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Wireside Recap: 2015 PRSA International Conference

I recently attended my first PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The event, which was packed with educational sessions and networking opportunities, drew about 2,000 PR professionals from across the country.  Although each session brought something unique to the table, I want to highlight one of my favorite speakers from the conference, and key takeaways from his session.krr

Being part of a high-tech PR firm, I was eager to attend one session in particular.  David McCulloch, Sr. Director, Corporate Communications, Cisco, spoke on the session, “The ‘Internet of Things’: Are You Ready for the Opportunities and Risks?”  He provided some interesting examples to demonstrate the IoT in action.

  • The Henn Na Hotel (which translates to “Weird Hotel” in Japan) will be the world’s first hotel fully staffed by robots. These robots come in different forms; some made to look and have mannerisms like humans; others, like animals or cartoons. These robots speak several different languages: English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. The robots perform duties such as checking guests in, carrying luggage, and cleaning rooms.
  • Physical sensor technology company Sensum uses sensors to detect the physiological changes of audience members during presentations. These sensors enable a company to determine whether audiences are surprised, excited, or bored. This diminishes the need for traditional pencil and paper surveys, providing the speaker with feedback with little to no effort from his or her audience. Additionally, this allows the speaker to garner genuine feedback that is not affected by hastily – or dishonestly – completed surveys. This also solves the common problem of surveys not being completed, period.
  • This past September, the Food and Drug Administration accepted an application to evaluate a new drug-sensor-app system that tracks when a pill has been taken. The drug under discussion is Abilify, an antipsychotic. The actual sensor will only be the size of a pencil tip. The app will come connected to a Band Aid-like sensor, worn on the body, which will know when a tiny chip hidden inside a pill is swallowed.  This way, if patients aren’t taking their pills, doctors will be alerted.
  • Target made headlines back in 2012, when the store found out about a high school girl’s pregnancy before her father did. The store was able to trace the teen’s buying patterns, and based on her recent purchases, began sending her coupons for baby products in the mail. Her disgruntled father, unaware of the pregnancy, stormed into Target and had it out with the manager. He later found out his daughter was, in fact, pregnant, and apologized to the manager.

McCulloch’s examples of the IoT in full-effect not only engaged his audience, but left some of us shocked – and possibly uneasy – about the evolution of technology and the ways businesses can utilize it to uncover personal details about consumers.

My first PRSA International Conference was an unforgettable experience. Not only was I provided with an opportunity to network with others in the field, I was also able to get a crash course in the do’s and don’ts of PR from some of the most prominent names in public relations.

 

A Tech Guide for Travelers & Expats

I miss the Internet.  Is that weird?  Of all the things I thought I’d miss when I moved to Spain nearly two years ago, the Internet was nowhere on that list.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I moved here only to discover that the Internet is practically nonexistent here.  It’s like the early 90s.  No one shops online, people prefer phone calls over emails, and magazines see no point in having online versions, so of course they don’t know what a blog is. ARGH!  I’m of course speaking specifically about Spain, though I understand a lot of Europe follows suit, except the U.K.  What would I do without amazon.co.uk?  I shudder to think.

Travel tech_image

My point is, tech is different across the pond and there are certain survival tools a girl from California has come to depend on for her sanity.  Here’s my tech survival kit for frequent travelers and expats:

MUST-HAVE GADGETS

  • Power adapter – These little gems work for any of your electronics. Don’t plug your portable blender in here though, they aren’t meant for anything with a motor.
    Stick to your phone, laptop, tablet, etc.  I have about a dozen of these floating around my house.
  • Tablets – Smaller, lighter and more portable than a laptop, it’s a great travel companion for travel guides, games for the kids, movies, maps, etc.  I carried an iPad on my last trip to Rome and it was a lifesaver.
  • Solar powered bags – If you’re outdoorsy, or plan to do a lot of walking on your next trip, this might come in handy.  It keeps your gadgets charged too!
  • GRID-IT – This is the best gift ever for the Type A frequent traveler.  Who doesn’t need all of their gadgets, tech accessories and cables organized into one tidy place?

WEB TOOLS

  • VPN – This clever service miraculously tricks the Interwebs into thinking you’re not in a foreign country at all.  In my case, it looks like I’m logging on from New York, so I can still feed my Netflix addiction, for example, or shop at JCREW.com and Anthropologie.com.  Enough said, right?
  • Milanuncios.com – This is Spain’s answer to Craigslist.  I know I just told you that Spain has an Internet deprivation problem.  This is an anomaly, trust me.
  • Squarespace.com – When traveling or overcoming culture shock as an expat, many like to share and record their experiences through a blog.  This is my favorite platform.  It’s elegant, easy to use, and you can build websites quickly and easily too.

APPS, APPS, APPS

  • Kindle – If you don’t have a Kindle, the app is the next best thing.  I have it on my iPad and use it to download my favorite books, magazines and travel guides when wanderlust strikes.
  • iTunes Radio – Pandora doesn’t work over here and though iTunes Radio isn’t as good yet, it’s how I reconnect with good ol’ ‘merikah whenever I get homesick.  I never used to like country music, but now listening to the Taylor Swift channel in the shower makes me feel like I’m back in the States eating corn on the cob at summertime.  Spotify is pretty good too.
  • WhatsApp – This messaging app is all the rage among our friends in Europe and is catching on in the States from what I hear.  It’s a great way to keep those exorbitant mobile costs down while traveling.
  • XE Currency Converter – I’ve been here almost two years and still need to use this for converting euros to dollars and vice versa.
  • Google Translate – An invaluable tool while traveling anywhere you don’t speak the language. As a hint, stick to simple terms and phrases.  Anything more complicated doesn’t translate accurately, as the algorithm is incapable of deciphering idioms.  This little app made it possible for me to fake some Italian on my last trip to Rome.  It also helps me communicate with my little one’s daycare teachers, who speak Catalan.
  • Google Maps – This is an obvious one, but beware. The GPS avatar has an American accent and doesn’t exactly have an ear for languages.  If you want to crack up, listen to her pronunciation on your next trip to Spain.  I swear she’ll get you lost just because you can’t understand what the heck she’s saying.
  • Skype – For keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family, or the occasional international business call for free.
  • Kayak Flight Tracker – This is an important one, especially if your trip involves multiple flights and cities.  And of course, for when you suddenly become more interesting because of your new and exotic address and the visitors begin to fly in.
  • TripIt – A startup I actually used to work with and now owned by Concur, this handy tool helps you organize all of your flight itineraries, car rental and activity info, not to mention restaurant reservations and more, all in one place.  No more multiple emails and pesky printouts.  We’re saved!
  • The Weather Channel – I can’t go out or even get dressed without checking this one out first.
  • Instagram – Add some extra life to those shots on the road.  This is especially useful for someone who’s not exactly professional photography material, like me.
  • Wi-Fi Finder – Whether you’re offline or online, this app helps you find nearby hotspots anywhere in the world.  You can find it in both the Android Marketplace and iTunes App Store.

And of course, a smartphone or phablet.  But that goes without saying.  What tech can’t you live without when away from home?

Happy travels!

WhatsApp, Doc?

If living in Spain has taught me one thing these last eighteen months, it’s that sometimes things take a while to catch on over here in good ol’ Europe (that and MAN I love churros con chocolate during the chilly holiday season.)  At least as far as tech that has already launched and thrived or died out in the States goes.  So, I suppose it should come as no surprise that messaging apps are now all the rage over here and one in particular, called WhatsApp.  It’s almost too cute, right?

You may remember the explosion of the messaging app back at SXSW 2011, I think it was. No? Come on! Ashton Kutcher was there! I myself was getting ready to launch a messaging app client at the time and was totally bummed out by the veritable barrage of similar apps that burst from the scene at the same time. Ugh, talk about your PR nightmare. We held our own for a good while, but in the end GroupMe was declared the winner when it was acquired by Skype and Beluga was acquired by Facebook (now Facebook Messenger). Anyway, my point is this happened in 2011/12, and then the remaining players slowly began to die out. And then something weird happened. One or two new apps emerged a few years later and caught on a bit. I guess not everyone liked using Skype or FB Messenger for free text messaging, videos and photos, etc. It was really annoying, because I thought, “HEY! My client did this and BETTER. What gives?” I chocked it up as one of those fickle consumer tech flukes, or maybe it was just a timing thing. Who knows?

WhatsApp logo

Fast forward eighteen months ago when I arrive in Mallorca, Spain and EVERYONE is using this cool new app, WhatsApp.  “You’ve gotta try it!” they all said. “You can text and share videos and pics for free!” they all said. You can see the attraction for the euro set, where mobile costs are through the friggin’ roof.  “Yeah, yeah,” I said. You see, having lived and worked in the Silicon Valley tech scene for ten years before moving out here, I had both been there and done that and stuck my nose up at the idea of downloading another cute little messaging app that was sure to fail just like the others had done.  But no. EVERYONE in Spain uses WhatsApp and it’s pretty popular throughout much of Europe, as I understand it.  Everyone we know in our little pueblo here is on it; everyone at my little girl’s daycare uses it; our entire family out here swears by it.  Right now I’m working with a graphic designer on developing a new ad for a client and how did he send me the proof?  On WhatsApp!  Well, what do ya know, maybe messaging apps can work, when people you actually know and want to communicate with are on them.  Huh.

I have to say, I finally downloaded the app after several months of browbeating from the hubbies’ fam and local friends and I’m sold.  I save on text messaging costs using this app instead, I’m in the loop on what’s happening at my little girl’s daycare and even getting to know some of the parents!  That’s right, people.  I’m being semi-social and making friends!  If you knew me, you’d say “Shocker!”

Why has this app succeeded where so many others have failed?  I don’t know.  Timing? Bigger marketing budgets?  To be honest, as far as my knowledge of the Spanish and their culture goes, I’d say the name has a lot to do with it.  It’s annoyingly cute and English, which they love to sporadically throw into their daily exchanges along with “that’s so ‘fashion!’” “cool” and so on.  It’s all adorable and kudos to WhatsApp. Whatever you guys are doing, it’s working.  At least in Spain and other parts of Europe.

SDN App Store Launches, with Tiers

The opening by computer giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) of a software-defined networking (SDN) app store poses a question for tech observers. Does the ability to buy SDN applications off the (virtual) shelf mean that this technology has arrived, or at least become more real?

HP execs think so. “We are leading the market in terms of taking SDN mainstream,” said Kash Shaikh, senior executive director, HP Networking, in a video touting HP’s SDN developer workshops, software developer kit (SDK) and app store. But whether we have moved into a realm where SDN has become “as simple as downloading Angry Birds,” as HP Global Marketing Leader Jacob Rapp reportedly said, is another question.   APPS

There’s a key difference between the Apple and Google app stores and the enterprise portal that opened on October 1, about a year after HP first announced it at Interop New York 2013. Any consumer wanting to download Angry Birds – or something more popular (not such a great choice, HP) – simply clicks to install. There is no range of application categories based upon “their support and test process,” as noted in the HP SDN app store announcement.

That’s fair, because SDN is not child’s play, after all. At one end of the SDN app-store spectrum are the ones that are “built and tested exclusively by HP.” They reside in the top circle. (See left column at the portal). Then come the apps from HP partners, then those from the community, and then those labeled as conceptual, or in development. There is an implicit, high level of networking knowledge at all levels, whether it’s within HP itself or affiliated partners or channel integrators or fellow developers tapping into beta versions.

In other words, the growing reality of SDN remains closely linked to expert implementation. In that sense, this HP app-store story aligns with the launch of SDN-enabled enterprise cloud services from a service provider, such as NTT Com. Whether you build a network yourself or buy (or rent) it from others comes down to technical competence, available resources, cost structure and projected return on investment. That’s not new with SDN; rather, it’s one of those eternal questions of IT operations.