Digital Magna Carta time?

Recently I seem unable to avoid reading material on security risks associated with the use of technology.  It is certainly a good thing that the topic has a growing profile as that can positively drive upward awareness of the risks.  However, I do worry that many articles only tend to articulate the risks and remain silent on the potential benefits arising from technology enabling our lives.  Writing about the dangerous downsides of how easily Internet of Things (IoT) context devices can be hacked will definitely get attention.  This is fine if we also gain the value of people being more aware and then engaging on an informed basis with technology and related information security risks.

I noticed recently that the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) had sponsored and circulated a publication called Navigating The Digital Age: The Definitive Cybersecurity Guide (for Directors & Officers) to every NYSE listed company board member.  This was produced in partnership with Palo Alto Networks and a wide and impressive range of contributing writers and organisations.  I found it an excellent read.  What I particularly liked was the recognition clearly conveyed that people as much as technology (or process) are at the heart of both the information security threat and the defences.   The need to educate both the consumers of technology enabled solutions and those operating and defending them was well articulated.

The criticality of all of us being aware of the risks to our data and the steps we can take to mitigate them is becoming clearer to most people.  The publicity around corporate hacks like Sony and the recent press around the cyber “front” in the current challenging situation in the Middle East are hard to avoid.  However, in recent weeks the questions I have been asked most often around information security have been related to stories on many and various IoT devices that have allegedly proved vulnerable to hacking.  People have raised many concerns with me on a wide range of devices from connected car systems to house alarms to healthcare wearables to pacemakers.   I remember reading, but annoyingly cannot now find, an article which used the term “Internet of Nosey Things” in its discussion of the type and value of data involved.

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Indeed the ISACA 2015 Risk Reward Barometer declared that its 7000+ contributors saw IoT as being the prime area of information security concern.  The survey reported that over 70% of respondents saw a medium to high likelihood of attack via such devices either in the consumer or in corporate context as they become more common in the workplace.  This concern is then compounded by the (ISC)2 Global Information Security Workforce Study 2015  which forecasts that we will simply not have enough security skilled people in the workforce to provide adequate defences.  They see the gap being as many as 1.5 million security workers too few by 2020.

If that forecast proves true then we need to have placed information security at the centre our technology design process.  In fact if you look at the automation and machine to machine implications of IoT then we clearly have to ensure our defences are not operator dependent.  The imperative to automate defences is nicely highlighted by the HP Cyber Security Report 2015.  This is a sobering read of results from interviewing 252 companies in 7 countries.   What particularly stood out in the material is that the time to recover from a cyber-attack has risen from 14 days in 2010 to 46 days in 2015; that the number of successful attacks reported has risen by 46% since 2012; and that the average cost of cybercrime per participating company was $7.7m.

So having started saying I was wary of scare mongering articles on information security I have now drifted towards the negative perspective.  It is quite hard to avoid when considering this topic I fear.  As the benefit delivered by technology is huge and alluring so does it comes risk and as ever some people don’t see a problem with acting illegally to make money.  In that sense this challenge is nothing new and we have a good track record across many societies of working out how to protect ourselves (eventually?!) from such threats.

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Perhaps we do indeed need a digital age Magna Carta or its mirror incarnations across the globe.  The content of this updated Magna Carta was built on the input of over 30,000 people having begun as an initiative focused on school children.  The British Library site hosting the debate has lots of other excellent material worth reviewing.  The good news is that the debate is still open as to what this digital age Magna Carta should state. Why don’t you go and place your vote?

Images via Shutterstock,com.

Beyond Infancy?

The trend over recent years has been for technology services to be provided on an “as a service” (aaS) basis.  The flexibility of an always available, highly and immediately scalable service for which you subscribe on a short term basis with fees directly linked to usage based metric(s) is compelling.  The drive to adopt aaS offerings by consumers and businesses has been one of the signs of our world going digital.    I do recognise that concerns remain for some primarily in relation to data portability and security.  However, we have moved beyond the initial virtualised server offerings to more sophisticated platform and software based services.  Access methods have expanded beyond web browsers on computers to the current world of “apps” from a multiplicity of devices consuming “platform services”.  So all very empowering and exciting but where do we go next?

I am not alone in thinking that the future “aaS” offerings will be shaped by the Internet of Things (IoT).  The services we consume in the near future will be delivered based on many diverse real time data streams.  Data will be drawn from existing stores and combined with data generated by an ever larger set of sensor equipped devices, human centric or automated machine to machine (M2M). The scale of this connected device proliferation is forecast to be vast.  CISCO predict 50 billion connected devices by 2020, Gartner 30 billion.  IDC believe that by the end of 2015 across the globe we will have connected just under 5,000 devices per minute for each of the 365 days.  The data from these devices will be used to enable and inform the digital services that will pervade our lives.

These digital services will be highly personalised, based on real-time analytics and contextual.   The personalisation will be all pervasive and extend beyond data unique to an individual.  Services will constantly learn and tailor themselves to each user or user group based on a vast stream of real-time received and analysed data that is context informed.   It is the contextual aspect that fascinates me the most.   Truly contextual services will be able to anticipate our needs and deliver unique experiences specific to us or defined user communities.   That ability for the digital service to anticipate will come with need for careful design to avoid slipping into being annoyingly intrusive.

The privacy aspects of digital services are complex and fascinating.  They could seriously inhibit how services evolve over the next 5 to 10 years.  Many commentator are alarmed at how lightly many people trade data privacy to access a desirable service.  Some argue that currently services tend to be relatively isolated and so the risk of unexpected data leakage is acceptable.


This would seem to be at best naive to me.  However, I do accept that refusing to accept provider terms relies on there being viable equally alluring alternatives or strong willpower!  The security of the service platforms and volume of connected devices enabling these digital services is also clearly key.  Hence the increasing focus on this aspect of the enabling IoT wave in the last 12 months.  An interesting report published by HP in 2014 looked at 10 connected devices in the market today to enable various smart home services and all failed their security testing.  A similar outcome was reported by the BBC in testing they conducted on various domestic smart devices where their hackers were successful.

If we think the current aaS offerings are flexible and add value then the good news is that we have only begun to see the potential.  Digital services are just leaving the infant stage and moving becoming toddlers.  Any parent will know that this is both an exciting, challenging and at times worrying period as the toddler becomes adept in their new skills.  Learning to walk is one thing, just remember that after that comes running!

The post has been previously published on the Business Value Exchange.
Image via  Shutterstock.

Transformation by any other name?

The world of IT is often a tribal one where people frequently have strongly held views which they love to outline on competing technologies, product vendors, service providers and anything else you care to mention.  There are some subjects which can always be relied upon to spark the euphemistic “free and frank exchange of views”.  So it was no surprise recently when I found myself in a group of CIOs with decades of experience (and the associated scars!) that the topic of IT transformation proved somewhat provocative.

The discussion started with the usual tussle over defining the term and distinguishing a technology upgrade/deployment from a business change enabled by technology programme.  The group reassuringly quickly reached agreement that the term implied an undue focus on technology.  The group preference was for the term “IT enabled business transformation”.  There was also rapid agreement on the key characteristics conveyed by that term.  These included the delivery of material business benefits gained by a tightly managed and closely measured technology enabled process change which is implemented with a clear focus on the people change requirements.

However, the debate restarted when it was suggested that the term “digital transformation” was a far better label.   The discussion also covered the term “two speed IT function” used by some analysts or “bimodal IT” as coined by Gartner to recognise the digital age facets.  All agreed that the digital age was driving a far higher focus on people within technology deployments, both in terms of the expectations created by consumerisation of IT services and the technical competence of the people consuming them.

I quite like the concept of “bimodal IT” as I do think it helps describe the duality corporate IT functions now face, namely the incessant demand for innovation at speed balanced against need to ensure appropriate data security and integrity.  We certainly must retain the disciplines of a well-defined, managed and executed business transformation enabled by technology painfully learned over many decades!  However, we do need to find risk managed ways to combine those virtues with that of rapid development, deployment and evolution of products and services.  The mantra of “measure carefully and if you are going to fail, fail early” is a good one in my view.

The importance of ensuring that the delivery remains current, valuable and aligned to requirements is not new.  However, what is new is the speed at which these programmes are now expected to deliver and so the imperative of ensuring relevance becomes more key.  That said if you leverage the right communication tools it is possible to address that requirement by harnessing the power of the population your delivery is to serve.  Doing so requires a high level of agility in every aspect of the transformation programme not to mention in its senior management sponsors.

It has always been tempting for people to label IT initiatives as transformational.  Arguably the inherent characteristics of what is truly an IT transformation programme have not changed over the years.  However, it seems very clear that some of those characteristics have evolved and gained importance in the digital age.  The people engagement imperative has become unavoidable and truly central in every sense.  This collaboration expectation combines with the relentlessly increasing pace at which delivery is demanded to create a new sense of excitement.  Successfully delivering an IT enabled business transformation programme has never been easy and we continue to improve our ability to get them right.

I think using the term digital transformation is helpful.  I much prefer it to IT transformation and it is less cumbersome than the more wordy IT enabled business transformation.  I think the word digital encapsulates business, information and technology.  It recognises for me that it is increasingly hard to distinguish between the “business” and the “IT” in the digital age.

This post was previously published on the Business Value Exchange.

Just Connect?

Is 2015 the year in which the much discussed Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming mainstream?  I was prompted to muse on this question by watching a friend remotely check and then reset the temperature of his home via their smartphone from our restaurant table.  Also that same evening saw me extolling the benefits of my health wearable device and demonstrating how to review my statistics via an app on my smartphone.  This is certainly different from the initial smart sensors on goods and within warehouses that help track stock levels and triggered replenishment orders.  My first encounter with IoT was in the smart meter space in the energy sector.  This is where meters enhanced with sensors are deployed to enable the providers to remotely monitor energy usage real-time and use that feedback to optimise their delivery model.

IoT 2 - shutterstock_254834209 (2)Indeed defining the term IoT can be problematic.  I like this definition from a McKinsey article, that it is “the networking of physical objects through the use of embedded sensors, actuators, and other devices that can collect or transmit information about the objects. The data amassed from these devices can then be analysed to optimize products, services, and operations”.   In 2011 when IoT first hit my radar I remember many articles from analysts predicting that by 2020 the market for connected devices would have reached somewhere between 50 billion and 100 billion units.  Generally analysts today seem to be talking about a reduced but still material 20 billion or 30 billion units by that date.

To enable that scale to be reached we need to look beyond the “Things” and indeed even the connectivity aspect.  Ultimately the old mantra of “it is all about the data” is at the heart of the key ingredients required.  It is not just about getting the data to a store in the cloud.  It is about doing so in a way that reflects the information privacy and security dimension within a framework of enabling technology standards.  I don’t think we will realise the promise if we end up with an IoT that is more the “Internet of Proprietary Things”.

I picked up on the proprietary angle in an article by Matt Honan in the magazine Wired:  “Apple is building a world in which there is a computer in your every interaction, waking and sleeping.  A computer in your pocket.  A computer on your body.  A computer paying for all your purchases.  A computer opening your hotel room door.  A computer monitoring your movements as you walk through the mall.   A computer watching you sleep.   A computer controlling the devices in your home.  A computer that tells you where you parked.  A computer taking your pulse, telling you how many steps you took, how high you climbed and how many calories you burned – and sharing it all with your friends…. The ecosystem may be lush, but it will be, by design, limited.  Call it the Internet of Proprietary Things.”

Many see a darker side to the IoT vision.   They see a world where you are constantly tracked, monitored and the data about you monetised without your permission on a massive scale.  Indeed some go as far as seeing the IoT as enabling a far more effective and efficient surveillance by the state, yet with the added twist that we seem to be volunteering to have it.

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The threat seen is that we end up being monitoring by every device in our lives from our cars, to our household white goods, to a massive range of smartphone or wearable type apps and to the more understood spend trail we leave with credit and debit cards.  This set of data points will then be correlated, analysed and without the relevant protections on privacy sold on to businesses without you being explicitly aware and agreeing.

There are a number of articles around that counter this point by making a link from IoT in this regard to social media.  I think the point they miss in doing so is that social media is for those that are suitably wary about presenting a curated view of yourself.  As the world becomes ever more digitized and people tracked by a growing myriad of devices it will almost certainly leave fewer and fewer opportunities to decide not to participate.   It’s one thing to curate the view of yourself that is broadcast on social media.  It would seem to me to be quite another to see how much curated content will exist in the world IoT might create.  I think it is vital that the IoT promise is achieved by having an appropriate model of regulation to ensure privacy remains an option.

Images sourced from Shutterstock.
This blog post was previous published on the Business Value Exchange.

Digital Zoom – Part 1

As always December is a good month to find opinions being shared on what 2015 will bring in terms of technology trends.  My good intentions are always to commit my thoughts to writing early in the month.  Typically each year I fail to act and reach the middle of January before sitting down to write.  This year I aim to break the trend!  However, my other firm resolve to get the Christmas cards into the post early has once again proved fruitless.

I think 2014 was the year in which the “drive to a digital world” really gathered pace and became all pervasive. How that digital content is being consumed is key and many analysts are arguing that more time is being spent consuming data via mobile applications than via the web.  A good articulation of this argument has been made by Benedict Evans in his post entitled “Mobile Is Eating The World”.  It seems that the drive to a digital world and mobile devices are completely intertwined.  It is clear that success in 2015 in virtually all business spheres will depend on how adeptly companies continue to adapt their business model and offerings to the digital world.

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The expectation that services can be consumed at the total convenience of the customer is now deeply embedded, certainly in the societies of the G20 countries and arguably globally.  That “anytime, anyplace, anywhere” mantra (yes I am old enough to remember the famous Martini advert!) is conditioned I think by the importance of brand recognition, context and trust.  It seems to me that people are becoming slowly more aware of the risks of the digital world, particularly the ability to trust content and to rely on privacy for data and identity.  A Forrester analyst Heidi Shey recently blogged that “Today, about a third of security decision-makers in North America and Europe view privacy as a competitive differentiator.  Forrester expects to see half of enterprises share this sentiment by the end of 2015”.  The detail of the research is behind the Forrester pay-wall but the summary is worth a read.

Clearly to enable the hyper-connected digital world we will need to see the underlying infrastructure continue to evolve at an ever increasing pace.  I think the argument that the digital world is made real through an ever growing population of devices and sensors combining to enable contextual data consumption is right.  A very persuasive summary of this argument was given by Satya Nadella back in March 2014 early in his tenure at Microsoft in his “Mobile first, Cloud first” strategy messaging.  The Internet of Things (IoT) concept will become ever more real and valuable in 2015. It will require underlying cloud based services to enable the collection, collation and presentation back in a value adding form and context.  The rapid proliferation of wearables technology is just one visible sign of the devices landscape that will enable the digital world and realise the IoT promise.  The sheer number of mobile phones (often quoted as being over 7 billion now in use) with the “there is an app for that” assumption is bringing the connected digital world into the consumer mainstream ever more quickly.

We are all now expecting that the different data units required to enable a transaction or consumer experience to take place will be seamlessly collated and enacted.  The initial “wow that is clever” reaction to data being combined to enable something that was once slow and painful to execute will increasingly be replaced by impatience and frustration if it is not so.  I tried to explain to someone the other day how hard it used to be to renew car road tax as opposed to the online seamless checking of the various key components required for validation delivered by the DVLA website. I felt ancient!

So in short I see 2015 as the year where the IoT concept becomes visible to the mainstream.  It will be the year where the difference between a strong digitisation strategy and an average one will translate to material competitive advantage.  It will be the year where brands that demonstrate the quality of their content and deliver a superb customer experience combined with an appropriate contextualised respect for data and identity privacy will win.

All very exciting might be your reaction, but what does that mean for those of us in the technology sector then?

Post was also published on the Business Value Exchange.
Image is via Shutterstock.

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.

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!

A look back on 2010, and a view forward to 2011

New Year 2011 pushing 2010 downAt this time of year there are many articles and posts that provide insightful, amusing and thought provoking summaries of the year nearly completed.  The fact that I have read a number of excellent reviews of 2010 has helpfully discouraged me from trying to compete.  That said I cannot resist some personal observations on how I experienced 2010.

2010 was the year where we went from talking about the potential of cloud computing to seeing that future state take shape in the market.  Regardless of your position on solution maturity I doubt many would argue that cloud computing has not arrived and has had no impact on corporate IT strategy.  However, it is not cloud computing that stands as my key inflection point in 2010; that is reserved for the moment that the penny dropped for me on the closely related force of IT consumerisation.

My moment of clarity arrived during Fujitsu’s VISIT 2010 event held in Munich during November.  I’d just walked around the exhibition hall with three client CIOs and moved through the whole range of Fujitsu activities from our endpoint products to our server and storage technologies to cloud computing offerings, our extensive partner ecosystem, right through to our research activities under the strategic intent of human centric computing to enable an intelligent networked society.

I was asked by one of the CIOs which of the areas we’d just seen were having the most impact on my internal IT strategy; after some thought and the sound of a penny dropping I replied none of those as such but rather the change in expectations of my IT delivery.   Two of the CIOs looked at me as if I were slightly deranged whilst (luckily!) the third nodded and agreed with me.  Over a coffee we convinced ourselves that the key challenge is not technology aspects such as device proliferation, or the shadow IT landscape funded by credit cards, nor even social media finding a way into the enterprise.  We decided that the key disruptor is actually the one of expecting choice and an increasing demand to apply the market dynamics of the consumer marketplace to the corporate world.  This brings with it an expectation that using corporate IT should be “pleasurable”, “exciting”, “immediate” and dare I say “cool”; a customer experience as opposed to user experience.

At the start of the year many people including me were using the term “Generation Y” to encapsulate a set of behaviours and expectations that we asserted were generational.  Today I still argue that the characteristics attributed to Generation Y exist but now believe that that many of them are not restricted to a given generation.   Indeed if I look at my weekly barometer of demand (see my earlier post about IT consumerisation) I know enough of the names in my mailbox demanding iPad connectivity, Android access to corporate systems, adoption of services like DropBox, access to social media sites to know that the majority are actually Baby Boomers or Generation X.

The tension created the moment you attempt to reflect consumer arena expectations and demands in your corporate IT strategy is perplexing.  You rapidly find yourself becoming at best the voice of caution, at worst the voice listing all the reasons why not, despite the benefit that could accrue to the organisation.  Balancing risk against benefit is a key part of the CIO role but unsurprisingly I find the role much more rewarding when able to operate as the Chief Innovation Officer.  There is a strong temptation in the face of escalating demand for which you lack funding, quite apart from the information assurance implications or indeed those relating to the operational cost management, to simply say “no, because” and forget all of your consultative customer centric training in how to respond to challenging demands!

I think 2011 is going to be a challenging year for CIOs as I don’t think the economic climate has suppressed the demand for technology solutions arising from the consumer sector centric expectations.  Those of us fortunate to be in CIO roles are certainly not going to be bored. I say fortunate as with those challenges come change and if we don’t like change then IT is the wrong career choice!  So have a good rest over the festive period and recharge those batteries – 2011 is going to be interesting.

Image credit: © VBar –

Sustainability is about more than just green IT

This morning I took part in a panel at an event within an initiative entitled the SMART Series which Fujitsu Ireland jointly sponsored with the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.  The focus of the initiative is the SMART economy strategy that the Irish government has published as part of its response to the current economic challenges, the event being titled “Ireland & The Green Economy”.  The opportunity had partly arisen as a result of a week I spent in Tokyo with Fujitsu Laboratories in September where their two key research themes of “Human Centric Computing” and “Intelligent Society” had within them a number highly relevant to the aim of enabling a sustainable “smart economy”.

I wanted my contribution to convey to the audience that I feel passionately that Fujitsu Group can make to help build genuinely real societal benefits around sustainability and building a “smart green economy”.  As part of building Fujitsu’s credentials as the leading Japanese technology company I also talked about the impressive progress that Japan has made as a country in the sustainability arena, which is very impressive.  In an IDC report published last year Japan were the only country rated “tier 1” on the IDC ICT sustainability index being “able to use ICT to reduce emissions more effectively than any other country” (the United States, United Kingdom and Germany were listed as tier 2).  I believe the IDC report is annual and due out in November so I’ll be returning to this topic I’m sure.  An interesting statistic shared with me by one of the CEOs attending the event in Dublin was that between 1998 and 2003 Japan accounted for 40% of all the green related patents registered and was the most active in 12 out of 13 fields tracked in a study by CERNA and OECD.

The keynote speaker was John Shine, Deputy CEO for the Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB) and I thought he did a really excellent job in clearly making the case for the part information technology can and has to play in enabling the innovative energy management strategies essential to building and operating a “smart green economy”.  What resonated for me was how the energy management solutions his company are deploying in Ireland assume enablement by information technology for the required capability rather than for technology’s own sake.  This is critical I think to how we need to embed the concepts of sustainability into our corporate information technology provision.  The focus must increasingly be on ensuring the business outcome and the “green credentials” of the solution must be implicit, expected and delivered.  Of course we all need to focus on driving the “Green IT” agenda by optimising the carbon footprint of our data centres, using hardware that consumes zero watts in sleep mode, providing communication solutions that minimise travel, etc.  It is part of our role to enable our companies to achieve the carbon management targets relevant to our sector/sphere of delivery but these are often only a means to an end, not necessarily the end itself.

The really interesting area is how we can use ICT to build smarter cities (to borrow an IBM term) in which technology enables the society to behave in a more intelligent, sustainable way. The concept of the “Internet of Things” comes alive here for me with sensors embedded in a massive range of devices with the ability to communicate data back to processing centres and then receive instructions on how to react automatically to be more efficient and optimise emissions.  The McKinsey Quarterly had an interesting article earlier in the year where they explored this topic and discussed a range of implementations including “sensors on patients that help physicians modify treatments rapidly: sensors in vehicles that help insurers set prices and driver avoid accidents: sensors in factories and data centres that automatically adjust operations.”

At the event we had some good discussions around “smart grid” in the energy sector and how the concept of smart metering had huge potential to enable our sustainability agenda. It was good to relate the activities of Fujitsu in this area in specific to the audience and I’m hopeful that some opportunities to deploy our solutions in Ireland may have been triggered by the debate.  That’s the joy of these events – you are not there to overtly promote you company, except that really you are there to promote your company!

What I hope I conveyed to the audience was that ICT can play a bigger role than is typically intended by labels like “Green IT”. I’m not knocking in any way the contribution that can be made in that area; however, the combination of sensors, communication solutions, rapidly evolving analytic techniques and the flexibility/elasticity of the cloud computing promise can all combine to make a broad contribution to a “smart economy” being a “smart world”.  It is critical that those of us in the ICT sector do not lose sight of the sheer power of the contribution we can collectively deliver.