The missing C in professionalism

I have been promoting increased professionalism in our industry for over fifteen years. In that time there has been much discussion and work on how to improve areas such as competence and integrity of individuals. And whilst noone ever disagrees with these what all too often lets people down is courtesy.

The origins of courteous lie in the medieval royal courts of France which were associated with beauty, good behaviour and being well-bred. Presenting oneself with appropriate manners offers respect, politeness and consideration to others.

Senior and experienced professionals should also act with good grace and civility not only through what they say, but what they do. The culture is set in terms of what is appropriate and acceptable behaviour as soon as a newcomer first interacts with an organisation, typically through the hiring process.

But courtesy is so simple and often neglected: lateness for meetings, overrunning, lack of respect for people’s time (eg not having an agenda or objective for a meeting), using the wrong means of communication to convey a message (eg there is no such thing as an urgent email), not returning phone calls, cancelling an obligation at the last minute, failing to meet an expectation you’ve set.

On this last example, try explaining why it is OK not to fulfil a promise.

 

Gaining military advantage with 5G

“We shall get a big pipe with 5G.  And there’s no doubt we shall fill it.”

However, the greatest concern expressed by one of the panellists at SPADE this week is how they put the right things on it.  SPADE is an annual defence and security event.  This year it is being held at Soestduinen in the Netherlands, sponsored by IBM, Samsung and others.

One high priority domestic opportunity that 5G affords is for disaster relief because it helps the citizen most.  Responders can optimise logistics to get equipment in and insurers resolve claims quickly.  5G offers high network bandwidth with low latency.  Its emergence is coupled with increasing storage capacity at the edge.  Furthermore, analytics and AI are part of this ecosystem to deliver quality and timely information as situations unfold.  5G is also here today, with the first operational network running in South Korea.

Opportunities for defence

In a military context, 5G offers data supremacy on the battlefield.  All the information a commander needs becomes accessible on a mobile device powered by 5G.  Drones and vehicles can extend the network from the physical endpoint into the battlefield much more cheaply than using today’s dedicated and more limited radio communications.  Such networks are set up ad hoc allowing much more operational flexibility at the tactical edge.  In addition, each endpoint both receives and transmits.  This offers greater resilience than is possible today, and an ability to create local ‘supercomputers’ by linking devices without needing to connect back.  It speeds up local decision making and changes how we fight.

5G is the enabler for integrating AI.  Data can be processed and analysed at the edge, but network bandwidth also allows data to be brought back for searching.  The proportion of data captured by sensors that can be exploited goes up.

This combination of 5G and AI presents greater insight at the edge.  Common operating pictures are become richer, more relevant and current.  For example, targeting data is accessible faster to make a decision and act before the target has gone.

Furthermore, there is the chance to undertake command and control differently.  Placing more decision making power is in the hands of the platoon leader reduces the need for so many headquarters.  Spending could be redirected in favour of more combat soldiers.  For example, 6-7 people support each person in combat in the US Department of Defense today.  Could that ratio be halved?

Evolving security

The attack surface will become larger because of greater and wider use of technology with 5G.  Growth in the number of devices and the rise of the Internet of Things increases perimeter so security will need to be approached from a perspective of zero trust.  However, 5G overcomes 4G’s omni-directional limitation and its variable bands make it hard to jam the network.

Our current approach to security is based on the notion of defending the centre.  We try to make mobiles as secure as the centre with its perimeter.  However, 5G is designed around the end user, and perimeters become ad hoc with pop up 5G networks.  Consequently, there is a shift away from classic network architectures and security designs.  This presents challenges today that need tackling to realise the true value of 5G.

One example is who gets access to the networks?   Assured identity challenges will need tackling as networks become fluid, meshed and disconnected because we have centralised identity services today.  Phones carrying our identity may be part of the answer.

It is no longer good enough to secure networks and endpoints rather than the entire system.  5G allows a single security system without an operating system.  This may well change cyber economics because today adversaries apply most focus to exploiting the operating system, and the defender has a greater opportunity at lower cost to disrupt the attack.

The need for separate military-only networks might disappear with 5G, no longer cost effective.  They would span 99% of a geographic area for a small subscriber base if Government did choose to allocate dedicated spectrum.  On the other hand, a telco has a large subscriber base and focussed on covering 99% of population.  Furthermore, an ability to use consumer devices in the military drives down cost.

It is possible that the benefits of 5G will accrue to businesses and governments first rather than consumers and this will drive rollout.  One example could be rural areas to deliver a better emergency response.

Re-training the workforce

Defence departments face challenges today with the time it takes to get authority to operate – achieving compliance to put an application on the network.  This will need a change the mindset by the custodians of network security to one that understands the evolving threat and applies risk management.  Change management is necessary to bring in new security architecture.

Access to a labour force is a growing problem with an ageing population in many developed countries.  People are the biggest cost driver and 5G offers opportunities for savings.  Redistributing and re-skilling the workforce are options.  Border control could become agentless at the gates with image recognition powered by AI on 5G, with lower centralised human support.  Network specialists could be re-deployed to the edge as network and cyber experts on the battlefield, recognising that two battles may now need to be fought in the first mile.

5G is rolling out today and the opportunities are limited only by our imagination.  But there are challenges for defence departments that need to be tackled.  Training for 5G will take time.  We need to start now.

 

Inspiring the Next Generation in STEM Education

Design studios are putting users at the centre of modern IT development.  They stimulate multi-disciplinary teams to employ Design Thinking, agile, and DevOps to start delivering technology and iterate.  Learning and adapting sustains alignment to user needs.

Organisations are now investing in redesigning their offices to encourage these new ways of working more widely.  Yesterday, was a chance for me to explore how such thinking can be applied in secondary education with the development of a new Science, Maths and IT centre in a local school.  Representatives from many technology companies assembled to discuss how the needs of business could be reflected in its design.  It is an opportunity create a physical space able to inspire wider interest in STEM and better support teaching.  Clearly it can’t all be open plan.  Organisations have created pods and rooms for quiet working, and schools need classrooms.  However, the design point has changed.

Developing soft skills including story telling, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration were seen as most important.  It is necessary to have the flexibility to adapt the physical space to accommodate learning in many areas, not limited to technology and science.  So, the centre is more than banks of computers and labs, and some areas may be free of technology.

Everyone present had reinvented themselves multiple times in their careers.  Whilst technology is constantly changing, many foundational skills are enduring.  These include engineering principles, good enough design, coding principles, data exploration, continuous improvement, probability and algorithm development.  Then learning how to think about the application of technology and the implications becomes important.  Considerations include assessment of risk, ethics and handling bias.

One trend we are seeing in industry is the breaking down of barriers between organisational silos.  Building a new STEM centre, and similarly centres dedicated to other fields including art, music and drama, encourages physical separation.  It reinforces a myth in today’s world that school children become categorised as technical or not.  However, in a similar way that every subject uses English, technology is present in all fields.  Teaching of every subject can be freed from its building.

The school’s centre can also embrace wider interests by collaborating with the local University and local technology businesses to showcase technology.  It will also welcome junior school pupils.  The appeal of STEM subjects is to be encouraged at all ages, and not seen as a binary choice.  Rather on a spectrum for all spanning general education and deep specialisation.

I offered quantum computing as one example of where we should be aiming.   By the time the centre is built and the next generation girls benefit in their secondary education, quantum computing may be widespread.  It is a story of science now being applied in technology.  Engineering challenges are being overcome, and quantum computers will be able to run mathematical algorithms that can cannot scale on today’s architectures.  Quantum illustrates STEM in a nutshell, provoking consideration of design, bias, ethics and human judgement is use.

So it is also about people.  The centre can promote role models, telling the stories of women who pioneered technology as a constant reminder and inspiration for future generations of girls.  They can reach the top.  IBM has appointed 305 Fellows since 1963 who have changed the world.  It is a pinnacle of technical achievement.  The 2019 cohort is four men and four women.

Reinventing organisations as agile

Achieving 40% cost reduction in operations, delivering services four times faster and reducing errors by three-quarters are three benefits that governments can realise through digital reinvention.  It requires governments to take a citizen-centric approach just as expectations have been raised in the commercial world with the delivery of digital platforms by Netflix, Airbnb, Uber etc that are consumer-centric.

One enabler to becoming citizen-centric is the adoption of agile organisational culture, structure and practices.  But this is difficult transition for established organisations, especially government departments, to make.  I recently published a TechNote outlining steps that organisations can take to become more aligned to their customers and to citizens.  It summarises thinking from an IBM Academy of Technology initiative that produced an Agile Organization Guide last year to help technical leaders in our own transformation.

We have also been applying elements of that guide to assist various clients round the world in their transformation.   Here are three learning points from one client whose IT department strives to better serve lines of business.

  1. The product centric-customer intimacy-operational excellence triad (from, “The discipline of market leaders,” Treacy and Wiersema) helped the IT department shift itself to become business rather than product centric. Four value propositions were created: 1) access IT practitioners directly; 2) be close to the business; 3) instill pace using appropriate paradigms; 4) balance strategic versus technical debt, while managing the lifecycle.
  2. Business driven tribes were created, two for each of these four areas. Organisational layers have been removed and the access point to IT changed from management to the practitioners in the tribes.  A corresponding shift to sense and adjust servant leadership was made.
  3. Adoption of the scale free network approach and newly defined ‘intrapreneur’ and ‘extrapreneur’ roles help drive change. Empowering IT practitioners and equipping them the tools they need made a big impact.

The main challenge encountered has been with the group responsible for the largest applications.  It has been the hardest to change, and we hope that use of strangler pattern will help.

Find out more in the IBM Academy of Technology’s TechNote by asking yourself, “How agile is your organization?

Ensuring Trust in Government Services

One of the most impressive developments this week is the launch of the Government-backed Dubai Blockchain Platform.  It is a significant step forward in the digital reinvention of Government to deliver services that are citizen-centric.  Reimagining business processes to be cross-agency demands trust to build and sustain public confidence.  The first application to use the platform is Dubai’s Payments Settlement and Reconciliation System.  It eliminates friction from financial process, reducing the time taken to settle payments between entities from 45 days to near instantaneous.

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I presented on blockchain to over a hundred delegates at digitech18 in Leeds this week.  Blockchain offers opportunities to overcome the inefficiencies that arises when information crosses organizational boundaries.  Processes that span multiple agencies throw up variations in reporting and costly, slow reconciliation because each has its own system of record.  Typically, there is a proliferation of documents, and agencies revert back to these when disputes arise.


A single, shared system of record reduces friction and disputes


There is a single, shared system of record for all agencies when using blockchain.  All have the same view of what has been agreed, and disputes don’t arise because all have agreed consensus: what constitutes a valid transaction.  Only agreed transactions are posted and changes are tamper-proof.  Therefore, records in the blockchain are trusted as the truth and the cost and inertia of reverting to paper records is removed.

Simply underpinning today’s processes with blockchain will not realise the benefits.  Governments need to rethink how they can revolutionise service delivery end-to-end, across Government and beyond.  The expectations that citizens now have in a world where commercial organisations have reinvented industries using digital platforms is now being demanded of Government.


Enabling greater trust in Government


I highlighted two examples of blockchain in Leeds:

  • TradeLens is an open, neutral supply chain platform. It reduces international shipping barriers by overcoming the burden of paper-based processes, data trapped in organizational siloes, disparate perspectives on transaction states, and risk of fraud.  Governments can benefits from using the platform at borders and customs to reduce friction and gain greater visibility of the supply chain which can help target inspections.
  • IBM Food Trust is a platform that helps to build and sustain confidence in food, addressing provenance concerns by recording a complete history. One benefit is that stakeholders, such as supermarkets, are able to identify the exact food packages that should be removed from shelves in the event of a safety issue within minutes rather than days, or even weeks.

There are many other instances where Government can benefit from blockchain including the justice system, sovereign identity, and licensing.


Hyperledger Fabric: ready for Government


Blockchain is about enabling trust in an ecosystem through open governance.  In the same vein, IBM gave its blockchain platform code to the Linux Foundation and the Hyperledger Fabric was formed.  It is open source software with open management and governance, and no private control.  Furthermore, IBM took the view that a permissioned approach to blockchain where the participants are known and access control is intrinsic is the right one for business and Government.

In my blog post last week in the run up to digitech18, I described how a managed implementation of the Hyperledger Fabric is ready to use on the IBM Cloud.  It has enabled the Food Standards Agency to get up and running with its first iteration in three weeks, and gain the benefits of richer information to target an inspection on a suspected outbreak of liver fluke identified at an abattoir in the first week of operation.


Start with opportunities that benefit an ecosystem, not the technology


I closed my talk with three points:

  • The business of Government is no longer centralized but devolved. Ecosystems are now delivering services rather than being limited to processes of a department.  Each participant in the ecosystem has interests and benefits that can come together to make a case for blockchain.
  • Data sharing standards enable rapid implementation of blockchain. Government should lead the way and set the rule to facilitate adoption.
  • Governments should take a citizen-centric approach, and blockchain helps reduce the inertia of sharing information between parties.

Blockchain offers participants in ecosystems indelible, searchable and current views of records, with transaction visibility and transparency.  These are technology enablers of trust across the ecosystem.

You can start here today!

How ready is the public sector for AI?

Artificial intelligence (AI) should now be seen as a core part of business transformation rather than merely an interesting technical project.  It means revisiting the relationship between government and its citizens, and rethinking how public services are delivered.

There are already numerous applications deployed that use AI in public sector.  These fall into five areas:

  • Improve customer service contact centres. Assistants are being used to increase both civil servant and citizen satisfaction through greater productivity and accuracy, and extended hours of support.  There is a reduction in mundane work for civil servants, and the burden from citizens on specialists is reduced.  Benefits are being realized within a few weeks.
  • Enhance knowledge workers. AI is particularly attractive in fields with massive volumes of domain-specific data to find patterns that offer improved results.  Fields include legal and regulatory, policy development, oncology, cyber security, and more generally taking this approach helps those on rotation become productive more quickly.
  • Manage the complexity of risk and Contract governance is one such use of AI by Governments.  Operational decision making has also been augmented by AI by monitoring current situations, assessing risks and making recommendations.
  • Find the best talent and modernise learning. AI is being used to analyse the talent market to find candidates who best fit a role.  Aptitude can be assessed to help build digital skills in scarce areas, eg cyber security.  Furthermore, AI aids learning in content, its delivery and management.
  • Empower developers to build AI-powered Equipping business teams to build applications using AI tooling and training platforms has facilitated integration of AI with both existing systems and emerging technologies such as blockchain.  Governments have been able to provide access to video content for its citizens using audio analysis, improve the way they deliver services using speech to text, and better protect critical infrastructure.

The opportunity apparent here is to deliver better services to citizens more quickly whilst reducing the burden on civil servants.  General characteristics can be drawn from these implementations that can be applied to assess those processes that are suitable for AI and likely to deliver benefits.  These are:

  • Does the process exploit a lot of data? And could it benefit from using other accessible content?
  • Is a personalised service required?
  • Is the process repetitive and reliant on a degree of knowledge and intelligence?

Business teams will need to be prepared to move away from the way things have always been done.  One technique to imagine new possibilities with AI is to creatively explore problems from an end user perspective using Design Thinking.

AI needs IA

Too few artificial intelligence (AI) projects succeed.  Many organisations approach AI believing that you can collect data for an algorithm in the hope that it realises the anticipated benefits.  Instead you should look at data and design a system to address a problem, not an algorithm.

Here are some keys to success for adopting AI.

  • Select the right business problem. This must be one for which a team already exists and has the data.  It avoids the pitfall where, “We need to test AI,” results in a deceptively attractive initiative which has low business value and is hard.  For example, a business process is required to collect data.  Nevertheless, there is a conundrum for many organisations that the business case to get the data requires a demonstration of AI.
  • Look at the data. Typically, organisations significantly underestimate the effort needed to orchestrate the data in readiness for AI.  AI needs accurate data, and data cleansing and preparation takes 80% of the effort.  This is a hard engineering problem and requires a sound approach to information architecture, technologies and a range of skills, not just data scientists.
  • Build systems, not algorithms. Many assume that a sequence of steps is sufficient to generate insight and recommendations.  However, feedback is crucial to improving overall accuracy.  It is complex with lots of moving parts and demands a multi-disciplinary approach.

AI must be transparent for the public to trust it.  This is especially significant for the public sector because important decisions must be explainable.  It is essential to understand who trains the AI system, what data was used to train it, and what went into the recommendations made by the algorithm.  This extends the realm of information governance.

In summary, AI needs IA: Information Architecture.