Crowdfunding again: a personal request

Readers will remember I’ve blogged in the past about crowdfunding with the headline “Not just for geeks”. I’ve contributed myself to a couple of things: a board game based on the history of Oxford, and an early music opera (La Liberazione de Ruggiero …) which was triumphantly presented recently at this year’s Brighton Early Music Festival to stunning reviews.

Now a new one, and this time I’m asking for your help. Since I did my own university research, decades ago now, the funding system has changed out of recognition and it can be near impossible to find a scholarship or a fellowship or simply money to fund the laboratory costs of worthwhile research. Not least because the utilitarian view of science prevails in the public purse and there’s a strong bias away from primary research. If there isn’t a directly marketable product at the end of the process ( what was called near-market work when I was involved in European Community IT projects), forget it!

In medical research, there is arguably no more important issue than the increasing prevalence of obesity and its frequent consequence, diabetes. It isn’t just a lifestyle issue, though in some cases it can be. Prevention and control currently rest on expensive drug treatments or highly invasive surgical intervention. But the body may have its own mechanism built in, if we can figure out how to activate it.

This is where I run off the end of my understanding as a non-medic (albeit one who worked in pharmaceuticals for many years). We have two kinds of fat: white fat stores energy, but brown fat consumes it. If the brown fat mechanisms can be successfully activated, a new and effective treatment is on the cards. But this is primary research, not near-market work.

My son James Law, who is a senior Registrar in the Nottingham NHS and a member of staff at Nottingham University, working in the Queen’s Medical Centre, is undertaking research in this area. He needs your involvement through crowdfunding. Please visit the link to his own pages, and help if you can.

• Crowdfunding: not just for geeks. Help Free Ruggiero. ITasITis, 21 Nov 2014
• Ruggiero reviews: see Brighton Early Music on Facebook
• Click here to participate: Activating brown fat to improve diabetes and obesity, James Law & Michael Symonds, on

Technology management: Ovum’s perspective at BCS

Being much less active these days, and more remote from the capital, it’s rarely that I get to London for professional events. But I was in town this week for a BCS Elite/North London Branch event. It was wet and dismal when I arrived, just to remind me what London can be like …

The event was a presentation (Climbing Technology Mountains – A Practical Guide) by a couple of senior Ovum analysts giving their perspective on technology management in today’s business environment. Tim Jennings, who presented first, used to be Research Director at Butler Group before its acquisition by Data Monitor in 2005 and eventual transition to become Ovum’s analyst research group. Ovum now advertises itself as part of the Business Intelligence Division of Informa PLC, following a merger last year; there have been several evolutions since the Data Monitor acquisition!

As former Butler client, I was pleased to re-encounter Tim; he is now Chief Research Officer at Ovum. His presentation focussed on the strategic approach to today’s technology challenges (“Making headway with digital innovation & transformation”) with a mountaineering preamble and theme. The main headilines included: transforming IT capability; modernizing legacy systems; building the modern workplace; managing security, identity and privacy; adopting cloud services (at least in a hybrid model); connecting the physical world (the “Internet of Things”); exploiting business information; and enhancing the customer experience.

Most of the ideas were (dare I say) long familiar. But there are newer concepts coming through: the recognition of DevOps as well as agile to promote fast-moving adaptation; and a view on how far the Internet of Things is now reaching – not just into transport, logistics and retail but, for example, in healthcare and beyond. Big Data too is reaching a stage of maturity where it’s no longer about development and implementation but about exploitation in the hands of the end user through advanced desktop tools. But well-discussed challenges are still around: the role of what’s become known as “Shadow IT”, for example; the right architecture for hybrid cloud; the challenges of SaaS, as it empowers users but, by that very fact, works against attempts to simplify the application portfolio; giving workers the appropriate level of control of their own technology (whether through BYOD or other means); and recognising that IT transformation at scale is problematic. Though when an audience member reflected on the corporate challenge inherent in upgrading hundreds (or thousands) of desktop Windows machines, the response was “Yes, but Microsoft has just upgraded 40 million over the Internet”. The problem is corporate IT’s tendency to customise and lock down; maybe this finally has to go, so that auto-update can be allowed to just work. Vanilla is cheaper!

Perhaps the most interesting and newest concept in the discussion was that of the role of identity and identity management. Identifying the individual (and perhaps not just the individual user/customer/vendor/regulator person in all their roles, but also the individual device on the edge of the network) is both a key challenge and a significant enabler if it can be handled right. This topic was subsumed into security and attack/response strategies but it shouldn’t be: it’s perhaps one of the most crucial. This apart, by and large the impression was that the issues which were live when I was myself working directly in enterprise IT (which is now several years ago) are still the principal themes of analyst thinking. Despite the urgency we used to attach to issues such as BYOD, the “open enterprise”, SaaS or cloud services it seems life has not moved on that fast if Ovum are accurately reflecting their clients’ issues.

Richard Edwards, a Principal Research Analyst, followed up with a focus on knowledge workers and how to “re-platform” them. Some interesting discussion on what makes a knowledge worker; one of the key characteristics is a desire for autonomy (“knowledge workers often gear their workspace towards better individual business outcomes, albeit not necessarily with the blessing of management or line-of-business”). If the provided tools don’t get the job done, we knowledge workers have always found work-arounds, using our own technology if need be. There’s a trade-off therefore, between providing us with the flexibility to work the way we choose and managing the real issues of security, regulatory environments and backup. In the end, though, for any enterprise it is global disruption rather than corporate strategy which shapes the way we work (“If change is happening faster on the outside than on the inside, then the end nigh”).

Richard commented that the tools (and methods, I guess) used by knowledge workers shape the products and processes of their enterprise. This may be a surprise. For me, these elements of the discussion were the most rewarding part of the evening.

Also it was good to see Ovum Research in action. Ovum’s research output remains hidden entirely behind its paywall, which not even Gartner does these days, so opportunities are few; but you can download their research agenda from their home page.

• Climbing Technology Mountains, BCS event, 16 Sep 2015 (content may be added later)
• Ovum research for buyers (enterprise CIOs)

CSC to split: where will Leading Edge Forum end up?

It’s a couple of weeks since the news broke about Computer Science Corporation (CSC), which announced its intention to restructure into two separated companies. One will focus on global IT advice and consultancy for commercial non-US clients; the other, on US government institutions. It’s the governmental work, with its contract restrictions, which has held back the commercial work as I understand it. So the commercial side should be set for development and the government work, perhaps, even for acquisition.

From the Insight Services perspective, the question is what will happen to the unique offering which CSC’s Leading Edge Forum (LEF) makes to Fortune 500 and other high profile enterprises. LEF is the internal, quasi-independent research arm of CSC’s consultancy business. It both offers the results of its work to a select group of high profile clients, and takes their perspectives back to augment its value to CSC.

As an insight provider, it offers two distinct, unique elements. First, its target is not “best practice”: no disrespect to other insight providers, because best practice is a valuable insight so long as you treat it with proper caution. LEF looks for “next practice”: what is at the leading edge (hence its name!), which is not best practice because it may not yet be fully developed. Only early adopters are interested: those whose risk appetite enables them to take risks with technology, or management insights, which are not yet fully developed.

And that hangs off the second unique element: LEF’s link with business schools, new technologies and academic insight. LEF’s study tours (what I, as a former earth scientist, used to call “field trips”) are legendary among those who have shared them. It was a LEF study tour in Silicon Valley which convinced me of the benefit of LinkedIn, when we visited the then start-up company; it was the same tour which furnished my profile photo taken on the Google campus, before Google began to court corporate business and started to meet us in ordinary meeting rooms and in suits! It was the same tour which took us to Six Apart (who led the move to what we now recognise as blogging); introduced us to Amazon Web Services in their infancy; and, equally, showed us what Microsoft, and Cisco, and HP were doing at their own leading edges.

A contact reassures me that LEF is still going strong, and still working on what is now the emerging edge of technology, of technology management, and of technology-led management. I still operate on the insights gained from my time as a client: not, now, the specific technologies (it was several years ago) but the approach to their assessment, adoption and exploitation. It was LEF (yes, it was) that first described the trend to consumerisation and their approach for corporate IT – to trust the user, recognise the users’ expertise, and build on the users’ insights – are still out on a limb in many enterprises. LEF’s strapline now is “Advantage through insight”; the only provider I know who actually recognises that their role is to provide insight, rather than “research” or “advisory” service.

What’s also interesting is that LEF now has a new website which doesn’t carry CSC branding. The URL is now just, no longer (which still exists, but is redirected). “About Us” will tell you about their place in CSC, if you go looking, but there appears to be, at the least, an extra distance in what has always been an arm’s length relationship with the parent. Watch this space: not in the immediate future, perhaps, but in the medium term. Good luck to them!

• CSC announces plan to separate into two independent, publicly traded, companies, CSC news release, 19 May 2015
• Leading Edge Forum

Corporate Executive Board – now just “CEB”

Corporate Executive Board is a family of executive-level and senior management insight services extenbding across corporate IT and into major corporate functions (sales, finance, legal and so on). In the last several years (since 2012) it has presented itself as “CEB” rather than “Corporate Executive Board”. The parent company has now renamed itself accordingly, following the trend in recent years to name companies just by initials rather than by the meaningful name they were derived from. CEB doesn’t now seem to refer to its executive councils as Executive Boards; they have become Leadership Councils, and there is perhaps more focus on IT teams other than at executive level.

Oddly enough, though, they haven’t made the change online. Although the press release cites the corporate website as “”, this still switches to the old “” rather than vice versa.

The shape of the CEB offering is somewhat different from that of which I used to be a client. Looking at the IT portfolio, there are Leadership Councils which encompass CIO, Applications, Enterprise Architecture, Information Risk, Infrastructure, PMO and Midsized Companies. There is a Learning and Development section: IT Leadership; Business Analysis; Prokect Management; Risk Management; and Service Management. And there are an IT Roadmap Builder tool and IT Talent Assessment support.

There has  been some shift, in the recent years, from the Executive Board model of researched sharing in whichinformation is solicited from members, organised, and published back to the membership. A CEB strategy paper would previously comprise tools and insights attributed to the members who contributed them; and this was a key part of its value. On a sample of one, the IT Roadmap white paper, this no longer appears to be the case. The delivery model is no longer differentiated from that of the major players (Gartner et al) and has reverted to being analyst-delivered.

There is, however, now more open-access content than previously. It was never the case that, as a non-subscriber, I could download a whitepaper as I have just done. There are also now a collection of blogs, and an analysis of these may follow in a future post.

Corporate Executive Board has been evolving. Keep an eye on its space.

• The Corporate Executive Board Company Now “CEB Inc.”, CEB press release, 27 May 2015
• Corporate Executive Board (linked as CEB Global; watch whether this link continues to reset back to
• CEB Blogs

On news, social media and responsibility

The Guardian this morning is published under a new editor. Katharine Viner takes over from Alan Rusbridger, and she takes charge of an institution which is very different from the one Rusbridger inherited from Peter Preston in 1995.

Rusbridger yesterday published a farewell to his readers: now no longer just readers, but also both members and contributors to the conversations which The Guardian facilitates. In the internet age, some papers instituted paywalls: Rusbridger cites Murdoch’s Times, which claims around 280,000 daily readers. The Guardian took the opposite stance, opening up its content to an international readership. It is now the second most widely read online Enlish-language news “paper” worldwide: around seven million people read it online. For myself, I still subscribe to the paper edition: but the smartphone app has taken over from the website as my preferred means of access when, as recently, I am overseas. Even the BBC is not so accessible from abroad.

But the point of this post is to encourage you to read Rusbridger’s farewell in its entirety (and it’s quite long). It contains thoughtful, stimulating analysis of issues such as the place of the social web in interactive journalism – bringing forth a new role, combining journalism with the skill of forum moderation. There’s the continuing role of ethical reporting in holding people to account (including, as seen recently, its own industry peers). Illustrating the trend to online, there’s a comment that the new presses, bought when the paper changed format, were “likely to be the last we ever bought”.

He recalls The Guardian‘s first website, which “didn’t fall into the trap of simply replicating online what we did in print”; in my own career I led my company’s strategy towards the Internet and the emergent World-Wide Web, and I recognise these issues. In due course the paper has developed its interactive model, opening up for response and comment from its online readership as an important part of continuous publishing.

Wikileaks, the phone hacking scandals, Edward Snowden and more; recognition, through the Pulitzer Prize; and successes such as the curtailment of News Corporation’s monopolistic ambtions and, more recently, that the US “phone dragnet hat had secretly violated the privacy of millions of Americans every day since October 2001” has been shut down. Interesting sideline: the link to this in Rusbridger’s article is null, and I couldn’t find a recent news article but, in the interactive Comment is Free section, there’s a discussion from the American Civil Liberties Union dating from April 2014.

I’ve scratched the surface. For those of us looking at the ethics as well as the potential of information creation and sharing – and we are all publishers now – Rusbridger’s farewell should be required reading.

• ‘Farewell, readers’: Alan Rusbridger on leaving the Guardian after two decades at the helm, The Guardian, 29 May 2015
• Obama is cancelling the NSA dragnet. So why did all three branches sign off? Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union, in Comment is Free, The Guardian, 25 March 2014
• other references in the articles

Persistent data; non-existent object

We’ve just returned from a short trip overseas. Mostly holiday, and re-making some old acquaintanceships, but at the event which was the trigger for the visit one of those acquaintances mentioned the persistence of an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).

It seems that, some years ago, our friend was writing a textbook (his field is astrophysics) with a publisher’s contract, deadlines and so on when he was pre-empted by a couple of other authors. Realising there would be no benefit in continuing (no personal pride there!) he agreed with his publisher to abort the project and the volume was never completed, let alone published.

However, an ISBN had been obtained for the putative title. And it proved impossible to get the issue of this ISBN rescinded. So out there, it appears, there is an ISBN for a book which does not exist, has never existed, and never will exist.

I should note that the obvious easy searches have not turned up the rogue volume; but what price the persistence of data?

Nepal: an IT response

As well as the straightforward humanitarian agencies involved in relief following the now twin earthquakes in Nepal, this morning’s inbox alerted me to another important effort.

I’ve used Mapbox, in tandem with Google Maps, to provide the venues map for the Brighton Early Music Festival. Google Maps got a lot more complex at the last upgrade, and the development interface even for a simple published map is not so easy or friendly. Mapbox can import output from a Google map (which was my starter) and creates, to my mind, a simpler and clearer map with a more useful marker capability: the flags on the map can be numbered or lettered at will (where Google’s can only be in a simple sequence), to link to a list published alongside. With this map linked to a stand-alone Google map which provides the usual directions, search nearby and so on, I think our concert-goers have the best of both worlds.

Mapbox, or Open Street Map, is an open source project. Today’s email flagged up its role in providing fast-response mapping for disasters such as Nepal. The email tells me:

Within just hours of the earthquake in Nepal the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) rallied the OpenStreetMap community. Over 2,000 mappers quadrupled road mileage and added 30% more buildings. We designed print maps to aid post-earthquake relief efforts, chronicled satellite imagery collection over the area, and used Turf.js to identify the hardest-hit buildings and roads.

This is the strength of Open Source as a community effort. It can mobilise people for this kind of task on a scale that a commercial organisation cannot. You don’t have to be in Nepal; the work is to digitise satellite imagery, and the Nepal project wiki can get anyone established in the team.

Oh, and of course the resources (particularly servers and software) come under strain. So if you are not minded to donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee or one of its agencies, perhaps you can contribute time or a donation to support OSM’s Humanitarian OSM Team in this work.

• 2015 Nepal Earthquake page from the Open Street Map wiki
• BREMF venues (Mapbox embedded map, with link to Google) for Brighton Early Music Festival
• Mapbox and OpenStreetMap
Why I hate the new Google Maps, ITasITis, 17 Apr 2014