Jul 122016
Big data takes our online, shopping and social media use it is the business challenge for our time

“We want to be the Wayze of enterprise software” is the line being repeated by executives at the Inforum2016 conference in New York today.

This is an interesting strategy for Infor, who provides a range of enterprise software tools to help companies track what is going on in their business, as Wayze is built upon aggregating user data to identify traffic problems to improve commuting times. It’s no surprise that Google bought the company a few years ago.

Infor position though is slightly different as it’s aggregating individual clients’ data for them. In a world where organisations are struggling not to be overwhelmed by information, Informa are in a good position, even if their executives do overdo it on the buzzwords.

Which leads us to another buzzphrase – design thinking – which has been drifting in and out of fashion over recent years. During the opening keynotes one of the comments was about the rise of  “network thinking.”

“Eighty percent of what most companies do deals with data from outside of their organisation,” says Kurt Cavano, Infor’s General Manager of their commerce cloud division. “We’ve seen in the power of networks with sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Wayze.”

“Nobody wants to be on a network but everyone’s on a network. It takes a long time to build but once you have one it’s magical. That’s what we’re thinking for business, they need to evolve.”

In one respect this is another take on the ecosystem idea, that one vital corporate asset in the connected world is an ecosystem of partners, suppliers and users, however the Infor view articulated by Cavano is much more about the flow of data rather than the goodwill of a community.

So we may well be entering a world of ‘networked thinking’ where thinking about the effects of data flows and being able to understand them – if not manage them – becomes a key executive skill.

Paul travelled to New York as a guest of Infor

Mar 232016
Meg Whitman (center), President and Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, rings the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange on November 2, 2015. CREDIT: Eric Draper

I’m currently at the HP Enterprise Seize the Data roadshow in Singapore where the recently split company is showing off its range of data analytics tools.

Like companies such as IBM and Google, HPE are looking to make money out of data feeds and analytics with a key part being a platform for developers to create applications.

In launching their Haven OnDemand service, HPE are entering a crowded field with IBM, Salesforce, AWS and Splunk – among others – offering similar products. What compelling difference HPE will add to the field will be something I’ll be asking the company’s executive later.

One of the other services, HP Vertica, looks running data analytics against structured and ‘semi-structured’ sources. Again this is a field where other companies are well established and have an advantage in being able to examine unstructured data.

The overwhelming question though is how big, and lucrative, the market is for these data products. It’s not clear exactly how all of these companies are going to monetize these services and, should they be able to, their profitability.

As a company finding its feet less than a year after being split in two with the added problem of seeing its core server hardware business being eroded, HP Enterprise is realigning its business around data analytics and cloud services.

The challenge for the company is differentiating itself and providing competitive products in these markets, this will be a tough challenge.

Mar 212016

What’s your ethnic affinity? Apparently Facebook thinks its algorithm can guess your race based upon the nature of your posts.

This application is an interesting, and dangerous, development although it shouldn’t be expected that it’s any more accurate than the plethora of ‘guess your age/nationality/star sign’ sites that trawl through Facebook pages.

Guessing your race is something clumsy and obvious but its clear that services like Google, LinkedIn and Facebook have a mass of data on each of their millions of users that enables them to crunch some big numbers and come up with all manner of conclusions.

Some of these will be useful to governments, marketers and businesses and in some cases it may lead to unforeseen consequences.

The truth may lie in the data but if we don’t understand the questions we’re asking, we risk creating a whole new range of problems.

Feb 192016

One of the truisms of modern industry is we’re going to need more workers with data skills. Could it be actuaries will be the profession of the information age.

Much of the focus around how companies will deal with an information rich age come down to the need for ‘data scientists’, those with a combination of statistical, analytical and coding skills will be required to coax insights out of complex and rapidly changing data sets.

At a Future of PR meetup in Sydney earlier this week, one of the panellists raised the possibility that tomorrow’s most valued agency employees will be actuaries as data analytics comes to dominate the industry.

That boring old actuaries – one particularly cruel joke is atuaries are accountants who failed the personality test – could be the hottest profession in the sexy PR industry is quite a delicious scenario.

Should that turn out to be the case though, it won’t just be the PR industry chasing actuaries, almost every industry is going to demanding the same set of skills.

In a strange way it could be the staid professions of today that are the exciting jobs of tomorrow, we’ll reserve judgement on the actuaries though.

Jan 122016
censorship on the internet and social media

Forget credit scores, police are now running Threat Scores reports the Washington Post.

This isn’t surprising given the risks involved for officers attending an incident or detaining a suspect and now with treasure troves of data available, police forces and public safety agencies are able to evaluate what threats are present.

However there are real concerns about these databases and tools, particularly in how the algorithm determines what a ‘threat’ is. As the Washington Post explains one package will give a military veteran a greater risk rating as they are more likely than the general population to be suffering post traumatic stress disorder.

In promotional materials, Intrado writes that Beware could reveal that the resident of a particular address was a war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, had criminal convictions for assault and had posted worrisome messages about his battle experiences on social media. The “big data” that has transformed marketing and other industries has now come to law enforcement.

The marketing industry’s use of Big Data has, and continues to be, problematic from a privacy and security point of view, that public agencies are using the same tools raises bigger concern.

Over time, we’re going to need rigorous supervision of how these tools are used. The stakes for individual citizens are high.

Jan 062016
Big data takes our online, shopping and social media use it is the business challenge for our time

Are algorithms getting too complex asks Forbes Magazine’s Kalev Leetaru in an examination of how the formulas that are increasingly governing our lives have grown beyond the understanding of their creators.

With computer code now controlling most of the devices and processes we rely on in daily life, understanding the assumptions and limitations of  those programs and formulas becomes essential for designers, managers and users.

Leetaru cites the Apollo 13 malfunction and Volvo’s recent embarrassment where a self driving car nearly ran over a group of journalists however there’s no shortage of more tragic mistakes from the consequences of software design decisions, the crash of Air France 447 over the Atlantic Ocean with the loss of 228 lives where two pilots who stalled their plane due to misunderstanding the characteristics of their cockpit  is one recent sad example.

As business and government becomes more dependent on software, more risks will arise from managers not understanding the limitations of the algorithms they use in their business.

Similarly a range of industries to exploit the quirks of algorithm driven markets are developing, the Search Engine Optimisation business designed to exploit quirks in Google’s search algorithm is an established example but more will come to the fore as people find ways to profit by anticipating price movements.

However algorithms have a way to go before they fully take over, as Salon’s examination of Facebook’s news feed reveals a key part of the social media service’s deciding what appears on users screens are the decisions of around thousand ‘power users’.

The news feed algorithm had blind spots that Facebook’s data scientists couldn’t have identified on their own. It took a different kind of data—qualitative human feedback—to begin to fill them in.

While Facebook falls back on large focus groups to fill in the algorithm’s gaps, Uber has found a different problem in estimating driver arrival times where it’s currently not possible to accurately calculate estimated times of arrival in real time.

“The best way to minimise time differential issue is to communicate statistically expected time, which will result in almost always being different than actual (i.e. wrong), but will be less different/wrong on average,” says Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Uber and Facebook’s challenges with their algorithms illustrate there’s some way to go before all critical business functions can be handed over to software but as automation becomes standard in many areas, not least autonomous vehicles, the limitations of programs and the assumptions of programmers will become apparent.

Dec 132015
Big data takes our online, shopping and social media use it is the business challenge for our time

Silicon Valley leaders including Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Reid Hoffman have pledged a billion dollars towards the OpenAI foundation to open source the development of Artificial Intelligence.

With one of the greatest challenges facing business, political and community leaders in coming being how to deal with the massive amounts of data generated by the Internet of Things and pervasive computers, this is a major step in making the tools available to everyone.

With both Google and Facebook opening their AI platforms in recent weeks, it seems the consensus in the tech industry is that open source is the way to develop these technologies. As a consequence we may see them become commonplace a lot faster than expected.