Robert shows on Tuesday mornings, backs his van into my driveway, throws open the back door and pulls out his kit: a mower some weeks, a blower others, always a rake and a trimmer…
He unlocks the gate and goes about his work and within an hour or so he is gone. All that I need to do is have handy the garden waste bin.
Even if you only glance at the business or technology news you can't help but have noticed a lot of discussion about the cloud – it has become a very big word. And Robert is all you need to understand it: An on-demand resource, in the spring and autumn Robert scales up with his son to spend extra time preparing for summer growth or just picking up the leaves. He can be scheduled for plantings and transplants, tree removal, or to pop 'round and feed the cat when we go away for a weekend
Somewhat similar, except for the cat feeding, Cloud is a commercial model for computing where you run programs and store data, on demand, over the network, into the cloud, which is someone else's computer.
Cloud is also called a utility model since like gas and electricity it's available on demand, pay as you go.
You don't need to buy, manage or house big computer servers and storage (or lawn mowers and trimmers), merely work it out with the cloud provider (who, by the way, isn't really in a cloud: they'll be in a traditional data centre, somewhere, anywhere, down the road in Kent or in Manitoba, it doesn't really matter – cloud computing has great value and removes barriers but it isn't rocket science and it isn't brand new.
Ok, we'll be coming back to Robert but he's done the job of showing technology, while complicated, can always be made more clear. That doesn't make it less complicated: it's challenging but done well technology adds value, enhances services and creates wealth and is after all the critical and fundamental bridge to the future
With more than a few years working across this sector as it has evolved, one of the most important lessons I've learned is that technology should
– Solve a problem
– Prevent a problem from happening in the first place
– Save some money, time or resources
– Generate revenue
If it isn't doing or delivering one of the above, somebody should be questioning why it is being done at all.
I found Alvin Toffler's Future Shock on my brother's bookshelf and at age 15 a table of contents that promised subterranean cities, cyborgs, hippies and sensory overload sounded pretty cool. It had its moments but I can't say it wasn't a heavy read
When I picked the book up again 10 or 15 years the later I found different things sticking out, mainly knowledge as fuel, the technological engine and information overload
I also realised that a fair bit of what he wrote was happening by circumstance but that the important bits behind the scenes, planning and design and other human-driven elements were already falling behind
I was also struck by what Toffler called the flow of situations since it seemed to explain it all: and cause it. a chain reaction of change where the change itself enables or causes more change.
Future shock is real, but like cloud computing it isn't exactly new and like any shock the key is to plan for it while doing your best to avoid it
This is where that flow of situations works in our favour: we innovate which enables other innovations: we learn how to do things better, stronger, faster, cheaper
We in-build flexibility by architecting solutions the way they architect a high rise to deal with high winds and earthquakes; we plan for the future by making sure things are extendable and can grow or flex to meet demand and change
We analyse the risks, then we plan for and insure against them, not expecting the worst but with awareness and acceptance that the worst could happen
This provides the opportunity, sometimes, to roll with the punches and maybe even use the momentum to our advantage
Compare the person who dips a toe in the pool to check the temperature to the person who just dives in. The water is the same temperature for both, but not the level of physical shock if the water turns out to be ice cold
The toe dippers also gain advance knowledge of the situation and that alone reduces potential shock. They also have the choice of deciding not to go in after all
Robert does good work, basic garden maintenance, trimming and mowing. He knows what to plant in the sun and what to put in the shade (I've seen him read the labels) and for a fair price I get good basic service and save myself time and investment in yard equipment
You get what you pay for, hopefully, but you certainly don't get what you don't pay for: if we want flowers planted we select and collect them, and the compost: it just isn't part of the service.
But sometimes the expertise doesn't deliver the desired result: when I asked him to transplant a healthy, flowering palm tree from a pot into a more permanent location the results, by the following spring, were less than stellar
When I asked him what next?, he put his hands in his pockets and said to me 'Well, we are where we are' I paused… “We are where we are” … Clever ploy… couldn't really argue that one…
We are where we are
The first time I heard that in a business meeting I thought it obvious but good, we were accepting reality, adjusting and plan our way forward. Then I realised it was an excuse and an attempt to dismiss everything that had happened until then, and just plow forward
"Where we are" is clearly our starting point for anything and everything going forward: "Where we are" is factual, mostly and forward starts HERE!
But Without knowing "where we were" and "how we got here" it is tough to gauge exactly which way is forward is from.
"Where we were" is also factual but since it is in the past it is open to misinterpretation and argument but it is where the lessons were learned, and they are the most critical input to planning our way forward
We position things to succeed: otherwise what is the point? To do that, requirements and objectives need to be defined and communicated: without knowing "where we're going" we can't know what success looks like when we achieve it or what potential failure looks like along the way…
So with a clear way forward, we define objectives and start the journey
And again change causes change, ranging from technology advances to business opportunities or due to legislation
This is where planning proves to have been the right idea: if we invested a small bag of money in kitting out our in-house computer room 2 years back based on a 5 year plan and budget, the fact that cloud today might do it cheaper doesn't matter due to the current position for which the plan works and so adherence to it is the right call for the business
On the other hand, when new requirements come along we can try to position the business to take advantage of appropriate advances, updating the roadmap converging somewhere along the way
Now just a little more on why Where We Were matters more than you may realise
I promise I won't bore you with numbers (or any great level of graphical accuracy as you can see) but a quick look at population shows a steady rise forecast to continue along the same path
Cars and trucks have also grown significantly but the past 20 years and the next 20 years show a much sharper arc
But then again sharpness is relative… this next one combines of information and devices connected to the internet. And once again, the rise is expected to continue on that path: and according to Eric Schmidt from Google, in a 48 hour period we create as much data as we did from the first cave man paintings through to 2003.
Every 2 days. Hard to even begin to imagine that
We see, hear or directly experience change on a vast scale, daily along with people, things and information increasing and moving so rapidly that our senses while not overloaded are softened and we take less notice – the shock is reduced – particularly if it doesn't seem to impact us directly, at that moment… and then our attention is taken away, again
My wife tells me that I use too many analogies and that I sometimes sound condescending, but a large part of my what I do seems to end up as either translating technology or business requirements… and analogies work
So let's go for a couple more
As recently as the 80s the number of connected devices – what we are calling the Internet of Things – was on a scale similar to the number of back gardens on your block… Today we would have to count the blades of grass on each lawn to come close.
Strangely enough I don't think of this as important beyond being significant: we are rapidly reaching a state where everything that needs to be connected is connected, or will be .. along with plenty of things which don't need to be. from 0 to 8.5 Billion devices in 30 years is mind blowing already, but Cisco tell us to expect 50 Billion by 2020. It is rather cool but it is all infrastructure and a shock to which I've become more or less accustomed
Big data, meanwhile, is in value terms something to get excited about
Think of data like water flowing in streams and rivers… there is a lot of it, moving from place to place, sometimes very quickly.. But you can find a boat on a river system fairly easy: it has banks and we know where it starts and where it ends. Big Data is the ocean. All of them. Where it is just a little bit harder to find a boat, let alone even know it is out there.
Much of technology consists of improvements to what came before: fine-tuning, extending and enhancing. Advances and growth in the mobile space are vast but really only deliver what we had, more conveniently
Big Data is different. We have plenty of work to do just to determine the questions, how to ask them and how to find the answers.
Like DNA has allowed forensic examiners to reopen criminal investigations, big data can let us look back and better understand, with more information and better context, a more precise answer of just how we arrived "where we are".
If we can know what happened when, and how, we can see about learning from it to either prevent it from happening again, or to repeat it (depending of course on what IT was).
Cloud and other computing advances are significant but they are only the delivery vehicles that will take us to the treasures hidden in the big data.
The other reason that Big Data is different is that it is not a technology, rather it is a by-product of technology which requires interesting new tech to take advantage of it … but it is a fine example of creating value where there was little before
Computer power continually increases as a function of computer power itself: more power enables us to design and build even more power – maybe the only example ever of a good vicious circle
Add in the speed of communication, advances in storage and the knowledge and experience that is out there and the gates are open
My first answer when I am asked 'Can we do it?' is "Yes: given time, money, resources and flexibility we can pretty much deliver anything (other than maybe Beam me up, Scotty)"
And it is human resources that are the most necessary link in the chain: we need technical skills to work with the business to design and build solutions
if we are to harness big data we need analytical skills across all sectors to figure out what to do with all that information
And we need innovation: You can't create or enforce innovation, out-of-the-box thinking needs to be encouraged rather than, to paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, stifled with bad management and bad legislation.
As far as future goes, the most important part of the word might be its last 2 letters, RE. Reformation and Renaissance, for example, driving the future by building on what came before – and incidentally, both creating great waves of future shock along the way
The same value will come from words like rewire remodel redesign recharge rethink reengineer – we replicate what we've done well and learn from and adjust what didn't work
Working from what we know, like dipping a toe in the pool, lets us prepare and plan so that we have a clear map to where we are going and a good idea of what we need to do to get there. All of which is to me the opposite of shock. Future shock may be a reality but the right efforts up front can act as shock absorbers
Looking back from the view of one in his 50s – his early fifties – it is clear that that I spent the first half of my life in the past and the last half in a dynamic but challenging future
Let me re-phrase that: last half so far… and if life technology advances nearly as far as death technology appears to have done, the odds are in my favour
Alvin Toffler had the right vision but the wrong forecast: he spoke of sub-cults and splinters of society as a bad thing where I see them as natural and which thanks to tech supports easy engagement – and disengagement: we are not isolated, we are connected … unless we choose not to be because we have that choice.
The communications encouraged and the psychology of behaviours re-introduced by social networks like Facebook and Twitter have in some ways started to reboot society, connecting and re-connecting people
Modern tech has changed everything: but that same technology has also been the culprit in massive amounts of wasted time and energy
We need to re-think what we are building and why we are building it
As I came to the end of writing these words for today I realised that I have no conclusion .. or rather, that there is no conclusion, hopefully.. it is after all the future Much of my work is providing information, context and perspective to enable others to consider their own possible conclusions, which sounds a little like the overall concept of society, to m
If I were asked for a solution to this problem, this future thing, I could answer very quickly that the first move is to improve how we communicate, collaborate and educate.
Beyond that, I'd say that we need to figure it out together