Monday, January 31, 2011

Systems Thinking in the Expanding Mobile Space


By David Rosenbaum

As relationships between Google, Apple, Verizon, AT&T and other mobile developers, providers, and operators shift from competitive to cooperative and back again, and as operating systems fight for market share, the mobile space has become a dense forest of possibility for companies and customers alike. MIT System Design and Management (SDM) student Ipshita Nag's thesis is devoted to mapping this evolving mobile ecosystem.

With her training as an engineer, Ipshita has kept one eye on emerging technologies. With the systems thinking and management education she received at SDM, she's kept the other on the changing business strategies that seem to reconfigure the mobile landscape on an almost daily basis. In short, Ipshita is using systems and management thinking to cut an optimal path through the mobile forest to find a path to value for both providers and end-users.

According to Ipshita, the key question is: "What's the best business model for carriers and providers as network access becomes commoditized, application stores/operating systems are fragmented, and mobile technology evolves at a rapid pace?" Her answer, which she developed by analyzing the mobile system and then looking at ROI for all stakeholders, is collaboration -- in building devices, providing services, and developing markets.

"Integrating across the value chain either through partnerships, mergers or acquisitions, hedges investment risks, enhances core competencies, and increases access to distribution channels," says Ipshita, who received her bachelor's degree in electronics and telecommunications engineering from Nagpur University, in India, and has worked for Infosys Technologies, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and Aricent. "This also helps ensure relevant content, which leads to enhanced customer experience, user engagement, and common service/user experience across platforms."

Ipshita began thinking about collaboration—and the problems that can emerge in its absence—as a senior consultant at PriceWaterhouse Coopers. "I experienced challenges at the intersection of business, technology, and regulation," she says. "I saw that as responsibilities increase, people tend to become more siloed and I recognized the need to manage interdisciplinary processes across functions, to identify all stakeholders in any given system, understand their needs, and build a system that satisfies all. What I saw," she concludes, "was the need for systems thinking . . . although I didn't know it at the time."

Ipshita began investigating MBA programs to gain the expertise she believed she needed to direct traffic in that business-technology-governmental intersection, but then she discovered SDM which, she says, impressed her with its flexibility to build in her own preferences, leverage her technical expertise, and collaborate with MIT's world-class professors. Her studies, while enriching, have surpassed her expectations. "The quality of the classes was exceptional," she says. "And I got to work on projects with companies ranging from BT to Verizon to start-ups. I even worked on a U.S. Department of Defense aircraft maintenance system. I never thought I'd be doing that!"

Today Ipshita says she can "choose to think as an engineer, a strategist, marketer, or all of them together. My vision has broadened. I've learned to look beyond short-term gain to create collaborative strategies for product development and service delivery that can generate long-term value for all stakeholders." After graduating, she hopes to do just that.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Joan Rubin Appointed Industry Codirector of MIT's System Design and Management Program

By Lois Slavin, SDM Communications Director

MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) Program announced today that Joan Rubin has joined SDM as industry codirector. Rubin comes to MIT from Covidien, a leading manufacturer of medical devices and supplies, diagnostic imaging agents and pharmaceuticals, where she served as vice president of business development.


Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography

Rubin brings to SDM 17 years of business development, marketing, market development and strategic planning experience in the medical device field. She joined Aspect Medical Systems in its start-up phase several years prior to its November 2009 acquisition by Covidien. At Aspect, her roles included vice president of business development, senior director of global partnerships, director of global upstream marketing, and manager/director of market development. Previously she worked as manager of surgical marketing at Haemonetics Corp.

Prof. Warren Seering, SDM codirector from MIT School of Engineering noted, "Joan's deep knowledge of the medical and pharmaceutical industries, strong relationship management skills, and senior level contacts are enormous attributes. We very much look forward to working with her and to continuing to evolve SDM's research, academic, and conference offerings to meet the needs of a wide range industries."

"Joan brings to SDM a unique blend of current connections with a broad range of global multi-billion dollar companies as well as small, emerging technology companies that will influence industry in the years to come," said Steven Eppinger, SDM codirector from MIT Sloan School of Management. "We welcome the opportunity to build relationships that can lead to their participation in SDM."

Rubin is a graduate of MIT's Leaders for Global Operations Program, where she earned an SM in management from MIT Sloan and an SM in mechanical engineering. She holds an Sc.B. in mechanical engineering from Brown University. Rubin and her husband, Dan, have two children.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bringing Systems Thinking to Healthcare

By David Rosenbaum

At last October's MIT System Design and Management (SDM) Conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges, Senior Corporate Manager for Knowledge Management and Clinical Decision Support at Partners HealthCare Roberto A. Rocha spoke about how better to provide physicians with Clinical Decision Support (CDS) at a time when healthcare costs are soaring and, over the last 20 years, "the scientific literature has doubled." That mountain of information is impossible for any single physician to scale, which is why providing CDS is so critical to reducing errors and the costs they generate. But, as Rocha pointed out, the technological barriers to CDS adoption are significant, as are the human barriers, specifically the difficulty in getting patients to take their medicine as prescribed.

In his SDM thesis work, Chetan Jog is applying systems thinking to address both barriers - specifically, how to optimize CDS, encourage its use, and improve medication compliance. In order to do that, says Jog, one of the foundational applications of Health Informatics - the Electronic Health Record (EHR) - must be adopted far more broadly than it has been to date. (EHR adoption in the U.S. is around 18%-20% in contrast to 50% - 60% in Europe and 90% in Scandinavia.)

Jog, who grew up in Mumbai and Pune, India, received his M.S. in Computer and Systems Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2000. Prior to enrolling in SDM, he was a Product and Technology Strategist in the CTO's office at Nortel Networks from 2001-2008, where he focused on networks and cloud computing.

"There are tremendous opportunities to improve health outcomes for patients and streamline business processes for payers, providers and other stakeholders with the gold-mine of health data," says Jog. Any plan for transitioning to the broad use of electronic health records databases, he says, must include a "holistic system of education, incentives, and penalties." Indeed, it was Jog's bent for holistic thinking that originally brought him to SDM.

"Everything in the world is connected," Jog says, drawing on his computer networking background and also his interest in meditation and yoga. (He teaches at the Art of Living Foundation, and helped found the Art of Living Club at MIT in 2004.) "Good engineers have a common sense understanding of that connectedness and how to use it to optimize system architecture and design. At SDM, you learn the discipline and the principles in courses such as Professor Crawley's System Architecture course."

Jog was also drawn to SDM for the business education it offers. "Over almost a decade of working at big and small companies, I learned that even if there's a great idea, it means nothing without the right market conditions and customers who are ready for it," says Jog.

"At SDM," he continues, "I'm continuing to learn about my real potential. When I was just doing computer networks and software, I felt like I was not doing all I could do. But if I can help develop a system that leverages health analytics, it has business benefits - reducing treatment and process costs - and it could provide feedback for comparative outcomes that will provide best practices for providers.

"In other words," he concludes, "it could help people and transform lives."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Inside Cowart's Brain: Test and Evaluation of Unmanned Autonomous Systems of Systems

By David Rosenbaum

U.S. Air Force Major Kris Cowart, a fellow in MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) programs class entering in 2010, is currently working with MIT's Lean Advancement Initiative on his thesis research in order to determine how a decision support system designed for the test planning of unmanned autonomous systems of systems can add value to the Department of Defense test and evaluation enterprise.


Photo by L. Barry Hetherington

Cowart was ready to join the SDM cohort and begin this challenging work in September 2009, but while vacationing with his family the prior July he woke up seeing double. He knew this was a bad sign, as a few months earlier he had been told that he had two aneurysms deep in his brain and he had put off what he was told would be risky surgery to see whether his symptoms (headaches, fatigue) would worsen.

Clearly, they had.

Cowart spent 18 hours on the operating table and was sedated for weeks afterward to give his brain time to heal. When he awoke, his short term memory was impacted and he had trouble remembering the names of friends and family. Today, when asked whether he has any lingering cognitive deficits, he answers, "I'm at MIT, aren't I?"

That road to MIT and SDM began at Edwards Air Force Base where engineers like Cowart were teamed with pilots to test aerospace systems. By working closely together, they all learned to speak the same language, which enabled the engineers to understand the pilots' needs. "The human factor is critical," says Cowart, who has seen this user-centric message reinforced in his SDM classes. "You don't want to inundate the pilot with too much information; you want to give him enough to allow him to do what he needs to do."

Cowart, a career officer, views the training he's receiving at SDM as "a unique mix of engineering discipline and business acumen." He believes that this, along with his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Louisiana State University and MS in Aerospace Engineering earned from the Georgia Institute of Technology, will allow him to become "a key cog for others," whether in the military or the private sector.

His thesis research is a case in point. His focus is on how a decision support system designed for the test planning of unmanned autonomous systems of systems can add value to the Department of Defense test and evaluation enterprise. Cowart says there are many challenges associated with systems of systems testing, and understanding the needs and requirements of the stakeholders is fundamental in order to be successful. One challenge that must be overcome is for multiple systems to work together despite the fact that they are unavoidably asynchronous, each with its own development schedule, budget, employees, and program managers. Synching up multiple systems (and multiple people and resources) efficiently and effectively requires a significant amount of coordination, a necessarily abstract and difficult process.

"Right now, as an officer, I help to develop and acquire the systems needed by the warfighter. With my background, experience, a B.S. and an M.S. in engineering, plus SDM, I think I'll be able to make valuable contributions to the mission now and to any company once my career in the Air Force is over."

MIT Systems Thinking Conference Provides Invaluable Lessons for Environmental Protection

By Linda Sheehan, S.B. 1985

Editor's note: MIT alumna Linda Sheehan is Executive Director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, an environmental advocacy organization. In this article, she reflects on the benefits of attending the MIT SDM Systems Thinking Conference in October.

MIT has consistently generated major, innovative advancements in system dynamics theory and applications. So I felt extremely fortunate to be able to attend the October 2010 MIT SDM Systems Thinking Conference—which focused on climate change, a major element of our program work at the California Coastkeeper Alliance.

As the director of this environmental advocacy organization, it is my job to push the envelope of law and policy toward improving the health of California's coast and waterways. Working closely with dedicated colleagues and members of the public, we have achieved significant victories for environmental health throughout California. Yet, even in environment-friendly California, our current system of environmental laws simply cannot protect us from ourselves.

Systems thinking provides a process by which we can begin to deconstruct the flaws in our current system of environmental laws and rebuild it from a mindset that acknowledges our deep connections with the environment.

At the SDM conference, presenters provided critical information that I was grateful to bring to the alliance's environmental advocacy efforts in California, and to the COP16 climate change discussions in CancĂșn from which I recently returned. I particularly welcomed remarks by Associate Professor Andrew Scott of Architecture, who highlighted some of the misconceptions around the term "sustainable." He appropriately noted that a "sustainable" community is one that is not only ecologically viable, but is also socially and economically viable. If implemented broadly, his key principles for a "flexible adaptable town"—including zero carbon buildings that can meet a variety of uses, "micro" energy generation measures, education and transparency of operations, and increasingly localized waste processing—would significantly improve both environmental health and human well-being.

Professor John Sterman of the System Dynamics Group also provided invaluable lessons from his participation in the Copenhagen COP15 climate change negotiations. These proved particularly useful not only to the alliance's climate work, but also to our growing initiative to re-envision current "ecosystem governance" models into "legal rights for ecosystems." Sterman relayed his work to bring a systems-based understanding to the decision-makers at Copenhagen. He then called for a movement to stem the impacts of climate change by changing behaviors—drawing on lessons from the civil rights and abolitionist movements. Sterman's prescient insight into the necessary foundational changes in our behavior parallel the California Coastkeeper Alliance's work to challenge the flawed baseline assumptions underlying our environmental laws.

Systems thinking moves us beyond Newtonian, cause-and-effect, linear processing and allows us to consider the inter-relations of the shifting elements of how we live in the world. It allows us to better comprehend the true ramifications of our actions, and adjust our behavior accordingly. Systems thinking is thus essential to developing holistic governance that is consistent with the substance of our interconnected relationships with each other and our environment.

The 2010 Systems Thinking Conference provided much-needed and highly regarded support for a new vision for how to live in concert with the Earth in the 21st century.

Linda Sheehan is an attorney, MIT Course X alumna, and Executive Director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, which represents 12 California Waterkeeper organizations on statewide water and coastal policy issues. The California Coastkeeper Alliance is a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, with almost 200 Waterkeepers worldwide.

Audio Search Company Founded by SDMs Gains Major Client

By Kathryn O'Neill

Nexiwave.com, a speech indexing company founded by two alumni of MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM), has announced that its deep audio search technology will now be offered as standard feature to all UbiCast Video Hosting customers.

"Our mission is to unlock and discover the vast amount of spoken content that exists on the web and in media assets," said Nexiwave CEO Benjamin Jiang, SDM '08.

"UbiCast customers produce large amounts of high-value content, but finding and retrieving archived information has been a challenge. Until now, rich spoken content has not been searchable on a broad scale," said UbiCast Chief Technology Officer Florent Thiery. UbiCast is a leading provider of automated rich media capture products, including EasyCast, a solution for creating and sharing professional video webcasts, and ForuMedia, a solution for one-push online publishing.

Founded by Jiang and Cynthia Munoz, SDM '08, Nexiwave was inspired by the pair's experience in SDM. "Frustrated by our inability to search our previous conversations, we discovered that no tool was available that allowed people to search their own voice data," the two wrote in a 2009 SDM Pulse article. "We therefore set out to create one-first for the purpose of fulfilling SDM's thesis requirement."


Photo by L. Barry Hetherington


Photo by L. Barry Hetherington

Launched in September 2008, Nexiwave has continued to expand. The company's services now include audio search, speech-to-text output for speech analytics, automated subtitles, speaker segmentation, and transcription time stamping.