May 29, 2014
*Work in Progress: Currently selecting plants.
Cubicle friendly low light indoor garden project introduction:
I’m a Cubicle Prisoner. Cubicles in traditional organizations usually consist of bland colors, coffee stained furniture, and cheap materials forming the walls which lead to quite boring unproductive days! Since I’ve been assigned a cubicle in a sea of boring cubicles I decided some foliage could help bring me a little peace to sometimes hectic days! Since I work in Information Technology, this quest poses some interesting challenges. Like most IT professionals, I live in a low natural light environment and next to A/C ventilation systems which could hinder most plant species.
On a side note regarding the nearby the ventilation, part of my interest in this garden project comes from Kamal Meattle’s 2009 TED Talk of using plants enhance its air-purifying properties. In his talk, he recommends homes use three plants:
- The Areca Palm (or Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) does great air cleansing work during the day. He recommends about 4 shoulder height plants per person.
- The Mother-in-law’s Tongue (or Sansevieria trifasciata) which helps to convert CO2 to O2 overnight. He recommends about 6 to 8 of these waist high plants per person.
- The Money Plant (or Epipremnum aureum) which does the job of filtering out and removing Formaldehyde and other VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds)
I also recommend looking at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Clean_Air_Study which follows NASA’s research on plants helping sustain humans in space.
Although air-purifying is exciting and an amazing experiment; My goals of this experiment are simply to test my green thumb, increase morale in a traditional cubicle environment, and inspire others at the work-space with unique décor ideas.
Plant Candidate Selection & Research Process:
- Maidenhair Ferns –“Adiantum raddianum”
Light: Do not expose to any direct sunlight, enjoys shade.
Water: Water freely in summer and keep moist in winter, keep humidity high by spraying with water frequently.
Temperature: These are best kept above 70ºF. Do not expose to drafts.
Soil: Rich, loose, organic compost.
Fertilizer: Feed biweekly with weak liquid fertilizer during growth season.
- Swedish Ivy
- Chinese evergreens
- Cast Iron Plant
Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) is almost indestructable, tolerating low levels of light, humidity, and water. The leaves are strappy and dark green, but you can find interesting varieties with variegated foliage. Cast-iron plant grows 2 feet tall and wide in low to medium light.
- Chinese Evergreen
- Dracaena Marginata
- ‘Limelight’ Dracaena
- Peace Lily
- Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Containers & Décor Placement:
17-8-22 succulent plant spray?
May 29, 2014
By: Michael Goetzman
Social learning theory has been regarded as one of the key theories in psychology long after Albert Bandura’s early research. Although social learning theory has its foundation in what is considered traditional learning theory, Bandura elevated the concept of social learning by suggesting that direct reinforcement could not be responsible for all forms of learning. Bandura’s social learning theory added a component previously absent in traditional learning theory by suggesting the social element wherein individuals are capable of learning and have that learning reinforced through observing the behaviors of other individuals. Modeling, or observational learning, became one of the primary elements of social learning theory as posited by Bandura (1977a).
Social learning theory conveys its focus on the kind of learning that transpires via a social context (Ormrod, 1999). Imitation, modeling and observational learning are considered important ways in which social context learning takes place. Generally, social learning theory argues that individuals are capable of learning by modeling the behavior of others as well as the outcomes of the observed behaviors. Even in the absence of behavioral change, according to social learning theory, learning can still take place and imprints the individual with a modified norm. However, researchers who study social learning theory advise that learning can also occur through observation, but may or may not be reflected in the individuals’ performance. There may not be a behavioral change (Ormrod, 1999). Social learning theory further suggests there is a role of reasoning relevant to the learning process and that expectations and awareness of possible punishment or reinforcement may have an effect on an individual’s final decision.
“Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention
hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their
own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human
behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from
observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed,
and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for
action” (Bandura, 1977a, p191).
This research is based on Social learning theory, which derives from the work of Albert Bandura and the progression of social learning theory over new media such as the advent of the Internet. The statement “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe” has changed in a drastic way since the popularity of new technology with Internet based protocols and emerging information media. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past ten years and is doubling every 18 months according to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD), (Gonzalez, 2004). Additionally, the mechanisms and tools by which individuals learn has drastically changed as well. With the advent of online learning and virtual classrooms, learning is now accessible via the internet and web based learning has become a supplemental as well as replacement tool for traditional classroom learning.
These new learning environments in combination with the plethora of resources made readily available through new technologies and internet advancements have created a new culture of learning (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011). Differing from the traditional sense of culture, the new learning environment seems to thrive on the fast paced changes that occur and is flexible enough to expand the boundaries of learning previously highly regarded in more traditional learning environments. The learning environment and with it the cultural context for learning has been significantly expanded and individuals no longer have to simply adapt to what has been learned but now have the ability to expand their learning terrain pushing the boundaries of the social learning environment (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011).
With that being said, one of the questions that arises is the level of influence digital media has on the learners and the level of influence derived or perceived by others as it relates to learning. One of the most effective ways learning influence can be determined is by looking at blogs. Weblogs, or blogs as they are now known, developed as an internet medium of communication in 1999 which allowed those who used the software developed by Pyra Labs to articulate their own thoughts in an online format and organize these thoughts into a webpage. This page was then indexed with others that were generally about the same content. Blogs are now considered one of the most radical means by which individuals are able to express themselves online (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011).
This research will academically examine the influence of learning within digital communities. In particular, the examination will explore decision making handled from blog posts which require the input of viewers. In digital communities, information is acquired at an alarming pace but this speed normally offers great benefits of knowledge by cutting time spent on evaluating the source. The business world, including management, will rely more on decision making from external sources and digital communities. The need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something while evaluating its credibility is becoming more challenging. Following the introduction a review of scholarly literature demonstrates impacts of social learning theory, and the development and influence of digital media. The paper concludes with conclusion and recommendations for future studies.
Social learning theory originating from the work of Albert Bandura has been regarded as one of the most influential learning and development theories. According to Bandura, all learning did not result from reinforcement, as previously theorized by the learning theory. Rather, Albert Bandura suggested that modeling or observational learning could significantly influence the learning curve for an individual and greatly affect his or her behavior. Bandura (Bandura, 1977b) asserted that observational learning could transpire in relation to
(1) Literal observation wherein an individual demonstrates the behavior that is desired.
(2) Oral instruction wherein an individual describes the desired behavior explicitly and instructs another to participate in the desired behavior.
(3) Symbolic representation wherein modeling or observation occurs via various media outlets such as the radio, television, internet, and so on.
In these particular models, a fictionalized character demonstrates or models the behavioral response that is desired (Bandura, 1977b). Social learning theory also stresses the importance of viewing the whole picture of research defined as a person’s behavior, for example by the environment or other variables, could be the actual cause of research results (Mae-Sincero, 2011); as such, the contributing dynamics to an individual’s behavior arises from not only what they observe but also his or her personal characteristics and the environment interdependently.
Bandura recognized within his argument that just because behavior is observed does not ensure the behavior is learned. As such, compelled (Bandura, 1977b) to create the following process
(1) Attention from the individual to the components of the behavior being modeled;
(2) Retention as memory would be critical to learning the modeled behavior and have the ability to reproduce the behavior at a later time;
(3) Reproduction as the person would need to organize his or her responsiveness as it relates to the desired behavior;
(4) Motivation as incentive is determined necessary for effective reproduction to occur (Mae-Sincero, 2011).
He further discusses the importance of basic reinforcement, which significantly influences behavior and learning. Such feelings could be a sense of satisfaction, pride, accomplishment, or perhaps even some forms of negative feelings to avoid.
According to Bandura, there is a distinction between imitating what has been learned and observing what has been learned. Learning without performance gives a perspective on punishment and reinforcement factors. Although punishment and reinforcement are influential in an individual’s exposed behaviors, they do not necessarily cause behaviors. Cognition is influenced by the expectation of reinforcement and as such attention, influenced by reinforcement and expectation, is very important to the process of learning (Ormrod, 1999).
The environmental punishment and reinforcement model offers a number of ways in which individual’s behavior are reinforced for the behavior they model. An individual can reinforce the observer by acknowledging or praising the behavior of the modeler thereby reinforcing the behavior for those observing. The imitation of behavior itself acts as an environmental reinforcement because the consequences of imitation are most often favorable (Ormrod, 1999). A component of the environmental reinforcement and punishment model also includes Bandura’s notions regarding vicarious reinforcement. Vicarious reinforcement asserts that the reinforcement of the model for a particular response leads to an increased response in the same manner by the observer (Bandura, 1977b).
He further speculated the importance of intrinsic reinforcement that suggests influences outside of the individual, notably environmental reinforcement, significantly impacts behavior and learning. Intrinsic reinforcement within the contextual framework of social learning theory is a form of reward derived internally such as feeling a sense of satisfaction, pride and accomplishment. Internalized cognitions and thought processes aid in the connectivity between theories of cognitive development and behavioral theories.
Current perspectives on punishment and reinforcement assert that both factors indirectly effect learning but are not the primary or most significant facilitator of behavioral change. Although punishment and reinforcement are influential in an individuals’ exhibited learned behavior they do not necessarily cause the behavior. Cognition is influenced by the expectation of reinforcement and as such attention, influenced by reinforcement and expectation, is very important to the process of learning (Ormrod, 1999). There are both cognitive as well as behavioral factors that comprise contemporary social learning theory. According to Bandura (1977b), there is a distinction between imitating what has been learned and observing what has been learned; learning without performance.
As previously noted, there have been many academic theories regarding the process of learning. However, many scholars and researchers agree that the theories most applicable in the 1990’s are founded on many common assumptions as to how learning actually transpires (Jonassen & Land, 2000 pg 3-9). Many researchers now ascribe to the notion that knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge is not only based on an individual’s cognitive processes “but also in the discourse among individuals, the social relationships that bind them, the physical artifacts that they use and produce, and the theories, models and methods they use to produce them” (Jonassen & Land, 2000, pg3) With the introduction of the internet and cyberspace as a new medium for communication, theories have evolved to include these new learning processes.
Because of the revolutionary perspective social networking mediums have provided theories such as the constructivist theory began to emerge in the late 1990’s (Hrastinski, 2009). This theory suggests there is not unconditional or definitive meaning of the world in which we live, but that as individuals’ we are constantly making efforts to understand it. Rather, the argument is founded on the notion that there are a number of ways that the world is structures and as such, many perspectives and meaning for concepts and events (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992). The theoretical shift, taken by many toward constructivist theory, shifts the concept of learning from “objectivist knowledge transmission towards active learner models” (Hrastinski, 2009, pg. 78). The difficulty, however, with constructivist theory has been its singular focus on individualized learning separate from the peer cohort (Edelson, Pea & Gomez, 1996).
Contemporary thought regarding the social aspects of learning has become the current focus of many researchers and theorists (Saljo, 2000; Vygotsky, 1978; Wenger, 1998). The focus of these posited theories is on conversation between individuals as a means of learning through dialogue and social negotiation (Jonassen & Land, 2000). No longer is learning required to be grounded in the experiential realm of the real world; rather, knowledge can be constructed and fundamentally understood via social activity (Hrastinski, 2009). With this understanding regarding the learning process, there has been somewhat of a return to social learning theory partnered with the constructivist theory as many scholars argue that the two complement each other as it relates to online learning and cyberspace social interactivity (Hrastinski, 2009). As such, many no longer feel a need to choose one theory over another but rather use the theories in tandem. “Sociocultural perspective informs theories of the conditions for the possibility of learning whereas theories developed from the constructivist perspective focus on what students learn and the processes by which they do so” (Cobb, 1994, pg 13).
One of the more pronounced components of this new learning environment that rivals traditional classroom learning is the concept of community (Jaldemark, Lindberg, & Olofsson, 2006). Feeling connected and participating within a group is considered to be an essential component for there to be this sense of community. Those individuals that have a sense of attachment and connection to the group tend to participate at a much higher level. On the other end of the spectrum, those not vested in the group tend to participate at a much lower rate. According to Palloff and Pratt (2005) community and collaboration work hand in hand and are considered to be a vital part of creating the ideal learning process.
Many regard online learner participation as a complex process that involves high and low level conceptions with an emphasis on the social perspectives learning entails, acknowledging that learner participation is not something that “can be turned on and off” (Wenger, 1998 p.68). Some scholars argue that even when learners are not actively participating, for example with reading and writing exercises, there is still participation via perception of the learning environment; particularly as it relates to “…taking part and maintaining relations with others. It is a complex process comprising doing, communicating, thinking, feeling and belonging which occurs both online and offline” (Hrastinkski, 2008).
In defining the learning community, Rovai (2002) maintains that community has to have the following “mutual interdependence among members, sense of belonging, connectedness, spirit, trust, interactivity common expectations, shared values and goals and overlapping histories among members” (p.5). This definition of community is somewhat different than the one (Wenger, 1998) offers in the sense that in the Rovai’s definition there are no negative attributes associated with community. Wenger, on the other hand, makes a point of recognizing that community participation involves a variety of relations and relationships that may be “conflictual as well as harmonious, intimate as well as political, competitive as well as cooperative, (p.6).
Palloff and Pratt (2005) look at the concept of community and the learning environment as one that is recurring, inferring that the collaboration demonstrated between group members tends to support the development of the community and in turn the community supports the collaborative process. The learning community supports and learns from the members within it, as well as from the culture of the community and the environment in which it exists (Palloff & Pratt, 2005; Wilson, 1996).
Virtual community participation, according to Vygotsky (1978) is supported via the use of tools, both psychological and physical. The physical tool in the virtual world is the computer that aids individuals in accomplishing certain tasks and goals. Vygotsky maintains that the psychological tools equals the language shared between users and is combined, most often, with the physical tools. Moreover, with both the physical and psychological tools in place, participation happens on the social and personal level (Hrastinski, 2009). The argument here, particularly as it relates to the virtual environment is that social learning can transpire even when there is no verbal communication via dialogue or conversation.
This idea represents somewhat of a departure from social learning theories in that, according to Vygotsky (1978) and Hrastinski (2009) participation is “not tantamount to talking or writing” (Hrastinski, 2009, p. 81). Talking and writing, according to Hrastinski is only a portion of participation in the virtual environment as reflective observation, abstract conceptualization are also a part of the process of participation. There should, then no longer be the assumption that “passive recipients” are not actively engaged in the participating or learning process because the effective measures of participation have been summarily redefined. (Romiszowski & Mason, 2004). Simple quantitative measures used to identify levels of participation tend not to include the more abstract and passive factors that are a significant part of virtual participation and communication and in Hrastinski’s estimation are insufficient as a determinant tool of measurement (Hrastinski, 2009). “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.” (Kolb, D. ,1984, pg. 41)
“Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory presents a cycle of four elements:
- Concrete Experience
- Reflective Observation
- Abstract Conceptualization
- Active Experimentation
(Kolb, D. ,1984)
Kolb also proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristics:
- Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.
- Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience.
- Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world (learning is by its very nature full of tension).
- Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world.
- Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment.
- Learning is the process of creating knowledge that is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge.
(Kolb, D. ,1984)
Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) in their book, “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change” argue that “a growing digital, networked infrastructure is amplifying our ability to access and use nearly unlimited resources and incredible instruments while connecting with one another at the same time” (p. 18).
The authors regard the new learning processes as a ‘cultural phenomenon’ that provides the foundational elements of the affects and experiences of a number of individuals in a variety of ways (p. 18). Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) do not posit that the new learning processes and methodologies make traditional classroom teaching obsolete; rather, they argue that this new form of learning actually supplements the traditional classroom education setting.
In an effort to understand and ‘harness’ these new learning processes in a sociocultural environment that continues to “ebb, flow, change and evolve” Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) suggest that there must be a change and shift in the way we contemplate and consider learning. Our “arc of learning” is then considered to be inclusive of activities of daily living that fosters the growth process (p. 18). As such, the framework required to understand learning in this new environment requires understanding that “the new culture of learning” contains a large network of information that offers virtually unlimited resources and access that are structured and bounded with the contextual framework of the environment where individuals are able to experience and experiment within the boundaries provided (p. 19).
In the new learning environment, Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) argue that motivation is revealed through a variety of platforms, with various intents and purposes and the freedom and ability to share generally personal experiences adds to the influx of knowledge the virtual community offers. The authors, then, see the new learning environment as a bridge between traditional learning communities and contemporary learning communities that is expansive and laden with information such as from search engines, databases and blogs and the more personal and structured such as community components like classrooms, family and colleagues (p. 31).
The fusion of the plethora of information readily available with personal experiences is what helps the new community to be meaningful as well as the platform where imagination could be cultivated thereby redefining the learning community.
Historically, the process of learning and education has been that of the transferring of information from an authoritative source, most often an instructor or teacher, to a student. This could also be a manager to a report. The power structure in the relationship of teacher/manager to student/report has always been very clear. Education was not necessarily a two way educational process, but rather linear from the instructor down to the learner. However, Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) maintain that this kind of thinking and educational structure is unable to contend with current and evolving learning environment. Thomas and Seely-Brown regard traditional learning through classrooms, textbooks, and even in the workplace as mechanistic wherein “learning is treated as a series of steps to be mastered, as if students were being taught how to operate a machine or even, in some cases, as if the students themselves were machines being programmed to accomplish tasks” (p. 35).
The end goal of a system that is built on mechanics is efficiency. In essence, master as much as possible in the fastest amount of time. In this view, the reasonable way to test and measure is through standardization and a test of the results; with little regard for the processes that are required to reach the end goal. Value is in the results (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011). The structure of the learning environment that Thomas and Seely-Brown argue for is one that incorporates the richness of available resources through digital medium, information and the teachers and students coexisting and shaping the environment mutually, with one reinforcing the other. Boundaries established within the environment offer constraint but further act as a catalyst for creativity and innovation (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011).
The authors concede that the environment they advocate has not traditionally been considered one in which standardization and testing has been the applicable measure. However, Thomas and Seely-Brown content that the set of pressures this kind of environment creates offers a substrate for the evolutionary process the learning community is in. Moreover, as the notion of the learning environment is reframed and re-conceptualized the augmentation rather than the replacement of more traditional methods and learning processes can occur (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 36).
“Unlike the traditional sense of culture, which strives for stability and adapts to changes in its environment only when forced, this emerging culture responds to its surroundings organically” (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011, p. 37). When one considers the learning environment from this contextual frame of reference, the authors argue that the most significant difference becomes that of the teaching based to the learning based approach of education wherein the culture provides and is the environment in the first and culture emerges and emanates from the environment in the latter. Digital media, then offers a powerful informational source with the environment considered integral to the end results. There is no longer the necessity for students in the teacher based approach to prove understanding and comprehension of the information that has been provided. Rather, in the new learning community it is considered okay to acknowledge what one does not know and understand and continue to inquire and accept exponential and incremental learning (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 38).
A Participatory Medium
Technology, in the aspect of a medium, keeps information from being static and is considered no longer a simple means of relaying information. Rather, Thomas and Seely-Brown assert that knowledge is participatory and is shaped by participation (p. 42). The greater the level of interaction within the informational process, the more the learning environment changes and is reshaped. Given this assertion, manipulation of data through the experimental process can also alter and reshape information. Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) maintain that the change within the learning environment is an incremental and adaptive process that transpires over a period of time.
Thomas and Seely-Brown challenge the general notions posited by social learning theory where memorization is recognized as a basic foundation element of education; however, the authors argue that the memorization of things does not necessitate the use of knowledge in the real environment of the learner (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 44). A recent study conducted by Giles (2005) compared Encyclopedia Britannica to Wikipedia as a means of comparing more traditional tools of learning to contemporary learning tools. The focus of the study was purportedly based on errors in facts, statements said to have been misleading as well as omission. Giles determined through the course of his study that Wikipedia was as accurate as the more traditional Encyclopedia Britannica. As such, it can be reasonably argued that Wikipedia is the new method which makes knowledge stable in a changing world in a game determined to be unwinnable.
When the changes noted above are embraced, then it becomes possible to see learning as a collaborative evolutionary process rather than one that is isolated. Learning can then be viewed as a social and cultural process of engagement (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 47). As such, traditional methodologies and approaches to learning are incapable of keeping up with the changes transpiring in the current environment. There is the need for balance between traditional educational structures and the free flowing unlimited information and resources provided in the virtual learning community. Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) maintain that the challenge continues to be a way in which freedom provided virtually can be balanced with structure offered traditionally (p. 49).
Scholars argue that in the new learning environment, individuals gain knowledge through participating and interacting with others in a relationship that is fluid where shared opportunities and interests are offered. Participants are equal abandoning traditional teacher student roles (Brown, Collins and Duguid, 1989). In the new learning environment, any person who has an understanding or knowledge regarding particular subject matter are able to share on a platform in the role of a mentor or merely as the voice of a knowledgeable individual. When passion in the sharing individual is recognized, there is a viral spread amongst the peer cohort and amplifies to various outlets what is being shared (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 51).
This form of learning is not revolutionary in and of itself, which is contrary to what has been believed or accepted by many traditional educational institutions (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009). The new learning environment is earmarked by what has been referred to as the collective – an interspersing of talents, skills and individuals that together produce a more significant result than any one of the elements individually could produce. Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) argue that the collective is different than the traditionally understood community in that traditional community has the ability to be passive; where one must learn to belong. The collective is considered an interactive community where individuals become a part of in order to learn (p. 52). Collectives are considered to be ‘content neutral’ opportunities for engagement and facilitate peer to peer interaction and learning (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 53).
The collective, as suggested by Thomas and Seely-Brown is absent a center and individuals are able to move freely within and into the group process, where no ‘standard’ concept of an individuals’ level of participation is defined or required to be defined. For example, the blog begins with the original author or authors and readers are able to interact at will by leaving comments, posting opinions or replying to inquiry and combines the passive and active as some who may read the blog may not choose to participate in the commentary.
New Media: Blogs
The blog developed as a concept in 1999 that facilitated the use of journaling online, organized in such a way that the information could be indexed via the web page. Although originally referred to as weblogs, the terminology was later condensed to blogs (Herring, 2004). This was considered a revolutionary concept, outside of what had been traditionally considered a public forum of expression where more of an individual’s personal expression was made evident. “This was the first time that Internet users could create a space on the web without some knowledge of HTML coding” (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 63).
Blog success has been determined to be contingent upon two primary factors; both outside of the control of the author(s). Those components are external linkage and comments left by readers. Blogs that are active are linked by other bloggers whose attention has been garnered by the level of activity, and the level of use by readers and commentary left facilitates increased commentary by current and new users (Herring, 2004). At the foundational level, “blogs serve as a means to kick start a collective around conversations about ideas that spring from the personal” (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 65).
Atlantic Senior Editor, Andrew Sullivan started a blog “The Daily Dish” in 2000. His work has been considered transformative in the collective and personal sharing arena in the new learning environment. In November 2008, Sullivan wrote,
The blogger can get away with less and afford fewer
pretensions of authority. He is – more than any writer of
the past – a node among other nodes, connected but unfinished
without the links and the comments and the track-backs that
make the blogosphere, at its best, a conversation, rather than
a production” (Sullivan, 2008).
In his address at a Harvard conference on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility, Alex Jones, Director of the Shorenstein Center, pointed that “Credibility is something that’s relatively fragile. It is something that mainstream journalism has lost an awful lot of in the last decades, something that mainstream journalism, traditional journalism is trying to get back.” and “Bloggers, on the other hand, are in the early stages of figuring out how to win and lose credibility with their audiences” (MacKinnon, 2005, p. 11). Now that viewers are going directly to online resources, those in the mass media are following suit. These days blogs are the watchdogs and critics of the mass media, and journalists have taken due notice (Sweetser, Porter, Chung, & Kim, 2008). Many professional journalists have begun to use blogs as sources for stories. Blogs are increasingly cited as a source of information for the public (MacKinnon, 2005, p. 7). But rumor and inside information alongside flagrant errors fill the Blogosphere today. This gives rise to the question: How can social online communities (blogs) influence the behavior of readers and professional journalist outlets, regardless of the authenticity of the content?
BIGresearch (2007) recently found that people consider bloggers (5.8%) are more reliable than the media (4.4%). It appears that professional journalists are using blogs as an extension of their regular work. While there is no go-ahead for using blogs professionally, it is believed that blogs will have a strong impact on mass media and especially journalism. This has made it imperative to establish the credibility and authenticity of the information contained in the blogosphere. Obviously amongst the millions of blogs posted on the net all cannot be genuine. There are many blogs that misinform the readers on purpose. Some are sponsored by interested parties to forward their personal agendas and are thus biased; others are deliberate misinformation campaigns to reduce credibility of rivals; yet others are posted to form false public impressions on current affairs. For example in China the 50-Cent Party is a group of 280,000 Chinese bloggers who get 50 cents for each comment they post online; their job is to identify susceptible online debates and try to commandeer the conversation in a direction favorable to the Chinese government (Morozov, 2009).
However all blogs are not spun or erroneous; in the case of Wikipedia, companies and individuals have not been able to notably spin their information pages to their liking. Wikipedia’s restrictions make this impossible. Similarly there are other blogs that contain authentic information that can be traced back to reliable sources (credible websites, governmental data, reports etc.) It is relatively easy to separate the “wheat from the chaff.” Authentic blogs typically have names and contact information of the author/organization plus hyperlinks/references to their information sources. These blogs include blog rolls established blogs and not just linking in a restricted/cultish manner, linking only to friends or to blogs on same host and only to blogs with identical political beliefs, etc. In order to understand the motives and reasoning behind the enormous web of lies spun by some people we must first examine the collective behavior of people, how they process and authenticate the information made available by the mass media.
Social learning theory has been established as one of the most prominent theories in psychology and Albert Bandura has raised the collective bar on what genuinely constitutes learning via direct reinforcement, modeling and observational learning. The focus of social learning theory is learning that transpires within a social context and suggesting the significance of learning through the modeling and imitation of others. Bandura maintained that the environmental influences, those that exist outside of the individual, significantly impact not just behavior but learning as well as intrinsic reinforcement. Moreover, intrinsic reinforcement offers a kind of reward that is derived internally, offering a sense of price, accomplishment and satisfaction. With the advent of the Internet as a new social media, social learning theory and the tenets posited by the theory have been taken to a decidedly higher level.
Statistical experiments could examine the relationship between two categorical variables, Test A and Test B. Quantitative statistical measurements establish a non-existence relationship between these two variables. The null hypothesis would show observed patterns. There have been several theories posited regarding social learning with many ascribing to the idea that knowledge acquisition is not only based on an individual’s cognitive processes but is also fostered between individuals within social relationships that in essence, bind them together. The proposed sample experiment could either show or not show that users believe they are getting this cognitive social relationship. Generally, these social relationships are bolstered by the accessibility and the lack of geographical limitations offered by the Internet.
Learning is no longer required to take place in traditional settings or even grounded in the ‘real world’ as the world has become expansive for those who utilize the World Wide Web. This new learning environment offers a sense of connectivity to those who participate at an even greater level than what may have been experienced in more traditional settings. The new learning environment offers a level of collaboration with common expectations, shared goals and values and mutual interdependence. Learning takes place between members within the community and is supported by this new environment, both physically and psychologically. This growing digital community thus amplifies accessibility to virtually unlimited tools and resources while simultaneously connection individuals one to another (Thomas & Seely, 2011).
Within the context of Management and the ever-changing business environment this new learning environment, scholars maintain that individuals are able to gain information and knowledge through interacting and participating with others in a fluid and shared relationship where mutual interests are offered. Anyone within this new learning environment that has sufficient knowledge on a particular subject matter has the ability to be considered an expert and can then use the internet media platform as a means for mentorship; fostering a viral spread amongst peer cohorts that is then amplified because of the numerous outlets the internet offers.
Thomas and Seely (2011) regard this new form of learning as the collective; where individuals are able to move freely within the learning environment, absent a center, and no specific requirements for standardization of participation. This in the author’s opinion is the definition of management to get a team to participate along with fostering information among each other to collectively complete a task. The blog has been referred to as an exceptional example of the collective learning environment for experimentation of this theory as readers are able to interact with the author (manager) or authors (managers) via replies, comments, posting opinions, or being a passive observer with no requirement for interaction.
According to the American Society of Training and Documentation, knowledge is increasing at a remarkable rate based upon increased availability with internet based learning. A new culture of learning has been created that seems to thrive on the accelerated pace and the flexibility the internet offers. The question of the level of influence is one that has been raised, particularly as it relates to the advancements and availability of information via the internet, and whether this influence is derived or perceived. Because blogs are considered to be one of the most radical means for individuals to express themselves online and potentially influence the decisions of others, the nature of decision making via blog posts has been undertaken. Within digital communities learning takes place via modeling and direct reinforcement and is supported by the expeditious nature in which information, reinforcement, decision making can transpire; and because of the heightened pace, the time it takes to critically evaluate the source of that information is significantly diminished.
According to experts, the success of a blog is contingent upon factors that exist outside of the control of the author. Active blogs that are linked to others and the level of use by the readers determine whether a blog will be successful. One of the issues that has arisen as a result of blogging as a news or journalistic medium is whether or not blogs can be considered valid. There are many arguments on both sides. Many argue that because a blog is an individual’s own opinion, much like an online diary, than validity is a non-issue because the information is derived based on personal opinion. Others argue that when blogging moves into the realm of reporting the news or acting in a more ‘journalistic’ capacity, then the information offered should be valid. However, according to Sullivan (2008), bloggers are not required to have as many pretenses of authorities as journalists do.
Validity and credibility continue to be an issue hotly debated in the scholarly community. MacKinnon (2005) asserts that because viewers en mass are moving toward online resources such as blogging, mass media is following closely behind. Blogs are now seen as the watchdogs as well as the critics of mass media and this watchdog mentality has not gone unnoticed by traditional journalists. As a matter of record, there are many mainstream journalists who have taken to blogging as a primary source for the stories they write. Whether or not blogs are laden with fact or fiction has given rise to the question of whether or not online social communities such as blogs have the ability to influence readership behavior despite authenticity or validity of the content.
And to this end, the public has spoken. Many regard blogs as more creditable and reliable than traditional media. There are blogs that offer genuine information that can be tracked back to original sources through backlinks and hyperlinks. Journalists are taking license with blogs as an extension of their work and blogs continue to have a strong impact on mass media. There are millions of blogs on the internet and not all of them can be considered credible or authentic because there is no mechanism in place to do so. Many blogs are based on opinion, or are sponsored by interest groups and certain parties that determine the agenda for the reader and the author. Information can be presented in a biased way with deliberate misinformation offered if it supports the agenda posited by the blog. One of the primary issues, as evidenced by this study, is that not all blogs are genuine and authors have the ability to remove or obscure information that may be deemed unfavorable that the readers may never be privy to. In that way, the blog can be considered less than authentic and less than credible.
In view of lowered standards for news and information it is important that caution should be exercised while assimilating news from the net and other mass media. Establishing credibility and authenticity of information is of great importance. The net is transforming the way news is reported and understood. The rise of the net has eternally changed the way readers interact with the news; stories are uploaded the instant they break and the audience usually expect to be able to access numerous perspectives. There is an urgent need to regulate this medium to raise the journalistic standards to an acceptable level. Audiences are conditioned to accept journalism as factual and authentic reporting in comparison to fiction or comedy which is universally accepted as fantasy. Although audiences do question the agenda or biases behind journalism, it is implicit that the facts included within a journalistic article are genuine and verified even if they represent a small part of a bigger story. Thus journalistic stories such as the one posted by Lyndon are usually taken at face value. The surprise however comes not from the audiences’ acceptance but the formal media’s inclusion of it without verification of facts.
On the other hand not everybody agrees that the implications of ‘loose’ reporting on the internet are wholly negative. Davis & Owen (1998) make the old media argument that the rise of tabloid journalism may not be completely harmful because it “can foster a sense of intimacy with the public,” and also draw audiences to news sources. But how can this logic be applied to the websites such as Matt Drudge’s that encourage rumor while ignoring the high standards of journalistic verification? Apparently, the lowering of standards will encourage audiences to seek out more news. This attitude is totally illogical as although support of rumor-mongering may have short term benefits it causes great harm in the long term.
The impact of mass media is far reaching and complex. And more often than not, the mass moves blindly in the decision making process because of the collectivity that is associated with many online media platforms such as blogs. The ease of use the internet offers as well as visual stimulation has created a mass audience that has created collective behavior referred to as sociological masses. Within blogs, fact or fiction are promoted equally, without fear of repercussions or reprisal, particularly in countries that value freedom of speech. Regular users of the internet are inclined to believe what they read but the formal media taking all weblogs at face value is unacceptable. Seib (2001) writes “The ‘Drudge effect’ – shoot-from-the-hip sensationalism – will give online journalism a bad name if the public perceives it to be a dominant characteristic of this medium,” (p. 5). It is incumbent on professionals to verify their sources if they are to maintain the reputation for responsible journalism. There is another paradox of collective behavior. The ethical governance of the global Internet is an is the demand of the day; yet the key paradox this medium is that it allows individual and collective decision making to co-exist with each other. Until that day the individual will have to fend for himself. Davis and Owen (1998) maintain, “Anyone can put anything on the internet” and many do. Decision making by the readership is frequently determined by what is there and by what is not there due to deletion by the author. There is no insurance of reliability, accuracy or credibility of the information. The further from the source the information is passed, the less reliable it may become.
As a researcher fascinated by the affects the Internet has on human learning I was struck by the results of the learning decisions made by users from unverified sources that ended poorly. In careful and cautious statistical summaries this demonstrates reasonable proof of social learning theory in digital communities by the lack of questioning. For example a blog administrator could change the observations of their viewers in a drastic way using many other variable methods, but the observer ultimately decides their own fate regarding actions. In the proposed research future I would experiment with a larger sample pool along with a more cross-functional case of learning theory such as altering environmental influences, real world application, and preparation stimuli. I’ve learned that the observational results of this research demonstrates one must foster their own understanding of what they read and not rely on the masses of participation without proper peer evaluation. The most important thing humans should learn from this research is the proper questioning and evaluation of any instructions found from online sources. The ever-growing use of internet sources to resolve problems in the work environment may pose a major threat to organizations. One simply has to post directions that would lead to exposing sensitive information at any level of the organization, aka social engineering.
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May 29, 2014
By: Michael Goetzman
Contrary to common US belief, Cuba’s international telecommunication infrastructure is in better condition and better able to meet current and future demand when compared to neighboring countries and their internal infrastructure, although that is also improving. Demand for Information Technology and telecommunication is rising in spite of the economic effects of the loss of Eastern Europe and the US embargo and internal “political” embargo. Key industries such as tourism and biotechnology which generate the most hard currency require communication and their requirements are being funded both by internal and external resources. Information Teechnology has played a pivotal role for promoting both sectors.
Cuba still holds steadfastly to communist ideology and while the country remains backward in many areas, technology is not one of them. The country has had close association with the former Soviet Union and the East European Bloc of communist countries and thus benefitted from their technological advances. The Cuban authorities have always understood that communication was a priority even though the main beneficiaries were government institutions and not the general public.
Electronics were introduced in Cuba in the sixties when radios were assembled for widespread use. By 1974 black and white television sets were produced and it was quickly followed by manufacture of batteries in 1975, color television in 1985 and production of semiconductors.
In a parallel but separate branching out of technology was the creation of the National Institute of Automated systems & Computer Skills (INSAC) in 1974 with the aim of keeping Cuba abreast with communication technologies. Consequently a new company, named Cuba Electronica, owned by the Ministry of Foreign Trade, was promoted with the objective of importing computers, peripherals, semiconductors as well as software for developing local systems and networks. However the entire purpose of these efforts was to promote industry and the military. Indeed this has had a most profound effect on the Biotechnological Industry in Cuba.
The Impact of Information Technology on Biotechnology Industry
An important feature of Information Technology and its impact on Cuban industry has been that due to the government being the sole investor, the aims and objectives were clear cut and decision making was swift. Consequently all Information Technology engineers were trained with a purpose. Health was a priority for the nation and as such it was decided very early to introduce health related technology at an early stage.
Another important characteristic of development was that in absence of competition and having a dictatorial regime the positive fallout was the easy collaboration of departments on collaboration. With help coming only from other friendly and likeminded states the options were limited that also hastened the development of biotechnology as the route to encourage research. Thus national and international collaboration became the driving forces and scientific developments resulted in quick commercialization yielding good profits from overseas sales. An outstanding example is the highly successful development and deployment of the vaccine to fight meningitis that was a deadly disease in the country.
There was also a compulsion and a vision to improve the health of the population and despite economic hardship the government continued to support the biotechnology industry and it proved to be the step in the right direction. Not only did it make Cuba a success in this field but it also provided a thrust to Information Technology and Communication technologies in general.
Benefits from biotechnology are particularly sought by places facing economic challenges due to globalization or decline of traditional industries.Nevertheless there is need for infrastructures that will help assist in its development, sustenance, support and growth. The contributory components are the value chain and finances. In case of Biotechnology institutions of learning become the most important element as they supply the human capital on which the entire foundation of Biotechnology rests. In Cuba various institutes and universities played that role under the effective directives of the government. Several Biotechnology Clusters were created. From 1990 to 1996, the Cuban government invested around 1 billion US dollars in what is currently known as The Western Havana Bio-Cluster, and it was the first such place that could conduct research in human healthcare and agri-animal biotechnology. This cluster comprises of 52 major research, education, health, and economic institutions devoted to the biotechnology segments (Kaiser, 1998). Research generated by the various clusters has developed a number of products, which are already having a significant impact on Cuban society.
Biotechnology in Healthcare
Health of the population has always been a concern for the Cuban authorities and efforts have been on to eliminates diseases like hepatitis-B that has disappeared in the infant population. Cuba now hopes to not only eradicate this infectious disease altogether in the near future but also to eliminate the virus circulation. The international acceptance of this medicine can be gauged from the fact that it has been on the purchase list of WHO for over a decade for worldwide use and amply demonstrates Cuba’s excellence in biotechnology (WHO, 1996).
In another striking example the Finlay Institute, CIGB and the Center for Bioreagents has successfully met the challenge to produce and supply a safe tetravalent vaccine for the Cuban Immunization Program. This new combination vaccine called Trivac HB is used for protecting children from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and hepatitis B,
One of the main features of biotechnology is to provide innovative delivery systems and since the main objective was to promote technology for healthcare today Cuba has become one of the most advanced electronic biomedical instrumentation manufacturer in Latin America. Besides the Central Institute of Digital Research (ICID) has developed sophisticated and highly technologically advanced biomedical equipment like the Cardiocid-M that is an electrocardiographic system for diagnosing cardiovascular system diseases; the Neorocid, an electromyographic and electro-neurographic system for diagnosing peripheric nervous system diseases, and various applications for state-of-the-art genetic engineering research (Cereijo, 2001).
Despite these advances the Cuban Biotechnology industry is still small by world comparison. The Biotechnology industry in the developed world, especially US, has acquired huge importance and to reach such high standards needs huge resources. Since Cuba faces economic sanctions from the US and other developed countries it progress of late has slowed down and needs foreign assistance to keep up its former advancements (Giles, 2005).
Biotechnology for Plant/Animal Life
Apart from improving human welfare, several projects have been directed towards using biotechnological advances in improving efficiency of plant and animal breeding. Attention has been paid to genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics, besides advanced tissue culture techniques. There are Transgenic plants with resistance to biotic (pest and diseases) and abiotic (drought and salinity) stresses and various strains are also under development. Extensive use of plants and animals as bioreactors is the goal of several ongoing projects and the results are recognized for their high value. In fact there are many publications that report and mention these discoveries and have found these discoveries and their methodologies to be of high caliber. The CIGB has published 680 peer-reviewed papers in various scientific journals from 1986 to 2006. These CIGB papers have been cited in more than 3,000 papers demonstrating their contribution in their field (CIGB)
The Information Technology Sector in Cuba
The Cuban establishment has actually thought far ahead of its times, although its focus has been narrow and not meant for the benefit of its general public, and with this in view it commenced development of its own second generation of minicomputers in the seventies. For this it initially got its engineers trained in East Germany. Due to closure of many industries in early nineties in Cuba the government created special units like the Bejucal base, the Wajay complex, the Paseo complex, and the several computer related research centers where engineers trained at Russian, German, French and Chinese research labs were employed. Cubans have also received training in Holland, Sweden and Austria.
Within a decade it established two main centers at Cujae and Universidad Central for research and development. The country got connected to international internet services using CENIAI, TINORED, Informed and CIGBnet. Of these CENIAI has had open internet access ever since 1993. However internet access is not freely available to the common citizens. There are connections available for tourists as this industry cannot survive without online connectivity. But even this is suffering from slow speeds. The cybercafés that are allowed to serve the tourist traffic are few and need upgrading with both computer hardware as well as well as connectivity issues.
Information Technology Influence on Military
The two main targets of technology have been the medical industry and the military. For the military intelligence one of the main tasks has been attempts to sabotage US communications. So far the focus has been creating virus infections but the Cubans have a far more dangerous potential. They are a potent force in cybercrimes. They have now developed the Transient Electromagnetic Device (TED). This can trigger an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and can cause immeasurable destruction. With their knowledge and experience Cuban engineers can now build TEDs using spark-gap switches, automobile ignition parts fuel pumps and similar inexpensive and innocuous components. This restively simple device can trigger off a remote explosion. It can generate a pulse that will act as a spike of only say a hundred picoseconds but will be enough to explode a nuclear device resulting in a huge disaster.
Nevertheless it cannot be said that all of Cuba’s intentions are malicious or even vicious. The Cuban establishment realizes that it has to join the world communities, even those that are friendly, through cyber communications. It is also understood that for enhancing business and commerce a robust communication system with technologically advanced devices and networks needs to be in place to attract international companies. A further shift in attitudes is seen in the need to open doors with US based Cubans who can be a great aid to the country similar to the US based Chinese who are a great linking bridge with their home country. Key industries like biotechnology and tourism that generate hard currency require communications, and their requirements are being slowly funded by the government. The expansion of these industries needs foreign investments and the potential investors too need modern communication facilities to ensure free and quick flow of information.
There appears to be some change in the environment and an encouraging report from the Cuba Study Group, in collaboration with the Latin America Initiative at Brookings and the Council of the Americas, reports the recommendation of a unique and comprehensive set of policy objectives aimed at reforming the current U.S. approaches to facilitating communications on and with Cuba. The recommendations of this Group are the result of several months of intensive review, involving representatives from the business community and civil society, as well as information technology and telecommunications experts. The participants discussed the report’s recommendations, as well as current U.S. telecommunications policies toward Cuba, and suggest policy revisions to enhance the Cuban people’s access to information, technology and communications tools. If and when accepted these will go a long way to redress the situation (Report, 2010).
Investments are required in upgrading and expanding the communication facilities and here the Cubans have the advantage of possessing a strong but very limited internal infrastructure. The current needs are a political collaborative environment that can encourage flow of information, technology and investments from outside the country. An improved and open communication set up will go a long way to accomplish all of the above objectives.
Due to the existing political situation in Cuba and continued economic sanctions from US the Cuban economy finds Cuban citizens find it difficult to expand in any significant way. However small inroads are being made in regional directions and for over a decade there has been a growing relationship between Jamaica, Venezuela and Cuba has seen some progress. During my 2012 visit to Cuba, the the office of the Prime Minister of Cuba officially announced that within months the first undersea fiber optic line is expected to be completed. This will link the three countries to vastly improve communications. These attempts may increase bandwidth outside of the country but for a real boost a more open economy and a mature approach is desirable to attract foreign capital and interest.
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May 29, 2014
By: Michael Goetzman
“Change is constant and occurs with great frequency” (Nutt, 2001) but strangely organizations find it difficult to implement change. When it is known that competitive advantage (Porter, 1980) is the driver for survival why is it that a company is generally unsuccessful at change? Why are changes so difficult when it is recognized that environments require change; globalization and outsourcing being a great example that has affected both small and large businesses in equal measure? Why do employees find comfort in routine habits? Why can’t employees be outgoing and do something different each day? Why do employees constantly resist change in their workplace? This noticeable paradox gets more complex when some researchers claim the biggest variable to change are the employees, while the other researchers claim it to be the failure of leadership.
The answers to these questions and concerns are not easy. Over a period of time a company develops core competencies (Prahalad & Hamel, 1990) and sometimes management jealously guard these and resist changes for fear of losing them and putting all their trust in them. They tend to overlook that changes take place all around them externally and that these have a profound effect on their internal environments as well. Similarly, there are power groups in a company and political resistance occurs when change threatens these powerful stakeholders (Cummings & Worley, 2005).
This paper covers that in the current scenario technology, economic forces, socio-political and cultural diversity factors are of greater relevance to change at the workplace (Ivancevich & Matteson, 2002). But, it is finally up to both the leaders and the employees to assume larger responsibilities as change agents in using these factors to bring change to a successful conclusion.
2.0 Change Models
Academics and researchers have attributed change issues into three broad areas: Organization, Leadership, and Employees. However, they are all inter-related and overlap occurs in any review or research, including this paper on difficulties in facilitating change. External business relationships have an effect on the culture and relationships within the organization. Change in external environments demands structural changes within the organization for which it falls back on the study of its architecture and review its fit in the environment (Porter, 1996).
Research is easier explained using various academic models. The process of organizational development begins with identifying a model for a focused understanding. Successful diagnosis requires in-depth perception of its architecture or design of the organization. One has to look at the informal and formal side; whether the leadership is more bureaucratic or organic; and if it is operating in stable or changing environment? (Cummings & Worley, 2005). This is the Model of the Organization. These models provide a framework for examining an organization and deciding where and when change would be suitable and how to plan and execute it (Cummings & Worley, 2005).
Change is resisted as people naturally prefer status quo and organizations wish to avoid chaos. Very early in 1958, Lewin (Lewin, 1958) had suggested that a better way to overcome resistance to change was to reduce the forces resisting change instead of increasing the forces to crush it. This has been corroborated by others in later years (eg. (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990), (Bate, 1990) and (Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv, & Sanders, 1990)) that the focus of change has to be the work practices and not the worker. Although terminating employees based on attitude or behavior is another matter on improving moral within the organization.
3.0 Change Methods
(Cummings & Worley, 2005) have drawn upon and elaborated on (Lewin, 1958) and described the three phases of change as un-freeze, freeze and re-freeze. They argued that initially organizations must unfreeze the system. This means creating a sense of urgency about the need for change, educating managers and leaders to behave differently, merging with another organization and so on; the underlying idea being to shake the system demonstrating a compelling need to do business differently, and by making it open to change interventions.
Thereafter, the change is propelled in new directions with different technologies and ways of operation. Lewin’s (Lewin, 1958) point was that unless and until an un-frozen condition is achieved, the system will not move or change in any meaningful way. Once change, or movement, is underway, the third stage, re-freeze is initiated since the new, changed condition or state needs to be established with a process and accompanying infrastructure like new technologies in place to maintain the newly acquired system. This calls for installing a new extrinsic and intrinsic reward system (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 2001) to support the performance that fits well within the new changed conditions. The employees are now able to see a clear and direct relationship between the organization’s mission and strategy and their individual employee roles and responsibilities.
On the group/department level, organizational culture has a powerful effect on the performance and long-term effectiveness of organizations. Research findings indicate the importance of culture in enhancing organizational performance. But culture change is intimately tied up to individual change. Unless managers or leaders are willing to commit to personal change, the organization’s culture will remain unchanged. Research has indicated that introduction of TQM and other measures of excellence, as well as downsizing have made for effective change (Cameron, Bright, & Caza, 2004). Different methods of interventions should be experimented with until a measurement of a success outcome can be detected.
Finally, it is the farsighted, motivated, and dynamic leadership that can usher in change. Having recognized the essentials the leaders or managers at levels have to offer; a vision, strategy, as well as leading by example. Successful leadership means that the leader connects with employee’s values and excites them. Change plans are finally executed not based on plans but the active transformational participation of leaders who pull in their subordinates into the new system more as partners and co-sharers of their visions (Senge, 1990). Finally, it is the pull and not the push that motivates workers. The knowledge of desired outcomes, the preparation for contingencies and removal of obstructions (Atkinson & Millar, 1999) are the ingredients of a successful change program. The leaders along with management play critical roles as change agents.
In the current scenario where globalization and outsourcing has flattened the world, change practices have come under severe strains. Change is more often the norm and practice rather than a planned event and task to look forward to. Unplanned change plans are often difficult and lack the ability to change faster than the competition which could lead to an unsuccessful response to the changing market conditions. Competition is on the increase with new factors of foreign organizations coming in with different cultures and views and with outsourcing of work to various parts of the world. This is even more of a fact during the recent recessionary times and with financial markets in an unstable state.
Recent technological advances have drastically altered the workplace, the job processes, and the workers. The conventional worker had one or two skills, was uncomfortable with change, had very little motivation, a poor education, and had few training opportunities. Politics within companies more conventional cause many conflicts and power struggles. In stark contrast, the modern worker is multi-skilled, willing to change, looks for opportunities and is highly motivated towards personal career enhancement. He is better educated, usually at a college level and technologically aware and can teach himself continuously by harnessing the education from the internet.
Within the new working middle class, there is yet another kind of worker known as the knowledge worker. He is highly mobile, widely networked, very opportunistic, willing to work odd hours and believes that change is always best for him. Such a worker is outspoken and his attitude speaks out his identity and aspiration (Perloff 2003). The generational differences between the younger knowledge worker and the generally older more conventional managers, leaders, and change agents have caused a phenomenal shift in successful management methods. For example, the knowledge worker does not respond well to micromanagement and prefers peer support from the decision makers.
This changes the perception of change management. The new workers, especially the knowledge worker, are eager for change and therefore change becomes the burden of the leaders and management. If the managers refuse change, they will find high turnover rates of workers and the competitive advantage of their organization slipping away. Indeed workers have now become Human Capital and just as important as the traditional capital of the company. Technology advancement is becoming more and more a major focus and tool for these new knowledge workers.
Change within organizations has so many inconceivable depths and unpredictable variables that each situation would never be the same. Researching the present conditions, the possible future outcomes, and abandoning tactics that have been unsuccessful all equalities back to experience of the change process. The key to a successful change process is the motivating change agents who can align the employees behind the given task.
The ultimate ingredients of successful business change in modern times are: coordination, commitment, and competencies. Employees are usually already motivated and interested in their personal career enhancements. The leaders and management can easily capitalize on this and as the new change agents they can recognize the competencies and by offering participation and commitments can expect high degree of cooperation to achieve their visions.
The market as you would expect will force change if ignored for any length of time with possible indicators of decreased profits, turnover of staff, difficulty within the supply, or many other negative impact within the organization. This lack of change will disrupt the market and those who don’t survive the transition will be replaced with an organization who adapted to the new environment. Competition demands improvement of these environmental conditions by reducing costs, adjusting the process, and streamlined supply chains as this is the foundation of the American business. It is no longer as difficult to bring about change to the various sectors of business as all stakeholders are now eager to participate as they are aware that it is a welcome step away from tradition and necessary to grow any business.
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May 29, 2014
“The application of falsified sociological principles “a con game” to change specific behaviors or perceptions towards a wide scale audience that ultimately ends up exploiting a system or exposing sensitive information. “
What is Astroturfing?
The practice of masking the originator of multiple identities to change public perceptions in favor of one’s agenda. (e.g. political, advertising, religious or public relations)
What is Social Engineering?
Social engineering describes a non-technical kind of intrusion that relies heavily on human interaction and often involves gaining the confidence of an authorized user to break through normal security procedures confidence of an authorized user. Social engineers appeal to various human weaknesses of persuasion such as exploiting vanity, an appeal to authority, an appeal to greed, or just plain old-fashioned eavesdropping techniques.
Examples of Astroturf Social Engineering:
Falsified ‘spam’ and ‘news’ techniques are commonplace for attempting to influence and manipulate the stock market, especially in western societies. Imagine an anonymous individual which operates many twitter personas to spread the impression of widespread panic of falsified twitter posts and fake news of an impending exploit on cypher-currencies such as Bitcoins. The difference here involves one person acting on behalf of millions of fake accounts to give the perspective that the collective is panicking on a fake bitcoin exploit.
Another example would be one ‘herder’ responding with 1000 personas to comment on digital news articles directing users to goto the competitor or phishing site on falsified intentions. Perhaps the 1000 comments suggest that anyone who doesn’t give their social security number to linked company website opened you to increased tax. Users may think, wow 1000 users can’t be wrong, and follow the instructions!! The same thing could be used on forums or other online communities.
Astroturf Social Engineering is similar to a longlining attack which is defined as high volume, mass customized phishing techniques with just a few emails looking alike, but different in it’s approach.
May 29, 2014
By: Michael Goetzman
Ah Yes, The never-ending debate of “Are IT Certifications worth getting?” and “How many are too many?” Are certifications just for an elite group of people whose progress is based class privilege or wealth rather than to their ability and talent? Ask any IT professional and you are most likely to run into strong opinions in opposing directions! Human Resources or hiring agents, of course, love to hire based on buzzwords and qualifications of any sort to protect their ass.
Companies, with federal and state laws increasing, fear penalties of complying and management is constantly under pressure attempting to understand the laws. Therefore it’s easy to justify hiring their workers based on certifications because they should have “known” the laws, they have a degree or certifications. Some IT Managers also believe that certifications are a very good indicator of content proficiency, why not get a ‘trophy’ for training. Some say meritocracy straight out, certifications are worthless! And finally, some view certifications as a proof of overcoming a hardship, showing dedication.
Whatever the answer, as an IT professional, I’d like to know how I should I spend my time. Getting certifications or not? To answer this question, I went searching around LinkedIn and found an exciting example of an IT professional with an amazing extreme devotion to IT certifications. We’ll call him “Bob Johnson” clocking in with over 75 IT certifications and 4 Master degrees! I’ve listed them below:
- Master of Science in Digital Forensics & Cyber Security
- Master of Science in Telecommunications Networking
- Master of Business Administration
- Master of Science in Computer Science
- SIIA’s CSM – Certified Software Manager
- Mile2’s CTPS – Certified Penetration Testing Specialist
- Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US)
- International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP)
- Certified Forensics Consultant (CFC)
- CHS-III American College of Forensics Examiners International (ACFEI)
- American Board for Certification in Homeland Security (ABCHS)
- ASIS International – Certified Protection Professional(CPP)
- (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- (ISC)2 Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)
- (ISC)2 Information Systems Security Architecture Professional (CISSP-ISSAP)
- (ISC)2 Information Systems Security Management Professional (CISSP-ISSMP)
- (ISC)2 Certified Cyber Forensics Professional(CCFP-US)
- ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
- ISACA Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT)
- ISACA Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
- EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- EC-Council Computer Hacking and Forensics Investigator (CHFI)
- EC-Council Certified Chief Information Security Officer (CCISO)
- EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA)
- CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP)
- CompTIA Network+
- CompTIA Server+
- CompTIA Security+
- CompTIA A+
- CompTIA i-Net+
- ICCP – Certified Computing Professional (CCP)
- ICCP Associate Computing Professional (ACP)
- ICCP Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP)
- GIAC Assessing and Auditing Wireless Networks (GAWN)
- GIAC Certified Firewall Analyst (GCFW)
- GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA) [GOLD]
- GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)
- GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware (GREM)
- GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) [GOLD]
- GIAC Systems and Network Auditor (GSNA) [GOLD]
- IBM OS/2 Warp Server Administration
- IBM Certified Specialist – Secureway Communications Server for Windows NT
- IWA Master CWP Administrator
- CIW Master Certified Internet Webmaster Administrator
- CIW Certified Internet Webmaster Security Analyst
- Microsoft Certified Desktop XP Support Technician (MCDST)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator – Server 2003 (MCSA-M)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator – Server 2003 (MCSA-S)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator – Server 2003 (MCSA)
- Microsoft Certified Database Administrator – SQL Server 2000 (MCDBA)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer – Server 2003 (MCSE-S)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer – Server 2003 (MCSE)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator – Server 2000 (MCSA-M)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator – Server 2000 (MCSA-S)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator – Server 2000 (MCSA)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer – Windows 2000 (MCSE-M)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer – Server 2000 (MCSE-S)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer – Server 2000 (MCSE)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer – Windows NT 4.0 + Internet (MCSE+I)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer – Windows NT 4.0 (MCSE)
- Microsoft Certified Professional + Internet (MCP+I)
- Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)
- Cisco Security Certified Network Architect (SCNA)
- Cisco Security Certified Network Professional (SCNP)
- Cisco Information Systems Security (INFOSEC) Professional (ISSP)
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP)
- Cisco VPN Specialist – CQS-VPNS
- Cisco Firewall Specialist – CQS-CFS
- Cisco IDS Specialist – CQS-IDSS
- Symantec SCSE Firewalls & Integrated Security Appliances
- Symantec SCSE Security Management
- Symantec SCSP Symantec Certified Security Practitioner
- Symantec SCTA Intrusion Protection
- Symantec SCTA Firewalls & Integrated Security Appliances
- Symantec SCTA Security Management
- Symantec SPS Firewalls and VPN Technologies in the Enterprise
- Symantec SPS Symantec Enterprise Firewall Advanced Topics 7.0
- Symantec SPS Symantec Web Security 2.5
- Symantec SPS Virus Protection and Content Filtering in the Enterprise
- Symantec STA Firewalls & VPN Technologies in the Enterprise
- Symantec STA Virus Protection & Content Filtering
- ISSEA International Systems Security Professional Certification Scheme
- TruSecure ICSA Certified Security Associate (TISCA)
After being amazed by Bob Johnson’s LinkedIn profile and devotion to certifications I had to interview him!
I sent him a private message: “How did you get all these IT certifications?!”
Bob Johnson’s Response:
In late 1978 (yes 35 years ago) I was working on a newer certification which at the time was called the Certified Computer Programmer (CCP) by an organization called the ICCP. ICCP was a spin off by DPMA (Data Processor Management Association) which was a professional organization that had created the CDP certification (Certified Data Processor) and spun that off to ICCP and ICCP also created the CCP, and at that time ICCP had two certs. In the CCP space, they had concentrations, so there was three flavors of the CCP. Then around the mid 1980’s ICCP created another cert called the CSP. Eventually they combined all of their certs into one and named it CCP (Certified Computer Professional). During these years of transitions I had earned all of the different certs they had, and al the concentrations. The CSP also introduced the concept of recertification, 120 credits per 3 year cycle. The original CCP and CDP did not have that. Today, with the combined CCP, ICCP has both a CPE program, mandatory for most certified, but for those who earned the CCP or CDP prior to the consolidated CCP, they were grandfathered. (Im grandfathered, but choose to renew and provide CPEs). ICCP still exists today, and has other certifications, for example one, which I later earned, was the CBIP, which was a team up between TDWI and ICCP.
My early career was mainframe computers, and in the mid 1990’s i moved into desktop, server and network support initially into OS/2 which later became Warp, and then into Windows NT 4.0. My job was sending me to many Microsoft courses and I was earning my MCSE. This was around 1998. I eventually earned my 2000 & 2003 MCSE and MCSA, and was also dabbling in SQL so I got the MCDBA, and was going through many of the Microsoft certification line. I never got to the 2008 and beyond, but one thing about Microsoft is that they were not expiring certifications and CPE was not involved. You are certified for life effectively. Actually, around the time I did certify, Microsoft was killing off certifications, and was eliminating the NT 3.51 line, and when there was an announcement that the NT 4.0 certifications would be eliminated, there was an outcry and Microsoft did not eliminate it. No one new could get the certification, but anyone who had it could keep it.
Also in this period of time another certification body, CompTIA had its A+ line, and added Server+, Network+ and iNet+, and I was working to get those certifications as well. I did everything as self study, and worked for a company that paid for the certifications as long as you passed. I got most of the CompTIA certifications, and I remember taking many of the exams in one of the World Trade Center testing centers in one of the twin towers.
I also got involved with ProSoft, which had the CIW certifications.
In 2002 I took the Security+ beta exam, and passed it.
So, far, nothing in this part required maintenance. That included Microsoft, CompTIA, Prosoft, and did not require retesting, did not require maintenance fees.
Eventually I would also volunteer (didn’t have to because I was grandfathered) in the recertification program of CompTIA.
in 1997 I had certified taking the ISACA CISA exam. That exam is another story, but it was the “security” exam at the time for info security although it was not a security organization, it was an auditing association.
This year ISC2 is 25 years old. The CISSP exam came out around 1995, but the CISA was around longer. So although in 1997 the CISSP existed, it was a new player, so that is why CISA was considered the “security” exam.
In 2002 I had changed jobs because I was laid off, and moved into a information security role that was 100% of the time a InfoSec guy. That Summer I took the CISSP, the SSCP, the Security +, the TICSA (was true secure, went Verizon, and then discontinued eventually), took the SCP Certified SCNP exam and built up a security certification base. Somewhere in the mix I also added Cisco CCNA.
At this point, whoever required CPEs I was able to share, and I was already doing it for ICCP, I just had to report to the other organizations. Certain certifications required the exam to be retaken (SCP Certified every 2 years, TICSA every 2 or 4 years) Cisco every 2 or 3 years, and there was also the cost of the exams for the recertification. ISC2 and ISACA also had recertification fees (ISC2 called it AMF – annual maintenance fee).
Then in 2003 I started to go to SANS courses, and today I have 7 SANS Certifications. They renew every 4 years, and require a fee for each exam, (about $300), but they now offer CMU (like CPE) but are very restrictive, you also can’t reuse the CMUs between certifications.
Part of the issues over the years is ANSI certification of the certification, as well as DOD requirements for government employees to be certified. Part of becoming ANSI certified has forced everyone, including SANS, CompTIA, ISACA, ISC2, EC Council and ASIS to create, change or enhance the way they do recertification.
I had also earned certifications from EC Council, IAPP, ASIS over the past 10 years.
Management of multiple certifications is hard. It is costly. Not just in time and money to earn the certification, but also the maintenance.
SANS is turning out to be the most expensive. ISC2, ISACA, ASIS not too bad. EC Council under regular circumstances requires CPE but not AMF, but I also have the C|CISO which requires an ANNUAL AMF.
IAPP does not require AMF, but they require that you be an active member, and that is $250 per year. ISACA has both membership fees and AMF.
CPE/CEU/CMU or what ever you want to call continuing education widely varies. Even in ISC2 different certifications require different numbers of CPE, but no one requires more than 120 per 3 year cycle. I have a certification with ACFEI (CFC) and it requires an annual CPE of 15 units (45 per 3 year cycle, but you have to do 15 each year), where ASIS is 60 CPE per 3 years, (average of 20 per year, but I can do 60 all in one year and complete the cycle).
for ISC2 the SSCP was less than the CISSP, where the CISSP is 120 per 3 year cycle, and a minimum of (I think) 20 (maybe 40) per year. ISACA is 120 per 3-year cycle, and has a minimum (20 or 40) per year. The minimums were to force people to do something and not wait until the last minute to earn CPE.
For ISC2, you pay AMF for each certification, and each concentration. The concentrations require about 20 CPE per 3 year cycle, but it is 20 of the CISSP. In other words, you need 120 CPE for a 3 year cycle for the CISSP, you just need to make sure that 20 of the CPE covers domains in each concentration, it does not have to be 20 above. Like I said, you can use certain CPE to cover different certifications, sometimes in the same organization, and sometimes across different ones.
So to summarize:
Has he gone crazy or are organizations the insane ones? Each organization gets money each year (one way or another) to fund the recertification process. Taking if exams usually can be used to recertify, i.e. retake the exam as if you were taking it for the first time, and if you pass, you are recertified. Some of the organizations (now including SANS) will give some credit for passing a certification exam. For example, if I pass an ec-council exam, ec-council will give me 120 cpe that I can use for any and all ec-council certs to recertify. If I take a non-ec-council exam, ec-council will give me 40 cpe. ISACA and COMPTIA have similar programs, CPEs vary.
Most, if not all (SANS will do this) take graduate level college courses, as longs as the content of the course is relevant. I have used this a lot for ICCP as well.
Aside from College courses, (and some organizations may even take undergrad) there are today many “free” cpe opportunities, especially webcasts and virtual conferences by Brighttalk, SC Magazine, even ISACA, and SANS. And not I see stuff from legal tech.
I also go to RSA each year, which I pay out of pocket, each certification body is going to give different credit (CPE), but ISC2 just added 37 CPE jsut for this past RSA. I go to a lot of free seminars and conferences. Or, sometimes ones that are comped. For example, my ISC2 3 year cycle ends this August, I need 120 CPE, I was just checking, I have not recorded ALL my CPE for ISC2, my current total is 402 CPEs. (I only need 120).
I also belong to associations that don’t provide certifications, such as IEEE and ISSA as example. I probably go through several $ thousand each year (like $4K at least) for membership sues, AMF, exam retakes, etc. Taking care of that and keeping track, not too difficult (although when I was out of work, the wallet hurt).
Doing the CPEs, not too difficult either. I Just finished my 4th masters degree, was taking one course per semester (2 per calendar year) which gave me about 80 CPE’s per calendar year alone, and I did this for almost the last 7 years.
SANS is a whole different story.
Probably the most difficult process of this whole thing is the reporting. I have to report to each organization that I have to recertify, making sure that I report the CPE. Having to report to different parties when there is no central reporting mechanism is a pain. Also, some certifications (especially ISC2 and ISACA) has domains, and the CPE credits have to be in those domains in order to be eligible. So, that is my certification story!
May 29, 2014
By: Michael Goetzman
Intuitively, we’re in a what could be described as an “anonymity battle” with governments agencies and corporations fighting digital citizens. This cyber battle has become a world where no data is private, making it nearly impossible to keeping your anonymity, financial or not, even in extreme circumstances. For example the creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, who has made extreme attempts to hide his identity is under consistent threat by media, governments (likely), and an ever powerful cypherpunk citizen population to acquire and potentially expose his true identity. Foreign Governments and the US government departments battle each other for more intelligence. How much anonymity exists in today’s world is coming to light as Edward Snowden’s documents are released by the press. One may need to depend on flooding every site with disinformation to throw off collection practices. The National Security Agency(NSA) keeps track of everything from internet protocols, traffic patterns, and who does what over the world wide web. Ultimately, this paper focuses on digital financial transactions. The closest thing we have to financial anonymity is the bitcoin protocol, not to be confused with bitcoin the p2p network. Only recently has the cypherpunk community realized that in addition to the p2p public ledger (the “Blockchain”, a decentralized source of truth that’s both secure and transparent), the protocol of bitcoin itself can be traced just like traditional data. The combination of both the bitcoin protocol and the public ledger opens up holes for anonymity potentially worse then traditional fiat currency.
The Bitcoin protocol project began in 2008 by the name of the pseudonymous person known as Satoshi Nakamoto. The Bitcoin protocol itself was designed to be private with the assumption that the user is using TOR, because the design team gives each individual user the ability to make an unlimited number of bitcoin storage holders called wallets. Each wallet is assigned an identification number which greatly represents a hash called, a bitcoin address. The first digit in any bitcoin address always begins with the number 1 (a few with 3, but outside the scope of this paper), while the private key begins with the number 5. The hashes are generated at random, so they have absolutely no ties to the user’s information. All that is required is the private key, and those who can match their public key with their private key, has access to that wallet’s bitcoins. At first, when the crypto-currency was still in its infancy, governments did not view the protocol as anything different from mmorpg or game currency, but now that it has expanded into a global exchange of wealth and its number of users have recently grown exponentially, the bitcoin protocol has proven to be a very powerful p2p protocol potentially capable of hiding sophisticated attempts at wealth transfers.
The cyberpunk community is now realizing that bitcoin transactions can be traced to an individual person based on information found in the blockchain’s public ledger and other sources. But how is that? Bitcoins under TOR are supposed to be anonymous and impossible to trace to their users. With the indecent at SilkRoad, an online market, the game changed following the founder being jailed and had his funds taken by the United States government. The SilkRoad was an online marketplace for illegal drugs which used bitcoin & .onion (requiring TOR) to further protect the user’s anonymity. The users traded their bitcoins for products then back into cash in US dollars via a bitcoin exchange. Because users are switching back into fiat currency, governments or banks can provide a very detailed account of information such as, bank account information, name, address, and so on. In the bitcoin network, every single transaction is written on a very large document called the blockchain(public ledger). Government officials had used the block chain to trace down first: where the coins had been sent to. Once they found out the coins had been sent to an exchange, the government subpoenaed banks for the information regarding accounts of who the wallet belonged to, and with that information accessed countless of other databases on the user to form a more complete picture. In the case of the Silk Road founder, the owner had coins stashed away in a local wallet on a specialty designed laptop that encrypts the harddrive on the action of closing the laptop lid. The government SWAT team was able to apprehend the user while in the midst of working, before the founder could physically close the laptop lid to protect himself from data forensics. His funds are now in the possession of the FBI.
Illegal activities such as these greatly discourage some users from even attempting investments into bitcoin. The simple fact that bitcoin is indeed a currency, people will do elicit things with it, people even do elicit things with the US dollar. Bitcoin is just a tool, criminals can already do bad things since they’re willing to break laws. Some argue is that cash in USD is still the best way to remain anonymous. In my opinion technically that statement is correct for any physical meeting, not necessarily the wealth unit itself . Trading cash has absolutely no record of being traded, bitcoin however does have evidence of the origin of a bitcoin, the destination of a bitcoin, and everything in between – IF they do not trade possession of the wallet’s private key. Since the bitcoin network has a public ledger, users have been combating privacy with “bitcoin”. This seems very ironic considering that bitcoin the protocol was based on the principal that all users are anonymous. The biggest way that anonymity is broken in the bitcoin world today, is the fact that bitcoin exchanges collect information on their users and the bitcoin network publicly announces transactions. Therefore, tracking a person is as easy as referring to the blockchain by tracking the funds until it reaches an exchange, and then subpoenaing the user’s information. Users could add a level of complexity by creating transactions over regulatory borders. From that point law enforcement procedures find roadblocks and require additional assistance from foreign governments. It should also be noted that mapping bitcoin addresses to an IP address/MAC address of a router is also possible, so if a person or group of people or government agency wishes to find whoever owns a bitcoin address, it can be done, but that is outside the scope of this paper.
If one does wish to hide themselves, there is hope. You will find a few methods to make yourself ‘increasingly’ anonymous therefore to making it very difficult or near impossible to trace a bitcoin transaction to its origin. The company Blockchain.info has released their new service called SharedCoin. SharedCoin is a mixing service that mixes up your bitcoin transactions with approximately ten other bitcoin addresses. This service allows you to repeat this process up to ten times, the more repetitions that the user asks for the more difficult it becomes to trace the coins to their respective origin. One downside is that if for some reason the transaction fails in between mixing, the funds sent could possibly be forever lost. The service is also advertised as open-source giving another level of assurance to the community. The blockchain website and Nakamoto himself also recommends using the TOR service or even a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or Proxy server. As noted above the TOR project is an anonymity network where users host servers to conceal their IP addresses from website which collect said information. In the sense of bitcoin the protocol, it is harder to find the origin of your bitcoins or your personal information when attempting to trace you by IP address because the trace would lead to the VPN/Proxy instead of the user.
Another way to stay anonymous is to use an eWallet as opposed to using a desktop client. Although it is better to safeguard your bitcoins using a desktop client, it will reveal your IP address to everyone else on the blockchain, making the origin of the transaction public. Using an eWallet also includes the risk of the eWallet service’s coins being stolen, just as Mt. Gox’s bitcoins were stolen in early 2014. The mail bitcoin website suggests the following if you choose to use the desktop client for storing bitcoins:
- “Set up a real external mixing service. Make it like an eWallet service but make sure that a user never withdraws the same coins that are put in. Also delete empty addresses and transaction logs.
- Even if you’re not a programmer, you can make a slightly less secure version of an external mixing service (as a Tor hidden service, preferably):
- Set up two Bitcoin installations.
- Put some amount of BTC in installation B. This is the maximum amount of BTC you can deal with at once (for all customers).
- Customers send BTC to installation A. You send them an equal number of coins (or minus a fee) from installation B. Send as 10-50 BTC increments.
- Send all coins from A to B when all orders are satisfied. You can’t send coins from A to B if you have any orders that have not been satisfied from B.
- This can be automated, or you can do everything manually.
- Put lots of Bitcoins in an eWallet service and keep it there. If anyone uses the anonymization method described in “staying anonymous” above, this will enhance it. Send in smaller increments if a large amount is transferred.” (Anonymity- Bitcoin Wiki)
There is also the possibility that those who transact with a user could know who they are. For example user A asks user B to work for them, after B completes their for and sends it to A, User A can now look at the funds they have given user B and trace them if they wish. This is very apparent in PayPal transactions for example. The bitcoin network with it’s public ledger is a very complex, yet interesting and experimental idea. It does however have its flaws and surprisingly enough, one of its biggest flaws, the public ledger, happens to be one of the best things about the crypto currency. Being anonymous in today’s world is nearly impossible, given enough resources an agency or individual can narrow down the search onto nearly all users. We should do all we can in order to protect our privacy, even if it involves bitcoin 2.0, an upgraded crypto-currency based on anonymity. Why? Edward Snowden says it best “Your rights matter, because you never know when you’re going to need them.” I think the same applies to reasonable privacy.
“Anonymity.” – Bitcoin. N.p., n.d. (March 2014)
“Block Chain.” – Bitcoin. N.p., n.d. (March 2014)
Greenberg, Andy. “Founder Of Drug Site Silk Road Says Bitcoin Booms And Busts Won’t Kill His Black Market.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine (April 16, 2013 – March 07, 2014)
“Satoshi Nakamoto.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation (August 03, 2014 – March 07, 2014)<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satoshi_Nakamoto>.
“Shared Coin.” – Bitcoin. N.p., n.d. (March 07, 2014)
May 29, 2014
By: Michael Goetzman
Last Update: 09-03-2014
Bitcoin is a revolutionary cypher-currency created from the works of ECDSA invented by late Scott Vanstone, SHA-256 with an unknown inventor but thought to be the NSA, Justin Frankel, Gianluca Rubinacci and Tom Pepper: co-inventors of the first decentralized Peer-to-Peer file sharing network, and Adam Back: Inventor of the first Proof-of-Work system, which he later helped conceptually code into Bitcoin. Digital currency has always been the holy grail of the cypherpunk movement. Bruce Schneier has a section about it in his 1996 book Applied Cryptography (Section 6.4). In the early 90’s, Liberty, Security, and Privacy were common motivations of the pre-bitcoin era with known and 3 or 4 unknown experts in the field. One good reference for this cyberpunk era is a paper called Cyphernomicon by Timothy C. May.
This leads to the article’s topic Bitcoin’s creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, a pseudonym of an unnamed person who on November 1st, 2008 came out of ‘nowhere’ with a Newsgroup /Gmane post with interesting Q/A’s. Satoshi Nakamoto used a pseudonym from the start and went to great lengths from the very beginning to conceal his identity. This quiet newsgroup post announces the release of a paper called “Bitcoin – A peer-to-peer Electronic Cash System” which would become the foundation for what is now known as the bitcoin protocol. Satoshi was active on the Bitcoin forum , you can see his user and his posts from 2008-2011, during which he created what is now known as the genesis block from bitcoin protocol v0.1 gave bitcoin v0.1 to the public on January 9th, 2009. He started advancing the code immediately afterwards, adding TOR support posted under the email firstname.lastname@example.org to the advancing client and completed other notable developments until Bitcoin v0.3.19 and gone by April 2011 when Nakamoto announced he has moved onto other things and has since stopped replying to queries altogether.
I’ve been following Bitcoin since around the price of 50 cents. Satoshi wasn’t the only one to create bitcoins, but his mysteriousness sets him apart from the rest. He built bitcoin on the thinking of Adam Back, Wei Dai, Ian Grigg, Nick Szabo, Ian Goldberg, David Chaum, Stefan Brands, Steve Schear, John Gilmore, Ryan Lackey, Ben Laurie, Jim McCoy, Bram Cohen, Paul Kocher, Zooko, Adam Shostack, Len Sassaman and many more including Ulf Moeller (who we sadly lost to a senseless murder). He could be one of these people but there is a huge community of cryptographers who put in the time and thinking into building bitcoin. Since the very beginning, like others, I’ve always wondered “Who is this Satoshi Nakamoto?” and “Why doesn’t he want any recognition?” He also apparently doesn’t wish to be rich as he has not moved any of his estimated fortune of around 1M Bitcoins or he hopes to remain private even over the chance of these great riches!! Ultimately, My reasoning for investigating who Satoshi really is, is to learn more about the community and protocol itself. Note: If I do find proof of Satoshi Nakamoto – I wouldn’t share that knowledge publicly as I respect his contributions and anonymity requests.
Clues about Nakamoto:
- Designed the original Bitcoin protocol in 2008 and launched the network in 2009.
- Nakamoto means ‘central origin’, while Satoshi means ‘clear thinking, quick witted, wise’
- Simply does not see money as the primary motivation in life
- British English spelling in both source code comments and forum postings work implies Nakamoto, or at least one individual in the consortium claiming to be him, may be of Commonwealth origin. One of his postings used the Anglicism “Bloody hard”. Bloody is an expletive attributive that is commonly used in Great Britain, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and by those who speak Indian English. However, it is seldom heard in North America outside of Newfoundland and Labrador.
- Stefan Thomas, a Swiss coder and active community member, graphed the time stamps for each of Nakamoto’s bitcoin forum posts (more than 500); the resulting chart showed a steep decline to almost no posts between the hours of 5 am and 11 am Greenwich Mean Time. Because this pattern held true even on Saturdays and Sundays, it suggested that Nakamoto was asleep at this time. If Nakamoto is a single individual with conventional sleeping habits, it suggests he resided in a region using the UTC−05:00 or UTC−06:00 time offset. This includes the parts of North America that fall within the Eastern Time Zone and Central Time Zone, as well as parts of Central America, the Caribbean and South America.
Top 10 Suspects:
1. Adam Back
- Initial interests in PGP, usenet broadcast, & anonymous re-mailers. Ran an anonymous relay for awhile.
- Worked for Zero-Knowledge Systems , precursor to tor – read more at a 1999 article on wired.
- Main reason for working on bitcoin, was to decentralize through encryption.
- Highly Interested in technical details of freedom/human rights – democratic society/privacy/anti-surveillance
- Adam’s published paper hashcash (2002) was cited in satoshi’s paper regarding proof of work in bitcoin.
- Not a fan of altcoins, “bitcoins was a one off event”
2. Nick Szabo
3. Shinichi Mochizuki
- Japanese mathematician and Kyoto University lecturer
- Mathematical Genius specializing in number theory
- Based in Japan
- Grew up in the US, so fluent in written English
- He is known to release discoveries publicly over the internet and not through academic channels
4. Martti Malmi
- Computer Scientist, said to be the co-founder of bitcoin, now working on Identifi.
- Based in Finland(where the bit coin website was first registered), writes flawless English, studied Japanese.
- Was removed from the list of project developers around the same time Nakamoto disappeared.
- “discovered” Nakamoto’s white paper at a very early stage, created user interface, and is an early developer on the bit coin project
- “…set up the project web site and forums, ported the Windows-only client to Linux and added some UI features.”
- interested in libertarian thought
- Source: http://sc5.io/blog/2013/02/sc5er-intro-the-bitcoin-guy/
5. Vili Lehdonvirta
- Economic Sociologist, used to be a video game programmer
- Understands in game currencies and has a lot of documented research.
- Based in Finland.
6. Wei Dai
7. Michael Clear
- Top Computer Science student at Trinity College, Dublin – making him a UK based candidate
- The New Yorker newspaper did some research into Nakamoto, and decided it was most likely to be Clear
8. Crypto Mano Group
- Consists of Donal O’Mahony, Hitesh Tewari, Michael Peirce and previously mentioned, Michael Clear
- An Ireland group of Computer Scientists, all with connections to Trinity College, Dublin
- Published a book entitled ‘Electronic Payment Systems of E-Commerce’ in 2009, and numerous other papers on Computer Science
9. Neal King, Vladimir Oksman & Charles Bry
- A group of UK Computer Scientists that have traveled to Finland
- Released patent US 20100042841 A1 “Updating and Distributing Encryption Keys” using very similar wording to Nakamoto’s original Bitcoin paper, 72 hours after the Bitcoin domain name was established, and all three have filed other patents in similar areas
- Those who were in email contact with Nakamoto before he disappeared said that his replies were infrequent, almost as if a group of people were checking the email only intermittently
10. Government (CIA/KGB)
- heavily used to transport money to organizations such as wikileaks
Who is not Satoshi: Dorian Nakamoto
- The witchhunt of Dorian Satoshi by Newsweek’s Leah McGrath was published with no real evidence. The article had no logical substance but hearsay. This is consistent of the shoddy rhetoric journalism that has been produced since the popularity of the internet.
Interesting Satoshi Quotes:
Though Satoshi’s comments focussed almost exclusively on development coding, some are some economic discussions that did happen:
You can read other notable satoshi quotes.
Summary: Satoshi Nakamoto could be almost anyone around the crypto circles. Perhaps a genius not even listed above! Here are the only facts: 1: It is someone extremely knowledgeable in cryptography. This is very rare because most crypto implementations get a wee bit complex. 2: It is someone who is clued with regards to the financial sector and understands the genius behind stable currency. (1 coal to 1 coin) 3: It is someone who can code, code well, and distribute things out anonymously. (he added TOR early, and nobody knows who he is to this day. Knows a variety of other programming languages extremely well. After these three major facts, it could be anyone narrowed down into a few select online communities, I imagine he wants anonymity so the story to be about Bitcoin and not about the creator! Suspicions could be on anyone – He is sometimes referred to as “the bilabial bitcoin Father” or a part of the “bitcoin Trinity: Jesus”. With the clues we have, timelines, and facts we most likely can narrow it down to a few possible Satoshis… Who do you think Satoshi is?
May 28, 2014
Whether you are launching a brand new small consulting business in the Midwest, or have been in business for some time and find that client projects are becoming stagnant, it pays to take time to evaluate your current marketing and sales approaches and strategies. Certainly, the current national financial climate is proving to be very difficult for many small Midwestern consulting firms; competition in the sector is fierce, so now may be the right time to consider less orthodox marketing and sales strategies.
In recent years, when extensive outsourcing by competitors raises the bar even further, more emphasis has been placed on utilizing the skills and knowledge of existing staff in a consultancy firm to maintain and build a company’s client base. The talent that you currently hold can make the difference between achieving a mediocre business flow, and starting one that leads the way in the consulting marketplace.
The three largest concerns of startup consultant firms are basic strategies for:
Many smaller Midwestern consultancy firms make the mistake not marketing to the proper demographics, they keep running into financial strains, and the firms taking on projects that they simply do not have the resources to complete on time. Successful Midwestern companies also have technical challenges. Tim Storm of Fatwallet stated “challenges of being in the Midwest come from being the technical equivalent of a third world country.”
In the coming weeks I’ll post problems to address with businesses analyzing common marketing, sales, and financial aspects required to run a successful small consultancy business. I’ll also explore the new technologies available to help take businesses to the next level in terms of successful strategies.
Social Networks Competitive Edge
Rivals can ruin online reputation if you don’t monitor opinions online. Monitoring tweets, facebook comments, and LinkedIn comments are normally on company’s radar, but is looking for competitive advantages? Looking at your competitor’s Social network feed, their employees, and the dissatisfied customers of your rival could lead to superior ideas!
If a competitor has a dissatisfied customer, what can you do to capture that customer? Do you have the same problems causing the dissatisfaction? You could even interact with your competitors contacts and invite them for a discount of your products or services!
Establish your target market
This may seem like an elementary requirement for any business, however, it pays to review your target market on an ongoing basis. Client requirements and demands are constantly evolving, and you will need to stay one step ahead at all times to gain a market advantage. Take time to research your target market, and constantly review your findings to establish any changes or new trends in the IT consultancy sector.
Many smaller consultancy firms may find it difficult to focus on one target area of clients, fearing that they will ‘miss out’ on other sales prospects while doing so. However, even successful IT consultancy businesses need to take a step back to review their target audience from time-to-time. It can be a costly mistake to believe that you have an unlimited number of sales leads in your target area – in an unstable financial climate this can change in a relatively short period of time. You will need to ensure that your target audience is still relevant, and that they are generating the ongoing business and new prospects that you need to ensure the continuing success of your business. Once you have identified a key market (or markets) to concentrate your efforts on, it is time to dedicate a little focus to them.
By focusing on a specific market, you can show your potential prospects that you have expertise and concentration in their area, and that your company is able to offer them effective and tailor-made solutions. This will make your company appear more valuable to clients, and in turn, can help you to complete more deals, quicker.
Marketing: Create a Message
Once you have established your target market(s), you will need to create a powerful message to project your company, spread the word about your services, and reach your prospects. Many new small IT consultancy firms make the fatal mistake of marketing themselves as the ‘best’ or ‘leading’ firm in the consultancy sector, without backing up their claims with solid evidence. This aggressive kind of marketing can lead to mistrust, and you may actually lose clients in the process. When creating a message for your company, you will need to show that you can provide actual value to the client and how you intend to do this. Try to include the following elements in your company message:
- Identify your clients’ problem
- Offer your solution to the problem
- Outline the benefits of using your solution
- Explain how your company’s solution is unique
- Provide solid proof i.e. testimonials or previous case studies
Once you have identified the above elements, combine them into a shorter ‘hook’ – i.e. a short statement that can be included on your website, social networking profiles, and any other marketing communications (i.e. newsletters, brochures and business cards). Try to make your hook as unique as possible and relevant to your target market: for example, rather than saying “We are an IT consultancy firm”- a rather generic statement – make it more specific and unique to your company and the market you are trying to reach, i.e. “We help local businesses successfully market their shops and increase sales using new technologies”.
Try to keep your hook as simple, short as possible, and to the point. Longer descriptions can be used in the bulk text of your marketing communications, but here you are looking for a short and instantly memorable sentence that accurately describes what your company does. Do not underestimate the power of a strong company message and hook – both are proven marketing methodologies used by all of the successful major companies to identify their business and attract new prospects.
IT Consultancy business in focus – Infosys
Infosys Technologies Ltd. provides a good example of how a great company message and hook can drive sales and help to build an IT consultancy business. Infosys Technologies Ltd., who defines, designs, and delivers technology-enabled business solutions for Global 2000 companies, was started in 1981 by only seven people and just $250. Infosys are global leaders in the “next generation” of IT and consulting, boasting revenues of $ 5.7 billion in 2010.
Infosys’ offerings include technology consulting, application services, systems integration, product engineering, custom software development, maintenance, re-engineering, independent testing and validation services, IT infrastructure services, and business process outsourcing. The Infosys hook is simple but effective – “Infosys – Building Tomorrow’s Enterprise” – it is a short but very accurate description of what they actually do. This hook is repeated on all of their online communications, including their website, and it has helped Infosys to define the services that they offer. On visiting their website, or browsing the internet, a visitor instantly understands what Infosys is all about.
Clearly, Infosys has their marketing message right – as of December 2010, they had 127,779 employees, 65 offices and 59 development centers in India, China, Australia, the Czech Republic, Poland, the UK, Canada and Japan. Any fledgling IT consultancy business can use references such as Infosys as a successful example of how vital it is to implement effective marketing strategies.
Marketing: Expert of your Field
It is a fact that clients will naturally gravitate towards the ‘expert’ in their required field. For example, if a client is looking for an IT consultancy firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin specializing in the financial sector, they will search out the ‘leading’ firm in that exact area, using the internet, word of mouth or other business sourcing methods.
Certainly, most small IT consultancy firms will have encountered the frustration of losing out on prospects to rival companies at some point in their existence. Why does this happen? Very often, this will occur because the rival company is perceived as being the ‘expert’ in the field. The word ‘perceived’ is very important, after all, they may not be the best in the field (you may be!), but they have effectively marketed themselves as being just that.
So, how can you position your company as an expert? Here are a few suggestions to help you tackle the process:
- Conferences – Perform a little research to find local conferences/business/speaking events in the IT field. Organizers of any such events will generally need a range of expert speakers to deliver information and discuss the latest IT consultancy developments – This can be a great way to spread the word about your company and the services that you offer. Just one speaking engagement every few months can be sufficient to build your contacts substantially and position your company favourable in the IT consulting marketplace.Always ensure that your representative takes company marketing literature with them, i.e. business cards and brochures. Conferences can offer a multitude of prospecting and affiliation opportunities for a company. Also remember that the best speaker for your company may not necessarily be a sales person – depending on the nature of the event, your technical staff may be willing and eager to spread the word about your IT services, and quite often, they will be best placed to do so.
- Articles/Blogs/Newsletters – Take time to research online and paper publications in the IT consulting area, i.e. industry newsletters, brochures, and magazines. Many of these publications will encourage article submissions from IT consultancy companies. This can be a great way for you to provide valuable input to your industry, offering constructive advice, while getting your company name further recognition. Create your own newsletters and online blogs discussing the latest issues in the IT sector and how your company is working to address these problems. In short, aim to become a mentor to your peers and a trusted source for prospective clients.
Here are a few tips for creating successful blogs and newsletters:
- Text – Try to include essential and informative company and service information. Avoid ‘padding’ out your text with unhelpful information – keep all text succinct and to the point. In the text, offer solutions for your customers. Think of a blog as a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) platform, and encourage comments from your target audience. Keep it short – around 250 – 400 words for a blog and up to 600 words for a newsletter. If you make your marketing correspondence any longer, the reader is very likely to lose interest, and they may avoid any of your future submissions. Always include interesting headlines to draw the reader in. If possible, offer a solution or a tip in the title; for example, ‘We offer a full IT service package’, or, even better, use your company’s ‘hook’ as the main headline. Editing is the key to a great blog or newsletter. Before you submit a blog post, re-read the text, and if necessary, remove any sections that are not required. Gain input from all staff members at your consultancy, offering them the opportunity to contribute to blogs and newsletters.
- Content – Corporate blogs can often sound very cold and off-putting, so try to add a personal element wherever you can. Offer your own personal opinion on IT subjects, and encourage reader thought collaboration. Wherever possible, use links to support the text in your blog (i.e. links to professional institutions or recent IT studies). Ideally, you should always include a link to your business web site and any other sources that are appropriate in your blogs and newsletters. Encourage the reader to click on the link in order to read more information. In a world where SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is dominating, keywords are more important than ever. Before starting a new blog, make a list of keywords relating to your company, brand, services, and endeavor to include each keyword at least once in the blog content. This should make your blog easily searchable on search engines and drive the right traffic to you.
- Styling – Make your blog and newsletters easy to read, try to use bullet points wherever possible. Make posts easier to scan by including sub-headings to break up bulky sections of text. Keep paragraphs short and to the point. If you already have a color scheme for your brand – use it on your blogs and newsletters; it will make all of your company literature appear streamlined. This helps your target audience to better associate the blog or newsletter directly with your company.
Create Social Networking Profiles
In recent years, social networking has become the way to market your business. Did you know that Facebook now has over 500 million users worldwide? Twitter is also gaining popularity, with an estimated 190 million visitors per month generating approximately 65 million Tweets a day! Those are staggering figures and can be used to your advantage when marketing your small IT consultancy company.
If you are new to business social networking, start by creating profiles on the larger sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Keep your profile content precise and update your information often. Seek out new contacts using the search functions available on the sites and include your message, hook, and logos on your profile page. Also consider using some of the smaller emerging social media sites. After all, successful on-line marketing is all about spreading the word.
There are literally hundreds of emerging social media sites out there – and all of them have the potential to grow and develop, just as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn did. Perform a little research to find out which social networking sites your competitors are using, and establish if it is working for them, before you create new profiles. You can easily view a companies’ profile page and find out how many ‘followers’ they have – this will give you an indication as to whether the site is worth joining or not.
Remember that repetition is often the key to successful online marketing. The more times a prospective client sees your name, the more likely it is to register with them. In fact, recent studies have revealed that a brand/company name must be repeated on average 15 times before it is fully recognized by a consumer or client. Frequent communications can help you build ‘trust’ in your company name and can quickly establish you as an expert in the IT consultancy field.
In recent years, marketing experts have also started recommending that companies offer social media as an alternative to traditional email marketing. A recent report indicates that approximately 2% of companies currently offer a social media alternative when customers decide to unsubscribe from their email marketing. The findings of the report, performed by Return Path, revealed that only 1 in 47 businesses who provide the option for people to opt-out from their emails promote their social media site as another option. They also discovered that the unsubscribing process can be very difficult for many people to navigate (this could include your business’ prospects/existing clients), with 23% of companies making their subscribers go through several steps in order to unsubscribe.
Margaret Farmakis, the senior director of professional services at Return Path, says that the process of unsubscribing could actually be used to benefit a company – allowing them to try and retain communications with customers using an alternative, and perhaps more attractive, method of keeping updated with communications. Farmakis says “Some subscribers may prefer the experience of interacting with a brand via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn” and “Regardless, it’s important that marketers have an integrated, cross-channel strategy and promote it at every key touch point in the customer/subscriber lifecycle.”
In conclusion, the building of business social networking profiles does not need to take up an excessive amount of your employees’ time. Do not restrict social networking to your sales team; try to expand it to your other employees. Many people now use social networking for personal interactions, so ask your staff to join online company groups and show their support. If possible, offer them incentives to do so, in the form of discounts or free offers.
Use your website for marketing
It is safe to assume that the majority of small IT consulting businesses will already have their own corporate website. Websites are a great place to display company information, service descriptions, contact details, customer case studies and testimonials. However, many of these websites are not fully optimized for marketing purposes. A website may look great, but if a prospect cannot find it on search engines, it is of little value as a marketing strategy. Certainly, you can include links to your website on your marketing literature, but it must also be optimized to fully gain a marketing advantage and drive traffic to your company.
Pay Per Click (PPC)
Pay Per Click is an advertising method used on search engines, websites and advertising networks. By far, the most popular PPC advertising network available at the moment is Google Adwords. Pay per click has helped to transform on-line marketing, and the amount that small businesses spend on it is growing rapidly year after year. Here are a few key points an IT consultant company should consider when creating its first PPC campaign:
- Keywords – Always avoid overly-generic keywords – this will prove to be very expensive, and direct hits are less likely in a highly competitive market. Instead, try to choose specific keywords that are more targeted to your company and/or your target market.
- Advert – This is perhaps the most important aspect of PPC. The advert should be brief, but compelling. Include keywords wherever possible. Recent research has indicated that click-through rates are on average 50% higher when keywords used in the title are also included in the main advert description. It is a great idea to use your company message or hook in your advert, and include any current offers or incentives to drive visitors to your website. If you have promotional codes, include these in the advert too.
- Location – Stick to your immediate location to start with. For example if you are based in Detroit, target this market first to test the water. You can always expand your target area as you gain confidence.
- Budget – If possible, set a daily and/or monthly budget. This will allow room for changes as you monitor the success of a campaign and will prevent over-spending. Always remember that generally speaking, the higher your budget, the more likely your Ad is to appear in the ‘Sponsored Links’ section. For smaller IT consultancy companies, it’s a good idea to start with a small budget, and increase this after you have gained more PPC experience.
Stand out from the competition
Competition in various professional fields are fierce; therefore, it’s vitally important for your company to stand out from the crowd. Always try to think unique, as unique thinking will help you to take a step away from your competition. As the saying goes, “It is good to do things differently instead of doing different things” so use your imagination when creating your website, blogs, newsletters and any other marketing literature. Offer a solution to your customers, and make it a unique offering, that they can only get from your company.
Businesses have the opportunity to form their own culture and style, so try to capture attention with your marketing literature. If possible, keep correspondence interactive – as if you are talking directly to your customers or other businesses. You can do this by asking the client a direct question, for example “Do you require an entire IT project management service?” or “Are you struggling with a new system configuration?” Then, offer the client a solution to their problem. In short, try to identify with your target market on a personal and targeted level.
Let’s take a look at two examples:
1. Sigmer Technologies
An international example for companies to research for success demonstrating a well-functioning business and attractive startup IT consulting website, look no further than Sigmer Technologies (www. Sigmer.com). The company, who is based in the Innovation Centre of the University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom, was formed in 1999. Despite being relatively small in size (they currently have 30 employees), they have produced a high-class, interesting, and functional website.
The site uses web 2.0 graphics to illustrate key areas, while also keeping the design relatively simple and easy to navigate. The basic, but effective, graphics load easily and catches the eye of the visitor. All of the links on the site are very clear and easy to follow, and external links to their social networking profiles are provided (including links to the Directors personal LinkedIn pages).
Additionally, Sigmer provides pages to view their full company details, information about their products and services, a list of previous clients/case examples (including major players such as BSkyB), a press area, and the option to contact Sigmer online. When browsing the Sigmer website, you very quickly get an idea of exactly what the company does, who they have done it for, and what they can do for you – all of which are essential elements for any consulting website.
2. Intellectual Capital Services, Inc.
Finding a unique angle for your company can be difficult; however, this company has a unique look into fine art is the company: Intellectual Capital Services, Inc. – a leading technology consulting, staffing, and solutions firm. Intellectual Capital Services, Inc. specializes in the Financial, Media, Publishing, Not-for-Profit, Entertainment, Life Sciences and Pharmaceutical sectors.
The aim of Intellectual Capital Services is to help businesses achieve their objectives using the right technologies and resources . They do this by utilizing their expertise and past experience in technology consulting, product development, and solutions integration. They also offshore development services and business process management to design, develop, and implement end-to-end technology solutions.
However, it is not the wide range of services offered that make Intellectual Capital Services stand out from the crowd. It is a simple twist on their contact phone number that a Midwestern IT consultant company could easily do. On their website (and subsequently displayed on search engines) they state: “Contact Us. Call 1 877 IT DUDES Chat with IT Consulting Representative Chat now”. It is an amazingly simple approach, but anyone who sees this information is very likely to remember their phone number, due to the personalized twist they have implemented. This example goes to prove that being unique does not require a major company brand overhaul; sometimes very simple ideas can work just as effectively.
Take time to think about your company. What do you offer that no other firm does or can? Think about aspects such as the services you offer, the location(s) you work in, pricing structures, and any guarantees or follow up procedures you have in place. Industry experience also counts, so if your employees have qualifications or an exceptional working background, use this information in your marketing campaigns. Small companies can easily reach the success of large corporations using unique methods and can be agile!
Streamline your business processes
To successfully market your company, you will need to take a look at your current processes and streamline internal operations wherever possible. By doing so, you can free up your employees’ time to concentrate on their priorities, i.e. client projects, finding new prospects, and building their professional knowledge bases.
For example as an IT consultancy company, your staff will no doubt have a wide range of IT knowledge and experience, so make sure that your employees are fully trained and up-to-date with the latest technologies. Do not just include your consultants on this training but also involve them with marketing, sales, and administration.
After all, knowledge is power. The more up to speed with technologies your employees are. The more powerful your company will become as a collective of people. It is amazing how many IT consultancy firms will use old, out of date technologies in their offices, and yet spend most of their time advising other companies on brand new IT technology and strategies!
Also, allocate a small amount of time each week to hold company marketing meetings and reviews. This will keep all of your staff in the loop and can help to identify any marketing problems early on. Communication and collaboration is the key to running a successful IT consultancy business, so encourage your employees to do both of these at all times.
The creation of effective financial strategies is essential for the success of any small business. The implementation of any such strategies can literally make or break a company. In a difficult financial climate, focus must be divided between existing client retention and prospecting in equal measures. Both processes will require strict budget management strategies to fully succeed.
Leverage in a company and its financial Impact
The leverage within a company can determine the kind of financial strategies that are implemented. On every company project, there are generally three unique kinds of people that are assigned duties. Traditionally, these people are called the ‘finders, minders, and grinders’ – a combination of three types of employee that, when combined, make up a consultancy project. Finders are generally employees on a senior level. They are responsible for the sourcing of new business via prospecting the design and scoping of a project, and they will engage with clients on a high-end level. Minders are the employees who manage the client projects on an ongoing basis, and any team members working on the projects. Grinders will generally perform any analytical tasks that are required in the background to ensure the smooth running of internal operations.
Generally speaking, this 3-tiered structure is the ‘ideal’ working practice for the majority of small companies. However, depending on the project scope, staff on all levels may participate in analytical processes, and junior staff may also take on higher-end tasks as and when required. This mix of talent within an organization is often described as the companies ‘leverage’ structure.
It is vital to get the leverage structure in a company right, as it can be the key to running a successful firm, and it has a large impact on financial strategies. And why exactly is this? To elaborate, if a company takes on a new consultancy project that requires more minders and grinders (mid to junior level staff), and less finders (senior/managerial level staff), and they find that sufficient employee resources are not available, senior level staff could end up performing the low-value tasks. This can result in senior staff dedicating their time to low-fee paying projects, rather than seeking out new prospects and engaging with high profile clients. Over time, this can have a detrimental financial impact on a company, as key skills are not being utilized, and a consultancy firm will inevitably start to lose money.
Then, there is the opposite scenario. If a company takes on a consultancy project that requires a higher percentage of finders (senior/managerial level staff) than grinders (mid to junior level staff), they could experience a shortage of qualified staff. This can lead to an inability to perform important project tasks, and consequently, the quality of the work produced by a consultancy firm can suffer.
Clearly, getting the correct mix of staff is essential for any small firm, and this can be a difficult task if financial resources are limited. Training can play a key part, but ultimately, HR may bear the weight of this responsibility during the hiring stage. However, matching the skills of employees to the skills required by a new project is vitally important. Many smaller firms make the mistake of taking on projects that they simply do not have the resources to complete on time, this will reduce trust and loyalty in the company and can impact future work prospects.
Creating a charging structure
In recent years, many small firms are starting to charge clients by the hour, rather than by the project/job. There are many reasons for this, but certainly, in an unsettled financial climate, emphasis is now placed on maintaining a constant stream of incoming cash flow. The hourly rate that a consultancy company can charge depends on several key factors, including:
- Experience – The hourly rate should equal the experience level of the company, and the combined skills of its employees. As with any sector, the development of solid working experience can take some time, perhaps years. However, personal attributes and skills can play a big part when you are marketing your company and setting a pricing structure. For instance, your company may have been in business for 5 years; however, when you combine the previous work undertaken by your staff, you may have decades of overall experience in the sector.
- Size/Location – It can take several years for a small firm to build in size; however, generally speaking, the size of the company, and in some cases the location that they work in can influence the charging structure for a company. As an example, centrally-based Midwestern companies in large towns (Chicago, Columbus, etc.) are often more in demand than remotely based consultancy firms, where new IT technologies are not as important a requirement for some companies.
- Competition – The rates currently being offered by competing firms have a large influence on an firms rates. In a very competitive market, each company is looking to gain a competitive edge, so it always pays to research the prices offered by your main competitors at any given time.
- Project – The specification of the project, and the work/employees, and time required to complete it depend on leadership. When calculating the size of a project, the project leader should consider all aspects. An estimate of possible additional hours should also be included in the price. Avoid underestimating the number of hours a job will take. Many firms discount the value of their own time, and this can be a very costly mistake.
- Economic conditions – Every firm will experience peaks and drops in demand throughout the years. In an especially difficult financial climate, it is important to factor in economic conditions and remain competitive. Also think about offering introduction incentives and discounts to gain a market advantage and attract new clients (please see the next section for more information).
When you are calculating a charging structure for your firm, you should also build into the hourly fee any money required to cover the company’s overheads and any time spent on marketing and research, administration, and billing. Many small firms forget to factor in these additional expenditures and could end up paying out of pocket in the long term.
However, many companies still prefer to set a pricing structure for their individual services and adapt these prices to suit current market conditions. When a client is looking to employ the services of a company, pricing will be a main consideration so make sure that a full list of your services is displayed on your website and on any other marketing and sales literature.
IT Consultancy In focus – 7 South Consulting
One Midwestern Company who markets their service prices very effectively and clearly is 7 South Consulting, based in Rochester, Michigan. 7 South Consulting offers a wide range of services, from web design through to the installation of software and hardware.
On their website, they provide a page dedicated to their service plans and pricing. They also offer a range of packages to cater for different client needs; for example, providing their customers with the option to choose from either a standard or premium package depending on their individual requirements. Their comparison list allows a potential client to check the features available in each package before they purchase the service. 7 South Consulting also provides a link to a printable Adobe PDF copy of their services on their home page.
Invest your time to generate money
It is a common mistake made by many small firms to work under the impression that every single hour should be a billable one. However, at times, the investment of time can generate more money in the long run. Consider offering free, introductory consultation sessions if they are applicable – give your clients the chance to ‘road test’ your services before they invest in you. This can be a somewhat controversial proposal, as many companies see little merit in ‘giving away’ their consultancy services for free. However, if you are one of the businesses just emerging onto the market, you may need to build awareness about your company and your services before you can make any hard sales.
This can also be a great financial strategy for more established firms. After all, to fully understand the needs and requirements of a client and their project timescales, you will need to meet with them several times. Most clients will be unwilling to pay for an initial consultation, and many will expect some kind of discount on future consultations in order for you to secure their business. It is perhaps best to see any such opportunities as investments for your company’s future, rather than an instant way to gain profits. They could help to secure ongoing work from the client. Do not forget to factor any free initial/introductory sessions into your hourly/daily rate.
Perhaps one of the best ways to keep your existing clients and prospects interested is to hold a free informational seminar on a monthly or quarterly basis. Also think about non-profit/association or charity groups – consider offering them free or discounted consultations. This can bring your company a lot of positive exposure and can help to bring in future clients via word of mouth and direct referrals.
Sales strategies are essential for the day-to-day running and future success of any business. It is not as simple as creating a pricing structure, then performing the necessary marketing; all businesses will need to put in place a few key sales strategies. Here are a few suggestions to use when forming sales processes for your business:
Create business aims and objectives
It is vitally important for businesses to set achievable aims and objectives. Some managers would say that it is perhaps the most crucial stage of sales, for both small companies and well-established firms. An ‘aim’ will determine where a company wants to be in the future. Clear objectives provide staff with targeted, achievable measurement techniques and can even increase trust and loyalty in a company.A mission statement will outline the vision and values that the business holds. It enables not only staff, but also customers, suppliers, and partner companies, to understand the fundamental core values of a company.
Initially, business objectives should be set to identify these ‘aims’ and establish the steps (objectives) required to achieve them. Objectives should give a business a clear, defined target allowing staff to implement the work required within any given timescales. It is often said that the most effective and productive business objectives comprise of the following criteria (widely known as SMART):
S – Specific – Objectives should be created directly in relation to your company, and the services it provides. Try not to be too general or you may not achieve the results you require. As an example, if you specialize in system upgrades, set an objective to increase the number of upgrades performed by ‘x’ amount during the next year.
M – Measurable – Effective objectives need to be easy to measure. Use clear values wherever possible e.g. ‘$100,000 increase in new consultancy sales for the third quarter of trading’.
A – Agreed – All objectives need to be discussed with and agreed by all employees involved in trying to achieve the objective. Keep communications open all the time and encourage feedback from employees.
R – Realistic – Objectives should be challenging, but also realistically achieveable using available resources. To establish the resources you have available, take some time to look at the leverage in your company (as outlined earlier in this section).
T- Time specific – Set realistic timescales for objectives to be achieved, e.g. by the end of the week/month/year. This allows staff to plan their workload effectively and can ensure projects eventual success.
The objectives that you set will entirely depend on the exact services that you sell. For a small midwestern business starting out, they could start by setting a survival objective when an established firm enters a brand new competing market. You can also focus on maximizing profits and sales growth, both of which can be easily measured. Take some time to think about the goals you really want to achieve, be creative, and monitor your company’s success closely. Over time, your aims and objectives will naturally change and will incorporate any new technologies and/or processes.
Offer introductory incentives and discounts
The consulting sector is naturally a very competitive area. Technology is constantly evolving and businesses seek help to fully utilize the technologies available to them in order to increase their sales. New consultancy firms are appearing literally every week, keen to take advantage of this clear market need. To stand out from the crowd, and ultimately win more business, you may need to consider offering prospective clients incentives and/or discounts. Certainly, a balance is required. You will need to project the quality of the services your company offers and the expertise that you can provide, while giving your customers a reason to choose you, rather than your competitors, for their consultancy needs. Incentives and discounts can be a great way to entice new customers and reward your existing clients for their loyalty.
Form solid client relationships
It is vitally important to form solid and harmonious working relationships with clients when you are selling consultancy services. This is a long-standing mantra, perhaps first implemented by business professionals in the early 90’s – “aim to build effective client relationships that last beyond the initial sale”. It is important to express your project expectations right at the beginning of the relationship – describe exactly how you intend to tackle the project, on what terms, and specify the benefits that the client will gain after its completion. By being open and honest in the first instance, you will avoid potential disputes further down the line. Keeping the client in the picture at all times is the top priority of an IT consulting company.
Clients will have very high expectations of any consultants that they hire.
It is a very specific field, and a certain level of expertise will be expected from you and your company. However, it is one thing to know that you and your company possess these skills, and another thing to ensure that your clients are aware of this. Get the balance right, and clients will believe in your company and its services, and they are likely to return with repeat business or refer potential customers to you. The saying ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ isn’t entirely true for the IT consultancy sector. Clearly, a defined set of skills and knowledge are required, but it is true that word-of-mouth really does generate a lot of new business, so remain professional, but friendly and accessible at all times when meeting with clients.
You must, however, think carefully about the clients and projects that you invest your time and energy into. There is little point concentrating all of your sales efforts on a meeting likely to generate a single small sale; you could be missing out on a year of repeat sales from another prospect.
Appearances really do count, so think carefully about this when forming your sales strategies and entering into client negotiations. Any client-facing staff will need to present a polished, professional image at all times. In addition to management and sales staff, this also applies to any other staff that is likely to meet/come into contact with clients. Especially during the initial consultation, your sales staff are the image of your business, how they are perceived by the client directly affects your company, and can even impact your ability to bring in a sale. Make sure that all sales materials, from business cards and sales literature to sample videos and slideshows are professional. The client wants to use the services of an expert, who’s knowledge can be beneficial to them, so project this image loud and clear.
As discussed in the marketing techniques section of this paper, being recognized as an expert in the consultancy field will also help you to close sales; so if possible, try to spread the word about your services before you meet a client face-to-face. This can be done in the form of marketing/sales literature, or even by including links on your emails to websites, social networking platforms, or testimonial sources. If a client believes that your company is the ‘best’, they will be willing to pay a premium rate to obtain your services because finding specific consultancy skills can be a difficult process.
However, do not make the mistake of confusing expertise with arrogance. Present yourself as leading force in IT consulting, with marketing skills based on your skills, knowledge, education, and experience; but also listen to the client and fully understand their needs and requirements.
IT Consultancy In focus – ICSS Solutions
ICSS Solutions is a Midwestern IT consultancy company who are marketing the skills and experience of their employees’ successfully. ICSS is based in Huntley, IL. They started trading in 1995, and their aim is to obtain high levels of customer satisfaction by helping their customers to utilize the power of technology. ICSS state the following on their website, “Our field technicians have several decades of combined IT consulting experiences between them, which means less time is spent determining the cause of your network troubles and more time is spent fixing them”.
They continue: “Whether you need help with expanding the amount of hardware or users within your network, establishing a disaster recovery plan, configuring a firewall or router, setting up a wireless network, or simply managing your day-to-day IT needs, our staff has the skills that it takes to keep you up and running.” Clearly, ICSS understands the Midwestern style strategy to market the skills of their employees, while also listening to the needs of their clients and forming ongoing relationships.
Listen to your clients needs;
“Opportunities are often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be listening.” – Author unknown
It is a basic requirement of any great sales person – the ability to really listen to what your client is saying, and address their concerns. It is a fact that the majority of people does prefer talking to listening; but get the balance right, and you can earn a lot of respect from your clients. Many salespeople believe that listening to their clients simply entails waiting for the person to finish talking before they begin. However, if you do not concentrate on what your client is saying, you can form a bad impression for your company, and this can ultimately lose you sales.
Clients like to feel that sales staff are paying attention to them, so take into consideration the difference between passive and active listening. When passive listening, you can demonstrate to your customer that you are interested by giving out subtle signals, such as nodding your head in agreement and making simple remarks to encourage the client to continue talking i.e. “tell me more.”. However, at times, passive listening can become habitual – you can interact without paying much attention at all.
For most sales people, active listening is the preferred sales method. When you are ‘actively’ listening, you are providing constant feedback to the client, showing that you are not just listening to them, but that you also understand what they are saying and want to offer your input and help. Perhaps the key is to ‘mirror back’ what your client has said (though clearly not word for word), use elements of their sentence, and they will feel that they are really being heard.
Keep contacts up-to-date
It is a common source of discontent – IT consultancy sales staff visiting out-of-date prospects or clients. It can waste a lot of valuable time and can be avoided with a little organization. Always make sure that your client list is updated regularly. As an IT consultancy firm, perhaps the best way to do this is to keep an online customer index. Note down existing (and previous) clients, referrals from associates and clients, networking contacts, and even cold-calling prospect clients in one central database and share access with your sales staff.
Many consultants would agree that their jobs are never ending. Once you are established as an expert in the IT consultancy field, you will remain one quite literally forever. However, this ongoing contact is essential, and every client should be followed up. You may think that a project has gone smoothly, but you still need to check the end result with the client to ensure that it meets both of your expectations.
It is amazing how many clients will not complain about a service, or specific areas for improvement at the time, but then do not use a consultancy firm again. By gaining satisfactory feedback from the client, you can move forward and scope out any potential future jobs for them. In short, you can create an ongoing need for your services.
Selling IT Services
Most IT consultants sell a wide range of services, from system installations and configurations, network design/redesigns, single system upgrades through the entire process of IT project management. Whatever your offerings are, the selling of a service differs widely from the selling of a physical product. Of course, some of the core principles are the same – the objective is to offer the client solutions to their problems, either in the form of a product or service.
However, when selling IT consultancy services, different sales approaches and techniques should be considered:
- Gain trust in your service – With a physical product, a client can evaluate its performance instantly. With a service, they will not know the true value of what they have received until the project is completed. This is where assurance is required – use testimonials and previous work examples to generate trust in your services, and be completely up front with your clients about their expectations and how you intend to meet them.
- The sales people are part of the service – With IT consultancy services, the sales person is often viewed as part of the ‘package’, so they can never be separate to the company’s product (service). A physical product will have its own unique specifications and functions, which are mostly self-contained and unique by nature. With IT consultancy services, the sales person is generally selling a package, and in turn, they become representative of that package. This is why it is so vital to get initial consultations or meetings right.
- A more tailored approach – IT services will differ widely, depending on the client and their exact project specifications. It is certainly not a ‘one solution for all’ approach, therefore each sales pitch will differ somewhat. Of course, using a tailored approach requires more work for a consultancy, but it is very important to identify an individual clients needs straight away and offer them a workable solution.
The strategies that IT consultants use to sell IT services will be dependent on many factors i.e. the exact services that offered the pricing structure and the location that they serve. However, some IT consultants find it beneficial to think of their services as a ‘product’, find a marketing platform that works and start advertising.
Many consultancy services are not physical entities – however, by visualizing them as a product, you can “productize” your service to make it more tangible and easy for your customers to buy. To do this, think about packaging your existing services into different service levels and market at such. You can combine different elements of your services into a plan and then offer that plan as part of a package.
Financials should be actively monitored and watched to avoid over or under spending. Competition is great within the United States and keeping costs low is vital to success. Having money ready during hard times will differentiate your company from your competitors, and provide your clients with extras during the difficult times, which will show that they made the right service choice.
Use the knowledge and skills of your employees and the information that you have obtained from this paper to set new objectives for the marketing and sales of your IT consultancy services. The goals that you set will naturally change over time, IT is an ever-evolving sector, and we must all change along with the new technologies to better help our clients.