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IBM Innovation Labs – where old meets new, and everything in between…

November 25, 2015 Leave a comment

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…

Pictures on lab visit

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!

New 3D Printed Key on 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!

Governing the Internet of Things.

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment
In light of increasing coverage about the so called “Internet of Things” (IoT), it is not surprising that sovereign governments are paying attention and introducing initiatives to try understand and take advantage of / benefit from the immense promise of the IoT. Despite the hype, it is probably too early to worry about how to govern such a potential game changer, or is it?


According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, the Internet of Things is hovering at the peak of inflated expectations, with a horizon of some 5 – 10 years before reaching the “plateau of productivity” as an established technology, so still fairly early days as yet, it would seem. However, that is not sufficient reason to avoid discussing governance options and implications for what is arguably the most significant technology development since the dawn of the Internet itself. To this end, I attended a recent keynote seminar on policy and technology priorities for IoT (see agenda here), and below are some of the key points I took away from the event:


1. No trillion IoT devices anytime soon –  According to Ovum’s Chief Analyst the popular vision of ‘a Trillion IoT devices’ will not appear overnight, for the simple reason that it is difficult, and will take some time, to deploy all those devices in all manner of places that they need to be.


2. What data avalanche? – Although a lot of data will be generated by the IoT, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the proportion of meaningful information will depend on the cost to generate, store and extract useful information from the petabytes of noise – there is a lot of scope for data compression. For example, the vast majority of data from say environment sensing IoT devices will likely be highly repetitive and suitable for optimisation.


3. Regulatory implications – OFCOM, the UK’s Data regulator, identified the four themes as most relevant for the future development of  IoT, i.e.: 1. Data privacy (including authorisation schemes); 2. Network security & resilience (suitable for low end devices); 3. Spectrum (e.g. opening up 700Mhz band and other high / low frequency bands for IoT); and 4. Numbering & Addressing (need to ensure there is enough numbers & addresses in the future for IoT).


4. Standards and interoperability – these remain key to a workable, global Internet of Everything (IoE) particularly because of need for data availability, interoperability (at device and data level), and support for dynamic networks and business models.


5. Legal implications – again the key concern is data privacy. According to Philip James (Law Firm Partner at Sheridans), in describing the chatter between IoT devices: “hyper-connected collection and usage of data is a bit like passive smoking – not everyone is aware of it”.


In context of the above observations, it may be easy to ignore the elephant in the room, i.e. how to manage unintended consequences from something as intangible as the future promise of IoT? What will happen if and when the IoT becomes semi-autonomous and self reliant, or is that science fiction?


Well, I wouldn’t be so sure, because it all boils down to trust: trust between devices; trust in data integrity; and trust in underlying networks and connectivity. However, this is not something the Internet of today can provide easily, therefore some interesting ideas have started percolating around scalable trust and integrity. For example, Gurvinder Ahluwalia (IBM’s CTO for IoT and Cloud Computing) described a scenario using hitherto disruptive and notorious technologies (i.e. Blockchain and BitTorrent, of Bitcoin and Pirate Bay fame respectively), to create a self trusting environment for what he calls “democratic devices”.


The implications are astounding and much closer to the science fiction I mentioned previously. However, it is real enough when you consider that it requires a scalable, trustworthy, distributed system to verify, coordinate, and share access to the ‘Things’ on the IoT, and that key components and prototypes of such a system already exist today. This, in my opinion, is why sovereign governments are sitting up and taking notice, as should all private individuals around the world.