Archive for October 2014

In honor of those less fortunate…

October 18, 2014

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”

October 10, 2014

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:

Peled

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…