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Intellectual Property for Start-Ups

October 28, 2016 Leave a comment

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!

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Block Bits and Chain Coins: The Trust Machine Jigsaw

April 1, 2016 3 comments

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

 

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!

Innovation through Collaboration

April 18, 2014 Leave a comment
Someone once said that true innovation is collaborative, and I’ve stated previously that innovation is often best observed in hindsight, so when the opportunity arose to help coordinate a BCS seminar about collaborative innovation (i.e. between business and academia) I was only too eager to oblige. 
 
As the title suggests, the focus of this event was to “showcase various initiatives designed to foster new collaborations between university students, researchers and industrial partners in order to unleash the full innovation potential of effective partnership working”. The speakers covered the gamut of that partnership by bringing perspectives from the world of academia and research, as well as from business and consulting, to give the audience a 360 degree peek at collaborative innovation in action.
Dave, Dean and Simon

Dave Chapman, Dean Mohammedally and Simon Elliot

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.

 
The beauty of the UCL CS programme is that it provides a way for students to work with potential employers and entrepreneurs to develop real products and Proof-of-Concepts, as well as various Student Interest Group initiatives, e.g. the largest Hadoop cluster for education has been created, maintained and used by UCL students to provide services for real world business clients. The primary intention of the programme is to ensure graduates can acquire directly applicable skills and experiences for jobs in the highly competitive & selective digital business environment of today. 
 
To say I found this all very mind blowing would be an understatement. Although I’m pretty sure other universities, (e.g. Cambridge / Southampton / MIT / Stanford etc.), have similar collaborative partnerships, it was a real treat to see such an initiative closely intertwined to the unfolding evolution of London’s Tech City. I’ll definitely be back shortly to see what else they have going on at the UCL.
One cool collaboration Pod at IDEALondon

One cool collaboration Pod at IDEALondon

This event took place at the amazing venue of  IDEA London , an innovation ‘hot-house’ which was  launched in 2012 by David Cameron  and is located right at the heart of London’s Tech City . IDEA London was established by UCL, in partnership with  Cisco  and  DC Thomson, in order to offer a “unique opportunity for digital and new media companies to develop and expand with the expert help and support of 3 top world class organisations which are leaders in academic research, digital technology and media.  
 
In summary, this was another excellent event in the innovation series delivered by BCSNLB, in partnership with BCS Entrepreneurs and UCL. I can’t wait for the next event on 23rd April 2014, and I recommend anyone interested should make the effort to attend, if you are in London on that date.
 
Disclosure: In addition to coordinating the event for the BCS, the UCL (Dept. of Computer Science) is my alma mater, so you could say I have already drunk the Kool Aid, but please don’t hold that against me.

Digital Economy and IP

January 22, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

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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.

CEO / CIO Digital Alert!

August 29, 2013 Leave a comment

What is digital and why is it now so important? How are CEOs thinking about business, IT and digital? What is Digital Business Strategy (aka – what should CxOs be doing to ensure their organisation can benefit from the challenges and opportunities presented by Digital)? Ps. how much of this is hype versus actual reality?

Gartner At BCS

Gartner @ BCS Event

These are the sort of questions regularly asked of top research analysts, and a couple of weeks ago we heard some answers, and more, at a recent BCS London event featuring two leading analysts from Gartner. Mark Raskino, (VP and Gartner Fellow), focused on the outcomes and insights from  the Gartner’s CEO Concerns 2013 survey, and Dave Aron, (VP and Gartner/BCS Fellow) discussed the urgent need for digital business strategies. Below are some highlights from their presentations:

  • Multiple uncertainties of the last 12-18 months are starting to lift, and CEOs feel better able to plan and invest – there is renewed focus on profitability, plus there is money available to invest
  • After a decade of IT service performance and tight cost control, good digital strategy is emerging as a key enabler for forward looking organisations. “There has to be more to the future of IT than endlessly babysitting ERP” – Dale Kutnick, Gartner EVP
  • Digital is a mixture of various themes, which include: mature forces (i.e. e-commerce, e-service, online), contemporary forces (i.e. social, mobile, cloud, information), and emerging forces (e.g. Internet of Things, 3D printing, robotics, data science), all with a common “revenue winning” focus.
  • CIOs beware – new C-level information and technology roles (e.g. CDO/CIO or Chief Digital/Data/Innovation Officers) are emerging to fill the void left by traditional roles in the age of Digital
  •  ‘Digital’ is a much misused (and often restrictive) term which actually encompasses “…all electronic forms and uses of information and technology” – Dave Aron, Gartner.
  • We are entering a third era of Enterprise IT which has evolved through: IT Systems/Apps to IT Services/Processes, and now Digital Business/Models. Great IT strategy is no longer enough, organisations need a solid digital strategy to move forward
  • Digital business strategy answers the question: how will your business survive and thrive in a time of digital disruption? It is and integral part of business strategy.
  • Business processes are a terrible way to innovate in a time of disruptive digital innovation. “Business models are a more natural way to think of digital strategy”
  • Gartner’s Annual CIO survey 2013 indicates that, over the next decade or so, smaller ‘long tail’ firms will be most influential partners on the journey to digital!

The above are just a small sample of the thought provoking content covered during this most excellent, value for money event. As usual, I just had to ask the question of how Intellectual Property (IP) will likely influence and / or be influenced by the rise of digital, and the answers (which are recorded in a post event video interview) could become the topic of a future blog post. Watch this space.

How to implement innovative business models

August 9, 2013 2 comments

Back in 2011, I wrote a post about business model innovation in which I waxed lyrical about how a simple, straightforward business model canvas could be the perfect tool for any organisation to use in tackling the complexities of today’s business environment. So what has changed since then?

Absolutely nothing, and I still stand by what I said. If anything, ample proof exists in the growing number of user communities and tools (e.g. here and here) that employ this amazing technique to simplify and facilitate business model innovations. However, the one missing piece for me was how to easily translate valuable insights gleaned from using the business model canvas into something tangible, practical and immediately applicable to the actual work of business transformation. That problem appears to have been solved with the introduction of tools that can automate and facilitate the execution part of business model innovation.

Image

Figure – The missing piece: executing business model innovation 

Don’t get me wrong, the above missing piece is achievable by manually translating business model changes into the enterprise architecture (EA) and business process (BPM) landscape, but this implies hefty overheads in terms of people and effort required to implement even a simple change. Also, the evolving nature of the role played by EA and BPM functions, (within a dynamic and fast changing business environment), demands a more seamless interface with changing business models. Thankfully, the afore-mentioned tools should help to automate and provide such seamless linkage.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a vendor webinar which actually prompted this blog post, because they described how their software suite was designed to deliver this capability, and below are some of my impressions from that event, including:

  1. The promise of business model canvas as the right approach to address the challenge of a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (aka VUCA) world.
  2. The shift away from products to business models as key differentiators
  3. Seven applications of the Business Model Canvas, including various business model innovation journeys and perspectives (e.g. offer / customer / revenue driven models)
  4. Business Model Mountain was the term used to describe how business model innovation falls over halfway between ideation and execution, (see diagram below).

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Figure – Business Model Mountain (source: BizzDesign Webinar Slides)

According to the presenter, their software suite provide a more compelling way to engage business stakeholders with the end-to-end transformation process, by using business model canvas as the reference model for communication between business, process and technology stakeholders. It was also great to see a demo of the software suite, which allayed some of my fears about tools that attempt to do too much, by featuring different aspects (i.e. business model canvas, EA and BPM) as distinct tools that work well in their own right, but which can be combined to deliver end-to-end translation of the business model into real system components and processes.

Health Warning: Not having used this tool yet, (due to very busy day job, believe it or not), I’m unable to say more about real hands-on capabilities, but in terms of its potential to help realise the huge promise and benefits of business model innovation, this is certainly a step in the right direction, in my humble opinion.

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Note: this is another post in the innovation topic series, and more specifically, “tools for innovation”. Watch out for more on this and related topics, over the next few months.

Some relevant links:

  1. Blogpost: “The Innovative Art of Business Model Generation” – https://www.capgemini.com/blog/capping-it-off/2011/07/the-innovative-art-of-business-model-generation
  2. BizzDesign Webinar: “Business Model Innovation Webinar” – http://www.bizzdesign.com/blog/serviceline/business-model-management
  3. Bright talk Webinar: “Innovation and EA”-  https://www.brighttalk.com/webcast/679/32551
  4. Blogpost: “Developing a tradition for change” – http://www.bcs.org/content/conBlogPost/2204
  5. Blogpost: “Capabilities for Sustainable Innovation” – https://www.capgemini.com/blog/capping-it-off/2013/08/capabilities-for-sustainable-innovation