2008: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in Pittsburgh’s Technology Scene

2008TechBurgher is back from a near week-long hiatus with the holidays. The Pittsburgh Technology Council closes the offices between Christmas and New Years. We’re ramping up for 2009 and with the past couple days off, I’ve been thinking a lot about 2008. It will probably go down as one of the roughest years ever. Thankfully, much of our local technology sector has been somewhat insulated compared to other regions, but we’ve dealt a number of challenges on numerous fronts.

The hardest pills to swallow over the past year were the announcements of companies folding up shop. The FORE Systems legacy came to a final resting place as Ericsson said it would close its facilities in Marshall Twp., bringing the slow decline of the once mighty tech company to its final resting spot. Seagate announced that it will close its R&D facility in the Strip. This didn’t come as a huge surprise as Dr. Mark Kryder retired a few years ago, leaving a bit of a vacuum. He was instrumental in getting Seagate to establish and maintain a Pittsburgh presence nearly a decade ago. Just before the holidays, Sony announced the closing of its television plant. This, too, wasn’t a complete surprise as the company has scaled back it operations over the previous year.

Wow, just writing this is getting me depressed. It’s so easy to focus on the negative. We shouldn’t forget that companies are hiring. Just look at Westinghouse.  They’re trying to hire thousands of engineers locally. I just cruised over to the Council’s Career Center and did a little research. There are thousands of open technical positions. I counted more than 100 openings just under computer engineering.

What’s kept the region a bit insulated is our diversity of tech industries. We don’t have too many FORE Systems-sized tech companies, but we have a glut of smaller firms who are really kicking butt out there. Just look at outfits like Vivisimo, Songwhale, Cohera and Acusis. Crack open any issue of TEQ and you can read about a number of up and coming tech companies poised to make the big time.

I’ve got a lot of confidence in our industry moving toward 2009. It won’t be easy. It may not always be pretty, but the region can come out on top. So what do you think? Give us your “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of 2008.” I’ve got a couple more posts before the year is up recapping some of the really great stuff that happened in 2008 despite the wretched economy.

London Calling: Finding Your Digital Tribes


TechBurgher is pretty excited to bring you this post from jolly old England. Yeah, we’ve got people on the streets around the globe scraping up content for you.

John Buckman (jbuckman@buckman.biz) is a Pittsburgh-based marketing and communications consultant. And filed a pretty interesting report from this year’s Online Information conference in London.

For years, we’ve been watching our kids Facebook and Twitter each other, and more recently millions of their parents have joined Linkedin and other online networking services to schmooze for jobs and clients.

Now it’s time to harness the power of social networking to create organizational advantage by joining and influencing customers and constituents in their online communities, where brand reputations increasingly are being determined, and by leveraging knowledge and insight to turn them into opportunities for collaboration – even if that means management has to be willing to loosen up the hierarchy and give up some control.

You might say that social networking is growing up and going to work.

vivisimoAnd a Squirrel Hill-based company, Vivisimo, is offering practical tools to add a social networking component to research across an enterprise, one part of the new puzzle.

Those were key takeaways from this year’s Online Information conference. The annual event is the world’s leading gathering of information professionals – corporate librarians, information brokers, competitive intelligence specialists and others, plus the vendors that serve them, attracting thousands from around the globe. And while it certainly isn’t news that social networking and the larger realm of social media are of keen interest in business circles these days, it was startling to this long-time conference attendee to see just how front and center they have become in the old-line information world.

Said Mt. Lebanon-native Marydee Ojala, the editor of professional magazine Online, “People are starting to understand the significance of social media and that collaboration isn’t just for kids. There are real business reasons to use it.”

Just a few years ago,  London Online, as the show is known, was all about vast databases of aggregated content – news, scientific research, intellectual property and more – and software tools to assist in the searching and retrieval of nuggets of information (in an electronically stored newspaper article or doctorate dissertation, perhaps) needed for a specific purpose. In the old days, corporate and specialist librarians pretty much had these online retrieval systems to themselves because the search protocols and document management processes were often clunky and difficult to use. The evolution in the industry has been toward opening up access to the information through enterprise search systems that might, for example, allow all salespeople to directly search a database of news and background on clients and competitors while R&D staff might access repositories of patent documents and other high-end research.

Enterprise search continues, of course, and this year’s show had its share of new systems and processes on display. But a few things have happened along the way that has challenged the traditional information industry – free services on the Web, and now Web 2.0 and its ability to create dynamic, easily shared content.

It used to be, for example, that an information vendor might charge big bucks for access to a database of content aggregated from newspaper publishers around the world. Now you can do that for free on Google.  In the field of scholarly scientific, technical and medical research, the push for so-called open access to peer-review research is also challenging the status quo.

Now comes the new focus, on the research side, on how to add social networking into enterprise search – let’s call it social searching.

Vivisimo offered a compelling, practical case for what can be done. It demonstrated its enterprise/social search service that allows users to enrich their retrieved materials by category tagging, free-text annotating, bookkeeping and sharing. Others in the organization, down the hall or a few time zones away, can access and track their colleagues’ work through dashboard-type functionality. That new, user-generated layer itself becomes an asset by allowing individuals – again, in the same building or half way around the world – to quickly identify pockets of expertise within an organization. And that can be a catalyst for sharing knowledge quickly and avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort. But that horizontal collaboration can skip over organizational boundaries, and that can be a threat to unenlightened management.

As Stacy Monarko, a Pittsburgh-based Vivisimo product manager said, “The next best idea may not come from the board room.”

On the marketing side of business life, the London conference had no shortage of speakers extolling the imperative to understand how social media is changing the way companies present themselves to the world.

As an editor of British trade publication New Media Age, put it, “Ads no longer drive sales. Opinions do.” He explained that, increasingly, buying decisions are based not on what a company says about itself but what others do.

Marketing is becoming, the editor said at a conference workshop, “no longer one-to-many or one-to-one but many-to-many.”

Which means, he explained, companies must figure out how to monitor, reach and motivate buyers and prospect on the interactive sites where they are congregating. “It’s a question of influencing the influencers.”

By way of example, the speaker pointed to a success enjoyed by Britain’s Royal Navy, whose traditional recruitment methods, primarily advertising, had failed to entice sufficient numbers of young men and women to sign up. The Navy knew that the most effective communications strategy was to have real-life sailors talk about their experiences but that approach was hard to scale. Along comes social media, which the Navy has embraced with gusto, setting up blog sites for sailors to post their individual stories and then linking to popular sites where the targeted age groups gather online. (Reader beware: I didn’t verify this story. Am just reporting what I heard.)

The Royal Navy is a big organization, or course, and that raises the question of whether a social networking strategy is only practical for a larger enterprise that has the resources to devote to it?

Not at all, said another speaker, a partner from the London office of KPMG.  He said that smaller companies “don’t have the change management issues” that a large company might. “Small business can be more fleet of foot and have real clarity in their value proposition,” all of which can make for a more readily launched and successful social networking strategy.

The KPMG speaker talked of understanding today’s constituents as “digital tribes.”

We may just be beginning to see the long-term ramifications of social media.

A long-time information industry pundit (and friend), Steve Arnold, told me a story about his personal blog  and his tracking the demise of a Danish search company. He says his readers across Scandinavia are contributing tidbits and gossip that he posts, long before it is published in the local business press. Ask yourself:  Where’s the momentum here? Who’s in charge now?

Arnold, not by any means a wild-eyed fanatical proponent of the next big thing, says that this whole trend of democratization of information will transform business in the next five years, and the company to watch is Google.

“We all work for Google now,” he says, only partially in jest.

A final note. London can be bleak and dismal in December, with drizzle and early night fall, and this year’s online week had its share of that. The background of economic malaise — the U.K. is in as much doom and gloom as we are, with headlines screaming of layoffs and home repossessions – only adds to the pallor. Attendance at the show was down noticeably from previous years.

Still, there are bright spots.  Beside Vivisimo, the other Pittsburgh organization exhibiting at the conference, the South Side-located publications office of the American Economic Association. Said Drucilla Ekwurzel, “With what’s happened in the economy, there’s more interest in our content. We’ve had more traffic than ever.”

Lesson learned in London this year: Social networking is a threat to those who resist it, an opportunity for organizational growth for those businesses that embrace it.

Breaking News from Pittsburgh’s Tech Industry

Pittsburgh’s December weather might be exceptionally freezing this past week, but news coming out of the local technology industry has been heating up. Check out these news stories:

Compressor Systems Standardizes on Landslide’s Sales Production System

Landslide Technologies, Inc., announced that Compressor Systems, a manufacturer of high quality air compression equipment, has standardized on Landslide’s Sales Production System for increasing its revenue. As Compressor Systems sales team is responsible for the entire life cycle of a customer, the company decided to implement Landslide after recognizing the need for a solution that incorporates both an automated selling process and administrative assistance into the product, to provide the sales team with a clear road map and more time for closing deals.

Landslide’s Sales P3 System, complete with the Landslide VIP personal sales assistant service, meets these comprehensive sales process needs for the Compressor sales team. Compressor relies on Landslide to make use of the proper sales actions at the right stage of the sales cycle to ensure that deals effectively move through the sales pipeline. The sales team also utilizes the personal sales assistant service to offload administrative and data entry tasks to Landslide’s VIP Assistants.Landslide Technologies is the provider of Landslide Sales P3 System, the first Sales Production System that helps BtoB companies increase sales volume by combining sales process consistency with sales performance technology and personal sales assistants.

4CTechnologies Introduces informnet — a Network Monitoring Solution

4CTechnologiesintroduced informnet, an innovative network monitoring solution that will manage any IT network, using turn-key technology, providing monitoring and control of desired network information.

informnet is an interfacing system designed for: 24×7 alerting and monitoring of servers, network equipment, performance, antivirus and security.

4CTechnologies will prepare all existing network infrastructures to support  informnet’s asset management, monitoring and alerting configurations.

informnet provides a quarterly, on-site business review that will identify specific IT solutions and will address existing and future IT requirements and projects. informnet is the network monitoring solution that answers any IT department’s need for controlling their  network environment.

4CTechnologies is a Pittsburgh-based business consulting and software engineering firm specializing in IT-based business innovation, application development and application integration.

Vivisimo Enterprise Search Recognized Among Digital Content Industry Leaders by EContent Magazine

Vivisimo, a leader in enterprise search, was named to the EContent 100, EContent magazine’s eighth annual list of “companies that matter most in the digital content industry.” The list is published in the December issue.

“Vivisimo’s selection to the EContent 100 is continued recognition that we are helping to lead our industry in delivering compelling value for users of digital content, which, to be sure, is all of us,” said Raul Valdes-Perez, Vivisimo CEO.  “In a challenging economic environment, Vivisimo continues its commitment to helping organizations realize the highest business value for their information, producing greater efficiencies and fostering collaboration and innovation in ways that help companies do more than they thought possible.”

This is the sixth consecutive year Vivisimo was recognized among industry leaders in the search engines & technologies category by EContent.  The inclusion of Vivisimo in the EC100 list marks a year in which the company continued building momentum as a leader in the enterprise search industry.



Jump-Starting Collaboration with Social Search

Excerpt from Vivisimo whitepaper:
Over the past several years, industry pundits and vendors have predicted that collaboration tools such as social tagging, social networking, wikis and other Web 2.0 phenomena will become mainstream within the enterprise. In fact, Gartner reported that by the end of 2007, thirty percent of all large corporations
had Web 2.0 applications enabled within their organizations. But as the adoption of Web 2.0 functionality hits the enterprise, a question still remains—how can enterprises effectively integrate these web-based tools into their corporate infrastructure in a way that maximizes employee collaboration?

The answer is through search. Almost all data created by enterprise applications can be crawled by a search engine and accessed via a search box. Many organizations connect all of their applications through a single search screen today. Over the past several years, enterprise search has opened the doors to all content stored throughout the enterprise. The next step is to provide end users with tools to make sense of this overwhelming amount of information and to easily share knowledge with colleagues and business partners. These collaboration tools, which will turn the quest for collaboration into a reality, are now available through new enterprise search capabilities—social search.

By taking the best ideas from Web 2.0 based concepts, such as social tagging, social bookmarking and networking, and marrying them with the power of business search, social search gives enterprises the ability to tap into and make use of the vast amount of human knowledge within their own organizations. As the examples in this paper show, social search provides the means to go beyond just finding information to actually freeing it from the confines of applications, allowing organizations to increase collaboration and accelerate innovation—all while gaining valuable insight into the collective intelligence of the organization.

Download the complete Jump-Starting Collaboration with Social Search Whitepaper.

Visit Vivisimo’s Search Done Right™ blog.

Company: Vivisimo, Inc. Vivisimo, Inc.
Web Site: www.vivisimo.com
Location: Pittsburgh, PA 15217
Description: Vivisimo, Inc., provides intelligent software that helps enterprises to organize information from anywhere, any time, in any language. Its breakthrough clustering and meta-search products retrieve textual information from one or multiple sources and automatically organize the combined results on-the-fly into meaningful folders. Read more.