Mar 262015
Big data takes our online, shopping and social media use it is the business challenge for our time

This morning I’m speaking on ABC Radio’s Overnights about the risks of the Australian government’s law to force telecommunications companies to retain users’ metadata for two years.

While the act, currently before the Senate having passed the House of Representatives last week after the poorly named ‘opposition’ Labor Party supported it, mandates that telcos and ISPs will have to retain the details of users’ connection times, places and type of device for two years and that government agencies will be able to access this data without a warrant.

The program was broadcast on 26 March 2015 at 4.15am Eastern Time with Trevor Chappell and is can be listened to on the ABC radio website.

Some resources on the data retention bill follow;

Mar 202015

“When you’re playing, it’s all about the winning but when you retire you realise there’s a lot more to the game,” says former cricketer Adam Gilchrist.

Gilchrist was speaking at an event organised by software giant SAP ahead of a Cricket World Cup quarter final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday.

SAP were using their sponsorship of the event to demonstrate their big data analytics capabilities and how they are applied to sports and the internet of things.

Like most industries, the sports world is being radically affected by digitalisation as new technologies change everything from coaching and player welfare through to stadium management and fans’ experience.

Enhancing the fan experience

Two days earlier rival Melbourne stadium Etihad in the city’s Docklands district showed off their new connected ground where spectators will get hi-definition video and internet services through a partnership between Telstra and Cisco.

While Etihad’s demonstration was specifically about ‘fan experience’, the use of the internet of things and pervasive wireless access in a stadium can range from paperless ticketing to managing the food and drink franchises.

In the United States, the leader in rolling out connected stadiums, venues are increasingly rolling out beacon technologies allowing spectators to order deliveries to their seats and push special offers during the game.

While neither of the two major Melbourne stadiums offer beacon services at present, the Cisco devices around the Etihad have the facility to add Bluetooth capabilities when the ground managements decide to roll them out.

Looking after players

Probably the greatest impact of technology in sport is with player welfare; while coaches and clubs have been enthusiastic adopters of video and tracking technologies for two decades, the rate of change is accelerating as wearable devices are changing game day tactics and how injuries are managed.

One of the companies leading this has been Melbourne business Catapult Sports which has been placing tracking devices on Australian Rules football players and other codes for a decade.

For coaches this data has been a boon as it’s allowed staff to monitor on field performance and tightly manage players’ health and fitness.

Professional sports in general have been early adopters of new technologies as a small increase in performance can have immediate and lucrative benefits on the field. Over the last thirty years clubs have adopted the latest in video and data technology to help coaches and players.

As the technology develops this adoption is accelerating, administrators are looking at placing tracking devices within the balls, goals and boundary lines to give even more information about what’s happening on the field.

Managing the data flow

The challenge for sports organisations, as with every other industry, is in managing all the data being generated.

In sports managing that data has a number of unique imperatives; gamblers getting access to sensitive data, broadcast rights holders wanting access to game statistics and stadium managers gathering their own data all raise challenges for administrators.

There’s also the question of who owns the data; the players themselves have a claim to their own personal performance data and there could potentially be conflicts when a competitor transfers between clubs.

As the sports industry explores the limits of what they can do with data, the world is changing for players, coaches, administrators and supporters.

Gilchrist’s observation that there’s a lot more to professional sports than just what happens on the field is going to become even more true as data science assumes an even greater role in the management of teams, clubs and stadiums.

Paul travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Cisco and SAP.

Mar 192015
how to protect your computer and social media data with strong passwords

A lack of trust in technology’s security could be costing the global economy over a trillion dollars a panel at the Australian Cisco Live in Melbourne heard yesterday.

The panel “how do we create trust?” featured some of Cisco’s executives including John Stewart, the company’s Security and Trust lead, along with Mike Burgess, Telstra’s Chief Information Security Officer and Gary Blair, the CEO of the Australian Cyber Security Research Institute.

Blair sees trust in technology being split into two aspects; “do I as an individual trust an organisation to keep my data secure; safe from harm, safe from breaches and so forth?” He asks, “the second is will they be transparent in using my data and will I have control of my data.”

In turn Stewart sees security as being a big data problem rather than rules, patches and security software; “data driven security is the way forward.” He states, “we are constantly studying data to find out what our current risk profile is, what situations are we facing and what hacks we are facing.”

This was the thrust of last year’s Splunk conference where the CISO of NASDAQ, Mark Graff, described how data analytics were now the front line of information security as threats are so diverse and systems so complex that it’s necessary to watch for abnormal activity rather than try to build fortresses.

The stakes are high for both individual businesses and the economy as technology is now embedded in almost every activity.

“If you suddenly lack confidence in going to online sites, what would happen?” Asks Stewart. “You start using the phone, you go into the bank branch to check your account.”

“We have to get many of these things correct, because going backwards takes us to a place where we don’t know how to get back to.”

Gary Blair described how the Boston Consulting Group forecast digital economy would be worth between 1.5 and 2.5 trillion dollars across the G20 economies by 2016.

“The difference between the two numbers was trust. That’s how large a problem is in economic terms.”

As we move into the internet of things, that trust is going to extend to the integrity of the sensors telling us the state of our crops, transport and energy systems.

The stakes are only going to get higher and the issues more complex which in turn is going to demand well designed robust systems to retain the trust of businesses and users.

Mar 132015

A few days ago we discussed how 4k video cameras are going to change the sports broadcasting industry.

Yesterday executives from modular data center supplier VCE held a media lunch where they discussed some of their industrial applications. One of the areas they discussed was the monitoring of power stations with large resolution cameras.

The 4k cameras are trained on machine rooms with software watching for irregular conditions such as excessive vibrations, leaks or smoke. Should something out of the ordinary be detected, warnings can be triggered and potentially affected equipment spun down.

With the 4k resolution the cameras are able to watch large areas and like the sports coverage can zoom in for a detailed view of an affected area.

The use of 4k video cameras shows how the internet of things won’t just be about the data gathered from smart devices but also matching the information coming from IoT equipment with that of other environmental factors.

For companies like VCE these sort of applications are an opportunity as they need large amounts of data storage and processing power in local centres.

In many respects these small scale data centers are a large scale example of the fog computing being touted by companies like Cisco where most of the operational tasks are carried out by local equipment with only reports and exceptions being transmitted to the cloud.

This sort of application also shows the demands different industries are going to have for local data processing and storage with the VCE executives suggesting hospitals, mines and sports stadiums are also going to need these facilities.

For VCE – a troubled joint venture between Cisco, storage company EMC and computer virtualisation firm VM Ware – these are the sort of clients they are hoping to find to keep their business running.

Regardless of VCE’s prospects, the need for equipment to manage the data being collected by devices on the Internet of Things and 4k video is going to grow. That could give us one of the clues of where the jobs of the future are going to come from.

Mar 092015
PayPal have a number of strategies for mobile and online payments

Banking has always been a data driven business, understanding borrowers and the risks they present is one of the essential skills in making money from lending.

The new wave of payment startups present a new way for lenders to analyse risks; with real time data aggregated across businesses and regions, lenders can quickly decide wether a borrower is likely to able to pay the money back with the conditions asked for.

Payments company Square in its latest pivot has partnered with Victory Park Capital and claims to have extended more than $100 million in capital to more than 20,000 merchants writes the New York Times.

Like other payment companies that have entered this market, Square uses their own deep understanding of their customers’ incomes to be able to make a data based decision on the creditworthiness of applicants.

Square also offers ancillary data-driven products created for small businesses. The new instant deposit product, which is still in testing and will be fully available in the spring, will give businesses faster access to money they put into a debit account. And the company’s new charge-back protection service will cover some disputes between consumers and merchants.

Those products also rely on data that Square has collected. They will be available only to small businesses that have a solid financial track record, based on a history of accepting payments with Square.

Square is by no means the first business to do this, last year we wrote of PayPal’s move into small business lending and Point of Sale hardware manufacturer Verifone retreated from the market two years ago calling it ‘fundamentally unprofitable.’

The competition in the space and the fact assessing financial risks isn’t exactly a core competence of Silicon Valley start ups indicate Square’s and other companies may find small business lending a tough business as well.

Despite that, small business lending is a field that is overdue for disruption. With companies like Apple, Google and Amazon all offering payment services, the logical expansion is into evaluating risk and profit.

It may not be Square, Verifone or PayPal who ultimately redefines the sector, but it will be one of today’s tech businesses that does.

Mar 062015

Today Australian incumbent telco announced a scheme to give customers access to their personal metadata being stored by the company.

In a post on the company’s Telstra Exchange blog the company’s Chief Risk Officer, Kate Hughes described how the service will work with a standard enquiry being free through the web portal with more complex queries attracting of fee of $25 or more.

The program is a response to the Australian Parliament’s controversial intention to introduce a mandatory data retention regime which will force telcos and ISPs to retain a record of customer’s connection information.

We believe that if the police can ask for information relating to you, you should be able to as well.

At present the scheme is quite labor intensive, a request for information involves a great deal of manual processing under the company’s current systems however Hughes is optimistic they will be able to deal with the workload.

“We haven’t yet built the system that will enable us to quickly get that data,” Hughes told this website in an interview after the announcement. “If you came to us today and asked for that dataset it wouldn’t be a simple request.”

The metadata opportunity

In some respects the metadata proposal is an opportunity for the company to comply with the requirement of the Australian Privacy Principles that were introduced last year where companies are obliged to disclose to their customers any personally identifiable information they hold.

For large organisations like Telstra this presents a problem as it’s difficult to know exactly what information every arm of the business has been collecting. Putting the data into a centralised web portal makes it easier to manage the requirements of various acts.

That Telstra is struggling with this task illustrates the problems the data retention proposals present to smaller companies with far fewer resources to gather, store and manage the information.

Unclear requirements

Another problem facing Hughes, Telstra and the entire Australian communications industry is no-one is quite clear exactly what data will be required under the act, the legislation proposed the minister can declare what information should be retained while the industry believes this should be hard coded into the act which will make it harder for governments to expand their powers.

What is clear is that regardless of what’s passed into law, technology is going to stay ahead of the legislators, “I do think though this will be very much a ‘point in time’ debate,” Hughes said. “Metadata will evolve more quickly than this legislation can probably keep pace with so I think we will find ourselves back here in two years.”

In many ways Australia’s metadata proposals illustrates the problems facing governments and businesses in managing data during an era where its growing exponentially, it may well turn out for telcos, consumers and government agencies that ultimately less is more.

Feb 222015
how are we using data in our business

“To my knowledge we have had no data breaches,” stated Tim Morris at the Tech Leaders conference in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney on Sunday.

Morris, the Australian Federal Police force’s Assistant Commissioner for High Tech Crime Operations, was explaining the controversial data retention bill currently before the nation’s Parliament which will require telecommunications companies to keep customers’  connection details – considered to be ‘metadata’ – for two years.

The bill is fiercely opposed by Australia’s tech community, including this writer, as it’s an expensive   and unnecessary invasion of privacy that will do little to protect the community but expose ordinary citizens to a wide range of risks.

One of those risks is that of the data stores being hacked, a threat that Morris downplayed with some qualifications.

As we’re seeing in the Snowden revelations, there are few organisations that are secure against determined criminals and the Australian Federal Police are no exception.

For all organisations, not just government agencies, the question about data should be ‘do we need this?’

In a time of ‘Big Data’ where it’s possible to collect and store massive amounts of information, it’s tempting to become a data hoarder which exposes managers to various risks, not the least that of it being stolen my hackers. It may well be that reducing those risks simply means collecting less data.

Certainly in Australia, the data retention act will only create more headaches and risks while doing little to help public safety agencies to do their job. Just because you can collect data doesn’t mean you should.