Google Assistant rolls out ‘routines’ and plans deeper integration with hardware — and even telcos

Google Assistant is rolling out its ‘routines’ feature and plans to embed itself deeper into devices — even integrating directly with telcos.

First announced back in October, the routines feature allows several commands to be linked together from a single phrase. For example, saying “Hey Google, I’m home” may switch on your lights, play some music, set a comfortable temperature, and get the kettle boiling.

Perhaps most intruiging are Google’s plans to integrate with telecoms providers

The virtual assistant integrates with a wide range of IoT devices today for specific actions such as turning on your Hue lights. Google will soon integrate with the specific hardware of a device so a user could say “Hey Google, open my camera’s portrait mode” for smartphones with the feature.

While it’s camera-based features Google is focusing on first, the company plans to expand it to other innovations that hardware manufacturers may debut in the coming years. Initial partners include Sony, LG, and Xiaomi.

Perhaps most intruiging are Google’s plans to integrate with telecoms providers. Users could ask for things such as how much data is left in their plan, add certain features like roaming passes, or even ask for programs to be recorded in the case of companies which also offer DVRs with TV packages.

There’s no current timeline for the feature, but it sounds as if carriers are being supportive of Google’s plans. Initial carriers will include Sprint, Vodafone, Koodo, and Telus.

Are you impressed by Google Assistant’s features? Let us know in the comments. Latest from the homepage

No One Knows Your Strategy — Not Even Your Top Leaders

The CEO of a large technology company (let’s call it Generex) recently reviewed the results of her company’s annual employee engagement survey and was delighted that strategic alignment emerged as an area of strength.1 Among the senior leaders surveyed, 97% said they had a clear understanding of the company’s priorities and how their work contributed to corporate objectives. Based on these scores, the CEO was confident that the company’s five strategic priorities — which had not changed over the past two years and which she communicated regularly — were well understood by the leaders responsible for executing them.

We then asked those same managers to list the company’s strategic priorities. Using a machine-learning algorithm and human coders, we classified their answers to assess how well their responses aligned with the official strategic priorities.2 The CEO was shocked at the results. Only one-quarter of the managers surveyed could list three of the company’s five strategic priorities. Even worse, one-third of the leaders charged with implementing the company’s strategy could not list even one.

These results are typical not just in the technology industry, but across a range of companies we have studied. Most organizations fall far short when it comes to strategic alignment: Our analysis of 124 organizations revealed that only 28% of executives and middle managers responsible for executing strategy could list three of their company’s strategic priorities.3

When executives see these results, their first instinct is to schedule more town hall meetings or send another email blast describing the corporate strategy. The impulse to double down on existing corporate communication strategies is understandable, but unlikely to solve the problem. Our research has uncovered three nonintuitive causes of strategic misalignment and concrete steps that top leaders can take to improve how well the strategy is understood throughout the organization.

1. Acknowledge you have a problem. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing you have one. C-suite executives often assume that the entire company is on the same page when it comes to strategy, but this assumption is usually wrong.4 Our strategy execution survey includes a series of questions designed to measure whether a company has a shared set of strategic priorities, how well those objectives are understood, and whether they influence resource allocation and goal setting throughout the organization.5 Top executives rate their company higher on all of these dimensions than managers lower down the organization do.

The exhibit “Top Teams Overestimate Alignment” summarizes the strategic alignment gap. To interpret this chart, start with the first assessment statement, “Our organizational priorities support our strategy.” If supervisors, managers, and executives outside the C-suite assess their company as average (the 50th percentile in this figure), the typical top team will rate their company at the 67th percentile — well above average. The pattern repeats across every single measure of strategic alignment.6

2. Agree at the top. Lack of strategic alignment often starts at the top. In developing strategic priorities, the top team should agree on a single set of objectives for the business as a whole, rather than each leader pursuing his or her own agenda. Unfortunately, most top teams we have studied fail to agree among themselves on company-wide priorities. For the typical organization we studied, just over half of senior executives converged on the same list of strategic objectives. Bear in mind, we did not measure whether the team members were committed to achieving the strategic priorities; we measured only whether they agreed on what they were.

The results from Generex were typical of the companies we have studied. Just over half of the top team could list all or all but one of the company’s five official priorities. But the other half of the team was completely out of touch. (See “Lack of Agreement on Strategy at the Top.”) Three of the top team members could list only one of the company’s strategic priorities, and two executives did not get a single objective correct — despite having five tries. Between them, these C-suite members listed a total of eight additional priorities that were not among the company’s official objectives.

Of course, not every top team shares Generex’s problem of half the members flying blind. Some teams we have worked with produce a more normal distribution, where most of the senior executives know some of the priorities with a few executives (usually including the CEO) knowing all of them, and others who can name a few or none. The Generex example does, however, underscore the importance of checking whether everyone in the C-suite is on the same page strategically. If executives are not aligned, it is critical to understand why not and address the issues before communicating the strategy more broadly throughout the organization.

3. Bring level two along. Strategic misalignment often starts at the top, but it doesn’t end there. Managers’ ability to correctly list their company’s strategic priorities continues to drop as you move further down the organization, but the rate of decline is not what you might expect. You might predict a steady decrease in alignment as you move down the organizational hierarchy, or perhaps a sharp drop-off among the frontline supervisors who are furthest from the C-suite. In fact, our data suggests the opposite — the sharpest plunge in alignment occurs between the top team and their direct reports, and is more gradual thereafter.

“Alignment Plummets Between Top Executives and Their Direct Reports” plots the average number of managers, at each level in the organization, who can list the company’s top priorities. For the typical company, just over half of top team members can do so. It is pretty bad when only half the C-suite agrees on the same objectives, but things look even worse for their direct reports. Strategic convergence drops off a cliff between the top team (51% agreement) and senior executives who report to the top team (22%).

The gap between the top team and its members’ direct reports is less surprising than it seems at first glance. Top team members oversee their own function, business unit, or geography, but also serve on the enterprise-wide leadership team that charts the course for the company as a whole. Their direct reports, in contrast, are not privy to discussions in the C-suite, and tend to view the world through the lens of the organizational silo they are charged with managing.

Rather than hosting another town hall, top executives should focus first on their direct reports, making sure they understand the company’s overall strategy and how their function, geography, or business unit fits into the bigger picture. One powerful way to do this: Each top executive should consistently explain why his or her unit’s objectives matter for the team and for the company as a whole.

In our sample, half of executives who reported directly to a top team member said that their boss consistently explained how their goals supported the company’s overall agenda. Of the rest, 37% said their boss framed their activities in terms of their team’s objectives without reference to corporate strategy, or their boss struggled to explain why their priorities mattered (12%). Many top team members need to do a better job explaining to their direct reports how their department, function, or regional goals fit into the company’s overall strategy.

To communicate strategic priorities throughout the organization, leaders at every level in the hierarchy should explain why their team’s goals matter — both for their team and for the organization as whole. Across 69 items included in our execution survey, the single best predictor of strategic alignment was how consistently managers — from top executives to frontline supervisors — explained their team’s priorities in terms of their unit and the entire company.7

To quantify the impact of this behavior, imagine a company that is average on every survey item except for one — all the managers explain why goals matter for their unit and the company. A high score on that single item would propel an average company to the top quartile in terms of strategic alignment.

A shared understanding of strategic priorities among key leaders does not guarantee successful execution. But it is a good first step. Widespread confusion and disagreement about what matters most undermine the prioritization and coordination across teams necessary to implement strategy. If managers do not understand what the company as a whole is trying to achieve over the next few years, they cannot align their actions with the organization’s overall direction.

To increase the odds that their strategy is understood throughout the company, top executives should acknowledge that they may have a problem with alignment, agree as a team on strategic priorities for the entire company as a whole, make sure their direct reports understand these objectives, and ensure that leaders at every level in the organization communicate what corporate priorities mean and for the company overall.

MIT Sloan Management Review

How APIs will make your next fridge — or even your next car — free

Businesswoman check data in smartphone and tablet

We are in the fourth industrial revolution, where software can replicate value at zero-marginal cost and where data is the new oil. You may remember this story about Microsoft versus IBM in 1981, where IBM let Microsoft manage the operating system (DOS) thinking that the future was selling hardware? This famous negotiation deal that made Microsoft into the behemoth it is today, and was once the most valuable company of all time in 1998?

See also: Making the case for API neutrality

But value is not always where we think, and only people who understand the future will find it. For instance, with the web, the value is in the relation. Google creates value making sense between hypertext links connecting website. Facebook is creating value in understanding the relationships between people. Linkedin does the same with business relations. All of this is done with data and the interrelation of the data.

But with Internet of Things, where is the value? What if I told you the value is in the APIs?

Car manufacturers today have plans on making free cars if users accept to give away all their data to the seller. Soon, car companies will make more money by making sense of where you are and where you’re going. Just imagine, if they can monetize at 20 cents/mile, on 100,000 miles they make $ 20,000: A free car. For 30 cents/mile, they almost triple their profits and can give the car away.

Data has real value

They can collect and sell drivers’ data, traffic data, micro-location weather data, state of the road data and so on. They can sell ads on the radio or on the GPS with CPCD (Cost Per Change Direction), coupons to restaurants close to your destination, audiobooks to listen in the car — a lot of things to monetize your time and location in your car. Manufacturers will, of course, still try to sell it for some money upfront, but in the end, the price will probably depend on the data you allow to share and will tend toward $ 0 with competition and time.

By then, all connected hardware will be the same; they will be just data collectors. Google is collecting data through a search bar, Facebook or Linkedin through a web page/mobile app social profile. The next data collection frontier is hardware. Google Home, Alexa, Nest, and Fitbit will be here just to step into your everyday life to know your habits and what you need and how you need it. That is when the real “smart fridge” promise will finally happen, and it will probably be free.

So if you think the value is in the hardware, maybe you should think about controlling the APIs on top of it. After 40 years of Silicon Valley technological improvements and with China’s manufacturing as agile as ever, the hardware may be the one commodity you don’t want to invest in. Think Software. Think APIs.

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Amazon makes it even cheaper for Alexa developers to use AWS


Amazon wants developers to be fully locked into its ecosystem, which is why on Wednesday it announced a new program to give additional promotional credits to developers that build Alexa skills and use Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Alexa developers are already provided with AWS Free Tier, which gives one million AWS Lambda requests and 750 hours of Elastic Compute Cloud time per month, but if developers exceed the limit they are charged.

See Also: Why many major American companies have struggled in China: Amazon

The new promotional credits will seek to avoid any charges for Alexa developers, by providing them with $ 100 per month in AWS credits, if the developer incurs charges. Developers can also apply for $ 100 promotional credit, say, if they think their skill is going to see a jolt in usage in the next month.

Amazon said that the additional credits should help most Alexa developers avoid any charges, although some of the most popular applications may still reach the limits.

“There is already a large community of incredibly engaged developers building skills for Alexa,” said Steve Rabuchin, vice president of Amazon’s Alexa division. “Today, we’re excited to announce a new program that will free up developers to create more robust and unique skills that can take advantage of AWS services. We can’t wait to see what developers create for Alexa.”

Alexa interest has grown quickly

Amazon has seen a huge amount of interest in the Alexa platform, which is currently the most popular personal assistant platform for third parties. Even though it does not reveal hardware sales, analysts have projected over two million Echo sales.

“Developers already know that building for Alexa is free using AWS Free Tier with AWS Lambda, but what they can’t plan for is how successful their skill will be,” said A Cloud Guru founder, Ryan Kroonenburg. “This program not only allows developers to create robust skills that use AWS services like Amazon DynamoDB without worrying about costs, but also ensures that popular skills that hit more than 1 million calls per month are cost effective to maintain.”

The program will be activated in a few weeks and developers should start to see automatic top-ups and the ability to request additional credits on the Alexa platform.

The post Amazon makes it even cheaper for Alexa developers to use AWS appeared first on ReadWrite.


Artificial intelligence just got even smarter

Little can rival the ascendancy of artificial intelligence’s (AI) profile from a niche concern to technology’s hottest theme, transcending the pages of the technical press to sit at the heart of mainstream culture. A certain breed of robotics has been a dominant force in this traction bringing machine learning to the masses in the form […]

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