Technology Perspectives – updated for 2012 and beyond

In general, we don’t directly promote Fujitsu products and services on this blog, but we do try to highlight our thought leadership and, late in 2010, we highlighted Fujitsu’s “Technology Perspectives” microsite, which provides Fujitsu opinion on the future of technology, as well as the societal impact of these evolving capabilities.

As we all know, technology doesn’t stand still – mobile technologies, cloud services, business use of social media, and explosive data growth are driving major change in 2012 and beyond – so the Technology Perspectives site has recently undergone a refresh to reflect key forces shaping the industry and how Fujitsu is responding.

Technology Perspectives breaks these down into twelve distinct business and technology trends and considers how they are shaping the future. The trends support and reinforce Fujitsu’s vision and strategy, and complementary Fujitsu innovations are highlighted throughout. The new content will be enhanced and updated on a regular basis with new formats planned to complement the existing online and downloadable PDF formats.

I encourage you to take a look at Technology Perspectives – and please give us your feedback – we’d love to know what you think.

Futurology: art, science or nonsense?

Recently I was asked to present to a group of MBA students on my view of the future and how technology will shape our world by 2015 through to 2020 and beyond. I decided to deliver the session under the title “Futurology – Science, Art or Nonsense?”.

At this time of year it is tempting to wrap up the events of the year with a forecast of what the future will bring. You may be pleased to know that I am going to resist that temptation!

This is primarily because, early in 2012, we will be refreshing the Fujitsu view of the trends shaping our world and the potential outcomes, Technology Perspectives, so I’ll hold fire for now – although I do commend the current material to you as we will evolve our views not completely re-invent them!

Even so, I couldn’t resist re-reading my blog post from December 2010 and musing on how much of what I talked about was still relevant. The post was primarily about the concept of consumerisation of IT and my sense then that it was not restricted to being the generational trait that in 2010 many of us had linked to “Generation Y”. Twelve months on, I think it is clear that the expectation our corporate workplace will have the same 21st century technology capabilities as the consumer arena has moved into the mainstream. The most frequent topic on which I’ve been asked to give an opinion in 2011 is “Bring Your Own” technology (BYO) in its many variants and consequences for the corporate IT landscape. Indeed at the point where I moved from the CIO position in Fujitsu UK and Ireland to my current role the two topics dominating my CIO barometer of demand were requests for BYO solutions and our moving to support Android based smartphones and tablets within our own BYO initiative.

If you remember with the help of my HR colleagues I was able to have the data set rendered anonymous and then age group analysed. In May when the demand on these topics started to register in the monthly statistics there was a clear Generation Y skew, however by September the total figures for Android support were equally split between Generation Y and Generation X (c45% each of volume) yet the BYO demand remained Generation Y dominated (60% of volume). I’m not going to ponder on the demographic angle in this post but what I will say is that in a company of around 12,000 employees over the period I had over 1,000 requests for BYOT and over 2,500 requests for Android smartphone or tablet support (not necessarily all unique, i.e. people could have requested both). This level of interest mirrored what we saw in the marketplace and in the requests for opinion from CIOs from across our client base.

So whilst I am sidestepping listed some forecasts for 2012 I can say that the most common topic I have been asked to talk about over recently months is “Big Data” and “Smart Cities/Infrastructure” (the Intelligent Society). I no longer have the CIO Barometer to give me some data points but I am willing to assert that I think in 12 months we may well be reflecting on a year that saw that concept become pervasive and examples of business value being derived from it become easy to list.

It seems appropriate to end my last blog post of 2011 in the year which saw the passing of Steve Jobs to end with one of my favourite Apple related quotes. The final line from Apple’s famous Think Different campaign was:

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Clearly 2012 is going to be a challenging year on so many levels for us all, but alongside the challenges there are plenty of opportunities too. Have a restful festive period and return refreshed for what lies ahead.

Computing an answer to life, the universe and everything

In the 1970s, high performance computing was a major trend but in recent years, it’s fallen into the shadows created by the personal computer and the world wide web. Indeed, for a while it seemed that HPC’s destiny was to provide the basis for the Deep Thought computer in Douglas Adams’ satire, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HG2G), which was designed to provide the answer to life, the universe and everything (which we now know to be 42, of course!).

In reality, HPC never went away and technology has been improving because of Fujitsu (and others) innovating and investing (indeed, IBM named one of their Chess-playing computers Deep Thought, in reference to the HG2G computer).

Last week I wrote about the Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) as an important part of Fujitsu’s heritage and I referenced the Fujitsu K supercomputer.  We normally avoid talking about Fujitsu products on this blog but creating the world’s fastest supercomputer is a truly impressive feat of technological engineering – and, besides, in a recent CIO forum I was asked “so why do you bother given only a few of these installations will ever be sold?”.  That’s is a fair question and one to which I think I gave a reasonable answer at the time but it is also one that merits further exposition – hence this post.

What I didn’t say in answer to the CIO who asked me that question was that the K supercomputer has over 22,032 blade servers fitted into 864 server racks delivering 705,024 for parallel computation jobs. It is based on the Fujitsu eight-core “Venus” Sparc64-VIIIfx processor running at 2GHZ delivering 128 gigaflops per chip.  However, I confess that I did say that it has achieved the words best LINPACK benchmark performance of 10.51 petaflops (quadrillion floating point operations per second) with a computer efficient ratio of 93.2%; softening the geeky answer by explaining that the name “K” comes from the Japanese Kanji character “Kei” which means 10 peta (1016) and that in its original sense Kei expresses a large gateway, and it is hoped that the system will be a new gateway to computational science.   More detail on the testing process and league table can be found in the TOP500 project’s presentation.

The importance of the K supercomputer is both what it enables through its staggering computational power and how the technological advances it represents are cascaded through our future product portfolio.  Of course, we’re not the only company that takes supercomputing seriously and IBM Watson is another example, even competing in TV gameshows!

Our digital world is growing exponentially and if we want to enrich it through technology and bring to life the Internet of things then, along with the storage capacity, we need compute power.  As we get closer to using sensors to drive or manage real-time events, we need to deploy faster computational power.  However, that compute power needs to be available at a sensible cost level and market forces are busy at work here in the cloud computing context.

Interpreting the world in real-time has led some to ponder how soon will we have computer processing power to rival that of the human brain.  I’ve seen some articles asserting that 10 petaflops is the processing power of the human brain although I think the general informed consensus is that it is in reality at least 100 petaflops and perhaps a factor ten times higher than that.  IBM have apparently forecast the existence of a brain-rivalling real-time supercomputer by 2020 although how it would be powered and the space required to hold it may limit applicability!  Inspired by the K supercomputer, Gary Marshall asks if technology could make our brains redundant but it’s worth noting that no computer has yet passed the famous Turing Test (i.e. we can still tell the difference between a machine response and a human response).

Advances in supercomputing are bringing new capabilities into the digital world as what was once restricted and unique becomes pervasive technological capability.  Once we are able to connect sensors and actuators with sufficient processing power to enable their connection to be meaningful then we can enrich the quality of human life.  This concept is at the heart of the Fujitsu vision, delivering human-centric intelligent society.

Fujitsu PRIMEHPC FX10I hope I’ve shown how the criticality of the K supercomputer and our drive to commercialise those technological advances through various models including cloud computing.  It lies at the heart of our vision of how technology will continue to evolve to enrich our lives, not just in enabling high performance computation for research simulations but in delivering solutions that will touch our everyday lives, as shown in the Discovery Channel’s video about the K supercomputer.  As for the addressable market, there is a commercial variant of the K, called the PRIMEHPC FX10.

I do hope you will forgive me an atypically Fujitsu-centric post.  The question the CIO asked me was a good one, it made me think how to give context to something I’d come to assume was obvious.

At the head of the post, I mentioned Douglas Adams’ Deep Thought computer… if I think back to the reasons we built K and the type of workloads it will process (medical research, astronomy, physics, etc.), maybe it really is computing an answer to life, the universe and everything.

Innovation in a tea shop, whatever next?

In recent weeks, I’ve seen this quote crop up in several places:

“US Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 50% of the jobs we will have over the next six years have not yet been created.”

I haven’t seen the original source, but it certain made me stop and think.  And, whilst pondering that thought, I came across an excellent article by John Lamb talking about the 60th anniversary of business computing in the UK, in a tea shop of all places.

The article caught my attention as the company that deployed that computer ended up being part of ICL which of course became part of Fujitsu Group – i.e. it’s part of my corporate history. The quote certainly resonates when you think about how many of our  jobs can be attributed indirectly to the implementation of the LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) in November 1951 at the London head office of J Lyons & Co.    The team including John Pinkerton and David Caminer brought LEO in to existence and its first job was to calculate the Lyons weekly bakery distribution run.  I would argue that David Caminer became Britain’s first Systems Analyst – and how many of those roles or the various modern variants are there in the business world today?  Well, to look at it another way, I’ve just seen a tweet suggesting that in India there is an estimated 2.5m people working directly or indirectly in the IT industry. That may be aA small number compared to the total population but it’s hugely significant in the wealth creation contribution to that economy.

Of course it would be a wonderful talent to foresee the importance of events like the LEO deployment as they happen rather than in retrospect.  I’m not claiming to be that visionary but I do think it is clear we are genuinely living through an inflection point in how information technology enables and drives our world.  If we look at the developed world, information technology is pervasive in our daily lives with smartphones, laptops, tablets, internet connected televisions, games consoles, etc. – and a huge infrastructure to support their use.  6 of the top 10 in Interbrand’s 2011 global brand table are technology companies. I think we would all agree that our world has become inescapably and increasingly pervasively digital.

I think we can see a potential advancement that may become as significant as the LEO in the today’s supercomputering arena.  The potential implications of the raw computing power of the Fujitsu K Supercomputer (the most powerful computer in the world today), are immense and fundamental to how our digital world is evolving.  I will return to this topic in my next blog post to outline my case for this bold assertion!

Clearly LEO was just one key milestone in the dawning of this computing age – we should also remember the world’s first computers at Bletchley Park (indeed, Ian Mitchell recently wrote about remembering the work of the Bletchley Park pioneers).   Key innovations tend not to be isolated to single events and it is true that the LEO came to life because of the team’s research visits to the USA where they met people working on the ENIAC (US Army Ballistics computer) and on returning to the UK they supported the work carried out at Cambridge University on the EDSAC.   Innovation is an important aspect of our world that needs to be nurtured, respected and funded, because the other way of looking at that US Department of Labor quote, is to ask which jobs will not be around in six years’ time?

In the current economic climate it is all too easy to become short-sighted and cull initiatives that lead to innovations that enable revenue and profit of the future.  I would dearly love to have my place in a key milestone innovation that is recognised in the future, probably unlikely but not impossible. So think forwards, act to create the future; what will be your LEO story?

Some thoughts on the “Internet of Things”

The “Internet of Things” has become a commonly used phrase and I think it’s quite a good on: we’ve some idea what the “Things” are but no idea where it will lead (although Hollywood has tried a few times over the years). One thing we can not do is dissolve ourselves of the management responsibility as there will always need to be humans somewhere in the system to avoid the “Skynet” scenario from the Terminator films.

More positively, the Internet of Things has the potential to make the digital world a very pervasive aspect of our daily lives in the physical world, supporting and enhancing many of the positive aspects of society and the aspirations we have for living together.

Eventually, people will have as many sensors as a Formula One racing cars (well, quite a few anyway!), sending lots of data in to the cloud.  Not quite as wired up as the people involved with the measured life movement but they are leading the charge. At some point out human-centric devices will become patches (electronic tattoos), powered by energy harvested from our bodies (thermal or kinetic) and that’s when things get really exciting. We can expect to see mobile phones being used as a proxy device to pass telemetry to the Cloud. You can see why the Health industry wants this technology (although, by then we’re not talking about health but “well being”) and we might need far fewer trips to visit a doctor as a result.

Intelligent Device Hierarchy Potential, by Harbor ResearchNow with the number of “things” feeding the Internet, the potential to manage and change the way we do things is an exciting prospect – and we’re not just looking at health – examples include energy management, traffic management, alert and monitoring systems – the list goes on.

One example reaching commercial introduction is the Boeing-Fujitsu partnership with RFID tags, where the tags contain the service history of a component and, using hand held scanners, maintenance staff can determine which parts need to be serviced – how long before this can be managed in-flight, with the parts waiting on the ground ready to intercept the aircraft on a just-in time basis?

Another aspect of the Internet of things will be our ability to make smart decisions based on the large volumes of data we will have to hand. This “big data”, along with associated analytics tools, can be used to spot patterns with examples including traffic, energy consumption and weather. Imagine a world of connected systems where the weatherman might not only predict the “Barbeque Summer” with a little more accuracy, but we won’t get stuck in traffic as we all rush to the beach!

Image credit: Harbor Research

Big data – the professional and the amateur

In my last post on big data I hypothesised that really we are just beginning to understand some of the implications.

Within this evolving ecosystem we have an interesting tension developing between the role of the professional and a community of amateurs. Three models of engagement seem to be emerging between the two communities, all of which deliver value, regardless of any apparent conflict:

  1. Where there is an immense volume of data, how does a professional get to the core data they need as quickly as possible? Possibly by setting a simple classification process and using crowd sourcing to triage data in a similar manner to the Galaxy Zoo experiments. Effectively the professional can work on the needle once the haystack has been removed.
  2. In the second model, a community of interest is created. An example of this is Patients Like Me – a data-oriented social network bringing together people with a shared interest (in this case chronic illness). They share how they feel, their condition, the symptoms they are exhibiting and the treatments they are receiving. What’s interesting is when the community of interest can support and in some cases challenge the opinion of the professionals.
  3. Model three is concerned with gamification, in that it encourages loyalty, participation and a particular behaviour through rewards. In reality it’s rewarding people or making a game of something that most of us would consider a chore. Another post examined the concept of gamification in the workplace and in another example, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is looking to add game-play mechanics to continue its quest (which I’m sure we all did ten years ago, but got bored with it when ET did not come to visit!).

These three models offer a means to harness society and resolve real problems for real people in a timely and collaborative way. The non professionals amongst us contribute through triage to allow the professionals to operate upon the nugget that makes a difference.

So what am I trying to say here is that social networks are not only a means of creating massive data sets but can also be used to extract value for the common good. The interest may be as part of a hobby, a personal interest in the subject, or participants might just be looking to earn some rewards, but engaging amateurs and professionals in a collaborative manner could lead to an exponential growth in ideas, reduced time to market for products, validation of products and services (and the list goes on), all because “we did our bit” on the big data mountain.

Big data – getting on the front foot

With cloud now part of everyday language, the next big thing is Big Data. Essentially it is the recognition that the digital world is generating increasing volumes of data (according to Cisco, humans created more data in 2009 than in all previous years combined), most of which no one is doing anything with, except storing it. The challenge articulated by the big data concept is effective mining and analysis the data to create value and wealth. By way of an example, The Big Mac Index brings together a set of data that can give an indication of the relative wealth of a country but how and when it is applied is the key.

Titling this post “Big Data – getting on the front foot” refers to a balance with human intuition; we often make a decision based on a small set of knowledge and information only to be second-guessed later with facts and figures that indicate whether our decision was correct (or not). For me the execution of big data is to put the right information, data and knowledge in to the hands of the decision maker at the point they need it, not at some point post-decision. What does this mean for you and me? Well, healthcare professionals, retailers, financial services providers, government or just about anyone that we interact with in a social or business context will have immense amounts of information about us and our relative positions in teams of health, wealth, buying habits, risk for insurance purposes etc. – let’s hope that the decisions they make, based on that data, are the correct ones!

Fujitsu’s vision of a Human Centric Intelligent Society highlights all the positive aspects of this digital society with the “Internet of Things” playing a pervasive role. But is the World going to be so different as a result or will it spin just a bit faster? If we take our health and well being as an example, there is a logical chain events that lead to a general improvement. By using a simple logical sequence of mapping the human genome, understanding the variation from what is expected, how we live and the environment we live in, we can potentially be offered very precise and evidence-based advice on how to avoid certain illnesses. Add the ability to model potential drugs in the digital world against the human gnome including demographic variances and the potential outcome has a huge value to society. The research and development costs of drugs drop considerably as potential failures are weeded out very early in the development cycle and, using big data, a doctor can map the best drug to a condition you have based on your gnome.

It all sounds great but there are some challenges along the way:

  • McKinsey indicate that big data will bring lots of new jobs; however it’s my hypothesis that these are really the same jobs carried out differently.
  • Some of the bastions of our society (particularly in the west) will need to change. For example, insurance companies will need to take a different view on their risk-based business model (otherwise we will all be uninsurable!).
  • We’ll need to take a different approach to security too – look at how the “Facebook generation” views sharing and what they care about.

In short – we will all have to behave differently in the world of Big Data. After all, it’s not just a big social network where everyone is your friend!

Innovation: within companies and on a global scale

Recently I had the privilege of sitting on the panel for the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) “Business Leaders of Tomorrow” award.  This was organised by the TSB’s Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and was a fantastic day spent talking with 11 high-achieving young business leaders operating in a wide range of sectors and roles.  It was inspiring to hear how they had demonstrated leadership and created real value for their employers from the initiatives they’d led.  I clearly cannot talk about the individuals that the panel decided should win an award (at least not until their names are in the public domain in the autumn); however you can get a good sense from the 2010 winners.

What resonated with me is that these people were talking about innovating within in their companies and yet none of the fell into the trap of talking about IT which is so tempting a vice in the technology sector.  I have a ton of opinion on this particular topic as previous blog posts have shown but actually I found a really succinct and articulate exposition of what I was planning to discuss in a fellow CTO’s blog as Andy Mullholland at Capgemini wrote about how the CIO is trapped between the CEO’s desire for innovation and the CFO’s need for compliance.

Having decided not to duplicate a well argued blog post I’d like to bring your attention to another recent publication: INSEAD’s Global Innovation Index (GII).  This is an annual report measuring countries/economies worldwide in terms of their capabilities to innovate and the results they derive.  The report looks at the “input” aspects which are the capabilities a country needs in place to enable innovation to take place collated in five categories:

  • Institutions
  • Human capital and research
  • Infrastructure
  • Market sophistication
  • Business sophistication

It also then looks at the “output” dimension which is evidence that innovation has taken place and that value has been created. This dimension is collated into two categories (with a number of sub-grouping for sensible granularity):

  • Scientific outputs
  • Creative outputs

Finally an index is created from the ratio of each dimension to give a view on the efficiency with which innovation is executed, termed the Innovation Efficiency Index.

What I found surprising is which countries are most highly ranked against the “input” and “output” dimensions and then the Global Innovation Efficiency Index.  A number of countries that I expected to be leading lights in the Innovation Efficiency Index were missing from the top ten, although it was extremely pleasing to see the UK there in tenth spot (just behind the US in seventh).

  1. Switzerland
  2. Sweden
  3. Singapore
  4. Hong Kong (SAR, China)
  5. Finland
  6. Denmark
  7. US
  8. Canada
  9. Netherlands
  10. UK

The report has a very good executive summary that makes very interesting reading, as does the full report. Europe notches up a cool 6 out of the top 10 countries (although the Nordic region has a very impressive 3 countries in the top 10 and 5 in the top 18!) and the report presents a number of different perspectives on the analysis as clearly understanding why a country or region is so ranked is key.

What I particularly liked about this report (over and above the depth and balance of the analysis) were the additional “analytical chapters” where the authors recognise that the GII model does not necessarily capture exactly the innovation capabilities and can miss certain aspects.  Three chapters that particularly caught my eye were concerned with:

  • Making cities smart and sustainable
  • The global footprint of innovation
  • Accounting for creativity in innovation: what we should be measuring and related difficulties

These are topics of great interest to me and I’ll be reading them carefully over the coming week or so, hopefully to return to in a future blog post.

Chief Ixxxxxx Officer – which are you?

I recently wrote about an opportunity to examine the role of a CIO: how a workshop with some students from ESSEC Business School had given me a welcome opportunity to think about my role wearing my CIO hat and its direction of travel.  This introspection had also been partly triggered in the days prior to the workshop  by my reading an thought provoking piece by R “Ray” Wang of Constellation Research entitled “The Four Personas of the Next Generation CIO”. I particularly liked his argument that the top CIOs will need to seamlessly integrate four personas to be high performers, namely Chief Integration Officer, Chief Infrastructure Officer, Chief Intelligence Officer and Chief Innovation Officer; that is a whole lot of chiefs!  The more I thought about his argument, the more it resonated and, somewhat annoyingly, I found it a far more elegant and succinct way of summing up the differing perspectives I had been referencing when presenting on the challenges facing CIOs today.  If you are a CIO, I suggest you need to read this material and, if you are an aspiring CIO, then doubly so.  The paper is restricted access but I also found that Ray has also posted his thinking to the Harvard Business Review Blogs and there is a neat graphic to boot:

Not all CIOs will attempt to operate all four personas solo and will look to supplement with their team members as suggested in the HBR blog post. However, this is exactly what I have been doing over the last 12 months and this simple model is actually extremely powerful when you map onto it activities, successes and failures.  I have started shamelessly referencing this model when discussing the CIO role and the challenges to help ensure I retain a balance. Partly for fun and partly as it is that time of year in Fujitsu for annual performance reviews I decided to map where I have allocated my time over the last six months by a quick/dirty review of my diary:

Now I can post-rationalize the time allocation along with the best of you.  I can give you all manner of coherent (in my mind at least) arguments for why my time has been so externally focused in the business rather than technologist mode and why when in technologist mode I have been focused on the integration space.  However, the value is in the self-review process of analysing and plotting the time allocation. What would be especially interesting is to plot in which quadrant my wins and my disappointments fall over the same period (and indeed I will be doing just that as preparation for my review, should my boss be reading!).

What this line of thought has confirmed for me is that I will be publishing an “annual report” for my function that will review our performance against objectives in the financial year just closed and set out our agenda for the coming twelve months.  We may well reflect the model above in the structure of the material but, if not, we will certainly be talking about how I and my team did against our targets in those four persona areas and how we will be jointly fulfilling all four in the coming year.  Clearly, like any good CIO, I will be balancing that future roadmap both with our corporate business imperatives and the available funding that we forecast the various business cases will generate.  If anyone has any great exemplars of such progress/performance reports that they are willing to share please feel free.

Finally I’d be failing in my declared intent to “keep it real” if I failed to cover one of the truisms of the CIO role: there is always more value you feel you should be delivering; there is never enough resource or funding to do all you know needs doing; and you will always be looking for initiatives to delight your stakeholders and user base (buying the time/space to carry out the hygiene projects without which eventually things will get terribly messy and difficult)!

Image credit © Harvard Business Publishing

An opportunity to examine the role of a CIO

I’ve spoken to many audiences on the nature of the CIO role and the imperatives facing those of us in that management position.  The norm is for the audience to be existing CIOs or senior IT leaders but last week I spoke to some potential CIOs of the future who are at an earlier stage of their career, as Fujitsu hosted 18 delegates from the ESSEC Business School to examine the role of the CIO in the modern enterprise. I found that the intellectual energy, enthusiasm and willingness to challenge of the delegates made for a fun event..

I spoke about a day in the life of the CIO: the challenges we meet; the business drivers we embrace; the many different ways that IT can relate to business; and the consequential dimensions that a CIO needs to cover (not just infrastructure/integration/information but also innovation and intelligence).  I’ll write more on these topics later but they were intended to give the delegates an insight into the life of a “real” CIO, or at least this particular one!

Following my talk, my team took some of the demands that I face and worked with the ESSEC students to workshop a part of the process which our Open Innovation Service covers, triaging a number of demands, analysing them for underlying issues, identifying possible solutions, and finally investigating the value that the resulting solutions may offer for ourselves, our customers and our customers’ customers.  Of course, we couldn’t go through all of the details of our Open Innovation Service in an hour but it gave the students some insight into the way that we approach innovation, and they seemed to enjoy the experience and we were all impressed by how they took to the challenge.

Innovation is an important part of being a CIO and it carries with it so much expectation – everyone has strong views about innovation! So it was gratifying that the workshop was so successful and, even in spite of the language barrier (I didn’t attempt to speak French!), the students really understood both the complexity and the potential of what we are trying to do. I hope they took home some valuable insight from the morning they spent with us. For my part, trying to explain the many pressures placed on the CIOs of today to CIOs of the future was a wonderful chance to look closely at my role and evaluate how it might evolve in the coming years.