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A New (Environmental) World Order?

The Rubble Left Behind

During former United States President Trump’s first and only term, with militant and uncompromising discipline, quick work was made of immeasurable environmental laws and policies. In most cases, little debate or weighing of merits accompanied these initiatives. More often than not, it was “off to the chopping block” for one rule after another. From weakened carbon emission standards for the car industry to minimal environmental review for big, sweeping projects, the oil and gas industry was consulted early and often as the administration’s fossil fuel-centric agenda took shape. Progressive environmental leaders around the world watched in horror as pro-conservation policies were steadily peeled back. The warpath was well-defined and action was swift. Anyone tracking the speed with which the U.S. reversed long-entrenched environmental policies (both domestic and international) couldn’t help but be impressed.

Respected international agreements—notably the Paris Climate Accord—suffered as Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Treaty. Refusing to attend climate discussions held at the 2018 and 2019 G7 meetings, Trump scorned scientific findings and refused to recognize or take action to curb sizable US contributions to world carbon emissions.

Higher Goals

By contrast, throughout his campaign, President Biden made no secret of his intention to champion the environment and elevate the issue of climate change to a national and world priority—if not an international emergency. Biden pledged to mobilize all players to reduce carbon emissions, making this singular goal the primary axis around which the U.S. economy would rotate, create jobs and grow in years to come. All this is detailed in the “Building a Better Future” report. Whether and to what degree elected representatives will support Biden’s plan is still unclear, but the President is ambitious. What he is unable to do initially on a large scale with agreement from both houses of Congress he may tackle on a smaller scale via executive order and shrewd choice of leadership for key cabinet positions. As leader of one of the largest economies in the world, Biden’s action on climate issues can create momentum for change on a global scale. The scene is set, but will the show go on and will the curtain rise…? Here’s where the details count.

Redesigned Spaces for Work and Life

Real change in carbon emissions can’t be done without real change on the ground, which means shaking up the way goods and services are produced and delivered around the world, people move and live, and cities develop and function on a day-to-day basis. The incoming administration understands this, which is why the “Building Better” plan underscores the importance of infrastructure. The physical structures that make up our living spaces—the roads and bridges, urban areas and systems that make it all work—would be redesigned using modern technologies and sustainable design concepts:

  • Buildings retrofitted for resilience to floods and rising water,
  • The transportation industry remade to accommodate electric cars and trucks,
  • Clean alternative fuels.

Roads, highways, and bridges—many in poor and deteriorating condition—would need to be rebuilt to embody innovation, strength and sustainable transportation design and construction in urban and rural spaces alike.

Now science acts as Manager in Chief, cracking the whip in a massive redesign of modern life and culture. China’s economy is already at the center of the world’s solar photovoltaics industry and well-positioned to meet rising world demand for new technologies. Several countries in Europe are already on course to reduce carbon emissions. Norway makes strides to be carbon-neutral by 2030. More than 100 countries around the world aim to have zero carbon emissions by 2050. It is clear from watching environmental disasters unfold across the globe—flooding in India to historic forest fires in the US, to record-breaking storms in the Atlantic and Pacific—that a swift international “reset” is needed. Will this new vision help drive other world economies towards change?

A New Mission for Engineers and Engineering Tools

As much as we want this new world environmental order to kick-in, propelled by clean energy and spitting out clean jobs right and left, many elements need to fall into place to make it happen. With luck, all the working parts—visionary leadership across the globe, political will and international cooperation, and robust funding—will line up as they need to do.

The private sector’s role will be significant if—NO, WHEN—this new world agenda kicks into high gear. Highlands, for one, accepts the challenge. Building resilient infrastructure across the globe will be a non-negotiable mandate of 21st century modern life. Engineering tools need to be flexible, tough, ready to analyze complex (and changing) scenarios, and deliver accurate results. Here’s to new directions for global economies. We as an Indian software company that makes engineering tools for the world’s engineers welcomes the chance to build and modernize world infrastructure. Highlands will deliver, as we always have, when the call to action comes.

Points of Light at the Heart of a Pandemic

Most would agree that the year 2020 has tested us as businesses, communities and as individuals in ways that few could have foreseen. Natural disaster, political turmoil and disease have always been a part of life, but the pandemic has delivered a real blow to the global community. There is no doubt about it: We will be struggling to regain some level of normalcy for months to come. Covid-19 has spared few countries; only nine months since the first cases of infection surfaced and already more than 1,000,000 people, world-wide, have succumbed. Economies have come to a virtual halt. People have lost work and income and suddenly find themselves in desperate situations. The lucky ones are able to work from home. What conclusions can we make about where we are now? The bleakness of the current situation colors our outlook and the difficulties are certainly easy to see, but is there anything positive to consider in all of this?

First, let’s think about the loss…

Loss of Partners, Friends and Family Members

Without a doubt, the passing of family, coworkers and others within our communities is the most tragic aspect of the pandemic. This virus has created death on a massive scale, the likes of which we are more likely to see during times of war. We lose people yearly to illness and many hundreds of thousands die from heart disease every year, but the numbers lost to Covid-19 exceed these numbers, even though we are well short of the 12-month mark.

Daily Life with Covid-19 Comes with Risk, The Magnitude of which is often Unknown

We have made significant strides as a civilization in the last 100 years. We know what is needed to sustain life and to protect human health. Science and technology have developed medicines and vaccines to treat countless medical conditions and to protect against more than a few horrific diseases. We know how to purify water, forecast extreme storm systems, and build the bridges, buildings and other infrastructure that support our modern way of life. But Covid-19 has forced a “reset” on what we thought we knew. It has shaken confidence in our ability to handle a global health crisis. We know now, without a doubt, that we are still vulnerable. Although the scientific community has made inroads, what we don’t know still dwarfs what we do. Navigating daily life in the last nine months has been an exercise in moving through uncharted territory. If I enter a public space, what will be my level of exposure? If I contract the virus, will my case be life-threatening or mild? These are the questions that haunt us—unanswered—from one day to the next.

Basic Social Interactions…Upended

The pandemic has forced us apart physically and we keep our distance—even, in some cases, from members of our own families. To avoid the spread of the virus we check all impulse to communicate via friendly physical gestures. Forget about the fist-bump or the friendly handshake. I can’t share tomatoes without taking precautionary steps to disinfect and sterilize my hands. It’s harder to communicate; I can’t read body language over Zoom. In person communication means I need to get better at reading other physical cues, like eyes for examples, which has never been a particular strength of mine.

But there is a silver lining to all of this, and it starts with what we have learned about ourselves.

We are Asked to Test our Resourcefulness and our Willingness to Sacrifice

Let’s not neglect the positives of this situation, because they are there, hiding in the midst of this crisis. As we reexamine how we go about our daily lives, our world view is bound to change. Forced to alter our daily habits and to forego social outings and other perks we want, many of us have reconsidered our place in the world. Maybe we’ve thought about the vulnerability of people in poorer communities or the front-line workers, or how lucky we are relative to the situation of so many others who have less resources to protect themselves. In some cases, we’ve accepted the risk and elected to help the weaker members of our communities to simply survive.

We have had to alter our expectations, make adjustments and make more than a few sacrifices over the last nine months. This kind of self-reflection and self-denial can only be good for personal growth and for our evolution as a tightly interconnected world community.

We Charter New Ground with Our Company

Not only have we been forced to be more thoughtful and resourceful as individuals, but as a company as well. Within a matter of days, and before the city of Noida officially went into lockdown, Highlands elected to move all employees out of the office. Staff rallied, organized, and set up all employees at home with computers, desks, chairs, printers and everything else needed to make work happen at a distance. Aside from a few minor delays, the well-oiled machinery that is Highlands at the Graphix Tower in Noida’s Sector 62 shifted into high gear, albeit remotely. Programmers collaborated and scrummed at a distance; sales representatives contacted clients and HR still looked after the interests of our highly valued employees. We made it work.

Yes, we as individuals and as a business are resilient. In the midst of a pandemic, we’ve managed to find a few “points of light.”

We Thank Our Lucky Stars in 2020

In a year that was hit, broadside, by Covid-19 and that witnessed the loss of over 1,000,000 people (and counting) to the virus world-wide, do we really have anything to be thankful for? I would argue that although the end of this challenging situation is not yet in sight and massive human suffering continues, we do have reason to be thankful. Let me explain why.

Resolve of Global Community to Work Together on Solutions

On one level, we heard our share of polarizing words, accusations and friction, all of which seems to go hand in hand with an international crisis of this scale. But along with all of this political posturing, particularly from certain parts of the globe, we also experienced real leadership. Effective and life-saving efforts came from unexpected as well as expected places. Real leadership was focused, uncompromising and unequivocally based on and driven by data, statistics and fact. Local leaders advocated for commitment, service and personal sacrifice. Under the best of circumstances, a quick response resulted in a swift decline in case numbers. New York City, for example, was the world’s Covid-19 epicenter for weeks in early 2020 but managed to bring deaths/day down from a peak of 952 at the beginning of May down to 2/day by the end of September. This drastic shift in the city’s trajectory was nothing short of remarkable.

At clinics and hospitals around the world, hundreds of thousands of medical practitioners rallied to treat those afflicted with Covid-19, not knowing if they were to be the next victims. Most had families and dependents at home. According to Amnesty International, over the last nine months over 10,000 health workers lost their lives taking care of patients with Covid-19. These selfless individuals remain and continue to be an inspiration to us all.

Numerous teams across the globe launched accelerated vaccine research initiatives. Political boundaries become secondary as scientists and medical practitioners shared information and discoveries relative to potential treatments and cures. Many countries and professionals rose to the occasion to collaborate and avoid reverting to a vaccine “arms race”.

A Dedicated and Committed Team that Continues to Rally and Push Forward

Closer to home, the work ethic and drive of the individuals that make up the team at Highlands continues to impress me. When it became apparent that the world was on the brink of a crisis, yet Noida was not yet shutting down, everyone at Highlands shifted gears in the blink of an eye. Within a matter of days, workstations and necessary equipment were moved from corporate headquarters to home offices. Giving new meaning to agile teamwork, Highlands employees are safe at home and working remotely.

Employees Game to Learn and Grow

The key word is humility. We approach everything we do here at Highlands with some level of humbleness. Here at Highlands we have recruited the best in class and the best in profession, but this doesn’t mean we think we know it all. No matter status, education, or years of experience, we know we are all still students of life and work. Crises are, if nothing else, an opportunity for growth. We strive to learn from our mistakes and move forward, capitalizing on any insights we’ve gained through our mistakes to make this living, breathing system—which is Highlands—maintain its edge.

Not only is humility necessary to move a team forward but change and evolution are necessary as well. Each day at Highlands is different because the needs of our clients—the engineers and the global communities they serve and the problems they need help with—are different, from one day to the next. At the core, we are dealing with natural systems and natural systems are fundamentally dynamic in character. Engineers need to have tools to grapple with change, unpredictability and flux, and we want to continue to make the tools that facilitate reliable analysis.

Customers that Push Us to Do More

Could you design a car without the driver in mind? Could a playground be fun and surprising without plugging into the imagination of a kid? Highlands customers are not on the payroll, but in view of how they drive and shape our products, they very well could be. They are as much a part of the development team as any of our programmers. The practical knowledge and insights they offer into how to make our engineering software functional and relevant for today’s engineering problems are invaluable. We treasure these customers for their drive, interest and contributions towards making our solutions for the world’s engineers the best they can possibly be.

Parting Thoughts on the Year 2020

This has been anything but a typical year, but even a year of challenges can offer surprising opportunities. Here’s to putting a positive spin on otherwise difficult circumstances. Here’s to counting our blessings and giving thanks when it’s hard to see what is still good in the spaces and in the lives of the people around us. Here’s to looking ahead with hope and optimism.

Customer and Employee Centered

The Customer is in the Room…and other News from Highlands

Sometimes, to know what a company IS NOT is as telling as to know what a company IS. So, in this post, you will learn what you will NOT find at Highlands, as well as some things that you most certainly will. Let’s hit on some key points to shed light on our company’s culture, work processes and other telling indicators. In the spirit of full disclosure, let’s drill into the working machinery of Highlands.

NOT a corporation that snubs the customer

Say “hello” to the customer. She (or he) is at the scrum meeting. Well, not literally. If you want to visualize the customer looming over the conference table or hovering, phantom-like, during a scrum meeting, go ahead. It is not far from reality. But you will be hard pressed to find a software company that is more eager to please the customer. Soliciting—and acting on—customer feedback is as important as any other task that Highlands does. In fact, while most companies are satisfied to keep only minimum records of existing customers—contact name, billing address—that would never do for Highlands. We got the sale, yes, but our commitment to our customers doesn’t end there. We want to be sure that our software continues to deliver and perform well after the deal goes through.

Our team gathers customer feedback constantly. How is this done? Customer Support Representatives call customers every 2 to 3 months to check-in and get updates on how the software is performing. We want to know what is working, what isn’t, and what we need to change. In the process of fielding inbound calls, tech support engineers gather information as well. If we don’t understand a client’s issue, we use any technology available, from video recorded calls to client demos, to truly understand what a client needs and wants from the software. Now and then, the Engineering Director gets on the phone to make a “discovery call” and uncover precisely what a customer is looking for in our software. How many companies do you know of that do this? (We call this “software features on demand”). Information from our clients is meticulously documented and factored into the process of product development, as we will discuss in the paragraphs below.

NO stagnation here: Employees Evolve… as does the Company

Human Resources is probably one of the most important departments in our shop. Why is this so? Because equal in importance to our customers—if not more so—are the people that work at Highlands. These are the folks behind the core machinery at Highlands. Without them, we would not produce anything of value. So, we invest as much in our employees as we do in our product. We hope that employees take advantage of the many training and advancement opportunities that Highlands offers to grow and evolve.

But here’s something you may not recognize: A company needs to evolve and grow with its employees. If you consider Highlands your work “home”, you will want the team at Highlands, and the processes and systems that make it all come together, to work, evolve and grow stronger too. Ideas to make the community and the systems stronger at Highlands are always welcome.

Not a Coding “Mill”

How much code did you write today? This is NOT a question you will hear from any of us. Management cares about developers. We are not in the business of extracting blood and sweat. We expect hard work and our performance standards are high, but above all, we are fair. We will work with you, not against you. You are one of us—remember?

We believe in the magic and power of teams. You won’t be asked to learn the job on your own or figure out problems in isolation. We pair you up with another programmer to help you become familiar with our processes. A culture of teamwork and partnership forms the backbone of work at Highlands. We are a tight group that is interdependent, supportive of one another, and motivated to produce the best product possible under the best working conditions possible.

No Stuffed Shirts Here: Software Development as quick to Adapt as the Company itself

How good would we be as developers of leading-edge engineering software if we couldn’t change course quickly and respond to client needs? We wouldn’t last long. So not only are we quick to address the people side of things—the team and workplace issues, but we are agile and fluid when it comes to our product too. In fact, evolutionary ideals shape everything we do at Highlands. We take an iterative tack with respect to software design. If in the process of shaping our MVP (minimum viable product) we realize we are off track on core features, we don’t waste time. On a daily basis, the Highlands routine goes something like this: scrum meeting, write code in pairs or teams (ask questions), assess progress and check goals (ask questions), work, repeat tomorrow (and ask more questions).

Final question: Is the Highlands team a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls who can’t stand to be corrected or told that they are wrong?! No. We know change and growth is good. We also like to think we are a humble bunch of folks who just want to make good—actually really good—engineering software and to have some fun doing it. We hope you’ll consider joining us.

5 Ways Virtual Reality Will Empower Businesses in 2019

For a long time, virtual reality (VR) seemed to be a distant reality—something to look forward to in the coming years. However, now VR is a reality that businesses have access to today. The increasing affordability of VR headsets has contributed to making VR a strong and growing market. This in turn has stimulated a greater number of VR leveraged platforms designed to assist businesses with process improvements. Although virtual reality has historically been associated with the gaming industry, it is important to note it is not limited to this single domain. Today, one can find the use of virtual reality in healthcare, business, travel, and many other sectors.

The market for virtual reality is estimated to reach $485 billion by 2025. Considering how quickly virtual reality has become mainstream and how rapidly companies are endorsing and embracing virtual reality, this estimate is not an exaggeration by any means. In this guide, we are going to explore how virtual reality will impact and empower businesses in 2019.

Immersive Branding

There is no question that virtual reality can transform media. For businesses, it means exciting, new opportunities for branding. Clearly, it is one way to differentiate a brand’s promotional campaign from the competition and convey a clear message of technological supremacy. Interactive messaging will be a crucial component of branding and product promotion in the future.

The richness of the message and the level of engagement that such branding delivers is unmatched. Never before was there such an opportunity for a brand to occupy the mind space of a target audience with a truly immersive marketing experience, and virtual reality is spearheading this movement.

Boosting eCommerce

One of the main reasons for the often negative sales of eCommerce businesses is the fact that buyers are unwilling to spend on stuff that they haven’t tried. VR technology overcomes this issue simply as it can make product trials and demonstrations possible for various product categories. Hence VR can provide an authentic product experience to potential buyers.

For example, in the real estate industry, VR enables home tours from any location on the globe. Also, Airbus lets airline executives take aircraft tours without actually visiting the facility. Along similar lines, Audi offers “an R8 test drive from your living room”, a VR powered experience, which has played a significant role in boosting sales.

Product Designing and Prototyping

Although VR enhanced shopping experiences and VR immersive experiences enjoyed from the comfort of home are still far off, the use of VR to implement futuristic product prototyping is a reality now. Because it is cheaper to design a product or a complicated component of a large machine virtually rather than physically, the application of virtual reality is likely to grow tremendously.

Ford is one of the most innovative companies in the world. The company claims that it saves about $8 million per year by using VR technologies for designing and testing parts of new cars before moving on to making pre-production parts.

Of course, the cost to set up an advanced VR tech-enabled prototyping lab is steep, but greater cost efficiencies are inevitable, encouraging more businesses to invest in these facilities.

Novel Business Opportunities

Virtual reality technology is helping entrepreneurs create novel businesses. For example, VR cafes, just like traditional cafes, will act as social places and gateways for people looking for unique and virtually enriched experiences. These cafes include entertainment options like games, videos, social media experiences, 3D book and multi-media content, team building opportunities, and virtually enhanced meditations.

VR gaming centers or hubs could also soon be a hit. Avatarico, a VR platform, offers team-based VR entertainment franchising and licensing opportunities to entrepreneurs who can simply install VR technology in place and start offering unique entertainment in their cities, with large ROIs.

Next Level of Remote Work

Ten years ago, working remotely was still a thought experiment that only established enterprises could afford to consider. However, today, the technology is a part and parcel of startups, SMBs, and enterprises alike. Virtual reality can take things to the next level. It can empower businesses to deliver better experiences to remotely connected employees and get the best outputs from these employees. Whether it is a team meeting, training session, plant tour, or rewards and recognition program, virtual reality can make remote work experiences more realistic, enriching, and fruitful.

No business can afford to sleep on virtual reality. As the number of VR uses increases, more opportunities will be created for businesses to incorporate them into their daily operations. What are your thoughts on how we will be using VR in the workspace five years from now? How will your company leverage VR to reap more benefits? Send us your ideas; we would love to hear from you.