The topic of Bitcoin, and other cyber currencies, as well as the underlying Blockchain technology is still top of mind for various industries, with frequent: events, blog posts, articles and sundry news items firmly focused on them. I have also contributed to the deluge with a recently published article in the BCS ITNow magazine, as well as a forthcoming event on the “darker side of Internet technology”, but more on that later.
Last week I attended a BCS London Central event about Bitcoin technology “that could change the world”, featuring Simon Taylor, VP Entrepreneurial Partnerships at Barclays bank. As you might imagine, banks and other financial institutions are at the cross-hairs of any impending / potential disruption by Bitcoin and its Blockchain technology. Given the history of other similar disruptions in other industries, many financial institutions have been quick jump into the ring in order to figure out the best way to take advantage of the new challenge / opportunity rather than just sit back or ignore it.
To this end, Simon did a great job shedding some light on key initiatives by members of the financial services, (including banks and Barclays in particular), on the topic of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. My top take-aways from the event include:
- Building Blocks – Bitcoin is great, but platforms like Ethereum have really made Blockchain relevant for organisations to build their own applications – i.e. by providing the Lego building blocks for creating useful applications for the banks of tomorrow.
- FUD still rules – Opinions differ and people argue as to just what is Blockchain. Is it just the underlying technology used for Bitcoin, or does it include other incarnations and applications of similar mechanisms? A lot of confusion is being caused by misconceptions around Blockchain – e.g. “people keep coming up with Blockchain ‘solutions’ for just about anything”. However, if you do use Bitcoin based solutions, you must beware of implications for data protection, Safe Harbour and industry regulations.
- Using a hammer to crack a nut – Simon questioned whether it was really necessary to put up with the immense overhead required for permission-less ‘proof of work’ systems such as Bitcoin, when the faster permissioned versions could be just as effective, albeit with a certain degree less end-to-end security, integrity and non-repudiation capability in comparison to Bitcoin.
- Bitcoin keys can also be lost or stolen – Blockchain does not provide a solution for key management, so How can this be mitigated. This could be a potential role for trusted intermediaries, such as banks.
- Q&A: How can other organisations (e.g. NHS) successfully leverage such tech? – Simon’s advice to the NHS Director in the audience was to get educated on the topic and then experiment like mad. Barclays does this by first creating an experiment script or hypothesis then outsourcing the work to local / friendly start-ups for rapid turnaround. The resulting outcome is then studied and pulled apart by multi-disciplinary experts from Barclays (e.g. compliance / risk / security teams) before a recommendation is made. Most other industries can follow this model.
Overall, I thought this was a good event which was well attended by a very engaged 100 strong audience. The chosen topic and focus also made a perfect setup for the aforementioned BCS “Darkside” event which is scheduled to take place on 26th April, and features some excellent speakers and their perspectives on the seamier sides and uses of Bitcoin and Blockchain technology. Don’t miss it!
A most topical and sensitive subject such as online child abuse, terrorist recruitment etc., will understandably garner a lot of interest and attention, not just from IT people, but also from all other members of society at large. The recent BCS event with a similar title was no exception and perhaps unsurprisingly it also became a target of unwanted attention by some self styled extremists. Read on for more.
First of all, the event featured only two out of five original speakers. Apparently, the other three were unable to attend for various reasons, including threats to personal safety by certain extremist group. However, it still turned out to be an interesting / informative session, full of insightful takes on the legal and IT aspects of online grooming.
Will Richmond-Coggan, Partner at Pittmans LLP, described how UK Laws created in 2008 are not equipped to handle more recent emergent technology and behaviours, e.g.: ubiquitous social media and/or ephemeral messaging services such as Snapchat. The key challenge is the startling velocity with which certain social technology innovation can gain critical mass and become pervasive. Nowadays, even a joke on Twitter about ‘blowing up something’ can be misconstrued, setting off a chain of events that could result in a minimal charge of wasting police time, at best. Freedom of expression is tricky, because it is not without limitations.
Richmond-Coggan also discussed how well meaning individuals wanting to give moral or financial support to oppressed people overseas can easily become victims of online recruiters and / or radicalization by extremist organisations. He also presented case studies illustrating the repercussions of online grooming on innocent but vulnerable people, and their families, even in situations where the actual sex crimes were thwarted by vigilant family members.
Ryan Rubin, MD of Protiviti, focused his talk on the role of technology and strategic attacks and he sees grooming as part of a wider problem, including: ISIS, Trolls, cyber bullying and child abuse. There is much need to increase public awareness of these issues as well as the methods for detecting and combating them, e.g.: Digital evidence from EXIF data on digital cameras, digital breadcrumbs from social media tools and privacy controls. People need to employ good digital personal hygiene and risk management, such as: use of strong passwords, regular audit of privacy controls on social media, don’t publish your date of birth or any unnecessary information about your kids, and certainly monitor your kid’s online activities / content / channels. Remember, photos may contain location information and don’t post your travel plans (or else you might as well take out a “please rob me” ad). Finally, always post with caution, e.g. by applying the Grandma test (i.e. will your Grandma be offended by the content you’re just about to post online?).
Overall, I thought this was another excellent event by our North London BCS branch, despite unforeseen glitches caused by drop out of 3 speakers. I only hope the next Darkside event will be just as topical and provocative, because as IT professionals, we are supposed to be able to take a clear stance, if not actually leading the way, to helping resolve those technology related issues that affect the broader society as a whole.
Last month, I helped coordinate a BCS London seminar about the role of IT in the airport and air travel industry, and as you might imagine it proved a very popular topic, complete with sold out venue and 4 expert IT practitioners from one of the world’s busiest hub airport. Read on for highlights…
- Airport Operations – Heathrow operates 98% runway capacity which roughly translates to a take-off or landing event occurring every 45 seconds, thereby making it one of the most efficient 2 runway airports in the world. Speaker, Brent Reed (Airport Ops Lead Designer), described how Heathrow introduced a world’s first Time Based Seperation (TBS) system to further maintain / improve on this efficiency, particularly on windy days – every second counts!
- The Automated Passenger Journey – Heathrow is actively implementing the IATA Fast Travel Program strategy which aims to provide 80% of global passengers with a complete and relevant self-service suite by 2020. According to Capgemini’s Don Grose (Lead Solution Architect), this program will deliver multiple benefits for: passengers, airlines and airports, and Heathrow has already delivered or trialled several self service capabilities, including: Self Boarding, Automatic Ticket Presentation and Kiosk self service bag tags, Self Service Bag Drop trials, as well as biometric enrolment & verification.
- Shadow IT at Heathrow – Andrew Isenman (Passenger Experience Design Lead), described how Heathrow employees are starting to engage their colleagues and digitally enabled passengers in different ways, sometimes even bypassing the IT departments. As a result, the latter have proactively started encouraging and shaping how this engagement happens, at the same time they’re addressing the usual questions around: support provision, reduced Total-Cost-of-Ownership (TCO), increased security and minimal technical debt.
- Airport Innovation – Heathrow has embraced the drive for innovation with various initiatives, some of which were presented by Richard Harding, (Head of strategy and innovation at Heathrow). They included: the Heathrow innovation Process, Crowd dynamics (detecting / measuring / alerting via CCTV), WiFi digital finger printing, Airfield Asset inspection, Mobile Display units and treasure hunts. Key insights gleaned from Heathrow innovation highlight the need for: open innovation, active promotion, new governance processes, skills enablement and innovative culture / process metrics.
In line with my previous theme of Intellectual Property (IP) and the digital economy, this post looks at a recent Position Statement which I helped to draft for the BCS Chartered Institute for IT.
As you may know, one of the core values or mission of the BCS is to advance the role of IT in bettering society, business, education and the economy, and what better way to do this than by suggesting ways in which IP could work better in the evolving digital economy.
Some key issues highlighted in the position statement include:
- The rapid pace of technology change often leaves behind the Intellectual Property (IP) construct which was created to provide economic benefit for the creators, authors, inventors and owners of related IP
- An enormous amount of money is spent annually on IP related litigation (particularly when IP is viewed and used as a tactical weapon). This could be better spent building the right system in the first place
- According to BCS feedback from the 2013 Parliament and Internet conference, intangible and virtual goods online extend to more than just music, written word or software – I’m thinking about the Internet of Things too
- Also, The EC announced an initiative to define a position on taxation of the digital economy – this gets very interesting when you try taxing something like Bitcoin!
- Creating a feedback mechanism to regulate the impact of IP changes on the digital economy, in a transparent manner.
- Developing fast, automated and dynamic IP mechanisms to cope with blurring boundaries of IP (e.g. for emerging trans-media content), and surge in high-volume / low-value transactions online.
- Keeping everything in context, because society is still at a very early stage in understanding and adapting to changes introduced by digital technology – digital IP is in a period of transition without any appreciable end state to speak of.
2. BCS understands the need to ensure all 5 digital stakeholder groups (i.e. the creator, commercial, consumer, technology and governance stakeholders) are consulted, engaged and involved in the creation of digital IP structures for the future. BCS has representative groups and forums that cover all 5 stakeholder groups of interest.
Antonis Patrikios, (Director at FieldFisher), spoke about the legal aspects of IoT and privacy, as well as the need to ensure that IoT works for the benefit of people. He described IoT as the “Internet of Trust” because that is what will be needed to enhance user experience and address key legal challenges such as user privacy and the fact that “IoT is global, but the law is not”.
Finally, the University College London (UCL) provided a glimpse of real IoT projects developed by UCL post graduate students using Microsoft technology. They described realistic usage scenarios and demonstrated the ability to organise groups of Things, controlled via a “Captain” device, to support multiple uses of the same Things (or groups thereof). E.g. the same Captain device in a hospital room full of Things could service the use cases of multiple stakeholders, including the: doctor, patient, family members, building security and hospital administrators.
In the end, all speakers seemed to agree that the combination of IoT and Big Data will be THE game changer in the next wave of computing. There was a certain buzz in the air, as attendees and speakers discussed the possibilities and challenges posed by IoT. One show of hands survey indicated that attendees thought the Internet of Things was at least as significant as, if not more so than, the advent of the original Internet. It was also felt that user education, (e.g. by the IoT service providers, “Thing makers” and their collaborators), would be key to the success and acceptance of IoT by the general public – people are genuinely concerned about their privacy, personal safety and security.
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?
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.
According to a recent Forrester Benchmarks Report, (somewhat provocatively entitled: “CIOs Are Not Ready To Support Business Innovation”), there are 3 levels of capabilities required to sustain innovation which any aspiring innovative organisation will do well to take notice. These key capabilities are clustered around 3 levels of: idea, implementation and control (see diagram below):
Figure: Forrester’s 3 Level of capabilities for sustainable innovation*
Some key findings from the report indicate that:
- Sustainable innovation requires “repeatable, manageable and measurable processes” across the 3 capability levels. However, it is also worth bearing in mind that incremental change does not necessarily equate to innovation.
- Ideas management (including: ideation, incubation and portfolio management capabilities) is ad hoc and under managed across many organisations. Incidentally, this is the layer in which many organisations concentrate their efforts, especially during the initial buzz of launching of a new innovation initiative or program (usually with a team of dedicated people, or part-time volunteers within the organisation).
- Various process and cultural issues will challenge implementation (e.g.: change management, incentives and communication capabilities). The processes and culture of many organisations will need major adjustment to cope with / support sustainable innovation. The occasional one-off innovation, and / or slow incremental change, may not present much of a problem, but constant, sustained innovation is challenging and sometimes disruptive.
- Clear differences exist between organisations and their approach to innovation control (i.e. governance, funding and measurement capabilities). Innovation programs require different governance and control capabilities than the rest of the organisation, especially for timelines and outcomes, but these need clear boundaries on behaviour, funding and metrics / KPIs. I recently reviewed a book about “the architecture of innovation”, which discusses this and some of the other items above, in some depth.
Based on the above, it could be argued that many organisations, (and their CIOs), are not yet fully prepared to support sustainable innovation. So the obvious question to ask: what are you planning or doing about it in your organisation?
Please Note: This post kicks off a new innovation topic series on which I plan to blog regularly. The topic seems to have become pervasive of late. For example, I lead a small innovation group in my business unit at work and we blog a lot about innovation, plus I write about “Tools for Innovation”, on behalf of the BCS Entrepreneurs Group. Given my keen interest in / involvement with creative entrepreneurs, investors and innovative technologies, It just made sense to pull these strands of related posts together under one “innovation series”. Disclaimer: As ever, except where stated otherwise, all opinions / observations / critique remain mine, and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, The BCS Chartered Institute for IT, or any other groups in which I’m involved.