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The past two years have been challenging for everyone, especially U.S. universities and international students. While many people hope the Fall 2021 semester will bring a return to normalcy on college campuses, the world and Covid-19 may have other plans. To better understand the multitude of issues facing universities, employers and international students, I interviewed Kenneth Reade, director of international student and scholar services at University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Dan Berger, a partner at Curran, Berger & Kludt.

Stuart Anderson: How challenging is it for students to obtain visas today?

Kenneth Reade: In the university community, we face a “double-whammy” of pent-up demand for U.S. consular visa appointments: Not only this year’s newly admitted class but most of the international students admitted in 2020 who were not able to make it to the United States last fall or this spring. International students are seeking appointments, and we wish we could provide more reassurance at this anxious moment.

One bit of breaking news illustrates the situation. The State Department on April 30th announced a presidential proclamation barring most people coming to the United States from India, which raised questions and sparked fear among Indian students already facing a fraught time with the Covid-19 situation there. Hours later, the State Department clarified that students would be exempt. It’s very positive that the State Department is listening to the international education community. In this world of lighting social media communication, it would have alleviated more concerns if the clarification had been issued at the same time as the proclamation.

Dan Berger: It has been a busy time with lots of news. The new proclamation on India highlights the uncertainty. We do not know how the Covid-19 situation in India will affect U.S consular operations, or if the State Department will consider more interview waivers to keep cases moving. Everything is in flux. Just last week, the U.S. consulates in Russia cut back to emergency services, and there are hints that U.S. consulates in China may offer more appointments for students.

Despite this uncertainty, we are slowly seeing glimmers of hope. The State Department just issued updated guidance that students in all countries with Covid-19 travel bans (UK, Ireland, the Schengen area, Iran, Brazil and China) will be eligible for “national interest exemptions.” But at the same time, most countries in the world are now under a travel advisory, meaning travel for a visa appointment is uncertain. We still do not have clear guidance about how the travel bans apply to the spouses and children of students or more generally for scholars and staff.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has also rolled out an online version of the student work authorization (OPT) application, which seems to be very gradually cutting processing times to help graduates start jobs on time. But the in-person biometrics requirements for changes of status (for example for those working in H-1B status who go back to school and prefer not to travel abroad during the pandemic) makes those applications move glacially slow.

Anderson: What is the current policy on international students and in-person and remote learning at U.S. universities?

Reade: The April 26 updated guidance from SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) confirming the extension of existing guidance for the entire 2021-22 academic year is very helpful because it has come early. Last year we did not get guidance until the last minute, making it extremely difficult to advise international students. We appreciate being able to continue Covid-19-related “flexibility,” including being able to issue I-20 immigration documents electronically and letting currently enrolled F-1 students stay outside of the U.S. beyond five months while maintaining their underlying F-1 immigration status. The ability for individual campuses to classify themselves with SEVP as hybrid, fully remote, or fully in-person allows significant leeway depending on each school’s operational capacities and local Covid-19 conditions.

The current guidance does not force a hard return to in-person classes for international students. But even as our campuses move back in that direction, I foresee increasing complications. Zoom isn’t going away, and the line between in-person and online instruction is now perhaps irreversibly blurred. The resumption of standard F-1 regulations without temporary guidance exceptions will make advising F-1 students even more challenging in the future now that online instructional delivery is bound to continue in some form.

Berger: Yes, unfortunately, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program has offered essentially no updated guidance regarding student work programs, such as Optional Practical Training or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for students currently stranded abroad. It does not make sense to require students to fly to the U.S. to file their OPT applications when the students are allowed to study remotely from their home country.

Anderson: What advice do you have for international students?

Reade: It’s easier said than done, but international students, especially new admits who have yet to secure an F-1 visa, need to try to remain as patient and flexible as possible, and know that their institutions in the U.S. support them fully and sincerely empathize with their concerns.

They should try to avoid the temptation to be distracted by online and social media “advice,” and instead rely on your U.S. institution’s guidance. Also, grab any type of U.S. consular appointment that may be available just to get into the State Department’s appointment booking system, even if the date is unrealistically far in the future (we’ve already had some new students offered consular appointment bookings for early 2022!).

The State Department is working on a plan to prioritize student visa processing for the fall. But we know it’s hard for students who are planning their lives and their move to wait—especially because last summer many did not make it to America.

Anderson: What advice do you have for university administrators?

Berger: Continue to be active in supporting international students through advocacy, and, if necessary, court challenges. Such efforts are still needed even with a new administration. Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell Law School professor, shares this goal in a recent article. Advocate for more guidance and a positive message for international students, for a path to long-term status for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), TPS (Temporary Protected Status) and undocumented students, for the ability of refugees to attend U.S. colleges, and for increased consular services abroad so students can come to our campuses.

Reade: Listen to your senior international officers and include them in every aspect of fall campus planning, even if some of that planning is not necessarily “international” in nature. Remember that even though Covid-19 rates are declining in the United States and vaccinations are increasing, that is not the case in most of the world. Covid-19 conditions worldwide will continue to hamper U.S. consular operations, and fall international enrollment will continue to be negatively impacted as a result.

Anderson: Have you been pleased with Biden administration policies that affect international students?

Reade: I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all, immigration practitioners are relieved by the positive tone of the Biden Administration’s policies on immigration. I will say, however, that there is a remaining sense of exhaustion at trying to keep up with the updates to advise our international students. Similar to policy directives during the Trump Administration, Biden’s new policies are equally challenging—albeit in a very different way— since absorbing the updates often leads to more questions.

Anderson: What else would you like to see the Biden administration do?

Berger: We would like to see more guidance based on back-and-forth communication, such as to:

1) Continue the very welcomed trend of setting visa policies at U.S. consulates abroad based on the public health situation there, and updating policies as the Covid-19 situation evolves, but keep open to ways to avoid in person services in countries where the pandemic is spiking.

2) Expand the “special student relief” granted recently to students from two countries in dire situations—Syria and Venezuela—to support all students during the pandemic (at least through the end of 2021).

3) Continue issuing clarifying FAQs (frequently asked questions) on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program guidance about the flexibility schools have to support international students abroad or taking online classes during the pandemic. Uncertainty can be difficult and discouraging for international students. More communication will help move beyond the fear that lingers from last year.

4) Revive high-level communication between the government and higher education by bringing back the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council.

Reade: I would like to see progressive reform to student visa regulations be decoupled from the larger debate over “comprehensive immigration reform.” Immigration has sadly become such a toxic political football that lumping international education regulatory reform together with all of the other critical but highly contentious immigration issues such as border security, asylum and refugees, DACA, etc., can be a recipe for policy stagnation.

Reforming international student policies should instead be presented for what they are: an undeniable national economic benefit crucial to competing for the world’s most talented individuals. Over the years, whenever I have spoken with members of Congress and their staff about international education issues, there is near-unanimous support, regardless of one’s side of the aisle. And it’s because the issue is ultimately a local one.

The significant economic impact to the district and state that international students bring speaks for itself whether it be tuition revenue or the high-skilled jobs created by our international graduates through startups and other local business development. International education touches on so many areas that are often not linked together: the economy, national security, public diplomacy, education and the labor market, to name a few.

We have a golden opportunity to take international student policy to the next level with the Biden Administration. It needs to be driven steadily and confidently by facts and data about the value of international students, and with the aim of removing regulatory impediments for students. We need to continue to welcome the world’s most talented young minds to this country for education, and reward them with an opportunity to contribute to American society and the economy.

Here are five things in technology that happened this past week and how they affect your business. Did you miss them?

1 —Instagram is working on creator shops and a ‘branded content marketplace’ for influencers.

Instagram is in the process of developing a new suite of features and tools to assist influencers in making money off of the social media platform. Some of the tools include a “branded content marketplace” and creator shops. Creator shops are being developed as an extension of Instagram’s current shopping features, where businesses are already permitted to sell products. (Source: Engadget

Why this is important for your business:

Small businesses come in all shapes and sizes and there are countless influencer entrepreneurs who rely on Instagram for their livelihoods. If you’re one of these entrepreneurs, this is important stuff. The branded content marketplace being developed would also assist influencers to make money by pairing them with sponsors. While the new tools are still being developed, the features could potentially have a major impact on how influencers make money on Instagram.

2 — Mailchimp is adding stores and appointments eCommerce tools.           

According to an announcement this past week, Mailchimp has rolled out two new free ecommerce tools especially for merchants. (Source: Pymnts)

Why this is important for your business:

Stores—one of the new features—lets merchants make a digital storefront and edit or add products, manage tax, shipping and payments, and complete orders. Appointments—the second feature—makes it possible for businesses to manage schedules digitally and provide the option for service bookings. Both Stores and Appointments will also allow users to have access to the company’s marketing features.

3 —Google is making it easier to run your Windows app on Chromebooks.

Over the last year Google— in partnership with Corel Corporation— has been working to implement Parallels Desktop to Chrome OS, additionally announcing some support improvements to new hardware in order to let Windows apps operate on a greater number of Chromebooks. Using a virtual machine, Parallels lets Windows 10 run on macOS systems. While the product is geared toward enterprises, it assists in tackling the issue of legacy applications for businesses and corporations that are interested in adopting Chromebooks. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your business:

Google continues to make their Chromebooks more mainstream. Up until recently I had avoided considering a Chromebook for my business because I thought you’d need to always be online and couldn’t use Windows apps. That’s wrong. And the next time I’m up for a new laptop, Chromebooks will be strongly considered.

4 — JotForm is announcing approval and a no-code approval flow automation solution.  

Leading online form software company Jotform shared that it is rolling out a new tool, —called Approvals, —which was developed to help teams streamline workflows to make them more efficient and automate approval procedures. Approvals allows users to drag-and-drop elements in order for teams to more efficiently add emails, approvers, and perform other tasks. Additional features of the new Approvals tool include personalized emails that match approval flows, customized approval settings, over 100 templates for several industries, and more. (Source: PRNewsWire)  

Why this is important for your business:

Jotform is a very powerful workflow automation and collaboration tool that many of my clients use. I’ve also contributed content for them so I’m very familiar with their offerings. It’s an excellent and more affordable alternative to Microsoft, Google and other similar platforms because it’s so easy to use and adapt. 

5—These tech trends are shaping the mortgage industry in 2021.

Experts have identified a major digital shift and transformation when it comes to the mortgage industry, brought on by the rise in home buyers who are interested in technology and the obstacles created due to the coronavirus pandemic. Out of necessity, COVID-19 forced the mortgage industry into utilizing technology as a means to survive. (Source: MPA Mag)

Why this is important for your business:

Some of the trends include the adoption of API to streamline business procedures and processes, improving omni-channel capabilities and self-service options, heightened use of AI and machine learning, the use of blockchain technology, and greater collaboration with fintech.

I’ve been aware of San Diego-based XR company Campfire since CES last year, where I swore to secrecy in order to gain access to its first AR demos. Since then, Campfire has quickly matured into a complete solution for professional 3D design and collaboration —one that explicitly seeks take advantage of existing platforms to advance and improve AR and VR. Campfire has already raised $8M in seed funding and its platform is on pace for commercial availability before the end of this year. However, while Campfire could easily be mistaken for just another AR or VR headset, it is much more than that. Let’s take a closer look.

The headset

If Campfire’s headset looks familiar, that’s because a lot of the headset’s IP comes from the defunct Meta View AR headset which shut down in 2019 and sold to what would become Campfire. While Meta View’s headset was ahead of its time, the company failed to deliver functioning products on time and had many bugs, especially tracking. Campfire picked it up and started all over again. There are five components to the Campfire platform: the Campfire Headset, the Campfire Console, the Campfire Pack, Campfire Scenes and the Campfire Viewer.

The Campfire headset features a resolution of 2560 x 1440 with a 60Hz refresh rate. Its 92-degree FoV (field of vision) is capable of supporting both AR and VR applications with the quick switching of magnetically attached lenses for translucent (AR) or opaque (VR) use. While the original intention of this headset was AR, the ability to support VR is a good thing for its overall utility. While this means it could technically be classified as an XR headset, Campfire prefers to call it a Holographic Collaboration System. A direct-wired connection from the Campfire headset to the PC is necessary in order to provide the power and reliability required by professional users in the enterprise. While I believe that in time Campfire will likely move towards a wireless solution via WiGig (or some other mmWave solution), for now, that technology is not reliable enough for enterprise applications.

The console and controller

The Campfire system uses a tabletop ‘console’ for tracking and object permanence, but I expect that there will be more applications in future. The Campfire headset features inside-out tracking but doesn’t utilize any RGB cameras—a design choice that could make it particularly well-suited for sensitive defense applications. The company also utilized this tracking system to develop a ‘Pack’ that attaches to any existing smartphone and turns it into a Campfire controller. I like this approach for inputs. Campfire takes advantage of hardware that users are already familiar with, and combines it with its own internal sensors and touchscreen. It’s a strong proposition.

The software

In addition to Campfire’s three hardware pieces, there are also two crucial software components that round the platform out. First, you have Campfire Scenes, which enables users to create scenes from existing 3D models for quick reviews. While this task traditionally necessitates powerful PC workstations, this is not the case with Campfire Scenes. This software allows companies, engineers and artists to build 3D models of products using the industry-standard software and applications they have always used.

In addition to Campfire Scenes is the Campfire Viewer. This offering enables multiple users to collaborate in the same space during video calls using a Campfire Headset, tablet or smartphone, making design reviews and other forms of spatial collaboration much more manageable. Interestingly, Campfire does not handle any audio. However, this makes total sense when you consider how many enterprise customers don’t want yet another service for voice communications to have to certify and qualify. While this may not always be the case, I believe that many companies are happy to take advantage of their preexisting communication platforms. This decision shows that Campfire wants to fit into existing professional 3D workflows rather than moving them in an entirely new direction—a unique approach. Campfire also shared that it is leveraging a major cloud vendor for secure collaboration, but hasn’t identified the company by name as of yet.

Lastly, Campfire has its own enterprise management console, which means that IT departments won’t have to onboard new users and create new identities and accounts. Instead, IT departments can use their existing domains and identities to log users into their respective accounts.

Hands on experience

I’ve gotten to try Campfire in its many different iterations over the past year, as it evolved from a headset and controller into a complete design and collaboration solution. All iterations of the Campfire headset I’ve tried were fully-functional 3D-printed prototypes which gave me an idea of what the headset would look and feel like. Every iteration of the headset was more refined, more comfortable and easier to use than the previous one. The Campfire team has also considerably improved the user experience and nailed the concept of enhancing workflows rather than disrupting them. The image quality is still top-notch and I would believe has enough resolution to be used for enterprise applications.

Campfire’s approach will also utilize a monthly subscription model for the complete solution, rather than parting out different pieces of the platform for different prices. While the company has not yet disclosed the all-inclusive monthly price, I expect Campfire is targeting enterprises that can afford it. That is to say, I expect the pricing to be accessible for many medium to large businesses. Campfire has already announced its deep involvement with Frog Design, one of the world’s leading design firms and the company behind the design of Campfire’s hardware. While I do not expect Campfire to sell the headset without the entire platform solution, if it did, I would expect it to cost roughly $1,000—already way outside of what consumers would pay.  In the long term, I could see Campfire offering upgrades to subscribers that leverage technologies like wireless or hand tracking.

The path forward

While the Campfire platform makes use of some of Meta View’s technological capabilities in the headset, it solves many of the problems that early AR headsets, like Meta View, had. While some had amazing optics, image quality and even a great field of view, in the end, most of them completely failed to deliver practical usage within existing workflows. Professional 3D designers and engineers don’t want to completely disrupt their existing workflows to take advantage of spatial computing and Campfire seems to get that. I believe that Campfire’s approach will resonate with certain segments of the market, such as defense, that are very sensitive to camera-based tracking technologies. I think the platform will also be attractive to companies that don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel in order to work in professional 3D environments.

An early access pioneer program for the Campfire platform is now open and will have commercially availability in Q4 of this year. Considering where the market is today with enterprises snapping up headsets for remote collaboration and design review, Campfire’s complete solution couldn’t have come at a better time. While Campfire is not alone in this market, it is by far one of the most comprehensive solutions I have seen to date. I believe it will be ready for enterprise deployment this year.

Disclosure: My firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising, and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry. I do not hold any equity positions with any companies cited in this column.

Mobile and cloud computing services were the pandemic’s sile­nt technology heroes, allowing people to connect and work anywhere. As we progress toward resuming normal business practices, such as return to office and travel, companies will continue to leverage mobility to deliver better customer experiences. 

Market leaders recognize that creating a winning customer experience requires delivering a best-in-class employee experience. Increasingly, companies realize that it’s essential to update devices to support new workflows such as contactless delivery, richer collaboration and instant access to data through on-device analytics. 

In the early days of enterprise mobility, employees drove the adoption of consumer-focused mobile solutions within the enterprise. Today, organizations need to embrace technologies that offer simplicity with the security and manageability required by enterprise IT leaders. This has proven to be a tricky but not insurmountable challenge. 

Apple grabbed the bulk of the enterprise mobile market early on but received criticism from IT on manageability and security. To combat this, it added programs such as Apple Developer Enterprise Program and acquiring  Fleetsmith, a software solution that helps IT more easily onboard and manage iPhones and Macs.

While Apple focuses on delivering simple rich consumer experiences, it hasn’t abandoned the enterprise nor security. One could argue Apple has never been more enterprise-focused. 

Security by design, the Apple way

For years security threats plagued the software layer, but now threats target the deepest layers of devices, the hardware and BIOS layers. Organizations need to develop a layered approach to security that spans from the lowest layers of the hardware through the application layer. In February, it shared released a 200-page tome outlining its platform security initiatives. 

   

Apple’s guide shared how it’s approaching hardware security by design embedding security into silicon with its M-chip architecture. In discussion with Apple executives, the company shared how it’s marrying its silicon-based security with operating system security (macOS, iOS, watchOS and iPadOS), encryption and secure enclaves to harden PCs, tablets and smartphones. Intel has discussed this approach as well and works closely with Microsoft to create this type of security. However, one has to wonder if owning the entire stack from the hardware through the operating system layer provides Apple with an edge in defending against a myriad of complex attacks. Regardless of the answer, it’s essential to understand that the new silicon was designed with security in mind and the company is connecting hardware and software security.

Targeted enterprise sales efforts

While Apple’s store design and sales are a constant top of discussion in retail circles, few people may notice how Apple works with partners to deliver tailor-made industry sales events. For example, one of Apple’s partners posted about an educational sales event in April called “Apple in Restaurants. Enterprise POS Unlocked”. ( I attempted to attend the digital event, but alas, It was only for restaurant professionals. While I enjoy cooking, Lopez Research didn’t qualify for attendance.) 

Big deals, partnerships and new experiences unlock opportunities

Yesterday, Apple and AT&T Business announced Delta selected the companies for a significant device upgrade. Delta will equip its 19,000+ flight attendants with 5G-enabled iPhone 12s to enhance the employee and passenger experience. While Delta had previously worked with Apple and AT&T, the renewed commitment shows that both companies are delivering solutions and experiences that are worth an upgrade. For example, AT&T shared that the combination of the iPhone and AT&T’s 5G has the potential to create new augmented reality (AR) employee experiences, such as accurately assessing in-cabin inventory quickly using AR with the camera on iPhone 12.

  

Or the system could be leverage AR for immersive training to help flight attendants perform critical tasks—from safety checks to passenger assistance— from nearly anywhere. In an increasingly competitive environment, employee experience matters. It’s the gateway to delivering a superior customer experience. Clearly, Delta feels AT&T and Apple can provide this. 

Apple’s Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri also shared two other examples of enterprise momentum during the latest earnings calls. He said, “Openreach in the U.K. has started equipping tens of thousands of field engineers with iPhone 12 to speed up their deployment of broadband services to homes around the country. And UCHealth, a large health care provider in Colorado, reduced per patient vaccination time from 3 minutes to only 30 seconds largely by moving from PC stations to iPhones. This has allowed their staff to rapidly scan and register new patients and vastly increase their daily vaccination capacity.”

The enterprise market is difficult to please but offers tremendous growth opportunities for PC and mobile device makers. With the launch of new M1-powered devices, a strong focus on on-board AI and an upgrade cycle to 5G on the horizon, I expect we’ll be hearing much more about Apple in the enterprise.

When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the league’s decision to relocate the All-Star Game out of Georgia, it triggered a partisan firestorm — there was support and there was opposition. While some government leaders in the US have advised CEOs to stay out of politics, 68% of US adults believe that CEOs are best positioned to drive real change in America. The reality today is that human issues are political issues. And if companies are committed to standing by their values, politics are unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean a given brand should take on every single issue. 

As part of Forrester report, “Brands And Politics Collide,” Forrester conducted a survey of US consumers, presenting them with 21 different political issues and asking (for each one) to what degree a brand should take a stand on them. Forrester then created a “political consensus index” from the survey responses (below). 

A political issue with an index over 100 means that more people agree that brands should “lead the change” on that given issue, versus “stay out of it completely.” Forrester calls these consensus values. For example, US adults are 2.5 times more likely than not to agree that brands should lead the change on face-mask wearing. And when it comes to Gen Z adults (ages 18–24), note how they over-index on all but one of the political issues we surveyed them on. Of course, Gen Z is the most diverse and values-sensitive of all generations — an important consideration as brands plan for the next-generation consumer. 

Why does this matter? Because a brand’s stance on political issues affects consumer choices. Forrester found that when choosing between two similar products from two different brands, 43% of US adults will favor the one that takes a stand on shared political values. The opposite is also true: A participant in our online qualitative research session posted, “I take politics real seriously, and if [a brand] espouses a certain public stance that I really disagree with, then I’m done with them.” Yet only 29% of US adults disagree that companies have a responsibility to participate in debates about current issues. 

If, when and how a brand should speak out on politically debated issues is now a front-and-center quandary for marketers. As the collisions between brands and politics increase, how do c-suite executives navigate this? Company values set a brand’s boundaries around politics and determine when to choose a side. MLB’s statement about the All-Star game read: “The best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft.” Forrester data reveals that 53% of US adults prefer to buy from brands that stay true to their own values. 

To learn more about navigating through the politically charged consumer climate, please register for Forrester’s CX North America here. 

This post was written by VP and Research Director Mike Proulx, and it originally appeared here.

Why is it so hard to become data-driven? It’s well understood that data provides cold, hard insights as to what’s going on in the business. And data-driven initiatives are delivering the goods. Is it decision-makers’ resistance to being one-upped by a machine? Is it a lack of full trust in data being provided? Is it confusion about the solutions out there? What human factors are being missed?

Let’s face it — the technology available to wring insights from data these days is amazing. We can predict what a customer is likely to buy, and when they’re likely to bolt. We can see ahead in supply chain disruptions. We can foresee when equipment or machines will break down.

However, as with many things associated with technology, buying or building data analytics or artificial intelligence and dropping them into an organization won’t magically transform a business overnight. Developing a data-driven culture has proven to be a vexing obstacle. In fact, things seem to be moving backwards in terms of building an intelligent enterprise. What should a data-driven culture look like?

These are the issues explored in a survey of 85 Fortune 1000 executives conducted by NewVantage Partners, in which 92% say the “principal challenge to becoming data-driven” is people, business processes, and culture. Only eight percent identify technology limitations as the barrier.

Overall, companies took steps backward when it came to moving forward with data initiatives, the survey’s authors report. “All questions relating to the long-term progress of corporate data initiatives exhibited declines from 2019 and 2020 levels, a disappointing development. Less than half of companies noted success in these key metrics of progress: driving innovation with data; competing on data and analytics; managing data as a business asset; forging a data culture; and creating a data-driven organization.”

It’s notable that only 24% have created a data-driven organization, a decline from 38% the year before. In addition, only 24% have forged a data culture, down from 27%, and only 39% are managing data as a business asset, a decrease from 50%

A number of companies have brought in chief data officers to lead them through the woods, but even that doesn’t seem to be helping. “Many are still struggling against not just legacy tech, but embedded cultures that are resistant to new ways of doing things,” Randy Bean, CEO and managing partner of NewVantage Partners, writes in an accompanying article in Harvard Business Review.

To move faster on the journey to data-driven nirvana, Bean offers the following recommendations:

Identify how data analytics will be used. “We see firms that invest in data capabilities and technology without a clearly defined business demand failing time and time again,” Bean says. “By starting where there is a critical business need, executives can demonstrate value quickly through quick wins that help a company realize value, build credibility for their investments in data, and use this credibility to identify additional high-impact use cases to build business momentum.”

Pay more attention to where your data comes from and where it goes. Too often, the handling of data has been an afterthought for many business leaders. “Data must be managed from capture and production through its consumption and utilization at many points along the way,” says Bean.

Have patience. “Data-driven business transformation is a long-term process that requires patience and fortitude,” says Bean. Businesses need to stick with their “investments in data governance, data literacy, programs that build awareness of the value.”

Not all is downbeat with the survey results. Despite the headheads of trying to intill data-driven thinking into their organizations, the NewVantage authors observed a “notable increase” in companies reporting successful results from their big data and AI investments – a significant increase to 96%, up from 70% in 2020 and 48% five years ago. “This suggests demonstrable progress. This rise in achieving successful business outcomes is matched by an overall feeling of optimism – 81% — on the part of corporate data executives.”

So being data-driven works. It’s a question of getting everyone on board.

Congressman Michael McCaul, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Tom Cotton recently called on U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to tighten restriction on the sale of semiconductor manufacturing equipment (SME) to China. “The export of advanced dual-use U.S. technology to any People’s Republic of China (PRC) entity is effectively a direct delivery to the People’s Liberation Army,” the letter states. Rep. McCaul and Sen. Cotton cite a related Washington Post article, which revealed that sensitive electronic design automation (EDA) tools sold to Phytium Technology, which claimed to be civilian PRC company, is now being used to develop advanced weapons in the PRC, including hypersonic missiles which could evade U.S. defense. The latest call-to-action comes a month after Rep. McCaul and Senator Marco Rubio urged Sec. Raimondo to apply greater Entity List restrictions on SMIC, China’s largest semiconductor manufacturer.

The recent letter cites the PRC’s stated strategy of “Military-Civil Fusion” which “seeks to eliminate the distinction between its defense and civilian sectors and turn the PRC economy into a military-driven ecosystem.” Sensitive technologies believed to be targeted to legitimate users and uses in the PRC are promptly forwarded to the military, whether their exporters know or not.  This calls into question whether effective export controls can be enforced, as the PRC will commandeer any dual-use technology it sees fit and regardless of Commerce Department license stipulations. While controls may have stopped explicit sales of EDA to Huawei, a known PRC military aligned company, US exporters Cadence and Synopsys continue to sell to hundreds of companies run by PRC regional governments, notes the letter.   

Indeed, spurred by voter outrage against China’s increasing aggression, Committees in the prior Congress worked tirelessly for months to develop needed reforms to stop the flow of sensitive technology to the PRC. However, attempts to balance economic and national security interests defanged this effort to allow for certain workaround that benefit some companies. Calling out the practice, former Congressman Robert Pittenger said these loopholes “buy time” for Chinese state-owned companies to game the system: “Chinese semiconductor fabs, like Yangtze Memory Technologies (YMTC) and ChangXin Memory Technologies (CXMT)—which, like SMIC, are known to supply the PLA—continue to enjoy access to U.S.-born technology.” Firms supplying these PRC fabs include Applied Materials, KLA, and Lam Research. On earnings calls, their corporate representatives have noted that the tougher export regime has not diminished earnings and that they continue to receive needed licenses from Commerce to ship to the PRC.

Congressman McCaul who leads the China Task Force has redoubled his efforts on national security vis-à-vis the PRC. The letter to Raimondo calls for four immediate measures including that Commerce buttress the Entity List designation for Phytium with the application of the Foreign-Direct Product Rule which prevents evasion of Commerce’s designations. It also calls for Commerce to designate EDA software as a Foundational Technology (an important category necessitating greater regulation) and to preclude licenses to exports which would empower any PRC company design a chip at or below a specific threshold. A proposed standard, 14 nanometers (nm), is one metric of bleeding edge innovation that will make a difference but won’t be a catch all. The letter urges Commerce to engage with Taiwan to improve screening of PRC entities which are likely attempting to work around the controls.

The desire for an effective export control regime transcends party lines. In November 2019 Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Cotton made a similar request of U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, encouraging the department to enforce fully the 2018 Export Control Reform Act to prevent China from acquiring dual-use technology. “The CCP’s strategy is to steal as much American dual-use technology as it can get its hands on…The CCP has effectively fused its military and civilian industrial bases to ensure that the People’s Liberation Army can rapidly develop and field cutting-edge military platforms,” wrote the Senators. Since then, the bipartisan and bicameral consensus has grown, recognizing that export controls must coupled with rational industrial policy to incentivize US production of chips. Mr. McCaul sponsors the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act (the CHIPS for America Act) with support from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Mark Warner (D-VA).

Some observers believe that a balance can be struck with the PRC, supplying it with previous generations of chip making equipment so that US companies can earn revenue to drive the next version. My new paper co-authored with Jeff Ferry of the Coalition for a Prosperous America challenges that view, asserting that innovation is not necessarily linear and that giving China the means of production will accelerate its progress. More largely, offshoring has hollowed out America’s manufacturing sector, with 5 million jobs lost to the PRC in the last 20 years and an additional 800,000 jobs in the high-tech sector. This has registered as a reduction in one-third of America’s semiconductor workforce over the period, a major blow to the industry whose employees earn an average annual wage of $75,000, some 40 percent higher than all US workers. The paper calls for reinvigorating manufacturing so that the US can produce at least half of its chips through majority-owned US firms and for greater cooperation with like-minded nations to develop trade and reduce dependency on the PRC.

The two-day 2021 SNIA Persistent Memory and Computational Storage Summit (PM & CS Summit) is the continuation of the previous one-day Persistent Memory Summits.  This year, with the change in name of the Solid State Storage Initiative (SSSI) to the Compute Memory and Storage Initiative (CMSI), the organizing committee decided to add various talks around computational storage to the prior PM focus.

There were speakers from SMART Modular, Lenovo, Eideticom, Samsung, HPEG2M, Silinnov Consulting, NGD Systems, MemVerge, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Intel, NVIDIA, Futurewei and Dell gave talks on PM and CS, accented by two panel discussions each day.  Here are a few highlights from the meeting.

Arthur Sainio from SMART Modular gave a talk that included the chart below showing the move from near memory attached via DDR or OMI to also include far memory organized with a switched fabric such as CXL, GenZ or CCIX by 2022.  These changes are needed to provide memory with faster performance and larger amounts of data in memory.

Jonathan Hinkle from Lenovo put the traditional storage/memory hierarchy on its head in him presentation. He spoke about the advantages of including PM with DRAM and spoke about a three step program going from PM NVMe SSDs and DIMMs to NVDIMM-P to CXL or CCIX.  Far memory can be attached via CXL to greatly expand memory sizes without causing difficulties with capacitive loading via DDR and without excessive latencies.  He also reported test results showing advantages using CCIX hardware and Formulus Black software.

Steve Bates from Eideticom told us that the future of storage is offload.  He also spoke about 3-C’s to make customers happy; compatibility, consumability and composibility.  He then described how the company’s compute storage processor (CSP) can be usd in storage devices or in a smart NIC.

David Wang from Samsung Electronics gave a breakdown of CXL 2.0, the CXL consortium and uses for CXL, as shown below.  He also spoke about computational storage and security with CXL.

David McIntyre, also from Samsung, spoke about security with computational storage drives.  He discussed several activities to deal with security issues that might otherwise arise with computational storage devices.  These include establishing roots of trust in components, secure enclaves for boog drive firmware and unencrypted keys, future keys per I/O and key management.

Eduardo Berrocal of Intel Corporation and Keith Orsak of HPE talked about the challenges of measuring persistent memory performance, referring to a SNIA white paper from 2020 and a test specification working draft.  Their presentation gave several test examples and they also called out for companies to submit their real-world workloads captures to the working group.

Jerome Gaysse from Silinnov Consulting gave its outlook for computational  storage in the cloud.  

Scott Shadley from NGD Systems talked about productization of computational storage as shown in the image below for current computational storage products ranging from storage devices to network-based products.

Charles Fan from MemVerge told attendees about four top use cases for computational storage for big memory computing applications.  The image below shows their Memory Machine software which they discussed using in cloud infrastructure, databases, genomics as well as animation and VFX (video special effects).

Bradley Settlemyer from Los Alamos National Laboratory talked about the performance, value and limitations for computational storage in HPC applications.  

Andy Rudoff and other people from Intel spoke about the use of persistent memory in CXL.  They discussed the current use of Intel’s Optane memory in the memory bus and then discussed efforts underway to implement CXL with various command sets and features.  They also said that the momentum around CXL is huge and this will drive software support, with some software already changed to support CXL features.

Michael Kagen, CTO of NVIDIA helped us undersatand why distributed AI in data centers needs computational storage to bring compute and data closer together.  Chun Liu from Futurewei Technologies talked about Zoned Name Spaces and their use with applications logs on persistent memory.

Shyam Iyer, from Dell and chair of SNIAS SDXI Technical working Group spoke about SNIAs smart data accelerator interface (SDXI).  This is a memory to memory data mover that can support faster data movement by offloading data movement from CPU operations.  IN particular he discussed offload direct memory access (DMA) engines and the need for industry standards to enable this.

There was some other recent news about advances in MRAM device testing capabilities from Integral Solutions International (ISI).  Integral Solutions International’s (ISI) Gen3 Pulser is a cost-effective, fast, and versatile STT-MRAM measurement solution.  To meet the industry demands for even narrower pulse width and higher pulse amplitude, and in support of emerging MRAM technologies such as SOT-MRAM, ISI is preparing the release of its Gen4 Pulser platform.  

ISI’s Gen4 Pulser will allow a minimum pulse width of 500pS, an order of magnitude improvement over their Gen3 solution. Further, pulse amplitude will be increased up to +/-3V, 150% higher than available on most pulsing equipment today.  

ISI’s Gen4 Pulser will continue to support FAST cycle timing in support of high-repetition measurement cycles such as Write Error Rate. Each Gen4 Pulser will be equipped with 2 parallel channels, which can be configured for either single or dual STT-MRAM measurements, or single SOT-MRAM measurements where the SOT and MTJ structures must be pulsed simultaneously.  

For even higher-throughput applications, ISI’s Gen4 Pulser is modular, where up to 4 of these Pulser channels can be installed at once, providing up to 8x STT-MRAM or 4x SOT-MRAM device testing in parallel. Adding to ISI’s large family of user-configurable Magnet solutions, in addition to the recent release of the 1T/1.5T Perpendicular Magnets, ISI is also releasing a 3D Magnet ideally suited for SOT device testing applications.  

The SNIA Persistent Memory and Computational Storage Summit demonstrated the increasing importance of persistent memory and computational storage in data center and other applications.  ISI’s Gen4 Pulser will enable Spin Orbit Torque (SOT) as well as Spin Transfer Torque (STT) MRAM testing.

Before the sun comes up over the rows of salad greens and cauliflower and other vegetables that blanket California’s farms, operators who have been trained to manage the hulking orange machines known Titan FT-35s load them up from the Salinas hub of Farmwise—a startup that offers robotic weeding as a service—and transport them via tractor-trailer to farms in California and Arizona. 

Rented at a per-acre cost, the geo-fenced robots drive along planted rows, capturing images of crops that get uploaded and run through a model trained to classify each image. Weeds get the chop. Vegetables remain. The more time a robot spends at a given farm, the better the AI gets, and so does the weeding. To date, FarmWise’s robots have imaged about 200 million individual crops and partnered with about a dozen of the largest vegetable farms in the U.S. 

Cofounders Sébastien Boyer and Thomas Palomares launched Farmwise in 2016 to tackle two major pain points for the farming industry: the increasingly unpopular use of pesticides, and persistent labor shortage. Robots, they believe, can solve this problem, especially for high-value crops–which tend to be labor intensive and expensive to produce—like the leafy greens for which the Salinas Valley (nicknamed “America’s Salad Bowl”) is known. Rather than using chemicals or changing to crops, like tree nuts, that are easier to grow, farms can hire FarmWise; when the robots are dispatched, they tend to eradicate 95% of weeds, Boyer says, allowing farms to grow the crops they want to grow, and to do so sustainably. No chemicals, no problem.

A return company on the Forbes AI 50 list for 2021, FarmWise raised a $5.7 million seed round in 2017; two years later, it followed that up with a $14.5 Series A led by Pasadena-based Palisades Ventures. The robots are now on their third generation: the more Boyer and Palomares learn by visiting farms and talking to farmers, the more they are able to refine and advance the technology that underlies their platform.

“We weren’t coming to them with anything to sell,” Boyer says of the farms with whom FarmWise has developed partnerships. “We were really coming to them with more questions than answers.” Their focus on weeding is the result of these interviews. 

“If you look at farming as a whole, three quarters of all the chemicals used are used to kill weeds,” Boyer tells Forbes. In the absence of herbicides—which are never used for organic crops—weeding is done by hand, which is a problem, because the U.S. labor force does not have the hands that producers need. In 2018, the USDA reported that American farms have found it increasingly difficult to hire and maintain workers; in a survey of 1,000 Californian farmers that came out the following year, 42% of respondents said they adapted to labor scarcity by reducing pruning or weeding, and 27% said they delayed those same processes. 

FarmWise’s cofounders, both born in France, met as classmates at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique, in Palaiseau. Palomares had grown up helping his grandparents at their farm in a small town in the Alps. “They were making yogurt and cheese, like a lot of farms in France,” he says; either way, from a young age he intuited the physical demands that farm work placed on the human body, and the emotional effects wrought when that labor brought insufficient fruits. After graduation, Palomares went to Stanford, and Boyer to MIT, but they kept in touch and eventually decided to launch a company that would draw on their shared interest in technology, sustainability and agriculture. 

Recently, FarmWise has released a beta version of a new grower dashboard to a few customers, which will allow farmers better and more precise insights—like crop count, crop size, and spacing trends, for instance—into crop conditions. They are also hoping to expand the crop varieties on which the robots can work, which they believe the deep-learning their technology employs makes them uniquely positioned to do. 

“Competitors who develop automated weeders often rely on simple infrared technologies and human-defined parameters which fail at successfully handling the variety of use cases we have to deal with in the field,” Boyer explains. 

For Alain Pincot, a managing partner at Betteravia Farms, which sells its produce under the label Bonipak, getting involved with FarmWise was a no-brainer. “We are, I think, a very progressive organization,” he says. Like the Farmwise founders, Pincot is French—he came to California to study agribusiness at Santa Clara University—and says that, in terms of welcoming automation into the agricultural industry, the U.S. is a bit behind. 

“I think Europeans are ahead of us Americans,” Pincot says. “They have experienced much earlier than us constraints with labor, and cost of labor. As early as the mid 90s or early 2000s, they were already thinking about how they could reduce their cost. While in the U.S., we still had it—let’s face it—pretty good.” The USDA report affirms this latter part of Pincot’s analysis: in the latter half of the 20th century, the U.S. enjoyed an influx of inexpensive labor from Mexico, which has now, for a variety of reasons, declined. 

Boyer and Palomares believe that the technology they have already created will serve as the launchpad for future endeavors, including moving into vineyards, tree crops, and commodity crops  like corn, soybean and wheat. The company plans to expand into crop protection and fertilizing, in addition to its weeding services.

As it does so, Boyer says, the startup will keep an eye on creating jobs, not just automating them. “The impact that we have on jobs is to create a new type of farming job,” one without grueling manual labor. These new jobs, Boyer believes, will be not only better paid, but also “more interesting.” 

“These are the jobs of tomorrow for the farming industry,” he says. “That will create a totally new type of workforce.”

Campfire emerged from Stealth today to introduce its new eponymous AR and VR headset, which features a 92 degree field of view. They are targeting 3D design and engineering professionals. The PC-tethered headset is around 500 grams, pleasingly distributed with a nylon body and head strap. A tabletop accessory called a “console” acts like a holographic projector that can be shared by any number of  simultaneous users in remote locations. The clarity is equal to that of expensive, high-end industrial HMDS from Varjo and Xtal. You can lean into a car model and see the writing on the tiny dials. 

San Mateo-based Campfire quietly developed their system in stealth over the past two years with a team of fifteen engineers led by a familiar face, co-founder and CEO Jay Wright. He famously created Vuforia at Qualcomm. Vuforia enabled mobile AR with computer vision years before Apple and Google introduced ARkit and ARcore. When PTC bought Vuforia from Qualcomm, Wright went with it. Today, millions of AR apps have been developed with Vuforia, including both of my AR enabled books. Wright introduced Vuforia Chalk, a solution for remote assistance, right around the time the company was sold to PTC, which was the last time we spoke, at AWE 2017. Since then, Wright has been quietly working to create an entirely new approach to the 3D design use case for enterprises, creating new devices and applications. 

“Campfire was designed from the ground up for 3D design and engineering workflows,” Wright told us during the demo last week. “The addition of our system to the design process results in massive productivity gains in developing everything from consumer goods to industrial products.” Wright worked with Frog Design, the company which famously designed early Apple products, to create the Campfire hardware. In fact, Frog is using Campfire today to develop products for other clients. “Campfire is like powerpoint or Google docs for 3D,” Wright said. 

Campfire provides a whole system, hardware and software, to clients who pay a monthly subscription fee. The component parts are (1) the super hi res 92 FOV Campfire headset. The see through display becomes a VR display by clipping on a cover. (2) The Campfire Console is the new tabletop review device that acts like a holographic projector and joins together globally-distributed users. (3) The Campfire Pack clips onto a  smartphone and turns it into a controller. (4) Campfire Scenes, which enable users to load and manipulate 3D models (they’re compatible with forty formats) for quick reviews or elaborate presentations. Finally, (5) the Campfire Viewer enables users to work alone or together during video calls, using a Campfire Headset, tablet, or phone. It’s also compatible with Teams and Zoom. 

Campfire raised more than $8M in seed funding from OTV, Kli Capital, Tuesday Capital, and others and expects to ship in the fall. The Campfire system, made entirely in the US, is available for preview through Campfire’s website, where those interested can sign up.