Technology is Your Untapped Weapon in the Talent War

Technology is Your Untapped Weapon in the Talent War

By Sarah Hansen

The demand for skilled labor and the rigors needed to keep employees engaged and committed in this highly competitive market are well-documented. CEOs and CHROs have been talking about the talent war since before our company was founded. And based on recent analysis, company leaders are showing some serious battle scars as the demand for talent is beginning to overtake COVID response as a top concern for leadership.

Technology has a central role to play in the talent strategy for organizations.
Technology has a central role to play in the talent strategy for organizations.

These concerns are compounded by signs of a potential hangover from the COVID pandemic, which is a “resignation boom” or “turnover tsunami”. A March 2021 survey by Prudential found that 1 in 4 workers are thinking about resigning, whether it’s to seek adventure, recharge, or because they are rethinking life choices.

The mixed messages about job reports, unemployment, and recruiting challenges can be a lot to take in. One truth amid these trends is that technology has a central role to play in the talent strategy for organizations.

There are several reasons that digital transformation needs to be part of your business strategy, and recruiting is quickly moving to the top of the list.

According to a study by Monster, 82% of employers are confident that they will be ready to ramp up hiring this year, and 40% of respondents are filling new roles on top of the vacancies created by the Pandemic economy. At Valence, we are certainly among them — as VP of People and Talent, I am experiencing the intense hiring environment first-hand.

Here are a few of my key takeaways as I go back into battle in this talent war:

Interviewing/Recruiting

The upside to remote recruiting is that we can more easily schedule interview panels so that candidates can meet more of the team in a shorter period. This allows greater scheduling flexibility, and more importantly, it gives people greater access to each other. If your recruiting strategy includes pursuing passive candidates, remote interviewing also makes it easier for candidates to schedule a conversation without disrupting their commitments to their current employer. Obviously, we are excited about the role that virtual reality could play in the recruiting process, but there are also some mainstream technologies to support remote recruiting, such as:

  • Video conferencing
  • Scheduling apps
  • Recruitment marketing automation
  • Mobile-first recruiting assets
  • Applicant tracking systems
  • Skills assessment platforms

Remote Work, Culture, and Retention

This issue is close to my heart — we work hard to find the best talent, and we’ve curated a company culture that is compelling, motivating, and engaging. How does that culture shift when we aren’t in the office together? The human-to-human connection starts by having the right people in the company to start with.

The number of remote workers increased by 140% between 2005 and 2020, and those numbers will only go up post-pandemic. Having the infrastructure in place to onboard, engage, and collaborate with remote workers increases the talent pool. And our internal employee satisfaction surveys support what many third-party studies are finding, which is that for certain workers, satisfaction is higher when remote work is an option. If you are filling technical positions, it’s also helpful to have remote accessible assessment tools to replace those live white boarding exercises from pre-pandemic recruiting. Anecdotal feedback has been that the candidates also find this less stressful, and they feel their performance is better reflected without the white-board time constraints. The essentials to support remote work and culture include:

  • Mobile-friendly platforms
  • Streamlined and consistent data infrastructure and document management
  • Internal social media
  • Video conferencing
  • Chat
  • Virtual white boards and collaboration platforms
  • Survey tools to check in on employee sentiment and satisfaction

Work is changing, business is evolving, and technology is at the center of everything. Even with the unknowns facing the business community in the next many months, there is no doubt that technology is going to be a significant piece of the puzzle.

And since I’ve got you here, we’re hiring! If you are interested in working with a responsible company with an amazing team at the intersection of innovation and inspiration, check out our careers page!

Additional Resources

Deep Learning at the Edge

Deep Learning at the Edge

By Yuri Brigance

What is deep learning?

Deep learning is a subset of machine learning where algorithms inspired by the human brain learn from large amounts of data. The machines use those algorithms to repeatedly perform a task so it can gradually improve outcomes. The process includes deep layers of analysis that enable progressive learning. Deep learning is part of the continuum of artificial intelligence and is resulting in breakthroughs in machine learning that are creative, exciting, and sometimes surprising. This graphic published by Nvidia.com provides a simplified explanation of deep learning’s place in the progression of artificial intelligence advancement.

Deep learning is part of the continuum of artificial intelligence.
Deep learning is part of the continuum of Artificial Intelligence.

Deep learning has an array of commercial uses. Here’s one example: You are a manufacturer and different departments on the factory floor communicate via work order forms. These are hand-written paper forms which are later manually typed into the operations management system (OMS). Without machine learning, you would hire and train people to perform manual data entry. That’s expensive and prone to error. A better option would be to scan your forms and use computers to perform optical character recognition (OCR). This allows your workers to continue using a process they are familiar with, while automatically extracting the relevant data and ingesting it into your OMS in real-time. With machine learning and deep learning, the cost is a fraction of a cent per image. Further, predictive analytics models can provide up-to-date feedback about process performance, efficiency, and bottlenecks, giving you significantly better visibility into your manufacturing operation. You might discover, as one of our customers did, that certain equipment is under-utilized for much of the day, which is just one example of the types of “low hanging fruit” efficiency improvements and cost savings enabled by ML.

What are the technologies and frameworks that enable Deep Learning?

While there are several technology solutions on the market to enable deep learning, the two that rise to the top for us right now are PyTorch and TensorFlow. They are equally popular, and currently dominate the marketplace. We’ve also taken a close look at Caffe and Keras, which are slightly less popular but still relevant alternatives. That said, I’m going to focus on PyTorch and TensorFlow because they are market leaders today. To be transparent, it’s not clear that they are leading the market because they are necessarily better than the other options. TensorFlow is a Google product, which means that TensorFlow benefits from Google’s market influence and integrated technologies. TensorFlow has a lot of cross-platform compatibility. It is well-supported on mobile, edge computing devices, and web browsers. Meanwhile, PyTorch is a Facebook product, with Facebook being significantly invested in machine learning. PyTorch was built as the native Python machine learning framework, and now includes C++ APIs, which gives it a market boost and feature parity with TensorFlow.

Deploying to the Edge

What about deploying your models to the edge? My experience with edge ML workloads started a while back when I needed to get a model running on a low-powered Raspberry Pi device. At the time the inference process used all the available CPU capacity and could only process data once every two seconds. Back in those days you only had a low-powered CPU and not that much RAM, so the models had to be pruned, quantized, and otherwise slimmed down at the expense of reducing prediction accuracy. Drivers and dependencies had to be installed for a specific CPU architecture, and the entire process was rather convoluted and time consuming.

These days the CPU isn’t the only edge compute device, nor the best suited to the task. Today we have edge GPUs (ex: NVIDIA Jetson), Tensor Processing Units (TPU), Vision Processing Units (VPU), and even Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) which are capable of running ML workloads. With so many different architectures, and new ones coming out regularly, you wouldn’t want to engineer yourself into a corner and be locked to a specific piece of hardware which could become obsolete a year from now. This is where ONNX and OpenVINO come in. I should point out that Valence is a member of Intel’s Partner Alliance program and has extensive knowledge of OpenVINO.

ONNX Runtime is maintained by Microsoft. ONNX is akin to a “virtual machine” for your pre-trained models. One way to use ONNX is to train the model as you normally would, for example using TensorFlow or PyTorch. Conversion tools can convert the trained model weights to the ONNX format. ONNX supports a number of “execution providers” which are devices such as the CPU, GPU, TPU, VPU, and FPGA. The runtime intelligently splits up and parallelizes the execution of your model’s layers among the different processing units available. For example, if you have a multi-core CPU, the ONNX runtime may execute certain branches of your model in parallel using multiple cores. If you’ve added a Neural Compute Stick to your project, you can run parts of your model on that. This greatly speeds up inference!

OpenVINO is a free toolkit facilitating the optimization of a deep learning model from a framework and deployment using an inference engine onto compatible hardware. It has two versions including an opensource version and one that is supported by Intel. OpenVINO is an “execution provider” for ONNX, which means it allows you to deploy an ONNX model to any compatible device (even FPGA!) without writing platform-specific code or cross-compiling. Together ONNX and OpenVINO provide the ability to run any model on any combination of compute devices. It is now possible to deploy complex object detection, and even segmentation models on devices like humble webcams equipped with an inexpensive onboard VPU. Just like an octopus has multiple “brains” in its tentacles and head, your system can have multiple edge inference points without the need to execute all models on a single central node or stream raw data to the cloud.

Thanks to all these technologies, we can deploy machine learning models and deep learning programs on low powered devices, often without even requiring an internet connection. And even using these low powered devices, the deep learning projects are producing clever results where the machines learn to identify people, animals, and other dynamic and nuanced objects.

What should you do with this information?

This depends on who is reading this. If you are a business owner or operator who is curious about machine learning and deep learning, your key takeaway is that any data scientist you work with should have a mastery of these technologies.

If you are a data scientist, consider these technologies to be must-haves on your skill inventory.

Additional Resources

Let’s talk about Unified Data Governance (UDG)

Let’s talk about Unified Data Governance (UDG)

By Jim Darrin

Unified Data Governance (also known as United Data Governance), or UDG, describes the process of consolidating disparate data sources to create a single data narrative across the myriad data stores within an organization.

Technology is at the heart of every modern company, and data management is more than a side effect of a business. Rather, data is an asset and a risk factor that increases in importance as businesses grow and move along the arc of their digital maturation.

According to McKinsey, only a small fraction of companies effectively leverage data-informed decision-making strategies, yet those that are making data-informed decisions have outperformed competitors by 85% in sales growth and by more than 25% in gross margins. McKinsey also reported that in 2015 corporations paid $59 billion for US regulatory infractions, $59 billion that those corporations could have used for other purposes. ​

Data management is more than a side effect of a business
Harnessing vast amounts of data is critical to glean insights and meet business goals.

Unified data governance is not just critical for large companies — in fact, the earlier you are on your technology journey, the better positioned your business is to establish best practices and infrastructure that can scale into the future.

A unified data governance strategy will make sure that a business and its people can develop and deliver trusted data to the right users at the right time and in the right format. Being able to manage a business’s critical data assets can unleash opportunity within the business, reduce regulatory risk, improve business insights, and eliminate manual processes.

Why are we excited about UDG? Unified data governance lines up with Valence’s engineering and innovation strategy capabilities in perfect alignment. Analytics and reporting are in our DNA, and business-focused innovation is what gets us out of bed every day.

United data governance can break down data silos, improve data quality, lower data management costs, increase access for users, and reduce compliance costs and risks ​

Therefore, we’ve released a new service offering, Valence Unified Data Governance. We are bringing businesses into the data unification process, and currently see the potential for Microsoft Azure Purview to be a uniquely scalable and stable unified data governance technology. Valence is a Microsoft Gold Partner, and our relationship with Microsoft made it a no brainer for Valence to be among the first to market with an offering based on Purview. You can read the press release about this new offering here.

Should you be thinking about UDG?

While every modern business needs to address its data and governance, organizations in regulated industries are particularly prime for a UDG strategy. In addition to the common issues of manual data management, inconsistent reporting results, and disparate data sources, regulated industries have the added risk of compliance failures. Organizations in regulated industries are also likely to have high data volume, diverse data sources, data silos, ownership issues, incomplete data documentation, and data source fidelity. Regulated industries like law firms, healthcare organizations, and state/local governments have the most to gain by adopting UDG sooner rather than later.

Here’s what our own Steven Fiore thinks about UDG: “I’ve got years of experience working in state and local governments, and I know first-hand that smart and hardworking public servants are faced with tight budgets and challenging manual data management processes. Unified data governance is desperately needed in these organizations, and I feel personally excited to help people to find a better way.”

Here are four features of UDG that we are excited about:

  1. Unified data governance helps businesses understand what their sensitive data is, where it lives, and how it is being used.
  2. UDG also helps organizations understand what is and isn’t protected, compliance risks, and what their need is for additional safeguards such as encryption.
  3. UDG with Purview allows us to aggregate multiple data sources and connect certain types of information like social security and credit card numbers or employee IDs. With UDG, businesses can identify these different types of information and associate them with their data sources.
  4. One feature of UDG that seems so simple but can also be a game changer is that it also allows you to understand where the source data is in a report.

We work with clients to address their data and reporting using an array of technologies and techniques — the first step is to understand your data landscape, and then to develop a data governance roadmap. With the roadmap in place, your business can rapidly implement the UDG solution — and then experience the acceleration and opportunity that is made possible with a modern technical solution engineered and designed to better manage your data at scale.

Additional resources:

The Robots are Here — Are You Ready?

The Robots are Here — Are You Ready?

By Glenn Bowers

Businesses around the world are using robots to modernize operations.

Every company is a technology company. Innovation is what keeps companies nimble, progressive, and efficient. Robots have been the symbol of futurism for generations — and the truth is that the future is now. The robots are here.

Take healthcare, for example. Companies like OhmniLabs and Monogram are developing robots for everything from telepresence to robotic surgical assistants. The pandemic has also introduced a new wave of robotics for office and retail spaces. We are seeing more remote telepresence with robots roaming warehouses, checking barcodes, counting inventory, checking on patients, and even sanitizing workspaces.

A recent report from The Economist says that the spike in automation and robotics will stick around long after the pandemic is settled. The article leads with a story about GM using robotics and AI for autonomous electric pallets in warehouses — which highlights how robotics aren’t just for futuristic marketing sizzle — robotics are officially a part of mainstream logistics and operations.

According to this 2020 story in TechJury.net, 88% of businesses worldwide plan to adopt robotic automation into their infrastructure. This stat was established before the pandemic accelerated the adoption of robotics. We expect that the number of businesses looking to robotics and automation has only increased, as long as the supply chain can keep up.

Aaron Campbell, who leads strategic partnerships for Ohmnilabs, summed up the future of robotics thusly, “In virtually every major industry, I’ve seen first-hand how the pandemic catalyzed the adoption of emerging technologies and our robots, in particular. From Fortune 500 companies to government institutions, one message is resoundingly clear: robots have a place in nearly every type of organization.” Valence partners with companies such as Ohmnilabs founded on our shared interest in emerging technologies and innovative user experiences.

Robotics will undoubtedly be one of the most important strategies that leaders and organizations in congested spaces use to expand market share, increase profitability, and displace competition.

At the end of the day, digital transformation is a requisite part of creating a competitive advantage, and, ultimately, survival. We’ve taken note of this and created an Enterprise Pilot Program to make it easy for interested leaders to start the process.

Will robotics fit into your business?

If 88% of businesses have determined that robotics fit into their business, there’s a good chance that it could fit into yours. If you are curious about where robotics or Robotics Process Automation (RPA) could be applied to your business, look at your work processes and workflows to find the interactions and transactions that could be automated, freeing up your human resources for higher value inputs.

As the price of sensors and chips continues to decrease, driven largely by advances within the mobile computing market, there has been a dramatic drop in the cost of robots. In certain cases, robots like the

OhmniLabs telepresence robot can be purchased for less than $5,000. This makes it much easier and more affordable for companies to invest in a robotics project.

How to kick off and scale a robotics program

Start with a pilot program. Pilot programs are a smart way to ease into a new technology. A small-scale pilot program could provide your company with a way to explore the potential impact of a new technology before making a significant investment. The goal of a pilot program is to understand what is feasible. It creates a safe and controlled environment to test logistics, assess value, and reveal deficiencies before deploying the technology at a large scale.

If this is the first time that your company is investing in a robotics pilot program, we recommend that you start by automating processes that are less complex in nature. This will increase the likelihood that your initial pilot program will succeed. Once you’ve identified the objectives of a robotics pilot program, your team can document the steps to test the concept and establish metrics to evaluate the success of the pilot. Because the driving goal of a pilot program is to learn about what is possible while the stakes are controlled, most pilot programs achieve some degree of success. You can’t go wrong if you are learning.

Following the pilot, you need to understand how what is required to scale the program up. When scaling up a pilot program to full production release, fewer than 15% of pilot programs achieve the desired ROI. This low success rate is largely due to the lack of a holistic approach to production scaling rather than because of the capabilities of the technology. To improve your chances of achieving the desired ROI, there are a few things you should consider when scaling from a small pilot to an enterprise production release.

  1. Depending on the complexity of your implementation, you may need to work with multiple vendors, each with its own hardware/sensor extensions. Those hardware/software extensions will each need to integrate with your company’s platforms and other hardware.
  2. Be realistic about the time and effort required to integrate robotic devices. Due to a lack of industry standards, each of these integrations will likely require some form of custom implementation. The resources needed to develop, deploy, and manage a production robotic fleet is often underestimated.
  3. The work doesn’t stop once your solution has been deployed across your enterprise. There will be a need for maintenance and updates to your robots and ancillary hardware and sensors. Account for the ongoing resources needed to maintain your implementation.

A secret weapon: The Innovation Scale Roadmap

Our work with clients across industries has revealed that the secret to a successful deployment of an emerging technology from pilot to production is the Innovation Scale Roadmap (ISR). An ISR can help you to develop a strategy that pulls internal stakeholders together, supports the development and implementation of new technology, and prepares the company for innovation.

A quality ISR will document and plan for the success criteria for technical and implementation measures. The ISR will guide the evaluation of the pilot program and help the company determine whether or not they are ready to scale from pilot to production. In addition to the value that the ISR brings as a decision-making tool, it is also critical as a strategic roadmap that can be referenced throughout deployment. The ISR should include a detailed deployment plan that addresses the desired rate of scaling into production along with the ongoing development and support needs for the program.

Want to learn more? Contact us, and we can talk. You can also check out this roundup of robotics at the CES virtual tradeshow, where Katie Collins breaks down many of the robotics solutions that caught her eye.

5G and the Next Decade of Digital Transformation

5G and the Next Decade of Digital Transformation

By: Jim Darrin, CEO

I am excited to announce today that Valence has joined the 5G Open Innovation Lab (5G OI Lab) ecosystem as a Technical Partner. This is an incredibly important milestone for the company given our focus on the next decade of digital transformation. Since the beginning, Valence has operated under the belief that yes, “software is eating the world” and that every company, enterprise, non-profit — you name it — will both feel the impact but more importantly be able to embrace this ongoing transformation. 5G and digital transformation go hand-in-hand.

Our three-prong thesis is simple: the trend of (1) increasingly capable cloud software platforms from Google, Microsoft, Amazon and more plus (2) improved and lower cost hardware platforms from robotics companies, VR headsets (we see you Oculus!), and more plus (3) always-on, high-speed internet access to every part of the physical world will create a cocktail of innovation opportunities like we have not seen before. And 5G is a critical ingredient. This is where we play as Valence: in the middle of that mix is enormous opportunities for companies to build solutions, think of new business models, improve user experiences and more.

We have worked with T-Mobile for years and were thrilled earlier this year to hear about the 5G OI Lab. Founded by T-Mobile, Intel, and NASA, the 5G OI Lab is set up to be a global ecosystem of developers, start-ups, enterprises, academia and government institutions that bring engineering, technology and industry resources together. Valence will now be a key part of this Lab as a Technical Partner to help companies think through and execute on projects and programs that take full advantage of 5G technologies and capabilities. And we couldn’t be happier about it.

For more information, contact us. We’d be happy to talk digital transformation anytime!

Digital Transformation: How to Get Started on Meaningful Innovation

Digital Transformation: How to Get Started on Meaningful Innovation

By Steven Fiore

For the last few years “Digital Transformation” has been the buzzword du jour. Behind the phrase itself, was a fundamental desire for businesses to innovate in the digital age. There are plenty of statistics demonstrating why digital transformation demands meaningful innovation:

56% of CEOs say digital improvements have led to increased revenue.

Digitally mature companies are 23% more profitable than their less mature peers.

Digital-first companies are 64% more likely to achieve their business goals than their peers.

The problem is innovation can be confusing and disruptive, contributing to some more disturbing statistics like:

Of the $1.3 trillion spent on digital transformation in 2018, an estimated $900 billion was wasted when initiatives didn’t meet their goals.

70% of digital transformations fail, most often due to resistance from employees.

At Valence, we have a tried and proven approach to helping our customers identify and drive meaningful innovation that maximizes the economic and customer experience gains while minimizing expense, risk, and disruption. You may be thinking, “that must be expensive and time consuming.” The reality is we typically deliver Innovation Workshops over a two-week period and our customers normally only need to be involved for about ten hours over that two week period. Maybe you’re thinking, “My organization is too big or too small to meaningfully innovate.” The truth is we’ve successfully helped everything from startups to the fortune 500 companies through this process. Innovation isn’t just for the very well-funded or very agile, it can make any organization more effective.

While there’s no magic to the process, there is a key ingredient to successful transformation initiatives — people. Experience has taught us that having the right people in the room can make all the difference in the world. Remember that statistic above about digital transformations failing due to resistance from employees? Part of why that happens is captured in an old adage: “people don’t resist change, people resist being changed.” If you can get key stakeholders from all impacted groups, from frontline workers to back office operations, not only do better ideas emerge, but also the participants in the workshop become evangelists for the recommended solutions. They can carry the message to their peers of how they were involved from the very beginning and how it will positively impact their group/team. We’ve even seen the workshops become team building experiences where groups that don’t normally work together start to see common ground between them, thus replacing silos with partnerships.

Innovation Workshop: Opportunity for Team Building and Collaboration! (Photo Credit: https://bit.ly/2NCALmK)

What else makes these workshops successful? Making sure the scenarios and solutions that emerge focus on quickly delivering business value. Valence uses a structured framework to move from brainstorming ideas to drafting solutions based on those ideas to identifying the key value drivers (both financial and strategic) for each solution so that the solutions can be prioritized based on the highest value in the shortest time with the least complexity.

Once everyone agrees on the prioritized solutions, the Valence team then drills down one more layer. This involves high level scoping for top priorities, whilst keeping in mind dependencies, organizational constraints, technical and organizational requirements, and best practices in technology adoption. This scoping is used to create a roadmap that clearly lays out the order, scope, level of effort, and timelines for implementing each of the top solutions. The roadmaps are also laid out in rapid, deliverable focused sprints such that incremental value can be realized as quickly as possible generating buy in, confidence, and support as each iteration builds on lessons learned in the last one. Equally important, each new iteration also increasingly proves out the value proposition originally promised.

Now Valence is not just a workshop company, the deliverables from these workshops are not ivory tower theoretical exercises destined to gather digital dust. Our core competency is making our customers successful with cutting edge technologies like Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Robotics Process Automation, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Voice and Chat services, Big Data and Analytics, Blockchain, and more. We are always completely ready and more than happy to execute against the solutions on the roadmap — we’re also equally happy (ok, maybe slightly less happy) if our customers want to tackle some or all of the solutions internally or with other partners. Valence’s goal is to contribute to our customers’ success, and make sure every deliverable meets or exceeds our customers’ expectations, whether that’s a workshop or a proof of concept or a pilot or a full-blown implementation.

If you need help with your digital transformation strategy, or you’re trying to figure out if any emerging technologies can benefit your organization, or if you’re just curious where and how you can become more innovative in your industry — please let us know. We have the people, processes, and experience and are dedicated to your success.

Additional Resources:

Remote Working Challenges and Mitigations in Product Deployment

Remote Working Challenges and Mitigations in Product Deployment

With the dramatic shift for entire companies and industries to work remotely, we have identified some common challenges or pitfalls that may occur in product deployment. It’s important to realize the current situation is very different from team members working remotely occasionally or even part of a team working remotely. The undefined timeline of entirely remote workplace environments means we need to consider each aspect of the  development strategy from a new angle: from ideation, to agile work streams, to product deployment.

This article highlights some of the learnings we have found to be helpful at Valence and around the industry. Every product deployment situation is unique, so we recommend considering your team’s dynamics and working style.

Common Challenges Observed:

  • Communication and rapport can suffer when the entire office and our clients’ office is working remotely
  • Individual contributors may feel isolated
  • A lack of common working hours may lead to slower iteration cycles
  • Workload Balancing across team members may be more difficult to measure
  • Team members struggle to learn from each other as there is less opportunity to unofficially help each other
  • Culture can get fragmented and is likely to change as there is no common physical space
  • Best practices may begin to suffer or fragment as tribal knowledge becomes more siloed

Unfortunately, a whole slew of challenges emerges during entire-team remote work, but in this article, we will focus on challenges directly relating to product deployment and progress.

At Valence, we believe that Distributed Development and Remote Collaboration require a proactive approach to keep teams and organizations aligned.

Suggestions & Best Practices: Product Deployment and Progress

Communication and Rapport

Communication is more complicated when we are all physically scattered, and it is much easier to get out of “sync”. Non-verbal communication may be lacking, and communication tone may be misinterpreted. Gaining consensus and iteration cycles may take longer. Since face to face meetings may not be easily accessible, we recommend the following:

The Valence Approach:

  • Use tools that broadcast status: Tools like Slack or MS Teams can update your status based on your calendar. This is analogous to how people make quick decisions to initiate impromptu conversations while you are sitting next to them in a cubicle. Add a profile picture in applications like Slack and Teams especially for times when your video is not live during remote meetings.
  • Link multiple communication platforms together: In today’s world, most of us have a handful of email addresses and different inboxes, multiple Slack workspaces and channels, an MS Teams account and a variety of back-up drives. Having a multitude of tools for someone to reach you, typically results in a communication failure. A simple way to streamline is to connect various services in Slack or Teams. Identify a single place where these communications reach you. The biggest return on an IT investment will come from connecting communications to the tool used most.

At Valence, we use a collection of tools. We typically align our tool choices to those of the clients needs, and we have found the following tools useful in our daily communications and digital work.

– Slack, MS Teams, Office365, PowerBI, Jira, Confluence, GitHub, Microsoft DevOps, Microsoft Power Automatic, Google Suite, Zoom, WebEx

Empower team members to share communication preferences:
  • Are after hours messages OK?
  • Prefer Slack, Teams or email?
  • Common times for communicating?
  • Turn-around time for messages?
Use different tools for different types of conversations:
Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

Use Video on Conference Calls: It can be helpful to begin a conference call with camera video on to maintain rapport amongst teammates (or with clients!). Video helps in establishing comfort, as well as provides body language cues from employee to manager. Managers can lead the way to establishing this as a common practice by ensuring their video is active.

Slower Iteration Cycles

Teams may struggle to get feedback in a timely manner which in turn may slow development or degrade delivery quality. Preliminary research shows that coding teams are struggling in cycle times (according to LinearB, cycle times are up 45% — a significant increase). Slower email replies or a lagging internet connection may get in the way— but we have some suggestions to support iteration cycles and keep them as agile as possible.

The Valence Approach:
  • PMs should create and leverage “Feedback Needed” Slack or Teams channel for quick feedback conversations
  • Shared Slack channels with the client can help tremendously with soliciting client feedback and speed up iteration time; these can be official or unofficial and will still be beneficial!
  • A blend of asynchronous stand-ups by posting on a Slack channel and synchronous stand-ups over video call can keep communication flowing while needing to wait for another person to be available.
  • Remember to avoid a “dump truck” methodology, where the majority of changes occur at the end of the milestone or sprint. This results in heavy lifting to get feedback. Provide transparency and iterate along the way, using these tips, and it will be much easier and efficient for your deployment.
Balancing Workload / Productivity

A sudden shift in operational paradigms is likely to put an additional effort on some individuals more than others. Typically, the individuals that find themselves working harder are the ones that facilitate communications and manage the leadership of the teams. This is because communication is less impromptu and more intentional.

The Valence Approach: Plan, Plan, Plan for Meetings and Prepare your Audience:
  • The goal for most meetings should be to make decisions.
  • Proposals, agendas and topics should be made ahead of time in a document form; all decision makers should review it ahead of time such that the meeting time is spent wisely.
  • Leverage meeting time to discuss specific material on which a decision needs to be made, or any clarifications required to make a decision. As a benefit of this step, your meeting times will be significantly reduced and will provide your team with more flexibility.
Individual Isolation

Research from LinearB shows us that “92% of dev teams are writing more code since working-from-home” since theoretically employees can slot out uninterrupted blocks of time to focus on their work. However, this does not devalue the loss of team-connection that simultaneously increases. Without a physical space to travel to, employees may feel isolation and a lack of connection to the team(s). In an office space, there’s opportunity to move around, swing by a colleague’s desk, or catch up over a cup of coffee. In a remote working environment, it is tough to replicate that experience and feeling of community. We have a few recommendations that have worked well for our teams:

Common Best Practices and Tips:

  • It can be okay for employees and teammates to take certain types of calls while on a walk. For example, 1 on 1 calls don’t always need to be at the computer and notes can be jotted down on a phone too.
  • Managers can create an “open mic” call where any team members can jump in and just leave their mic on throughout the day. This effectively simulates an open workspace, to allow that “swinging by” feeling.
  • Create a common shared music streaming channel or playlists.
  • Share personal moments and experiences at the beginning of calls to create a sense of connection.

At Valence, we’ve piloted:

  • Monthly happy hours and coffee hours
  • Meet new teammate lunches, led by management and attended by the CEO
  • All hands meetings, complete with dinner delivery coupons (think GrubHub) for employees to grab a meal on the company
  • Virtual onboarding with a delivery person to provide hardware delivery of essential office items

Effective Digital Transformation

Effective Digital Transformation

The phrase Digital Transformation is commonly used today, referring to everything from an overhaul of a legacy system to leveraging online systems to engage customers. As champions of digital transformation, our team  believes in the power of smartly planned and efficiently executed digital transformations to enhance business strategy; we believe that effective digital transformation is a cornerstone of business, and it is imperative that individuals understand the definition, potential impact, and processes that lead to success.

[ Digitization ←> Digitization ←> Digital Transformation ] + People

Effective Digital Transformation: How do we think about it?

Effective digital transformation puts business strategy ahead of digital strategy, whilst interweaving the two. Successful digital transformation solves business problems by focusing on the customer — for example, by decreasing costs, or increasing value — and using technology solutions that cut through business functions, industries, processes to affect change. In short, technology is a means to an end.

Digital transformation may help reduce product costs, but what does that do for the business? It provides resources to be routed into other aspects of the business. Leverage those freed up resources to enhance the customer experience and you are left with improved margins and happier customers and an effective digital transformation.

Consider Amazon — a company that digitally transformed its business of book selling to a Big 4 technology company. Amazon leveraged digital transformation initiatives to change its supply chain and operational efficiency in order to provide a better customer experience. Their culture (the world-famous 14 Leadership Principles) and business strategy are interwoven to focus on the customer: Amazon Prime has some of the fastest delivery options in the market and Amazon Web Services provides some of the best cloud solutions for enterprises. They digitally transformed their business and now provide customers with digital solutions to digitally transform theirs. From their website: “Amazonians… share a common desire to always be learning and inventing on behalf of our customers.” Leverage culture and technology to improve customer experience; digitally transform the business to help the customer.

Digital Transformation contains components of digital strategy, the use of digitalization, as well as digitization efforts. These terms, often thrown around interchangeably, are in fact pieces of the larger puzzle rather than equal to the overall process. Digitization is the process of moving from analog to digital, pen and paper to Microsoft Excel. Digitalization, according to Gartner, speaks of the use of digital strategies, technologies, initiatives to tap into new business opportunities or change a business model. If anything, one leverages digitization to digitalize, and the overall transformation of a business from one to another, becomes digital transformation. The definitions are debated and often vague, as discussed by Jason Bloomberg in this Forbes article. It is important to remain consistent in thinking of digital transformation as the overarching umbrella of strategic digital initiatives to improve the business with the customer at the forefront.

Digital Transformation: Consider “The Process” towards success

What does Digital Transformation success entail? What does it look like?

As enterprises restructure their strategy to evolve amid a changing technological and economic landscape while centering around the customer, it is important to consider the process and what it takes to succeed.

Key Stages to Success

According to Keller and Price in Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage, successful transformation involves a few key stages — from goal defining, to organizational assessment, to designing and initiating transformation and sustaining it. It is critical to understand where the enterprise is and where it wants to go — and it is critical to be consistent and practical.

Ensuring Success

to move forward with a transformation initiative, it is imperative to align Keller and Price’s stages with McKinsey’s 5 themes to a successful digital transformation, which involve digitization to prepare an enterprise for digitalization:

  • Having the right, digital-savvy leaders in place
  • Building capabilities for the workforce of the future
  • Empowering people to work in new ways
  • Giving day-to-day tools a digital upgrade
  • Communicating frequently via traditional and digital methods

Think about the Amazon example again — they didn’t just leverage digital solutions to overhaul their business; they leveraged cultural practices to ensure that Amazonians are driven towards the integration of technology and customer centricity. McKinsey’s themes encompass a similar outlook: empowerment, communications, capabilities, leadership — core cultural understandings that can support a digital transformation initiative.

At Valence, we focus heavily on thinking about the future. It is critical to be ever ready for tomorrow, whether it means continuous learning, or building systems and solutions to prepare for what is next. These stages and themes will ensure enterprises are thinking about the next step, focusing on being proactive rather than reactive. At this important juncture of the 21st century, where we have crossed into a new decade and face the challenge of economic reinvention due to a global pandemic, it matters how we use technology to transform our enterprises to meet changing customer needs.

In summary, as stated by Jim Darrin, CEO of Valence,

“No industry or company can ignore the importance or impact of Digital Transformation, and must embrace a digital strategy in order to evolve into the next generation.”

Do you think your business is ready for a digital transformation? We can help you with the journey. Contact us for more information.

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Digital Transformation Trends Shaping 2020

Digital Transformation Trends Shaping 2020

By Renee Christensen.

Let’s talk about digital transformation trends!

Now that we are firmly immersed in 2020, what digital technology trends are gaining traction as necessities to future success? With businesses facing many external challenges, every company can use an edge in understanding where to invest their resources for the future. The elephant in the room to address is obviously the economic impact of COVID-19 but there are other challenges to keep in mind as well such as the compounding impacts of climate change, the re-hashing of global trade agreements, and the growing consumer-income gap.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Daniel Newman, a contributor to Forbes Magazine, recently called out several trends emerging in the last few years which have reached their tipping point to the mainstream. He notes that while AR/VR, IoT, cloud and edge computing “will continue to be foundational to our collective digital transformation journey”, below are several newer trends which are poised to have a significant impact in 2020 and beyond. I want to highlight three of these trends, as well as touch on AR/VR, since our team has seen concrete evidence of these taking hold and delivering real value to the bottom line:

Robust data analytics and digital privacy will be critical to future success. A business must know their customers better than their competitors to retain and delight them. When dealing with customer data, it must make data protection an imperative priority to maintain customer trust. Valence sees this through an ever-increasing number of clients who need to more effectively and securely capture, process and digest vast amounts of data. Using AI and machine learning, our team recently built a field analytics engine for a commercial drone company to harness their immense amount of graphical data, resulting in a decrease in processing time from 72 hours to 30 minutes. Another client came to us with over 1 billion lines of data that we were able to capture and streamline into a sophisticated, yet easy to use visual dashboard, taking an overwhelming data set and making it immediately digestible to drive actionable business insights.

The next trend — conversational AI (voice & chat) technology — provides the ability for businesses to meet their customer in the most natural and efficient way possible, via speech. This technology is rapidly evolving and we will be seeing much more of it as quality exponentially improves. Here at Valence, we built our own chat bot to enable employees to easily and naturally find company information just by asking Alexa. We have been able to apply the same technology for a Fortune 100 client in the retail environment during the last holiday season where the chat bot engaged with hundreds of customers.

Lastly, augmented and virtual reality are moving beyond the gaming industry as new products are becoming fully mobile (un-tethered) and less expensive. Rich new content is being developed to enhance learning, provide training and enable discovery across enterprises, health care, retail and higher learning institutions. This immersive modality can deliver high-touch experiences to broad audiences remotely, greatly enhancing reach and reducing cost. Currently, with self-isolation measures happening all over the world and more employees working remotely, AR/VR implementations are likely to experience a spike. We recently had the chance to deliver a virtual reality facility tour which allowed a large manufacturer to train employees from anywhere in the world on their product and processes without incurring any travel expenses. Additionally, we see more retailers embracing this technology and looking to build unique, highly engaging immersive experiences for their customers.

All in all, these are exciting digital transformation trends that we see gaining significant momentum as game changers and strong investment choices across industries in 2020 and beyond.

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Applying Virtual Reality to Employee Training — A Deeper Look

Applying Virtual Reality to Employee Training — A Deeper Look

By Jaime Swindle

Nestle Purina Case Study — Virtual Reality Factory Tour

Let’s talk about using virtual reality in employee training.

Our team is excited to showcase our recent Virtual Reality (VR) project designed and developed for Nestlé Purina on Oculus’s breakthrough tether-less headset, the Oculus Quest. We partnered with Nestlé Purina to create a VR training application that enables their colleagues to experience virtual tours of their factories and immerses them in a high fidelity 360-degree environment that takes them step-by-step through the manufacturing process.

By providing a VR factory tour at new staff orientations, Nestlé Purina was able to asynchronously train employees, maintain the manufacturing staff’s focus on production, and dramatically save on travel costs.

Valence is proud to be part of the Oculus Business ISV Partner Program. The VR tour was developed on the new Oculus Quest headset, which allows for unrestrained and unplugged movement without needing a smartphone or gaming PC to power the device. Interactions are intuitive and require no additional training on the part of users. This aids in integrating breakthrough technologies seamlessly into Nestlé Purina’s workplace. Since the introduction of the VR training at Nestlé Purina, the company has benefited in many ways, such as:

  • Engaged learning and training that empowers and encourages self-initiative
  • Improved safety by eliminating human exposure in dangerous environments
  • Increased speed and quality of training
  • Increased employee information retention

As virtual reality headsets enter the mainstream, we can expect to see a wider adoption in enterprise use cases such as employee training.

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