A Year in Review: Focus on the “Good”

A Year in Review: Focus on the “Good”

The year 2022 is gradually coming to a close. Looking back, it has never been more obvious that our world is complex, teeming with the good and the bad—and everything in between. But even in the thick of the innumerable crises and world problems that plague us, I prefer to focus on the positive by celebrating acts of heroism and worthy global effort, wherever we find it. Let’s review a few developments—minor and major in scale—from the past year that can invigorate us with optimism for the future as we move toward the New Year.

We’ve come out ahead: Some reprieve from the pandemic that rocked the world

According to at least one reputable source, Covid-19 cases are declining world-wide. A few hot spots remain, but this number is a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of cases recorded daily throughout the world during the height of the pandemic. It’s a bit of a shock to recognize just how recently the entire world was in the grips of wide-spread contagion. India was still reporting 300,000 cases per day just 10 months ago in January of 2022. Today, the 7-day average in India is 324 cases per day. Of course, the relative calm of the present moment could be short-lived, and the coming winter months could bring spikes in reported cases. Some experts predict that several factors, including a warming global climate, may unleash a higher frequency of pandemics in future years. But let’s remain hopeful. International know-how in terms of developing vaccines and managing highly transmissible diseases has been put to the test; world populations are better positioned now to fight global health threats than they were ten years ago. We won’t let down our guard, but there is reason to remain optimistic going forward.

Space exploration for one and all: Another barrier bites the dust

What is one of the most physically and mentally strenuous forms of scientific research? Some would say space exploration. Last month, the United Kingdom (UK) announced that for the first time in history, a disabled astronaut would be part of the UK space agency’s 2022 astronaut class. Dr. John McFall will take part in the “Parastronaut Feasibility Project,” which will focus on developing options for the inclusion of astronauts with physical disabilities. Initiatives like this underline the fact that although exclusionary practices still dominate in many parts of the world, there are plenty of exceptions—and this is one of them. Progress towards equal access and opportunity for all—in the many forms it may take—is moving forward, albeit in fits and starts. This example from the UK should give hope to us all. May the rest of the world follow.

Global steps forward—and back—on mitigating and paying for climate change

For the first time in history—and now “officially”—the world’s largest economies acknowledged their dominant role in creating the world’s warming climate conditions. The international conference on climate change, notably COP 27, recently came to a close in Cairo, Egypt. Several of the world’s largest G20 economies—specifically the U.S. and Germany—participated in drafting the important document (aka the “Loss and Damage Fund”) and committed to making amends to the many developing countries that are presently bearing the brunt of climate change’s most destructive effects. As with many non-binding agreements of this kind, questions remain regarding the fine print and important details. One major concern relates to the extent to which compensatory funds actually will reach the countries and populations in question. Another question: what kinds of conditions will trigger a payout—and for what amount? After all, since the global community first came together at the inaugural Paris Conference in 1987, the history of global climate negotiations is riddled with unmet commitments—from unfulfilled emissions targets, to promises to fund climate adaptation for developing countries. The intent to do good is surely there—and awareness is half the battle—but follow-through is the next milestone.

A small, but important, step forward in the fight against the extinction of species

Intimately connected to the issue of global industrialization and climate change is the reality of declining species diversity world-wide. The rate of extinction is expected to reach a grim 50% by the year 2050. But research suggests that if the will to conserve is strong enough, certain trends towards extinction may be reversed. A research project in Switzerland offers the most recent glimmer of hope. Over the course of a 20-year program, Switzerland discovered that it could reverse, or at least stabilize, the decline of certain populations of tree frogs by recreating habitat that was previously destroyed. Through the efforts of various governmental and non-profit groups, 430 small ponds were built specifically for the needs of certain species of tree frogs. At the beginning of the study period, eight species of frog were endangered. This study showed that with habitat restoration, 52% of these frogs increased their populations, while 32% were stabilized—a glimmer of hope, for sure.

Fighting for democracy when your opponent is a giant

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine back in February of 2022, most of the world believed that Ukraine would quickly collapse under a Russian offense. Few predicted the fierceness with which the Ukrainian people would take up arms to protect their country’s independence and individual freedoms. Ammunition and supplies were obviously critical to Ukrainian success, but far more important was the grit and heroism that everyone from ordinary Ukrainian citizens to trained soldiers unequivocally displayed. The example set by these heroic citizens and patriots in their fight for democracy should give hope to us all. Never underestimate the power of people committed to fighting for democratic principles!

Finding inspiration here at Highlands

The team here at Highlands is also a source of inspiration. The level of cooperation, “can-do” innovation, and spirit that sets Highlands apart from similar firms makes me appreciate the quality of our workforce more than ever. As another productive year of software development comes to a close, I look forward to tackling another set of challenges. With this particular Highlands team, I know we have the pluck and determination to meet any and all challenges. Bring them on! A very Happy New Year to all!

In the Corporation We Trust?

In the Corporation We Trust?

Let us Count the Ways….

Corporations are major players in our global culture. Year by year, they upend historic benchmarks—larger payrolls, more offices throughout the world, millions in quarterly revenue. They operate, in short, on a scale that would have been inconceivable some 20 years ago, collectively employing billions of people across the planet and, for better or worse, representing the cornerstones of our modern civilization.

But with this kind of presence and far-reaching influence comes corporate responsibility. As multi-national employers and producers of global goods and services, businesses can spearhead innovation, contribute to the community and elevate standards of living—or alternatively—exploit populations and operate unethically. When we don’t like what a company does, do we have any recourse? Actually, yes. Although these huge organizations seem impenetrable and immune to public opinion, the public nevertheless has held corporate actors accountable—time and time again.

Consumers can affect the fortunes of corporations; in fact, studies show that losing the public’s trust not only results in bad press, but significantly affects the bottom line as well. A study conducted in 2018 by the journal Economist showed that companies with recent business scandals lost 30% of their value when compared to peers in similar industries whose public image was still intact. And rebuilding trust is not easily accomplished, as big-name corporations can attest.

So, what do corporations need to do to earn trust? Let’s dive in and talk about the characteristics that matter the most.

What Do We Expect from Corporate Players?

Let’s start with an easy one. Corporations need to deliver the goods: Stakeholders want, at a minimum, solid economic value.

Consumers expect companies to demonstrate a basic level of competence and to deliver quality goods and services. The market is full of products that underwhelm for different reasons; we’ve all regretted making bad purchases. If enough buyers feel as we do about a product’s poor performance, the company quietly but surely loses revenue and disappears.

Corporations Need to Operate Fairly.

Whether we are dealing with workplace safety requirements, industry product standards, basic tax laws or just plain honest dealings, we expect companies to follow the rules and to observe the law—with respect to consumers and employees alike. When a company falls short of these minimum standards, the public backlash can be intense.

One of the biggest scandals to hit the car industry in recent years involved the car company Volkswagen Group. Federal investigators discovered that the only VW turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engine to achieve stringent emission targets was the engine tested during official trials. Volkswagen issued a public apology and admitted to the use of software specifically designed to cheat the regulatory test. Roughly 11 million cars produced between 2009 to 2015 were found to emit more than 40 times the banned diesel emissions. In reaction to a clear case of public deception, Volkswagen stock decreased by 20% the day after the public apology and decreased another 17% two days later. Billions of dollars of penalties later, the automobile maker is still working to recover the public’s trust.

Corporations Should Have No conflicts of interest.

A corporation motivated by something other than serving the customer is a sure-fire way to lose trust. Facebook faced public criticism for several reasons in recent years. Arguably, not only did Facebook betray its customer base by allowing personal data to become compromised in exchange for private corporate gain, it also failed to protect a specific user group, namely vulnerable adolescent users. Whistleblower testimony established that Facebook maximized use of computer algorithms that increased the frequency of negative messaging targeting the media platform’s youngest users. Facebook maintains a dominant presence in the social media space, but it’s worth pointing out that the company’s forays into other fields have been met with suspicion. Some would say the firm is losing ground as a result of a tarnished image.

What is the Broader Societal Impact? A Corporation Should be Aware of Risks.

An international corporation’s influence is significant, and its actions can have far-reaching implications. A responsible company needs to be aware of and protect against unintended consequences. Twitter gave us an example of proactive, responsible corporate behavior recently. The social media provider was aware of the high potential to spread misinformation relating to Covid 19 and other vaccinations. Therefore, as a preventative measure, the company flatly prohibited and continues to ban any online discussions relating to vaccinations on its platform.

Corporate Champions: The Heroes Among Us

Granted, just like individuals, there are nuances to a corporation’s image. Microsoft has had its share of anti-trust lawsuits and has been accused of monopolistic, bullying behavior towards competitors. But the corporation’s reputation for product excellence combined with the philanthropic generosity of its founder, Bill Gates, presents a unique case. Microsoft has given massively to regional schools and towards community revitalization efforts—both domestic and international. It is also undeniable that Bill Gates, through the far-reaching work of the non -profit humanitarian foundation he created with ex-wife Melinda Gates, has improved local critical infrastructure and health conditions for millions in the poorest regions of the planet. Recent efforts include the elimination of polio through focused and generously financed global outreach. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is involved in many initiatives to promote the well-being of countless disadvantaged populations. Microsoft—and the humanitarian work of the related non-profit Foundation—gives both “champion” status.

Patagonia’s retiring CEO and his family made headlines recently by giving away all personal wealth generated from their successful international outerwear company and pledging it to the cause of fighting climate change. Thousands of companies like Patagonia are fighting the battles that matter and making a difference—both on a local and global scale. We admire corporations that put customers and employees first, operate to the highest ethical standards, admit mistakes and try to make the world a better place—doing good whenever and however they can. These are the corporations we trust.

How Trust Makes the World—and Office—Go Around

How Trust Makes the World—and Office—Go Around

If you consider the most supportive relationships in your life, would you say that trust is a main component? At a fundamental emotional and developmental level, trust is key. Children blossom through infancy and adolescence if they trust their environments and caretakers. We, as adults, need relationships based in trust in order to thrive—both at home and at work. The presence of trust shapes everything. Do I trust you enough to develop a relationship, learn from you and—within a company—work for you, year after year?

The centrality of trust to relationships at home, at work between employer and employee, and in all contractual business relationships is critical enough to warrant a detailed look. Part one of this 2-part series looks at the role trust plays at work between colleagues and—most importantly—between team member and manager. Part two looks at how trust is key between customer and company. This second part explores the component parts of trust in a business setting, especially how the absence of one element of trust may undermine a customer’s faith in a product and the company as a whole. Business news is full of examples of how companies can lose trust—Uber, for example—only to spend months and even years trying to rebuild it.

Building Trust at Work

Trust at work can mean different things to different people. But when you examine what the word means at its core, it refers to a relationship between two individuals that is grounded in integrity, sincerity in words and actions, and truth. What does this look like in the corridors, conference rooms and offices of a company on a day-to-day basis? Some would say that it means you can trust management to treat you with honesty and respect. It also means that you have certain expectations—based on a past positive working relationship—about how you will be treated in the future. For trust to be present and thriving at work, consider that at a minimum the following three rules need to be observed:

  1. A respectful exchange where parties are free to speak—and listen;
  2. Empowerment of team members through education and opportunity; and
  3. A place where a culture of inclusivity and respect is fostered, and the workplace is very much like “a home away from home.”

Is it realistic to think that a company can observe these basic principles?

Dialogue—Between Employees and Employer—Underpins All

Arguably, fifty years ago a workplace that encouraged feedback from team members was rare. Most companies operated from a purely “top down” management model. While this is still a current model for running a company, it has undergone a marked shift. In the most productive companies, a consistent and regular stream of feedback and constructive commentary comes from team members who carry out the company’s mission. In other words, over the years it has become clear that the most “enlightened” companies realize that the “whole” is stronger when its respective “parts” are involved in decision making. In this respect, dialogue, rather than one-way directives, underpins a company’s processes and operations. When management encourages feedback, listens and is responsive to suggestions from its team of employees, not only does the company thrive, but trust grows between all parties—team members and management.

The Gift of Education and Growth

Consider the following scenario:

A team member shows exemplary drive and interest in making a particular company process work better. She not only does her own work to the highest standards, but helps her coworkers achieve a similar level of success. Management takes note of her leadership abilities and offers to create additional opportunities for her. Management not only helps her gain new skills through formal education and training opportunities but promotes her within the company as well.

Such a gesture of appreciation by management validates the employee, her initiative, and her hard work. It represents one of the most effective demonstrations of trust and respect between employer and employee. This is non-negotiable rule number two: Leadership should always recognize the efforts of team members and reward accordingly, either through additional opportunities for growth within the company and/or through additional formal learning opportunities. Through these gestures of respect, the company is effectively communicating a key component of trust: “We believe in you.”

The Pinnacle of Trust: Company as a Second “Home”

The notion that a company needs a tyrant at the helm to get things done is a myth. The best companies incorporate elements of “home” into the workplace. What does this mean? It means bringing an environment built on trust into the cubicles, conference rooms and break areas. It means fostering a culture of inclusion, tolerance, and open communication.

Needless to say, the workplace environment must be welcoming, receptive to employee feedback, and “safe” in all ways for employees to deliver their best work. This type of workplace environment is absolutely key in this modern age. Such a workplace builds trust, security, and a workforce that is loyal to the company for years to come. All companies should strive towards this model. The most trustworthy among them will achieve it.

The Future Amidst Change: Connected, Collaborative and Creative

The Future Amidst Change: Connected, Collaborative and Creative

The last two years have been unsettling in multiple ways and—in view of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine—more changes could be around the corner. It seems we will need to reconsider daily routines, business practices and long-term expectations on a regular basis. What the future holds is a toss-up obviously, but long-term trends are becoming apparent. Which aspects of today’s workplace are likely to stay the same—or alternatively—change in the years ahead? Which skill sets are in demand and growing? Let’s consider the possibilities…

Remote Work Comes Out of the Shadows

As millions of employees across the globe hunkered down at home to work due to stay-at-home orders, the number of online collaboration tools exploded to meet the need. The platform Zoom was downloaded 450 million times in 2020. What was surprising was that after a period of adjustment, many employers made the pleasant discovery that with adequate preparation and the right set of conditions, online meetings could ACTUALLY work. Work could get done and—to everyone’s surprise—new levels of productivity could even be achieved. Online collaborative platforms will continue to grow, offer additional services, and become more specialized as work teams continue to convene online in the months and years to come.

Whether remote work is feasible or not depends on several factors, the main criterion being the character of work responsibilities. But remote work is undoubtedly in the future mix of acceptable arrangements. More and more employers are willing to judge employees on job performance, not whether they are physically at the office.

Tech Tools Chip Away at Routine Tasks

Technology continues to grow more sophisticated and offer an ever-broadening array of tools. However, contrary to what many have feared, instead of replacing employees, technology is more likely to take over a task—routine engineering calculations, for example—rather than the higher-level, nuanced analysis often required of professionals. Much like the time-efficient services of a highly skilled personal assistant, the best use of technology complements what we do. It is quick to learn and adapt to ways that works best for us. Even with all the strides that have been made so far with AI and machine learning, robots are still far from making complex decisions. Andrew MacAfee of MIT points out that “machines are demonstrating skills that they never had before.” This is true, but machines are still far from being human. Let’s keep it that way for a while.

Collaborate, Lead and Adapt—Skills that Are More Important Than Ever

As employees move to remote workstations, the emphasis on teamwork and “people” skills accelerates. In fact, excellent communication and interpersonal skills become non-negotiables in the years ahead. Collaboration between individuals, teams and departments is how the best companies work and will continue to work in years to come. Automation and remote workstations may increase within a company, but so too does the need for invaluable “people” skills.

The pandemic managed to shock us into reevaluating our routines. Above all, the adaptive talents of our employees are more important than ever. “Upskilling” is a very real and relevant talent. If the future is anything like the recent past, circumstances can change quickly, and job positions can change with them. The best employees are the ones that are quick to adapt—and lead if necessary—in a way Mike Walsh of MIT refers to as “cognitive flexibility.” The rapidity with which global economies were affected by the pandemic meant the most valuable employees were the ones that were creative, quick to act, and quick to develop or draw on skills essential for that unique moment.

In the future we will likely move away from fixed roles and learn to develop skill sets and mind sets and to think as groups, maximizing the combined resources of a team. As important as the individual spirit is, the team rules.

The Over-Designed Product and Other Lessons on Feature Creep

The Over-Designed Product and Other Lessons on Feature Creep

More than once when considering the purchase of a software product, I have set aside the feature-heavy package for a simpler version with a better price and better mix of key functionality. More often than not, the package I choose has the core features that sold me on the product in the first place. More often than not, the features added to later versions of the same software are neither necessary nor helpful to the overall user experience.

The result of a common market phenomenon known as “feature creep,” these extra features were added to enhance the product, but actually diminish its value by adding too much complexity and cost. Few consumers purchase the more elaborate product, at which point it starts a slow but sure trek from sale bin to discontinuation. What sets apart the doomed “bloated” products from those that enjoy a long and productive shelf life? How can a corporation avoid “featurism” by packing too much of a good thing into an otherwise solid product? Here are a few points on how to stack the deck in your product’s favor.

Data is King: The Indisputable Value of Market Research

The ultimate goal of market research is to uncover hidden, but invaluable truths about your target industry. In unlocking the secrets to your primary consumer (and potentially striking market “gold”) you discover needs, difficulties, typical workflow processes, and key goals. Make use of quantitative and qualitative market research techniques to get answers to foundational questions. Primary research uses focus groups, surveys and well-designed questionnaires; secondary research pulls from existing articles, reports and analyses. At the conclusion of a thorough process, a road map to deliver needed help to your target consumer should be clear.

Identify key problems you are trying to solve for this industry. Prioritize the challenges and issues that are of primary importance and those that are secondary. Your target customer’s problems are front and center in the product development process and the driver behind effective product design. Don’t lose sight of them.

Make an Execution Plan

Outline a scope of work to develop a product that solves a key challenge for your target group. The plan of work will be based on conclusions derived from market research and objectives to incorporate key functionality and core features. Set a timeline to achieve major milestones and don’t stray from these target dates. You are incorporating non-negotiable, “bread and butter” features into your product and that is the end game. If you still have too many features to work with at this point and need to narrow the field, determine which features are more valuable to your target user than others. The use of a Pareto analysis, in which you attempt to identify the minimum features (20%) that generate the majority (80%) of the value, can be useful here.

Consider the development of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) at this stage as well.

If you Make it, Will they Buy?

The MVP is a bare-bones product with minimal up-front investment that indicates whether market research was nailed-or not. Targeted to a specific, well-researched group of consumers, the MVP could be the winning ticket—the long-awaited product that has been tailored to meet a specific need—or a real loser. The MVP gauges viable market interest and either establishes a receptive customer base or not. If it fails, anything more elaborate will fail too. The company will decide to go forward with the product as is, change it, or discontinue production altogether

Let Data Drive Design and Product Development

Let’s say the MVP is a success and the pressure is on to firmly establish market share. A common presumption is that more features result in a better product. Corporate development and design teams ramp up, ready to shift into high gear with “better” features and greater functionality—but this is where feature creep becomes a real risk. Make sure data-driven review processes are in place to analyze the risk and value of proposed new features.

Considerations should include user need, effects on user experience, and how a proposed feature adds or detracts from existing product design.

Keep budgets, corporate resources and timelines in mind. Continue to follow initial project goals and priorities. Early market research uncovered important truths about your customer base and data on user behavior should continue to drive design decisions. Consider analyses showing each of the product’s features with the percentage of users for each. Features with poor rates of use should be eliminated. These data and others will yield important information on product design moving forward.

The Value of a Simple Design

Failure to plan or follow a process for feature review and analysis can result in wasted corporate resources, missed deadlines, a product that no one wants, and irreversible financial losses. Thorough market research and planning and project objectives that keep the end user in mind at all times are essential to avoid feature creep. Don’t dismiss the value of a simple and user-friendly product that delivers a basic solution and does little more. Don’t dismiss a minimalist, yet effective, design strategy. Years from now, we will undoubtedly observe that the simple tools are the ones that outlast the complex.

The Business of Building Engineering Software

Building Engineering Software

The Business of Building Engineering Software

Four Ways the Cloud Gives Us an Edge

We’ve come a long way as far as computer processing goes. Barely thirty years ago, enormous main-frame computers and other bulky physical hardware was the norm. Now each day new developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud analytics mean that corporations can operate at an entirely new level, realizing efficiencies that were just a pipedream several years ago.

Above all, emerging technologies can make running a business much easier. Developing world-class engineering software is hard. The question of how best to invest and grow is constantly front and center. Do we hire staff, invest in infrastructure, add to the product line? A business that wants to stay on top struggles to get it right. In the thick of all the decisions that need to be made, here’s one thing I’ve learned: The business that takes advantage of cloud computing is bound to come out ahead. Here are four reasons why software development and cloud technologies are a good fit.

1. Remote Work Doesn’t Slow Us Down

Code development requires programmers to work on their own—and in teams. Access to cloud-based coding platforms means that work done remotely is as efficient (if not more so) as work done physically in the office. Programmers can work autonomously but can also do paired virtual programming, sharing code when necessary to trouble-shoot problems. Code corrections can be deployed immediately to client desktops via a central server. Highly efficient teamwork is possible through programs like Microsoft Team, Visual Studio and others. The pandemic hit us hard and staff were forced to adjust to remote work, but thankfully the company’s “lifeblood”—our ability to develop state-of-the-art software code—didn’t suffer.

2. Our Programmers Take Advantage of Automation

Most professionals—and this includes software developers—have some aspect of their job that is repetitive and tedious. To be competitive, the process of developing code needs to be stream-lined and efficient. What does this mean? More time on content creation—less on editing. More and more cloud platforms offer a variety of code storage, review and analysis tools that eliminate the most mundane tasks associated with code development. To the extent coders are able to focus on the work that really counts, the better. In addition, cloud-based platforms give developers access to multiple coding languages, thus giving our developers yet another professional edge.

3. Our Engineering Clients Get a Leg Up with Data in the Cloud

Nearly all data relating to the physical environment is digitized. However, the enormous quantity of data this represents is impossible to physically store in one location, let alone one workstation. The success of world-class engineering software—and the professionals that use it—depends on access to data stored in the cloud. Our software is built around cloud-based data, some of which is pre-processed in our software applications. In addition, this data is accessible to both international and domestic customers via data servers located around the world. Our software computes and analyzes large data sets and has the capacity to scale this process up or down, per the client’s needs. Again, access to cloud capabilities sets a company apart from the competition.

4. The Cloud Eliminates Computer Hardware. Need We Say More?

Prior to the cloud, software companies were swamped with the costs of buying and maintaining physical hardware—and the software to run it. Since our operations moved to the cloud, we have few expenses associated with hardware maintenance. Server space is increasingly important, but we can easily contract for more. Did we mention data security? Our cloud provider offers security and back-up services. Another perk relates to company records. Here again a company can thrive: Administrative issues are handled seamlessly via cloud-based book-keeping software.

We have seen that at specific times throughout history, an invention or new process can catapult world commerce into a new era of efficacy and performance. The Industrial Revolution’s introduction of mechanized processes is a case in point. Manufacturing was never the same once mechanized processes took over; business protocols were irreversibly altered. Within the field of software development and computing, we could argue that the cloud is having a similar effect. Those that embrace it will realize numerous cost efficiencies and will be poised to surge ahead. The cloud, like the dawn of the assembly line some years ago, offers a competitive advantage to the companies that embrace it.

We are Humbled—and Cautiously Grateful in 2021

We are Humbled—and Cautiously Grateful in 2021

As the year 2021 comes to a close, we have an opportunity to take stock of where Highlands (and the world) was New Year’s eve and where we are today, some 11 months later.

Highlands—and Slowly the World—Is Getting Through It

We have no need to define “it” as it is abundantly clear that the global phenomenon that affected all and spared few was the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of our staff here at Highlands—and their friends and families—were seriously affected by the devastating pandemic. Our hearts go out to those who suffered or—worse yet—lost loved ones.

Nothing quite like it in recent history, employees at Highlands were forced to find new ways to work. The good news so far is that we have managed to stay busy and keep our business moving steadily forward. We figured out ways for our people to be safe and productive in remote offices. It became clear that with the right set of tools—and the right state of mind—we could achieve goals even when physically removed from Highlands’ corporate hub in Noida, India.

In fact, in spite of the pandemic’s global upheaval, we succeeded in releasing a new engineering software product that is certain to have a positive impact around the world. We are just one company, but Highlands is keen to make a difference.

Several vaccines were developed in record time and became available in many parts of the world, well within a year of the initial outbreak—a remarkable feat. World-wide distribution of the vaccine, however, is not what it should be; many poorer populations remain unvaccinated as the citizens of wealthier countries debate the value of booster shots. Without a doubt, the inequities of global vaccine availability need to be remedied.

Awareness of Climate Change and a Call to Action

With each severe weather event that devastates an unprepared community, more people become aware of the crisis that is our changing climate. The disasters that we now frequently witness the world over are unmistakably the product of a warming planet.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2021 climate report was a wake-up call; some 500+ pages of scientific proof of imminent and irreversible climate conditions means more countries—particularly the ones that can afford it—must step up, make tough decisions and sacrifice.

Consider some key findings: There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than there has been in over two million years. Consider that specific weather events—heat waves, rain events, and other severe weather—will become more extreme and catastrophic with each incremental rise in temperature. Consider that due to past emissions, the Arctic ice pack will continue to melt into the future; this is now an irreversible phenomenon that will affect us, our coastal communities, and our way of life well into the future.

Technologies are being developed that offer hope, but on-going investment in carbon-neutral infrastructure is no longer negotiable.

World leaders convene in Scotland in November to discuss the climate crisis. We can no longer remain passive as world citizens. Let’s hope our world leaders don’t either.

World Suffering is Widespread

The number of relief agencies working in the poorest countries of the world has never been higher, but the need for humanitarian assistance has also never been higher. The fact remains that there are tremendous numbers of children and families that are displaced from their countries, living in misery with poor water quality, substandard food reserves and inadequate medical care.

As we take stock of our good luck, let’s not forget that many live desperate lives. Poverty is everywhere…It is across the street, in the next neighborhood, across the border. What can we do—even on a small scale—that improves the quality of life for someone—someone we may not even know?

The Spirit that Keeps Us Moving Forward

In spite of the ups and downs of the past two years, Highlands is lucky. Many companies just didn’t make it. These are the companies that lost customers and revenue and ultimately went bust during the pandemic.

So many businesses are in desperate shape, but our team at Highlands is faring well. We are fortunate to be in a position to create products we can be proud of and that do the world good.

We should always look for ways to share what we know and to help where we can. We help our Highlands teammates, of course, but more importantly, we strive to help the local and global communities of which we are a part.

What’s on the Horizon in Cloud Technology

What’s on the Horizon in Cloud Technology

Cloud technologies are evolving rapidly to meet an ever-expanding demand from corporations to provide cost and organizational efficiencies. What are the areas of growth in 2022 and beyond?

Artificial intelligence capabilities are expected to be integrated more and more into SaaS platforms to produce highly tailored and optimized applications. Multiple examples of these exist already in the form of chatbots, user-specific behavior analyses and other “smart” applications.

Cloud security is a hot topic among corporate executives as high-profile cases of data breach continue to make headlines and the threat becomes increasingly mainstream. According to one source, cybercrime increased last year by a whopping 650%. For this reason, the kind of data security offered by a cloud provider is a primary selection criterion. Some corporations elect to distribute data storage over several different cloud platforms to minimize risk, but fool proof strategies do not yet exist. Even with additional safety measures in place, private and public entities alike are still at risk when it comes to data security infrastructure. This is an area that is ripe for innovation and growth.

Minimizing risk of data breach is not the only reason for a private or public entity to rely on multiple clouds. Corporations often have multiple clouds—as opposed to just a few—to address specific needs. In fact, it is quite common for an organization to have several public clouds and multiple private cloud systems as well in a hybrid cloud situation, each with unique purposes, capabilities and requirements.

Areas of growth in the context of multi-cloud formats include enhancing an organization’s ability to work seamlessly between cloud platforms and to expand the capabilities of each. This may mean that providers of public cloud services develop additional capabilities to appeal to a greater cross-section of discerning customers.

Corporations increasingly look for operational flexibility, a high degree of data oversight, and top-notch organizational capabilities as well. Data fabrics are increasingly used as a means of identifying and linking separate data storage locations in order to provide an overarching organizational theme. With the use of application programming interfaces, cloud fabrics identify core functional commonalities among distinct siloes of data and give corporations the ability to access similar data managed by separate cloud providers.

Containerization is yet another aspect of innovative and specialized data management that is gaining ground. This concept offers corporations a way to organize an application and its supporting files and associated components into a unique “container” or “library” of related items. This gives the application versatility and the ability to run seamlessly in different computing environments. Thus, the use of containers is of particular interest to entities that seek to capitalize on a hybrid cloud operational strategy. Each container is relatively small in size and thus multiple units can be run on one server, again providing multiple efficiencies to the corporation that chooses to use them.

With multiple clouds at play, corporations want to be able to compare performance and monitor analytics across all cloud platforms. For this reason, cloud automation is an emerging trend and an area primed for growth. Via a dashboard or similar window into operations, an organization can compare for performance, security risks and other analytics. With similar, if not identical, infrastructure across all platforms, an entity can capitalize on machine learning to draw key conclusions, improving oversight and overall efficiency as it considers how the business operates as a whole.

In response to dominance by a few centralized data processing giants, edge computing is the answer to data stored on a central server that is vulnerable to factors like bandwidth, latency and security. Edge computing seeks to minimize the secondary effects of overburdened and centralized clouds with the construction of regional data centers, which gives companies access to the reliability of data stored on a local server.

An industry-specific cloud is designed to address the needs of a particular industry like finance or healthcare. These are companies that are often subject to a host of additional industry-specific regulations. Healthcare is the type of industry that can also benefit from additional automation in particularly sensitive areas like patient data management.

Cloud-based platforms were conceived in part due to the inability of desktops and physical servers to manage large volumes of data. Desktop applications were then reconfigured for cloud-based platforms. Cloud native applications, however, refers to applications that are not simply platforms redesigned for the cloud, but applications that were cloud native or developed originally for the cloud, which means they may offer an edge in terms of agility within the cloud and overall functionality.

We anticipate tremendous growth in cloud computing. From issues of cloud security to data fabrics and cloud automation, business, government and private individuals are primed for even greater levels of performance. Opportunities in the cloud are only just beginning.

Lessons from TED: How do We Really Thrive at Work?

Lessons from TED: How do We Really Thrive at Work?

The TED (“Technology, Entertainment and Design”) non-profit gives voice to some of the most brilliant people on Earth who are willing to distill their life experiences and research into succinct (< 20 minute) talks. Accessible to anyone with an interest and an internet connection, TED talks can draw millions of viewers. From prize-winning scientists, to CEOS, to Pope Francis, Bono, and prodigy school kids, each one has something unique to share. I’ve wandered into a TED talk on more than a few occasions and found myself thoroughly mesmerized.

TED delivers concentrated nuggets of information or opinion (and often both) on very specific topics; it is up to you to draw your own conclusions about the larger themes. I recently listened to several different talks on related topics—everything from what makes a person happy to tips from a Human Resources pro—at which point I had an AHA! moment.

Although speaking on different topics, several speakers arrived at very similar conclusions. Here is my attempt to bring it all together in a TED-inspired summary of workplace wisdom:

TED Talk #1: What do We Need at Home?

Robert Waldinger is Director of one of the longest running psychological studies in the world. Based at Harvard University, the study has tracked the lives of hundreds of men from two very different socioeconomic groups since 1938. One of the study groups consists of Harvard students; the other group consists of men from the working-class neighborhoods of Boston. The researchers tracked the subjects over the course of their lives, gathered a variety of data, from medical to employment records to personal questionnaires about home life, and made some interesting conclusions.

Nearly all subjects declared early in their lives that they had two goals in life: 1) to become wealthy; and 2) to become famous. The study tried to predict which men would live on into their 80s. Ultimately, the researchers learned that those that had happier, healthier and longer lives were those that had supportive, close relationships in their lives. In fact, the best predictor of living a healthy life into your 80s and 90s was depended on this one variable.

Even with the physical pain of illness later in life, the presence of a supportive relationship meant that the research subject was still largely content and happy. The absence of a supportive relationship, on the other hand, made physical pain more acute. In short, wealth and fame did not ultimately predict happiness in older age, but sustaining, fulfilling relationships did. Loneliness and the absence of a supportive relationship led to more physical pain and in many cases, a shorter life.
(See Robert Waldinger, “What Makes a Good Life?: Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.”)

TED Talk #2: What do We Need at Work?

It turns out that the requirements for creating a satisfying workplace are not that much different from creating a satisfying and happy home life. Several well-known technology firms pack the workplace with loads of perks such as pet-friendly offices, on-site bistros and celebrity guest speakers. But TED speakers point out that these arguably desirable perks are still secondary to supportive work environments. Over and over again, TED speakers claim that employees need to feel respected, valued and heard in order to feel happy at work. Employees are likely to “disengage” from workplaces where this crucial support does not exist.
(See Michael C. Bush, “This is What Makes Employees Happy at Work.”)

TED Talk #3: What Else do We Need at Work?

Former Human Relations professional and TED speaker, Patty McCord, claims that a supportive workplace is one that fosters a culture of openness and transparency. Don’t treat employees like children, she says. Be open about corporate policies and goals. When employees at all corporate levels feel welcome to learn about (and contribute to) the working machinery and vision of a corporation, their sense of loyalty and interest in contributing to the company’s success increase.
(See Patty McCord, ”8 Lessons on Building a Company People Enjoy Working For.”)

TED Talk #4: How do You Invite Communication at Work?

To create an engaged workforce, you need to unblock communication and invite people to speak up. In this way you create a psychologically safe workspace where people feel valued and heard. Managers need to ask questions and be prepared to respond with action if necessary. Nothing breeds cynicism as much as action without words. If managers and employees don’t agree, above all don’t let the situation decline. At least try to find common ground, which means that it may not be ideal for one party, but it is at least acceptable to most. If common ground is beyond reach, managers should agree to not give up and keep working on a solution. Chris White, Former Director of the Center for Positive Psychology, concludes with a final recommendation that speaks to a higher standard of cooperation and communication within a company: “Aim higher. We are more than the sum of our CVs!”
(See Chris White, “3 Ways to Create a Work Culture that Bring Out the Best in Employees.”)

TED Talk #5: Happy Employees = Gains in Productivity

Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., argues that knowing something about a person’s external environment only gives him a 10% chance of predicting his or her happiness levels. He claims that 90% of a person’s happiness is derived from how that individual perceives the world. We are programmed to think that the world’s definition of success through wealth and fame leads to happiness. (Remember the study described in the beginning of this article?) This thinking leads to flawed work processes and unproductive goals. Shawn argues that by finding the positive in the present moment: through supportive relationships, acts of kindness and gratitude, you can in effect rewire your brain to see the positivity of the present moment. This attitude has been shown to lead to greater levels of productivity at work and at home.
(See Shawn Achor, “The Happy Secret to Better Work.”)

A New (Environmental) World Order?

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.