Just as with getting tattoos or removing them, (hint: both equally painful experiences), the furore over a recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on the “Right To Be Forgotten”, (aka #RTBF), appears to be one that will hurt regardless of which end of the ruling you support. Why is this so, what does it mean, and is it even possible to forget anything on-line?
Enough time has passed between the ECJ announcement in May and the initial stormy reactions from both mainstream and social media, that it is now possible to perceive the wood for the trees and to separate fact from fiction and fantasy. First of all, this is about safe guarding individual rights to privacy, and providing some measure of control over the personal data processed by Internet search engines (Google in this case). It is definitely not about erasing personal data from the web, as you might have been led to believe from the initial hue and cry following the announcement.
Secondly, the ruling left it to individuals to approach the search provider and request removal of links to information which are “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive” from results of searches conducted on their name. However, it is up to the search engine provider to work out if it is appropriate to remove or retain said links, in the public interest. In the latter eventuality, the individual can chose to take the search provider to court in his/her national jurisdiction.
Also, several developments have occurred since this landmark ruling was made in favour of Mr Gonzalez vs. Google Spain, including the take-up of such requests by Microsoft’s Bing search engine. However, according to an article on IP-Watch, this ruling is akin to opening Pandora’s Box because it throws up a host of challenges, such as:
- Privacy versus free speech – the ruling effectively asks search engine providers to make a judgement call on two competing rights of free speech versus privacy. This arguably goes against the raison d’être of search engines as trusted source of comprehensive search information, and not selective parts thereof.
- Lost in Translation – The Right to be Forgotten is now accepted as a European Principle, but it is still open to subtle differences in translation, interpretation and implementation among the various member states. Furthermore, because this ruling only applies to Europe, the removed links may still show up in other countries, unless #RTBF becomes a globally adopted principle or if the search provider decides to remove the search links globally. It is thought this differentiation could lead to fragmenting of the web in various jurisdictions.
- #RTBF overload – Requests to remove links to personal information hit over 70,000 within the first few months of the ruling, which undoubtedly placed some burden on Google (and likely do so eventually for other major on-line players such as Facebook), but perhaps more importantly this also provides an indication of the sort of personal information that people wish to delete (see related article about removed links).
- FUD Factory – The scale of coverage, and misinformation, associated with this ruling is huge according to international advocacy group, EDRi. They also contend that the number of links removed by European Right to be Forgotten is nothing compared to the scale of DMCA triggered links removal, where it appears Google has had to delete “hundreds of millions of search results” without anywhere near the same level of attention.
Based on the above observations, it seems an element of perception manipulation may be at play with regards to the European Right to be Forgotten, especially given its lack of global scope and the fact that only links are removed (not the actual content). This gives individual requesters some illusion of control over information in a media (the Web) that is not necessarily designed to be manipulated as such. Furthermore, search engines may be an unfair, easy target since removal of links only make it more difficult, but not impossible, to locate users personal information even within Europe.
This ability to control access to personal information may be a good or bad thing, depending on who is looking and why. Everything rests on the motive of the searcher or ‘hider’ of personal information. Paedophiles, terrorists, ex-convicts, or even drunken antics in Magaluf, may wish to be forgotten, but is that beneficial to the interests of potential employers, neighbours or partners? Do we need to know everything, or should we all have some kind of adjustable online reputation filter? What about privacy and forgiveness for reformed offenders? So many questions and not enough answers, as we continue to evolve into a global digital society, but whatever the outcome the signs are clear that the debate and tension between free speech and privacy is far from over.
I came across a blog post about electric automaker Tesla’s recent move to open up its patents by making them free to use by anyone, including competitors. According to founder, Elon Musk, “Technology leadership is not defined by patents, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers.”
I believe that while this move may have multiple strategic intent, (i.e. Tesla could have other IP cards up their sleeve), it also highlights limitations in the current systems of Intellectual Property, and it’ll require a fundamental shift in philosophy to fully appreciate where such trends could take us.
Obviously, I admire Tesla’s creativity and innovation, not least because their eco-friendly cars do not remind me quite so much of badly constipated turtles, but because their sheer guts and willingness to take risks (aka multiple leaps of faith) puts them ahead of the curve.
If technology leadership is no longer defined by a sizeable IP portfolio, then this presents some very real challenges to various foul strategies and current sharp practices for IP, such as: “weaponised IP”, Patent Trolls, industrial espionage, and so forth. According to author Don Peppers’ blog post on the topic, such “open source” and “free revealing” (aka free sharing) of otherwise competitive IP assets actually drive innovation “while patents, copyrights and other legal mechanisms seem to be holding us back.” He goes on to say: “This is big, everyone. If you don’t know how big this is, you haven’t been paying attention.”
In my opinion, a mindset of “share first then ask questions after” is vastly superior to the usual scarcity based approach to wealth creation, (i.e. “mine, mine, all mine” is not real wealth, just an illusion). True wealth, which is firmly based in abundance, actually favours the sharing mindset by motivating and empowering bright creative people to continue to do and share what they do best. Such a system fosters innovation, and is ultimately self replenishing, because it forces organisations to ensure they maintain the right ingredients to continue being innovative.
In such a world, an organisation may be deemed a failure when it no longer has the ability to innovate, regardless of the size of its bank balance, market capitalisation or IP portfolio. Instead, successful organisations will be ones which can establish and demonstrate a self-perpetuating culture for creativity and innovation. Such bold claims do however raise some serious questions over IP, e.g.:
- Should IP be granted with implicit right for others to use and reuse by default, (along with fair recompense or royalty to the owner)? And if this were feasible, would everyone play by the rules?
- Are we likely to see a situation whereby IP may be rescinded from organisations that do not actively use them to innovate? I can already imagine Patent Trolls, and their IP lawyers, screaming in anguish at the thought.
- If free sharing of IP became common practice, will it ultimately diminish the value of IP, and its raison d’etre, (i.e. a means to provide direct economic reward for creators and owners of IP)? Bear in mind that creators and owners of IP are not always one and the same.
These and other similar questions easily rise to the fore when you extrapolate the developing trend for free IP sharing and their implication for both individuals and organisations. The preceding points / questions are not solely relevant to organisations. Individuals, particularly those in the creative arts (e.g. authors, musicians and other artistes), are also affected especially as they increasingly chose to explore alternative funding models to finance their works.
TV presenter and author, Kate Russell (of BBC Click fame) takes it a step further by advocating the creation of new IP models based on crowd funding in her recent BCS blog post. Her exact words were: “With the online world still in freefall about how to solve digital rights protection and make sure artists get paid fairly for creative works, I genuinely believe that crowd funding could form the groundwork of a new intellectual property model”. In my opinion, this is another example of the shifting mindset that will ultimately bring about the evolution of a more suitable IP system for the digital world of today and tomorrow.
According to a BBC news report, it seems that a deal to tackle digital piracy is about to be realised between major UK ISPs and key content and entertainment industry organisations. Given that it took several years of wrangling to get to this point, the obvious question is whether this particular deal will work to the satisfaction of all concerned?
The report describes how the UK ISPs (i.e. BT, Sky, TalkTalk and VirginMedia) will be required to send ‘educational’ letters, or alerts, to users they believe are downloading illegal content. Among other things, the deal is predicated on the belief that increased awareness of legal alternatives will encourage such users away from illegal content acquisition, casual infringement and piracy. This voluntary alert system will be funded mainly by the content industry who in return will get monthly stats on alerts dished out by the ISPs. Overall, this deal is far removed from the more punitive “3 strikes” system originally mooted in the early days of the Digital Economy Act.
As with most cases there are 2 or more sides to the story, and below are some considerations to be taken into account before drawing your own conclusions, including:
1. Critics of this deal, i.e. presumably the content providers, will consider this too soft an approach to be effective in curbing the very real and adverse economic impact of piracy.
2. Supporters, including ISPs, will likely see this as fair compromise for securing their cooperation in tackling piracy, and a win-win for them and their customers.
3. Another perspective comprises the view of regulators and government intermediaries (aka brokers of this deal), who likely consider it a practical compromise which can always be tweaked depending on its efficacy or lack thereof.
4. There are probably many other viewpoints to be considered, but, in my opinion, the most important perspective belongs to the end-users who ultimately stand to benefit or suffer from the success or failure of this initiative, especially since:
- there is evidence that education trumps punishment when it comes to casual content piracy – e.g. the HADOPI experience in France which has effectively evolved into an educational campaign against copyright infringement.
- content consumers already have far too much choice over the source and format of content anyway, so punitive measures may not necessarily solve the piracy problem, if they can get content via other illegal means.
- any perceived failure of this deal, and its ‘educational’ approach, could lend support for more draconian and punitive measures, therefore it is in the interest of consumers to see it succeed.
5. Industrial scale piracy, on the other hand must be tackled head-on, with the full weight of the law, in order to close down and discourage the real criminal enterprises that probably do far more damage to the content industry.
In any case, regardless of how you view this and other similar developments, it is always worth bearing in mind that we are only in a period of transition to a comprehensive digital existence, therefore all current challenges and opportunities are certain to change, as new technology and usage paradigms continue to drive and reveal ever more intriguing changes in consumer behaviours. This battle is far from over.
The role of Chief Innovation Officer, or Head of Innovation, is fast gaining traction and attention within various organisations and industries, but why is this happening now, what does it entail and who is best suited to fulfill the role? These were some of the questions I had in mind when I got an opportunity to spend the afternoon at a recent Chief Innovation Office Summit in London, UK.
The 2 day summit featured a host of speakers and topics related to innovation, including networking and hands-on workshops – because, after-all innovation is about deeds, not just words and ideas. The attendees list read like a who is who of Innovation leadership from new and established organisations. Some key takeaways include:
- The right Culture for Innovation – many more companies and individuals have recognised and are making tangible efforts to identify and address the need for innovation leadership in their industry. This will help nurture and promote desired behaviours to create and benefit from an innovation culture.
- Connecting people and ideas – It takes a combination of business, social and technology innovations to really make an impact – for example, a clean tech solution provider described how it’s solar power product creates income streams (business innovation) for roof owners who chose their aerodynamic solar panels (tech innovation) which can be installed without risky invasive fastenings onto rooftops. Also, they’re the biggest distributor of solar powered lamps in Africa (social innovation).
- Communication is key – the summit presentations provided a balanced a mix of vendors / service providers and end user organisations with real case studies to provide a fertile ground for sharing progressive thinking about innovation. Some of the presentations, innovative products, services and initiatives described or demo’ed at the event were indeed amazing to behold.
- Seeing is believing – For example, one of the sponsors demonstrated a 2 sided innovation approach with a workshop designed to allow participants to appreciate the need to address both external (your customers) and internal (your organisation) requirements for innovation. This is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of innovation efforts, in my opinion. The question of ROI, aka what’s in it for your firm, will always trump even the most innovative customer solutions.
- The cool tech factor – Of course, the usual collection of toys and gadgets were on display from sponsors, vendors and attendees – e.g. I even had a photo op with Google Glass at lunch, courtesy of a fellow attendee – it seems wearable computing devices are de rigeur for every tech innovation conversation these days.
In conclusion, and to answer some of my initial questions, it is obvious that more people and organisations are looking to innovate in order to survive and thrive in today’s business environment, and this event highlighted the continuous need for dialogue and cross-fertilization of ideas between all stakeholder. Therefore the role of a Chief Innovation Officer is suited to someone who understands the need to nurture the culture, make connections and communicate with all stakeholders about innovation. In Capgemini, our innovation groups understand the triple need to nurture, connect and communicate innovation across an ecosystem of partners, clients, employees, suppliers, and even competitors, in order to realise the full benefits from innovation.
Full marks out of ten for the summit organisers and I certainly look forward to participating, and perhaps even presenting, at another one of their excellent series of events.
Speakers, Dave Chapman and Dean Mohammedally, from the University College London (UCL) provided an inside view of the workings of IDEA London (including a tour of the facilities afterwards), as well as their innovative Computer Science & Software Engineering programmes which feature students undertaking real world projects with various sponsoring or client organisations. Simon Elliott, Head of Innovation at Worldline (an ATOS company) described how traditional enterprises are like walled gardens which benefit greatly by collaborating with universities which are like a small sprawling village or kibbutz (with flowing porous boundaries), to mutual benefit in tackling major challenges such as aging population, mobile working etc. He also described the innovation process within his organisation and how they work in collaboration with universities such as UCL and IDEALondon.
I was very fortunate to participate in Capgemini’s recent Business Priority Week (BPW), alongside over 300 attendees from 22 countries, at the beautiful Les Fontaines retreat. The focus of the week was a new global service line called Digital Customer Experience (DCX), and we (from various business units, disciplines and competencies) were set a challenge to explore and articulate how we’ll work together to deliver this promise for clients.
Being the clever people that architects are sometimes rumoured to be, the immediate response is directly related their role in a rapidly accelerating digital world. However, as an architect, I fear our time may be coming to an end unless we embrace the need to evolve the practice of architecture into something that clearly defines, assures and guides the digital customer experience for our organisation and our clients (incl. their customers / end-users). In order to do this properly, we must undertake an architectural journey to understand the context and key issues before deciding on the most appropriate response. Key questions to ask and answer include:
1. What is Digital and why is it such a game changer for our clients and our business?
A great story about rice, chess and an emperor was used to illustrate the impact of Moore’s Law to startling effect by revealing that we are only at the beginning of the digital journey, or as the authors of Race Against the Machine would say, “we ain’t seen nothing yet”.
2. Are established architecture approaches still relevant for digital?
The experience gained from several decades of putting together complex computer based systems was not lightly earned, and it would be spectacularly foolish to suggest that this is no longer required in the age of digital. If ever there was a time for true architecture it is right now, at the start of such an epic journey, however this implies a shift in the way architects engage clients and practice architecture.
3. So what is different about architecture for Digital and why is this important?
In a short answer – it needs a renewed focus on the business model. The role of architecture in digital is about getting closer to the business and helping achieve desired outcomes, (so far so normal), but this must be done at the exponential pace of digital, whilst maintaining ROI from existing technology investments. It is akin to walking atop the wall of a castle whilst juggling live cats and canaries, during an earthquake, and ducking missiles from inside and outside the castle. I’m sure you get the picture.
The above points indicate a necessary shift in mindset to handle the relative extremes in velocities at the interface of Digital vs. traditional IT systems. Among other things, the digital architect should:
- Provide enterprise technology governance framework as a key point of reference for the various agile projects and initiatives commonly found in the would-be digital enterprise.
- Utilise business modelling techniques (e.g. the business model canvas) along with time and velocity sensitive architecture principles to provide critical governance and to guide solutions from design right through to implementation, and beyond.
- Be mindful of legal and ethical issues that can arise in the digital space (e.g. contractual obligations for digital services, and / or the privacy concerns of end-users).
- Anticipate the needs of clients and their business in a fast changing environment, even when some stakeholders might challenge the need for architecture in any form.
In conclusion, it is my opinion that architecture has never been more critical than at this particular point in time. This therefore is a call to action for every organisation to challenge their architects to provide the governance and assurance needed to achieve the outstanding outcomes promised by Digital Customer Experience, whilst also protecting existing investment and core assets.
Over the past few months, I had several opportunities to engage in the conversation about the role of Intellectual Property (IP) in the new world of Digital, and in so doing, I’ve managed to tease out certain key questions and concerns surrounding this topic, e.g.: What challenges and opportunities does IP bring to the Digital feast? How does the ‘sharing’ economy affect established notions of IP, and how effective are current efforts to update and harmonise IP in the digital age? The answers are slowly revealing themselves, but the following observation points will hopefully highlight the way.
What is Digital?
The term “Digital” means different things to different people, (including those that consider it an extremely irritating term for something old repackaged as a new ‘buzzword’). In my opinion, the term Digital can be used to describe various new and emerging products / services / processes / user behaviours etc., that are enabled by digital technology. It works equally well in describing innovative, disruptive trends (e.g. big data and predictive analytics) and / or re-imagination of pre-existing technologies (e.g. Cloud).
How does IP figure into it?
Intellectual property is the concept and mechanism through which creators and owners of “works of the mind” may derive economic benefits from their works (e.g.: inventions, designs, works of art, and trademarks). By its very nature, IP is constantly challenged by those self same things for which it was designed – e.g. printing press, audio-visual capture, playback and distribution technologies, and even this new fangled 3D printing. The Digital world merely amplifies an age old problem which reappears with alarming regularity with each new shift or breakthrough in technology. However, this particular incarnation also begs the question of whether the concept of IP is intrinsically flawed in a digital universe
Key Trends in society / technology / business
In any discussion on this topic (i.e. IP and the digital economy), you’ll invariably pick upon certain trends as key catalysts for change, which typically fall into any of following groups: socio-economic trends, technology trends and business trends. If you don’t believe me, then go ahead and give it a try with any of the following trends e.g.: social media, aging population, real-time dynamic pricing, predictive analytics, digital transformation, 3D printing, and even “sharing economy”. Such trends are redefining how we live and do business in a digital world, but are they all merely symptoms of the same phenomenon?
How will law and regulation keep up?
Not very well, I’m afraid. How can we best apply governance to emerging phenomena such as Digital? To say it is very difficult would be an understatement, considering that these changes also affect the law, and law makers, too. This is a perfect example of what city planners and business school professors consider to be a “wicked problem”. Existing rules of society and international law struggle to encompass the global reach and impact of digital technologies whereby information can spread, at the speed of light, to all corners of the world heralding the lofty dawn of unified global thought, sentiment and action, or anarchy. In order to remain relevant and useful, the concept of IP needs a major rethink and rework to align with a dynamic digital landscape. However, this is not the preserve of a few sovereign governments, and more needs to be done (at an international, collaborative level) to even begin nursing any hope of having an impact on Digital and human cultural evolution.
Digital transformation and business model innovation
In my opinion, the future of business lies in the ability to reinvent itself and take best advantage of the constantly emerging game-changing technologies, products, services, and usage paradigms. One such avenue is via business model innovation – a technique that makes use of a simple business model canvas to articulate any business model, in a fast and dynamic way. Technology is no longer a barrier to entry, therefore the true measure of fitness must have to do with a business model’s flexibility and adaptability (for competitive advantage) in the digital universe.
In summary, and regardless of where I’ve held these conversations (e.g. at the Copyright and Technology Conference, or Digital Economy and Law Conference, and even at the BCS, Chartered Institute for IT), these same questions and concerns have become a recurring theme.
Ps. I will look to delve into these topics at my next speaking event, on the 22nd of January 2014, and hope to provide further insight and provocative questions on digital economy and IP. Also, we’ll get to hear a speaker from one of the world’s foremost organisations at the forefront of Digital. Don’t miss it (or at least come by and say hello), if you happen to be in London on that day.