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Successful Innovation: Is it an Art or Science?

March 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Shock, horror; learning STEM is not the answer! Well at least not according to Dr. Andy Harter in his thought provoking 2018 BCS/IET Turing Lecture. Thankfully, he also described the key qualities critical for success in the fourth industrial revolution. Read on to find out if you’ve got what it takes.

Harter kicked off the lecture with a poignant question about whether successful tech and innovation was down to an art or a science, giving much pause for thought, but more on that later. The following are the key qualities I took away from the lecture:

  • Creativity – This is inherent quality in every individual is not always teachable. However, it is important to nurture and inspire ‘sparky’ individuals. Creativity often works best when one is able to focus on human element and harness seemingly random ideas, thoughts and visions to solve problems.
  • Motivation is key – Necessity is mother of invention, therefore tapping into an area of need with real emotional connections to the individual can often lead to inspired breakthroughs
  • Story Telling – This can capture the imagination and turn mere functionality push into consumer pull. Great storytellers have lasting impact e.g. Nicola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Steven Spielberg
  • Timing – Being too early or too late is as good as being wrong. For example, the ‘way-ahead-of-it’s-time’ Apple Newton PDA was responsible for the ARM chip (aka Acorn RISC Machine) which is used to power so many mobile devices today. Timing is everything.
  • Observation – Learn to observe carefully everything e.g. detail, structure, patterns. This is one quality which can be taught and which only gets better with practice.
  • Time / space to think – The hare vs. tortoise approach to problem solving describes how frenetic pace can get in the way of deep-thought and meaningful insights. Prominent thinkers have used and recommend micro-naps as a boost for productivity.
  • Simplicity – make simplicity a key principle. Know what to leave out and try not to solve problems that don’t exist. Jazz great, Charlie Mingus once said: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity”
  • Adaptation – this is key to survival in nature, business and tech innovation. There are far too many examples of failures to adapt to a changing landscape. Today’s enterprise must embrace the phoenix like business model approach
  • Generosity – Abundance is a state of mind most relevant to the digital age / fourth industrial revolution. Free software, apps and information powered economy is driven by digital abundance on an unprecedented scale.

Aside from the above, I found it interesting that Harter prefaced the above points by showcasing the works of that most forward-looking polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci, whose ground breaking works combine and span the arts and sciences, and so much more besides. In a world chock full of incredible opportunities, with amazing breakthroughs in: A.I., Autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things and Cloud computing, it is plain to see that the most profound impacts will come from combinations thereof.

In conclusion, it’s become more obvious that the polymath mantra to: “study the art of science and the science of art” in full knowledge that “everything connects to everything else”, stands true more-so now than ever, especially for those seeking to succeed in the 4th industrial revolution. In my opinion, any education or training that features and applies both the arts and sciences will beat the rest going forward. Just sayin’.

 

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The World Beyond Blockchain – Part 3/3: After the Storm

March 18, 2018 Leave a comment

My 2 previous posts on this topic described: the perfect storm that has brought things to this point (part 1/3), and explored current and emerging trends (part 2/3). This final post reflects on what will most likely play out after all the dust has settled.

After the storm – What’s next for the Blockchain
Given the current frothy state of most Blockchain based cybercurrencies, many people foresee a disastrous crash, or massive correction at least, and one may be forgiven for taking a skeptical view of the future of Bitcoin and it’s ilk. However, in light of the previously discussed factors, it is certain that the Blockchain is only starting its ascendence into every facet of human interaction with machines and with each other. When the dust finally settles, it is almost certain that the Blockchain will assume its rightful place as a key enabler of the fourth industrial revolution. A couple of indicators that clearly point the way towards this eventuality are:

1 – Moving from fission to fusion:
We are currently witnessing what can only be described as a period of explosive innovation based on / fueled by several disruptive and/or emerging technologies, including: AI, IoT, nanotech, biotech, robotics, 3-D printing, autonomous systems and vehicles, materials & energy tech, quantum computing and the Blockchain. This rapid outward acceleration of disruptive innovation is somewhat akin to nuclear fission, where each disruptive tech development sparks a chain reaction with other disruptive technologies and applications. However, even that pales in comparison with the potential disruptive power of emerging tech mashups which may be more likened to nuclear fusion. For example, a Blockchain powered Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) system running an IoT platform reeks of potential disruption overdrive. The recent 60 second $36M ICO of Singularity.Net’s Blockchain powered AI platform clearly shows that it’s just a matter of when, not if such an eventuality will manifest.

2 – Demographic expansion
Time and again it has been observed that teams with a higher diversity of people tend to produce more and better innovation, and this is something which can be seen with Blockchain and its myriad applications. For example, at an event I attended about Blockchain in developing countries, it was refreshing to see 50% of the panel were women in CxO roles, leading their organisations in navigating and deploying innovative Blockchain applications and disruptive use cases. Outside of a seemingly diversity challenged Silicon Valley, the Blockchain appears to be a magnet for diversity, with pools of entrepreneurs, users and disruptive use cases that cuts across traditional stereotypes and geo-political, socio-economic, demographic or even academic boundaries. It appears to be agnostic of age, gender, race or religious backgrounds, which is perhaps unsurprising given the multi-disciplinary influences and inputs required to create useful, successful Blockchain applications. Disciplines involved include: mathematics, psychology, philosophy, cryptography, computing, politics, economics and sociology. However, a lot still needs to be done in other areas because increased inequality represents one of the greatest concerns associated with the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Weathering the Storm: How to avoid the deluge and ride the wave
Below are my top tips for surviving and thriving through the period of disruptive cultural evolution that is bound to accompany the advent of this fourth industrial revolution and one of its key enablers:

1. Education – Get up to speed with Blockchain, and other emerging technologies, read simple introduction guides and watch videos from reputable sources, but please beware the excessive noise and froth of F.U.D out there, as not everyone is an expert.

2. Analyse your own situation – What does Blockchain mean for you as an individual, and for your organization or communities? Try to define your own use cases according to your area of expertise, and perhaps help your organization or community define or contribute to their Blockchain strategy.

3. People come first – Always put humanity first. A good dash of human compassion and grace will go a long way in future, because all emerging technology will ultimately become part of the plumbing enabling humanity, but even super humans need the right values too.

Finally, I’m no investment expert and the following does not in any way constitute investment advice, but for specific instruments, such as cryptocurrency and ICOs, it may be prudent to adopt a risk averse strategy and avoid any speculation, due to their relative immaturity. Otherwise some common sense approach will be required to even consider dabbling. For example, never gamble what you cannot afford to lose, or invest in something you do not understand, and always keep an eye on the regulatory landscape!

In conclusion, I believe the Blockchain will continue to be a fascinating topic for a while yet, but as more and more use cases become reality, it will ultimately go the way of other great enabling technologies (e.g. the Internet and Worldwide Web) and become part of the background infrastructure upon which yet more life changing innovation will emerge. You can bet on that!

The World Beyond the Blockchain – Part 1/3: The Perfect Storm

January 28, 2018 1 comment
In 2016, when my last article about the Blockchain and Bitcoin was published, the cryptocurrency was valued at about $400, which at the time seemed the result of fever pitch speculation and media hype. Fast forward to December 2017 and the order of magnitude increase, with over 1300% ROI in 2017alone, appears decidedly hallucinatory, but even that is nothing compared to the estimated $200,000+ peak valuation predicted by the time the last of 21 million possible Bitcoin has been mined. According to the maths, even if you were to invest in Bitcoin at $10,000 or $20,000 you’ll still stand to make an order of magnitude return on your investment well before that last bitcoin is mined! Such irrational exuberance, fools gold and / or mega bubble surely challenges previous examples, (e.g.: the infamous Dutch tulips, South Sea bubble or dot com bubble), for supremacy in foolhardiness, or does it?

Anyway, instead of all that hand wringing speculation, this three part post (from a forthcoming article for ITNow magazine) will focus on the perfect storm that has brought things to this point (in Part 1); it will explore current and emerging trends (in Part 2), and discuss possible scenarios that will likely play out after the dust settles (in Part 3), before concluding with a few recommendations on the way forward to the world beyond the Blockchain.

The winds of change – key Ingredients for the perfect storm:
We can acknowledge that Bitcoin is the first and perhaps most disruptive application of the Blockchain, at least for now. The following factors have combined to drive its emergence as a jaw dropping speculative investment opportunity, and the underlying blockchain technology as a revolutionary engine for hyper-charged innovation:
1 – Technology drivers:
  • According to CBIsights Research, Bitcoin is the first decentralized, censor-proof, portable, secure, durable, and scarce digital asset.
  • The underlying Blockchain is built on a solid foundation of proven technologies including public key cryptography, hashing and TCP/IP (aka the Internet protocols).
  • The Blockchain is one of several disruptive technologies that will enable and drive the so-called fourth industrial revolution.
2 – Global socio-economic, political and demographic drivers
  • Following 2008’s financial meltdown, with subsequent financial reforms and various other aftershocks, many institutions, including banks and governments, are suffering a major ‘crises of legitimacy‘ which is eroding their traditional role as trusted middlemen for many transactions
  • Global unemployment, hunger, terrorism, wars, natural disasters and mass migration all highlight and exacerbate inequality, xenophobia, mistrust and dissatisfaction with the status quo.
3 – Geometric scale disruption
  • The speed and scale of disruption and adoption of Blockchain applications is phenomenal, and it challenges existing systems of production, managment and governance
These key ingredients combine and contribute to the current frenzied interest in cryptocurrencies as well as the development of new, disruptive applications, business models and emergent behaviours powered by the Blockchain. In the second part of this blogpost series, we’ll take a look at the emerging opportunities and challenges to be found in the eye of the storm.

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!

 

Becoming Salesforce: Beyond Cloud Services

March 9, 2016 Leave a comment

I’ve always maintained (here and here) that a tradition for innovation trumps mere culture of innovation hands down. This was clearly demonstrated at a recent boot camp for new joiners to Salesforce, in San Francisco. Judging by the frenetic pace of a week long immersion in all things Salesforce, the work involved in introducing and maintaining the  Salesforce ‘Ohana’ culture of innovation is a relentless and never-ending pursuit that is worthy of any tradition.

SF Boot Camp

By all accounts this was a ‘mega’ boot camp event, comprising over 250 new hires from many different countries and regions. Below are my top three takeaways from the event:

1: Ohana and Value Alignment
Salesforce believes passionately in giving back to the local community and included a day one agenda item for attendees to undertake pro bono work for some of the local charities. After a couple of hours physical labour, one starts to realise just how serious Salesforce takes the 1-1-1 pledge (i.e. to contribute one percent of employee time / resources / products to help local communities via charity, education and other worthy causes). As if that wasn’t enough, Chief Adoption Officer, Polly Sumner later bought  the point home with a passionate talk about how each employee must make it a mission to define their purpose and actively pursue it by aligning with company values and recording as individual annual objectives. The result: a committed workforce that is empowered to make meaningful and positive contributions, as part of their day job and career aspirations. Given such a culture, it is not surprising why and how customer success is the ultimate raison d’etre for Salesforce

2 – Change is rapid and constant
Several speakers, over the course of the event, took pains to emphasize the need to adapt and adopt a fast paced mentality in order to survive and thrive in Salesforce. With three major (as in all the bells and whistles) releases each year, the Salesforce platform and clouds are constantly evolving to become ever faster, smarter and more personalised with each new release. The latest offerings in Analytics (Wave), user experience (Lightning) and Internet of Things (IoT Cloud) is merely a foretaste of what is likely to manifest on such a dynamic platform. If you are inclined to wonder how or why I can say this things, then look no further than the amazing level of talent gathered at the event. Every background was represented, from ex-marines to rocket scientists, or ex McKinsey, Deloitte, IBM and Capgemini consultants, plus key talent from competitors such as Oracle, Microsoft and SAP. The Force is strong in the Ohana.

3 – Awesome is more than just a word
I must have counted over one hundred separate utterances of the word ‘awesome’ (including two completely unforced instances by yours truly), but suffice it to say I have yet to come across any organisation where employees seem to be in such awe of their own, er  ‘awesomeness’, for lack of a better word. As part of the boot camp, we were also introduced to all the Salesforce clouds i.e.: Sales, Service, Marketing, Apps, Community, Analytics and  IoT Clouds. What is truly impressive is how they all integrate and work together or separately as per customer requirements. A typical customer pitch kicks of with the inevitable Safe Harbour statement and a thank you to the customer, followed by a description of the new technology, new business and new philanthropic models espoused by Salesforce and how that could be made to work better for the customer. It is indeed a brave new world for cloud services.

Overall, the boot camp delivered an unabashed experience of the Salesforce Ohana culture and, given the number of attendees at this event, there definitely is a strong demand for more talented people with the right experience and mindset to join such a fast growing organisation. Finally, and by all indications, Salesforce is certainly showing the hall marks of a company with a clear tradition for innovation that is deeply rooted in its values. Long may it continue, and I can’t wait to see what’s next on the ever changing horizon. Mahalo!

Introducing a Framework for Multi-Publishing

January 16, 2016 2 comments

I believe that in a highly connected digital world, the future of content publishing lies with creating interlinked manifestations of a core concept or theme. I like to think of this as “multi(n) publishing”, (where ‘n’ stands for any number of things, e.g.: aspect / channel / facet / format / genre / sided / variant / etc.), or multi-publishing for short. To this end, I’ve created a framework which could prove very useful for conceptualizing and executing multi-publishing projects. Read on to find out more.

  1. Why Multi-Publishing?

There is increasing evidence of an evolution in the way people consume digitally enabled content, e.g.: watching a TV show whilst surfing the web, talking on the phone to a friend and posting comments on social media – all of which may or may not relate to each other or a single topic. This has put enormous pressure on content creators and publishers to find new ways to engage their audience and deliver compelling content to people that live in a world surfeit with competing content, channels, devices and distractions. In the above scenario, broadcasters have tried, with varying degrees of success, to engage viewers with second or multi-screen, content (e.g.: show on TV, cast info on website / mobile site, plus real time interaction on Social Media – all related to the show). Furthermore, the average attention span of most users appears to have shrunk and many prefer to ‘snack’ on content across devices and formats. This doesn’t bode well for the more traditional long-form content upon which many creative industries were established. As a result, many in the content production, publishing and marketing industries are seeking new ways to engage audiences across multiple devices and channels with even more compelling content and user experiences.

  1. What is Multi-publishing?

In this context, the term “multi(n) publishing” (or multi-publishing) describes the manifestation of a core concept / theme as distinct but inter-linked works across multiple media formats, channels and genres. This is somewhat different from other similar related terms such as: multi-format (or cross-media), multi-channel, single source, or even multi-platform publishing. The last one being mainly used by marketers to describe the practice of taking one thing and turning it into several products across a spectrum of online, offline and even ‘live’ experiential forms. The key difference between these terms and multi-publishing is that the latter encompasses them all, and more. In fact, the multi-publishing framework is closer to the information science idea of conceptualisation. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the various manifestations of multi-published content are not necessarily brand identical to the originating (aka ‘native’) core concept, or to each other. However, each and every manifestation is intended to be unique and distinct, yet able to enhance each other and provide a fuller and more fulfilling experience of the overall core concept.

  1. How does it work?

In order to achieve the desired outcome of the whole being more than a sum of its parts, it makes sense for creators and publishers to bear in mind, right from the outset, that their works will likely be: used, reused, decomposed, remixed and recomposed in so many different ways, (including new and novel expressions of which they couldn’t possibly imagine at the time of creation). Therefore, they must recognize where and how each of their output content fits within the context of a multi-publishing content framework or architecture. The diagram below is just such a framework (in mindmap form) and demonstrates the narrative-like progression of a single core concept / theme across various stages and interlinked manifestations.

The Multi-Publish Concept

This is only an example of what content creators and their publishers must consider and prepare as part of their creative (inspiration) and publishing (exploitation) process. It requires the creation and/or identification of a core concept which is manifest in the expression of the art (e.g. in the: story, song, prose, images, video, game, conversations or presentations etc), and which can be used to link each and every format, channel or media in which the concept is expressed.

Finally, the use of multi-publishing frameworks can also enable easier setup and automation of tracking and recording of all usage transactions, and potentially any subsequent remuneration for creator(s) and publisher(s), in a transparent manner, (perhaps using a trust mechanism such as blockchain). I will explore this particular topic in a subsequent post on this blog. In any case, there remains one key question to be answered, i.e.: how can or should we consider protecting core concepts or algorithms at the heart of multi-publishing frameworks, and if so what form should such protection take?

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.