Control Group is Becoming Intersection!

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Today, we announced that Control Group is merging with Titan to form a new company, called Intersection! Intersection is an urban experience company that combines expertise in technology, user experience and interactive engagement to improve life in cities around the world. This is all made possible through a strategic investment from a consortium of investors, led by Sidewalk Labs, a recently launched partnership between Dan Doctoroff and Google.

Control Group and Titan are key members of the team behind LinkNYC, the groundbreaking project in NYC that will create up to 10,000 new communication hubs that provide free public gigabit wifi and access to information, communications and municipal services. Intersection will extend the thinking and approach behind LinkNYC into an array of new solutions for cities around the globe.

As we transition into Intersection, our relationships with clients and partners will not change and Control Group’s senior leadership team will remain in place. We are also thrilled to be welcoming Dan Doctoroff, who has built his own storied career around the convergence of information, technology and government to our team as Intersection’s new Chairman.

Along with the current services that Control Group provides around strategy, design, development and support, Intersection will also provide our clients with urban experience and information products and services that create value for cities, citizens and brands to improve life in cities around the world. With this new expertise, we will also be able to provide new and exciting ways to reinvent public infrastructure, communicate with constituents and customers, and generate revenue.

 

We look forward to this exciting next adventure and building the future with you! Lots more to come…

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at hello@intersection.com. For media related inquires, please contact media@intersection.com.

Follow Intersection on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ for updates, news and opportunities!

 

Internet of (Civic) Things

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Potholes are tweeting at us to report problems on the street. Trash cans are alerting waste collectors when bins are full. Slowly but surely, more devices are coming to our aid to keep our cities running efficiently. Although, getting in touch with your local government isn’t always as seamless as picking up the phone to dial 311.

What about the problems you’re not willing to be put on hold for? Companies like Google are already taking initiatives to invest in tech that will solve the everyday problems of urban living. Until then, here’s a list of some of the IoT devices that make our civic duties that much easier:

BigBelly

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The Belly does much more than just alert when a trash can is full; it tracks individual bins’ overall consumption to assess its recycling footprint to cut collection costs by 80%. Widely used throughout the city of Boston, Belly has expanded its locations to every state in the U.S. bringing 30,000 bins to the streets.

 

HeatSeek

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For anyone on the east coast who experienced Snowmageddon this year, you understand that heat is not meant to be rationed. So says the company HeatSeek, which produces in-home sensors that compare the temperature in your home to outside, sending an automatic report to 311 if in breach of heating codes.

 

The Tweeting Hole

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Tired of the disruptions potholes bring to drivers on the road, an ad agency and local news affiliate in Panama City partnered to make a creative solution about a rampant problem. By placing sensors in existing potholes, anytime a driver hits one, a tweet is sent. The more tweets, the more recognition and hopefully, considered action from local government.

 

Birdi

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Gone are the days of beeping smoke alarms, now there are smart detectors like Birdi that alert you via text about dangerous fumes, fires, and disasters in your area. It’s been proven so effective in measuring air quality, that San Francisco’s Department of Public Safety adopted them as their Entrepreneurship in Residence in 2014.

 

Iotera

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Designed as a thoughtful solution to “Lost & Found”, Iotera devices are the smallest GPS trackers in the world. You can attach these rechargeable sensors to valuable belongings like laptops, bicycles, or even living things like your pet or child. The sensors track their locations in real-time and send you updates if they reach an ‘out of bounds’ event, satisfying the paranoia of concerned parents everywhere.

 

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You guessed it, this involves toilets. Turns out unprocessed sewage overflows into NYC’s waterways as often as once a week. Hopefully, that’s a gross enough statistic to get you interested in dontflushme, a system of sensors embedded in New York’s Combined System Overflows (CSOs). Anytime there’s an overflow event, the system will alert local residents to stop (ahem) “flushing” to prevent polluting the water system.

 

Echelon

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Perhaps the most widely implemented system on this list, Echelon Technology curates a variety of IoT platforms. Their smart lighting system alone cuts energy use by 30% with outdoor sensors that detect the time of day and traffic on the streets to utilize the appropriate amount of light. Echelon is also behind a major transportation platform for freight trains, automating brakes and ensuring safe speeds for operation.

 

Placemeter

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While highly condensed areas in the streets of New York maybe be bothersome to us elbowing through the crowds, Placemeter documents that same pedestrian traffic to track people’s behavior and observe how they navigate. While still in beta mode, this information could serve multiple use cases from a city planning perspective, including active communities, thriving businesses, and safer streets.

More than just sensors, these IoT devices have the capability of using our city’s big data for good. While there’s an app for nearly any civic duty you need, it’s crucial that our cities keep investing in civic technology in order to learn from our behaviors and foster sustainability for the future.

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This week, Control Group partner, Colin O’Donnell, will be speaking at City Innovate Summit, held by the City Innovate Foundation from the Mayor’s Office of San Francisco. This year’s theme is heavily focused on networked cities, a topic Control Group is avidly familiar with in its upcoming rollout of LinkNYC. To follow Control Group and the #CiS2015 Summit, check out our Twitter and Instagram for live updates.

Under Armour and Vertical Integration

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Much like the PC vs. Mac battle of yesteryear, Nike has been the gorgeous (more expensive) “Mac” brand with its deep catalog of fashion forward sportswear designs while upstart Under Armour gets the job done at a lower cost at the expense of design elegance.

Under Armour falls under an area in the sportswear market that’s not quite design savvy but heavily technically savvy, which might explain why they’re looking to set down deeper roots into the sensor-based quantitative realm. If they plan on playing the outsider/usurper card, they have to deviate from Nike in a deliberate manner. With their purchase of health tracking app, MyFitnessPal, Under Armour is essentially buying a network ecosystem to compete with the wide influence of Nike Plus applications. For Under Armour, this is a progressive step forward to establish a platform for user tracking that goes far beyond the app itself. MyFitnessPal has a built-in community with engagement already ingrained in their technology. Under Armour sees the long term value of a community of life-hackers and self-quantifiers whose interests align with their products and motivations that are intrinsic to the future of the brand.

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Their acquisition with Endomondo, another fitness tracker, is more focused on technology and leveraging advanced capabilities to develop and grow a community. Something about the functionality and conceptual approach of the app is what made Under Armour interested in the purchase. This application will likely fall under the umbrella of MyFitnessPal for a larger UA digital ecosystem as a community builder in the following ways:

– Investment in similar digital/technology is a perfect fit in the athletic attire space; involvement in customer’s digital life is logical when clothing that has an intended usage and outcome. This crossover concept doesn’t extend to typical clothing retailers (i.e. J. Crew). There is no end-goal to wearing J.Crew. Product must have function to apply Halo-effect of digital ecosystem.

– Significant difference in UA’s approach is how they are actually investing research and capital into creating this network. This is no longer a manifestation of advertising or marketing messages, but now critical for a brand to fully envelope itself in a culture and community.

– Very similar to late 1990’s-early 2000s, when brands looked to duplicate competitor’s website functionality, before mobile became a possibility. Websites weren’t quite ready for that 360 degree involvement in people’s life. In-store mobile tech is currently the most opportunistic channel for brands to leverage (with digital interactions expected to influence 64 cents of every dollar spent in retail stores by the end of 2015). But there is another wave approaching as society becomes more comfortable with wearable technology. Mobile still comes with distractions that will be eliminated with the advancements of wearables, a market that’s expected to nearly triple by 2018

– Under Armour is simply taking a page out of the Nike Plus book. Nike has scaled down its hardware innovations and is now really just a software platform that can run on any hardware ecosystem. With the advancements of IoT, they’ve been able to expand their hardware capabilities without having to develop anything.

– In terms of wearable technology, strategy is far more wait and see what can emerge and then plan to acquire it. There are too many potential failures that can develop. Brands seem to be monitoring the landscape for emerging trends for areas where they can carve out a niche, rather than trying to innovate on their own. Close tracking of early adopters and influencers is also being reflected in the venture capital world.

With Under Armour implementing fitness tracking applications, their branding strategy has emerged into the competitive landscape of creating community following. And while brand competition won’t go away overnight, new technologies are being developed every day to change the customer retail experience.

Fueling Financial Innovation at Verge NYC

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Last month, Control Group had the honor of hosting the Verge NYC Conference. Verge NYC is a design conference founded with the goal of sparking discussion and critical thought around embracing uncertainty to “push the limits of where design can take us”. Unlike most conferences that center around high-profile speakers, Verge puts the main focus on its participants. This year, the conference had individual “conversations” or workshops led by a facilitator from one of the various design firms, and consisted of a field expert, a student from the Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons and various conference attendees.

We hosted the workshop “21st Century Banking: Uncertainty in Financial Services”. And we were honored to be joined by not just one, but three field experts from all aspects of the financial services industry; from behavioral economics (Ideas 42), to low-income solutions (Grameen Foundation, D2D Fund). Our focus was to design financial services for low-income consumers.

At Control Group, we believe in the power of prototyping, and that power extends to not just into products but experiences as well. In order to better steep ourselves in the challenges and experience of low-income Americans, we gave Verge participants the experience of SNAP recipients, at least for an hour.

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When the conference commenced at 1pm, we handed out $2 to each participant explaining that was their lunch money for the day. Leaving their wallets behind, they had to use their allowance to fend for themselves in the Financial District. Interestingly, every single person pooled their money to make a meal. We reunited back in the office with our hard earned (but paltry) lunches. For a brief moment, we were able to immerse in the SNAP experience and understand at least a fraction of the challenge SNAP recipients face when eating on just $4.15 per day. We simultaneously realized that our daily habits and considerations were far from the people we often design for, low-income consumers.

The tremendous value brought by having three experts involved in our conversation might not be what you would initially expect. Yes, three experts equal three times as much knowledge in the room. However, their value proved much more nuanced. Each expert brought expertise from different geographic regions both domestically and internationally. We learned about how challenges had more overlap across regions than we anticipated (it turns out that the willingness for poor folks to take financial risk is no easier in Kentucky than it is in Kampala).

In real time, we were able to apply a framework by D2D originally developed for low-income Americans called the “financial stability pathway,” and adapt it into a scenario with low-income Kenyan farmers. Instead of seeing huge difference across geographic populations, differences were more evident when looking at the available financial product offerings in different countries.

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We ended the conference with three distinct maps that charted a potential pathway to financial stability for three different Kenyan farmer personas. We were lucky enough to use the amazing ethnographic research of the Grameen Foundation to deeply understand the lives, aspirations, expenditures and cash flows of Kenyan farmers. We considered the unique tools and networks available to our personas, and combined financial products from across the globe to create a customized end result.

Workshops are at their most successful when a diversity of opinions, backgrounds and reference points all stew in the same space. This is something we intrinsically know at Control Group; we are a collection of interdisciplinary polymaths with designers, developers, sales and marketers all mixing. It is something we strive to do with our clients and partners and something we were so grateful to do with Verge NYC.

Culture Click: Technology’s Immersion into Cultural Institutions

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While some cultural institutions have been slow to embrace trends in guests behaviors and the increased competition for attention, many are using technology to better understand, attract, educate, and retain visitors. Even the Metropolitan Museum of Art is turning to digital technology to connect to and offer audiences a more engaging experience.

When Sree Sreenivasan was named the Met’s first-ever Chief Digital Officer in 2013, he made it a goal to increase the museum’s online presence through social media and build a greater platform via mobile technology. While traditionalists may consider these developments contradictory to the museum’s mission, the Met is simply embracing the logical progression in a communication battle that’s been raging for decades.

A question being raised and debated is the overall role of museums: cultural beacon vs. form of entertainment. When Sreenivasan said the museum’s biggest competition in 2015 isn’t other museums but Netflix and Candy Crush, this is just an updated view on a very old way of thinking for the museum industry. The Guggenheim Museum was criticized in the early 2000’s for claiming to be in the “entertainment business”. More recently, former critics have planned similar exhibitions to attract visitors.

It’s important to remember that museums are not public institutions but private businesses that need to remain profitable. If too elitist or exclusionary, they’ll struggle to attract a wider audience. For years, museums have been experimenting with events and exhibits that appeal to the masses and bring in new audiences. This digital wave is just an extension of this position.

The Met has taken preliminary steps to capture people’s attention through their YouTubeInstagram and Twitter channels. Once that connection’s been established, people may dive deeper into that discovery to experience the long-term cultural and educational benefits of being a part of that community. More importantly, these channels are where younger generations are getting their information, where they’re interacting, and where they spending the majority of their time. If a museum is not connecting with this generation in this manner, it may prove difficult to reach them at all.

Let’s assume that some of the attraction methods listed above help to attract a new type of guests. Now what? Well, the same digital technologies that connected the museum to the guest also provide a great medium to engage with people. Regardless of the decade we’re in, it’s a museum’s primary duty to present collection works, tell its story in a unique way, and use art to express a relevant correlation into today’s society. Our increasingly connected world has a current dependence on screens, so museums must adapt in order to stay true to their mission.

On a positive note, as Professor Andreas Huyseen points out in Whose Muse?: Art Museums and the Public Trust, “Museums are one of the few places left in our hyper-mediated world that still offer authentic experiences based on real objects”.

Where the museum experience has historically been a one-way conversation (curators telling visitors what’s important and why), embracing new technology creates a more impactful experience for guests. This is a trend that I expect to see grow across the industry landscape. Similarly, our work with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute takes a relatively dense topic of political processes and legislation procedures to engage younger visitors with a totally interactive exhibit, including gaming elements, fun role assignments and challenges.

There is a critical balance between two-way human interactions and technical solutions that traditionalists have often resisted in the museum space. The Met’s embrace of new technologies and social platforms is a great step in widening the museum’s reach and helps continue the story of its collection to new audiences who use new channels. Others should follow suit.