Archive | March, 2016

FISP Calls for Greater Connectivity Ambition – London, a Gigabit City?

30 Mar

hi=-tech buildingFollowing a survey that exposes the extent of digital discontent amongst Londoners, the Foundation for Information Society Policy issued a challenge to London’s mayoral candidates to tackle infrastructure issues.

FISP suggests that a public-owned agency could be based on the successful model of Transport for London – the UK’s most successful Municipal Enterprise.   The new agency (codenamed Digital for Londoners) would be charged with transformation of London to a Gigabit City by 2020.

The FISP proposal targets more than raising London’s standing as a major connected city and its economic competitiveness – the proposal is designed ‘to enhance the lives of Londoners (and their children) and all who work in the UK capital‘.

For full details visit http://www.fisp.org.uk/dfl/

 

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Managements Sans Frontières

15 Mar

thinking_heads smallWith great respect to the brilliant medical charity, their title springs to mind as I try to make sense of a minor deluge of academic reports and real world experiences.   Boundary issues abound – and not just in the contexts of Humpty Trumpty’s Great Wall of Machico or the UK’s Brexysteria.

Deep down we all like the comfort of borders but so often spend our lives trying to break down barriers. Parents observe that unruly/spirited teenagers need some boundaries. Accountants would be lost for numbers without tidy columns.  Regulators regularize.  Centralist governments prefer broad-based averages.  Mass marketers shriek Sun-like headlines. But devolutionists see city-states as empowering even as citizens complain of postcode lotteries.  And businesses everywhere seek differentiation by ‘redefining’ markets.  In the 1970’s Tom Paxton would sing ‘The Thought Stays Free’ and, like wireless signals, ideas do not respect borders.

So the Work Foundation report (Working Anywhere) says 2017 will be another peak – the last gasp of working 9 to 5 (that will no longer be ‘the way to make a living’) as the daily trek is commuted to life outside of an office for the average commuter.   They will, of course, still have boundaries. They will still log in to their networks (their presence measured) and no-one yet is predicting the end of corporate monthly reports – not least because bean counters hunger for beans to count and managers imagine they are managing.

There are boundaries we willingly choose to adopt (like marriage) and there are those we (mostly) tolerate for a peaceable society – like speed restrictions. Then there are the envelopes we’d like to stretch – or rip apart. The constantly changing balances between wrapping things up and encouraging creative agility is not something that can be bolted down. Great enterprise leaders know that rules are ‘made to be broken’ (sometimes) and urge their law-abiding followers to ‘think differently’ – ‘outside of the box’.

At this time it is difficult to comment on EU affairs without offending (for myriad reasons) all 784 (28 squared) sides to immigration debates but it is surely blindingly obvious that people will always wish to move and economies need to import and retain talent. With extreme provocations the future tides of humanity will, like the weather, be increasingly difficult to anticipate and, as Canute demonstrated at the shore, unconstrained.   National identity is increasingly a curious notion – especially for the English where ‘ish’, sort of, defies the absolute.

Travel is said to broaden the mind and, in these networked days, virtual travel is a great substitute for the physical effort of getting from A to B – which is partly why the Work Foundation predicts the decline of inflexible working.  But traveling (physically or intellectually) has great inequalities. Academia has huge capacity for stating the blindingly obvious – but sometime it needs to be said.  Pointing out that the  Further_We_Travel_the_Faster_We_Go is not some supposedly great insight designed to justify investment in the UK’s HS2 project but anyone contrasting the time and effort needed to get to London with the effort of travelling within the place will get the point.   But the real point, surely, is about journeys of the mind; ideas. The more outlandish they are the greater the chance they’ll make a real difference. The further you reach the faster you’ll get there – compared to some gradual, incremental, barely-noticeable, short-term, thoroughly non-alarming, improvement process.

We (being very English) often frown on ambition. Centuries of terribly polite censure have curbed our creativity but digitally-networked borderless freedoms cannot now be denied.  Empowerment (the need for it) has wrong-footed those once-great institutions that presume they know best. Who needs all that bandwidth?   What for, exactly? The defence of their comfortable market borders gets in the way of ideas flow – the brick walls can but delay their decay.

So why not? Why not demand a Gigabit? Why stick at home when your partner’s work is far away. Go with him and let the global network handle your usual work-flow. Why return home and only then shop for food when it could have been pre-ordered online from your hotel bed on the far side of the world? It needs only the very real experience of a three-way Skype call with callers in Hampshire, a colleague now in Argentina and a customer in his car somewhere on the M6 to prove the point that, increasingly, borders are meaning less.

Can we manage without borders? In work, in life and in politics we have little or no choice. Ring-fenced isolationism will not (cannot) relieve any of us from responsibility. The best that management can muster is to invest time and effort in avoidance of unexpected consequences and not inadvertently trigger catastrophic outcomes – like civil wars. A bit of forward planning might help. Will the economic decline of London be stalled by a fully-fibred future? Are we, in Europe, ready for a great American exodus if Trump triumphs?

So, yes we need some borders and others we need to relax. A single market across Europe is brilliant. Greater devolution of central authority to Manchester can be empowering – if you trust in the mayor’s capacity to manage.  Localism with expansive freedoms will always contend with the average central reductionist.  Maybe, one day, someone, most probably some uncouth little chap, most probably from some distant place via an online device and twitter, will point out that some wee emperor is nae wearing any clues – and the whole world will once again collapse in a sea of irreverent laughter and/or tears.   Dougal will shake his head, sorrowfully, and say ‘what a way to run a country’ and the credits will roll – leastways for one last time.

Managements Sans Frontières?  We should follow where the angels have dared to tread – beyond the borders of your mind.   If you stretch the imagination it rarely goes back to its original shape.

 

 

Holding the Line: fibre futures overstated?

7 Mar

In one respect at least Ofcom’s recommendations from its Digital Communications Review announced last week quickened the pulse of investors in future-proofed fibre infrastructure.

Fiber optics

Serious analysts described the moves as “a huge boost in helping the nation catch up with other countries’ increasingly advanced broadband infrastructures”. In media interviews, Ofcom’s Chief Executive Sharon White was keen to point out that UK had already achieved 2.6% penetration for Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) as an indicator of progress.

That 2.6% figure contrasted markedly with the report just seven days earlier that the UK had once again failed to reach the threshold of 1% penetration for inclusion in the European league table of optically connected homes and buildings.

Close inspection of Ofcom’s report reveals that the data was not Ofcom’s own assessment but relied on estimates by consultancy Analysys Mason – and, in turn the consultancy’s data supports a 2% UK penetration achievement in availability (not actual connections) of FTTP – a figure that compares unfavourably with Denmark (over 30%), Spain (over 60%) or Japan (70%).

So, discounting the quoted 2.6% figure (which may simply have been ‘over enthusiasm’), the 2% availability figure, if customer take-up were then estimated at 25%, would explain the difference between last week’s Ofcom-induced excitement and the previous week’s FTTH Council Europe disappointment.

Does this matter?

Supporters of BT’s Fibre to the Cabinet strategy and their plans for G.Fast would say not. What matters, they’d say, are not massive headline download speeds but sufficient capacity with which we can get along – leastways for the time being.   Others, of course, profoundly disagree – pointing to demands for symmetry, lower latency, future-proofing and an altogether better use of the UK’s energy supply.

There is another reason why the presentation of statistics matters.  Regulators – particularly those who would claim to be evidence-led – should surely be expected to present their views in ways that can be fairly understood by their primary audience, the citizens, businesses and public sector agencies on which the economy depends.

Ofcom’s outputs last week were greeted with mixed reviews – a welcome for clear intent on competitive Duct and Pole Access and severe doubts on the practicality and efficacy of such measures.  It is now for Ofcom rapidly to pursue their recommendations with renewed vigour – if only to prove that they were not misguided in stopping short of full separation of BT and its Openreach honey-pot.

________

This article was first published by Total Telecom 07/03/2016

 

Letting go of hopes not fully grasped?

5 Mar

Greek FlagIn March 2015 at the height of the Greek financial crisis I wrote of the great brain drain (‘Grexodus’) that would do lasting damage to that country’s future fortunes.  Little did anyone realise that within the year that brain drain would be replaced by a massive potential brain gain as thousands of migrants flock to its shores.

Most of those now escaping from the horrors of war-torn Syria, Afghanistan or North Africa are hoping to make their way beyond Greece to settle in the supposedly stable havens of Northern Europe – but their passage is now blocked as EU States shrug off Schengen and shrink back into populist isolationisms as if folk have forgotten the point of being ‘better together’.

We may despair of the lack of pan-European political mettle, the failure of long-term leadership and the collapse of collective moral decency, but amongst these dark clouds is a potential silver lining for that woefully disregarded Greek State. The question now is whether the Greek government and the people can rise to the opportunity.

Amongst the weary but determined families trekking north are many professional families well qualified to fill the gaps left by the earlier flight of the disenchanted – the loss of thousands of doctors, researchers, students, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, teachers, technicians and nurses.  The lucky recipients of that talented brain drain were Germany, Canada, USA and Australia.  In that 2015 fallout, few came to the UK (further diminishing our global growth prospects) but that was hardly surprising given the prevailing attitudes of extreme right & left-wing politics and media meeting themselves on the far side of the circle.

So, the question is: What is Greece doing to encourage those who could be tempted to stay – to learn Greek – to assimilate into local culture – to rebuild their lives and contribute to economic and societal growth?   Germany, initially at least, set a fine example. But will Greece be able to muster the enterprise?

We must hope so – for surely the rest of Europe must learn, and learn in time, that global mass migrations are the unintended consequences of disastrous failures of political leadership and disunity.

Learn in time’, I wrote. In time to stave of the tide of human misery and suffering that now besets us, or, in time to equip our leaderships with the intellectual and moral strength to deal with the next flood?  How will attitudes change when we Europeans must cope with thousands fleeing the USA in the event of a Trump presidency?

It is surely not beyond the wit of humankind to get a grip – to better imagine and manage the more easily foreseen consequences, particularly as the supposedly unforeseen lessons are being played out before our unastonished, but tearful, eyes.