Orange Barrel Media Discusses the Implications of Ethics for the Future of Emerging and Disruptive Technologies
Alan Gilbert - Central Ohio Tech Power Player Honoree
Orange Barrel Media
Director of Market Strategy – Central Ohio
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SVP of Engineering for Orange Barrel Media, Alan Gilbert, discusses the implications of ethics for the future of emerging and disruptive technologies.
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SG: We are here today with Alan Gilbert, who is the Senior Vice President of Engineering at Orange Barrel Media, an organization based right here in Columbus, Ohio. My name is Steve Gruetter. I'm with Expedient, and I'll be your guest moderator today. Alan, let's get started.
AG: All right. Good to see you again.
SG: Likewise. OK, you've been so active in the Central Ohio IT community. What for you is the best part of working in Central Ohio?
AG: I would say it's the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem here. I came here for that and I'm staying here for that. I really love all of the people, the events, the opportunity, especially the young people – the people who are probably in their late 20s now. I love their energy and passion and drive and ideas, and how they're turning them into reality, and I just really enjoy being around those people. And of course, the more established entrepreneurs as well. It's just a great ecosystem and a great place to start a business. I think it's a great city to start a software business and I think these days, the financial resources and the people resources are plentiful enough that you can do just about anything here.
SG: I will say that Central Ohio certainly put itself on the map when it comes to the startup community, especially, as you mentioned, in the software development space. For you, what is the biggest challenge of working in Central Ohio?
AG: I'd say – and this might just be universal – it’s hiring; finding great software developers. Just about everything you do now requires that skill set, and there are so many good companies in Central Ohio now that it's a tough market. It's a tough market to compete in, to be able to hire the very best people and retain them.
SG: Without a doubt. And when we ask this question – and several people on the podcast have wanted to be asked about what the best and most challenging aspects of Central Ohio, talent has been universally recognized in that. So, you've been at Orange Barrel now almost a year. Could you tell the people listening to the podcast a little bit about Orange Barrel and what your role is there?
AG: Sure. We primarily have three what I'll call product lines, and anyone who's driven up and down 315 or 670 has seen the first one, which is our large-format wallscapes. We are in 16 cities now.
SG: Those large-format wallscapes are so impressive. I wish I had the budget to hire you.
AG: We have them up and down Third Street and a few other locations around Columbus. We're also in 16 markets with either the wallscapes or digital signage. An example of digital signage is at High and Broad streets, and that's becoming more and more common now. As you can imagine, with technology and those types of displays becoming less expensive and able to be larger and brighter and so on, those are becoming more common. And the third product line – the one that I'm mostly involved in – is called IKE, which stands for Interactive Kiosk Experience. And it's a kiosk that's around eight feet tall, double-sided, that sits on the sidewalk and provides all kinds of resources to pedestrians, ranging from people who want to find restaurants, hotels, wayfinding, bus stops, down to a lower economic tiers or services like a job board, like a homeless shelter finder, and all kinds of city services. So, we really try and provide a full spectrum of services to everyone who would be walking on the street.
SG: And are those interactive displays?
AG: And so, they are interactive. There are large, 65-inch displays. It's kind of like a large iPhone on the sidewalk, except it's much less simple as the iPhone is. This is even simpler. The idea is that you should be able to walk up to it and within 10 seconds know exactly how to do what you want to do.
SG: Wow! That's very impressive.
AG: There will be 30 of them in Columbus within the next year. So, you'll see them popping up first in the Short North and then elsewhere.
SG: I'll be looking for them. What a great technology use, if you will. What aspects of technology do you see as use important over the next three years? Any disruptive technologies in there?
AG: I think – and this may not necessarily apply to IKE – but perhaps the most important thing to pay attention to, believe it or not, is ethics. And I think with some of the technologies that are emerging now and artificial intelligence and machine learning and biomedical engineering, I think we're on the verge of doing some pretty scary things. Some of them incredibly powerful on the plus side, but also kind of dangerous on the minus side if we're not careful. And I think one, one example where I think that we need to look to either government or private agencies to help provide some guidance on a grand scale, look at all these incremental things that we're doing and understand where it's going from a big picture. And I think a great example is, a dozen years ago, if you would look at a college student using Facebook, you would never follow the chain of events to the point where our last presidential election had all the scandal associated with it, largely because of using Facebook as a tool to do something that it wasn't designed to do. So, I think that as all this technology comes to the world, we need to develop some ethics and boundaries and practices to help make sure that we don't get ourselves into trouble.
SG: First off, you certainly challenged me on that one by saying that ethics would be a part of it, but I think you're right as rain. It is certainly an interesting thought, and I believe that we do need guard rails or at least something to help guide us because there are people that would take advantage. There's no doubt about that.
SG: Though, when I think about ethics, I'm not sure that government would be the first place I would look.
AG: That's the thing I think about – while the government is in a position to be able to do it, I don't know that they are capable. you know – a typical government organization. So, how do we create bodies that can set standards and influence industry, but also have the focus and innovation and capability to be able to come up with the right solutions? Possibly something like an FCC, or maybe like the AMA that was put into place to guide the practice of medicine. Maybe there's some equivalent that guides the practice of technology.
SG: Interesting. Interesting. Today we have an app for just about everything. For you, what are the most challenging aspects in designing an application?
AG: Yeah, that's a great question because you're right, there is an app for just about everything and I think that the really tough challenge is to do something that is meaningful and that truly is successful. First of all, you need to really be very familiar with the problem. Typically, it has to be a problem that you've lived. Either that or you need to have a very close advisor, somebody who day-to-day is living a problem. And then I think the whole lean concept is very important. Early validation, validating your assumptions, doing small things in small increments to be able to validate that what you thought is appealing to one human will appeal to another human to solve their problem. People are all different and we need to take what we have in the lab and bring it to the customer frequently to be able to know if it truly is going to be accepted by the customer. If it's going to solve the problem that we think it’s going to solve in the way that we think it's going to solve it, or maybe we will be surprised and see that it does something even better. The other thing is, it's so hard to resist over complicating things. So, I think keep things simple and intuitive and easy to use and resist the temptation to add in a lot of extra features. It's much better to provide a great experience for 80 percent of the people then create a confusing experience for 99 percent of the people that ends up not being all that useful because people don't know how to use it.
SG: Coming from somebody who was struggling today to order lunch because the website was so poorly designed, I can completely agree with you on that one. Too many extras, too many extras. There's nothing more infuriating than, than a poorly designed interface.
AG: That's correct. I always tell my wife, you know, on the weekend when I'm at the banking website or what have you, I'll start ranting about how my team would never do this.
SG: So, if you're Alan’s bank and you're listening to this, make sure you reach out to him and he will show you how to simplify it. Alan, professionally, what makes you the most happy? You've touched on working with the younger set, you've touched on entrepreneurship. What gets you motivated to kill it every day?
AG: In a broad sense. I say doing work that matters, doing work that makes a difference. And I would characterize that in two different ways. For the type of work I do, one is on the product side and that is creating something that has a measurable, observable, positive effect. Something that makes life easier for people, makes it easier for people to do their jobs and do their jobs well. I like to be in a product development environment, see that product go to market and then see it being appreciated by the intended user. The other side is the people side, and what I get a big thrill out of his building teams, organizations, putting people in roles where I think they can succeed and then seeing them knock it out of the park. So, seeing a team be successful, or I can just stand back and watch and know that I had a major role in creating that team or building that team. That's very gratifying.
SG: I would think so. It's great to have the players. But what's the phrase? Having all the seats on the bus and making sure everyone's aligned.
AG: Yeah. That is one of the biggest challenges that I think most businesses face. You can identify the players, but can you identify the roles those players need to be in?
SG: Right, right.
AG: And they’re each a unique challenge and you need to be able to do both.
SG: That’s right. Alan, thank you so much for your time today. This is Steve Gruetter and Alan Gilbert. To learn more about us, please visit comspark.tech. Goodbye, until next time.
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