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

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Beyond gmail: Google apps event with BCS

I’m at a BCS North London event at Google’s London office, listening to presenters from the AppsBroker consultancy extend my understanding of how Google Apps work. We’ve passed through the background stuff about using cloud apps in general and now getting to the meat. If you’ve wondered, like me, what Google APIs can really do, then this is an as-it-goes posting; watch the space! Any errors in understanding or interpretation are mine, of course.

How to write a Google-extended app …

1 – Appscript; 2 – Gadget APIs; s – Data APIs

1: Appscript = Javascript extended. Primarily for spreadsheets plus elements such as contacts, calendar, finance, sites, docs list, maps (some of these are in Labs).

Just seeing the down side of everything being online rather than on the device; the demo’s gone down through being unconnected. Notwithstanding that I’m doing this on Google’s guest network,, the demo doc is, it appears, “offline”. Embarrassing, even when the demo’s working on a ChromeBook, which admittedly does reboot nice and quickly!

When it’s come back, we get a quick view of the script code inserted into a Spreadsheet to quickly create a form with follow-on technology such as mail-outs based on the respondent’s input, or sending update notifications when an online document is changed.

2: Data APIs, based on REST rather than SOAP (HTML based, IIRC, but can use other languages eg. Java/script .NET, …). Can for example use Data APIs to push data into a shared spreadsheet in real time from multiple users/locations/sources, but maintaining one version of truth.

3: Gadget APIs: simple HTML/Javascript to extend gadgets. Example shown: a smart reschedule for a shared meeting. Looks a lot like the calendaring that Lotus Notes has done for years!

Google App Engine and Cloud Storage will have a >99.9% SLA from November. Cloud SQL (see Google Blog last week) is under beta.

— adding to the interest level, we just had a fire evacuation and a quick tour of Eccleston Square with the fire marshals. Now trickling back – at least, most of us. I think some people have decided to duck out.

In the pipeline: Google Big Query: online dataset analysis – data mining/BI application. And something called the Google Periodic Table (there’s an extra column in the Transition Metal section …) which visualises the family of applications and extensions. Prediction, for example, can look at web traffic and draw interesting conclusions. Lots of searches on “sore throat” might signal the start of a flu epidemic.

Abbreviated in response to the disruption: Dalim, chair of the Branch, talking about governance. What changes with the cloud? Some of the controls e.g. for change management; assurance from third parties, and provider management; identity and access management (d0 you still have super users?) and monitoring; evolving technology, complexity and challenges. Dalim offers an app assurance checklist [see BCS NLB website in due course].

Q&A … references to Google’s global infrastructure capability; e.g. guaranteeing at least four copies of data on different continents (that is, replication like Lotus Notes used to do). Regarding data protection issues – Google can’t at present commit to (for example) segregating data into the EU though this is being worked on. The offering currently may not be appropriate for heavily regulated in-country enterprises e.g. some areas of government, finance. Google, though, takes the approach that they are not data owners; they are data holders, and would pass access requests to the data owners. And there are data online about which countries request legal discovery, how often, and when. From the security point of view, just a glimpse of the multiple levels of protection applied to data.

Thinking about a portfolio of services: Google Apps will integrate both on-premise (e.g. with AD) and other cloud services (e.g. a strategic partnership with salesforce.com). And there’s a commitment to back data out if a service relationship is terminated. Cloud, to Google, is short term contractable (e.g. 12 month; or a little as 1 month) – no lock-in.

Links:
• Google Apps (follow the links)
• Google App Engine, Cloud Storage and Prediction API are open for business, Official Google Blog, 11 Oct 2011
• BCS North London Branch: Past Events 2011 (you may have to scroll for this event; presentations are not yet posted but are expected)
• AppsBroker consultancy

Gartner webinar: Cloud Strategies for Portals, Content, & Collaboration Projects

My second webinar report today features a free Gartner seminar from Jeffrey Mann, who I knew well in his META Group days as a great application analyst. The topic isn’t “what’s available” but “how do you make decisions”: potentially much more useful.

First, he’s talking about Cloud for absorbing capacity demand peaks: the right definition. But, as he points out: the high-end integration requirements of a portal don’t necessarily suit well to Cloud infrastructure. Security and confidentiality play as issues too.

Compared to my post last week, Gartner’s definition of Cloud matches in most elements but I included easy sign up without long term commitments. This matches the use case for absorbing capacity peaks, but for longer-term critical business functions (running your sales on salesforce.com, for example) most consumers will want some longer term assurance.

Gartner also add to the established model of System (or Infrastructure), Platform and Application as a Service: two further levels. Information (e.g. a Reuter’s feed), and Business Services. The shift in provision focus is from “capacity” to “capability”, and evaluation is outcomes based. I like that.

Jeff “gets nervous” if cost saving is the only reason clients are moving to cloud services; cost reduction may be part of the outcome, but there are hidden costs (e.g. increased network capacity) and many disappointments. “Disconnect price from cost … reconnect price to value.”

And, perhaps closer to the meat of the theme: “Portals … will follow … The greater portal opportunity [for Cloud] lies largely with B2B” – strikingly close to Mark Benioff’s Cloudforce message I was listening to earlier. More on that later.

Early Cloud deployment: look for something that will work with the vanilla service (“out of the box” requirement). And it’s easier to start greenfield than migrating from on-premises services. Complexity (e.g. customisations) mitigate against migration.

Jeff showed a self-assessment chart for issues such as data, compliance, policies and failure remediation – how complex is getting going again after a stop? Even with due diligence, it comes down to trust – usually lower for a pure-cloud solution. Users often prefer to be in control even of functions and processes they are not so good at.

What about best practices? Half a dozen use cases, for example capacity on demand (such as hiring lots of extra staff for a short time, I guess like Christmas postal deliveries) – Jeff calls this “Cloudbursting”. I’ve heard a presentation of this being done around a massive weekly sales promotion that, on its first outing, unexpectedly and grossly overloaded the company’s normal web servers. Cloud to the rescue!

Other use cases include: providing lower-end capabilities to segments of the staff population, such as floor staff in a store; secure extranets in an isolated environment (e.g. in M&A or restructuring when information needs to be kept confidential to a subset of staff but in more than one enterprise); or “splitting the stack”. Jeff proposes a small handful of hard-headed questions to help evaluate whether cost will really be saved (bearing in mind that he asserts that cost saving shouldn’t be the only target for a Cloud move). You must be able to identify where cost savings will come from, they’re not automatic!

And do, first, hold a mirror to your entire company and ask if – culturally – the enterprise is ready to make this kind of change (it’s trust, again, but legal issues such as e-discovery may be highly relevant here). Then be sure you understand why: examples might include flexibility, cost, being more easily current to latest software versions, reduced internal resource requirements, and so on. And you must have defined measures for a pilot to judge whether to move on.

In this, recognise the many constituencies in the business with different needs and expectations: not a new idea, but a useful categorisation of business interests on the chart. Think how to get them involved.

Gartner does expect that in the next few years all organisations will have some level of Cloud service: complete (few), or mixed (most).

In the brief Q&A, the issue of recent high profile outages (e.g. on Office 365 for some customers) was raised. Jeff’s view is to keep it in perspective: compare with internal capability, not with the ideal of zero outage.

I raised a question based on listening to Mark Benioff earlier. That presentation was put out via Facebook, and Benioff was strongly promoting “social technology” as the communication and collaboration platform of the future. As an analyst, Jeff sees very few innovations which totally replace what came before, and believes this will be a case in point. So social technologies are, indeed, very important; but the older platforms won’t go away.

Congratulations for Jeff for going beyond the technology of Cloud, and the (perhaps hyped) potential. This was a good counterbalance to Mark Benioff’s evangelistic case, and confirms that Jeff has lost none of his edge since last time I had the chance to interact with him!

Links:
• Cloud Strategies for Portals, Content, & Collaboration Projects, Gartner webinar, 14 Sep 2011, replay (link to be added when available) – in the meantime see Gartner Webinars
• Mark Benioff at Cloudforce London, ITasITis, 14 Sep 2011

Mark Benioff at Cloudforce London

I’ve joined the online Cloudforce webcast to view Mark Benioff’s keynote. I’m not able to stay online for the whole two hours, but this is notes as far as I can go.

Benioff has pitched that a new revolution has happened: the role that social technology plays and the depth of its integration into society as a whole has changed in the last year. Interestingly, the broadcast is via Facebook, not one of the established Web Meeting platforms. No registration. Just “Like” the page to join the broadcast. And Twitter feeds for the speakers linked on the page at the time they’re on stage (not when they’re off). We’ll come back to that point.

In the preliminaries at the point I joined, a key point from the JP Ramaswami: businesses need to value relationships not just customers. And now there is an enormous quantity of real data, cheap to collect, to back up research into online interactions. The emphasis being on learning and understanding what makes relationships really work.

A black screen while the broadcast switches to “Cloudforce London”. And a marketing video, pushing Salesforce Chatter but showcasing (at a headline level) how Salesforce is supporting a host of responsive apps to provide customers of banks, cars, coffee shops and more with immediate useful information. Where’s my nearest ATM? What’s my car’s engine temperature? And so on.

Here’s Benioff. A paean of praise to Thomas Watson, Ken Olson and Michael Dell – guess which one is billed as a speaker? – also Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. But the theme is a new area of innovation, and the mix and impact of social technology into society is (he believes) new.

He cited the Arab Spring, which is certainly the current high profile example: not “hard power” or “soft power” but “social power”. And he asks: is there going to be a “Corporate Spring” with the end of in-enterprise dictatorships in a similar paradigm?

People have to respond. There are now more social network users than email, and very nearly Facebook (and Twiter) *is* the Web. And people use mobile apps (smartphones, iPad) more than web browsers; the laptop is out of date for on-the-move information access. The current Forbes cover headlines: Social Power and the coming Corporate Revolution.

Moving into the message for business, he asks for (1) next generation social profiling for customers: they are, after all, on Facebook, Twitter, and wherever else. Then (2) create an employee social network and enable staff to use this information. Returning to this, Benioff talks about creating (a few years back) an internal Facebook-alike which, crucially, is integrated with their main platform. Salesforce Chatter is now available to customers, and is going through a major upgrade, sue in a couple of weeks: presence added to IM, connection to other networks, filters, workflow (approvals).  Customer groups (sounds a bit like Google Plus circles) extend the concept to external customers, including file sharing and all sorts of other things; it sounds like some major education will be needed to establish who can share what, and who can commit the company to what.

(3) I intially missed as I had to step out of the room: develop the next generation sales cloud. Benioff highlighted Groupon as a fast growing company; I’m not yet clear whether this means Salesforce is integrating Groupon. And then data.com helping keep up to date as people change their facebook profiles, Twitter handles and so on.

I’d comment, though, that on my first business flight to California – twenty years ago – they were clearly already thinking that way although the information available was less. On my return flight there were some of the same crew as I’d had outbound. I’d swear I was remembered. And although the practical guess is that they’d “just” checked the database, the point is that they had done so. It’s not “just”.

I hade to drop off the broadcast. On return, the webcast is towards the end of an extended case study of Toyota’s new Toyota Friend network which provides easy information about a car’s status, problems, service schedule, and so on – with the dealer able to schedule an appointment and communicate through the network. Not that any of this information hasn’t been available before; what’s added is the integration into a social framework (and, of course, driven by Salesforce).

I’ll see if I can catch up later, and tidy up some of this information – with a link to the recording if possible, but otherwise have a look at the US Dreamforce keynote. Perhaps the key point, if you take Benioff’s point about the rapid and revolutionary integration of social technologies, is that Salesforce is not only preaching the “social enterprise”; it’s becoming one, and the use of Facebook and Twitter explicitly to support this event is part of it.

Links:
• Salesforce Chatter
• Keynote from Dreamforce in the US
• Groupon
• data.com
• Toyota Friend: Salesforce.com and Toyota Form Strategic Alliance to Build ‘Toyota Friend’ …, Toyota US Press Release, 23 May 2011; and Twitter feed (protected for approved members only)

“Cloud” has become a FUD word

A LinkedIn post flagged me to a Forbes report about a spat between Mark Benioff (that’s salesforce.com to you and me) and Larry Ellison (Oracle). About the definition, or the understanding, of Cloud.

Well, the first interesting thing about the report is that it’s not in some tech geek publication. It’s in Forbes, which rich people read. If ever there was a candidate for airline management’s key publication, it could be this one. It does rather confirm, doesn’t it, that Cloud (we used to say Cloud Computing) is mainstream business news.

And the second thing is that it confirms, as we already knew, that Cloud has become one of those Humpty Dumpty words. You know: When I use a word (said Humpty Dumpty to Lewis Carroll’s Alice) it means exactly what I tell it to mean, neither more nor less. It’s happened in every IT generation. Working backwards, we certainly include Grid, we include “e” (as a prefix, such as “eServerFarms”), and we probably include client-server. And more, I’m sure.

As an adviser, facilitator and consultant I need to understand what people are thinking when they say “Cloud”, and it can be a lot of things these days. It’s my perception (and I’m by no means alone) that a lot of what’s marketed as Cloud today is one of:
• old-fashioned hardware-based outsourcing to a remote data centre
• web services
• some newer form of outsourcing
always with long term contracts, fixed prices, security, and and and …

We can do better. But first, there are a couple of things Cloud doesn’t need to be.

It doesn’t have to be “cheap”. This is a benefit in many cases, but not a fundamental. And in any case it’s relative: a service used for a short period may be expensive per unit, but still cheaper overall than provisioning your own “stuff” which you have to lay in for the long term. A comparison: taxi fares aren’t “cheap”, but if you don’t need permanent access to your own car then occasional taxis have the edge over the long term capital and recurrent costs of running one. But the key point is: no payment in advance, no commitment to spend levels, no true-up.

And it needn’t be “public”. I’m perfectly happy to include what are called “private cloud” services in the definition, so long as they are still true Cloud by the criteria below. But the key point here is: Cloud is not just a new word for a conventionally provisioned in-house data centre.

Many, many service vendors are rebranding their outsourced or managed services as “Cloud” to cash in on the hype. There’s a massive overlap between what we consider “virtualised” and what we consider “Cloud”. And service buyers are adding to this by insisting that cloud services must be as secure, stable and long-term an investment as any other outsourcing deal. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt ride again.

Some (many) years ago, I was part of the team operating a then-new ICL 2980 for London University. The “V” in “VME/B” stood for “Virtual” and we had to learn (and explain to the users) the differences of a virtualised system and the advantages it could offer in the way they approached its use. Yes, this was the totally modern 1980s. Other operating systems were “going virtual” too, and one of the trade papers (I think it was Computer Weekly) ran a definition I’ve always remembered:
If it’s there, and you can see it: it’s REAL
If it’s there, and you CAN’T see it: it’s TRANSPARENT
If it’s NOT there, and you CAN see it: it’s VIRTUAL
If it’s NOT there, and you CAN’T see it: it’s GONE.
I think we add one more:
If it’s NOT there until you WANT it: it’s CLOUD.

And here are my criteria for a service to be called Cloud:

• accessed over the network using Internet protocols
• available immediately on demand
• de-provisioned immediately after use
• easy sign-up
• no long term commitment to the service provider …
• … nor by the provider to the customer
• payment strictly by usage metering
• payment after the fact, not in advance
• as near infinitely flexible capacity as can be

Links:
• Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff Just Can’t Agree: What Is the Cloud? Forbes, 6 Sep 2011
• ICL VME, Wikipedia

Categorising knowledge: beyond phone numbers.

Cody Burke, of Basex, blogged recently on “Overload Stories” about problems caused by the process I might call mechanisation of knowledge. Here’s his scenario:

Your cell phone runs out of battery power, and you need to make a call.  A friend graciously offers to let you use his phone, but as you attempt to make the call you realize that you have no idea what the actual number is of the person you are trying to reach.  Now flash back 15 years and try again.  Odds are you would have had much better luck, because you would have had to memorize that number, instead of relying on the contact list in your phone.

Well I’m not sure. Fifteen years ago you’d certainly have had a handful of numbers you remembered, but the rest of those you wanted to have handy would have been in your address book. If you left that behind, you’d have been in exactly the same trouble. And for wider contacts, I had shelf space for a whole row of phone books.

Burke refers to an academic study testing knowledge retention, discussing and updating the concept of “transactive memory”. If I’ve understood it correctly, this is the way that memory operates when the datum being remembered is connected to a working group or shared task (this isn’t quite the impression I got from Burke’s summary ; if the idea catches your attention, follow the link to the original paper).

ITasITis always goes back to the original sources. Sparrow, Liu and Wegner, writing in Science, define transactive memory thus:

In any long term relationship, a team work environment, or other ongoing group, people typically develop a group or transactive memory [my italics], a combination of memory stores held directly by individuals and the memory stores they can access because they know someone who knows that information.

It’s murderously difficult to accurately summarise academic research, but this isn’t quite the impression I got from reading Burke’s summary. What’s interesting is Sparrow et al‘s conclusion: they believe their careful statistically-based investigation provides

preliminary evidence that when people expect information to remain continuously available (such as we expect with Internet access), we are more likely to remember where to find it than we are to remember the details of the item. One could argue that this is an adaptive use of memory – to include the computer and online search engines as an external memory system that can be accessed at will.

Cody Burke is fighting against the concept that we’re becoming internet zombies – as if, somehow, the provision of vast online repository capability removes our human ability to recall. On the contrary, he says: we capitalise on it. There is “a natural (and uniquely) human tendency to learn where information resides and leverage that knowledge to be more effective”.

Or as Sparrow et al put it:

“people forget items they think will be available externally, and remember items they think will not be available … [They] seem better able to remember which computer folder an item has been stored in than the identity of the item itself … We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools … [We] remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found”.

Two comments. When I was a student (we had computers, but not databases) I had a tutor who used to point to a row of folders on his book-case and say “There’s knowledge I know; and knowledge I know where to find”. Raymond Dwek predated Sparrow et al by some 45 years! And there was always, and still is, a third category: knowledge I know how to find. In the manual age this was the difference between referring to a specific article in a learned journal, and working through a whole range of likely sources to check for relevant information. Today, it’s the difference between a categorised index and a relatively unstructured search. I used Google Scholar to find the Sparrow et al article, by the way – I didn’t know where to find it, but I knew how.

Certainly, these days, we shift the content of those categories. Categorisation, whether it’s a database structure, email folders, or keyword search, expands “knowledge I know where to find” by providing new access routes. Search is about “knowledge I know how to find”. We may now not retain so many actual phone numbers in our heads, and may not even recall our own mobile number (after all, we never call our own phone!) but  it’s probably in the address book on our Google account or in iCloud. Information no longer lives in just one place.

And secondly: I don’t speak to a phone number. I speak to a person (or sometimes, to a service). The phone number isn’t information; it’s meta-information (so also, sometimes, is an email address). It’s the means to get to the item you really want, which is the person. And phone numbers were always artificial constructs; we’re gradually doing away with them. On my desk phone, my really-most-frequent contacts are stored by name. On Skype, or Twitter, or LinkedIn, or Facebook, you contact people by their name or some hash of it, or by some identifier they’ve chosen to describe themselves. Not “unable to remember phone numbers”; moving beyond their use!

Human beings are tool-users. In my first IT job I used to teach programming to postgraduate students (and others) and I always emphasised that the computer is a tool; it extends the power of the human brain in the same way that a crane, for example, extends the power of the human arm. We take advantage of new tools and concepts as they arrive; and our modern array of electronic tools are no different. But this research is a good reminder to be aware of how we are developing in our use of these tools, so that those whose responsibility is to develop the tools themselves can effectively support knowledge workers and facilitate their activities.

Links:
• Memory in the Age of the Internet – The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same? Cody Burke, Overload Stories, 21 Jul 2011
• Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Sparrow, B., Liu, J., & Wegner, D.M., Science, 14 July 2011: 1207745; published online [DOI:10.1126/science.1207745]
Google Effects on Memory: Interview with Betsy Sparrow: Science podcast, 15 Jul 2011
• How sweet to be iCloud, ITasITis, 16 Jun 2011

Total Economic Impact: a full case study

Forrester’s Total Economic Impact methodology has been around for some time now; Chip Gliedman and his colleagues must have trained many IT executives in its application, its models, and its succinct elevator business case (“We are doing X to make Y better, as measured by Z, which is worth $N to the company”).

But training, and the examples within the training course, only go so far. A note in one of my regular alerts led me to a full case study, commissioned from Forrester Consulting by Cisco. It’s a valuable read. It’s a fictitious case, of course (“Company A” style), but it goes right through the whole analysis, as well as including a summary of the methodology itself

Cisco wanted to illustrate the case for their “Borderless Networks” technology. I’ve long been a believer in this methodology, not least because it captures opportunity costs and benefits, and puts cash value on risk. So it’s interesting that Cisco chose TEI as the vehicle to make this case.

Read it if:
• you want to know more about TEI than is available in Forrester’s summaries; you have to pay for the training course (or get access through a subscription)
• you know about TEI and want to see how a full evaluation works
• you’re looking at facilitating what Cisco describe as “secure, reliable, and seamless connectivity to any device, [to] any person, and in any location”

You’d need to research the Borderless Networks concept separately; this document is about the business case, and might well be useful independent of Cisco’s own technology.

Links:
• Total Economic Impact of Cisco Borderless Networks, Forrester Consulting, November 2010, available through Cisco website (no registration required)
• The Total Economic Impact Methodology: A Foundation For Sound Technology Investments, Chip Gliedman, Forrester Research, 4 Aug 2008 (subscriber access or purchase)
• Borderless Networks, Cisco overview