Learning from US TV

Like many Canadians, I grew up watching some, ok a lot, of US network television.  I admit that there wasn’t a great deal of educational value there.  Perhaps an episode or two of School House Rock that told me what conjunctions are, but not much more.  Now that Saturday morning cartoons don’t dominate my schedule, although I can’t pass on the Simpsons, those “educational” experiences are less overt.  But they still come up on occasion.

One such occasion happened a few years ago during the US mid-term elections.  It just so happens that the US network stations that we get here in the Nation’s capital herald from Detroit.  We Canadians were bombarded with campaign commercials from any number of candidates seeking seats on the US Congress or US Senate and perhaps even a few seats in important places.  Of course I can’t recall any of their names, nor tell you who won the important jobs.  I can tell you what struck me most was the commentary from the many autoworkers that lent their support testimonials in the TV ads.  Most of these people were supporting particular candidates for helping provide funds to keep their particular automotive plant open.  It struck me that perhaps these hardworking people would have been better served by funding training programs to prepare them in today’s evolving job marketplace.  The recent turmoil in the US automotive industry, personalized by the Oscar nominated HBO documentary “The Last Truck” suggests that perhaps more could have been done to better prepare these communities for the Digital Economy.  Let’s keep a close eye to make sure we really learned this lesson.

The second learning came more recently, well actually earlier this week when I saw another commercial.  Yes I only pay attention to the commercials.  This commercial from the Detroit Medical Center promotes a web-based real-time Emergency Room wait times at their five hospital facilities (http://www.dmc.org/ERwait ).  ER wait times are a key concern here in Ontario as well http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/waittimes/edrs/default.aspx.  Before you jump to conclusions about the results on either site, stop.  There are too many differences between the measurements to even start to make any reasonable assertion.  What we can learn is that someone, someplace in Michigan has found a way to report useful data about the ER in what seems to be a real time basis, and that the data is useful for the community to help them make an informed decision should they have the luxury to plan their visit to the ER.  This is the lesson of making data more readily available to empower individuals to make more informed decisions.  And that’s one to grow on…

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My $20

Canadian $20I’ve been thinking a lot lately about open government and greater citizen engagement in the machinery of government.  Local governments have had the most success in reaching out to their communities and getting greater involvement from businesses and individuals in local affairs.  This is partly because of the far larger number of daily interactions that we have with our city services.  If you think about it for a minute you appreciate that many of those things that you see during the day, like tap water, electricity, public transit, traffic lights, trash collection, public pools, local policing, restaurant health checks and more are all city services.  On any average day it seems that we take advantage of well over 10 city provided services.  It’s difficult to think of many provincial services over and above health, driver’s licensing and outdoors.  It’s even more difficult from a direct federal government interaction, perhaps passports, citizenship and RCMP.

So how do we get better citizen engagement across the three levels of government when the interaction between the jurisdictions is so different?  One common “service” across all governments is tax:  municipal, provincial and federal taxes.  Maybe there could some way that we could encourage greater citizen interaction in the allocation of taxes to government programs.  Maybe taxes could represent a catalyst for Canadians to give their 2¢ worth of input.  2¢ is hard to subdivide across multiple programs, so let’s up the ante a little and suggest that we use $20 as a baseline.  Since Statistics Canada states that average personal taxes amounted to $14,600 in 2008, (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/091218/dq091218b-eng.htm, $20 represents less than 0.14% of the total tax bill.  I’m sure CRA probably won’t mind that 0.14% is being put aside for this project.

Here the concept:  Give every taxpayer a notional $20 that they can allocate towards discretionary projects (that is, projects other than essential services (core policing, clean water etc.))  Over top of a regional map, let people select programs that interest them from a pull down list of government funded activities.  For each activity, allow people to allocate from $1 to $20 of their notional fund towards each project.  So tax payers could, for example, allocate $5 towards a coffee shop in Khandahar for the troops, $5 for maintaining their local outdoor rink and perhaps $10 for improvements to the 400 series highways.  At the end of the selection period, the governments could tally the value, truncate those activities that didn’t receive enough support to reach their minimum goals (it would be hard to build an off ramp with say $100).  The unallocated funds could be re-distributed in a prorated manner based upon support received to date.

 

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/69GS2ZH

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Special is Extra

It’s funny to read the fine print included in some ads.  I guess I never thought of trying to get double meat on my fast food sandwich for the same price.  After all, a double is a double and a single is a single.  I think we can all appreciate that there are some options that we can choose when ordering which will be included in the price, and there are other special asks that might cost a little more. 

Now you might ask:  “what’s he on about fast food sandwiches and disclaimers” in a technology oriented blog.  Great question!  The connection lies in a recent presentation I made at a conference on “Cloud Computing Law.”  I have to admit that as an engineer, I felt a little out of place in the roster of legal professionals that followed my kick-off session, but having worked with IT as service for the better part of 10 years, especially focused on cloud and legal/policy issues for the last four I could provide a practitioner’s perspective.  Of course I always start off with the “demystifying the cloud” messages that help everyone appreciate the variety of technologies, processes, business models and locations that cloud services can refer to.  There is still confusion out there and it’s making business leaders wary of going to the cloud.  It’s also perpetuating some of the myths I’ve written about earlier.  As organizations look to take advantage of the opportunities of cloud computing they have the choice of whether to build cloud capabilities in their facilities, ask a service provider to host their cloud services or make use of public cloud services over the Internet.

Moving from internal cloud services to the public cloud services allows economies of scale to kick in and decreases, often dramatically; the costs associated with the IT service (see Economics of the Cloud paper).  However, as you move from private, through hosted to public cloud services your ability to obtain customized solutions decreases.  Generally, the broader the audience the solution serves, the more that you’ll have the simplicity of configuration.

This takes us back to the presentations at the cloud computing law conference where there were several suggestions around what organizations should demand from their cloud services provider.  In many cases cloud providers have already packaged these requirements into the baseline services offerings or the business agreements that are struck with customers.  In some cases, well, it just doesn’t work that way.  One example that stands out in my mind is the suggestion that cloud consumers demand a private right to audit the operations of the cloud provider.  Trustworthy cloud operators will have already had independent validation of their operations against one or more audit standards, be it SAS 70 or ISO 27001 to provide a consistent, industry recognized measurement of the trusted operations of their facilities.   These worldwide recognized audit standards have been developed to provide confidence without requiring separate independent reviews.  Think of it like the health inspector checking out the restaurant so that you don’t have to go through the kitchen yourself.  Can you imagine what the operations of a cloud service provider would look like if each of their thousands of customers audited their facilities?  My sense is that on any given day there would be 10s, if not hundreds, of audit personnel in the data centre.  Operators would have little time to actually operate their facilities and would be kept busy shepherding people throughout their facilities and documentation.

If you really want to have your own audit capabilities, you may need to look to a provider who is more specialized to meeting your custom requirements and that, of course, may cost extra.

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Come on Deputy, Don’t Fear the Tech Gear

 “Senior leaders in government remain concerned about IT projects”, revealed a good friend of mine following a recent executive roundtable he attended.  He went on to note how unfortunate this is given the strong potential that technology has to meet the government’s objectives noted in the speech from the throne and other significant initiatives. 

You’ll recall that the speech from the throne (http://www.sft-ddt.gc.ca/ ) calls for a review of administrative services with an emphasis on improving efficiency.  It also calls out the launch of a “digital economy strategy to drive the adoption of new technology across the economy.”  eGovernment conversations also raise the concept of government as a model user of technology, or even in some cases , a leading edge adopter of technologies through the use of test facilities.  So why the reluctance?

There are any number of reasons why senior leaders may be nervous about embracing IT enable service transformation.  One leading reason is the uncertain outcomes following several large bag phonegovernment IT projects.  I believe that this is a result of incongruous timing between policy and technology.  Government priorities, policies and even projects often span several years.  One great example is New Brunswick’s goal to become self-sufficient by 2026 (http://intraspec.ca/report-E.pdf ).  Started in 2007, this initiative had a close to 20 year time horizon.  If we shift to have a look at the technological pace of change where new features / services are being delivered on an almost weekly basis, especially in the case of internet based services, we can quickly see the staggering amount of change that can occur over 20 years.  While the number of changes due to weekly enhancements (1040) gives us a number that we really can’t appreciate, perhaps taking a look back at a common technology 20 years ago will put things in perspective.  The early 1990s saw the emergence of 2G networks and the cell phone pictured here.  So it would have been hard to imagine the multifunctional smart phones many of us use today. 

Now let’s think about a traditional large government project.  Large government projects take time, often spanning multiple years.  Often the time between original concept to final delivery can span several technology generations leaving even the seasoned project manager with a change control nightmare just to keep pace with changes in technology and, perhaps even more challenging, changes in their customer’s expectations.

Ruthless Incrementalism

Given this apparent discordance between policy and technology, what is a senior leader to do? My feeling is that the key is to deliver measureable and meaningful outcomes in shorter timeframes.  In place of multi-year, multi-million dollar “Projects”, deliver multiple low cost projects within a given year.  Instead of one million-dollar project, reconsider the project as a “Program” with one thousand, thousand-dollar projects.  These small projects promote agility in face of technological change while building towards the broader program goals.  The program can make rapid adjustments to ensure ultimate success should any one small project fail.  There are a handful of other key principles that support this nimble approach to IT services delivery that I’ll explore later through this blog.  But until then, with my apologies to the Blue Oyster Cult, “come on Deputy, don’t fear the tech gear

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Putting technology to proper use?

So the premise behind these conversations is around putting technology to its best use for a particular situation.  Essentially, using a screwdriver to twist in screws and not bashing them in with a hammer.  It’s often helpful to have guidance or instructions for how we can use these tools most effectively.  This is the world in which I find I spend most of my time, thinking of that connection between guidance (or policy) and the technology it addresses.  I have been looking at this interaction for quite some time, perhaps my entire career, although it has evolved over many years.  I can recall a time when the guidance dealt with the process of physically moving a ribbon of paper tape from the tape punch to one or many of a variety computer systems operated by other nations.  Giving a little thought, perhaps out loud, to the potential scope of this conversation in today’s technology driven world I drew up a mind map of those top of mind subjects where technology and policy came together. 

I think you’ll agree that it’s not a small area of study.  But as you think about technology a little further, you begin to see how it has become an integral part of almost every aspect of our lives.  The conclusion I reached is that all policies have a technology element.  Technology drives better health outcomes, improved education and environmental stewardship.  In this flat world of spikey regions, the availability of robust technology infrastructures helps attract people to liveable communities and drives economic growth.  The growth of the knowledge economy is inextricably connected to information technology. 

Now I know it seems a little far-fetched that a policy on, say, forestry has a link to information technology but after you go beyond the mental image of Paul Bunyan and his double sided axe, you quickly see how technology enabled (perhaps even driven) this sector has become.  A quick review of the Canadian Forestry Service website under R&D leads you to FPInnovations, “the world’s largest private, not-for-profit forest research institute.”  Their “Innovation Hub” provides a snapshot of how technology is driving innovation in this important segment of Canada’s economy.

With this incredible broad subject area, there will be any number of interesting areas to think about how best to apply the right technologies to the right problems in the right way.

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Open Government is a Team Sport

Earlier this week, in conversation with some of our worldwide government teams, I had the opportunity to share some of our experiences with the open government activities underway across Canada. With so many great initiatives underway, I couldn’t focus too long on any particular project and really looked to try to draw out the higher level success factors that could be replicated in other regions around the world.  As I went through the recent events and noteworthy news items, I shared the Open Data case study posted by David Eaves (http://bit.ly/98WVqt ).  While David called out some of the work that Microsoft is doing for Open Gov, it struck me that the singular “Microsoft” really hides a significant lesson learned or best practice and that lesson is that Open Gov is a collaborative effort of many. 

This may seem like a truism to many of you, but I think it’s well worthwhile to state.  It’s clear to me that it’s a team sport from at least two different perspectives.  From an internal perspective, our open government work relies on the tireless efforts of people across a variety of teams including the local public sector team, the developer evangelism team, our product groups, the partner team and many others.  However, the work of all these people wouldn’t be effective if it weren’t for the external conversations, brainstorming and other interactions that we have had.  The CloudCamps, ChangeCamps, roundtables, consultations and even one on one conversations with thought leaders have all contributed to a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities for individuals, businesses and governments.  Without this collaborative approach, any of the activities we started would most certainly have not hit the mark.  There are many individual teams working hard at the local level and perhaps even regional level open government activities.  I’ve noticed that there are several common themes that always pop up during these conversations including civic engagement, transparency, privacy, common data-sets, standards/Interoperability, social networking and others.  Perhaps it’s time to time to bring these teams together for a national level conversation on open government across all three levels (municipal, provincial and federal).

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It’s almost time to drop the “mobile” from “mobile app”

(originally published May 24, 2012)

Yesterday I had the opportunity to join in the work to create competency profiles for Digital Media at the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC).  Through their research across hundreds of Canadian employers, the ICTC team identified several key subsectors of interest in the Digital Media space.  One of those subsectors was that of Mobile Application Development.  Certainly Canadian companies are having a big impact in the mobile space making the competition for top talent fiercer than ever.  As we explored the HR requirements for today and into the future we started investigating the potential platforms for Digital Media.

When we think about mobile today, we often jump to a mental image of a smart phone or perhaps a slate or tablet.  Certainly application developers today need to give thought to what form factor, what platform and, sometimes, what specific device they are targeting for their application.  If we take a quick look into the near future we can see quite a different environment.  If you’ve been following the Building Windows 8 Blog, you’ve noticed how Windows is being designed to make it easier to work across multiple screen sizes and a variety of hardware.  This coupled with cloud connectivity across devices really starts to make the word “mobile” redundant on these traditional devices.

We’re also in an era of the Internet of Things with an increasing number of specialized devices cropping up every day.  Connected vehicles, Medical Devices ,  Refrigerators,  Pop machines and more are enabled by Digital Media.  While you can’t easily put many of these devices in your pocket, they all run apps that have similar considerations to those in the “mobile” world.  It really starts to become clear that it doesn’t make sense to identify the specific device or environment when talking about this new era of computing.

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Building Canadian Innovation and Jobs with the Cloud

(originally published March 15, 2012(

Whew!  What a busy week.  I’ve just come back from a whirlwind tour of our country describing the results of an IDC study on the impact that the Cloud has on Jobs.  These visits were capped off with the exciting opportunity to share the news on CBC’s Lang and O’Leary Exchange show.  You can see me at 40:30 at this link.

While the tour lasted only a few days, I’ve been crisscrossing Canada (yes those are 25 flight segments since mid-January) meeting an increasing number of businesses that are harnessing the cloud to grow their business.  It’s been really invigorating to see so many great innovators.  What’s really great is that while those of us in technology appreciate the impact that it is having, perhaps the bigger impact that it has on business is really starting to be appreciated.  And this impact is not just on tech companies, it’s on all types and sizes of business.  By making computing as easy to get and use as you would electricity from a socket, businesses can focus on their ideas, their innovation and the next big thing.  By helping larger businesses run their computers more efficiently by following the steps used by Microsoft to deliver services to 100’s of millions of people allows larger businesses to use those resources for innovation instead of mundane maintenance.

I know that some people will be skeptical about the idea that jobs are going to grow across the economy and that roughly one in five jobs will be attributable to cloud computing.  If you look at the great innovation we’ve encountered across Canada, you’ll not only see the IT aspects, but also the opportunities to grow jobs in other industries.  Here are the examples.

http://www.mediavalet.co/  – Mediavalet makes it easy to share photos, audio and videos around the world.  Thousands of hotels use this service to provide potential visitors a glimpse of what’s waiting for them as they plan their trips online.  In this case cloud can help build jobs across the tourism industry as it brings in more visitors, allows hotels to focus on their business and builds new marketplaces.

http://www.newspaperdirect.com/ – Newspaper direct delivers over 2000 newspapers in 95 languages around the world to a variety of electronic devices.  Not only does the cloud fully enable the delivery of the content, it also helps newspapers reach a larger audience allowing them to hire more reporters, advertisers and editors.

http://www.opreie.com/ – By taking the paperwork out of real-estate transactions, Opreie’s solutions allow real estate professional focus on their clients and building out their business.  By reducing the time and complexity of the transactions, real estate professionals grow their office and take on more clients.

http://www.cortex.net/  – Cortex Business Solutions harnesses the cloud to automate and streamline their purchasing process.  With today’s increasing pace of business, all businesses need confidence and predictability in their procurement.  Through reducing the costs associated in this critical part of their business, organizations can invest in their core capabilities; be it energy exploration, transportation or environmental services.

http://www.connect2fans.com/ – Today’s entertainment marketplace has dramatically evolved with talented people now more connected with their fans than ever before.  By making it really easy for build marketplaces to bring talented people and their fans together, Connect2Fans helps talented people spend more time on their passion and reach the community that appreciates it.

whatsnexx.com – Whatsnexx provides a cloud based one-stop marketing environment talking the complexity out of all aspects of marketing campaigns, professionals can focus on the more important elements of reaching their audience.  This helps marketing firms hire more artists, writers and communicators in place of computer support staff.

http://www.redwoodglobal.ca/ – Talented people are the lifeblood of today’s economy and Redwood Global helps organizations find the very specialized talent to be successful.  By moving to O365 cloud based office tools, Redwood Global was able to avoid overhead associated with computer management and focus on helping clients find the people they need.

http://www.resaas.com/ – Social networks have always contributed to individual and business success.  By bringing together the often distributed real estate community in their own social community, Resaas connects professionals so that they can be more effective in their practice and grow their business.

www.gaugemobile.com/ –The Cloud empowers consumers more than ever before as it provides a wealth of information at their fingertips.  2D barcodes are making it easier than ever before to link the physical world and the virtual world.  These connection symbols are appearing on any number of places and things across the economy. GaugeMobile makes it easy for businesses to harness the great capabilities of barcodes and the emerging wireless equivalents (NFC) to grow their audience and customers.  This can help everyone from organic food creator invite more people to savour their creation following to artists building a greater following by making it easier to appreciate the background to their works.

I think you’ll agree that while cloud technology certainly provides a foundation for the innovative companies listed above, it provides a springboard for jobs across the economy.

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Open Data Canada Timeline Project

govcamp 2011I mentioned at GovCamp that Canada is at the forefront for Open Data activities worldwide.  In my presentation I had hoped to illustrate a number of the projects underway, but alas, the build just made a mess of the slide.  So I thought it would be interesting to try to capture the timeline of noteworthy open government / open data activities in Canada.  I’ve captured a number of the notable open government / open data initiatives across Canada (and borrowed a couple from datalibre.ca and the open data in Canada wikipedia entry) and fleshed out the dates from news articles and other announcements.  I’ve done my bets to be accurate, but would happily be corrected by those with more detailed info (e.g. When exactly did Nanaimo first publish their data?)

If you have a correction or addition, please leave a comment with it, and I’ll refresh the .xlsx  on a regular basis with the new noteworthy events.

The Excel spreadsheet is here: Canada_Open_Data_Timeline-v2.4

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Pardon the Noise

Hey everyone,
As you’ll notice, this site is recovering from a hiatus, domain change and 100% loss of content. Please bear with me as I reassemble the stuff that once was and build this out further.

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