A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate, as chair & speaker, at a BCS Entrepreneurs event discussing the role and value of Intellectual Property for start-ups and entrepreneurs. As you might imagine this was a well attended event with so many different questions foremost on the minds of various attendees.
Given the focus on my favourite topics of IP and entrepreneurship, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to sign-up and chair the event. Furthermore, I was in the company of two legal experts on: EU IP law (Jonathan Exell, from William Powells) and employment law (Bob Fahy, from Veale Wasbrough Vizards) respectively. Also the attendees were certainly not shy to engage and they took some delight in systematically dissecting the trickier aspects of entrepreneurship and the start-up vs. IP challenge in a changing landscape.
As introduction and kickoff, I provided a quick overview of some of those key challenges facing startups with respect to IP. This was mainly based on a previous post and article I’d written and published about this same topic.
The first speaker followed through with a thorough recap of the legal position on IP particularly with regard to the EU and Brexit. Key message: it’ll likely be business as usual for IP in post Brexit UK, at least in the near term. Also, it is highly unlikely that the UK will deviate too radically from the increasingly aligned position on IP which most of the world enjoy today.
The second legal perspective provided some insights on key challenges and opportunities facing anyone trying to manage the IP risks and issues associated with employees, disgruntled or otherwise. Here the lines become somewhat blurred between contract vs. employment vs. IP laws. It was interesting to observe the number of questions relating to how founders should approach the challenge of establishing who has what IP (and / or portions thereof) when their start-up fails, flounders, or even flourishes!
To say this event was informative and enlightening would be an understatement because the second part of the seminar consisted of 1-to-1 mentorship sessions, with experienced BCS mentors exploring attendees individual circumstances in order to provide specific guidance based on the topic at hand. Pure value delivered, if you ask me. As an exercise in giving back, I can think of no better way to spend an evening than by learning, interacting and exploring various start-up IP challenges with enthusiastic entrepreneurs, mentors and experts from within and outside of the BCS.
One thing I love about my work is how it affords me unfettered opportunity to give back, by providing dedicated time (and a measurable objective) to undertake pro bono activities, such as this one, which is aimed at helping others in need of expertise or guidance for projects, worthy causes or personal development. Pure Ohana!
The topic of Bitcoin, and other cyber currencies, as well as the underlying Blockchain technology is still top of mind for various industries, with frequent: events, blog posts, articles and sundry news items firmly focused on them. I have also contributed to the deluge with a recently published article in the BCS ITNow magazine, as well as a forthcoming event on the “darker side of Internet technology”, but more on that later.
Last week I attended a BCS London Central event about Bitcoin technology “that could change the world”, featuring Simon Taylor, VP Entrepreneurial Partnerships at Barclays bank. As you might imagine, banks and other financial institutions are at the cross-hairs of any impending / potential disruption by Bitcoin and its Blockchain technology. Given the history of other similar disruptions in other industries, many financial institutions have been quick jump into the ring in order to figure out the best way to take advantage of the new challenge / opportunity rather than just sit back or ignore it.
To this end, Simon did a great job shedding some light on key initiatives by members of the financial services, (including banks and Barclays in particular), on the topic of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. My top take-aways from the event include:
- Building Blocks – Bitcoin is great, but platforms like Ethereum have really made Blockchain relevant for organisations to build their own applications – i.e. by providing the Lego building blocks for creating useful applications for the banks of tomorrow.
- FUD still rules – Opinions differ and people argue as to just what is Blockchain. Is it just the underlying technology used for Bitcoin, or does it include other incarnations and applications of similar mechanisms? A lot of confusion is being caused by misconceptions around Blockchain – e.g. “people keep coming up with Blockchain ‘solutions’ for just about anything”. However, if you do use Bitcoin based solutions, you must beware of implications for data protection, Safe Harbour and industry regulations.
- Using a hammer to crack a nut – Simon questioned whether it was really necessary to put up with the immense overhead required for permission-less ‘proof of work’ systems such as Bitcoin, when the faster permissioned versions could be just as effective, albeit with a certain degree less end-to-end security, integrity and non-repudiation capability in comparison to Bitcoin.
- Bitcoin keys can also be lost or stolen – Blockchain does not provide a solution for key management, so How can this be mitigated. This could be a potential role for trusted intermediaries, such as banks.
- Q&A: How can other organisations (e.g. NHS) successfully leverage such tech? – Simon’s advice to the NHS Director in the audience was to get educated on the topic and then experiment like mad. Barclays does this by first creating an experiment script or hypothesis then outsourcing the work to local / friendly start-ups for rapid turnaround. The resulting outcome is then studied and pulled apart by multi-disciplinary experts from Barclays (e.g. compliance / risk / security teams) before a recommendation is made. Most other industries can follow this model.
Overall, I thought this was a good event which was well attended by a very engaged 100 strong audience. The chosen topic and focus also made a perfect setup for the aforementioned BCS “Darkside” event which is scheduled to take place on 26th April, and features some excellent speakers and their perspectives on the seamier sides and uses of Bitcoin and Blockchain technology. Don’t miss it!
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:
- Device Info – e.g. type, form and function, data (provided/consumed), owner etc.
- Customer/Users – e.g. Relationship of device to the user / customer
- Location – e.g. Where is device located (also relative to other things / points of reference)
- Network – e.g. network type, protocols, bandwidth, transport, data rate, connectivity constraints etc.
- 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.
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.
Last month, I helped coordinate a BCS London seminar about the role of IT in the airport and air travel industry, and as you might imagine it proved a very popular topic, complete with sold out venue and 4 expert IT practitioners from one of the world’s busiest hub airport. Read on for highlights…
- Airport Operations – Heathrow operates 98% runway capacity which roughly translates to a take-off or landing event occurring every 45 seconds, thereby making it one of the most efficient 2 runway airports in the world. Speaker, Brent Reed (Airport Ops Lead Designer), described how Heathrow introduced a world’s first Time Based Seperation (TBS) system to further maintain / improve on this efficiency, particularly on windy days – every second counts!
- The Automated Passenger Journey – Heathrow is actively implementing the IATA Fast Travel Program strategy which aims to provide 80% of global passengers with a complete and relevant self-service suite by 2020. According to Capgemini’s Don Grose (Lead Solution Architect), this program will deliver multiple benefits for: passengers, airlines and airports, and Heathrow has already delivered or trialled several self service capabilities, including: Self Boarding, Automatic Ticket Presentation and Kiosk self service bag tags, Self Service Bag Drop trials, as well as biometric enrolment & verification.
- Shadow IT at Heathrow – Andrew Isenman (Passenger Experience Design Lead), described how Heathrow employees are starting to engage their colleagues and digitally enabled passengers in different ways, sometimes even bypassing the IT departments. As a result, the latter have proactively started encouraging and shaping how this engagement happens, at the same time they’re addressing the usual questions around: support provision, reduced Total-Cost-of-Ownership (TCO), increased security and minimal technical debt.
- Airport Innovation – Heathrow has embraced the drive for innovation with various initiatives, some of which were presented by Richard Harding, (Head of strategy and innovation at Heathrow). They included: the Heathrow innovation Process, Crowd dynamics (detecting / measuring / alerting via CCTV), WiFi digital finger printing, Airfield Asset inspection, Mobile Display units and treasure hunts. Key insights gleaned from Heathrow innovation highlight the need for: open innovation, active promotion, new governance processes, skills enablement and innovative culture / process metrics.