How Does myTrailhead Excel and How Can Science Make myTrailhead Even Better

Astro, Einstein, and other Salesforce Trailhead characters
Salesforce’s Trailhead branding is both on-point and adorable.

Key Takeaways:

  • myTrailhead allows customized training content and incorporates useful motivational and performance testing tools.
  • myTrialhead could be enhanced by incorporating scientifically-validated best practices in training, which suggest that hard skills are best trained by a cognitive skill learning system in the brain and soft skills are best trained by a behavioral skill learning system in the brain
  • In its current implementation, myTrailhead is more nearly optimized for hard skill training, but is sub-optimal for soft skills training

Technology is progressing at an accelerating rate. Jobs are constantly being updated or redefined by, and with the help of technology. Employees are constantly being asked to learn new skills whether in the same job or in a new position. Constant training is the rule, not the exception, and training platforms must be built with this in mind.
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Why Computer Based Sexual Harassment Awareness Training is Ineffective and Why Virtual Reality (VR) Offers a Better Solution

Person participating in virtual reality simulation
Photo by Samuel Zeller

What do Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Michael Oreskes, Kevin Spacey and many others have in common (other than all being male)? Certainly not political beliefs or professional expertise. Whether left or right leaning in the political arena, or focused on entertainment, journalism or government service, all have been accused of, and in some cases admitted to, sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Sexual misconduct has been a cancer on society for as long as history has been recorded. Have we reached a tipping point? Has the “#MeToo” movement and the press coverage led to a fundamental shift in our thinking and will it permanently affect behavior? These are great questions, that I am not qualified to answer. Only time will tell.

What I am prepared to say is that our approach to sexual harassment awareness, in particular, training programs focused specifically on increasing awareness of sexual harassment and reducing the incidence of sexual harassment, are nearly all sub-optimal.

Why?

Computer-Based Sexual Harassment Awareness Training is Sub-Optimal

Whether developed for government or corporate entities large and small, nearly all sexual harassment awareness training programs are classroom or computer-based. They involve having individuals read text, or watch slideshows and videos that define sexual harassment and the behaviors that are appropriate or inappropriate. They describe power differentials that often exist in government or the corporate world and how that impacts the appropriateness of interpersonal interactions. They might even include video interactions so that individuals can “see” sexual harassment in action from a third-person perspective.

In all of these cases, the nature of the training content and the training procedures are such that they recruit the cognitive skills learning system in the brain. The cognitive skills learning system in the brain learns through observation, mimicry and mental repetition. This is an excellent brain system for learning hard skills such as: (a) learning new software, (b) becoming proficient with rules and regulations, or (c) learning a new programming language, but this learning system in the brain is less effective for learning soft skills such as appropriate interpersonal interactions and real-time communication, or for training true empathy for another’s situation.

Appropriate interpersonal interactions and real-time communication skills are best learned by the behavioral skills learning system in the brain that learns by doing and receiving immediate corrective feedback. Physical repetitions, not mental repetitions, are key. Genuine empathy for another’s situation is best trained through a first-person experience in which you “are” that other person.

The Promise of VR for Sexual Harassment Awareness Training

VR offerings currently come in two general types. One takes a first-person perspective and allows you to literally “walk a mile” in someone else’s shoes. This approach involves passive, observational learning, much like computer based training, but the feeling of immersion, and more importantly the feeling that you are “someone else” is powerful. I believe that this offers one of the most effective tools for enhancing emotional intelligence and helping learners understand at a visceral level what it is like to be in a position of weakness and to be the direct target of sexual harassment. There is no better way for a middle-aged, Caucasian male to “feel” the prejudice or sexual harassment that a young, female African-American might experience or to “feel” the discrimination that many members of the LGBT community feel, than to put that man in a first-person VR environment where they are that other individual. Of course, the training content and the training scenarios must be realistic to be effective, but experts in this sector know how to create high-quality content. In my view, first-person VR experiences offer a great first step toward reducing the incidence of sexual harassment by increasing genuine empathy and understanding.

Although these passive, observational VR experiences offer a great tool for enhancing sexual harassment awareness, they are not focused specifically on behavior. The second type of VR offering, interactive VR, addresses this problem directly. Interactive VR platforms incorporate realistic interpersonal interaction and real-time communication into the mix. The learner can be placed in situations involving sexual harassment in which virtual agents react to the learner’s behavior in real-time. In other words, learners learn by doing and by receiving immediate feedback regarding the correctness of their behavior. This approach optimally recruits the behavioral skills learning system in the brain, which is the ideal system for reducing the incidence of inappropriate behaviors. Without taking a deep dive into brain neurochemistry, suffice it to say that behavioral skills learning is best when the brain circuits that initiated the behavior are still active when feedback is received. If the action is appropriate, then that behavior will be strengthened, and if the action is inappropriate, then that behavior will be weakened. Although there are clearly ethical limits to the intensity of the VR environments that one can be compelled to experience, interactive VR experiences with even mild levels of harassment will be effective in changing behavior.

Interactive VR approaches may also be useful in extreme cases as a rehabilitation procedure. Individuals already identified as sexual harassers by previous actions or complaints may benefit significantly from this type of rehabilitative behavioral therapy. In these situations, it may be ethically appropriate to increase the intensity of the interactive VR environments so that real changes in behavior will occur.

Disclaimer

Sexual harassment is a serious problem in our society. In many cases, the individual is fully aware of their behavior and simply does not care. In such cases, no training, whether computer-based or VR, will likely have any effect. These are situations involving a conscious bias and behavioral change may be difficult. It is the cases of unconscious bias, where the individual is less aware of the impact of their behavior, that there is hope. The point of this article is not to claim that all sexual harassment can be eradicated. That is unrealistic, wishful thinking. That said, I believe that we can reduce the incidence of sexual harassment through effective training. I believe that the science of learning suggests that VR may provide a better tool for achieving this goal than computer based training.

Conclusion

I am not an expert on sexual harassment, but I do understand the psychology of behavior and behavior change. Although traditional computer-based approaches do their best to define, describe and demonstrate sexual harassment behavior, they target the cognitive skills learning system in the brain. This system is ideal for hard skill training, but not soft skill training, such as the training needed to reduce the incidence sexual harassment. I believe that VR holds significant promise as a training tool for reducing the incidence of sexual harassment. By combining the passive, observational first-person VR experiences that allow one to see the world through someone else’s eyes and experience sexual harassment first hand, with interactive VR experiences that allow one to engage in interpersonal interaction and real-time communication focused on rewarding appropriate behaviors and punishing inappropriate behaviors we might be able to reduce the size of this cancer from our society. The science is clear, and it suggests that this VR approach has merit.

With myEinstein, Salesforce Embraces that “AI is the New UI”

Astro, Einstein, and other Salesforce Trailhead characters
Salesforce Einstein Airplane - Courtesy of Salesforce
Salesforce Einstein Airplane – Courtesy of Salesforce

Key Takeaway: Amalgam believes that the go-live date of myEinstein will be the most important date for Enterprise AI in 2018 as it represents the day that AI will become practical and available to a broad business audience across industries, verticals, company sizes, and geographies.

On November 6, 2017, Salesforce [NYSE:CRM] announced the launch of myEinstein: services based on Salesforce’s Einstein machine learning platform to support point-and-click-based and codeless AI app development. This announcement was one of several new services that Salesforce built across platform (mySalesforce and myIoT), training (myTrailhead), and user interface development (myLightning).

myEinstein consists of two services: Continue reading “With myEinstein, Salesforce Embraces that “AI is the New UI””

4 Key Developer Responsibilities Where Machine Learning Can Help

Note: A version of this post was published to Tom’s Tech Take II

As the fall season of tech conferences starts to wind down, something is quite clear – machine learning (ML) is going to be everywhere. Box is putting ML in content management, Microsoft in office and CRM, and Oracle is infusing it into, well, everything. While not a great leap forward on the order of the Internet, smartphones, or PCs, the inclusion of ML technology into so many applications will make a lot of mundane tasks easier. This trend promises to be a boon for developers. The strength of machining learning is finding and exploiting patterns and anomalies. What could be more useful to developers?

Here are some examples:

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Amalgam Insights Analyzes Sage Intacct and Pacioli AI

Amalgam Insights recently attended Sage Intacct Advantage. In the past, Intacct got AI’s attention for its strong technology foundation that positions it well for a future of predictive analytics, ease of integration, and machine learning while maintaining the core financial responsibilities associated with being a nominative mid-market ERP solution. Sage has traditionally been known as…

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With Oracle Universal Credits, the Cloud Wars Are Truly On

In late September, prior to Oracle Open World, Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) held an event to announce its consumption pricing model of Universal Credits and the ability to reuse existing software licenses across Oracle’s Platform as a Service (PaaS) middleware, analytics, and database offerings. The Universal Credits represent a fundamental change in cloud pricing as they will allow Oracle Cloud customers to switch between Oracle’s IaaS and PaaS services. In addition, Larry Ellison also unveiled a “self-driving” database that would greatly reduce the cost of administration.

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28 Hours as an Industry Analyst at Strata Data

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Last week, I attended Strata Data Conference at the Javitz Center in New York City to catch up with a wide variety of data science and machine learning users, enablers, and thought leaders. In the process, I had the opportunity to listen to some fantastic keynotes and to chat with 30+ companies looking for solutions, 30+ vendors presenting at the show, and attend with a number of luminary industry analysts and thought leaders including Ovum’s Tony Baer, EMA’s John Myers, Aberdeen Group’s Mike Lock, and Hurwitz & Associates’ Judith Hurwitz.

From this whirwind tour of executives, I took a lot of takeaways from the keynotes and vendors that I can share and from end users that I unfortunately have to keep confidential. To give you an idea of what an industry analyst notes, following are a short summary of takeaways I took from the keynotes and from each vendor that I spoke to:

Keynotes: The key themes that really got my attention is the idea that AI requires ethics, brought up by Joanna Bryson, and that all data is biased, which danah boyd discussed. This idea that data and machine learning have their own weaknesses that require human intervention, training, and guidance is incredibly important. Over the past decade, technologists have put their trust in Big Data and the idea that data will provide answers, only to find that a naive and “unbiased” analysis of data has its own biases. Context and human perspective are inherent to translating data into value: this does not change just because our analytic and data training tools are increasingly nuanced and intelligent in nature.

Behind the hype of data science, Big Data, analytic modeling, robotic process automation, DevOps, DataOps, and artifical intelligence is this fundamental need to understand that data, algorithms, and technology all have inherent biases as the following tweet shows:

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Microsoft: The New Player in Quantum Computing

Doppelspalt
Doppelspalt
Doppelspalt

On the week of September 25th, 2017, Microsoft made a huge announcement at its annual Ignite and Envision conference. Microsoft has become one of a small number of companies that is demonstrating quantum computing. IBM is another company that is also pursuing this rather futuristic computing model.

For those who are not up-to-date on quantum computing, it uses quantum properties such as superposition and entanglement to develop a new way of computing. Current computers are built around tiny electron switches called transistors that allow for two states, which represent the binary system we have today. Quantum computers leverage quantum states that give us ones, zeros, and combinations of one and zero. This means a single qubit, the quantum equivalent of a bit, can represent many more states than the bit can. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification but quantum computing promises to deliver more dense and exponentially faster computing.

There are a number of problems with practical quantum computing. The hardware is still in a nascent stage and must be cooled to a temperature that is quite a bit colder than deep space. This makes it much more likely that quantum computing will be purchased via a cloud model than on-premises. The other inhibitor is that there is no standard programming model for quantum computing. IBM has demonstrated a visual programming model that shows how quantum computing works but is clearly not going to be a serious way to write real programs. Microsoft, on the other hand, showed a more standard looking curly bracket programming language. This application layer makes quantum computing more accessible to existing programmers who are more used to the current model of computing.

When quantum computing becomes practical – I would predict that is at least 5 years away, perhaps longer – it won’t be for everyday computing tasks. The current model is already more than adequate for those tasks. It’s also unlikely that the capabilities of quantum computers, especially the information dense qubit, and costs will have much a place in transactional computing. Instead, quantum computing will be used for analyzing very large and complex data sets for simulation and AI. That’s fine because the AI and analytics market is still new and the future needs are not yet completely known. That future computing needs is what quantum computing is meant to address. Even today’s big data applications can stretch computing capabilities and force batch analytics instead of real-time for some use cases.
Microsoft’s entry into what has been an otherwise esoteric corner of the computing world signals that quantum computing is on the path to being real. It has a long way to go and many obstacles to overcome but it’s no longer just science fiction or academic. It will be years but it is on the way to becoming mainstream.

Note: This post was originally posted on Tom’s Take

Microsoft Infuses Products with Machine Learning and the Social Graph

This past week (September 25 – 27, 2017) Microsoft held its Ignite and Envision Conferences. The co-conferences encompass both technology (Ignite) and the business of technology (Envision). Microsoft’s announcements reflected that duality with esoteric technology subjects such as mixed reality and quantum computing on equal footing with digital transformation, a mainstay of modern business transformation projects. There were two announcements that, in my opinion, will have the most impact in the short-term because they were more foundational.

The first announcement was that machine learning was being integrated into every Microsoft productivity and business product. Most large software companies are adding machine learning to their platforms but no company has Microsoft’s reach into modern businesses. Like IBM, SAP and Oracle, Microsoft can embed machine learning in business applications such as CRM. Microsoft can also integrate machine learning into productivity applications as can Google. IBM can do both but IBM’s office applications aren’t close to having the market penetration of Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft has the opportunity to embed machine learning everywhere in a business, a capability that none of their competitors have.
Continue reading “Microsoft Infuses Products with Machine Learning and the Social Graph”

Riverside Partners Acquires Calero: TEM in Transition

Calero Logo
Calero

On September 13th, 2017, Riverside Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm, announced the acquisition of Calero Software from Clearlake Capital. Calero manages more than $6 billion of annual telecom, mobility, and cloud spend for more than 3,000 customers in 40+ countries and provides managed mobility services for more than 400,000 devices, making it one of the largest technology expense management solutions overall behind Tangoe’s $38 billion+ in technology expense management and Flexera’s $13 billion+ in software expense management. (Cass does not break out its telecom spend, but Amalgam believes it to be similar in scale to Calero.)

This blog covers Amalgam’s perspective on:

  1. Why Clearlake sold Calero?
  2. Who is Riverside Partners, a relatively new player in the TEM space?
  3. What to expect from Calero going forward?
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