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)

Location services move indoors: Apple’s iBeacon

An incidental headline in Outsell’s information market monitoring email brought my attention to Apple’s new iBeacon technology, announced last year.

We’ve long been used to the idea that the smart devices we carry around with us might/can detect nearby things of interest: for example, alerting us to an offer from a store nearby. Location services, based on GPS, on your current WiFi connection, or on triangulation from your mobile signal, do this. So can active RFID.

But indoor location is difficult. Current technology is an updated version of the old nautical dead reckoning. It notes where you are when you lose your accurate GPS/cellular/WiFi positioning, and uses motion sensors to track.

iBeacon is different. It’s a nearer-proximity application and is based on Bluetooth detection of your smartphone. Apple says: Instead of using latitude and longitude to define the location, iBeacon uses a Bluetooth low energy signal, which iOS devices detect. So you need Bluetooth turned on as well as having an appropriate app loaded. This leaves you a modicum of control, I guess.

What alerted me was Outsell’s note that London-based online community specialist Verve has added Apple’s iBeacon technology to its Community Panel app, allowing it to track individual members as they travel into and around stores fitted with the iBeacon device. The report, from “MrWeb”, is firmly in the market research space. This is very much a retailer’s app; it tracks the device in detail through a store, identifying where the user spends time – and how long they stay there – and possibly triggering instant marketing surveys on that basis.

Verve is a newish (2008) company. They describe themselves as “The community panel for research”. Their business is the creation of community panels, acting as consultants to companies needing consumer-focussed research. There’s no  indication, therefore, of what incentives are offered to users to join panels; but one might assume instant offers would be the least of it. There is some client information in their “About Us” section (but one client is T-Mobile, which hasn’t existed independently since around the time Verve were formed, so one wonders …).

Apple’s developer website suggest a range of applications:

From welcoming people as they arrive at a sporting event to providing information about a nearby museum exhibit, iBeacon opens a new world of possibilities for location awareness, and countless opportunities for interactivity between iOS devices and iBeacon hardware

A link will take you through to a video from the 2014 WorldWide Developers Forum. This is awkward to get at: unless you’re using Safari on a recent MacOS you will need to download the file to play it. But it’s worth it; it takes you on a journey from existing RF triangulation, adding motion sensors when indoors and out of effective range, to the new beacon-based technology. And on the way it suggests more user-oriented applications, such as finding your way roung Heathrow Airport; or through an unfamiliar hospital on a family visit. Watch about the first 15 minutes, before it routes to coding stuff for developers.

Technically, interesting; a new twist on location services. Practically useful; but watch out (as always) for what it may do to your privacy. As they say: enjoy!

• iOS: understanding iBeacon, Apple
• iBeacon for Developers, Apple Developer website
• Verve Adds iBeacon Tech to Panel App, Mr Web Daily Rresearch News Online, 5 Mar 2015
• Verve: community panel research
Taking Core Location Indoors, Nav Patel, Apple WWDC, June 2014. Page down to find the expanded link

Crowdfunding: not just for geeks. Help Free Ruggiero

Just a short post. Teaching the Open University’s technology foundation course a couple of years ago introduced me to the idea of crowdfunding – I’m sure I’d have encountered it anyway, but seeing it as part of the wider picture of the social revolution added an extra dimension. Of course, crowdfunding isn’t entirely new; people have always subscribed readily to popular conventional share issues, not just in the privatisations of the last few decades but in the 19th century railway boom and earlier (look up the South Sea Bubble for one that historically went badly wrong). What’s different is that the reach is extended via the Web to people who might not otherwise think of being subscribers; and the range of rewards, while often creative and interesting, doesn’t extend to ongoing shareholder participation.

Shortly after learning about the idea, I joined one crowdfunding initiative as a result of which I now own a board game called Dreaming Spires which is about to have its official public launch. And now another, firmly in the realm of  the Arts.

We’re supporting members of the Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) which is a music festival with a difference. Not just early music concerts of a considerable excellence – and this year we were privileged to be part of two of them, built on choral and instrumental workshops we attended. But also projects which present the music in a new light, set in its historical context. This year, for example, we learned of the developments of “new” music as the style moved from Renaissance to early Baroque; feelings ran high, and “the old music” was held by some as a standard which the newer styles were pushing aside.

Next year’s BREMF will look at women composers, and the festival wants to stage what we’re calling Free Ruggiero (it has a long Italian name) which is the first complete opera known to have been composed by a woman: La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina written in 1625 by Francesca Caccini. If you apply for Arts Council funding you need to show you already have backing from other sources, and BREMF are raising this by crowdfunding through the Zequs platform.

Visit the Zequs page to find out more, if early music which challenged the norms and set ideas appeals to you. As I write, you only have nine days left to subscribe!

• Free Ruggiero on Zequs
• Brighton Early Music Festival (not just in the season)
• Dreaming Spires on Kickstarter

Twitter business information: railways lead the way

A little while ago I facilitated an event looking at social media in business. Part of the discussion, of course, focussed on in-enterprise social interactions: tools like Yammer, which sit within the enterprise and facilitate social interaction without risking compromise of business information.

But, inescapably, there was equal emphasis on the business use of external social media. Not just to put out messages on behalf of the enterprise: but to notice and respond to what the community is saying about you. As one delegate outlined: you can pick up on Twitter or Facebook a comment from a client who’s had a poor experience, and interact directly with them to explain. And quite often, they will then post a follow-up message offering appreciation along the lines of “now I understand”. What could be negative can be turned positive.

As a minor railway buff, I was interested also to hear the number of delegates referring to their commuting experience and the way that Twitter, particularly, has developed. First, of course, as an information tool for passengers: the twittosphere carries information about delays and problems, often much faster (and perhaps more reliably!) than official information arrives from the train operator. Particularly to passengers stuck somewhere after a points failure or, heaven forbid, a suicide. But the first development from that has been the way that train operating companies (TOCs) respond: keeping a feed going, and responding to tweets about problems. The best avoid anonymity: this morning’s first feed from First Capital Connect, for example, says “Morning folks, Jay, Tina and Greg here to take you through the morning. Hope you have a super day ^Jay“. There was strong favourable comment in the room about this. Another example of Euan Semple’s mantra: Organisations don’t tweet. People do.

Then Modern Railways magazine carried a couple of articles in successive months about Twitter data on the rail network.

In July, Roger Ford’s Informed Sources column covered a website which aggregates Twitter information for passengers. The site, from Delta Rail in Derby (which used to be British Rail’s research facility), produces something like a tag cloud through which you can see tweets about incidents on your commuter route. Because it’s commute oriented, the main page is an index by TOC not by location. Though it doesn’t seem to pick up tweets from the TOCs themselves.

You can also see the overall rating your TOC is currently getting, though since the tweets are mostly adverse (more people are likely to tweet for a problem than to praise) it’s not clear how this is achieved. It’s not the only such idea; the  Twitraffic app on my mobile aggregates information about road delays and incidents, which I contribute to when on the road and (of course) not driving.

There doesn’t seem to be an app for, which is a shame. The website is mobile friendly, with big blowsy panels and large text, but all you can get to by way of detail is the entire twitter feed for the TOC. It would be nice to be able to click through words in the tag cloud.

Back in the June issue, Informed Sources reported on another business-oriented development from Delta Rail. Sophisticated visualisation shows, for example, the level of Twitter activity compared to the norm; analyses positive versus negative messages (the example is to distinguish “Thankyou very much” from “Thanks a bunch!”); and, in real time, can show the build up of an incident from the volume of feeds relating to a particular location. This may well provide information to the operators faster than their own sources: after all, passengers are on the spot! Reviewing the data, both in real time and retrospectively, against other sources such as the National Passenger Survey can produce a wider overall picture than (say) the Survey on its own.

Nice to be able to highlight an IT success!

• Tweets put passengers ahead of the game, Roger Ford, Modern Railways, June 2014, p 36
• Social Media: more than just Tweets, Roger Ford, Modern Railways, May 2014, pp 36-37 (there are no online links to the articles themselves)
• Twitter: First Capital Connect (@FirstCC)
• Twitraffic online or as app
• Delta Rail “Innovative Software and Technology for the Transport Industry”

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.

• 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

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.

Some Open Source notes

In my persona as an Associate Lecturer of the Open University, I promised some brief notes on Open Source software to help a colleague who’s leading a Staff Development workshop in a couple of weeks’ time.

Educational providers always need to find workable inexpensive software to provision their students. Around 1990 I taught the first Open University course which took ICT facilities to the students in their homes, rather than requiring them to book time on terminals hosted by friendly local institutions. The DT200 course existed in the days of DOS, but it used an early on-screen word processor (FirstWordPlus on the GEM GUI), a cut-down version of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, and the CoSy conferencing system. The configuration was an Amstrad 640 with two 5.25 inch floppy drives and no hard disk. Oh, and the mouse port was on the left hand side which is why, more than 20 years later, I still use my mouse left handed.

I promised some notes, as I said. And I thought I’d share them more widely. I use Open Source software quite freely but nothing startling. I also use other freeware and a handful of niche purchased products, such as Graphic Converter for the relatively limited image manipulation I need to do.

My main OU course now is the ICT foundation course which introduces students to a range of practical ICT tools as well as the social and global context in which the technologies operate. It uses Audacity for audio recording, which I’d been using for some time already for creating podcasts for students on another course. It uses FreeMind for mind maps. Alongside this it uses tools like Picasa for image manipulation which is free (from Google) but of course isn’t Open Source.

I use a Mac but run it sometimes as a Windows machine using BootCamp. On Windows I don’t maintain a Microsoft Office licence so I use Open Office. While there are some compatibility issues with on-screen presentation I haven’t hit any significant problems. I know there are some, but they haven’t affected anything I’ve needed to do. I use the VLC media player on Mac for Windows Media Player formats, since Microsoft no longer make a player for Mac.

The Firefox browser and other elements of the Mozilla family are of course Open Sourced and Firefox is my browser of choice. I use the internal web server on my Mac which is a version of Apache.

For application development I use Cincom Smalltalk which is a full object-oriented environment and although it’s commercially owned it’s developed by its OS community. I learned Smalltalk, also 20 years ago, when working on a collaborative academic-industry research project and I still love it.

Working in industry, as I did until recently, I encountered a lot of suspicion about Open Source. More recently I think it’s abated somewhat but it’s still there.

The debate around OS in the commercial IT sector focusses on accountability – not knowing who is accountable for quality or who can be sued (to put it bluntly) for any real problems. It’s difficult for procurement-minded professionals to accept that a community of interest is likely to have higher quality standards and to identify and fix problems more quickly than a major for-profit software supplier.

This attitude has softened over the past several years, not least because some software (such as Apache and Linux) has become widely used in the enterprise. To my reading there are (at least) two reasons. Cost (obviously) but also licensing.

It’s a lot easier to promote a web service when you don’t have to license according to the number of users. Quality has become a given for the most widely used products. Security can be easier to assure and handle when there can be access to source code. And acquiring OS software through a distributor does offer some assurance of quality. There have been some high profile espousals of OS software, such as Linux or Open Office in government departments which are supremely cost-conscious, but these haven’t had an enormous impact in the wider commercial marketplace.

What is, I think, true is that as more specialised niche requirements have been accepted within the enterprise, there’s a recognition that either open source or niche (= small startup) providers may be the only route to a solution. Someone, somewhere, has created an open source community around your need.

There are various definitions of what constitutes Open Source. By one definition, a specification is “Open” if it is published, so that it can be used by other platforms – as other word processing software can create documents in Microsoft’s format. Conversely, the Open Document Format was defined through an open process: but isn’t yet accepted as the leading standard for interoperability. This is the open process I learned about through by participation in the Object Management Group’s work. Building consensus and reconciling different viewpoints, including those of commercial developers, takes time: but there is often a strong academic foundation, and academic rigour often sustains a longer-lasting and more effective standard. Or, again, there is development through an open community which brings many minds to bear on problems; which converges on useful solutions; but which can become self-perpetuating so that the vision does not always grow or, where necessary, change.

• Sourceforge: one of the strongest groups of Open source communities
• Sourceforge is host to Audacity and to FreeMind
• Linux (of course)
• Apache (the Apache Software Foundation) also hosts Open Office
• Mozilla for Firefox, Thunderbird and more
• Smalltalk (see this page for versions)
VLC media player
Commercial products:
• Graphic Converter from Lemkesoft
• Picasa from Google
• Gem Desktop