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.

Digital World - shutterstock_69191626

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.

Interactions between the physical and digital worlds

Working for an Information Technology company presents me with a view of life that the digital economy is a must and an integral part of today’s society yet, where that may be true in some parts of the world and within certain demographics, it’s not a statement that everyone would recognise.

But technology is increasing its impact our world every day and lots of very inventive people are finding ways that the digital world can support the physical world, even in very poor and under-developed regions.

The trend for me in this blog post is not the consumerisation of IT as an IT professional may see it, but at what point is something compelling for a consumer, who has very little in the physical world compelled to join the digital world because it makes a significant difference to their daily life?

An excellent example is the Reuters Mobile Light service provided to Indian farmers since 2007 to provide commodity prices, crop and weather data via SMS. Often a community shares a handset but individuals have their own SIM. The service has grown as one subscriber often shares the information with their community to decide where is the best place to send their produce to get the best price and now even use mobile phones to control irrigation.

In more developed parts of the world what we want can be very different, but still critical to our day to day needs with the ability to respond to a need being very fast indeed, such as using a cell phone to measure exposure to radiation in response to specific events such as last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Mobile technology is not just useful to respond to disasters, for example going for a health check at a labyrinth of a hospital and wondering how long one is going to have to wait, lead to the creation of a patient guidance system that should take some of the stress out of the visit – and there are many other examples of mobile applications allowing us to take care of ourselves and improve our physical well-being.

This tells us that the digital world can be a significant force for good in the physical world, the needs of the developing world are very different from the developed world and, using ITU numbers, it seems that a third of the developed world is still not connected (two thirds in the developing world).

So, we can all “do our bit” by taking the 2G mobile handsets that we last used about five years ago and are collecting dust in a drawer, digging them out and sending them to our favourite charities, who may use them to help people in other parts of the world (for example, the Indian farmers) and allow greater participation in the digital society.

The consumerisation of enterprise IT: resistance is futile

I spent a fascinating afternoon with Apple today in the briefing centre above their flagship Regent Street store.  What was even more impressive to my wife (and to me!) was that I managed to resist the urge to go and buy myself, for personal use, the lovely new Macbook Air laptop.  The agenda covered a number of interesting topics including the use of Apple iPad as a corporate device and, specifically, a topic critical to me – the impending Apple iOS 4.2 release.

There are many indicators that CIOs use to judge the emergent trends and the high demand requirements within their remits.  One measure I use is my weekly barometer of the “why oh why cannot I not….” volume of email refrains I receive.  Currently there are two requests dominating this demand flow, the first is “why will you not allow my Android smartphone to connect to corporate systems?” and the close second is “why will you not allow my Apple iPad to connect to the corporate systems for which you support Apple iPhone based access?”.  In this post I’d like to stick with the Apple theme but I will return to the Android request volume at a later point as it is twice the scale of the iPad request volume and is more than matching the levels I saw earlier in the year in relation to our delivering corporate services to Apple iPhone.

Internally we operate a Fujitsu mobility service called Mobile Professional through which I allow company and personally owned smartphones to receive corporate services such as messaging.  The personally owned devices have to meet prerequisites such as operating system/version, operating our corporate airtime provider SIM, individuals signing up to monitoring and remote wiping etc.; however, to date I have refused to certify the iPad OS as it currently fails to meet our minimum requirements but that will hopefully soon change with the release of iOS4.2.  What was really interesting was the conversation I had with the Apple representatives in that meeting around the market trend of IT consumerisation and the opportunity that represents for Apple to grow its share of the corporate market.

Indeed the phrase “corporate market” is an interesting term as the trend for companies to provide cash allowances and give some freedom to their employees to select/operate their computing device of choice.  Clearly as a CIO within a technology company which manufactures laptops I’m not likely to adopt this approach anytime soon!  However, I effectively have implemented a variant of that approach in relation to smartphones, partly recognising that mobile phones are a very personal choice it is hard to consistently meet and partly recognising the value that can be derived from employees purchasing their own if so motivated and thereby removing the device cost from the P&L. The drive of the employee to demand 21st century capabilities at work to match what they have at home rather than being stuck in the late 20th century has been commented upon many times, sometimes under the Generation Y banner and sometimes under IT consumerisation.

What is clear to me and I’m sure to many of you is that, regardless of the driver, the demand is here today, continues to grow in strength and must be harnessed to generate business value, sidestepping the ultimately fruitless war of resistance.  If you accept that point to any level then those technology providers who are dominant in the consumer space are going to become part of your portfolio under corporate management sooner or later. At that point, the key is whether you can manage that evolutionary process to an acceptable level of risk or whether it overwhelms your standards and your ability to contain both the risk and indeed the potential incremental cost implications.