Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The future of mobile devices

Last night I met socially with some mobile industry colleagues from a couple of large mobile payments players in the credit cards industry, and a large mobile operator. It was great to chew the fat and share stories about what we were all doing ten years ago and to compare that with how the market has developed since that time. This got me thinking about what have been the most reliable indicators of how things are likely to develop in the future.

I came to the conclusion that if we want to get some insight into how mobile devices might evolve into the future then we need to look closely at what the device component and chip manufacturers are doing today. 

The latest technology and features included in the silicon chip platforms being designed today will define applications and shape the mobile services available in five to ten years. This is a fairly logical assertion but I also know it to be completely true from my own experience; I recall ten years ago (like it was yesterday in fact) seeing mobile apps, app stores, and mobile music download services all listed as potential future propositions in telecoms service providers' innovation roadmaps. 

Telco industry product managers are not known for putting detailed planning in their slide-decks, and in the case of app stores and mobile music it's a good job really as it took almost another decade for those ideas to become reality for mobile consumers. That wasn't the fault of the telecoms industry nor of the product managers. It wasn't until the mobile device component and chip manufacturers got seriously onto the case around 2002/2003 that things really started to move, and then it took a further five years or so before there was the critical mass of capable devices available alongside workable commercial models and with the required volume of consumer demand, all which was needed, to tip the scales from niche market to mainstreet.

So without access to a crystal-ball then probably the most reliable way to understand how mobile technology might change our lives by say 2020 is to try and understand what technology the device component and chip manufacturers are working on today.

British chip manufacturer ARM is the UK technology industry success story of the last decade. ARM isn't a consumer brand in the same way that Intel is, they don't run expensive consumer focused marketing campaigns and you won't see an 'ARM Inside' strapline on any logos on the front of any devices; but that couldn't be any further from the reality as ARM chips can be found in devices used in almost every industry sector from health-care to consumer electronics. Most notably ARM chips power Apple devices such as the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. Indeed ARM has been a central player throughout the smartphone revolution.

Warren East has been with ARM since 1994 and CEO since 2001. Warren is an engineer in possession of a deep understanding of technology; but he's also a highly successful tech industry business leader, and has overseen ARM's amazing success story of the past 10 years.

Warren recently presented a view of the future of handheld devices to young professionals at the Institution of Engineering and Technology. If you're a registered IET website user you can view the presentation below. An interesting perspective on the future. 

Digital life on the go: The Future of Handheld Devices
Warren East
The 2011 Young Professional Lecture
London, 13 October 2011
Institution of Engineering and Technology
go to webcastrecommend to friend

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A journey from 'satisfactory' to 'good' and 'outstanding'

(Note: I am no longer a Governor at Pippins School referred to in the post below - I am now a Governor at Herschel Grammar School in Slough).

A local school where I'm governor has recently undergone inspection by the UK government education sector regulator Ofsted. I’ve been a governor at the school for several years, and I was closely involved in the recent inspection.

The previous Ofsted inspection took place during 2009 shortly after the current head-teacher took the reins, and at that time the school was deemed to be just ‘satisfactory’. However, over the past three years the head-teacher and her senior leadership team have driven a significant transformation at the school, and the recent Ofsted inspection report has found that the school is now ‘good’ overall, which is a significant improvement and clearly demonstrates that the recent changes have had a massive positive impact on educational standards since the previous inspection. The recent report comments positively about the significant advances made by the school, in all areas.

It’s such a fantastic achievement by everyone associated with the school, and since my daughter is a pupil it’s also a ‘proud father’ moment as well as a ‘proud governor’ moment.

However, I’m not one for getting overly carried away by success, and as I tell my kids there’s always room for further improvement. Consequently I’ve been reflecting upon how this transformation was achieved and, perhaps more importantly, what can be done to increase standards further moving forward; or in the terminology of Ofsted inspectors, what do we need to do to move the school from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’?

It’s absolutely clear to me, and evidently also clear to the Ofsted inspector, that the success of our recent transformation is a direct result of improved leadership. The organisation has undergone some changes, and there is now much more focus on clarity of purpose, common goals, and setting of meaningful objectives. Staff at the school are motivated, enthusiastic and clearly enjoying their roles and responsibilities. As a consequence the children are safer and more secure, happier, and benefitting from an improved learning experience.

Our journey from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘good’ has been achieved through what I would describe as management best-practice and inspirational leadership. My feeling is that the journey from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ will require a different approach. It seems that in order to demonstrate a school is 'outstanding' the school must have a unique value proposition that underpins it's core values and defines it's identity, and that will require innovation as well as continued excellence in management and leadership.

As our chair of governors quite rightly reminded us recently “we need to make sure we can walk properly before we start to run”, which is something I also tell my kids from time to time. Whatever, I’m confident that like most toddlers learning to get around in the world, it won’t be long before we’re increasing the length of our strides and stretching our legs in some new and interesting directions.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The awesome power of networks

Many of us have had an Internet 'eureka moment'. Mine was in 1995 when I was working as a software engineer on a fairly large development project for Lotus Development Corp. in Cambridge Massachusetts USA. It was one of my first software design roles and I’d been given the task of coming up with some C++ code needed to define and implement a 'factory' class.

Now then, if you're thinking that sounds a bit technical please don't worry, this isn't a post about how to write C++ code. The point is the task was relatively challenging and high profile within the project team. There was plenty of potential for reputational damage if I didn't manage to produce the goods. However, if you're thinking "what a loser, I'd be able to cut that code whilst watching the latest episode of South Park using iPlayer on my iPod Touch whilst also updating my Facebook status and chatting on Fring with my friends", then just hang on a moment while I give you some more context.

This was all happening back in the day when the options for producing new code were severely limited – the World Wide Web didn't really exist, Google was 3 years away from being founded, the offshore industry didn't exist, 'shareware' (the freely available output of collaborative development initiatives) was only really accessible via academic networks, there were no commercially available books covering software design patterns, and the sophisticated software component libraries that existent today simply hadn’t been written.

No, back then if you wanted some new code cutting you either took a chance by giving the task to the enthusiastic graduate in the corner cube, or you took a chance by employing an expensive contractor with a grey beard and a penchant for wearing socks with open-toe sandals during his daily commute from New Hampshire in a Ford Bronco registered to '1 PC GURU'. (You know who you are!). 

There was no budget for the contractor, and I was sitting in the corner cube.

I was already familiar with C++ but I hadn't done much design work, and there were few established design patterns for C++ classes. I was stuck for direction and in big need of a spark of inspiration. I surveyed the office looking for an opportunity to start a conversation with colleagues. All I needed was someone with enough time to allow me to share the problem, and enough experience to be able to empathise about the problem. That's all I would need to get the creative juices flowing and trigger my development effort. Half an idea, that's all I needed. But it was a new design pattern, and none of the experienced code warriors had done anything similar before. Nothing was forthcoming, and after several unfulfilled hours behaving like a prairie dog I eventually mooched back to my cube and slumped back in the chair with a copy of Bjarne Stroustrup. It must be in here somewhere I thought to myself, I've just got to read harder and for longer. I began to wonder where the beardy contractors were when you needed them most.

Later that afternoon the IT system administrator stopped by my cube. Turns out he'd been planning the roll-out of something called Email, and my project team had been selected as the pilot user group. We were also going to get access to something called Usenet Newsgroups. (If you’re reading this Nick Caramello – thanks!).

I quickly discovered Usenet was a kind of online community for information sharing, which was organised around folders called Newsgroups where users could post messages with information and opinions about topics that were of interest to the community. Newsgroup posts were moderated collectively by the community, and most users were well-behaved and respected an acceptable usage policy. Usenet was heavily used until the turn of the millennium, mainly by the worldwide technology and development community, but it was also a hot-bed for exchanging all manner of opinions and information about non-technical topics, which seemed to range from the mundane to the radical and highly controversial.

Importantly Usenet Newsgroups were easy to use. Within a few minutes I was up and running and able to quickly find a relevant Newsgroup where I could post a question about my coding problem. Having created my post I headed off to grab a coffee and a large blueberry muffin. On my return from the restaurant I was astonished to find that my post had already attracted replies from two other users; one reply from a guy in Seattle with good suggestions about how to approach the design work, and the other from someone in Denver with some example code.

It was an astonishing revelation. No more than an hour had passed since I'd been a half blind code-monkey stumbling in the dark through a C++ syntax jungle searching for an obscure design pattern that I didn't know hadn't yet been invented. From that moment onwards those kinds of problems would become a thing of that past. Problems that would previously have stalled me for days could now be tackled in minutes via the Internet, and not only that, the solutions would be better because they would draw upon a broader range of expertise.

The point of this post is not to make a case for bringing back Usenet Newsgroups (though some might argue there isn't much in it between Usenet Newsgroups and Facebook), the point is about the incredible power of networks. Networks have the power to improve our access to information, accelerate collaboration, and enable us to share new ideas and original thinking. Networks drive our creativity and innovation.

The Internet is probably the largest of all man-made networks. It enables us to interact and share ideas with increasing convenience. Mobile telephony and pre-pay services mean that wherever we are in the world, and irrespective of our economic situation, the chances are high that some form of Internet access will be within our reach.

The explosion of the Internet and mobile communications has transformed almost everything about our lives in less than two decades – in my opinion for the better.

The Internet is now a universal platform for sustainable growth and it underpins our ability to devise solutions to the big problems of our time.

The Internet is truly an awesome network!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The problem with linear systems

It seems linear systems have a big problem – they're unsustainable!  They promote conformity (usually at the expense of diversity), they encourage built-in obsolescence (typically at the expense of re-use), and they generate a tremendous amount of waste.

The 'Story of Stuff' video explains why our 20th century model of consumerism is fundamentally flawed. It's a linear system, and it's clear we need to look for alternative, more sustainable models of production. 

It's an incredible coincidence, and somewhat ironic, that the creative horsepower needed to innovative and devise new solutions to these problems is being continually undermined by a another linear system – our global education system. 

In his classic TED talk from 2006 'Do Schools Kill Creativity?', Sir Ken Robinson makes the point that "if you're not prepared to be wrong you'll never come up with anything original".  He also makes the observation that we've designed our schools and colleges to process our children on an industrial scale, so that they can take their places in the world as educated adults, and that tragically this process is systematically 'educating the creativity out of our children' by teaching them that mistakes are bad and must be avoided at all cost. 

It strikes me that our education system is fundamentally flawed – wasteful and unsustainable. In our race to produce more educated adults, we are ruthlessly squandering the creative raw material that we will need if we are to find solutions to the big problems of our time.

We need to start educating our kids in a way that encourages sharing of ideas and risk-taking and most importantly in my opinion, we need to create future learning environments where our children are encouraged to be imaginative, and share their ideas without fear of being stigmatised when they don't conform. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Revenue Management, one year on...

It's just over a year since I boarded the Logica Revenue Management Express at Durham station on route home after a three day proposition workshop with a couple of colleagues. I recall the train journey back to London and the feeling of excitement about the growth potential for Logica, albeit with some trepidation for the size and complexity of the task ahead!

Now we've completed the first phase of development of the RM SI capability in Logica, and looking back over the year, I can say with pride that the team delivered!

Here are some notable milestones and achievements:
  • Commitment from industry sector leads to support business development for RM [Q3 2010]
  • Business case for RM capability development approved by UK board [Q4 2010]
  • Subject Matter Expert recruited, and RM team selected [Q4 2010]
  • Training programme defined and successfully delivered (15 certified RM practitioners) [Q1 2011]
  • Collateral for sales, bids and delivery created and published [Q1 2011]
  • Internal launch to sales teams and client account managers [Q1 2011]
  • Team deployed onto fee-earning RM assignments [Q2 2011]
I've really enjoyed being able to focus on proposition and capability development over the past few months. Although frequently stressful, the cocktail of challenges around the management of people and commercials is also both intellectually stimulating and highly rewarding; and the complexity of the changes has provided plenty of opportunities for us to demonstrate creativity, innovation and good old fashioned problem solving skills.  

So where are we now? Where are we going next? One year on we're now almost settled into a business as usual phase.  The Revenue Management market opportunity has changed shape over the year that we've been developing the capability, but I'm continuing to see opportunities across all industry sectors, and if anything there is more growth potential now than there was twelve months ago.

A flavour of the focus areas for this business during the second half of 2011:
  • the need to reduce costs through consolidation and rationalisation of legacy systems and processes continues to drive activity across the Telecoms industry; we are currently engaged with clients across this sector
  • the rollout of Smart Meters is accelerating, and the impact on systems and processes in the Energy and Utilities industries serves to increase the risk of revenue leakage for clients in those sectors; which in turn drives new opportunities for RM services
  • the new government is approaching the end of its honeymoon period and there is increased pressure on Public Sector departments to improve efficiency and demonstrate success from new policies, which will serve to increase demand for RM services moving forward