Future of Work: Internal & External Collaboration

office-5Control Group is helping organizations create more innovative workspaces and tools that foster more productive (and happy) workforces. A major consideration in all of our work in this area is collaboration. Here is a brief Q+A with Lisa O’Neil, Associate Partner of Consulting, on the impact of technology on collaboration, based on her discussion with Inc. Magazine.

How has technology changed the nature of collaboration over the last decade?

10 years ago there was no Cloud, no iPhone, no social media. Ubiquitous and immediate access to every corner of the Internet has changed mass culture as well as business culture. Immediacy and constant contact is normal, people feel entitled to it, and technology has both driven and been driven by this expanding entitlement. Email, Skype and its ilk, CRM platforms, social media, corporate content management systems – all of these are tools that facilitate communication and data exchange instantly, anywhere.

What kinds of opportunities does collaboration create for businesses?

Both businesses and non-profit organizations (NPOs) can realize dramatic increases in efficiencies from improved internal collaboration. For businesses this can translate into increased speed to market, improved management processes, and lowered product development and marketing costs. For NPOs improved efficiencies can result in streamlined, more focused and successful development efforts, and the freeing of resources to focus on fundraising and constituent issues.

How have employee attitudes towards collaboration changed?

Attitudes have definitely changed – the effects of the consumerization of corporate IT are readily evident in the corporate product roadmaps of Dropbox, Evernote, and a host of other platforms that started out focused on consumer apps. Companies heavily use social media as integrated aspects of their marketing efforts. Most people carry their work email, content, and productivity tools around on a smartphone and check in as often as with their personal content and notifications. The work life and the personal life are extremely blended.

The benefits to employees include faster communication cycles, improved workflows, higher productivity, and increased visibility into what other teams and departments are working on. The ability to parcel out and parallelize a team’s work can reduce resource requirements and shorten timelines. These same assets can also be perceived by employees as liabilities. Faster communication is often accompanied by higher turnaround expectations and employee stress. However, inter-departmental coordination and visibility can be threatening in an environment that has embraced collaboration technologically but not culturally.

What are the most important internal collaboration issues affecting managers?

Collaboration technology is not a panacea for solving communication or process problems, and technology by itself does not change behavior. Improving organizational collaboration requires leadership, strategic design, and change management methodology to be successful. Organizations that recognize these fundamentals and address the surrounding cultural challenges as part of a collaboration technology implementation or evolution are successful.

Why should external collaboration be considered in today’s business environment?

Successful companies understand that internal collaboration – a ready exchange of relevant content and data as employees go about their jobs – is vital for efficiency and development of competitive advantages. They also appreciate that collaboration with non-staff stakeholders (e.g., suppliers, customers, shareholders) is equally critical to servicing customers, fostering innovation, and maximizing those competitive advantages.

How has technology changed the nature of external collaboration between organizations and their outside partners?

Social media has of course been huge and an advancement of the digital access trends started with the web and email marketing. Many companies have embraced ticketing systems to facilitate, analyze, and improve customer service. Geo-tracking, sensors, and other spatially aware technology add value to users and relevancy to the exchange of data between them and the organization. Enterprise content management platforms allow companies to manage documents and other work product artifacts and control how content is accessed by people outside of the organization. The “voice” of the organization can be reinforced (or fragmented) through its external exchange of content and data with a wide range of collaboration technology.

What kinds of opportunities does it create for businesses?

The instantaneousness of collaboration technology means that organizations can respond to issues affecting their constituents immediately and capitalize on “hot button” issues while they are actually hot, within minutes instead of days or weeks. For businesses this similarly facilitates quicker, more relevant information that moves more products or services to the right customers in the right locations more profitably.

What are the most important external collaboration issues affecting businesses?

Security policies and practices are of course extremely important, and need understanding and collaboration between the business and IT. More importantly, a high-level alignment of corporate IT with the business strategy is crucial and can be a huge opportunity for forward-thinking technology leaders and staff.  It can also be an extremely difficult proposition for the future-adverse or business-side stakeholders who are uncomfortable with technology.

What lies ahead? 

The trend will surely continue – there will be more corporate “stuff” to be managed, tagged, categorized, commented on, approved, distributed, clicked on, analyzed, repackaged, and archived. There will be more data to be crunched on who and how all of this stuff is being used and how much value its various containers and conveyances add to the bottom line. Corporate IT will continue its shift to a role of business partner rather than technology police, and will be increasingly scrutinized for its business value within the context of whatever it is that the business does to make money.

CG at SXSW: Creative Coding

If you want to build and/or interact with digital experiences in the physical world that amaze and delight, then you want to check out this panel at SXSW this Saturday, March 8 at 3:30PM in Ballroom BC.

Creative Coding: Art + Design with Cinder


Animated words and pictures behind touch-sensitive glass is no longer enough to amaze digital natives. Now more than ever, digital installations and other interactive experiences require inspired technological creativity in concert with conceptual creativity.

Creative coders now have greater access to brilliant new input devices such as Microsoft Kinect, the Oculus Rift, the Leap Motion controller, and the NeuroSky Mindwave brain wave reader, that can elevate good ideas into magical interactive experiences.

Through a presentation and live-coding demonstration using Cannes Lions winning software, ‘Cinder’, Control Group CTO Toby Boudreaux, along with Cinder co-creator Keith Butters and noted artist Chandler McWilliams, will demonstrate how to begin developing for these devices and discuss how to better incorporate technology into the creative process.


MTA: Moving Your (Digital) Way

This week subway riders through Grand Central Station experienced something new – an electronic subway map designed and developed by Control Group in partnership with the MTA. With the touch of the screen, tourists, students and everyday commuters are accessing directions, viewing real-time diversion notices and seeing when the next train is scheduled to arrive.

For the MTA, this represents a big first step forward in embracing the digital age, providing a better experience for the increasingly tech-savvy riding public and generating new and innovative ad revenue for the notoriously cash-strapped agency.  For riders whose expectations and demand for better and more digitally advanced services is ever-growing, the new maps are a big hit:

MTA Twitter 1

MTA Twitter 2

MTA Twitter 3

MTA Twitter 4

Next stop? Mobile applications that deliver much of the same content to user devices and unified messaging, signage and iconography to smooth commutes throughout the system. New Yorkers are a busy lot, and most of the time we just want our trains to arrive on time and frequently, but as the 110-year old subway system continues to modernize, it’s a great sign the MTA is leveraging technology to make getting around that much easier.

Infrastructure is sexy too

skyscraper-structure-concrete-steelWe’ve been fortunate enough over the last year to receive public recognition for some of the work we’ve done with our visionary clients– like the iPads in OTG Management‘s Delta terminals, in-store touch points for Kate Spade Saturday, digital wayfinding kiosks for the New York City MTA, virtual balconies for Royal Caribbean, and most recently, collaboration spaces for Brookfield Asset ManagementWhile the futuristic concepts and interfaces have been the main feature in each of these media stories, what really makes these projects so special doesn’t appear in any of the images and is rarely mentioned in text.  

The real magic in technology is when we don’t even notice it.

Thanks to great advances in consumer technologies over the last fews years, we’ve all developed high expectations. We want our hardware to be slick and our interfaces intuitive. But we also want our products to work every single time no matter where we are. Even if the content is gorgeous and UI is fun to use, if the experience is unreliable or unstable, all of that sexy stuff doesn’t matter.  

Behind all of the product and spatial work that Control Group does, the “secret sauce” is our deep enterprise technology expertise. It’s in our roots… our namesake – Control – is reflective of this. We have a long, dynamic history of building and maintaining stable and scalable infrastructure. As the tools have changed and our capabilities have expanded over the years, our approach has remained the same: We consider network, systems, and support right alongside business needs, software, hardware, and user experience design in each and every project.

So while systems integration and network architecture may not grab headlines or make for good imagery, it’s what keeps the user experiences we create consistent and reliable. It’s also what enables our clients to scale and get the most from their investments. So I guess with all of its strength and importance, infrastructure is pretty damn sexy too (the sexy, silent type).




Control Group helps Royal Caribbean create ‘Virtual Balconies’

virtual balcony


This week, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) re-launched their completely refurbished Navigator of the Seas cruise ship with industry-first innovations. As part of this initiative, RCCL partnered with Control Group to create “Virtual Balconies”, which bring the sites, sounds, and ambiance of the seas into internal staterooms– and increases the number of high-value rooms on the ship. Eighty-one interior staterooms have been furnished with 80-inch HD screens that display a live feed of the sites and sounds above deck. But it’s more than just slapping a big-screen TV on the wall…

Wired Magazine reports:

“The Virtual Balcony seems like a really simple concept,” says Charlie Miller, an associate partner at Control Group, the company behind the tech. “Our biggest challenges were all around making the experience as human and authentic as possible.”

To achieve that authenticity, the company mounted two RED Epic video cameras at the stem and stern of the ship. The gear has to be marine compliant and weathertight to deal with the sun, heat, salt, and water that comes with being at sea. Fiber-optic cable carries the video to a server, then to a set-top box that decodes and processes the video before it’s displayed on the screen. But the real trick is nixing any latency between the camera and the display.

“At the outset we had to answer questions around how people would react to an immersive display in a small place with no sunlight,” Miller told WIRED. “We consulted two scientists from MIT and Harvard to advise us … so that we could design in mechanisms to avoid any unpleasant side effects.”

To negate those ill affects, the displays are mounted in the staterooms on either the north or south wall. So, if a passenger is looking at the screen on a forward-facing wall, they’ll see the view from the bow of the ship.”

For more information on how we bridged the gap between the digital and physical at sea, send Max an email at moglesbee@controlgroup.com.