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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.

 

 

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.

The Collaborative Economy – and digital themes for 2016

30 Dec

Computer Weekly has reprinted an article that I penned when considering NextGen and Digital Challenge themes for 2016.   It’s impossible to rank their significance but in top place I have the Collaborative Economy – collaborative skills being now recognised as a fundamental for all manner of ventures, community projects and public sector initiatives.

New metrics for capturing Quality of Experience will gain supremacy over the poverty of legacy QoS measures (see previous post 8/12).   That trend will inform regulatory efforts – not least in considering digital futures.  Much will depend on regulatory expectations of (and insistence on) corporate capacity to collaborate.  In many ways Collaborative Advantage will outplay old notions of  Competitive Advantage.

Open Data will also contribute to a richer 2016 – particularly in Health and in Municipal Enterprise.  Here again collaborative skills will fuel progress – and once again leave non-participants wondering why their grand schemes fail to deliver.  Under the spotlight of new evidence, Municipal Enterprise will, in 2016, become openly and honestly discussed.   The ‘art of the possible’ will no longer be assessed by an elite but liberated by data journalists and the shift towards more Open Corporate Data as enterprises begin to catch up with the public sector.

Fiber optics

And finally 2016 will be the year when the UK wakes up to the realisation that digital access infrastructure investment is much more than searching for quick fixes by trying to adapt legacy networks designed for analogue telephony.  Digital access design is significantly different – and the entire UK economy demands fresh (collaborative) future-proofed approaches.

Collaborative Qualities: shifting focus from the poverty of QoS to the honesty of QoE

8 Dec

3d image Benchmarking issues concept word cloud background

Market behaviour is easier to regulate when those markets are narrowly defined. Service value and worth, however, can only be understood in the broader context of user application.

As the sharpest regulatory bodies are so inclined, and Ofcom’s approach to broadband is in no way an exception, the narrowing of definitions, with an intense laser-like focus on the perceived performance of specific components, stands in stark contrast to the more complex perceptions of customers.

It is entirely legitimate, indeed required, that market regulators should monitor dominant players and act to correct deviation from acceptable standards. Hence recent interventions in UK insurance markets to ensure proper disclosure of price increases. Ofcom is similarly right to be concerned about any sign of lax standards in line provisioning delays, complaint handling or repair times.

QoS Poverty versus QoE Honesty

The familiar ‘Quality of Service’ (QoS) measures that supposedly underpin contracts are often, however, reduced to a commitment to ‘best efforts’ with some compensation leeway for the most egregious failures. Those QoS measures are for most consumers (business, public sector or domestic) for most of time, fairly irrelevant. What matters more is their Quality of Experience (QoE) – but to a very large extent those experiences are way beyond the ability of component providers or their regulators to assess.

Take, for example, the consumption of on-line video. The QoE will be influenced by the functionalities of diverse access/viewing devices and the adequacy of delivery networks in a complex compound of components where the consumer is primarily interested in the overall outcome. It is pointless having an optimal home WiFi network if the capacity of the serving broadband line is inadequate to stream BBC iPlayer radio without lengthy buffering delays.

This contrast between the relative poverty of QoS metrics and a more meaningful, some would say honest, approach to QoE is hardly new. Tennis fans are enriched by on-screen metrics of player performance in much the same way as football fans appreciate ‘balanced scorecards’ that reveal much more about the run of play. Car drivers are not unaware of engine and system performance. Who has not sent an error report to the software creator when the laptop has unexpectedly frozen?   Smartphone users willingly volunteer their device and cellular network performance to independent assessors like Open Signal and make use of such data when considering a new purchase.

Self-reporting Collaborative Qualities

The ability of product design teams to embed self-monitoring functionality is gathering pace (1) . Soon your new television will know and report the Netflix versus YouTube download times, the speed of channel switching, the latency of interactive gaming, audio and video glitches, packet losses and network congestion? And, moreover, attribute component causality for failings.

But all of this rich, and very real, QoE measurement is, until such time as it is routinely collected and analyzed, beyond the purview of market regulators and even further beyond the providers of narrowly defined components – even when those providers are trying to sell bundled services that compound both content and connectivity.

Organisational Collaboration

This is not simply a challenge for broadband providers and their market regulators – though one undeniably exacerbated by an unwillingness to provide future-proofed fibre unconstrained by the limitations of legacy copper.

Businesses of any type in any sector are increasing required to be collaborative. But how can one judge their current and future capacity to collaborate? Conventional indicators of chronic business instability – for example cash-flow constraints – are difficult for prospective partners, suppliers and clients to research and evaluate. The relative lack of Corporate Open Data, in contrast to Public Sector Open Data, is very gradually being tackled – not least via recent studies that showed how more Open organisations have less difficulty in attracting investment. (2)

This shift is, however, still seen as counter-intuitive by older business managers (and their legal advisors) who hold outmoded views of aggressive competitive advantage that do not sit comfortably with this greater need for collaboration. Meanwhile market regulators, who take a narrow view of their remit, pass up opportunities to spur their market players and investors towards greater openness and honesty. This is a recipe for increased regulatory irrelevance.

No place to hide?

Enlightened product & service designers will increasingly enable citizens and organisations to find value and worth in the context of their own application environments and also enable them to become evermore vigilant in the pursuit of component supplier failings.

Will market regulators be able to adapt to a more holistic view of consumer expectations and national imperatives?

Will regulators demand something better than QoS?

Or will the need for regulation be displaced by openly available and undeniable performance evidence?

__________

Notes:

  1. For example of converged benchmarking see Huawei Converged service panel_v0_20150907
  1. Corporate Social Responsibility and Access to Finance by Beiting Cheng, Ioannis Ioannou, George Serafeim :: SSRN

 

Digital Challenge Awards 2015 – the winners

12 Nov

For seven great project teams November 5th will be remembered as the night when the UK’s top digital awards were presented in the House of Lords. At the culmination of a year-long programme to identify the digital stars of 2015, guests and anxious contenders gathered for a dinner hosted by The Earl of Erroll to celebrate great examples of digital progress.

This is the 5th year for the Digital Challenge Awards programme that recognises great projects and teams who are striving to deliver online success. The accolades were awarded across seven categories of digital endeavour.

And the winners were

Europe is Bananas

18 Oct

No, this is not a rant on behalf of Europeans who would rather not be European.

It is the conclusion of academic research aimed at finding a ‘New Method for Analyzing the Spatial Structure of Europe’. The banana reference relates to the shape of economic activity when presented geographically.

In classic academic style the authors first review previous attempts to represent activity and improve on those models. Into the analytic mix go demographics, GDP and employment and, using a Newtonian analogy, the economies are weighed and their gravitational forces are measured. You’ll be familiar with the term ‘mass market’ but here the sums of those market economies have a calculated mass.

With ‘Blue Bananas’ we must, it seems, move on from the Red Octopus and Bunch of Grapes models although the new analysis confirms to some extent their long-standing validity.

And all this work will not be in vain if it illustrates the undeniable extent to which we in the UK are very firmly a part of Europe – indeed close to the epicenter.

spatial awareness

In this graphic, warmer colours indicate divergence; that is, movements in the opposite direction, which can be considered to indicate the most important gravitational fault lines. Areas indicated in green and its shades refer to the opposite, namely to concentration, to the movements in the same directions (convergence), which can be considered to be the most important gravitational centres.

The researchers confirm the “favourable position of the regions concerned and the unfavourable position in one region with other models – the Sunbelt zone, the French Banana, the German hump and the Pentagon theories – but”, apparently, “they cannot justify the existence of the Eastern European Boomerang”. “From the latest population, number of employees and GDP calculations we analysed the spatial structure of Europe. The results definitely verify the banana shape.”

Now for non-academics this may seem like a great deal of fun, and, no doubt, the current mass migrations will eventually shift the European centre of gravity. But for would-be isolationists the message is today as clear as that stated by the Dean of St Paul’s in 1624 – ‘every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’.

_________________

The research was undertaken by:

Professor György KOCZISZKY, PhD

E-mail: regkagye@uni-miskolc.hu

University of Miskolc, HU-3515, Miskolc, Hungary

Associate Professor Zoltán NAGY, PhD

E-mail: nagy.zoltan@uni-miskolc.hu

University of Miskolc, HU-3515, Miskolc, Hungary

Associate Professor Géza TÓTH, PhD

E-mail: geza.toth@ksh.hu

Hungarian Central Statistical Office, HU-1024, Budapest, Hungary

Lóránt DÁVID, PhD (corresponding author)

E-mail: david.lorant@ektf.hu

Eszterházy Károly College, HU-3300, Eger, Hungary

https://www.academia.edu/16097593/New_Method_for_Analyzing_the_Spatial_Structure_of_Europe