Bulletin February 2 2018. On the dangers of noun-centricity

The topic emerged in a conversation with a family member. You know the one, “everything isn’t about money, there’s more to life, etc, etc.” It’s a standard discussion, which emerges from talking about somebody for whom life does, indeed, appear to be all about the cash.

In this industry we adopt similar, singular framings. I can remember a discussion with CA a few years ago, when the company decided everything was about “management”. Of course, many things have to be managed, but such absolute positions only take things so far. Similarly, we could say everything was about the business, or governance, or about analytics, or integration, or customers, or cloud, or so on and so on. 

Each is true to a point, but not to the detriment of everything else: even with data, or information, or digital, or whatever label you want to put on the super-power we have developed over the past 100 years, it’s not all about “that thing.” It’s why I could be so direct back in 2009, when I took a ‘hybrid’ stance against everything-to-the-cloud positioning. And yes, I’m one of those people with good memory and poor social skills, who trots out “that’s not what you said,” eight years later. So sue me. 

Of course, for businesses, money is very important, and so sometimes is absolute focus, as per Steve Jobs with his unflinching design obsession. But by goodness, if you are to adopt a singular vision, be sure it’s the right one, be ready to change it as soon as it reaches its sell-by date, and above all, recognise it as a mechanism to set priorities, not as something with which to beat customers over the head. 

With this in mind, here’s some articles from this week. 

Can Frugal Innovation models apply to Western corporations?

I’ve long been fascinated by frugal innovation approaches as a potential way of unlocking technology’s benefits in developing countries. As a French speaker I’ve been lucky to work as trans-literator on several, fascinating reports covering healthcare, micro-finance and mobile growth in Africa. At the same time, I can’t help thinking that we who are lucky enough to live in ‘developed’ economies don’t seem to make it easy for ourselves (as the French adage goes, “Why do simple, when you can do difficult?”).

As with our propensity to adopt absolute (and constraining) positions around terminology, I have been pondering how we might turn the telescope, and thence the tanker around by addressing the very real challenges caused by having: 

1. Too much money. The finance industry has a reputation for buying its way out of a crisis, or into an opportunity, with the resulting layer-upon-layer of complex, sluggish technological junk. It isn’t alone. 

2. Too many cooks. Sometimes, indeed much of the time, less opinions are more valuable than more. Making a decision, trying something out and working with the outcome delivers results faster, every time. 

3. Too long timescales. We try to do everything we can, adding features and meeting as broad a set of needs as possible, resulting in project timescales that last longer than the problems they were looking to solve.

4. Too many options. Thank Geoffrey Moore for the fact that the entire tech industry is founded on differentiation, meaning we spend far too long investigating options and not enough time solving problems.

5. Too much paperwork. Policies and procedures, sign-offs and authorizations matter, but in many cases have become and end in themselves, making jumping through hoops more significant than achieving goals.

6. Too much stuff. Many of the challenges we look to address — integration, interoperability, virtualisation, network and storage management, cybersecurity, data analytics — are about dealing with the quantities of materiél we have created.

7. Too much thinking. Yes I know, that’s rich coming from me, but all this complexity makes it harder to see the wood from the trees, leaving us stymied or at least, working inefficiently.

Of all of these, perhaps the biggest is that we have too much money. In my experience, while it clearly makes life easier, it creates as many problems as it solves. No, I don’t have an answer for that one. 

GDPR quick tip: Know what data (models) you have

Having written on GDPR a few times, I appear to have created a rod for my own back. Not only have I been the recipient of a goodly amount of clarifying information, I have also been asked a number of tricky questions and these have driven me to research more.Right now, the complexities around data privacy are profound, and nobody has all the answers. Nonetheless it strikes me that understanding what data you have and what you do with it is never a bad thing, and as I write here, a good place to start is with the data models. 

My biggest fear would be that (like speed cameras), opportunists in or outside of our governments took the opportunity to see GDPR audits or fines as a source of income: this would be a catastrophe as it is near-impossible to get everything right. Thus far, there are no indications of this happening but beware the law of intended consequences. 

And meanwhile, channeling the lessons learned by cobblers’ children, I am now registered as a data controller and implementing all that entails. If you have read this far and (if you haven’t done so) feel inclined to send me a message saying you are happy to receive this bulletin, that would help my peace of mind. Otherwise I may be in touch directly soon!

Internet of Things survey

In other news, my good friend and colleague is overseeing a survey on IoT: the quid pro quo is a free copy of the resulting report, plus a copy of the Gigaom report on AI. Links below, if you are interested. 

LinkedIn: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/IoTL

Facebook: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/IoTF

Twitter: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/IoTT

Extra-curricular: how not to write a biography

A couple of videos this week. As many know, I sing (and play a bit) in a ukulele-based band in the Cotswolds, called Plucking Different following a chance remark about our playing styles. We’ve just been re-booked for the award-winning Lechlade Festival a fourth year in a row so something is going right! I’ve also been doing a few Open Mics recently, so here’s me and Huw from the band doing Mr Jones and No Surprises

Finally, thank you to all my subscribers. Any questions or feedback, let me know.

Until next time, Jon

Bulletin February 2 2018. On the dangers of noun-centricity

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