“The Mother of All Demos is a name given retrospectively to Douglas Englbart’s December 9, 1968 […] The live demonstration featured the introduction of a complete computer hardware and software system called the oN-Line System or more commonly, NLS. The 90-minute presentation essentially demonstrated almost all the fundamental elements of modern personal computing: windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing, the computer mouse, word processing, dynamic file linking, revisions control, and a collaborative real-time editor (collaborative work). Engelbart’s presentation was the first to publicly demonstrate all these elements in a single system. The demonstration was highly influential and spawned similar projects at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s. The underlying technologies influenced both the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows graphical user interface operating systems in the 1980s and 1990s.” – The Mother of All Demos, Wikipedia.
Compelling demonstrations can make all the difference when introducing emerging technologies. There is no slideware or paper substitute for the kind of revelations, quality insights, and lasting emotions that we all get when experiencing things live and first hand. On the research side, interactive demonstrations have become invaluable tools that expose and test concepts. Moreover, they prompt invaluable feedback by questioning, validating, unveiling unsuspected items as well as winning hearts and minds to further advance a cause.
Those are some of the reasons why I prioritize demo development and my research process involves activities such as field trips and ethnographic insights captured in environments like the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago and open-door showcases at renowned institutions like Fermilab. Successful science exhibits make complex topics approachable and engaging. They are carefully designed with craftsmanship pride to be perceived as astute, immersive and to appeal to our brain’s intuition and intellect.
The above graphic features quotes from Albert Einstein and Nicholas Negroponte on the left, coupled with Salvador Dalí and Arthur C. Clarke on the right. I created that poster’s first version a few years ago and became my reference framework for prototyping and demonstration since. The photographs are courtesy of Wikipedia. Here are further insights on what these quotes mean to me:
1.- DEMO OR DIE – The introduction of inventions and diffusion of innovations relies on effectively conveying clear and concise value. Interacting with engaging demonstrations can be best supported by well thought out whiteboarding sessions. This communication strategy works best when allowing dynamic conversations instead of long agendas packed with presentation monologues. Most people can talk about the many times when they were either overwhelmed, underwhelmed or just bored to death by slideware… and became suspicious of hype. Note that we all deal with an unfavorable Signal-to-Noise (S/N) ratio in today’s information rich environment and, therefore, compete for customers and/or users’ undivided attention. Once again, memorable hands-on demonstrations can make all the difference.
2.- GROW TO LOOK LIKE THE PORTRAIT – High tech is a fast paced industry. One can be left wondering if the technology, toolset, application and/or overall system being discussed will grow and scale as needed beyond day one. There can also be concerns around maturity levels, roadmapping options and future proofing when working with emerging technologies. Demos can be used to convey a tangible vision based on attainable end-goals. They can also be used for what-if-analysis, sunny and rainy day scenarios (which can include full lifecycle and stress tests) and plot plausible journeys to go from A to B and any steps in between. Helping everyone come to terms with what lays ahead is key to defining product strategies and planning decisions “to grow to look like the portrait.”
3.- EXPLAIN IT SIMPLY – Apparently unavoidable jargon and well intended technical kumbaya can become easily entangled. Complex explanations suffer from information overload. Convoluted narratives pleasing the presenter’s ego can make unclear what specific problem or pain point he/she solving, and what the sought after benefits and priorities are. When “less is more” it definitely pays to define a vantage point, zoom out, distill fundamentals and synthesize the essence. Knowing your audience and getting the job done in the clearest and most effective terms possible means striking a balance and staying away from oversimplifying or complicating matters. This is an iterative exercise that often demands more time, effort and reviews than the usual information dump. We also need to be able to step-zoom to deliver the next level of detail and to conduct deep dives… without incurring information overload. Humanizing technology, storytelling techniques and ease of information visualization are key to developing a coherent narrative.
“The meaning of a communication is defined by the Change and Affect it creates for the audience. Stories are concerned with transformation. In stories something Changes to create an emotion […] The Change has to resonate with the Audience to generate an Affect; a feeling, a reaction or an insight […] We shall consider these two defining characteristics of narrative to clarify the purpose of any communication […] Change and Affect create meaning. – “Crackle and Fizz. Essential Communication and Pitching Skills for Scientists.” – Caroline van den Brul. Imperial College Press.
4..- IT’S MAGIC – This is all about the so called X-FACTOR: an unsuspected quality making something be different and special in unequivocal terms. To be more precise, the X-FACTOR’s experience can be broken down as follows:
- SURPRISE FACTOR – this relies on managing perceptions and the discovery process, the tipping point being delivered by a timely and unsuspected clever twist and a defining punch line – the “aha” moment.
- WOW FACTOR – high impact, impressive, awe-inspiring outcome, benefits and results that can be easily understood and embraced – the “I didn’t know we could do that” and “I want to know more” moment.
- COOL FACTOR – elegant sophistication and grace, clear object of desire – the “I want that” moment, this being most demos’ ultimate Call-To-Action (CTA.)
The art and science behind the above is known as “affective design.” Techniques such as perceptual learning and emotional intelligence in design (emotional design in short) are applied in Human-Computer-Interaction (HCI) to foster pleasant ease of use, drive further engagement and productive usage in the process. Widespread digitalization and the advent of wearables make HCI commonplace, which is influencing product design.
The above is a demo’s “full disclosure” chart, which breaks down what’s real and what’s not. This is needed because vaporware can be an issue of concern.
1.- PRIOR ART – In the above example, a given percentage of the demonstration system involved known technologies, some from third party partners.
2.- STATE OF THE ART – The greatest and latest features, cutting edge delivered by technologies that are available today.
3.- FUTURE ART – A sneak preview of new features and capabilities that are planned, undergoing development and/or committed, but not yet available.
4.- ART OF THE POSSIBLE – Proof of Concept illustrating experimentation results and potential, bleeding edge capabilities that are not yet committed.
By the way, vaporware is the result of positioning 3 and 4 as part of 2. Avoiding unpleasant misunderstands prompts the need for disclosing these four different maturity levels. Note that one graphic applies to a comprehensive demonstration system encompassing those four aspects and their relative weight.
One other thought, there is a difference between incremental and disruptive innovation. The first delivers improved qualities such as better performance in A/B comparison testing as an example, “A” being prior art and “B” state of the art. Most would agree on defining disruptive innovations as game changers which deliver unique capabilities that clearly supersede legacy and conventional systems. That alone renders “A” obsolete. A/B comparison testing leads to discussions on the difference between Present Mode of Operations (PMO) and Future Mode of Operations (FMO.)
“Humanists must be educated with a deep appreciation of modern science. Scientists and engineers must be steeped in humanistic learning. And all learning must be linked with a broad concern for the complex effects of technology on our evolving culture.” – Jerome B. Wiesner.
“Mobile World Congress is pretty much done and dusted for 2015, after the marathon trade show drew in crowds of over 93,000 visitors in Barcelona this week. More than 2,000 companies exhibited at the show, showcasing an incredibly broad array of mobile tech, and illustrating how mobile is pervading into all corners of modern society. The GSMA claims this year’s show grew by nine percent on 2014’s event.” – Telecoms.com
“Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and service innovation are readily enabled by the Alcatel-Lucent Converged Telephony Server (CTS). The virtualized CTS uniquely extends VoLTE’s new user experience to fixed and mobile networks, for both consumer and business customers.”
“CTS is a critical part of VoLTE commercial services that were launched in the US market in mid 2014. Building on this foundation with native, open APIs, service providers and third-party developers can create many specialized applications beyond VoLTE to improve the user experience and address new vertical markets.”
Judges Comments: “This outstanding entrant represents a strong platform for service providers to achieve commercial success by allowing the integration of complex services by both service providers and third parties using the web developers’ portal and sandbox, to deliver not just the technical capabilities, but also the other elements required to speed effective commercial innovation.” – Global Mobile Awards.
Mobile World Congress is now over. Congratulations to VoLTE’s team for the above well deserved award. Our event’s team also deserves recognition for having delivered top notch activities at Alcatel-Lucent’s booth while sailing through an overwhelming schedule. MWC is one of the most intensive and high impact industry events in the telecommunications sector, which involves a large percentage of senior executives and leading experts.
What follows focuses on our Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) Portfolio, showcased at a demo station purposely highly visible. By the end of the show we conducted way over 200 demonstrations at this station alone.
Ted East, VP of the Cloud Innovation Center, and I discussed “Service Agility and Lean Ops” with a fully virtualized VoLTE environment. Moreover, this was no Proof of Concept (PoC) but an end-to-end system comprised of solutions either available today or in production this year, all running on CloudBand’s Management System and Cloud Nodes.
Customers, industry analysts, investors, partners and public officials enjoyed what became an amazingly engaging Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) experience. This was the real deal. We presented no slideware or canned videos (and no smoking mirrors for that matter) to make a compelling point centered on readiness.
The conversation started by highlighting two cloud design principles which become this demonstration’s wow factors:
Wow factor: all changes were completely transparent to the end user: our VoLTE video experience remained literally unscratched and with zero downtime throughout MWC.
2.- Abstracting out complexity: this is an end-to-end system involving many sophisticated technologies, there is no denying that self-defeating complexity negates any operational benefits; it is also true talking about siloed operations is not good enough because the whole is what delivers the service.
Wow factor: absolutely everyone (technical or not) was able to follow dynamic operations on our single pane of glass, which presented the system’s topology, controls and key performance indicators (KPI) dashboard.
Visibility is key too.Those interested in zooming in and conducting deep dives were able to drill down using our solutions’ own UIs featured on the four side screens, namely Motive Dynamic Operations, Nuage Networks, CloudBand and Bell Labs Analytics.
From the get go, we let anyone simply deploy virtual network elements from a virtualization catalog. This was as easy as selecting an app on a tablet, then swiping it in the direction of the NFV Ops Center. The app would instantly appear on our largest screen as if had flown in mid air.
The point being: deploying a network function is now as easy as that. Note that under present mode of operations (PMO) deploying a single Virtual Network Function (VNF) means months and even more than a year before turning it up. It takes minutes under lean ops with NFV. Speed also allows network operators to expose more services more often to promptly gauge market demand and innovate in the process.
CloudBand did all of the heavy lifting in the background by managing the VNFs lifecycle requirements and orchestrating the underlying resources. Nuage Networks’ Software Defined Networking (SDN) took care of service chaining and Motive Dynamic Operations addressed service provisioning and assurance.
This is the outcome of a virtualized environment that is programmable and fully automated. Moreover, these are all leading best-of-breed solutions in their own right, and the overall value is even greater when working together.
We proceeded to discuss what happens when a service provider becomes a victim of success. We have seen many examples of promising service launches soon followed by unplanned pent up demand.
Business wise, this is an issue when there is no capacity to handle sudden traffic growth. Either new customers are turned down and/or existing ones become impacted by Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoS) issues.
In some other cases, the network operator would make the service costly enough to downsize demand. Others would not even offer it to prevent issues, becoming overlay conservative and risk averse. This well known situation exasperates many (whether consumers or enterprises, as well as regulators) who might not find enough of the applications and services they need based on lifestyles or to be more productive.
Success also means being in business long enough to have to deal with updates, upgrades, conducting preventive and reactive troubleshooting with increasingly shorter maintenance windows. Understanding all of these challenges, we successfully run a variety of Reliability, Availability and Serviceability (RAS) tests in a High Availability (HA) environment, coupled with Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and helped visualize this every time.
Never a dull moment, interactivity and system amazing performance kept everyone on their toes and many even extended their time with us. There were situations where our tour guides would take care of groups queuing by explaining what was going on. I recall occasions where you could hear three of four different languages at the same time.
We also discussed Bell Labs Research on predictive analytics and autonomics (machine learning) for NFV which I will blog about later on.
Long story short, “The Mother of all NFV Demos” made us proud and was a hit among network operators and industry analysts. We checked every time if anyone had seen anything like this, here at MWC or anywhere else. The feedback: the closest example was just slideware.
MWC was intensive and equally rewarding. Greetings from sunny Barcelona : )
“It was December 9, 1968, and as Kay watched from audience, Douglas Engelbart and his fellow computer scientists from Silicon Valley’s Stanford Research Institute unveiled NLS, an online system that included the world’s first computer mouse and presaged so much of today’s online software, including everything from window-like interfaces to what we now call hyperlinks […] Many didn’t understand it […] Short for oNLine System, NLS let you work and communicate with others in countless ways. You could edit text, draw images, manipulate and organize files, send messages, and even video conference. The idea was to supercharge human intelligence through collaboration.” – “Tech Time Warp of the Week: The Mother of All Demos, 1968“ by Daniela Hernandez, Wired.
Emerging technologies are easily subject to self-defeating hype and unfulfilled promises, making it hard to tell apart what’s real from vaporware. At that point, slideware and writings alone do not suffice, demonstrations and trustworthy testimonials become of the essence.
Please note that I’m not comparing what follows with the original “Mother of All Demos.” The above quote is rather a sign of respect and a reference model, something to look up to and strive for.
Our team at the Cloud Innovation Center has been extremely busy working on an NFV portfolio demonstration and, therefore, looking into a challenging questions on what it takes to deliver the mother of all of our NFV demos, and the purpose that it would actually serve… if any.
We thought that this means shifting from a piece meal approach based on showcasing product specific demos to helping everyone experience what happens when things work together across the board. A silo busting exercise.
The industry’s initial focus on “best of breed” needs to be coupled with a modular end-to-end systems engineering where the resulting value and efficiencies clearly exceed the mere addition of any of these elements. Going back to the “Mother of All Demos” reference, isn’t “supercharging” what synergies should be all about?
Following that train of thought, complexity becomes one other issue of concern, which can undermine any good intentions from the onset. For that reason, we made picture  be our other guiding principle, striving to deliver elegant sophistication in simple terms by engaging the customer in a first hand interactive experience, and making it be a memorable one for that matter.
One more thought… we also discussed what the right ratio should be between presenting “state of the art” and “art of the possible.” Going back and forth many times on this through the process, the team consistently stuck to an 80/20 ratio where 80% of the demonstration is anchored on what becomes available this year and the remaining 20% addresses the path forward and underlying design of future things. When dealing with hot technologies, the industry can get easily saturated with Proof of Concept (PoC) and me-too projects. The more reason to clearly spell out what the real deal is.
Any conversation dealing with emerging technologies should handle two other questions regarding incremental vs. disruptive innovation. We are defining “incremental innovation” as getting better with something that we happen to do today already: showing the delta in performance whether operational or financial. We are defining “disruptive innovation” as doing something that we couldn’t possibly do before when working with legacy and conventional technologies, something of “unique value” that is.
While this might or might not be how others might define incremental and disruptive innovation, we can go beyond semantics to agree on the need for addressing the underlying framework. By the same token, note that a “breakthrough” is not a differentiation in this context, as both kinds of innovations rely on this type of high impact discovery one way or another.
In addition to the above concepts, these few pictures outline some of the tools we used in the design and development of “NFV: Service Innovation & Lean Ops,” which we will be demonstrating in Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress in just a couple of weeks. Hope to see you there : )
 Refers to a set of guiding principles: the kind of stuff you go back to conduct a sanity check and when in doubt, which I discussed above. As an example: “if you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
 This is the kick off creative brief: just a one pager outlining the mission by answering “why/what/when/who/where” to being with… while understanding that the project is an iterative journey where we will make discoveries that can make us switch our course and speed as we make progress. Project management wise, it pays to keep an eye on status, flags, % completion and remaining resources, including time left.
 Ideation techniques using both regular post-it and easel size ones for different groups, prioritization exercises leverage location and color coding. Nothing goes to waste: 3M’s Post-it Plus App for Apple’s iPhone comes in handy to capture these “boards,” which helps with post-meeting processing, collecting snapshots of any brainstorming session and keeping up with Kanban scrum boards in software development.
 Conventional whiteboarding also taking advantage of capturing what’s happening with the same app, making an entire whiteboard become a post-it note joining other pictures taken at other sessions, zooming in and out as needed.
 A variety of frameworks have helped organize and communicate information with other teams, as well as a checking for consistency and alignment.
 Low fidelity sketches were used to start visualizing key concepts early on: an agile alternative to cumbersome requirement documents at each iteration.
 High fidelity renderings of photo-realistic mock-ups aiding rapid prototyping.
 Wallpapering in a meeting room where all team members can review designs, post new items and further brainstorm throughout the project.
 Dogfooding (eating your own dog food) means that everyone in the team gets a first hand experience and understanding of what’s being developed, joining testing and contributing to next steps.
 Field trips, going out there to look for best practices and sources for new ideas outside of our own work environment and industry clichés. As an example, these pictures were taken at demonstrations taking place at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and one of Fermilab’s control rooms for the particle accelerator complex.
 Last but not least, the workload involves observational (e.g. ethnography) and usability research coupled with sessions with customers, subject matter experts and in-house stakeholders.
This is an iterative process and the above 10 items might not all take place at each iteration and/or in the same sequence at each cycle.