Collecting Big Data Footprints

May 23rd, 2016 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Member Blog Posts - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s blog, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering shares research on Big Data footprints that the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department is working on with the Huazhong University of Science and Technology.


vcublogXubin He, Ph.D., professor and graduate program director of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering Electrical and Computer Engineering department, is working with Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) to establish an international research institute focused on creating design techniques to improve data reliability and performance. Coordination efforts are currently underway to create rotation periods for students from VCU and HUST to conduct research within each university’s state-of-the art laboratories.

“This next step in our partnership with VCU helps both universities attract more high-quality research students, while enhancing the breadth and depth of our research,” said Dan Feng, Ph.D. and dean of the School of Computer Science and Technology at HUST. Feng also serves as director of the Data Storage and Application lab at HUST.

Managing big data

Data storage is a booming industry, with lots of opportunities. Just a decade ago, computational speed dominated research efforts and water cooler conversations. According to He, data is more important now. “Data empowers decision-making and drives business progress. No one can tolerate data loss, whether that data represents favorite photos or industry trends and analytics,” added He. And yet, trying to increase data capacity or replace obsolete data systems can shut down vital data centers for days.

Research teams from both universities find creative solutions to global data pain points. For example, these collaborative research teams reduced overhead costs associated with data failures by up to 30 percent. Their algorithms allow businesses to encode data that can be easily retrieved, instead of having to rely on costly data copies or redundant data centers.

Currently, in addition to HUST, He’s team also works with top data storage companies such as EMC, which ranks 128 in the Fortune 500 and had reported revenues of $24.4 billion in 2014.

The network effect

He has a simple philosophy to gauge the success of university research efforts — he looks at who else is there. “At top data storage and systems events such as USENIX’s File and Storage Technologies conference and USENIX’s Annual Technical conference, we’re presenting with peers from Harvard, MIT, Princeton and other premier universities we admire,” said He. These conferences typically accept about 30 presentation papers — that’s less than 20 percent of the global submissions they receive.

“Professor He’s leadership represents one of many efforts to build our international reputation in industry and academia,” said Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D. and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “HUST is ranked 19 on the U.S. News World & Report’s Best Global Universities for Engineering list. When leading universities like HUST want to work closely with you, you know you’re doing something right.”

For more news from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering, click here.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member company Kathy Stershic of Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle three: protect your customer data.


Here is the third of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, based on Dialog’s recent research.

There are few hotter topics these days than cybersecurity. Sadly, the state of affairs will probably not significantly improve in the foreseeable future. Estimates are that two new malwares proliferate every second. Even the best intrusion protection software cannot keep up with that. The reality is that no organizations are infallible, and despite your best efforts, you can and probably will get hacked.

Still, organizations must proactively do everything they possibly can to protect customer data. With new breaches in the news (and notifications in our mailboxes) so frequently, people are rightly very concerned about the security of their data. Organizations who are thought to not have taken adequate security measures become the target of lawsuits. For example, Anthem is facing multiple suits after admitting a massive breach last February.

While setting up digital protections is the realm of IT, there are many other sources of risk to customer data – such as employee negligence, being careless with physical documents, not securing file cabinets, not destroying data that is no longer needed, leaving unsecured computers accessible, malicious insiders and just plain old mistakes. An organizational culture of mindfulness about practices that may seem innocuous can go a long way toward keeping data secure. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

Our study respondents had many other data protection concerns as well: Hide my identity; don’t track (or reveal) my location – this is a particular concern for women who may face stalking threats; don’t use facial recognition to identify me in crowd scenes; don’t harm me or enable harm to me by sharing my data with others who discriminate or apply bias; don’t track health-related data and search queries; don’t share sensitive medical and financial information. Unfortunately technologies are rapidly proliferating to do all of these things, and faster.

Just one example – at a conference last week, I heard the Chief Privacy Officer for Acxiom say that their data analytics capabilities are advanced to where they can identify by name a large percentage of the U.S. male population who were likely to have a certain health condition that, let’s say, most would not want revealed. She had to call foul and was able to stop the general availability of these lists for purchase.

Clearly there are many facets to data concerns and data protection. Get your own house in order. Ingrain this into the culture. And be as transparent and reassuring as you can with your customers about how seriously your organization takes this. But then there’s beyond your organization, which will be addressed in my next post.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the below post, Elizabeth Harr of member company Hinge explains how research is an essential element for tech firms in differentiating their brand.


Technology firms go to great lengths not to reinvent the wheel when developing new ideas. Staying on top of industry trends and tools keeps them from wasting time and money developing last year’s products or services. Tech firms live and die based on the quality of their research, of how in-tune they are with competitor’s capabilities. But even as technology providers differentiate their products and services, they often forget to differentiate themselves. And in the struggle to understand the competition lies the risk of blending in with the competition.

But if your firm is looking to grow, blending in is not the way to go. Our research shows a strong correlation between brand differentiation and growth. In fact, high growth firms are three times as likely to have a strong differentiator than firms with average growth.

So what makes a differentiator strong? Three things:

  1. It must be true. You can’t just make it up. Well, you could. But if you don’t practice what you preach—if you don’t deliver what you promise how you promise—you’re going to hurt your brand and your business.
  2. It must matter to your clients. More than just setting you apart, your differentiator must be important to your clients. You can boast having the best kickball team in the state, but if it’s not serving your clients’ interests, you can’t count on your differentiator gaining much traction.
  3. It must be supportable. So your differentiator is true and it matters to your customers, but you can’t prove it. That’s a problem. If it’s not quantifiable in some way, it can be difficult to communicate it to your clients. This is particularly tricky with “soft” differentiators like commitment to clients. A good rule of thumb is to avoid differentiators that everyone claims. Things like customers coming first or having the best team in the business are both hard to prove and everyone claims these. If everyone’s has (or at least claims) a particular focus, it can’t set you apart.

Discovering Your Differentiator

There are two ways to approach brand differentiation. You can uncover what you’re currently doing that sets you apart and play to that strength, or you can look for customer needs that are currently not addressed by the marketplace. Find out what your customers value and how you can rise to the occasion. Take a long hard look at the marketplace. Ask questions. Is there no one providing both of a couple of services that seem like a natural pairing? Is no one focused on a particular region, industry, or process?


Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, brand building, and communications. She is the coauthor of Inside the Buyer’s Brain, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the third of a five part series on “Building Relationships,” Matthew Falls of BusinessUSA shares his insights on utilizing your research to connect with potential customers.


You’ve identified the companies, agencies and program offices that are most likely to use your product or service. You have read their most recent press releases and blog entries. You also know the names of the leadership team, program managers and contracting officers for those programs. You’ve connected with them on social media networks. You also know those companies most likely to fit with your core competencies.

If you don’t know this information, you probably have not done enough research and it is best to find out this information. It will provide the basis for starting your matthewseries3relationship with a company, program office, or a prime contractor.

There’s an event next week. Perhaps it’s an Industry Day, a program office is giving a seminar, there’s a networking event sponsored by a trade association or economic development agency, or perhaps you’ve identified a key contact and you want to set up a meeting. Maybe you are attending a trade show or industry event.

Do some research. Who is sponsoring? What programs or panel discussions are being offered? Can you contribute? Call the organization and ask how you can help with the event. Your research on the organization can tell you what programs they like to offer, what its membership does. Think about putting on a program for them in the future. This will better connect you to the organization and they will see you as a resource. Becoming a resource to them gives the organization the confidence to introduce you to an opportunity.

Focus on your goals for this event. Do you want leads, an introduction to someone, or just to build your brand? You’re not going to close a sale, so relax. You can take the time to nurture a relationship. Set performance metrics, i.e., I expect to have x substantial conversations that lead to an opportunity, I expect to collect x business cards, etc. Setting metrics allows you to objectively evaluate your performance and the usefulness of the event. Evaluating each event provides the information needed to make the most of your time, to focus on those events and organizations that provide the most value for you.

The SWOT analysis you did earlier has given you the information and strategic focus needed to craft a statement about your organization, what it does best and why the listener should care. People will want to know what you or your organization does and you need to have a clear vision that ties into your goals for this event.

When you meet that first person, pay attention to them. Look them in the eye, shake hands firmly and show an interest in their business card and what their position is in the organization. Figure out what concerns the person you’re speaking with; have a genuine interest in what they are doing. Ask about recent press releases, new initiatives they may be engaged in, talk about what they hope to get out of this event.

Make the focus on them. Don’t forget the human element of relationships. It is very important to understand what is possible and what the person that you are speaking with is capable of doing; if not, you’re wasting your time. The more you focus on the other person, the faster you will have the information to make a determination about this person.

The other person will ask about your business. Because you spent the time focusing on the other person in this conversation, you now have the information needed to craft your response around how your company’s product or service can be a benefit to the company. Talk about next steps. Leave the conversation with an action item. Write it on the back of their business card when you get a chance. Tell them that you will respond to them the next day.

If you get so lucky as to uncover a potential need and opportunity, try to learn who will influence the solution and the decision-making process. People connect to their colleagues on LinkedIn and some of them will be influential in the requirements development and selection process. Visit each of those buying influence’s LinkedIn profiles and pay close attention to whether they are linked to any of your competitors. If so, then that’s a red flag.

Sometimes there really is no connection to the person; you cannot provide what they need. Ask for a referral, do they know anyone who has a need for your product or service? If so, ask for a specific email introduction to their contact referencing the point of interest as an action item for this conversation. Write the contact’s name and point of interest on the back of the business card.

The event is over and you have a handful of business cards. Hopefully you wrote the action items on the back of the cards. Review the event. How did you perform against your goals? Be objective about the event. Perhaps you didn’t get many cards because you didn’t do the research versus the event not being a good fit for you. Maybe you didn’t get enough cards because you took too much time with a person. That’s good if it leads to a concrete opportunity, or a substantial conversation that moves the relationship forward. Keeping performance metrics allows to objectively evaluate the event, your preparation and your pitch.

Add the cards, points of interest and action items into your contact database and assign tasks for follow up. Always follow up when you say you will. It goes to your credibility, reliability and reputation for being able to deliver. These are some of the most important aspects in a good relationship and to gain the confidence of people who might be able to help you in the future.

At this point you have a few people who are connected to the opportunities that you’ve highlighted in your SWOT analysis. It’s time to cultivate these relationships, bring value to your contacts, assuring that they see you and your company as a valuable resource in their network.

Perhaps you don’t have a business development staff to make these contacts or your company is not located in Washington, DC if you sell to the federal government. Maybe you want to penetrate a different industry sector, line of business or another agency to win larger chunks of business.

Consider forming an advisory board comprised of very high-profile individuals who will open doors and act as advocates for your company. A properly constructed advisory board, whose sole purpose is to drive revenue, can turbo-charge your business development and harvest the value in your company.


Matthew Falls works for the federal initiative BusinessUSA, focusing on outreach to the state and local partners and the business community.  He collaborates with state and local economic development organizations to feature their program content on BusinessUSA and to introduce BusinessUSA as a resource to small businesses. 

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS