IBM Innovation Labs – where old meets new, and everything in between…

November 25, 2015 Leave a comment

If you’ve ever wondered how the big tech players do innovation then you might do well to head on over to IBM’s Hursley labs for a taste of their world class innovation facility. A few weeks ago, some colleagues and I were hosted to an executive briefing on innovation, the IBM way. Read on to find out more…

Pictures on lab visit

IBM Executive Briefing Day

We had a fairly simple and straightforward agenda / expectation in mind, i.e. to: hear, see and connect with IBM labs on key areas of innovation that we might be able to leverage in our own labs, and for clients. This objective was easily met and exceeded as we proceeded through the day long briefing program. Below are some highlights:

First of all, Dr Peter Waggett, Director for Innovation, gave an overview of IBM Research and ways of working. For example, with an annual R&D spend of over 5 Billion Dollars, and 1 Billion Dollars in annual revenues from patents alone, (IBM files over 50 patents a year), it quickly became clear that we were in for a day of superlatives. Dr. Waggett described the operating model, lab resources and key areas of focus, such as: working at the ‘bow wave’ of technology, ‘crossing the mythical chasm‘ and ‘staying close to market’. Some specific areas of active research include: Cognitive Computing (Watson et al), Homomorphic encryption, “data at the edge” and several emerging tech concepts / areas e.g.: Biometrics, biometry and Wetware / Neuromorphic computing with the IBM Synapse Chips. And that was just in the morning session!

The rest of the day involved visiting several innovation labs, as outlined below:

Retail Lab – demonstration of some key innovation in: retail back end integration, shopper relevance and customer engagement management (with analytics / precision marketing / customer lifecycle engagement). Also, touched on integration / extension with next generation actionable tags by PowaTag.

Emerging Technology & Solutions Lab – featured among other things: the IBM touch table (for collaborative interactive working), Buildings Management solutions (with sensors / alerts, dashboard, helmet and smart watch components); Manufacturing related IoT solutions (using Raspberry Pi & Node Red to enable closed loop sensor/analysis/action round trip); Healthcare innovations (including Smarthome based health and environment monitoring with inference capability) and of course Watson Analytics.

IOT Lab – Demonstrated various IoT based offers e.g.: from Device to Cloud; Instrumenting the World Proof of Concepts; Decoupled sensors / analysis / actuators; IoT reference architecture (incl. Device / Gateway / Cloud / Actuators ); and IoT starter kits (with Node Red development environment & predefined recipes for accelerated IoT).

IOC Labs – IBM’s Intelligent Operations Centre (IOC) was shown to be highly relevant for smarter cities as it enables the deployment of fourfold capabilities to: Sense / Analyse / Decide / Act, thus enabling the ability to predict and respond to situations even before they arise. IOC capabilities and cases studies were also demonstrated to be relevant & applicable across multiple industry scenarios including: retail, transport, utilities and supply chain.

Finally, you cannot complete a visit to Hursley without stopping off at their underground Museum of computing. Over the years, this has become a special place, showcasing the amazing innovations of yesterday which have now become objects of nostalgia and curiosity for today’s tech savvy visitors. It is almost incredible to think that computers once ran on: floppy discs, magnetic tape and even punch cards. This is made even more poignant by the thought that almost every new innovation we saw in the labs will one day take their place in the museum, (particularly if they prove successful). Perhaps some of them may even be brought to life by other, newer and as-yet-undiscovered innovations, e.g.: see if you can spot the 3D printed key on this IBM 705 data processor keyboard!

New 3D Printed Key on Keyboard

Spot the 3D printed key.

Overall, it was a great experience and many thanks to our hosts, and IBM event team, for making this a most interesting event. The team and I are certainly look forward to finding out how other tech players, both large and small, are pursuing their own innovation programs!

DRM for Things – Managing rights and permissions for IOT

November 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Given the proliferation of interconnected ‘Things’ on the Internet (aka IoT), it was only a matter of time before the pressing need for robust, pervasive governance became imperative. How can we manage the rights and permissions needed to do stuff with and / or by things? The following are some thoughts, based on a previous foray into the topic, and building on my earlier book on the related world of Digital Rights Management (aka DRM).

Does anyone remember DRM – that much maligned tool of real / perceived oppression, (somewhat ineptly deployed by a napsterized music industry)? It has all but disappeared from the spotlight of public opinion as the content industry continues to evolve and embrace the complex digital realities of today. But what has that got to do with the IoT, and what triggered the thought in the first place, you might ask…

Well, I recently had opportunity to chat with friend and mentor, Andy Mulholland (ex global CTO at Capgemini), and as usual, I got a slight headache just trying to get a grip on some of the more esoteric concepts about the future of digital technology. Naturally we touched on the future of IoT, and how some current thinking may be missing the point entirely, for example:

What is the future of IoT?

Contrary to simplistic scenarios, often demonstrated with connected sensors and actuators, IoT ultimately enables the creation and realisation of a true digital services economy. This is based on 3 key aspects of: ‘Things’, ‘Events’ and ‘Connectivity’ which will work together to deliver value via autonomous agents, systems and interactions. The real players, when it comes to IoT, actually belong outside the traditional world of IT. They include organisations in industries such as manufacturing, automotive, logistics etc., and when combined with the novel uses that people conceive for connected things, the traditional IT industry is and will continue to play catch up in this fast evolving and dynamic space.

What are key components of the IoT enabled digital services?

An autonomous or semi-autonomous IoT enabled digital service will include: an event hub (consisting of graph database and complex event processing capability) in the context of ‘fog computing‘ architectures (aka cloud edge computing) – as I said, this is headache territory (read Andy’s latest post if you dare). Together, event handling and fog computing can be used to create and deliver contextually meaningful value / services for end users. The Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) and API engines will also play key roles in the deployment of autonomous services between things and / or people. Finally, businesses looking to compete in this game need to start focusing on identifying / creating / offering such resulting services to their customers.

Why is Graph Database an important piece of the puzzle? 

Graph databases provide a way to store relationships in an unstructured manner, and IoT enabled services will need five separate stores for scaled up IoT environments, as follows:

  1. Device Info – e.g. type, form and function, data (provided/consumed), owner etc.
  2. Customer/Users – e.g. Relationship of device to the user / customer
  3. Location – e.g. Where is device located (also relative to other things / points of reference)
  4. Network – e.g. network type, protocols, bandwidth, transport, data rate, connectivity constraints etc.
  5. Permission – e.g. who can do: what, when, where, how and with whom/what, and under what circumstances (in connection with the above 4 four graphs) – According to Andy, “it is the combination of all five sets of graph details that matter – think of it as a sort of combination lock!”

So how does this relate to the notion of “DRM for Things”? 

Well, it is ultimately all about trust, as observed in another previous post. There must be real trust in: things (components and devices), agents, events, interactions and connections that make up an IoT enabled autonomous service (and its ecosystem). Secondly, the trust model and enforcement mechanisms must themselves be well implemented and trustworthy, or else the whole thing could disintegrate much like the aforementioned music industry attempts at DRM. Also, there are some key similarities in the surrounding contexts of both DRM and IoT:

  • The development and introduction of DRM took place during a period of Internet enabled disruptive change for the content industry (i.e. with file sharing tools such as: Napster, Pirate Bay and Cyberlockers). This bears startling resemblance to the current era of Internet enabled disruptive change, albeit for the IT industry (i.e. via IoT, Blockchain, AI and Social, Mobile, Big Data, Cloud etc.)
  • The power of DRM exists in the ability to control / manage access to content in the wild, i.e. outside of a security perimeter or business boundary. The ‘Things’ in IoT exist as everyday objects, typically with low computing overheads / footprints, which can be even more wide ranging than mere digital content.
  • Central to DRM is the need for irrefutable identity and clear relationships between: device, user (intent), payload (content) and their respective permissions. This is very much similar to autonomous IoT enabled services which must rely on the 5 graphs mentioned previously.

Although I would not propose using current DRM tools to govern autonomous IoT enabled services (that would be akin to using yesterday’s technology to solve the problems of today / tomorrow), however because it requires similar deperimeterised and distributed trust / control models there is scope for a more up-to-date DRM-like mechanism or extension that can deliver this capability. Fortunately, the most likely option may already exist in the form of Blockchain and its applications. As Ahluwalia, IBM’s CTO for Cloud, so eloquently put it: “Blockchain provides a scalable, trustworthy, highly distributed, redundant and peer-to-peer verification process for processing, coordinating device interactions and sharing access to assets in an IoT network.” Enough said.

In light of the above, it is perhaps easier to glimpse how an additional Blockchain component, for irrefutable trust and ID management, might provide equivalent DRM-like governance for IoT, and I see this as a natural evolution of DRM (or whatever you want to call it) for both ‘things’ and content. However, any such development would do well to take on board lessons learnt from the original Content DRM implementations, and to understand that it is not cool to treat people as things.

www.DarkSide 1 – Online Grooming

November 9, 2015 Leave a comment

A most topical and sensitive subject such as online child abuse, terrorist recruitment etc., will understandably garner a lot of interest and attention, not just from IT people, but also from all other members of society at large. The recent BCS event with a similar title was no exception and perhaps unsurprisingly it also became a target of unwanted attention by some self styled extremists. Read on for more.

First of all, the event featured only two out of five original speakers. Apparently, the other three were unable to attend for various reasons, including threats to personal safety by certain extremist group.  However, it still turned out to be an interesting / informative session, full of insightful takes on the legal and IT aspects of online grooming.

Will Richmond-Coggan, Partner at Pittmans LLP, described how UK Laws created in 2008 are not equipped to handle more recent emergent technology and behaviours, e.g.: ubiquitous social media and/or ephemeral messaging services such as Snapchat. The key challenge is the startling velocity with which certain social technology innovation can gain critical mass and become pervasive. Nowadays, even a joke on Twitter about ‘blowing up something’ can be misconstrued, setting off a chain of events that could result in a minimal charge of wasting police time, at best. Freedom of expression is tricky, because it is not without limitations.

Richmond-Coggan also discussed how well meaning individuals wanting to give moral or financial support to oppressed people overseas can easily become victims of online recruiters and / or radicalization by extremist organisations. He also presented case studies illustrating the repercussions of online grooming on innocent but vulnerable people, and their families, even in situations where the actual sex crimes were thwarted by vigilant family members.

Ryan Rubin, MD of Protiviti, focused his talk on the role of technology and strategic attacks and he sees grooming as part of a wider problem, including: ISIS, Trolls, cyber bullying and child abuse. There is much need to increase public awareness of these issues as well as the methods for detecting and combating them, e.g.: Digital evidence from EXIF data on digital cameras, digital breadcrumbs from social media tools and privacy controls. People need to employ good digital personal hygiene and risk management, such as: use of strong passwords, regular audit of privacy controls on social media, don’t publish your date of birth or any unnecessary information about your kids, and certainly monitor your kid’s online activities / content / channels. Remember, photos may contain location information and don’t post your travel plans (or else you might as well take out a “please rob me” ad). Finally, always post with caution, e.g. by applying the Grandma test (i.e. will your Grandma be offended by the content you’re just about to post online?).

Overall, I thought this was another excellent event by our North London BCS branch, despite unforeseen glitches caused by drop out of 3 speakers. I only hope the next Darkside event will be just as topical and provocative, because as IT professionals, we are supposed to be able to take a clear stance, if not actually leading the way, to helping resolve those technology related issues that affect the broader society as a whole.

Categories: BCS, Event Tags: , ,

7 Steps to Prepare for a Speaking Event

October 27, 2015 Leave a comment

As part of my job, I sometimes get invited to speak at events, webinars and / or conferences, and over the years I’ve found the following steps very useful in preparing and delivering a successful talk. These steps are equally applicable to organising events or moderating panel sessions:

  1. Agree the Topic – Hopefully, this will be based on your speaking proposal. However, some conferences (e.g. The Open Group Conference) have a pretty well informed audience which sometimes make it a mutual learning experience, especially in ‘hands-on’ style workshop sessions. Whatever you do, try to avoid overt product pitches as these can be a major turn off for audiences & organisers.
  2. Session Formats – This depends on what you’ve been allocated. Session formats are typically proposed ahead of time by the event organiser. Some common event session formats include: Keynote Address / Multi-speaker & panel sessions / Hands-on workshops / informal networking (including with vendor stands and/or exhibitions)
  3. Presentation Format / Q&A – This is typically based on personal preference. I normally use PowerPoint slides, and often split the session 70/30 between presentation and Q&A. If you’re more comfortable doing both simultaneously  then let the audience know either way. Some more adventurous souls may also include live demos and / or just straight ‘chalk and talk’.
  4. Audience – Obviously, try to modulate your message to match the audience. Attendees at IT conferences typically work in IT (or related fields/industries), and can be a little tough to impress, but I find asking questions and facilitating exchanges usually helps to keep them engaged.
  5. Timing & Logistics – This needs to be agreed beforehand with organiser – Time and duration are crucial to overall presentation flows, hence organizers can get a bit miffed at overly long sessions.
  6. Marketing & Comms – Suggest giving a heads up to your marketing and comms teams for any relevant marketing support / steers. They may even provide promotional materials, but do check with the event organiser that it’s ok to bring and share such items.  Furthermore, your marketing team can also help promote the event via their usual channels and via social media e.g. blogs / Twitter / LinkedIn etc.
  7. Feedback & follow up (post event) – This can often be overlooked, but it’s very useful to bear in mind when networking. LinkedIn is a useful tool for managing contacts / follow-ups / promoting your participation at  the event. Some organisers also provide session feedback post event – a glowing recommendation helps to keep the speaking engagements flowing!

In conclusion, if like me you have a masochistic yen for public speaking, then the above tips and guidelines should help make it a little easier (but not necessarily any less painful) to do do. In any case, good luck, and remember to have fun!

Categories: Conference, Event Tags:

The Business of Innovation.

August 15, 2015 Leave a comment

In order to survive and thrive in a continuously evolving digital landscape, there is no escaping the fact that every organisation must place innovation as a core activity in their business model, but what is the best way to go about it?

Many organisations choose to address this by investing in an innovation capability (i.e. time, space and resources) in the form of an innovation lab / centre / hub, where they can participate and play “the innovation game“, as described in a recent paper by Capgemini Consulting and Altimeter Group. One key message is that successful innovation centres need to have: clear purpose, executive support and real autonomy to delivery outcomes. Brian Solis posted an excellent summary here.

Over time, I’ve come to understand that that innovation typically happens when a pressing need or challenge is presented to a diverse group of people, with the right mindset to recognise and seize the opportunity to affect change, in a sustainable and profitable way. Below are top five lessons I’ve learnt over the years leading innovation in my business unit.


Top 5 Innovation lessons learnt (so far):

  1. Innovation is much more than ‘Digital’ – It has been happening much longer than the digital transformation phenomena we see / hear about nowadays. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, but digital is just one form of innovation, albeit one that is farther reaching that most.
  2. Ideation is necessary; execution is a must – Application is key. Good ideas are dime a dozen, but the real value lies in applying new and/or established ideas in ways that deliver said value to your business and clients’ in a sustainable / profitable way
  3. Start thinking about the IP in co-creation & ecosystem – this one will only get bigger and more urgent over time. Currently we see a frenzy of co-creation and new economic dynamics in the so called sharing economics, however evolution is driven as much by scarity as abundance therefore the role of IP ownership as a driver and benefit of innovation will not disappear anytime soon.
  4. Innovation is subjective – One person’s innovation is another’s business as usual. The definition of innovation alone is a minefield of individual viewpoints. However, one aspect which everyone seems to agree is that innovation “involves doing something in a new or different way which delivers some sort of added value”. Discuss.
  5. Innovation is a journey not a destination. (i.e. tradition vs. culture) – most innovation labs are concerned with creating tangible new, innovative products and services,  the success of which they may be judged. However, not many innovation initiatives start out with a focus on how to create a culture, never mind tradition, for innovation.

Are you a CIO/CTO/CDO, Chief Innovation Officer, Innovation Director, Lab Leader or manager? Did you find any of the above to be true in your experience, and and how do they apply to your current organisation? I’d be very interested to know about it one way or the other.

In any case, it is relatively easy to reach a conclusion that organisations need to play the long game and not give into temptation of seeking quarterly results for their innovation initiatives. KPIs and other measures are necessary to track success, but they can also not constrain innovation. The true business of innovation is manifest in the long game needed for evolving a certain “point-in-time” innovation culture into longer term tradition for innovation.

Big Dating: Bringing real data to the dating game.

June 1, 2015 Leave a comment

The online dating industry has grown from strength to strength and is estimated to be valued in excess of £2Billion, globally. However, the future growth may hinge on how data and new technologies can be leveraged to improve user experience and matching outcomes. Some key questions: Does having more data about potential partners really make any difference in finding the right match? What are key emerging trends that will affect the evolution of online dating?


There are literally thousands of online dating sites worldwide, including over 1400 sites in the UK alone where online dating accounts for 25% of all new relationships. As might be expected, there are many types of players and business models in the industry, including online behemoths such as eHarmony or; mobile players like Tinder or Hinge; and increasingly niche specialists that match users based on specific demographic factors e.g. age / income / ethnicity / religion / location / sexuality etc.

Regardless of player size, business model or target user groups, a quick web trawl reveals some salient observations about the current and future state of online dating, as follows:

  • Mobile dating on the rise – A key trend is the increasing use of mobile Apps for online dating – so the major players are refocusing efforts to improve the multi-channel experience for their users.
  • A question of trust – Online dating services typically require user data for matching potential partners, but this can be greatly impaired by inaccurate data. Users often exaggerate personal attributes, or lie outright, in order to attract potential partners. Providers seek additional data (e.g. from retail, social media, entertainment and online sources) to augment data accuracy. However, there are privacy implications here that will need addressing.
  • User behaviours – Some provider prefer to base matches on actual user behaviours. The idea being that people often say one thing then do the opposite, and this is not unusual with online dating where user reactions to proposed matches can often reveal their true preferences regardless of what is stated on their profiles.
  • Matching algorithms are far from perfect – In fact, some view matching algorithms as just “smoke and mirrors”, and that dating sites succeed simply by providing a larger pool of potential partners. Furthermore, human matching is a bi-directional proposition because, unlike Amazon recommends, your supposedly perfect match may not be all that into you.
  • The eternal shop window – General attitude to online dating has become more positive, and the number of people using dating apps is growing faster than all other apps combined. However, these also foster the notion that online dating encourages, or at least facilitates, perpetual window shopping for potential matches, even for those people in committed relationships.

It is clear from the above that although data and technology will continue to be crucial in the evolution of online dating, the continued success and growth of the industry will depend very much on how well it can handle complex human behaviours, motivations and inconsistencies.

Matching algorithms aside, there’s still significant opportunity and scope for complex human behaviour modelling, and improved dynamic/predictive analytics, to cater for users’ changing preferences, circumstances and motivations. These must all be in place in order for the claims and predictions of everlasting happiness via online dating can be tested or verified. Perhaps, if Romeo and Juliet had access to such computer enabled insight theirs may not have been such a tragic love story!


Leading Digital In Practice

May 14, 2015 Leave a comment
I had the opportunity to read and review the book “Leading Digital” by George WestermanDidier Bonnet & Andrew McAfee, and as you might guess from the review score, I thought it was an excellent book. However, there’s nothing quite like putting something into practice to get a real feel for it, and I was able to do just that on a couple of recent occasions. Read on for highlights…

LD Book sm2

If you haven’t already read the book*, I can assure you it is chock full of common sense and great ideas on how to go about transforming your typical large, non-tech organisation into a digital master. However, as with most things, the theory can be vastly different from reality in practice, so below are a few observations from recent experiences where we tried to put into practice some of the wisdom from Leading Digital:

1. Not every organisation is geared up to do this right away – Even those organisations perceived by peers to be ahead of the pack may just be ‘Fashionistas’ at heart (i.e. very quick to try out shiny new digital toys without adult supervision). To gauge readiness it is important to understand where an organisation sits in the digital maturity quadrant**. Some organisations believe they already know the answer, but it’s always advisable to verify such a crucial starting point, in order to work out their best route to digital mastery.


2. Engage both business and technology communities from the start – Anything else is just window dressing because, although either group can sell a good story as why they’re critical, neither side can fully deliver digital transformation without the other. It really is a game of two sides working well together to achieve a single outcome – no short cuts allowed.

3. Ground up or top down is great, but together they’re unbeatable – Every organisation must address four interlocking*** areas of: Vision, Engagement, Governance & Technology to stand any chance of leading digital. Many often have one or more of these areas needing serious intervention to get up to speed.


4. Employees know their organisation better than anyone – This may be stating the obvious, but on several occasions we found critical knowledge locked in the heads of a few individuals, or that departments don’t communicate enough with each other, (not even those using the same systems / processes / suppliers). It is therefore a vital step to unearth such locked-in knowledge, and to untangle any communication gridlock.

5. Using the right tools in the right way pays off big – The Digital Maturity Quadrant or Digital Maturity Assessment exercise are great tools for stimulating debate, conversations and mission clarity. However the readiness of an organisation may impact how such tools are perceived as well as their effectiveness. In such situations, we need to reassess the best way to achieve a useful outcome.

In conclusion, I’d encourage all large, non-tech firms to look for opportunities to put some of the book’s wisdom into practice. The pay off is well worth it, and besides it’s never too late to start on the transformation journey because, as author Andrew McAfee puts it, when it comes to digital, “we ain’t seen nothing yet“!

*Source: Leading Digital by George Westerman, Didier Bonnet and Andrew McAfee
**Source: Capgemini Consulting-MIT Analysis – Digital Transformation: A roadmap for billion-dollar organizations (c) 2012
*** Source: Capgemini 2014


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