Lego as social media

Yes you did read that correctly.

I caught up, a day or two ago, on a programme put out on the BBC Culture Show on 4th March about Lego.

The programme comments on the characteristics of Lego. It charts its evolution from a very simple kit of highly standard basic blocks. Today’s typical box contains the parts for a specific model, which are no way generic: many of the individual parts are of use for that model and that one only.

But what caught my attention towards the end of the programme was the description of how Lego has been used to enable communities to contribute to their own architectural evolution.

Bjarke Ingels, a contemporary leading architect, has used Lego to design architecture from a standard kit of parts: but far more imaginatively than the square tower blocks of the 1960s.

More striking still was Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson whose Collectivity project took three tonnes of Lego to the citizens of Tirana, Albania in 2005. The bricks were just dumped in a heap in the town square and, within a short time, groups of people were creating, building, and re-imagining their city. The Lego acted as a medium through which they could express their ideas – not individually, but together. Not mentioned in the programme is that this is one of a range of similar projects; I’ve found others in Oslo (2011) and Copenhagen (2008).

At the end of the programme, there’s a move into actual social media and a look at Minecraft which, if you haven’t heard of it (I hadn’t!) is a cult computer game. Minecraft may be set to transform the cities of the future: like Tirana’s Lego, but in the virtual online world. It’s worth a look at the video on Minecraft’s home page. As Minecraft’s website says: “At first, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things”.

Isn’t that what our social media, at their best, aim to do? Not for people to create individually, for their own gratification, but to share and create together. And like early Lego, the best social platforms are the ones which offer a simple kit of parts from which sophisticated collaborative spaces can be created.

Links:
• Lego – The Building Blocks of Architecture: BBC, 4 Mar 2014. The programme itself is not available here; this is just a short outline. It is available on YouTube: I don’t know if this is a legit copy!
• Lego Towers project from the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), which showcases many projects on its website. Ingels comes into the programme about 15 minutes in.
• Collectivity Project from Olafur Eliasson. The Tirana project is covered in the programme from about 19 minutes.
The Collectivity Project (Olafur Eliasson), OpenIDEO (contribution by Anne Kjaer Riechert), 17 Nov 2011.
• Olafur Eliasson’s LEGO for public tower building 2008
, YouTube, 13 Oct 2008 (Copenhagen: linked from a comment to the OpenIDEO posting)
• Minecraft

Facebook at 10, Microsoft at 40

OK, a slight stretch for a snappy headline but these have been two lead stories in the last few days.

Others will comment with more depth and more knowledge than I can on either Facebook’s tenth anniversary or the appointment of Satya Nadella to succeed Steve Ballmer (and, of course, Bill Gates) at the head of Microsoft. But I was remembering, quite a while ago now, a META Group event in London when the Web was just arriving and disintermediation was a new word. The speaker took a look at the banking industry, with new on-line start-ups starting to eat the lunch of the established financial institutions.

The point was this. The new entrants invested, typically, in just two things: infrastructure, and software development. Existing players had institutional weight; they had enterprises to keep in existence with all the corporate overheads that accumulate over time. with shareholders and stockmarket expectations and dividends. They needed to cut costs to compete with the new lean players. And (doesn’t it still happen?) they would target the IT budget. So the area of investment which differentiated their new competitors was precisely where they were dis-investing.

Microsoft is fast approaching 40. It’s a solid, established player with corporate overheads, strategies, shareholders. Is it still as lean and sharp as the company which turned on a sixpence (a dime, if you’re American; a 5p piece for the youngsters) when it “got” the Internet and realised that MSN and AOL were not going to be where most of the traffic went. Enter Internet Explorer, competing with Netscape; and the rest is history.

Well … we can look at areas in the recent past where that hasn’t been repeated. Smartphones? a lot of Windows phones have been sold, but Android and iPhone are the big players and an Office 365 subscription gives access to Office mobile software on these platforms as well as Windows. But on the other hand: Office 365 is a good model, for both consumers and Microsoft, because it converts intermittent capital costs for what is still essential software into predictable operational costs. And while capital versus operational is the language of the enterprise, where Microsoft’s heart arguably is these days, the concept works for individual licences. There are undoubtedly challenges, but a CEO with an Indian background may have the right insight and vision to work round all that unavoidable corporate baggage.

What about Facebook? Facebook has got to the stage where it is acquiring the corporate baggage (shareholders and so on). It’s had to face up to public perception, particularly over issues like personal online security. Both companies now find themselves covered in the main news sections and financial pages, like any other corporation, rather than only in  geek-tech reporting. They’ve gone mainstream.

So Facebook has new competitors in the social media space, sharper and newly innovative where Facebook is unavoidably solidifying. Microsoft is in a stable, continuing enterprise market which it understands; it appears not to understand the consumer market so well. Facebook is in precisely that consumer market, although a lot of enterprises use it to communicate with their own consumers. It’s a fashion market. What’s coming next? and how can Mark Zuckerberg stay ahead of the game?

No links here; just a personal opinion, and you can find lots of links with some easy searching!

Digital Natives and security

I don’t normally post based on what I learn professionally in a Corporate IT Forum event, because we operate under Chatham House rules. But what follows is in the public domain and I’ve researched it without calling on any privileges.

In any discussion of collaborative working, you come up against the issue that younger people have a different take on using public tools and smart stuff than do those of us who were around as computers began to spread out beyond the finance department. Something that I remember smart people at Forrester Research beginning to highlight well over ten years ago, making the inference that younger potential employees will expect the use of these kind of tools: and may not want to work for organisations that lock them out.

Well, Generation Y is beginning to rise through the ranks; and the Millenials are coming along fast behind. So we can move beyond inference. And one of the things that distinguishes corporate work from what you can do with your own stuff at home is security. That is, protecting everything from the information resources you need to rely on to the endpoint devices and infrastructure. We see the willingness of our younger colleagues to open up on Facebook or the many more recently arrived tools. And we shake our grey heads and worry. But we maybe base our worries on what we think, rather than on what we actually know.

A group of (older) IT managers figured this, and brought together a group of “digital natives” working in security-conscious industries. They asked them how they would like to work in 2020. For an outline of the project, see a guest post by one of the group’s members, Colin Powers, just a week ago on Colin Robbins’ blog Once Upon a Camayoc. And, particularly, embedded in it is a video made by the group which you won’t find by searching. You can find more by searching Twitter for #UKCeB or #DN2020, and there is other material on YouTube too. The presentation was created using an online tool which has been around for a year or two: Prezi.

Links:
• Digital Natives: Secure Collaboration in Team Defence 2020, Colin Powers (guest post), Once Upon a Camayoc, 25 Jun 2013
UK Council for Electronic Business (UKCeB)
• Forrester Research: What Gen Y Really Thinks About Your IT Department, TJ Keitt, 1 Apr 2011 (it seems that Forrester has dropped reference to Generation Y in its more recent research). Access requires a full client account
Forrester Research, Create A Habitat Of Technology Engagement And Enablement For Your Workforce, C Voce and others, 10 May 2013. This report is available to free registered users and is linked to The Workforce Enablement Playbook
Prezi

Enterprise grade public cloud: IDC’s take

I’m on an AT&T webcast relating to public cloud infrastructure and its growth. Allow that this is primarly a US-focussed perspective. It’s AT&T sponsored, but delivered by IDC. It’s being recorded, and I’ll add the URL when it’s available.

Much of the underlying data comes from IDC’s winter 2012 CloudTrack Survey, with around 500 respondents. Five elements: the pace of change; deployment; networking; workloads; and next-generation solutions.

IDC refer to the “third platform”, not just second platform; and with spend growing nearly 12% per year compared to less than 1% for second platform. Third platform will account for almost 25% of this combined spend by 2020, and in the next three years spend on external services will grow to around an eighth of “traditional” IT spend. Over three quarters of North American companies are already using public cloud services.

There’s a useful categorisation of cloud deployment models, with names that speak for themselves. Self-run private or managed private; dedicated (externally) hosted or virtual private cloud; or public. Running across these are the decisions about on- or off-site, and dedicated or shared infrastructure. That eighth of spend shift over the next three years depends on these decisions.

Virtual-private cloud (VPC) has clout, through additional security and control, better connectivity into corporate networks, and more controlled SLAs but are built on public cloud infrastructure. AT&T believe shared services will command the lion’s share of the developing spend, although the split between dedicated and shared is more equal right now. This is what AT&T imply by “enterprise grade public cloud”.

Connectivity is crucial (remember, AT&T is a network company …) and there is an opportunity to connect VPC through an MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) high-availability cloud network rather than the public internet. Integration to the corporate network is close to seamless. IDC believe this option overcomes many enterprise objections to VPC cloud usage. And the CloudTrack survey suggests that any major workload coming up for reinvestment is at least going to be considered for cloud migration.

Noticeably, the workloads most likely to be moved are about the key elements of the “third platform”: social, big data (and analytics) and mobile. Where relevant, emerging markets also make a strong contribution to the importance of the third platform. Enterprises will need competencies across cloud and all these; they may not be tagged as cloud initiatives, but in these spaces cloud is crucial for developments to be effective, and those developments will be combinations of the four technology spaces. There’s a graphic for this; look in the webcast when it’s online (I’ll add the URL when it’s available).

On the half hour. Transition from the IDC analyst (Frank Gens, Senior Vice President and Chief Analyst) to Amy Machi, AT&T representative. This is a sales pitch for the combination of IBM’s Smart Cloud solution and AT&T’s VPN (NetBond), and you’ll get less notes. But with so much discussion about the limitations of service agreements with providers, it’s interesting that IBM trail over 70 auditable automated tasks available to clients, and cloud-based ITIL processes. Also, an important point is that AT&T will scale network capability in line with the demands on the scaleable cloud resource being claimed at IBM’s end of the wire. For anyone looking seriously at this version of the Cloud option, several case studies show the variation in possibilities.

Note, too, that at the present this is a US service and users need to be an AT&T customer. It will extend to Europe and Asia/Pacific relatively soon.

So: in response to questions, Frank Gens believes that investment in new capabilities will swamp legacy migration onto the third platform. And IT managers (VP/SVP) are coming to accept a reputable cloud service provider as having security at least as good as their own and possibly better, but the network has remained a vulnerability. With a managed MPLS network, rather than public infrastructure, these concerns are mitigating.

Tech trends for 2012: who thinks what?

It’s the time when insight services are awash with predictions for the coming year. I’ve been having a look or, where possible, a listen to a few.

Did you see a recent Forrester announcement? In line with their own recommendations, they’ve replaced the CIO post with a Chief Business Technology Officer. With hindsight I’m surprised it’s taken this long; “Not IT but BT” has been a Forrester theme for several years now.

Another place where I’ve seen the Business Technology tag used is in McKinsey‘s quarterly newsletter. Their Business Technology office has just reported their sixth annual technology survey. According to the newsletter, “executives say their companies are boosting IT spending and adopting new technology platforms to support innovation”. McKinsey see a significant challenge to IT: “Aspirations—and current expectations—for IT have never been higher”.

Here are a few other pointers.

IDC Insights believe the CIO’s 2012 agenda will be shaped around the “Four Forces” (Cloud, Mobile, Social, and Big Data). I’m registered on their webcast (10th Jan: free) to hear more. Yankee Group also offer a focus on mobility. Their focus is on the market for devices, but their research speaks also to the corporate buyer strategist when they see an even smartphone market between Android, iPhone and BlackBerry. Oddly, though, they refer to the Bring-Your-Own market but don’t have a focus on tablets. They do, though, see both personal Cloud services and HTML5 becoming important in the coming year.

Gartner, of course, have created their swathe of Predicts 2012 content. Of course, most of it is client-only access. But the front page of Predicts 2012 includes a 15-minute podcast from Darryl Plummer. He highlights the same four areas as IDC (except he says “Information” instead of “Big Data”). It’s worth listening to Darryl; he’s quite listenable-to.

Significantly, Gartner’s highlighted report for the IT community is titled “Gartner’s Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users, 2012 and Beyond: Control Slips Away“. You almost don’t need to read the report; but there’s a useful summary by Peter Galen at Infosec Update. Corporate control of users’ IT assets has been useful, but is now increasingly a myth. Seems like Gartner are saying that this year is the year it will reach tipping point. But, listening to Darryl speaking in this area, I did rather wonder “What took you so long?”

IBM, in their “5 in 5″ (five trends in five years) take the argument a step further and look beyond the WENA (western Europe/North America) corporate market. Thanks to Basex for the alert to this, but I’m not entirely clear that Basex is looking at the same report. Their focus on mobile devices is on the super-smart, not on the abolition of the digital divide. Worth a look, to lift your eyes beyond the immediate page.

Finally, Ray Wang (now at his own Constellation Research) highlights “10 Mega Business Trends To Watch For In 2012″.

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Perhaps the key one, for IT, is “Keep consumerisation of IT enterprise class”: in other words, ensure the right balance between enablement and discipline. Here’s a world class statement of the issue:  If IT is too strict, business fails. If business fails to have a level of discipline in technology adoption, IT can not keep up with the lack of standards and scale. Ray sets this in the context (and there’s a timechart) of the change from transaction to engagement as the basis for business. There are comments for innovators, and for those who are scared to innovate.

Happy New Year!

Links:
• Forrester Research Names First Chief Business Technology Officer, Forrester Press Release, 5 Oct 2011
• A rising role for IT: McKinsey Global Survey results, McKinsey Quarterly, Dec 2011
• IDC Insights 2012 Predictions: The CIO Agenda, IDC Insights, 4 Jan 2012, in IT Governance and Executive Strategies. For the webcast (10 Jan), the registration link is at the foot of the page.
• Register and download 2012 Mobility Predictions: A Year of Living Dangerously, Yankee Group , Dec 2011
• Predicts 2012: Gartner; summary at Infosec Island, Peter Galen, 3 Jan 2012
• IBM the next 5 in 5, see also Basex Tech Watch
• 10 Mega Business Trends To Watch For In 2012, Ray Wang, constellation

UK honours Apple’s designer

Don’t suppose it’ll make most of the headlines, but Jonathan Ive has been awarded a knighthood (KBE) in the UK’s New Year Honours list. Though my paper, the Guardian, in their online report, only refers to him as “designer of the iPhone, iPad and iPod”. Well, we know better!

For interest, the Guardian offers a fully accessible list of the honorands. I found a couple of CBEs for computer science professors (one at what’s now Queen Mary, University of London, where I started my IT career), and a couple of retired Civil Service IT directors, but otherwise remarkably little recognising the UK’s information science capability.

Interesting that, to publish this information, the Guardian has created a Google Docs spreadsheet. No point in inventing your own infrastructure when the cloud can do the job!

Links:
• New Year honours list reflects my aims for ‘big society’, says David Cameron, Guardian, 31 Dec 2011
• New Year’s Honours, 2012 …, Guardian datablog, 31 Dec 2011
• 2012 New Year Honours, Google Docs