Blockchain – enabling true digital transformation

Blockchain will significantly change how we hold and transmit items of value. The business process can finally be designed from the ground up as a digital process – truly transformed. The record of choice for the last 100+ years has been paper. Even when you scan a record, if the paper exist, it is the legal record.

We have birth and death certificates, laws, deeds, bank statements and even money (bills) on paper. The problem is we are becoming a digital society and paper is hugely inefficient. In addition, the processes for handling paper have stayed in place even with digital systems and are highly error prone. How likely is it that an error occurs upon copying or reading a document. Blockchain offers the opportunity for  processes to become 100% digital, secure, and low friction from birth to destruction.

The simplest definition of a blockchain is a digital ledger that is not terribly different from an old fashioned paper accounting ledger. A well implemented blockchain has 3+1 key characteristics. It is immutable meaning once a transaction is entered, it can’t be removed or altered. It is sequential in that each transaction is tied to the one before it and after it. It has consensus based peer nodes that can be distributed. I’ll add a fourth for a “well implemented” blockchain, that it has inherent security with multiple levels and is highly resistant to attack.

A blockchain is not Bitcoin or any single crypto-currency. Crypto-currencies like Bitcoin do run on blockchain technology. The data entered in the ledger for crypto-currency are financial transactions representing value. What fascinates me, and is the subject of this blog, is what else can you do with a Blockchain.

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In 3 recent experiences with obtaining a mortgages, I’ve had a 10%, 50%, and 90% paper based process. I’ll exclude the closing process which is still done on paper thanks to the government being nearly 100% paper based.

Bank 1 was 90% paper based. Everything went to the branch office as paper which they put in a box and shipped to the home office where it was processesed. Only the communication via e-mail was electronic.

Bank 2 was about 50% paper based. They allowed us to submit our documents via an upload, most documents were e-signed, and a few that presumably the government required wet-ink signed, we’d print, sign, and then upload them.

Bank 3, actually a mortgage service, never gave us a piece of paper, but I’d argue it was still only 90% digital. Someone was still transcribing from the uploaded images into the lender’s databases. Even if all of the paper was eliminated, Bank 3 still was working workflow designed for paper. It took limited advantage of the fact that everything was now digitized.

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Blockchain will change the above mortgage process. There will be no transcription and therefore less chances of error. Hypothetically, you’ll upload your information from a digital store on blockchain of IDs which will include multiple biometric authentication methods to confirm it’s really you. You’ll permission your lender to do research on your credit worthiness in various financial blockchains. It may even eliminate the need for the credit scores and credit bureaus as credit data can be gathered directly and relatively quickly (more on that later). At the same time, they will review your deed and other documents with the government making sure you are lien free.

All of the approvals, audits, and additional documents will be kept in the lending agency’s blockchain, but can link with permissions to other blockchain’s or simply make copies with reference to the source. Finally, your signatures will cause the down payment to be transferred along with the signatures of everyone involved from the bank, regulators, attorneys, auditors, county and state tax authorities, county court records, insurance agencies, buyers, and sellers. In theory, from discussion of the mortgage to the completion of the mortgage a day or few day process.

The biggest issue with blockchains, besides they are new and we are just starting to build applications for them, is that they are slow in terms of computer transactions. The slowness is mostly due to the consensus element. For all the nodes (computers) to agree it is valid entry, it can take up to a few minutes. While this is huge leap forward in terms of recording a legal records which can now take weeks or months, it far is too slow for sub-second transactions like purchasing on the internet or recording an entry at help desk. So for now, it is best applied to large block type transactions of higher value which fit the characteristics of blockchains.

Here are a few areas where blockchains are a natural:

  • Medical records (individual, hospital, doctor, etc.)
  • Government documents (deeds, judgments, laws, titles, licenses, etc.)
  • Financial documents (bank ledgers, investments, statements, etc.)
  • Supply Chains (farm to fork, inspections, transportation, etc.)

Where else might blockchains fit? What other technologies like AI might be integrated?

If you like to learn more about how you can build on the blockchain, IBM provides FREE tutorials on the Hyperledger, an open sourced blockchain.

 

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Consumer Technology enables SCALE and RAPID INNOVATION

Consumers enable SCALE and RAPID INNOVATION in Technology. As I walked around the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I could see how the technology will “bubble up” into business and into enterprises quickly. Initially, technology came from business to consumers – think PCs. The sheer size of consumer market, hunger for new functionality, and its willingness to put up with beta releases makes the consumer world the ideal proving ground for the less fault tolerant enterprise world. Companies that span both world can leverage the consumer world for its SCALE and RAPID INNOVATION and bubble those innovations into the enterprise world for higher profits.

Drones are an example of bubbling up. While they started in the military, they are now a big segment of the consumer market. Drones or autonomous flying vehicles have been improving including automated stabilization, 4K cameras, enhanced flying times, etc. Many of them have dozens of computers on board and some rather impressive programming to make them simple to use. First it was movies, then multi-million dollar homes and now you see mid-market homes with drone footage. It has become a toy for teenagers, too.

Due to the wide-spread usage of drones in the consumer market, they are vastly improved and far less expensive. One of the leader’s in the industry (Drone Market Map)( https://www.droneii.com/top20-drone-company-ranking-q3-2016)), DJI’s basic drone is just under $500, flys for ~25 mins, includes GPS tracking, tracks subjects based photo recognition using a 1080 camera for photos and stills. Lots of knock offs are even cheaper.  “Toy Drones” are just $50! Five years ago, the DJI basic drone would have been a top of the line $5K drone, if even available.

Part of the attractiveness of the consumer world is scale. The other factor is that the consumer world is filled with willing beta testers and relatively low liability costs. The consumer world is an agile one where cycles occur very quickly. A typical enterprise development cycle is 18 months. In the same time in the consumer world, you’d see a major hardware, firmware, and at least 30+ releases of software.

The demand for new and the tolerance for risk is high in the consumer market. Recent releases of drones from reputable consumer companies come with lots of complaints on the internal boards of them not flying well, not following waypoints, and simply flying away. In the business world, failure to perform would be a breach of contract and might result in loss of property or life. In the consumer world, the drone manufacturer can just send a firmware update, a letter, a coupon, award you status on their web site as hero or pioneer, or at worst – replace the drone. It’s a trivial price enabling those dipping into the consumer world to advance faster than those in the business world.

While scale makes the money, it is the willing beta tester that enables advancement. Haven’t you signed up to be a beta or an alpha tester. I know I am for many of IBM’s early release programs. We have marvelous internal site called “Technology Adoption Program” where individuals submit their software inventions. Many have become key enablers of IBM’s business. They grew up fast by being adopted and depended on by IBM’s business.

What else might bubble up? Virtual Reality has real possibilities for training. Augmented Reality with heads up displays and glasses will be welcomed the field. Giving schematics, UV and Infrared vision, and more to workers. What will make it become easily affordable and useful – another Pokemon Go that plays with glasses pushing it onto millions of users’ foreheads.

3D printing is coming of age, but I can see point where 25% of households have plastics printer and your hardware store has a metal one. No inventory of 500K parts – just print it. Lots more like LED lights, Home Automation, Sports Fitness, etc. will bubble up.

Finally, Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be the biggest winner from the bubble up effect of the consumer. The key to AI is having huge knowledge base or corpus and lots of training. Where better than the consumer market with a potential of 7 billion users – the population of the world – to train your AI. Whether it is Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Watson, or Google, these companies’ AI programs will benefit from the consumer training it. You get a voice interface and they get you to train their AI.

What do you think will be the next big bubble up technology from the consumer world to the enterprise world?

 

 

Saving $1.8T but at what cost? and do we have a choice?

We continue to automate and improve business systems. I’ve spent my whole career improving business efficiency. Each time we do so, we mostly disrupt lower level service jobs and now some medium level professional jobs. We do this because making a business more efficient, effective, and cost competitive keeps that business ahead of its competition.

The recent article by CIO Insight “How Repetitive Tasks Waste $1.8 Trillion” made me consider the consequences, both bad and good. That $1.8 Trillion amounts to a lot of people’s jobs. The downside is elimination will be the elimination of jobs. I once recall discussing how we were going to put in telephonic automation for the service desk when someone said “you know, we just fired 300+ people.” We observed about 30 seconds of silence, swallowed hard, and then finished our task of designing the solution. It was going to happen regardless as most of their competitors had already eliminated large human level 1 service desks. Now we are observing the impact of readily available cloud wiping out many small and medium data center and application support people’s jobs. I’m certainly not against cloud solutions. IoT, Mobile, and SaaS solutions all stem from basic cloud capability and are creating NEW job markets and careers.

Jobs are both a way wage along with an identity for most of us, so I take it personally and seriously. I’ve done both the laying off of people and been laid off. Neither is fun. After I had to lay off my staff, I was physically ill and just thinking about it gives me the chills. I was able to get the best of them lined up with new job opportunities. No one wants to be told they are no longer needed and can be discarded.

To the positive, people can be moved to new jobs. The best companies work with their people to find them jobs that can help the company grow. As individuals, we all need to be on the look out for the possibility we’ll be disrupted by new technologies. There is no job that is immune entirely. Hands on trades people are probably the least susceptible, but even they must learn new skills constantly to stay employed. If you are in job that can be digitized, you need to start planning how to adapt. Your job will be under threat inevitably.

Companies are not social employment agencies and I don’t advocate socialism. I think it is in their best interest to be part of the community, since ultimately it is the community who consumes from them and makes them successful. Companies in capitalistic market that must out compete each other and to do so must make money for the owners / stockholders. In addition, if a company does not continue to move forward ahead of its competition, it will fail and NO ONE will be working for that company.

In the end, the march of improvement and technology is inevitable part of human history. Stopping progress is neither possible or wise. We can and should think about how to do it humanely by recognizing the impact and helping those impacted find ways to be productive members of society. We can use it wisely to improve our conditions as a planet and as human beings.

 

Oracle & SAP: Please focus on innovation, please, please!

Boxing DogI’m glad to see the SAP, TomorrowNow, Oracle debacle drawing to a close as reported in Forbes.  While we all want to be fairly paid for our innovations and no one wants to be ripped off, we don’t need individuals, leaders, and whole companies spending all their efforts and focus on  suing, counter-suing and legal maneuvers.   I’ve always believed that as soon as you start involving lawyers, you are already losing or at least skimming off your capability.  It is pretty clear to me that TomorrowNow was wrong and SAP owned them, so I’m not arguing the verdict at all, but the huge waste of energy, focus, and innovation.

The recent announcement on the settlement seems reasonable in that it compensates Oracle for damages plus penalties. Forbes reported ‘A three-judge federal bench upheld the judge’s ruling and awarded approximately $357 million in damages, with about $121 million in lost profits for Oracle and $236 million in infringement profit for SAP, stating the previous award was “based on undue speculation.”‘  This is long way from the $1.3B initial reward which was headline worthy.  It also seems large enough to discourage bad behavior and compensates Oracle, or at least their lawyers, fairly.

Putting aside the huge dollars here, can you imagine how much of the Oracle and SAP teams’ energies went into this lawsuit?  What if both companies just focused on building better databases? tools? products? ERP systems? clouds?  It seems when companies get sucked into these types of legal battles, the only winners possible are weaker competitors who can focus on innovation and clients while the big guys “duke it out” in the courts. 

Can SAP and Oracle just go back to creating great products because while you were filing legal briefs, you competition didn’t rest.  Ultimately, the real loser was the consumer who is paying for all the legal overhead and distractions when they buy your products.  So please, please, please, go back to building better mouse traps.  I got lots of mice.

Please STOP using meaningless terms for cloud like Private, Public, and Hybrid

There are 2 dimensions that have meaning when discussing cloud solutions and the terms public, private, and hybrid contains too many overlaps and ambiguity.  Is a cloud private if it is hosted?  Is a cloud public because I access it over the internet and does that mean my corporate data center accessed via VPN is public?  Worse, the term Hybrid Cloud gets bounced around so many different ways that is no longer relevant at all.   I could have SAP ERP and SuccessFactors  or SAP ERP production in a corporate data center and the non-production SAP ERP systems on a IaaS cloud provider such as IBM’s SmartCloud IaaS  or it could mean I do some ERP functions on SAP ERP on premise and some using SAP Business-by-Design (BbyD) or on NetSuite ERP.   In the end, it only means  is I’m using more than one type of solution.

There are meaningful dimensions to describing cloud solutions.  The two (2) dimensions that matter are: 1) location, and 2) separation.

First is location.  Where is the solution residing?  Is it on my premise, site or facility that I own or at least consider part of my corporate network of locations.  Alternatively, is it away from the bulk of my IT assets such  that I need a WAN to access it.  For clients with highly distributed data centers this becomes a moot point since everything connects over the WAN; however, most clients have consolidated their corporate application and data centers into just a few locations.  IBM runs its corporate business in just a few data centers with SAP in just 2 of them globally.

Second is separation.  What separates the resources.  Are the solution resources separated by physical boundaries such as server, application, or database or is the solution separated by layers of software?

The trend is clearly towards SaaS where location is off premise and all the infrastructure and application components of the solution are software separated.  In a SaaS solution, it is clear you are using the SaaS providers data center of choice and not your own.  You also are accepting that the secured division of servers, network, and storage.  Even more importantly, you are accepting that your data in flight (within the application) and at rest is kept secured and separated from others including your competitor.  I have seen numerous cases where direct competitors use the same SaaS solution.  In fact, most SaaS providers count on competitors using their application to scale since you can’t build a SaaS business on single client.  Clearly, we do believe in software separation has come of age.

Software divided applications and infrastructure is becoming a the rule.  If you want to take the software divided and secured environment on premise, IBM calls it Software Defined Environment (SDE) ().  Another major player, VMware, calls it Software Defined Data Center (SDDC).  Regardless, each is an attempt to virtualize the infrastructure for more effective use of all assets.  This is good for both cost savings and for agility.  Deploying virtual infrastructure is far faster than physical.  Often clients think the value of the business case is in the cost savings, but ultimately it is found in the agility that translate into real application and business value.

So, next time someone comes to you with a hosted semi-private cloud infrastructure offering with hybrid capabilities, just ask them 2 questions.  Where is the solution residing?  What is separating the infrastructure and applications?  Concise answers will reveal a lot about the solution and you’ll have more time to do something beautiful like grow your hybrid tea roses and find PEACE.

Imagination: The missing 4th dimension of leadership

I’ve noted that there are 4 critical dimensions of leaders: 1) knowledge, 2) communication, 3) execution, and 4) imagination.  While a great deal of emphasis is placed on the first 3, I don’t see enough on imagination.  Imagination is what happens in the space between activities of fact based thought, communicating, and executing plans.  Imagination is our minds running non-linear paths making inconceivable connections conceivable.

Knowledge is fundamental.  It is not just book smarts and subject smarts, but the ability to understand people and organizations.  No business, not even the most technical, is void of people.  Understanding what makes them tick is critical. Certainly you need to know your subject.  There is nothing worse than having a CEO stand up and talk about some new technology and know he doesn’t have clue what he’s talking about.  This is TV anchorman syndrome – Ron Burgundy – “Stay classy” – meaningless drivel.

Communication is critical.  A leader has to be able to convince others in small, medium, and large groups, the population at large that their direction is correct, and even (gulp!) Wall Street.  Today with so many forms of communication and so much of instant, it is a difficult to space to be consistent in your delivery and not get caught off-camera with some inappropriate remark.  How many politicians have been zapped by off-camera, but not off cell phone camera, recording, etc.  Communications becomes a 24 x 7 job.  It is no wonder it often forces leaders to use easily recalled and repeatable sound bites and never stray from the message.  The consequences of “being real” can be grave.

Execution is often considered the most important dimension.  If you can only think and talk about an idea, but can’t make it happen; can’t change the world; can’t line up the troops and take the hill; you will never be a leader.  Unfortunately, I think we often over emphasis execution, especially short term execution, to point the other dimensions falter and more importantly overall effectiveness of the organization fails over time.  It is trying to run a marathon as series of sprints.  In the end, even an average marathon runner will beat a world class sprinter.

Imagination often gets obscured by Execution.  Execution is the rigorous, efficient use  of time.  If we allow our obsession with execution to overwhelm our imagination, how will we have time for the inefficient use of time spent imagining things being different?  Even Edison, who believed in hard work and disciplined execution boarding on fanaticism allowed for imagination.

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. -Thomas A. Edison

I’m not asking for nation of lost day dreamers, but I’m asking our leaders to believe in those flights of fancy into the fantastic and turn them into reality.  In 2013, the coolest car I saw was a Tesla.  The largest recent impact to the modern  world is the Smartphone, basically born in 2007 with the iPhone.   These are two examples where Imagination followed by brilliant knowledge, execution, and communication has changed our world; however, it all started with imagination.

As we end 2013, what can you imagine different, better, or into existence in 2014?

Mary Meeker Report

Mary Meeker Report

What is going to happen in the future?  Honestly, no one knows which is what makes it exciting, but a lot of us try to look at current trends and project the future.  It is not a crystal ball.  One of the best for politics is Nate Silver (http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/author/nate-silver/) from the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com).  His recent predications on the elections have been spot on.  In his book, Signal to Noise (http://www.amazon.com/dp/159420411X), he looks at how people ignore the data based on their own bias.

The Mary Meeker report really doesn’t draw any conclusions.  It offers more of pure data view, but you get the picture of where it is pointing.  You certainly can see the new expanding power base in China and India.  It warns us to learn from our past, which is why we all need to study some history.  I encourage you to spend some time with it and put aside your biases so you see the “signal” and can shut out the “noise”.  It is a fun filled 110+ page ride.  

Let me know what you see in the data.