-quality, properly paid-for resource.

4. Paywalls

Some L&D sites tempt you in with free material, then shut you out just when things are getting interesting! That’s fair enough if you’re a public consumer – but not if it’s your company providing you with such limited access to learning.

It dampens your enthusiasm and disrupts your plans. Every time you hit the paywall, you feel like you’re banging your head against a… well, you get the idea!

5. Partners

Be wary of content that’s only free if you agree to receive marketing messages – not just from the learning provider, but also from their myriad commercial partners. In my book, L&D shouldn’t feel like a shopping trip!

Once again, high-quality learning will be hampered if you’re constantly being prodded to look, reply – and buy – elsewhere.

Demand More!

Thinking back to 1996, my brother and I were remarkably understanding. We knew that our parents had pushed themselves to buy the PlayStation, and we patiently stuck with our sample disk until we finally got the “real thing.”

However, the people in your organization probably won’t be so forgiving!

LXPs are still in their infancy. New sources of free content are springing up all the time. Maybe people need to play “Demo One” a bit longer before the message fully hits home.

But, leave it too long, and I’m convinced that the problems caused by cut-price learning will take their toll.

Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain

It’s something I’m passionate about. It’s also an increasingly regular conversation point with clients. Money’s tight, targets are tough. They’re under pressure to help everyone to learn and grow. But they can just point their people toward the cool logo, and the free resources, can’t they?

No, is my answer, loud and clear. You can do so much better – for all the reasons above, and based on everything else I’ve learned, from my PlayStation days onward.

You may be saving cash by providing entry-level access to learning. But, in the long run, you and your people will pay the price of sticking with “demo disk” L&D.

Patrick Burns is Mind Tools’ Enterprise Accounts Manager for North America.

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Microsoft and Jio: Accelerating India’s digital progress

Today we announced a comprehensive long-term alliance with Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (Jio), a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited. This is an exciting advancement that will accelerate India’s digital transformation and bring the latest technologies to millions of businesses across the country. This alliance represents a unique collaboration between our two organizations.

Jio has transformed the communication and data landscape here in India, connecting more than 340 million people in the country with the power of affordable data. Microsoft has helped businesses revolutionize the global landscape of digital transformation with the worldview of intelligent cloud and intelligent edge. With a solid foundation of trust, we’re committed to accelerating the pace of innovation and delivering more value to every customer, be it large enterprises, SMBs, startups or consumers, and our partners.

This unique alliance also reinforces our commitment to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Earlier today, this announcement was shared as part of the Reliance Industries Annual General Meeting where Reliance Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh D. Ambani shared the news. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shared his thoughts as well and reinforced our enthusiasm for the work we will do together and the potential benefits our alliance can bring to organizations across India, and to the country itself.

YouTube Video

What this means for businesses 

India has one of the largest small and medium business markets in the world, which continues to grow significantly. Small and medium businesses in India will have access to a range of cloud-based productivity, collaboration and business applications including Office 365, enabling them to compete more effectively in the Indian marketplace. This collaboration will accelerate innovation to create more affordable offerings for Indian SMBs and startups, including a new range of solutions for one-stop IT capabilities and allowing front-end applications on mobile devices, desktops and other tools.

Jio will build new custom solutions on Microsoft Azure for large enterprises who have already benefited from our technology platforms. Companies will also have easy and affordable access to best-in-class technologies like data analytics, AI, cognitive services, blockchain, IoT and edge computing to accelerate India’s digital transformation and enable grassroots innovation.

Jio will also leverage Microsoft’s speech and language cognitive services for its device ecosystem, providing support in 13 Indian languages, with the flexibility to add other languages. Its internal workforce will now leverage the cloud-based Microsoft 365 productivity and collaboration tools and all their non-network applications will also move to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

For the partner ecosystem in India, these new offerings create more avenues for greater innovation, deeper customer relationships and exponential growth for their businesses. And in a diverse nation of 1.3 billion people united by the power of digital, the solutions this collaboration will bring around connectivity, computing, storage and tech services will redefine how we empower employees, enable customers, transform products and optimize operations.

This joint effort is likely to unlock and accelerate digital innovation in India at an unprecedented scale. I look forward to working with and learning from our current and new customers and partners as we chart a new path with this alliance.


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Healthcare Benefits are Broken. Fixing Them Requires Redefining the Industry.

Much attention has been paid to fixing our country’s broken healthcare system. But what often gets missed are the problems with employer-sponsored health benefits and the role they play within the broader healthcare crisis. Employers in North America alone are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to provide healthcare benefits to their teams. In fact, the current cost is estimated to be $15,000 per employee, with 49% of the U.S. population relying on employer-provided health benefits.

The current problems with healthcare benefits were exemplified in a recent Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report for League. The report surveyed 238 executives about employee health benefits. The findings illustrate how companies and employees alike have fallen into a lose-lose cycle where healthcare costs keep rising while the experience — and even the benefits themselves — get worse. Employees are often left unsure and overwhelmed about what benefits they have, how to properly use them and which healthcare decisions to make. A dizzying number of benefits vendors and digital platforms make this more confusing than ever. Meanwhile, HR teams are spread thin trying to answer questions and guide employees.

So what’s the solution? One thing is for sure: it won’t be found in the status quo. For companies to reduce healthcare costs while also engaging employees, the entire ecosystem needs to fundamentally rethink the health benefits system. What’s needed is an entirely new category focused on an employee-centered health benefits experience.

When Lack of Awareness Leads to Lack of Engagement

The Harvard Business Review responses showed a stark lack of awareness among employees, which has larger implications for their long-term health. Sixty-three percent of respondents said employees don’t know enough about how to leverage their company-provided health benefits. Meanwhile, more than half (58%) of organizations reported that employees are unaware of the health benefits they are entitled to. This lack of awareness extends to the quality and cost of healthcare, as well as which plan is right for them.

The consequence of this lack of understanding shouldn’t be surprising: employees can’t use something if they’re unsure of its existence or don’t know how to. Just 28% of respondents said that employees actively engage with all of the health benefit programs they are offered. In fact, employees reportedly use the full range of health benefits at only a little over one-quarter (27%) of organizations.

These statistics become alarming when you consider that a large number of chronic illnesses are preventable. The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of heart disease and stroke, 80% of type 2 diabetes and 40% of cancer could be prevented with simple lifestyle changes like healthier eating and moderate exercise. An employee-centered benefits platform, with personalized health profiles and journeys, could empower people to better manage their health, with dramatic potential to improve outcomes.

Burnout on Both Sides

There’s a more far-reaching impact of this lack of awareness and engagement: both employees and HR teams are overwhelmed and fatigued. Employees are often required to access multiple disparate systems in order to learn about and access their full range of health benefits. Only 10% of organizations reported that employees can use only one system to do this. At many organizations, employees need to use three, five or even more systems.

Employee confusion and frustration are being passed on to HR teams, whose time is being taken up answering routine questions from employees about coverage, out-of-pocket maximums and co-pays. In consequence, 41% of organizations report that HR doesn’t have the time or resources to perform more strategic activities, like benefits planning.

Rethinking the Benefits Experience

This holistic problem can only be solved by a solution that helps both employees and employers. It’s time to rethink the system in its entirety to focus on the overarching health benefits experience —not tools, or platforms, that cater to only parts of the ecosystem, but a centralized platform that can help you, no matter who you are or what you need, get the help and support you need from a benefits perspective. Companies from entertainment to retail have disrupted industries by focusing on personalized platforms that cater to a user’s unique needs for a better experience. Imagine the potential of recreating this model not to stream movies or order groceries, but to help people live healthier lives.

What employees need is a “front door” to their benefits. Instead of multiple accounts and platforms, employees should be able to access and learn about all of their benefits from a single source. Simplifying the source of information and engagement will help employees understand and use their benefits.

The benefits experience should also be completely separate from both the employer and the insurance company. Employees deserve a trusted, neutral place where they can get health advice and support. This environment will empower people to proactively manage their health and utilize their full range of benefits.

The good news is, there’s reason to be optimistic that companies are ready to demand a better experience for their employees. Our report found that the majority (68%) of organizations are open to changing their employee health care experience.

A better benefits platform is one that prioritizes engagement and supports employees in being better healthcare consumers. It’s one that ultimately helps employers break the higher cost/ worse experience cycle by driving benefit utilization and reducing costs. These changes are necessary to creating a health benefits system that works for everyone. For further insight into these findings, download “The Key to Better Health.”


This post is sponsored by League.

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