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.

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

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Growth, Innovation and Leadership: Frost & Sullivan

I’m on a Frost and Sullivan webinar: Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL: a major Frost theme). It’s a half-hour panel to discuss successful types of innovation and examples of future innovative technologies with Roberta Gamble, Partner, Energy & Environmental Markets, and Jeff Cotrupe, Director, Stratecast. David Frigstad, Frost’s Chairman, is leading. The event recording will be available in due course.

Frigstad asserts that most industries are undergoing a cycle of disrupt, collapse, transform (or die: Disrupt or Die is an old theme of mine). We start with a concept called the Serendipity Innovation Engine. It’s based on tracking nine technology clusters; major trends; industry sectors; and the “application labs” undertaking development (which includes real labs and also standards bodies and others). And all of this is in the context of seven global challenges: education, security, environment,  economic development, healthcare, infrastructure, and human rights.

Handover to Gamble. This is a thread on industry convergence in energy and environment, seen as a single sector. Urbanisation, and the growth of upcoming economies, are major influences here in demand growth.

We do move to an IT element: innovation in smart homes and smart cities, with integration between sensor/actuator technology and social/cloud media: emphasising this, Google has just bought a smart home company (Nest Labs). City CIOs and City Managers are mentioned as key people – a very US-centric view when most urbanisation is not occurring in the developed world … we do return to implications for developing economies, where the message is that foundations for Smart (which includes effective, clean energy use) should be laid now while there is a relatively uncluttered base to start from.

Frigstad poses a question based on the idea that Big Data is one of the most disruptive trends in this market. Gamble suggests that parking is an example. Apps to find a parking spot, based on data from road sensors or connected parking meters, are not though only being piloted in San Francisco. Similar developments in the UK were mentioned at a Corporate IT Forum event I supported earlier this year.

It’s a segue into the next section: an introduction for Cotrupe, whose field is Big Data and Analytics. Examples of disruption around here include the Google car: who would have thought Google would be an automotive manufacturer? Is your competitor someone you wouldn’t expect? An old question, of course. The UK’s canal companies competed with each other and perhaps with the turnpike roads; they mainly didn’t foresee the railways.

Cotrupe’s main question is: What is Big Data really? He posits it as an element of data management, together with Analytics and BI. I’d want to think about that equation; it’s not intuitively the right way round. But high volume, rapidly moving data does have to be managed effectively for its benefit to be realised – delivering the data users need, when they need it, but not in to overwhelm them. And this means near real-time. It’s IT plus Data Science.

Frost suggest they are more conservative than some, because they see growth of the BD market held back by the sheer cost of large scale facilities.

We’re on the promised half hour for the primary conversations, but still going strong, basically talking with Cotrupe about various industry sectors where Big Data has potential: to support, for example, a move from branch based banking to personal service in an online environment. There’s some discussion of Big Data in government: how will this affect the style of government in perhaps the next 20 years? Cotrupe mentions a transformation in the speed of US immigration in recent years, where data is pre-fetched and the process takes minutes instead of hours. He’s advocating opening up, sharing of information: in other industries too, for example not being frozen by HIPAA requirements in (US) healthcare or, perhaps, EU data protection requirements. I have personal experience of obstructive customer service people trying to hide behind those, and in fact parading their lack of actual knowledge.

Cotrupe talks about privacy, not least in the wake of Snowden and what’s been learned about sharing between NSA and the UK agencies. Cotrupe would like to see theis ease of sharing brought to bear in other areas: but asks how we manage privacy here? There are companies which are leading the way in data collection in consumer-sensitive ways, and this needs to become standard practice. In any case, not collecting data you don’t need will reduce your data centre (should that be Data Center?) footprint.

As we come to a close, with a commercial for the September event in Silicon Valley, I have to say I’m not convinced this webinar was wholly coherent.

If you call something a Serendipity Innovation Engine I want to know how it relates to serendipity: that is, the chance identification of novel discoveries.

If you present a layered model, I expect the layers to relate (probably hierarchically) to one another. It would be more valuable to talk about the four elements of this model separately and be clearer about what each represents. For example, “Health and Wellness” occurs as a Technology Cluster (why?). It’s also a Mega Trend in a layer where Social Trends also sits; surely people’s concern about Health and Wellness is a social trend? Each layer seems to mix social, technical and other concerns.

I learned a  more useful framework when teaching the OU’s Personal Development course. This really is layered. The two internal layers (this is for personal development) are one’s immediate environment, and other elements of your working organisation. Then Zone 3 (near external) encompasses competitors, customers/clients, suppliers and local influences. Zone 4 (far external) includes national and international influences: social, technological, economic, environmental and political (STEEP). On this framework you can chart all the changes discussed in today’s webinar and, I think, more easily draw conclusions!

Links:
• Frost & Sullivan Growth Innovation & Leadership
• Google buys Nest Labs for $3.2bn …, The Guardian, 13 Jan 2014
• STEEP framework: Sheila Tyler, The Manager’s Good Study Guide (third edition, 2007). The Open University. Pages 198-202