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Fidget spinning and the ‘big brain’ syndrome.

May 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Looking ahead into the future, some forward thinking people might ask what key skills the younger generation should develop in order to survive, thrive and succeed in tomorrow’s world. There is no doubt in their minds that the skills, qualifications and advantages of the present day will no longer suffice in the technology infused world of tomorrow.

 

image4-edit-smFor obvious reasons, any answers to this question should be taken with a pinch of salt, therefore I shan’t even venture into that minefield, but suffice to say that judging from current trends in tech (e.g. biotech, AI, IoT, data analytics, and even Blockchain), the future will be something far more dynamic and fluid than we currently imagine and it’ll challenge even the best of us to compete. However, the ability to adapt to change is probably humanity’s greatest asset, and in this case, that ability resides in mankind’s evolutionary weapon of choice – the brain. It’ll require a big enough brain to recognise, comprehend and grasp the opportunities that present themselves in a post human transition.

I say post human transition because we’ll likely need superhuman abilities to engage effectively with even a mere subset of the predicted changes to come. The enabling technologies in place today only hint at possibilities beyond which we cannot easily envisage. A few weeks ago I came across someone with the big brain outlook, and based on our conversation, I came away with a few key characteristics that can help define the big brain advantage, as follows:

  1. It’s a lonely existence – having a big brain means stepping out on a limb. Even when others are busy fretting about current and future ghosts or bogeymen, they’ll often go out alone into the dark to explore the extent of an unfolding phenomenon.
  2. It takes guts – in order to be able to step out into the unknown, you’ll need a pair of big brass balls to scare any real or perceived demons in the dark. Innovators and pioneers meet this challenge head-on and forge ahead where others fear to tread.
  3. An eclectic worldview is essential – the ability to appreciate the big picture in all its variety, diversity and pervasive interconnectedness is crucial to this mindset. Look for it in those with atypical backgrounds and experiences, e.g. that well-travelled outlier in a homogenous group.

So what has this go to do with the humble, if irritating fidget spinner? Well a fidget spinner requires some manual dexterity as well as sensory input and feedback, and it apparently helps those with certain forms of attention deficit disorders, but it has gone viral and become a fad with school age kids (& some adults) everywhere.

Bipedal locomotion, opposing thumb digits and accompanying manual dexterity are adaptions that contributed to the evolution of ‘big brained’ Homo sapiens, aka thinking man. This evolutionary advantage led to the dominance of human beings on earth. In much the same light, it could be argued that those heads-down, hunch-shouldered, smartphone-wielding people you find everywhere these days are merely taking human cultural evolution to the next level by mastering necessary digital dexterity and information processing skills required to gain that digital advantage. So next time you see a fidget-spinning, smartphone-messaging kid, be rest assured this is a fine specimen of the next phase in human evolution – Lord help us all!

Copyright, Blockchain, Technology and the State of Digital Piracy

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment
The next installment of one of my favourite conferences on copyright and technology is right around the corner, on January 24th in NYC, and as usual it promises some interesting: debate, controversy and hot-off-the-press insights into the murky world of copyright business, technology, and legislation. Plus, this year, it also features a panel on the game changing technology of blockchain and its myriad disruptive applications across entire industries, including copyright and the creative industries.

Thankfully, the inclusion of this panel session recognises the never-ending role of new and innovative technologies in shaping the evolution of Copyright. Ever since that first mass copy technology (i.e. the printing press) raised questions of rights ownership, and due recompense for works of the mind, new technologies for replicating and sharing creative content have driven the wheel of evolution in this area. Attendees will doubtless benefit from the insight and expertise of this panel of speakers as well as moderator and Program Chair, Bill Rosenblatt, who questioned (in a recent blog post), the practicality, relevance and usefulness of blockchain in a B2C context for copyright. You are in for a treat.

This is a very exciting period of wholesale digital transformation, and as I mentioned once or twice in previous articles and blog-posts, the game is only just beginning for potential applications of: blockchain, crypto currencies, smart licences and sundry trust mechanisms in the digital domain. In an age of ubiquitous content and digital access, the focus of copyright is rightfully shifting away from copying and moving towards the actual usage of digital content, which brings added complexity to an already complex and subjective topic. It is far too early to tell if blockchain can provide a comprehensive answer to this challenge.

The Copyright and Technology conference series have never failed to provide some thought-provoking insights and debates driven by expert speakers across multiple industries. In fact, I reconnected recently with a couple of previous speakers: Dominic Young and Chris Elkins, who are both still pretty active, informed and involved in the copyright and technology agenda. Dominic, ex-CEO of the UK’s Digital Catapault, is currently working on a hush hush project that will potentially transform the B2C transaction space. Chris is co-founder Muso, a digital anti-piracy organisation which has successfully secured additional funding to expand its global footprint with innovative approaches to anti-piracy. For example, if you ever wondered which countries are most active in media piracy, then look no further than Muso’s big data based state of digital piracy reports. Don’t say I never tell you anything.

In any case, I look forward to hearing attendees impressions on the Copyright and Technology 2017 conference, which I’m unable to attend / participate this timme unfortunately. In the meantime, I’ll continue to spend my spare time, or whatever brain capacity I have left, with pro-bono activities that allow me to: meet, mentor / coach and advise some amazing startups on the dynamic intersection of IP, business and technology. More on that in another post.

Predicting the (near) Future

December 22, 2015 Leave a comment
The future is always tricky to predict and, in keeping with Star Wars season, the dark side is always there to cloud everything. But as we all know in IT the ‘Cloud’ can be pretty cool, except of course when it leaks. Last month saw the final edition of Gartner’s Symposium/ITxpo 2015 in Barcelona, and I was fortunate to attend (courtesy of my Business Unit) and bear witness to some amazing predictions about the road ahead for our beloved / beleageured IT industry.
 
Judging from the target audience, and the number of people in attendance, it is safe to say that the future is at best unpredictable, and at worst unknowable, but Gartner’s Analysts gave it a good go; making bold statements about the state of things to be, within the next 5 years or so. The following are some key messages, observations and predictions which I took away from the event.
 
1. CIOs are keen to see exactly what lies ahead.
Obviously. However, it does confirm to my mind that the future is highly mutable, especially given the amount of change to be navigated on the journey towards digital transformation. I say ‘towards’ because, from all indications, there is likely no real end-point or destination to the journey of digital transformation. The changes (and challenges / opportunities) just keep coming thick and fast, and at an increasing pace. For example, by 2017, Gartner predicts that 50% of IT spending will be outside of IT, it currently stands at 42% today, therefore CIOs must shift their approach from command and control style management to leading via influence and collaboration.
 
2. Algorithmic business is the future of digital business
A market for algorithms (i.e. snippets of code with value) will emerge where organizations and individuals will be able to: licence, exchange, sell and/or give away algorithms – Hmmm, now where have we seen or heard something like that before? Anyway, as a result, many organisations will need an ‘owner’ for Algorithms (e.g. Chief Data Officer) who’s job it’ll be to create an inventory of their algorithms, classify it (i.e. private or “core biz” and public “non-core biz” value), and oversee / govern its use.
 
3. The next level of Smart Machines
In the impending “Post App” era, which is likely to be ushered in by algorithms, people will rely on new virtual digital assistants, (i.e. imagine Siri or Cortana on steroids) to conduct transactions on their behalf. According to Gartner, “By 2020, smart agent services will follow at least 10% of people to wherever they are, providing them with services they want and need via whatever technology is available.” Also, the relationship between machines and people will initially be cooperative, then co-dependant, and ultimately competitive, as machines start to vie for the same limited resources as people.
 
4. Platforms are the way forward (and it is bimodal all the way)
A great platform will help organisations add and remove capability ‘like velcro’. It will need to incorporate Mode 2 capability in order to: fail fast on projects / cloud / on-demand / data and insight. Organisations will start to build innovation competency, e.g. via innovation labs, in order to push the Mode 2 envelope. Platform thinking will be applied at all layers (including: delivery, talent, leadership and business model) and not just on the technology / infrastructure layer.
 
5. Adaptive, People Centric Security
The role of Chief Security Officer role will change and good security roles will become more expansive and mission critical. In future, everyone gets hacked, even you, and if not then you’re probably not important. Security roles will need to act more like intelligence officers instead of policemen. Security investment models will shift from predominantly prevention based to prevention and detection capabilities, as more new and unpredictable threats become manifest. Also organisations will look to deploy People Centric Security measures (PCS) in order to cover all bases.
 
6. The holy grail of business moments and programmable business models
The economics of connections (from increased density of connections and creation of value between: business / people / things) will become evident especially when organsiations focus on delivering business moments to delight their customers. Firms will start to capitalise on their platforms to enable C2C interactions (i.e. customer-2-customer interactions) and allow people and things to create their own value. It will be the dawn of programmable business models 
 
7. The Digital Mesh and the role of wearables and IoT
One of the big winners in the near future will be the ‘digital mesh’, amplified by the explosion of wearables and IoT devices (and their interactions) in the digital mesh environment. Gartner predicts a huge market for wearables (e.g. 500M units sold in 2020 alone – for just a few particular items). Furthermore, barriers to entry will be lower and prices will fall as a result of increased competition, along with: more Apps, better APIs and improved power.
 
The above are just a few of the trends and observations I got from the event, but I hasten to add that it will be impossible to reflect over 4 days of pure content in these highlight notes, and that other equally notable trends and topics such as: IoT Architecture, Talent Acquisition and CIO/CTO Agendas, only receive honourable mentions. However, I noticed that topics such as Blockchain were not fully explored as might be expected at an event of this nature. Perhaps next year will see it covered in more depth – just my prediction.
In summary, the above are not necessarily earth shattering predictions, but taken together they point the way forward to a very different experience of technology; one that is perhaps more in line with hitherto far-fetched predictions of the Singularity, as humans become more immersed and enmeshed with machines. Forget the Post-App era, this could be the beginning of a distinctly recognisable post human era. However, as with all predictions only time will tell, and in this case, lets see where we are this time next year. I hope you have a happy holiday / festive season wherever you are.

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.

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.


Quadrant-sm

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.

The-How-cropped-sm

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“!


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*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


Accelerating successful innovation in the connected digital economy

December 8, 2014 Leave a comment

The above titled event, which I attended in November, was just one in a month-long series of high profile launch events for the UK’s Connected Digital Economy Catapult (aka Digital Catapult Centre). As you might imagine this event was designed to bring together the right mix of entrepreneurs, digital start-ups, academics and financiers for a day of insightful presentations, conversations and networking about the UK digital economy.

Digital Catapult

The event was organised by BCS Entrepreneurs, in collaboration with the Digital Catapult Centre, and it featured 3 themed sessions on: Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), and Finance for entrepreneurs. These hot topics provided the framework for many interesting viewpoints and discussions on how best to accelerate digital innovation and keep the UK at the forefront of the unfolding digital revolution (click here to see videos). Some highlights and key takeaways include:

  • Innovation opportunities abound– The speakers described or demonstrated a plethora of novel concepts, products, services and emerging uses for such things as: big data / analytics, wearable technologies, smart city technology and ubiquitous connected devices / sensors / actuators (aka “Internet of Things). The abundance of new digital products, services, capabilities, and behaviours are self-propelling and accelerating their own evolution;
  • The demographic skew– Digitally enabled independent living and age related health care solutions are set to grow dramatically over the next few years – A few presentations touched on the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging “baby boom” generation to their “digital native” inheritors, and conclude that the demographic time-bomb is well and truly ticking down the minutes to a seemingly inevitable conclusion – from baby boom to ka-boom!
  • Universities lead the way– For example, University College London’s UCL Decide program provides a ready test bed, (with a potential captive test population of 35,000 staff and students), that can be deployed to put any digital offering through its paces before launch. Such Institutions of higher learning are increasingly leading the digital gold rush by providing fertile breeding grounds for more digitally savvy entrepreneurs (i.e. those people formerly known as graduates);
  • Pervasive Smart City tech – One speaker described the ability to leverage open street data, transport network information, air traffic control and meteorological data to provide real time city simulations which, in conjunction with virtual / augmented reality and gesture based controllers, can present any city as a living, breathing digital organism. Smart City visualization and logistics solutions on display point the way towards a pervasive cloud of data and technologies with which city dwellers in the not-too-distant future can carry out their day-to-day activities including: planning / transport / communication / collaboration;
  • Funding models abound– The panel on “Raising Finance” featured speakers from: venture capital, angel investment, banking, grants and crowd funding organisations. They represented different styles, types and stages of financing available for high-growth companies or start-ups. One audience member questioned why grant funding was so complex that it required 3rd party organisations to help would be entrepreneurs, to which the panel responded that government was “institutionally incapable of providing anything simple” – Enough said.

Anything that simplifies and facilitates entrepreneurship, such as government backed Digital Catapult Centres, can only be a good thing in my book.

Overall, I thought this event was a great introduction to the Connected Digital Economy Catapult Centre, staff and attendees, but the real star of the show for me was the venue: a purpose built facility for open, collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship which is aptly located in the heart of London’s emerging Knowledge Quarter, surrounded by world class institutions such as: the British Library, Wellcome Trust, Turing Institute (for Big data), the Crick Institute (for Genetic Research) and University of London.

The organisers (i.e. BCS Entrepreneurs and the Digital Catapult Centre) are very keen to work with entrepreneurs, service providers, financiers and academic institutions to create innovative digital solutions that make the most of opportunities in the digital age. This is also reflected in a growing corporate appetite for collaborative innovation, as evidenced in the likes of Capgemini’s Co-innovation Labs and other such corporate innovation ventures / hot houses and incubators. For any would be entrepreneur, these are exciting times indeed!

The Architect and Digital

March 15, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

Digital Customer Experience

The Digital Customer Experience

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.