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Some businesses hanging up on the desk phone

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Toronto marketing specialist Elaina Falcone laughs when she thinks back to about a year ago when executives at her company started walking around the office having phone conversations on headsets, resembling drive-thru employees.

“I would be like, ‘Can I take your order?’ while walking by them,” recalls Falcone, who works at Accessible Media Inc., a not-for-profit media company aimed at Canadians who are blind or partially sighted.

“Literally imagine a McDonald’s worker with a little mouthpiece in the front.”

Such headsets are now omnipresent at the company and many others in Canada as more organizations get rid of their cumbersome desktop phones in favour of cloud-based and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-powered service on wireless devices.

The days of cranking one’s neck to the side to hold a receiver in place, and using up precious desk space with a bulky phone and spiral cord, are quickly fading as businesses switch over to VoIP and cloud-based providers like RingCentral and Microsoft’s Skype for Business.

Desk phones are going the way of the dodo as more employees work from home or remotely, and companies replace assigned workstations with shared offices known as agile workspaces, where anyone can sit anywhere.

Many employees use laptops and smartphones and want that mobility and flexibility, says Falcone, noting it felt redundant having a personal cellphone, a work one and a desk phone.

Wireless switch

According to an online survey of 400 small, medium and large companies released in July by IDC Canada, close to 90 per cent of Canadian firms have wireless phones and 49 per cent of their employees have substituted their landline phones entirely with wireless devices.

Many employees use laptops and smartphones and want that mobility and flexibility, says Falcone, noting it felt redundant having a personal cellphone, a work one and a desk phone. (Kichiro Sato/Associated Press)

“It’s almost like the last resort is a paperweight, tethered desk phone,” says Lawrence Surtees, vice-president of communications research at IDC Canada, which does market research on information and communications technology.

“The non-smartphone is a dying thing.”

Surtees say smaller businesses in Canada went wireless earlier than larger ones, which are now making the switchover due to cost, convenience, increasing trust in cloud computing, and an overall rise in cord-cutting in daily life.

Saving money is another key reason companies say they’re making the switch.

That’s what happened when AMI added Skype for Business to its Microsoft Office 365 subscription, says Kevin Sharpen, who oversaw the project as manager of application development.

“We probably saved over 60 per cent of our phone costs,” says Sharpen, adding employees were able to keep the same work number.

“A lot of that is in long-distance costs, because on a regular phone system you’re paying long-distance. But when you’re talking on VoIP or a hybrid of that, those costs are significantly decreased.”

Cost-saving changes

It’s also more financially feasible for organizations to run all of their communications through one interface that makes data more accessible and faster, says Rebeka Inoue, partner alliance manager AVI-SPL, a global workplace technology services provider.

“With the advent of the cloud, organizations were able to reduce a lot of overhead and expenses by moving everything into the cloud and having people like Microsoft manage that cloud and make sure it’s more secure than what most companies had on presence,” says Inoue, whose company transitioned to Skype for Business two years ago.

“We’re already paying for [Microsoft] licences, so it’s very inexpensive to just add on the Skype for Business licence.”

Sharpen says those with accessibility needs often prefer a system like Skype as it’s easier for them to use and they can incorporate it with special devices, like custom-made headsets.

With Skype for Business, employees can integrate all of their Office products, record a call, notify others of their location and calendars, and collaborate through methods including video chat, instant messages and screen-sharing.

“It’s made the conversations or the meetings maybe a little bit more dynamic, because we have the option to share,” says Falcone.

100% reversal unlikely

For those who still prefer desk phones, some companies that have switched to VoIP systems still have a few of them kicking around, usually web-powered ones.

Surtees says the wireless trend can only go so far, noting it would be hard for certain institutions such as those related to health care and government to go wireless.

“I could see hypothetically wireless substitution in business getting up around 75 per cent or so, maybe a little touch more,” said Surtees. “But I think it would hit a ceiling.”

Falcone says she loves the portability she now has and rarely gets work-related voicemails anymore, because she’s usually reachable on her cellphone.

But being so accessible can also feel like you’re taking your work home with you, she adds.   

“Sometimes it will be 10 o’clock  and I’ll see the little red ‘1’ on my work email or my Skype and I’m like, ‘Ugh,”‘ Falcone says. “It makes it hard not to check.”

Phone connections can also be weaker on a VoIP-powered service versus a landline.

And some employees are slower to adopt the wireless system.

“People freaked out,” Falcone admits of the switchover. “They were used to the security of their desk phone. A lot of our older staff I think took it harder than others.

“The thing I still struggle with is like, ‘Where’s my headset to answer this phone?’ Just dumb stuff like that.

“But I have to say after a couple of months everyone adapted and there’s literally no difference now. The first couple of weeks we definitely had laughs of VPs having headsets on their heads and then that was it.”

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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