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Posted by on in Technology

Johnson & Johnson and Verily Life Sciences LLC, formerly known as Google Life Sciences, have formed a new company to develop the next generation of robotic-assisted tools for surgeons.

The venture, which will be called Verb Surgical Inc., is the latest partnership between the California tech giant and the health-care industry, after earlier collaborations with Biogen Inc., Novartis AG and Sanofi.

“The team has already made meaningful progress on the robotics platform, which is being developed for application across a host of surgical specialties,” Gary Pruden, worldwide chairman of J&J’s medical devices group, said Thursday in a statement.

Robot-assisted surgeries have been growing in popularity, and Verb will compete against companies like Intuitive Surgical Inc., whose device is used for a range of procedures including colorectal surgery and hernia repair. Intuitive’s machine has a physician at the controls and takes advantage of the robot’s slender arms to make smaller incisions that help patients heal more quickly.

Robot System

Verb’s surgical platform will include robotic capabilities as well as medical device technology, developing the features in collaboration with surgeons and hospitals. When J&J and Verily first joined forces in March, they said they would be exploring ways to add advanced imaging and sensors to surgical tools to help doctors during operations. The partnership was designed to advance a prototype that J&J, the world’s largest maker of health-care products, developed as the core of a new robotic surgical system.

Yet such procedures aren’t without risks. A 2013 complaint by the Colorado Medical Board alleged that patients suffered injuries or complications from robotic surgeries, including punctured or torn arteries.

Scott Huennekens will be chief executive officer of Verb, which will be based in Mountain View, California. From April 2002 to February 2015 Huennekens was CEO of Volcano Corp., which specialized in intravascular imaging. Verb’s board will include members from Johnson & Johnson surgical devices unit Ethicon, Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC, Verily and Google.

J&J and Verily didn’t release any financial terms for the new entity.

Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-10/j-j-verily-life-sciences-create-new-robotic-surgery-company

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Posted by on in Jobs

Raytheon, the Waltham-based defense contractor and technology firm, has invested $3.5 billion in cybersecurity initiatives over the past decade. It's a number that's expected to grow — rapidly — in the years ahead.


Technology to combat and thwart cyber attacks is quickly becoming one of Raytheon's (NYSE: RTN) biggest priorities, said Michael Daly, chief technology officer of the company's cybersecurity and special missions division.


The $3.5 billion has been spent in security-related research and development projects and 17 security-related acquisitions, which is a testament to the fact that security is becoming a priority for Raytheon's customers. It's also a testament to the proliferation of connected devices, commonly referred to as the "Internet of Things" in the tech world.


"(The investment) is an acknowledgement about how the world is changing to connect more and more devices," Daly said in an interview. "When you connect all of these sensors together, there's a risk."


To help combat security threats in the Internet of Things arena, Raytheon made a particularly high-profile acquisition earlier this year, of Austin-based computer security software firm Websense.


The deal with Websense, of which Raytheon now owns 80 percent, will boost the availability of its cybersecurity technology offering in the commercial market.


Raytheon is continuing to develop new ways to identify and stop cyber attacks, including researching how data can help bolster cybersecurity technology.


"A lot of our research is going toward trying to integrate additional data sources to augment cyber so we can help get better context about why cyber attacks are happening, and maybe predict what cyber attacks might be coming down the road," he said.


Daly said Raytheon isn't done acquiring companies in cybersecurity, and the company is "actively" looking for new technologies.


Because of Raytheon's big push on cybersecurity, the company now has "hundreds" of job openings in the security division across the globe, but it's having a hard time filling those positions, specifically in the U.S., Daly said.


"We've had such a big push in trying to teach younger people to get them excited about cyber," he said.


To that end, the company offers various science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.


"It's been improving a bit, and we've made some progress in getting folks excited, but there's more work to do in that space," Daly said.


Source: http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/techflash/2015/09/raytheon-bets-big-on-cybersecurity-as-it-seeks-to.html

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Posted by on in Technology

Verizon Communications continues to integrate software solutions into its platform, announcing the launch of a software-defined WAN service using Cisco Systems’ Intelligent WAN technology and targeting enterprise customers.


Verizon said the platform supports a better user experience by integrated application optimization designed for faster application performance; enabling secure and certified routing platforms; the use of intelligent path control to fully utilize MPLS and the Internet to lower operational costs; and can provision new sites and services faster with a “hybrid WAN to support key business initiatives.”


“Our focus is to help enterprises improve the performance and security of their networks by using the most effective means of connecting mobile users to cloud applications,” explained Shawn Hakl, VP of enterprise networking and innovation at Verizon, in a statement. “More than ever, today’s networks require rigorous oversight and expert management to meet the constant demands of the digital age.”


RCR Wireless News earlier this year spoke with Hakl as part of our weekly “NFV/SDN Reality Check” show about the carrier’s growing network functions virtualization and software-defined networking moves.


Verizon and Cisco said they plan to market and sell the managed solution to their respective domestic enterprise customer bases beginning this month, with plans to expand availability to Europe, the Middle East and Africa by the end of the year.


Verizon earlier this year announced SDN plans with five vendors: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Juniper Networks and Nokia Networks. As part of the announcement, Verizon said it has been working on the move toward virtualized platforms over the past several years, including the creation of live lab environments in San Jose, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; and Waltham, Mass., and claims to have commercial data center environments on both coasts.


A recent report from IHS found 82% of service providers have either deployed SDN, are in the process of deploying SDN or plan to evaluate SDN deployments this year. IHS said the survey included carriers garnering 49% of the world’s telecom capital expenses and 46% of telecom revenue.


IHS found the top reason for SDN investments is carriers looking to simplify and automate service provisioning, “which they believe will lead to service agility” and a quicker return on investment. IHS added that other top “domains for deployment” include cloud services offered to customers within and between data centers and access for businesses.


Source: http://www.rcrwireless.com/20150911/software-defined-networking-sdn/verizon-partners-with-cisco-on-sdn-platform-tag2

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Posted by on in Official News

IBM's acquisition streak continues with the buyout of StrongLoop, which boosts Big Blue's Node.js portfolio of services and support.

StrongLoop, a small company, with only 30 employees and about $8 million in venture funding, became IBM's latest subsidiary Thursday, after being bought out for an undisclosed sum.


At first glance, this seems like small potatoes. However, StrongLoop specializes in providing services and support for Node.js, a technology that enables developers to craft APIs to suit any need in the Java universe. And this made it a good fit for IBM's broad reach into the corporate market.

Sponsor video, mouseover for sound


One question is, why sell to Big Blue?


"We thought long and hard about this," said Juan Carlos Soto, CEO of StrongLoop. The company has seen adoption of its technology at the grassroots level, but wanted to reach higher up in the corporate market to IT buyers who made corporate-wide buy decisions, he explained. "It's hard to get access to those folks."


Why did IBM buy?


"We're working in the Javascript space already," said Marie Wieck, general manager for IBM Middleware. StrongLoops' product offering complemented IBM's API economy, she explained. "The combination is 1+1=3."


Soto will be reporting to Wieck.


StrongLoop's Node.js product is now offered through IBM's Bluemix Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Strongloop offers a "robust implementation making Node.js enterprise-grade," Wieck said.


The Node.js framework allows a user to build APIs and scale them up. The technology is not new, as it has been proven by Yahoo, PayPal, and Netflix, Soto noted. What the market lacked was support and services for Node.js in an enterprise environment.


"This is what StrongLoop has been doing on a small scale for two-and-a-half years," Soto said. StrongLoop's services help the customer to define and implement an API strategy.


"Javascript makes it easy to develop nodes right away," Soto continued. Javascript also has a large ecosystem, with some 170,000 modules to use. Node.js enables non-blocking I/O, "handling many simultaneous connections in many ways," he said.


But there is also potential for greater usage in crafting solutions for mobile and the Internet of Things, Wieck pointed out.


[Read more about IBM's IoT investments.]


"Many of those are built on APIs and are now owned by the enterprise delivering the application," Wieck said. What results is an "API Economy," which IBM foresees becoming a $2.2 trillion market by 2018, Wieck added. Because a developer can "express things as APIs, new services can be built around them," Soto said.


IBM is in the middle of a massive turnaround effort, investing heavily in cloud computing and data analytics while hardware, software, and service revenues all decline.


To augment its investment in cloud and data analytics, IBM has been acquiring small companies with needed bits of technology to flesh out its product and service offerings in these new fields.


In general, IBM is looking to buy smaller companies that have complementary technology, such as StrongLoop. These companies offer IBM new routes to market or new technologies, Wieck explained. "There is no one blueprint for that." Prospects will either offer "adjacency or opportunity," she added.


William Terdoslavich is an experienced writer with a working understanding of business, information technology, airlines, politics, government, and history, having worked at Mobile Computing & Communications, Computer Reseller News, Tour and Travel News, and Computer Systems ... View Full Bio


Source: http://www.informationweek.com/cloud/platform-as-a-service/ibm-acquires-strongloop-boosting-nodejs-support/d/d-id/1322144

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Posted by on in Software

Everyone seems to think that there’s a lack of qualified security professionals, and that the reason is that there aren’t enough people entering the field with the required skills. There is a fallacy behind that thinking, though. People think that security is a stand-alone discipline, but it is actually a discipline within the computer field. Treating it otherwise is a mistake.


Most of the people who have been in the security profession for more than a decade, including me, entered the field without a cybersecurity degree. We might have certifications, but we don’t claim that those certs are the source of any expertise we may have.


My own experience is not atypical. In all of my years of working, as an employee or contractor, for the National Security Agency and other military and intelligence agencies, I never performed specifically what would be considered security work.


In fact, I didn’t even start out in the computer field at the NSA. I was an intelligence analyst who hated his job, so I applied to the computer systems intern program. In those days the NSA couldn’t find enough computer experts, and so it created a program to identify people with high aptitude for computers and trained them. Although I later became known for security expertise in the private sector, I was never given any security-specific training. Instead, I had years of on-the-job and formal training in good technical and operational practices. My later success in penetration testing was mostly built on detecting the absence of good practices, not formal training in how to hack systems or perform social engineering; I never had to used any advanced skills, given the woefully poor security I encountered. In other words, it was nothing like what happens in cybersecurity programs.


Of course, the NSA does have people whose work focuses on security, and like me, they moved into that area after learning about things like operations or networks; they didn’t start out in “security,” unless it was as at an entry level and under the tutelage of a senior person


The NSA isn’t alone in taking this approach. Other intelligence and military agencies, government contractors, the large banks and other leaders in implementing strong security programs focus on identifying people with the appropriate aptitude and related skills, then give them the formal and on-the-job training to competently fill security-related roles.


There’s a similar dynamic in every profession. We don’t hear about engineering firms bemoaning a lack of people with degrees in bridge engineering, or architectural firms complaining about a dearth of graduates with degrees in skyscraper architecture. The military doesn’t cry out that it can’t find recruits who are already trained in combat. Why, then, do so many government agencies and private-sector enterprises bemoan a lack of cybersecurity professionals? Here’s what makes me crazy about this: It does more harm than good to insist on more people coming to them with cybersecurity degrees; those degree holders are just never going to be as knowledgeable and competent as the security-focused professionals that organizations can grow themselves.


You would think that organizations would realize this, since they apparently pass over people with cybersecurity degrees all the time. I’ve spoken to dozens of people with cybersecurity degrees who can’t get hired because they don’t have the technical skills and abilities required for low-level positions. But bad as it is that cybersecurity degrees are not technical enough for entry-level security positions, they also are usually not technical enough for any entry-level positions in the computer field.


In any case, security positions are not entry-level positions, and if you treat them as such, you will have terrible security. The best security practitioners have experience in the technology and processes that they are supposed to secure. If you are not an experienced developer, you do not have the standing to tell people how to secure the code they write. If you have no experience as a system administrator, you cannot maintain the security of a system. If you have no experience as an administrator, you cannot secure a database. If you have no experience in designing a network, you cannot competently design a secure network.


Security professionals are developed over time, just as happens with experts in every profession, including all of the other disciplines within the computer profession: You are assigned a position that is consistent with your skill level, learn on the job and receive appropriate training. It is that simple. You can “create” a security professional by finding someone with the required minimum skills — usually a computer professional with several years of experience — and then having them learn the security-specific skills required through on-the-job training, mentorship and formal training. I mean, think about it: In many cases, firewalls have been installed and well maintained for years without the benefit of newly minted graduates from cybersecurity programs.


The approach that seems to prevail these days — seeking a new hire who already has the right skills and experience or hiring them away from another organization — just doesn’t work. But it is why so many people believe there is a shortage of security professionals.


I can promise you that a competent computer professional with five years of experience will be more effective than a new graduate with a cybersecurity degree. I’m not saying that training, including cybersecurity degrees and certifications, are without value, but they rarely are a match for hands-on work experience.


Instead, organizations should look internally for skilled computer professionals who, despite having no stated experience in security, can quickly adapt to security roles. Those people do exist, and their real-world experience goes a lot further than any number of certifications or degrees.


Sure, it would be great to have lots of people with the necessary security skills clamoring to fill your security positions. But unless you have a program to identify competent professionals within your organization and offer them jobs and training that will arm them with security expertise, you are creating your own cybersecurity skills shortage. Don’t moan and groan that these people do not exist when your organization is just too cheap or narrow-minded to look internally and offer training.


Forget about finding people with cybersecurity degrees. Forget about hiring hackers. Look for the people with a willingness to expand their skillset. I guarantee that you will stop complaining about a lack of talent, and your security program will benefit.


Ira Winkler is president of Secure Mentem and author of the book Spies Among Us. He can be contacted through his Web site, securementem.com.


Source: http://www.computerworld.com/article/2979858/it-skills-training/the-myth-of-the-cybersecurity-skills-shortage.html

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Posted by on in Technology

BlackBerry Ltd. agreed to buy Good Technology Corp. for $425 million, gaining new mobile device-management customers while removing one of its competitors in that business.


Good Technology, based in Sunnyvale, California, builds applications to help employees work securely from their personal phones. It counts all of the G7 governments and the world’s 10 largest banks and law firms among its 6,200 customers, BlackBerry said in a statement Friday.


The acquisition removes a rival that had taken some of BlackBerry’s clients as more workers switched from employer-provided BlackBerrys to their own iPhones and Android devices.


“Sometimes your best defense is a good offence,” said John Butler, senior handsets analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “This is good for BlackBerry in the sense that it gives them greater scale and therefore a greater ability to compete with larger rivals.”


Bigger tech companies such as SAP SE, Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. can sell tools to track mobile devices at cheaper prices by bundling them in with larger software sales, Butler said.


BlackBerry will bring together Good Technology’s secure e-mailing apps with its expertise in helping companies manage and secure thousands of connected tablets and phones, Chief Executive Officer John Chen said on a conference call.


“BlackBerry and Good combined will raise the bar in the enterprise mobility market,” he said. “We are expecting significant operating expense synergies.”

Postponed IPO


Good Technology postponed a planned initial public offering last year because of worsening market conditions, people familiar with the matter said at the time. Selling to BlackBerry makes sense for both customers and shareholders, Good Technology CEO Christy Wyatt said in a phone interview.


Earlier this month, a jury found MobileIron Inc. didn’t infringe Good Technology’s patents and that some of those patents were invalid. That could potentially have impacted the company’s valuation, said Matt Larson, a technology patents litigation analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.


“The litigation with MobileIron certainly called into question the enforceability of some of these patents and the underlying strength of some of their existing agreements,” he said.


Good Technology’s revenue from intellectual property represented only about $25 million of the $200 million yearly revenue, Chen said.


“It’s not that big of a component,” he said.


BlackBerry could be in a better position to monetize Good Technology’s patents by bundling them into its existing licensing deals, Larson said.


“When you have the added clout that BlackBerry offers they may be able to bring that licensing revenue up,” he said.


BlackBerry expects to book around $160 million revenue from Good Technology in the first year, after writing down some of the company’s deferred revenue, Chen said. That would help the CEO hit his goal of doubling yearly software revenue to $500 million by March 2016.


BlackBerry rose 0.5 percent to C$9.91 at 1:21 p.m. in Toronto. The acquisition is expected to close later this year.


Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-04/blackberry-agrees-to-buy-good-technology-for-425-million

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Posted by on in Technology

Samsung Electronics Co. will allow an increasing number of its devices to interact with those of competitors, said Rory O’Neill, the company’s vice president of marketing for Europe.


Mr. O’Neill told The Wall Street Journal Friday at trade fair IFA in Berlin that Samsung’s new smart watch is only the first in a line of products that will be compatible with devices from other companies. The Gear S2, which Samsung launched just before the trade show, can connect with all smartphones running Google Inc.’s Android operating system 4.4 and higher. Previous smart watches produced by the South Korean company required a Samsung smartphone.


“We will see more of these products in the future,” Mr. O’Neill said.


The shift marks the growing importance of the Internet of things in consumers’ lives. “We found out that the European consumer has on average 19 connected devices at home,” the Samsung executive said. Those devices range from smartphones and tablets to household appliances.


The company wants all of its devices to be able to connect to each other by 2020. And within two years, Samsung wants 90% of all Samsung devices connected to the Internet of things, Mr. O’Neill said.  “It’s really important to deliver on this big European trend,” he added.


Samsung targets “completely open standards” because customers get annoyed when one device can’t interact with another, Mr. O’ Neill said. “We have to be completely open. We also need cross-industry collaboration, between tech firms, car makers and watch makers, not just inter-industry collaboration,” he said. The smartphone will become more and more a gateway to other connected devices, a sort of remote control, Mr. O’Neill added.

Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/09/04/samsung-to-open-devices-to-rival-standards-for-internet-of-things/

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Posted by on in Software

The cloud is where the action is in enterprise storage.


Sales are way up for little-known manufacturers that sell directly to big cloud companies like Google and Facebook, while the market for traditional external storage systems is shrinking, according to research company IDC.


Internet giants and service providers typically don't use specialized storage platforms in their sprawling data centers. Instead, they buy vast amounts of capacity in the form of generic hardware that's controlled by software. As users flock to cloud-based services, that's a growing business. 


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Revenue for original design manufacturers that sell directly to hyperscale data-center operators grew by 25.8 percent to more than US$1 billion in the second quarter, according to the latest global IDC report on enterprise storage systems. Overall industry revenue rose just 2.1 percent from last year's second quarter, reaching $8.8 billion.


These so-called ODMs are low-profile vendors, many of them based in Taiwan, that do a lot of their business manufacturing hardware that's sold under better known brand names. Examples include Quanta Computer and Wistron.


General enterprises aren't buying many systems from these vendors, but the trends at work in hyperscale deployments are growing

across the industry. Increasingly, the platform of choice for storage is a standard x86 server dedicated to storing data, according to IDC analyst Eric Sheppard. Sales of server-based storage rose 10 percent in the quarter to reach $2.1 billion. 


Traditional external systems like SANs (storage area networks) are still the biggest part of the enterprise storage business, logging $5.7 billion in revenue for the quarter. But sales in this segment were down 3.9 percent. 


The smarts that used to be built into dedicated external storage systems are now moving into overarching virtualization systems that aren't tied to hardware, Sheppard said. The software, not the hardware, defines the storage architecture. Like computing power, storage can now be managed per virtual machine instead of per unit of storage, which can simplify management and reduce enterprise operating costs over the long term.


All these changes are just beginning to play out and should keep accelerating for the next five years, Sheppard said. "It's very early days."


The cloud and virtualization trends didn't reshuffle the main players in the second quarter but may have influenced some of their results. EMC remained the biggest vendor by revenue with just over 19 percent of the market, followed by Hewlett-Packard with just over 16 percent. EMC, which sells newer technologies like solid-state and software-defined storage but is also deeply invested in traditional platforms, dropped 4 percent in revenue, IDC said. 


Other hot trends in storage systems include the growth of startups selling all-flash arrays and the increasing popularity in China of homegrown vendors like Huawei Technologies, Sheppard said.


Overall demand for storage capacity continued to grow strongly, with 37 percent more capacity shipped in the quarter compared with a year earlier. 


(IDC is a sister company of IDG, which owns IDG News Service.)


Source: http://www.itworld.com/article/2981213/storage-spending-veers-toward-cloud.html

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Posted by on in Official News

“I know the people on the phone can’t see this, but …”


By the third time our meeting facilitator offered the same apology, I began to suspect we were doing something stupid, or at least ineffective. But most likely stupid.


I’d been through this before, of course, on both ends of a telecom. We all have. Dialing in remotely to a meeting where wall charts and whiteboards are used but not broadcast can be an exquisitely frustrating experience. The people in the main room can see what’s going on. They can post sticky notes on the wall and move them around. But the remote “participants” — and I use that word loosely — can only listen and imagine. Except for when the audio is bad or the speaker turns away from the microphone, in which case they can do less than that.


There are plenty of tools and technologies designed to improve interactions among geographically dispersed teams, and some of them are quite good. But there are also barriers to using each one.


Sometimes the barrier is money. Even a token fee might be more than a team cam pay, either because they lack funding outright or because their bureaucracy does not provide them with an easy and timely mechanism to authorize the small payment. There are simply too many steps, too many approvals required to justify the small expenditure. Interestingly, there are usually no approvals necessary if we want expensive employees to spin their wheels in unproductive meetings.


In other situations, particularly for government and military projects, the issue is security. The discussion itself may be entirely unclassified but local network restrictions still prevent users from installing unapproved software or logging in to certain sites. The process for gaining approval to use these tools can be difficult to uncover and even harder to follow. Even if a dedicated and persistent team leader jumps through all the necessary hoops to secure permission for using a collaboration service at one location, someone else will have to do the same thing for any other locations that want to join in. So we end up using a party line circa 1960 and repeatedly apologizing to the people on the other side for our inability to communicate.


Surely there’s a better way. I confess I did not think of this specific solution in time to use it in the aforementioned workshop, but afterwards, it occurred to me that we might mitigate this particular headache using a simple strip of cloth.


Here’s my plan: The next time I find myself in a telecom where the main group in one location is trying to collaborate with a handful of invisible partners on the other end of a telephone wire, I’m going to put a blindfold on someone in the main location. For optimal results, we’ll pass the blindfold around the room until everyone has had the opportunity to spend five or ten minutes in darkness. I do mean everyone — even the boss, even the scribe, even the facilitator. Absolutely everyone. Even me.


The point of this little exercise is to foster empathy for our distant partners who can’t see what’s going on. When we have a first-hand experience with not being able to see, when our ability to understand and contribute to the conversation is restricted, we will be more likely to take positive action to include the whole group — including the people who aren’t physically in the room. Also, the sight of someone sitting at a table wearing a blindfold will serve as an unavoidable reminder that the visuals are not equally available. The best part is once we put the blindfold on, we’ll discover that “the people on the phone” includes me. That changes everything.


Perhaps the idea of deliberately blindfolding people will be intolerable to some. Perhaps they feel it would be too disruptive, would slow down the discussion and would reduce people’s effectiveness. If that is the case, one might ask why we put up with ineffective telecons in the first place.


Of course, our friends and colleague who are visually impaired already know what this is like, and businesses are supposed to make reasonable accommodations. Being blind and being on a phone are two vastly different situations, to be sure, but I think the same principle applies and can shape our approach.


The bottom line is that teams work best when we are all engaged, when everyone makes an effort to ensure everyone else can contribute. Teams work best when nobody is left out and all involved have empathy for each other. Teams work best when we understand each other’s limitations and strengths alike. And sometimes the shortest path to fostering such empathy is a simple strip of cloth.


Dan Ward is the author of “F.I.R.E.: How Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained and Elegant Methods Ignite Innovation” (HarperBusiness, 2014) and“The Simplicity Cycle: A Field Guide To Making Things Better Without Making Them Worse” (HarperBusiness, 2015). Prior to launching Dan Ward Consulting, he served for more than 20 years as an acquisition officer in the US. .Air Force, where he specialized in leading high-speed, low-cost technology development programs and retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel. For more information, visit his website and follow him on Facebook andTwitter.


If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader.


Source: http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2015/08/28/productivity-tip-make-your-phone-meetings-more-effective/

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Posted by on in Software

Venture capitalists sit on large piles of money, and they're fond of spreading it far and wide. So the companies that get funded pretty much cover the gamut, from drone and gadget makers to robots, selfie sticks and one more social network (why not?).


But here's what doesn't generally get Silicon Valley's blessing: businesses in the business of religion.


So a $2 million investment in ChurchDesk last week stood out -- maybe even a lot.


Unlike a lot of startups, ChurchDesk's name actually has something to do with what it does. Christian Steffensen began building the firm in 2010 after watching his pastor-mother struggle with the day-to-day realities of running her congregation. In many ways, Steffensen's company is like a Salesforce.com for churches, providing Internet-based software to help pastors pay their bills, track expenses, communicate with parishioners and organize volunteers all via a mobile app, if they want it. Today, more than 1,000 churches in Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom use ChurchDesk.


The new cash, which is a drop in a bucket compared with the tens of millions of dollars other startups often raise, will help ChurchDesk expand its presence throughout Europe. The investment was headed by Luxembourg-based Mangrove Capital Partners, an early investor in Internet phone giant Skype.


So far this year, venture capitalists have spent $5 million on startups in the business of religion, according to venture research firm PitchBook. That amounts to double the amount invested in all of last year, but no one's calling it a trend... yet.


Venture capitalists aren't showering money on a Facebook-for-Mormons or a Reddit-for-Rabbis or even another church-management service like ChurchDesk. But despite the lack of any financial backing from Silicon Valley, technology continues to push further into religious life.


Today, there are dozens of startups focused exclusively on the demands of religious institutions. And much like businesses, churches have reached out to tech to innovate, says Lauren Hunter, who runs Church Tech Today. For churches, that means filling the pews and those pesky donation baskets.


Hunter says an ongoing question among pastors is whether texting parishioners Saturday night will increase attendance Sunday morning. And in a blog post last month, for example, Hunter looked at how one small church in California is using text messaging. In another post, she writes about the mistakes churches make when using social media.


Religious groups usually communicate with their members through daily or weekly bulletins filled with community info, Bible verses and any other news pastors want to share with their flocks. So, naturally, there's a startup trying to digitize -- and commercialize -- the business of the church bulletin as well.


"Boring church bulletin?" asks a recent web ad by Service Sheets whose software allows pastors to create Web bulletins and send them to congregants via text message.


In a bizarre business proposition, a facial-recognition startup called Churchix.com even promises to give pastors the ability to identify people sitting in the pews, whether they want to be or not.


There's also ChurchOS, which is one of a growing number of companies specializing in making websites for churches.


To expand their reach, pastors have embraced live-streaming, according to Hunter. A church in Sacramento with less than a 1,000 members can pay ChurchStreaming.tv $199 a month and tell congregants in Toledo to watch the sermon from their smarphones.


A more common technology that's increasingly making its way into church is the mobile payment app. Yes, tithing can now be done via iPhone or Android.


Dean Sweetman was a long-time pastor in Atlanta who moved out to Los Angeles last year to launch Tithe.ly. His app allows congregants to donate via their smartphones from their pews or from their beds at home on a Sunday. It charges $0.30 and 2.9% of each donation.


Sweetman says the idea for his company came from his own time as a pastor trying to make sure the bills got paid.


"Most church revenue comes in on a Sunday. You have one shot," he said. "You're lucky if a church member comes twice a month. And if they're not there, they're probably not contributing."


Notably, for a church that's using his app, it doesn't matter where its parishioners are on Sundays. Their donations go the same place: the church.


Obviously, Christians aren't the only believers with software.


For Jews looking for a quick way to pray, they can download Synagogue app for Android. Its description says "no matter what country you are in, open the Synagogue application, place yourself on the map or enter the address of your choice and find the nearest synagogue."


Muslims need to pray five times a day and face Mecca when they do. My Mosque helps them do it right, by pointing them in the right direction.

Not everyone's singing Kumbaya


The names of companies in the space (many begin with "Church", for example) underscore the fact that tech designed for churches is really for churches.


"Many have statements of faith and will not work with Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Christian Science, Islam, Hindu, etcetera or other churches," said Church Tech Today's Lauren Hunter of religious-focused tech startups.


For Mangrove Capital Partners, the controversies and pitfalls of religious-focused company didn't dissuade them from investing.


Michael Jackson of Mangrove said his investment made sense for a lot of reasons. ChurchDesk is already used in more than 600 of Denmark's 1,000 churches, Jackson said, demonstrating to him that the company's software has already proven itself, albeit in a very small country.


Jackson's $2 million investment into ChurchDesk will be used, in part, to expand its market throughout Europe. Europe has a lot of churches and they want tech, said Jackson, explaining Mangrove's bet.


Still, Jackson acknowledges that his decision to back a company that serves customers' whose traditional income stream has come once a week via a basket -- and maybe a little guilt -- did raise some questions.


"People say to me, 'The church? They don't have any money do they?'" recounted Jackson. "The reason they're pretty successful is they are pretty good at getting nickels out of people."


So has Mangrove's backing of ChurchDesk changed any hearts and minds in Silicon Valley?


Actually, maybe.


Asked if he'd ever consider investing in a startup in the religion biz, Sam Altman -- president of Y Combinator and an investor in companies such as AirBnB and DropBox -- didn't rule it out.


"Why not!" said Altman, who explained what he looks for in an investment: smart people and a company capable of being a $10 billion business.


A religious-focused startup could fit that, Altman said. But there's one area in the space he wouldn't go:


"I would never invest in something for televangelists."


F-U-N-D-E-D is a regular column looking -- and sometimes laughing -- at what Silicon Valley has backed in the last week.


Source: http://www.cnet.com/news/funded-silicon-valley-makes-a-rare-bet-on-software-for-church/

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