Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What is a "digital business" and why should I care?

A "digital business" is one that leverages technology to collect and analyze internal data sources along with non-traditional, external data sources to create a more responsive organization that can:

1.       better anticipate and respond to changing customer demands,
2.       provide a better customer experience,
3.       increase productivity across all business units, and
4.       drive innovation within its organization that enables those things. 

It is not just about adopting new technology and goes far beyond building mobile apps, incorporating cloud technologies, or increasing the number of "likes" on social media.  Rather it is about using technology to transform the way a company does business.

Drivers include:
1.       The emergence of the "connected consumer",
2.       The proliferation of communications, sales, and distribution channels,
3.       The explosion of customer demand/sentiment data,
4.       Increasing customer expectations for quality goods and services, consistent and positive experiences, greater choices and personalization, and speed of delivery.

With the proliferation of smart phones, consumers are now connected 24/7, everywhere.  This shift in the time and location aspect of customer engagement creates new opportunities as well as new demands.  This is true for B2B as well as B2C companies.  Not only have they impacted the engagement opportunities, smart phones have changed the expectations of our already-fickle customers around service, availability of information, and speed of transactions.

 A quick review of the success of ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, over the past couple of years shows that their model was not even possible prior to the connected customer coming on the scene.  Uber and Lyft disintermediated the relationship between riders and the cab companies: Their respective applications not only "hail" the ride but also provide a real-time view of the driver's location and ETA and then handle the payment automatically, providing a much smoother experience for the rider and the driver alike.  How quickly will this impact the traditional cab companies?  Recently, Yellow Cab Cooperative, Inc of San Francisco, Uber's birthplace, filed for bankruptcy protection citing "competition from newer app-based ride-sharing services" as one of three primary challenges faced by the cooperative.

In a report on digital banking from McKinsey & Company, the authors state that "being able to take advantage of, or react to, the digital revolution requires [companies] to behave in ways that they are not quite accustomed to. It requires extremely clear and quick cross-functional collaboration."  So, an organization's response to the above drivers can have serious long-term impact to its business but the question is not "what technology do we need?" It is, rather, "how are we going to organize our business in such a way that we can incorporate fast-moving digital innovations to respond successfully over time?"

As the digital and physical worlds converge, leadership should search out people with skills and aptitudes to help organizations navigate the opportunities and threats that will arise over the next few years.  How business adapt will determine their relevance (and existence) over time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

How to accelerate adoption of Connected/Autonomous Vehicle technology

Innovation will always outpace regulation (I use that phrase regularly, so bear with me). In some cases, the regulatory aspect is not a great concern but this is not so when it comes to connected/automated vehicles. As fascinating as the CV/AV space is, there are still some huge technical and non-technical hurdles that must be overcome.
  • Designing infrastructure and controls that work mixed environments with traditional, assisted, and autonomous vehicles; 
  • Imbuing "judgement" in the artificial intelligence of the AVs - How does the car decide which object to hit if it is unable to avoid a collision;
  • Securing the data collection and controls from hacks;
  • Defining liability issues when an autonomous vehicle is involved in a collision;
  • Communications standards between various manufacturers as well as the infrastructure.
In this article from the Texas A & M Transportation Institute (TTI), authors Jason Wagner and Ginger Goodin discuss the policy question of data security: Who owns the vehicle data and who gets to see/use it?

Personally, I am always interested in tracking my own data, typically associated with my workouts (read: bike rides).  Pulling similar data on vehicle health and driving statistics also intrigues me but I don't necessarily want to provide that data to anyone without my permission. 

I've been known to engage in spirited driving when no one is around.  Sometimes I speed down the tollway, hitting booths faster than someone going the speed limit would.  My maxim is that I am happy to share my data, just don't use it against me.  Would my insurance company raise my rates due to the occasional rapid acceleration/deceleration or high-G turns, even though I have never caused an accident (true statement)?  Could the police retroactively ticket me after mining my information from some pool where my data ended up without my knowledge?

My response to these types of scenarios, and I'm not unique, would be to turn off the data, if possible.  The problem with me not sharing my data, though, is that it deprives the "good" analysts of another sample and, as any statistician will tell you, the more samples, the better the understanding.

As the Internet of Things expands into every aspect of life, these questions must be answered in a way that satisfies private entities' concerns within the public/social framework.  This use case just highlights some of the challenges we are experiencing in this space but is reflective of any new technology.

There is a regulatory drag that can slow down wholesale adoption of these types of technology, similar to what we see with the FDA and new drugs.  In this space though, I have found that it is not a Luddite reaction on the part of regulators but a lack of understanding about the technology and a lack of time to think through the various implications of deploying it within the populace.

Something with as grand a scope and scale as connected/autonomous vehicles creates a prime opportunity to involve the regulators and legislators much earlier in the cycle.  By doing so, the auto manufacturers can help drive adoption, but it will require a new level of cooperation among them, even as they try to gain competitive advantages.  It also helps to have academic researchers involved on the development side, driving standardization and a more objective viewpoint on which the regulators can rely.

That's why I'm glad to be involved with an organization like TTI which is bringing together all of these parties to work through the regulatory questions as the technology is developed, thereby accelerating the adoption so we can realize its benefits sooner and, hopefully, allowing me to collect my data without my insurance rates going up.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Five years ago...

I placed this note on my calendar for today (February 23, 2015):

VARs as we knew them would be almost extinct, replaced by direct sales or 'mom and pops' schlepping gear. Most companies are looking to service providers for this stuff and not spending nearly as much on gear and pro services to implement it. What is the cloud like now?

Now that we're here, I wonder how far off I was.  Obviously the VAR landscape has changed.  There has been a great deal of consolidation over the past five years.  At that time, I was a part of INX, sub-$500M company that had grown through acquisitions to about 450 people.  Within a couple of years we were acquired by Presidio Network Solutions and we are now pushing past the $2B revenue mark.  Many of our major competitors exceed (or are rapidly approaching) $1-4B per year in the U.S.

Additionally, most of us have strong Managed Services offerings, our own capital leasing arms, and a number of other complementary offerings that bolster the business, directly.

My thinking at the time was that cloud services would have displaced the traditional IT consumption model more quickly than it has but it has definitely transformed the landscape and most of our customers have incorporated some level of X-as-a-Service into their IT operations.

So, while my thinking may have been irrationally exuberant at the time, I don't think I totally missed the mark.  If you look at some of my much earlier posts, some of the things I wondered about back when, have come to pass and some may still be to come or will never make it to reality.  Certainly I am not the only one making predictions and hopefully we are all looking back as much as looking forward to keep ourselves in check (hubris is a fatal flaw).  Still, it's a fun exercise.  I guess it's time to set an appointment for 2020.  I'll have to give it some thought.

Your comments and prognostications are welcome. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Been a while...

It's definitely been awhile since I posted out here.  After checking in recently, I saw that I had received over 800 page views.  I think I have only looked at this just over 700 times so those views must be coming from someone else!

For what it's worth, I've been observing a lot over the past couple of years as I've been heads down working on completing my undergraduate degree that I started some time ago. 

Several things have come to fruition over the past few years.  I don't really consider myself a futurist or some sort of digital prophet, but I do think it is pretty cool that Google Glass and Oakley's Airwave goggles have been released since my post on singularities.

More to offer but no time right now.  I need to finish some homework, but I'll be back soon (you know, for what it's worth...).

Monday, November 1, 2010

A thought on anti-virus as anti-bodies

Sooner or later the OS and the virtualization layer will become one and the same. They already perform the same function (brokering limited physical resources amongst multiple applications) and while virtualization is a huge step, it just adds overhead to the equation.

In the future, I think each app will have its own little blended OS/virtualization wrapper and it will be able to move around a cloud environment, using what it needs, but not dependent on any single physical piece of hardware. That presents a problem though of securing it against some of the bad stuff that is sure to affect these systems.

This came up in a conversation with a friend tonight who posed the question of applications that today, while they are not required, sit in a shared OS environment with the application...applications like anti-virus software. It's a good question and if the applications are going to be more self-contained, then I don't think it can be answered from a traditional application programming perspective. I think we have to look at the cloud as more akin to a living biological organism rather than a static collection of manufactured processes and compute systems.

And if that is the direction that the cloud takes, one where the location of an application is much more dynamic than in even a traditional virtual infrastructure, then we need a better way to provide these protective functions as part of the "organism". We need an immune system for the cloud.

The first line of defense is the "skin" encompassing your standard perimeter security items such as filters and firewalls. Other layers of defense would be needed if that first layer is breached, apps that act like white blood cells or anti-bodies. Let them flow through the cloud in search of the virus or malware or whatever bad thing is there and then they can go to work cleaning it up. Of course, we'll still have to inoculate and create new vaccines and we'll need the ability to introduce "cures" for the new "bugs" that show up, against which there is not an existing defense, just like with our own bodies.

I don't know that this "organism" model is where we will end up, but something like it should be our end goal. If not, then we'll ultimately end up confined by a great monolithic structure instead of an organic type of thing that can adapt, self-monitor, and heal itself, or that, at the first sign of new symptoms, can be quickly and effectively treated and innoculated against future outbreaks.

Just my two cents and it is still a little rough, but I think the premise is sound. Feel free to comment.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Onramp to the cloud?

As I posted back in March, we "have all of the pieces to build out the Cloud 1.0. There are still a lot of questions around access, security, and offerings" that are need to be answered before we can get the cloud to the next level. With most people predicting a hybrid model based on a private-public partnership between companies and their providers, the vendors that can secure and maximize the efficiency of that link the soonest have a tremendous opportunity to capture a niche market that could generate a significant amount of demand, if the predictions hold true.

Afore Solutions may be the first one able to fill that gap. Having witnessed their Advanced Service Edge (ASE) product in action at last year's VMWorld, I was impressed with their ability to extend layer 2 services across extremely long distances for an extremely reasonable price. Since then they have taken that functionality, improved and bolstered it significantly, and are rolling out a virtual, software-only version of it at this year's VMWorld. Designated "CloudLink", this new product provides security, SLA management, and performance optimization for private or public clouds.

This may be a niche area but it is a critical one. Keep an eye on these guys.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Singularity (of Sorts)

While it may not be as dramatic as the end of the human era when machines become smarter than people and "wake up", a la Cyberdyne Systems, we have reached a minor milestone in personal technology. For several years, I have been saying that our phones would get bigger and our computers would get smaller (no, I don't think I'm the only one that has made that obvious prediction) and now we have the Dell Streak. The iPad came close but it doesn't have any native telephony capabilities (Thank goodness this is not a Windows Mobile device. Dell chose Android and while it will be interesting to see how Oracle's suit against Google for allegedly violating Java copyrights will turn out, I think that is a great long-term strategy).

As Mr. Mossberg points out, the Streak is a "tweener" device, either a tiny tablet or a jumbo smart-phone. What the Streak gives up to the iPad is screen-size, which begs the question, "How big is too big?" We love our big-screen TVs and our 20"+ computer monitors, but we don't want to carry them around. And, aside from the initial cool-factor of being seen at the coffee shop with an iPad in your lap and a steaming latte on the table next to you, how long will this foray into the tablet-world last? The reality is, people will want bigger screens but they won't want to carry them around.

The next move will be toward personal heads-up devices (HUDs) and while I don't think this model solves the problem, there are some interesting things happening with much smaller form factors. Of course, that is also the next step in the devolution of social interaction. It's bad enough that we see people talking and don't realize they have a small blue-tooth earpiece in. Imagine having someone looking at you with their eyes darting all around, a visual shakedown, only to realize later that they were reading the news on their contact lens-based HUD.

I expect Oakley to develop a very stylish HUD that will also incorporate wireless connectivity and that will be the one people scoop up (after all, the problem with contact lens HUDs is getting the cable from the lens to the wireless radio!).

Don't get me wrong, I love technology and all of the things it has and will continue to provide. The problem is with how we use it. At that point, we will have moved even closer to the William Gibson view of the cyberpunk future, one in which we are able to "jack in" to a virtual reality that is more appealing than our physical one. No, our greatest threat is not that the machines will become aware and take over the world; our greatest threat is that we will become so "hooked" on them, that there will be no separation or identification of us without them. That is the singularity that should concern us.