If you’ve ever wondered how the big tech players do innovation then you might do well to head on over to IBM’s Hursley labs for a taste of their world class innovation facility. A few weeks ago, some colleagues and I were hosted to an executive briefing on innovation, the IBM way. Read on to find out more…
IBM Executive Briefing Day
We had a fairly simple and straightforward agenda / expectation in mind, i.e. to: hear, see and connect with IBM labs on key areas of innovation that we might be able to leverage in our own labs, and for clients. This objective was easily met and exceeded as we proceeded through the day long briefing program. Below are some highlights:
First of all, Dr Peter Waggett, Director for Innovation, gave an overview of IBM Research and ways of working. For example, with an annual R&D spend of over 5 Billion Dollars, and 1 Billion Dollars in annual revenues from patents alone, (IBM files over 50 patents a year), it quickly became clear that we were in for a day of superlatives. Dr. Waggett described the operating model, lab resources and key areas of focus, such as: working at the ‘bow wave’ of technology, ‘crossing the mythical chasm‘ and ‘staying close to market’. Some specific areas of active research include: Cognitive Computing (Watson et al), Homomorphic encryption, “data at the edge” and several emerging tech concepts / areas e.g.: Biometrics, biometry and Wetware / Neuromorphic computing with the IBM Synapse Chips. And that was just in the morning session!
The rest of the day involved visiting several innovation labs, as outlined below:
Retail Lab – demonstration of some key innovation in: retail back end integration, shopper relevance and customer engagement management (with analytics / precision marketing / customer lifecycle engagement). Also, touched on integration / extension with next generation actionable tags by PowaTag.
Emerging Technology & Solutions Lab – featured among other things: the IBM touch table (for collaborative interactive working), Buildings Management solutions (with sensors / alerts, dashboard, helmet and smart watch components); Manufacturing related IoT solutions (using Raspberry Pi & Node Red to enable closed loop sensor/analysis/action round trip); Healthcare innovations (including Smarthome based health and environment monitoring with inference capability) and of course Watson Analytics.
IOT Lab – Demonstrated various IoT based offers e.g.: from Device to Cloud; Instrumenting the World Proof of Concepts; Decoupled sensors / analysis / actuators; IoT reference architecture (incl. Device / Gateway / Cloud / Actuators ); and IoT starter kits (with Node Red development environment & predefined recipes for accelerated IoT).
IOC Labs – IBM’s Intelligent Operations Centre (IOC) was shown to be highly relevant for smarter cities as it enables the deployment of fourfold capabilities to: Sense / Analyse / Decide / Act, thus enabling the ability to predict and respond to situations even before they arise. IOC capabilities and cases studies were also demonstrated to be relevant & applicable across multiple industry scenarios including: retail, transport, utilities and supply chain.
Finally, you cannot complete a visit to Hursley without stopping off at their underground Museum of computing. Over the years, this has become a special place, showcasing the amazing innovations of yesterday which have now become objects of nostalgia and curiosity for today’s tech savvy visitors. It is almost incredible to think that computers once ran on: floppy discs, magnetic tape and even punch cards. This is made even more poignant by the thought that almost every new innovation we saw in the labs will one day take their place in the museum, (particularly if they prove successful). Perhaps some of them may even be brought to life by other, newer and as-yet-undiscovered innovations, e.g.: see if you can spot the 3D printed key on this IBM 705 data processor keyboard!
Spot the 3D printed key.
Overall, it was a great experience and many thanks to our hosts, and IBM event team, for making this a most interesting event. The team and I are certainly look forward to finding out how other tech players, both large and small, are pursuing their own innovation programs!
Last month’s conference on copyright and technology provided plenty of food for thought from an array of speakers, organisations, viewpoints and agendas. Topics and discussions ran the gamut of increasingly obvious “business models are more important than technology” to downright bleeding edge “hypersonic activation of devices from outdoor displays “. There was something to take away for everyone involved. Read on for highlights.
The Mega Keynote interview: Mega’s CEO Vikram Kumar, discussed how the new and law-abiding cloud storage service is proving attractive to professionals who want to use and pay for the space, security and privacy that Mega provides. This is a far cry from the notorious MegaUpload, and founder Kim Dotcom’s continuing troubles with charges of copyright infringement, but there are still questions about the nature of the service – e.g. the end-to-end encryption approach which effectively makes it opaque to outside scrutiny. Read more about it here.
Anti-Piracy and the age of big data – Mark Monitor’s Thomas Sehested talked about the rise of data / content monitoring and anti-piracy services in what he describes as the data driven media company. He also discussed the demise of content release windows, and how mass / immediate release of content across multiple channels lowers piracy, but questioned if this is more profitable.
Hadopi and graduated response – Hadopi’s Pauline Blassel gave an honest overview on the impact of Hadopi, including evidence of some reduction in piracy (by factor of 6M-4M) before stabilsation. She also described how this independent public authority delivers graduated response in a variety of ways e.g. from raising awareness to imposing penalties and focusing primarily on what is known as PUR (aka ‘Promotion les Usage Responsible’)
Auto Content Recognition (ACR) and the 2nd Screen – ACR is a core set of tools (including DRM, watermarking and fingerprinting), and the 2nd screen opportunity (at least for broadcasters) is all about keeping TV viewership and relevance in the face of tough competition for people’s time and attention. This panel session discussed monetisation of second screen applications, and the challenges of how TV is regulated, pervasive and country specific. Legal broadcast rights is aimed at protection of broadcast signals, which triggers the 2nd screen application, (e.g. via ambient / STB / EPG based recognition). This begs the question of what regulation should be applied to the 2nd screen, and what rights apply? E.g. Ads on TV can be replaced in the 2 screen, but what are the implications?
Update on the Copyright Hub – The Keynote address by Sir Richard Hooper, chair of the Copyright Hub and co-author of the 2012 report on Copyright Works: Streamlining Copyright Licensing for the Digital Age, was arguably the high point of the event. He made the point that although there are issues with copyright in the digital age, the creative industries need to get off their collective backsides and streamline the licensing process before asking for a change in copyright law. He gave examples of issues with the overly complex educational licensing process and how the analogue processes are inadequate for the digital age (e.g. unique identifiers for copyright works).
The primary focus of the Copyright Hub, according to Sir Richard, is to enable high volume – low value transactions, (e.g. to search, license and use copyright works legally) by individuals and SMEs. The top tier content players already have dedicated resources for such activities hence they’re not a primary target of the Copyright Hub, but they’ll also benefit by removing the need to deal with trivial requests for licensing individual items (e.g. to use popular songs for wedding videos on YouTube).
Next phase work, and other challenges, for the Copyright Hub include: enabling consumer reuse of content, architectures for federated search, machine to machine transactions, orphan works registry & mass digitisation (collective licensing), multi licensing for multimedia content, as well as the need for global licensing. Some key messages and quotes in the ensuing Q&A include:
- “the Internet is inherently borderless and we must think global licensing, but need to walk before we can run”
- “user-centricity is key. People are happy not to infringe if easy / cheap to be legal”
- “data accuracy is vital, so Copyright Hub is looking at efforts from Linked Content Coalition and Global Repertoire Database”
- “Metadata is intrinsic to machine to Machine transactions – do you know it is a crime to strip metadata from content?”
- “Moral rights may add to overall complexity”
As you can probably see from the above, this one day event delivered the goods and valuable insights to the audience, which included people from the creative / content industries, as well as technologists, legal practitioners, academics and government agencies. Kudos to MusicAlly, the event organiser, and to Bill Rosenblatt, (conference chair), for a job well done.
Some organisations have great tradition, and some others are wonderful at change e.g. changing products and services (or even their business models, culture and identity), but perhaps the most impressive are those organisations that eventually go on to develop a demonstrable tradition for change. This, in my opinion, is one of the key beneficial outcomes from the pursuit of digital innovation and transformation.
Anywhere you go these days, people (especially of the CxO variety) are thinking or talking about making their businesses more innovative and competitive. Business-as-usual just doesn’t seem to be able to cope with the multiple challenges / opportunities presented by digital technology; therefore it must be time for something new or different, right?
Innovation is often described as doing or using something in a new or different way to deliver value. By this definition, innovation is based on something that already exists (note: this is in contrast to invention which is about creating that “something” in the first place, or improvement which is about doing the same things better). By extension, digital innovation involves the use of digital technology, in new or different ways, to transform an organisation or industry.
Image – Source, “The World Beyond Digital Rights Management”
The development of computing and Internet technologies, and the disruptive effect they had / are having on many traditional industries, is a prime example. In my 2007 book on digital rights management, I described the evolution of human communication (plotted over time and numbers reached) with an early infographic which also captured how computing and Internet technologies have parallels with (and essentially re-creates, re-interprets or replaces) most prior communication technology and formats (e.g. spoken, written, visual, broadcast and telecommunications).
The invention of these technologies, and the subsequent disruptive innovations they spawned have had such a widespread effect on almost every facet of human existence that it has become necessary for organisations both large and small to recognise, adapt and thrive by embracing this new era of digital innovation. More to the point, it means that larger organisations, i.e. those bastions of tradition (due to size or longevity), and their smaller, nimbler counterparts, i.e. the masters of change (due to necessity), each have to acquire key attributes from the other in order to develop their own tradition for change.
How else will your traditional laden organisation cope when customers and new employees turn up expecting to engage / be engaged via their Google Goggle, or whatever device / communication format is in vogue? On the other hand, how will your whizzy, super-agile, high growth company cope with customers that expect backward compatibility with legacy PC-based client server style applications? It seems the key challenge for many organisations will be how to evolve without losing sight of the beneficial traditions and historical context of their industry.
In any case, innovation and the ability to change (and to be changed) fast must become the common DNA / fitness attribute for most organisations and individuals. Tradition is good. Change is good, but nothing beats developing a tradition for change.
This master class was delivered by Andy Kyte, (Gartner Fellow and SVP) to an audience of CxOs and senior IT people, and I was immediately struck by his almost counter-intuitive thinking, as well as the pivotal role played by Enterprise Architecture, managing applications in today’s business environments.
Below are some key highlights from the event:
- Many organisations are unrepentant project junkies – project based application acquisition / delivery are often limited to the scope of the project, instead of the portfolio, and therein lies the origin of application slums, ghettos and shanty towns (i.e. no planning) that can be found within many organisations
- Pace layering – Different applications move at different speeds for persistence and cost, e.g. Systems of Record (low velocity / most expensive), Systems of Differentiation (medium velocity / less expensive), Systems of Innovation (high velocity, least expensive)
- Business vs. IT – In the war between Business Services and IT Services, the former usually wins, hence the uptake in BPO and Software-as-a-Service propositions
- Application Sourcing Options – Applications that need to be customised are the road to pain for organisations, according to Andy,” it’s like buying a dog and barking yourself!”
- Assets vs. Liability – An application is both an asset (albeit not handled very well by current accounting practices) and a liability, especially when you consider the stack that sits beneath each application (e.g. software / hardware / data / support / training needs etc.)
- TCO Research – The go-live cost of an application constitutes a mere fraction of its TCO over 15 years. Don’t be fooled by the overly optimistic project estimates for TCO.
- Functionality vs. Behaviour – Functional Requirements are less important than Non-Functional Requirements (e.g. maintainability / changeability etc). The non-functional requirements actually help deliver flexibility and agility, whereas functionality needs are certain to change over time
- 3 Critical Application Attributes – Over a period of time, the costs and risks associated with an application increases whilst agility decreases. To address these we must:
- Ensure good application governance –i.e. done by the stakeholders, for the stakeholders, in conjunction with the Enterprise Architects (aka city planners)
- Introduce executive application portfolio management – CxOs need to know what their applications cost
- Have the ability to make sound decisions to buy, sell, or hold on to existing applications
- Forget application roadmaps, but embrace Options (typically 4 options are optimal for real stakeholder engagement)
The key recommendations are to: review the application portfolio regularly, and always bear in mind that project success does not equate to portfolio success. Overall verdict: another excellent, insightful and value added BCS event, delivered by a true expert, within the chambers of UK’s House of Parliament.
Digital technology has brought unprecedented change across all business sectors, and very few organisations can claim to be unaffected by the information age (e.g. via internet, mobile, social channels). However, this does not always translate to a need for that cause-all / cure-all catchphrase of technology or digital transformation.
Below are five commonly held myths associated with digital technology and enterprise transformation:
1 – Technology really drives the business
Only if your business is about creating and / or selling new technology, otherwise this is tantamount to placing the cart before the horse, or the tail wagging the dog – it may be possible, but not necessarily a good idea. The fact is that technology places way down the list of drivers for business change. Gartner’s Nexus of Forces which combine to impact businesses, although enabled by technology, relate mainly to changing paradigms (i.e. big data / cloud) and behaviours (i.e. social / mobility) rather than just pure technology
2 – Change technology; change your business
No, not really. Technology change is not the same thing as technology enabled change. The former relates to tools, whereas the latter is about the purpose for which said tools are used or acquired. For example, buying and using Salesforce will not automatically make yours a more customer centric organisation. Digital technology transformation is less about technology than the outcome of an architected approach to delivering fast, flexible and responsive services to customers
3 – Transform now or die!
Not all businesses will need to undergo an immediate or full blown technology change programme, as sometimes the only change required may just be around processes or service focus. A change in culture could have more significant and lasting impact in some organisations. For example, shifting from a reactive customer support environment towards proactive customer engagement will yield better results even if the tools remain the same!
4 – You need a team of tech-savvy whiz kids to transform your business
False. Most of the advantages of new digital technologies come from ability to provide fast and flexible services connected / delivered through standardised interfaces, which don’t require expert knowledge of the source system. The role of IT is fast evolving into an orchestrator and governor of the various external / internal services (including legacy systems / applications) that must work together to deliver said fast, flexible and responsive services to the internal / external customer
5 – The need for digital transformation will one day come to an end
No, no, no. There can be no real end to continuous digital evolution, especially when the rate of change is actually on the increase, no doubt spurred on by knock-on effects of fast changing technologies, user behaviours, customer expectations and competition. The ideal business lifecycle must embrace a process of continuous improvement with allowance for testing new business models, implementing changes (including technology related ones), evaluating the outcome, making further tweaks, and repeating the entire process all over. This cannot stop because as soon as an optimal solution is achieved the business environment changes again, thus necessitating another cycle
In summary, and perhaps somewhat ironically, digital technology is neither the root cause nor cure-all for many challenges facing organisations today. The need for transformation is often triggered by changing environments and / or behaviours (e.g. by customers, suppliers, partners or competitors), perhaps in combination with some innovation (technology based or otherwise), that ultimately impacts their bottom line.
Perhaps fittingly the real business impact of technology transformation comes from how it is deployed and used by the people within and outside the organisation. Each organisation must make the effort to understand its own particular situation, and to discover the right way forward. It is not an easy task, but with the right attitude and motivation from the top, it will be relatively less painful than just doing nothing.