Of Everything & Everyone

Posted January 13, 2015 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

Some basic assumptions, and a little bit of anecdotal evidence, re: The Internet of Everything and Everyone:

We are at the beginning of what I describe as a “socio-technical Cambrian Era” in which sensor-broadcast data and analytics “at the edge” will (market sensibility notwithstanding) surge through industries and civic institutions, transforming once-traditional business models (undermining some, enlivening others).  This has the potential to alter those industries, much as the ubiquitous Internet and the introduction of e-commerce changed brick-and-mortar businesses over the past two decades.

As with early e-commerce successes like eBay and Amazon (and stellar failures such as Webvan), the underlying principles of the new economy were initially difficult to predict/articulate until “best practices” emerged toward lucid definition.  In this “socio-technical Cambrian Era” we find ourselves in a similar maturity curve, with all of the energy of adolescence and little wisdom.  Gas/Electric companies modernize metering.  Auto insurance companies gather gadget-enabled behavioral information to set rates.  Nest, FitBit:  there are lots of new ways to generate information, without many guiding principles.

Learning from the success of a single odd Idea

In what will surely become apocryphal, one city decided to embed sensors in the trash/recycling bins provided by the city’s waste management agency, guided by a general notion that full bins were the only ones that required collection.  The obvious efficiency and cost reduction proposition was simple enough to understand.  The stunning results were unexpected.  Ultimately, the ROI for this project was indirect, benefits accrued in secondary business streams.

  • For example, a shift from the standard “Empty Every Can on Scheduled Pickup Dates” to “Empty Only Those Cans that Need to Be Emptied” not only stabilized labor costs (initial proposition) but entirely eliminated over-time that subsequently allowed the agency to consider improvements in staffing, salaries, and benefits without additional fees or taxes. 
  • Fuel consumption for the fleet of lumbering garbage collection vehicles decreased in similar volume, so much so that the agency had the financial flexibility to improve vehicle maintenance without impact to their annual budget.
  • Requests for replacement containers, sturdy but prone to wheel and lid breakage requiring unit replacement due to frequent impact, dropped significantly.
  • And one additional benefit: the unusual consequence, at times of “reduced services” – overall customer satisfaction improved due to the personalized attention to each household’s specific needs.

The Conundrum

The remarkable “upside” of this initiative is most notable for the surprise, because (at the time) it was difficult for city leaders to predict, in advance, what might be possible until they reviewed the data.  However, I believe that there are underlying principles at work, in much the same fashion demonstrated by our e-commerce experience, principles which, if elucidated, would point us in the optimal direction for next year’s modest city budgets.

Think of the oil drilling industry at the turn of the century.  The absence of useful information forced speculators to drill hundreds of potential wells in order to tap the one underground deposit that profitably covered the speculative costs.  (Modern example: venture capital.)  Later, we learned how to analyze the geography, apply sonar tools (using existing technology in new ways) to identify optimal oil fields, and subsequently, shift the industry from Drill Hundreds, Find One (with all of the unnecessary cost) to Drill Where Oil Lives.

Profits exploded.

ROI Multipliers Everywhere

I believe there are equivalent opportunities in numerous industries that will be enabled (or overwhelmed) by our analysis of soon-to-be-available data streams.  Further, I believe that current anecdotal successes are clear indicators of repeatable practices, where obvious multipliers serve as guideposts for civic and corporate decision-makers.

In other words, we have the option to systematically predict rather than haphazardly guess. I’ll offer two examples:

  • In the Trashcan project of that single city, let us quantify the profits available for city re-investment as X.  Now imagine the value multiplier when all of the metropolitan areas in the United States were orchestrated to implement a similar program.  There are 19, 429 municipal governments in the US, as of December 2014.  Multiply X by 19, 429 to project Potential Value.
  • Let’s presume, for argument’s sake, that the basic business process of waste management containers is principled, rather than anomalous.  Might similar benefits be derived by the shipping industry with their adoption of an “intelligent container” initiative (implementation of beacon technology, data gathering/analysis) that offers equivalent “upside” on a per-container basis?  Let us quantify the profit available for port and railroad re-investment as X. In the United States, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), rail intermodal traffic tripled between 1980 and 2002 to 4.65 million containersMultiply X by 4.65 million to project Potential Value.

de Chardin's Noosphere

In any discussion of the IoE potential for expanded city services – data-driven, service-oriented, network-aware, even for the loftier-yet-worthy goal articulated by Teilhard de Chardin (completely connected world as the next phase of mankind’s progress) – let’s not forget two very human errors that have historically undermined socio-technical progress:

  1. The largest potential multiplier (and consequent promise of value unleashed) is not represented, because 45% of the world’s population remains “in the dark,” without cell phones or network access.  Whether they live in a Paraguay slum, remote Australian Outback or Appalachian village, a substantial percentage of our citizens have yet to connect, or benefit from such connectivity.  Let us quantify the profits of intelligent objects and intelligent networks in billions of dollars.  Multiply that benefit by 2x when everyone is physically, socially and economically capable of participation.
  2. Nor should we minimize the greatest risk for any data/analytics initiative:  condescension.  Big Data, even immense amounts of high-quality, artfully-integrated and beautifully displayed data, does not guarantee that complex problems will automatically be solved or economies will improve. Still needed, at every level of our urban and corporate institutions, is the good judgment that comes from an open mind. Hubris, like many other biases, can be the cultural equivalent of an anchor secured to our feet, slowly dragging us downward, even as we reach.

There is a brilliant secret to be found in our Trashcan Conundrum.

It is an economic principle that merits, in conclusion, our explicit attention:  in an information economy, the benefit derived from a widely shared idea is greater than the value of an idea privately spoken.  In contrast to Value in the Industrial Age, when the value of an object increases in proportion to its uniqueness (one Mona Lisa, one Pieta, one Hope Diamond), the fundamental principle of economic value (in an information economy) increases in proportion to its ubiquity.  In our era, the value of data is quintessentially democratic, inclusive, open.

Should there be readers who question this principle, imagine this scenario: in our prototypical city: an early-in-the-planning decision by the City Council includes a limited (targeted) audience for new, chip-enabled cans, limited to the suburban residents in the wealthiest communities.  Blackhawk yes, East Oakland no. Palm Springs yes, Peoria no.  Boca Raton yes, Sebring no.  If challenged, the Council leaders in this imagined scenario would surely cite taxpayer statistics, followed by the standard line of bias in public policy: safety and security concerns.  In sociological research, this risk is called a Fundamental Attribution Error – an early assumption which, if left unchecked, will dramatically alter the outcome.  In software engineering, the equivalent error occurs in the first binary selection (0/1) and is, often, the most difficult error to identify and correct during QA.

The brilliant secret in our Trashcan Conundrum is that the value of data gathered from one neighborhood’s trashcan is equal to any other, and the resulting efficiencies (cost savings, overtime reduction, lower fuel costs) apply equally to garbage collection in the badlands as in the upper east side, equally to Detroit and Manhattan, to the north and south sides of Chicago.  Furthermore, maximum value (optimal outcome in the U.S.) can only be achieved when each of the 19, 429 metropolitan communities in the U.S. has access to (and contributes data from) the new cans.

The beautiful secret?

Closed systems produce limited results.  Open systems, accompanied by optimized participation, produce maximum long-term benefit.  As we begin to consider the many possible projects on our journey toward the Internet of Everything, let us not forget the “second E” because it is only when we have a fully-enabled society that we can reap the true benefit of intelligent networks in the public domain.

Long live the Internet of Everything and Everyone.

There’s a reason for this…

Posted December 31, 2014 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve been lucky.

During the course of the past decade, I’ve had the good fortune to share a meal with some remarkable people – individuals with elastic minds, a generosity of spirit/purpose, and exceptional capacity for that high art of inspirational conversation – and a recent lunch with one of my colleagues at Cisco (Gordon Feller) is the most recent example, one that merits respectful mention for the implicit challenge it has inspired.  We covered many topics that day at Overlands in San Francisco (Smart Cities, the Internet of Everything, the future of the network as evidence of de Chardin’s Noosphere).

While pondering the dessert menu, Gordon asked about my path from a Liberal Arts background and a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing that led to a 25-year career in Silicon Valley.

My answer: I learned quite early that writing exceptional software code was not unlike writing an exceptional paragraph, that many of the same rules apply – words as objects, sentences as statements, the many hours of thinking and muttering that can lead to one clarified moment of sequential beauty – and that is when my new friend Gordon said, “That’s the stuff of a good TED talk, don’t you think?”

Crossing the rope-bridge between disciplines (the equation of a poem, storytelling as scientific inquiry) has been a guiding precept for many of these blog entries, based upon the prime theorem that we mirror ourselves in the systems we build.  For those who don’t have the time to locate and read my book, allow this image as summary.

There is a reason for this:

Reason4This We construct our world  in similar ways, we navigate between those structures in similar manner, with analogous challenges presented by traffic flow, commercial exchange, power consumption, and an ever-burgeoning need for additional storage in our neighborhoods and in our compute environments.  We are nodes on our networks at both the physical and digital level, and we are relentlessly revising our legacy architectures to accommodate the new and evermore sophisticated risks to our physical and digital security without excessively compromising our freedom to move from place to place.

And yet, we impose constraints upon ourselves at every turn, in part because of hubris: semi-conductor designers can’t imagine that urban planners might have something to contribute to the power distribution discussion, just as most software programmers would scoff at any advice from an English Ph.D, despite that writer’s ability to diagram the most daunting sentence (think Faulkner or Proust).  We are losing our appreciation for inter-disciplinary wisdom with each advance in technology, losing our appreciation for the contributions to social progress by the Humanities.  The unfortunate side-effect is a condescension in need of repair, because hubris kills innovation..

What’s needed is a simple set of rules to counteract the side-effect while nurturing inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Now, there’s the stuff for a TED talk, don’t you think?

In honor of those less fortunate…

Posted October 18, 2014 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

At 5:04pm – 25 years ago – the World Series was interrupted by our 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake. I remember the moment, having driven through the Cypress overpass to get home in time for the first pitch. In honor of those less fortunate – those who were trapped by the collapsed freeway and the heroic first responders who pulled so many to safety – these brief thoughts:

  • We did not have cell phones.  We did not have email, except for those early systems within a department or company.  Television was the only vehicle to watch news unfold, and landlines (one per household unless there was a teen-ager in the family) were the only way to connect.  I reached my spouse to tell her the bridge was broken before the phone lines went dark; it was several hours before I could phone my parents in Illinois to report that everyone was ok.
  • Entire industries have appeared and matured since 1989 (Cisco’s pioneering efforts to produce a router that connected disparate islands and provide a new definition for “network” that previously referred only to ABC, CBS, and NBC; Motorola’s early-and-hefty creation of phones that one could carry as you walked from place to place; Apple’s word processor we all called Pearl) and others have faded (Detroit, enough said).
  • With 25 years of remarkable technological transformation (no one’s lives are the same, it seems) farmers still looked into the sky for signs of rain, travelers would marvel at the Change as trees along the east coast burst with sudden color, and baseball players still took batting practice before the game, somehow hitting a round ball with a round bat that created that unmistakable sound, when done well.

I’m inclined to congratulate my colleague, Bill Schlough (CIO for the SF Giants who defied the odds yet again this season) as his tech team gets ready for this year’s World Series.  And I’m inclined to offer these words of gratitude, because I would have been on that freeway during my regular commute home but (confession) I left work early to be home in time for the first pitch, the pitch that didn’t happen.

A Different Kind of “Trapped Value”

Posted October 10, 2014 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

When he speaks, I listen.  According to my colleague, Geoffrey Moore, the secret to venture capital investments is the discovery of a new product or service that unlocks/releases “trapped value” in the marketplace.

I’ve recently discussed several variations on that theme with Geoff (whom I’ve known since ’98 when I joined Documentum and received a copy of Crossing the Chasm on Day One, and now consider both a mentor and friend), chief among those variations being the deep-seeded contempt for All Things Silicon Valley throughout the Midwest (matched by an equal-but-opposite condescension in the Valley for everything tech-oriented that heralds from Illinois or Indiana or Kansas, etc.).  In my humble opinion, any innovation that taps into (and unlocks) the value buried beneath those provincial/ regional biases has sky-high potential.

There is another kind of “trapped value” buried beneath the surface of our information economy.

For those who wonder what comes after the Internet of Everything, when Big Data becomes Big Knowledge and our Information Economy becomes Information Economy 2.0, consider one example:


As noted in my earliest essays, based upon lessons I learned first from Dr. Sandra Braman (University of Wisconsin, whose most recent book, Change of State, should be required reading in every MBA program), the quintessential distinction between industrial economies (make things, sell them, make more things) and information economies is this: industrial economies assign optimal value to rare and unique things (think: DaVinci’s Mona Lisa) whereas the value of information  increases exponentially when it is shared.

In other words, a compelling idea known (owned) by only one person is far less valuable than when that idea is shared broadly among many people.

By corollary, the greatest “risk to value” of a precious “thing” in an industrial economy is commoditization (copied, duplicated, produced in great numbers) whereas the greatest “risk to value” in an information economy is the locking away of information which (for a variety of reasons) limits the free flow of that information and precludes the sharing multiplier.

“So what?” you might be thinking, “Everybody knows that.”

And yet, we lock away information constantly.  Rationalizations abound: “This is proprietary” or “That is secret and confidential.”  Sometimes there are good and compelling reasons to do so, but over the years, those reasons evaporate and are recognized as symptoms of fear or mistrust, or a more basic confusion of economic models in which we hoard information because we’re stuck in old behaviors that have no place in the new economy.

Drumroll.  (Here it comes.)

There is a new book from MIT Press (http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/traversing-digital-babel) that tackles this problem (our digital Babel) with some spot-on case studies (in the event there is someone in the world who still needs proof of the problem) and actually proposes a simple-yet-elegant notion for unlocking the “trapped value” buried underground in the myriad silo’d databases that exist everywhere.  Traversing Digital Babel, by Alon Peled, is a must-read for anyone in the public sector that is concerned about our ability to know what we know, as well as anyone in the tech industry that has dedicated themselves (via code or narrative or service) to solving this problem in our companies, in our public and private institutions, and in our lives.

Imagine the implications – in medicine and public policy and, yes, the marketplace – if we, as an industry and as a society, were finally capable of unlocking the locked away information.

Those imagined possibilities are within our reach (if we get out of our own way) as the Internet of Everything comes to fruition, and ubiquitous collaboration becomes our (normal) standard of operation.  The potential explosion of “trapped value” is immense, nourished by the sunlight of the wisdom of crowds and enabled by a net-enabled marketplace in which shared data/information/knowledge is nurtured toward full value.

In conclusion, this note of grateful acknowledgement…

An undercurrent of synchronicity for me, personally, deserves mention: I first met Sandra Braman at the MIT Media Lab conference in Boston, circa 1994-95 when I was an MTS at Cadence Design Systems, and it was Sandra who introduced me to Alon Peled in early 2013, just before I joined Metacloud.  There is a lovely sense of Circle Completed, upon the publication of Alon’s work, now that Metacloud is part of Cisco Systems where we have the opportunity to directly contribute to the company’s Internet of Everything objectives.

Whether we, as human beings, will lift ourselves up toward that gossamer future will be the subject of future essays.  For now, it will suffice to buy Alon’s book, then consider what you can do…

Remembrance on this Day of Days

Posted September 11, 2014 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

I was quite near the Pentagon on the day that the planes fell, among the many who remember the shadow of a low-flying plane, and the sound and fury that followed, memories that still haunt us.  Though the active symptoms of PTSD have thankfully diminished over the years, this day has always been a personal challenge for me – as a writer, it always helps to seek the solace of words.


My son was in 2nd grade.  When a classmate heard that I was in Washington, he told Max, “…then your daddy’s dead.”  Thankfully not, just very far away. Oddly, I think of two others on 9/11, too.

  • In an office at The World Bank as the SWAT teams hurried us out of the building and snipers were in position on Capitol Hill, Sreedhar grasped my hand for a quick goodbye “…in case we never see each other again…”
  • Also the unnamed Hertz employee in D.C. who remained at his counter non-stop for the next 72 hours, somehow finding cars for the line of people six blocks long, each of us urgently trying to “get home.”

In my case, it was a long and anxious drive cross-country through amber waves of grain that were no longer a cliché, beneath those blue and very empty skies, stopping only for gas (and a small “treasure” for Max, many of which are still in the cigar box in his bedroom) amazed how immense this country is, how different one region can be from the next, and how unified we were in the days that followed.

I have a new friend and colleague who has the Kanji symbol for “Now” tattooed on his wrist, and he’s counseled me on the importance of remaining in the moment.  He’s right, of course, as a writer, I’m inclined backward (memory) and forward (imagination), yet on this day, the poignancy of our conversation is heightened as I read his own recollection of smoke-filled NYC avenues, the loss of a dear friend, and his own recognition that today “…doesn’t seem to get any easier even after all this time.”

On this day, the present tense for me is deeply bounded, on one side by the “relentless next” of endless To Do’s, and on the other side by a profound respect for glancing back, if only to honor those families who suffered far more on than I did on that day (data center colleagues in NYC who worked non-stop to keep systems going, media colleagues in New York who painfully learned what happens when a company’s “human assets” simply disappear, and peers around the country who suddenly realized that Disaster Recovery isn’t just a regulatory necessity or a matter of locating backup tapes).

As we speed toward this morning’s agendas and tasks and headlines (whatever they may be) with our usual Silicon Valley velocity, it feels important to remind myself (and anyone who might read my words today): remember to say I Love You to your loved ones, remember to err on the side of kindness whenever you have the chance to do so, and take a thoughtful moment in silence (thinking backward, looking forward) to remember this day, before we tarry on.

CloudExpo in New York

Posted June 25, 2014 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

CloudExpo in New York

A few words about DevOps (with thanks to TMC.net and Peter for the lively conversation…

A Funny Thing Happened on our way to the Cloud…

Posted April 23, 2014 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

It was a day of thunderstorms and epiphanies.

The conference: BoxDEV in San Francisco: plenty of news about their solid platform, an energetic community of developers, and, of course, that jazzy CEO with his fine sense of humor. My “Aha” at the conference, however, was not about the company’s gutsy path toward an IPO in this Strange Days economy, nor the new technologies unveiled throughout the day. It was my discovery of a New Symptom, further evidence of the transformation of the Enterprise. Observing that new symptom led, in turn, to an epiphany about the changing role of the CIO in our journey toward Enterprise 2.0.

First, as a frame for this epiphany, allow me this brief back-story.

I’ve been reporting on the role of the CIO since 2000-2001. As the CIO for Jamcracker, I interviewed dozens of IT executives and academics across the United States and, from that research, published a white paper about the future of “the New CIO” – less absorbed by internal operations and more engaged with customers and partners, and a variety of system architectures “outside the firewall.” This was a different time, before the advent of social media (though the folks at a company called Flypaper had some really interesting ideas, and a company called LinkedIn was beginning to make noise in Berkeley). It was the early stages of “hosted systems,” Tom Siebel’s company challenged by the “new” multi-tenant architecture of Salesforce.com.

An all-too-frequent topic of industry media at the time was the struggle for the CIO “to get a seat at the table” with so many of my colleagues lamenting their still-secondary role inside of their companies, along with a relentless wave of industry research exclaiming that hosted systems would surely lead to “the Death of IT.” (Forrester, 2000.) And yet, over the decade to follow, IT did not die and the CIOs of the Enterprise were not eliminated. Rather, those CIOs and the technology organizations they managed, have continued to adapt (to the technologies and new business models that have emerged), though it is true, they are no longer the internal plumbers of that bygone era. Pulled into a future of external systems-as-a-service and the disruption caused by a) subscriptions in lieu of outright purchase, and b) the surge of devices, data, and demand for fully-integrated Systems of Engagement, the role of the CIO and the organization she directs is a very different one.

How different? That’s what my BoxDEV afternoon led me to recognize.

The agenda at BoxDEV included three panels (one composed of Venture Capitalists, one of notable CIOs, and a third composed of Startup CEOs as panelists). With apologies for the absence of names (except for a remarkable few), I’ve chose to emphasize anonymity because my observations are less about personality or presence and more about their perspective on the state of our industry. 

My initial impression of the CIO panelists?

Confession: Having held that role, I suffer from lofty and perhaps unrealistic expectations for my peers: frankly, I was somewhat disappointed with the conversation. With the exception of one panelist (Rebecca Jacoby, CIO, Intel – who was remarkably astute and articulate about the complex challenges of Enterprise IT ), my initial impression was that the IT executives on stage struggled to find an adequate vocabulary for the very technical audience, relying upon Old World phrases (like my grandparents who spoke Yiddish not for clarity but because they never learned English): “strategic alignment with the business,” “burdened by legacy systems,” “empowering teams…” to describe their current environments changes (epitomized by but not exclusively the result of social media, mobility, and the omnipresent Cloud). 

My initial impression of the StartUp CEOs was quite the opposite.

Each CEO panelist had a different perspective (on employee engagement, culture, and managing both success as well as failure), and each had their own vocabulary as if there were distinct dialects spoken by various tribes within a common neighborhood. For example, one panelist summarily dismissed the need for explicit publication of cultural values, while another candidly praised the value of seeing his company’s “core values” on the wall.

What was more impressive, (though they came from different backgrounds and histories, and while their companies were dissimilar in many ways (business models, functions/features, markets) – these CEOs seemed much more attuned to the shifting sands of the Enterprise client, much closer to the pulse of current team challenges, and far less dependent upon jargon as they described the New World.  In the water with their Enterprise customers, swimming with them, shivering with them – as such, they can offer much more compelling descriptions of the State of IT. In short, these startup executives knew and understood their Enterprise customers better than the IT leadership seemed to know their own employees.

It was a new symptom, this dislocation of familiarity – outsiders with a more intimate understanding of IT organizations than the internal leadership of those organizations. I didn’t know what to make of this oddity, and as I will occasionally do when I’m thinking through a new problem, I asked a few people for their thoughts on the matter, colleagues with careers that I admire and opinions that I respect. Here’s what they advised.

Geoffrey: It is essentially an issue of layers – Process vs. Program, and the disturbance cause when one is confused with the other. CIOs, in his opinion, attend to the orchestration of business and technology issues at the Process level; what I may have observed, he suggested, was that the Startup CEOs were familiar with the Program level – pertinent to their product or service but not necessarily a reflection of a broader comprehension of the entire business that comprises the enterprise.

John: It’s been going on for a long time and it will continue to unfold for years to come; John was less inclined to draw certain conclusions about this point in time, nor convinced that the cycle is about to be complete – he suggested that it was a multi-generational (evolutionary) change and that we are only in the midst of that much longer cycle – as such, we should be cautious about over-simplifications and conclusions.

Hypothesis: Each little-service-provider-connected-to-one-small-team within a large corporation (Startup panelists) are closer, in many ways, to the inner workings and daily ebb/flow of work within the larger enterprise, and this proximity allows for more accuracy today’s State.

Corollary: The Enterprise CIO (now a business executive viewing the world around them, not from the trenches, but from their truly executive position) is re-focused upon macro-level directions, risk mitigation strategies, stateless orchestration – and has delegated her technical role to those on her team who are “closer” to the technology. In other words, she has arrived

The transformation (Systems of Record -> Systems of Engagement), the commercialization and consequent mobility of any-device-any-application, and the architectural redeployment of infrastructure from owned (on prem) to rented (AWS, Google Drive, etc.) now allows for many more service providers (HP is tracking 1000 apps currently in use within the company) in an extended ecosystem (per my notion that Enterprise 2.0 needs Governance 2.0). One symptom of this shift (one which I’ve not yet seen in previous transformations): as CIOs attend to higher level business processes and strategies for their respective companies, the ecosystem of trusted partners (specialized, project/program-oriented) potentially assumes a more vital role in IT governance

When asked to take the pulse of her own organization, she now turns to her staff for the answer and those delegates (her senior staff) are the interface with the company’s broad ecosystem of partners.  These “little-service-providers” connect directly into critical business processes via the API of senior management, whereas the CIO works for orchestration, etc.  As such, each ecosystem participant (like embedded journalists during the Iraq invasion) actually knows current events better than the generals in Washington. This is not a criticism of generals – only recognition that their success as leaders must be augmented by a vital and more resilient matrix of subject matter experts. In the world of Enterprise 2.0, those experts reside both inside and outside of the organization.

A funny thing happened on our way to the Cloud. CIOs have arrived “at the Table.”