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Monday, February 24, 2014


This story first appeared in workintelligen.ly.

The official list of apps now available for the life-capturing, data-aware Google Glass headset is contained inside the custom My Glass app that early owners of the $1,500 device can access.
There are unofficial lists, but what you’ll find at either location are a lot of recreation tools, quite a few photo tricks, and more than a few Facebook hook-ups.

The closest the current Google Glass setup gets to business, in fact, is in the range-finding golf apps. But that’s going to change – with Glass, with wearable fitness monitors, with smartwatches like the Pebble, and all kinds of wearable technology.

Unlike cellphones, which had an obvious and immediate business use for early adopters (calling the boss and telling them how the sales meeting went), a lot of the Bluetooth-connected wearable technology doesn’t have a large infrastructure to plug into. And the devices are so close to your personal life that you don’t necessarily want your company and your supervisors to connect to them.

But beyond dictating an email or text message, or snapping a photo to use in a presentation, wearable technology will soon offer companies the opportunity to access, share and manage the data they need. Here are four ways you may see this happening in your office soon.


My tax accountant still gives me a paper notebook every year to track my business-related mileage. This feels ridiculous in an age where Google can give turn-by-turn directions to a location I say out loud. The same goes for receipts for planes, trains and taxis. An app or device that knows you’re traveling for business, can track your stays and expenditures, and can turn it all into an invoice-ready data set would be welcome in today’s always-on business world. Car data tools like Automatic and Dash are a start, but it’s not just car data we need, but car data mingling with schedule and task data.


Why do people still trade business cards? Because you know a business card is going to work when you pull it out and hand it to someone. Phone-to-phone bumping relies on having the right app downloaded, on two sets of compatible phones, often having the app open and hoping nothing goes haywire. The closest thing to smooth contact and automatic data trading we’ve seen is Bump, and wouldn’t you know, Google went and bought them in September 2013. It is, obviously, a need that people are thinking about. An easier, less physical way of trading business cards seems like a logical next step.

Your hip hurts you something fierce when running, but only on certain runs. Likewise, you know there’s something off about your diet on certain days that leaves you feeling tired. When you have access to running suits that watch your running (see slide #12), contacts with sensors that monitor glucose levels, socks and straps that monitor posture and stance (slide #20), you will no longer feel like you’re trying to convince a mechanic that, yes, it actually does make this sound, just not right now. And businesses will be quick to jump into the biometric data market – assuming they can convince consumers of their good intent.


That car you’re looking at, can it read out the text messages you receive on your iPhone while driving? This CRM software is here: does it have any special functions for nonprofits tracking volunteers and race pledges? Right now, the salesperson you’re speaking with might politely say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.” But if they’re using Glass or another wearable technology tool to give them the information they need instantly, they can access a database of frequently asked questions or one of their coworkers, without having to leave the customer and break up the moment when they are most interested in buying.

Giving employees a new tool that can bring in extra revenue? That’s something which will sell one or two businesses, I would think.

Of course, predicting the future is hard. What about you? What are your predictions for the future of wearable technology in business?


This story first appeared in The Economic Times.

NEW DELHI: Uber rich Indians can no longer be assured of luxuriously flying overseas in their charter or personal aircraft as per their own schedule. The downgrade of India's aviation safety ranking by US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has led to strict checks on aircraft chartered from Indian firms as well as corporate jets owned by desi companies at foreign airports.

A business tycoon recently (after the January 31 downgrade) chartered an ultra snug corporate jet for a quick business trip to Paris. But once this plane landed there, it was subjected to intense safety checks by French aviation authorities. They reportedly pointed out a number of deficiencies and the aircraft could fly out of Paris only remaining stuck there for three to four days.

The tycoon, meanwhile, had to catch a regular commercial flight back home from France — a la aam admi!

"The downgrade has badly hit Indian charters. Some countries like Singapore do not easily give permission to Indian charters to operate there. The earlier impression that the FAA downgrade will impact only regular schedule airlines was erroneous as charter players are severely affected," said an industry insider.

Based on the examination of the Indian aircraft in Paris, the French authorities have written to the Indian directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA). "I would like to inform you that one or several European program for safety assessment of foreign aircraft ramp inspections were performed on your aircraft and revealed findings showing that International Civil Aviation Organization standards were not fully met... would kindly appreciate to be informed of the corrective actions that have been undertaken," the French aviation authorities wrote to DGCA and the charter operator.

After this incident, top DGCA officials summoned charter operators for an urgent meeting. "All charter operators have been asked to ensure that both their crew and aircraft meet all requirements and that the paperwork is in perfect order. They have been told that the DGCA will also mount strict checks on them in India to avoid any problems abroad," said a person who was at the meeting.

"We should return the favour to foreign airlines. Why is it being assumed that we are no good and the foreigners are perfect? Many airlines abroad are nowhere even near our technical standards. The problem was with DGCA and desi airlines are paying the price!" fumed a senior official of an Indian carrier.

The DGCA had earlier this month formed two teams to check foreign aircraft and charter planes from abroad were high on their list for inspections. They suspected foreign charters may not be meeting all safety standards. "Big schedule airlines have engineering and technical teams in place and the bigger cause of worry is the charter operators," an official said.

Friday, February 21, 2014


This story first appeared in USA Today.

It's not the suit.

The much-maligned suit worn by the U.S. speedskating team should never have been victimized, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, says in an exclusive interview. "It was a bit of a witch hunt that began to build," he says, in his first extensive interview since the Under Armour suit became a scapegoat for the failure of U.S. speedskaters to win Olympic medals. "The suit became the witch."

Plank is so certain that the "Mach 39" suit is a winner, he says Under Armour will continue to invest in it and tweak if until the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea. And he's so confident that the suit can help the U.S. Speedskating team, that Under Armour on Friday announced it plans to not only renew its team sponsorship, but double its length through 2022.

"We're doubling down," says Plank. "We will not stick our heads in the sand. We want people to know that when we get knocked down, we get back up bigger, better and stronger."

Few well-meaning Olympic sponsors have undergone the kind of intense media and image scrutiny that Under Armour has over the past week, as the highbrow brand name suddenly got linked to Olympic-sized failure. "This brand was dragged through the mud," he says. "There was a lot of conjecture and speculation, but none of it based on fact."

For Plank, 41, the whole tumult has been a hugely humbling experience, he says, yet he adamantly refuses to point a finger of blame at anyone. "In no way, shape or form will we ever point fingers at the athletes. These guys have a ton of things going through their heads. There was no push back from us. We said, whatever will make the athletes more comfortable, we'll do."

U.S. Speedskating executive director Ted Morris says he's thrilled — and the skaters will be, too. "It's a testament to (Under Armour's) commitment and fire to keep working with us," he says.

But it hasn't been easy. Plank says that the night the suit brouhaha broke, he was up at 4 a.m., unable to sleep "sick to my stomach that the company I love was getting beat up. And I can't do anything about it but bite my lip and hope the facts come out."

After the team voted to switch suits — and fared no better — Plank insists, he did not celebrate or feel vindicated. "We remain patriots first," he says. "As I sat there watching the events on TV and my laptop, I'm wearing red, white and blue and an American flag."


Perhaps no one on the planet knows the importance of brand image any better than Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.

The carefully crafted image of his company's brand took a hard one to the gut last week when a super-duper Under Armour speedskating suit was suddenly the fall guy for lousy performances by the U.S. Speedskating team at the Winter Olympics. This kerfuffle got some clarity, of sorts, when the team voted to switch suits — and still finished out of the medals.

After several days of relative silence and lip-biting, Plank spent more than an hour on the phone with USA TODAY on Thursday, explaining, in some detail, what a difficult week this has been for him and for the Under Armour brand. More importantly, he openly discussed the early lessons learned and how Under Armour will emerge a better company because of it.

"Brands are all about trust," says Plank. "That trust is built in drops and lost in buckets. We felt we lost some of that trust with our consumers last week."

It's a bit early to assess the fallout. Plank insists there's been no immediate decline in Under Armour retail sales. Its stock price is virtually unchanged from what it was about one week ago, when media reports sniping at the suit first began to appear. But how do you measure a company's self-esteem?

That's hard. Plank says it was particularly hard at a previously scheduled town hall meeting at the company's Baltimore headquarters this week when a perplexed employee asked Plank: "What did we do wrong?"

Just hearing that question, Plank says, hurt him to the core. After all, that one employee was speaking for all 8,000. And the image of the $2.3 billion company that Plank founded 18 years was suddenly getting publicly whipped. Plank told the employee that Under Armour did nothing wrong at all. He reminded the employees in the room that Under Armour products are top-notch. "I asked them never to waiver," he says. "I asked them to believe in themselves."

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Under Armour went to Sochi with dreams just as big as many of the Olympic athletes that it sponsors. Despite its wide name recognition, Under Armour is still a runt compared with rival Nike — particularly on the international scene. Under Armour's international sales are only about 8% of its business right now, and Plank recently vowed that number would hit 12% by 2016.

It entered the China market only in the past few years but, already, Plank has eyes on tripling Under Armour's business there this year. And Sochi was supposed to be a helpful gateway for some of this international growth — a chance to get foreigners more familiar with the brand name.

And then skating PR debacle happened.

"We accept getting dust on ourselves," says Plank. "We'll come back taller, stronger, bigger and better."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


This story first appeared in USA Today.

If this were the Summer Olympics — not the Winter Games — you might say that the Under Armour brand image was teetering on the balance beam right now.

At stake: the brand's reputation for creating cool, techie duds that are worth the high price tags.
That came into question last week when some U.S. speedskating team members blamed Under Armour uniforms for their poor showings. But after a uniform switch — followed by the same poor results — the consensus from four crisis-management gurus suggests that while any damage to the Under Armour brand remains up in the air, it seems to be making many — though not all — of the right PR moves.

How Under Armour needs to continue to respond:

• Don't blame the skaters. The skaters can point all the fingers they want, but it's critical for Under Armour not to. Instead, the brand must continue its strategy of "refusing to react defensively," says Gene Grabowski, EVP at Levick Public Relations.

• Stay helpful. In the midst of the hubbub, Under Armour continued to consult on the ground. The brand must continue to make clear that it will help the Olympic speedskating team "as long as they need their help," says Katie Delahaye Paine, a PR measurement guru.

• Keep CEO engaged — but not overly so. For a crisis like this, the CEO doesn't have to be the lead spokesman, says Andrew Gilman, CEO of CommCore Consulting Group. "CEO Kevin Plank has a good deal of PR capital to spend, given the company's story," says Gilman. "Under Armour should spend this carefully.'

• Keep it in context. The uniform issue does not involve a mainstream sport like football or soccer, which account for the bulk of Under Armour's sales, notes Jeremy Robinson-Leon, principal at Group Gordon. "As a consumer, am I not going to wear Under Armour to play soccer because the Olympic skating uniforms were flawed — if they were?"

• Go back to the lab. When the glare of the spotlight is off of Under Armour, it still needs to go back to lab and look at the uniforms under a microscope — and possibly have a third party review them for "additional credibility," says Robinson-Leon.

• Brag less. Under Armour's big mistake: hyping the outfit as the "fastest speedskating outfit in the world," says Gilman. "There is very little margin for error in case something goes wrong."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

American manufacturing and welding to women: We want you!

Story originally appeared on CNBC.

Six years after the start of a deep recession and a growing call for more middle-class manufacturing jobs, one American industry is tackling workforce development in a unique way. Welding is courting fresh recruits—women in particular.

America's highest rated welding program at Ferris State University in Michigan.

Mention women welders and "Flashdance" might come to mind. The 1983 movie starred Jennifer Beals as a welder by day and dancer by night. But the industry has advanced beyond the bulky machinery depicted in the film.

Modern welding techniques are highly specialized and can include automation. Shop floors are brighter and cleaner. Welders work on specialized structures for the marine and aerospace sectors, even on custom cars for reality TV shows.

Despite cool projects, available work is outpacing qualified tradespeople—largely due to an aging workforce.

"Any metal shop you talk to, they're desperate for good metal fabricators," said Scott Behr, owner of Total Metal Resource, based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Their work includes metal staircases and signage for the Colicchio & Sons restaurant and Chobani yogurt shop, both in Manhattan. "The reality is, the guys who really know what they're doing, with deep knowledge of what happens with metal, are machinists, sheet metal workers and blacksmiths. And they're either dead or retiring soon," said Behr, himself a 20-year welding veteran.

Of course, whether men or women make better welders is debatable. But both genders being equal, some women, it turns out, have a knack for welding, which requires multiple proficiencies. An affinity for math and science. Artistic and spatial skills to conceptualize ideas. And maybe just as important, a temperament for precise work and hand-eye coordination.

"Women have steady hands and patience. And those are two very important things in welding," said Becky Lorenz, a veteran professional welder and machinist.

Welding isn't the first industry to place extra value on female workers. Most of Hollywood's first film editors, or "cutters" as they were called, were women. The tedious work included sifting through thousands of feet of negatives, cutting the film and then joining the pieces together.

Just as it takes patience to craft scenes into a film, welding requires diligence to produce a weld bead fusion along a metal joint. This process is similar to a sewer adhering a seam. "You can't rush the bead or you won't get a clean fusion," said Lorenz, who runs her own shop, Aerospace Welding Services, in Silver Spring, Md.

Aging welders
Lorenz is among the select few women in her field: They represent only 3 percent of U.S. professional welders in a welding degree program.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


This story first appeared in USA Today.

In a world of bigger-is-better, Burger King is beefing-up its Big King burger.

Burger King's found a new way to pull McDonald's chain.

The No. 2 burger chain has just made its new Big King burger bigger than the Big Mac. And on Monday evening, it will start bragging about that in advertising.

The move comes three months after Burger King rolled out its Big Mac-buster, dubbed Big King. The enlarged Big King beef will weigh in (uncooked) at 4 ounces, vs. 3.2 ounces for the beef on the iconic McDonald's burger that it mimicked, the Big Mac.

In the past year, Burger King has been on a new product tear — including several specifically devised so that the increasingly competitive chain could thumb its nose at McDonald's. In the past year, it also rolled out a Rib Sandwich to compete with the McDonald's McRib sandwich. And it rolled out Satisfries, a new version of its french fries with fewer calories.

It's very rare for a chain to increase the size of a core product and not increase price. But the Big King, made with two beef patties, lettuce, onions and sauce on a three-layer sesame seed bun, will still sell for $3.69. It's also currently part of a two-for-$5 promo.

"At Burger King, we know that size matters," says Alex Macedo, president of Burger King North America, in a phone interview. "This allows us to give even more value."

At least one industry consultant thinks that Burger King could be on to something — so long as it ultimately moves beyond mimicking McDonald's products. "It will drive some business," says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of food service strategies at WD Partners, a restaurant consulting firm. "Singles and bunts aren't so bad in our business."

But Burger King's Macedo says this is much more than a bunt. He says Burger King plans to expand its Big King platform with more innovation, though he declined to be specific. "We're testing a lot of things," he says.

When it recently tested the newly enlarged Big King burger at 200 restaurants in South Florida, guest satisfaction scores jumped more than 10%, he says. "Increasing the amount of beef makes a big difference."

Executives at McDonald's declined to comment on Big King. But, spokeswoman Lisa McComb did note, "the Big Mac remains a beloved iconic menu item at McDonald's."

Big King's big differentiator from the Big Mac: fire-grilling. That's what Burger King will continue to stress in its advertising. But it's going up against the Holy Grail of burgers. Since it went national in 1968, the Big Mac is widely viewed as one of the most successful burgers in fast-food history. Even at the risk of converting some of its current Whopper customers into Big King fans, Burger King continues to heavily push its new burger.

But McDonald's is hardly ignoring the competition. While there are no national promotions for Big Mac at the moment, in some regional markets, the burger giant has recently offered special deals in which customers get a second Big Mac for 1 cent when they purchase one at the regular price.