Time to reclaim our privacy?

I was very pleased to have one of my posts from the recent TEDGlobal I attended in Rio de Janeiro published in Business Review Weekly – Australia’s most prestigious business magazine. You can read the edited version here on their site but I’ve pasted the full version  below…

As the internet turns 25 we have mostly lost the idea of privacy itself.”

Is privacy dead? Andy Yen strongly believes it isn’t and with a new email platform he co-founded last year called Protonmail, he hopes to turn the tables on how government, industry and society generally think about privacy and secrecy. Speaking at TEDGlobal in Rio de Janeiro this week, his radical new concept of how to protect our privacy has important ramifications for consumers, businesses and security agencies alike.

andy yenAndy Yen isn’t a technology developer by trade, but a particle physicist (hence the name) at (CERN European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland. But as the full implications of the Snowden revelations became clear, he and his colleagues became concerned at the way that people’s privacy had become a commodity no longer respected by organisations, particularly intelligence agencies or online advertisers. Our personal email, secrets, intimate thoughts or intellectual property were being traded in the open market without our consent.

“We have largely lost control of  our data and privacy.”

So along with colleagues working in the CERN canteen, Yen developed Protonmail, a unique mail service that encrypts your email at the browser level, rather than at the server level. This is important because it means that Protonmail has no access to your account or mail. This not only locks out Protonmail staff themselves, but everyone else from government agencies to hackers or industrial spies.

The service has clearly hit a raw nerve, with over 250,000 users so far, and more than USD$500,000 in crowd sourced funding from Idiegogo – a record for a software project.

But the service is of course controversial. PayPal quietly froze Protonmail’s account when they became concerned that the company didn’t have permission to encrypt users’ emails. Set against a sensitive security climate where the Australian Attorney General is seeking additional powers for ASIO and concern rises about the way that companies like Google and Facebook access users’ content for advertising purposes; the service will continue to polarise. However at the heart of it all lie the questions: what is privacy, what responsibilities do businesses and governments have to protect it and why should we give it up now that technology exists to protect it? Yen’s Protonmail has certainly put the cat amongst the privacy debate pigeons.

 

TED: Davos for Optimists

Hello, my name is Jonathan Rubinsztein and I am a TEDdict. A TEDaholic. A TED junkie. But I suspect I will never be cured, and don’t want to be.

TEDLike any dependence, I crave the high I receive from TED conferences. As I sit on the plane to Rio for my 6th conference in as many years, I mind drifts back to my first. Unlike many addictions, the high I receive from each hit is as good as that first one.  Also, unlike most dependencies, the elation I derive from the profound insight, inspiration and – most importantly – ideas is worth every penny I spend… I have no regrets.

For those who have never been to a TED conference, I hope to share with you some of the experience. Most of you would be familiar with the TED videos on you Tube – there have been more than a billion views – and almost everyone who has must have been touched in some meaningful way by a TED idea. For me, for instance, this video by simon simek profoundly changed the way I view my own business. And yes, that is an important point. I am a managing director of a multi-million dollar IT consultancy employing hundreds of people across Asia and I have no problem prioritising 5 days in Brazil for this conference. The value I can contribute back to my business as a result will be immeasurable in terms of return on investment.

Imagine a fully packed schedule from early in the morning to late at night with 22 minute presentations crammed into the every space of the day. Music, performance, conversation, food and incredible conversations that constantly pushing and stretching the status quo and challenging your world view. The presenters and audience are both as fascinating as each other and you’re immersed in this pool of amazing, talented, interesting, people having dinner, lunch and breakfast with you; interacting, discussing the previous presentation or insane event. After five days of such creative binging I usually come back exhausted and yet exhilarated; with enough intellectual and emotional fuel to last me  months. It takes even longer to fully digest or integrate the insights and ideas

Why not just watch it on You Tube? Because the real benefit of the experience is as much about the audience as the speakers. While the calibre of speakers  extends to such luminaries as as Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Malcolm Gladwell,Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, Bono, Mike Rowe, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners – they also make up the audience!. It is the discussions after the presentations that are as valuable as the presentations themselves. To only watch the presentations on You Tube is as deficient as watching a concert on mute. For instance, one of my more lasting memories is a thoroughly scintillating business discussion with Jeff Bezos in LA that helped to revolutionise my business. I cannot think of another event that could afford me that kind of access to brilliance.

I have often heard TED described as Davos for optimists, and although the tagline is “ideas worth spreading” this is often much more than ideas and it really is about the people who are changing the world for the better. Throughout the coming week I will try to download some of that experience here. I hope you can join me and maybe even become fellow addicts yourselves!

UXC Red Rock heading north!

We made a very important announcement this month marking a huge step forward in our expansion into Asia. We were to close a deal to acquire asset-lifecycle management player Convergence Team Ltd. Visit the press release on our web site for the details: http://www.uxcredrock.com/news-events/red-rock-in-the-news/878-uxc-red-rock-consulting-announces-acquisition-of-convergence-team

fran-foo-thumbnailBut on the basis of the deal I spoke to one of Australia’s leading IT journalists – Fran Foo, Deputy Editor at The IT section of The Australian newspaper about our plans, and here is the coverage we received as a result:

UXC Red Rock to expand in Asia

ORACLE software specialist UXC Red Rock has acquired asset life cycle management provider Convergence Team as it seeks to further expand into the Southeast Asian market.

UXC Red Rock will absorb about 30 staff from Convergence Team to add to its 600 staff in 11 offices in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and India.

Brisbane-based Convergence Team will be folded into UXC Red Rock’s consulting practice and led by asset life cycle management industry director Stuart MacDonald.

UXC Red Rock CEO Jonathan Rubinsztein declined to reveal financial arrangements but said the company had been working with Convergence on a project two years before the ­acquisition on a few projects in Asia-Pacific.

“It’s (the acquisition) a good opportunity for more growth in Southeast Asia … it will allow us to grow in asset-intensive industries,” Mr Rubinsztein said.

He said the deal would extend the group’s capability to cover more Oracle applications. UXC Red Rock is the software giant’s largest partner in Australia.

It will also help UXC Red Rock make further inroads into engineering, construction, mining and utilities markets, he said.

UXC Red Rock is a subsidiary of ASX-listed UXC and counts Blackmores, Coca-Cola Bottling, Indonesia, Corporate Express, Wotif, Heinz Australia, Lion Nathan, Australian Vintage, Bis Industries, Engineers Australia, SEQ Water Grid Manager and New Zealand fertiliser co-operative Ravensdown as customers.

Convergence Team has clients across a range of industries such as chemicals, ­financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, power and energy, and oil and gas.

They include ExxonMobil Chemicals, Shell Chemicals, Unilever, GE Wind, Veolia Water, Constellation Energy, Keppel Energy, Western Container Corp, SingHealth, Singapore Land Authority, UOB Bank, Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands.

Solution providers for Oracle rival SAP are also experiencing consolidation. For instance, Victorian IT services company Viatek earlier this year acquired CN Group, an SAP consulting specialist in Sydney.

We need to focus on Data Basics before embarking on Big Data

bigdataI got incredible response from this post on LinkedIn, with more than 3,000 views, 224 likes but more importantly 27 comments. You can read the comments here at LinkedIn:

Here is the post in its entirety, I’d welcome more comments and discussion here also…

With the proliferation of software-as-a-service applications across most organisations, it is likely that many organisations are suffering from a fragmented data environment. This is a problem because just at the time that most organisations need to homogenise their data strategy to take advantage of Big Data learnings, the opposite is happening: data decentralisation and even chaos.

In many cases, organisations have been focussed on data storage and not data quality. Just managing the demanding growth of data volumes for the last 15 years has been enough of a challenge for CIOs. Rapidly scaling data storage infrastructure – including software and networking as well as hardware – has been overwhelming and all too often the actual quality of the data has not been good. How many companies can genuinely claim their database was sound, that their CRM data was clean and that the insane complexity of spreadsheets was under control let alone consolidated? The age old adage “garbage in, garbage out” scales in severity with the size of data volume.

Yet as data storage now decamps to the cloud and the focus moves to Big Data strategies, it seems that data quality is still not a priority. I wonder if the industry – here in Australia as well as globally – is doing enough to enhance the human data skills rather than relying solely on Hadoop et al to do all the work. I’ve written before on the disconnect between data technology and human data skills. There is a lot of talk about “Data Scientists” but is that nothing more than just a fancy title for BI analysts?

Bona fide Data Scientists are like real life scientists. They have a hypothesis, they test this hypothesis againsts different sets of data and validate or disprove their hypothesis. Then they try and look for further causation, correlation and then they might come up with some real insight and a discovery. But in our a commercial situation, the data scientist might invest a lot of time in developing a hypothesis but then find that the data isn’t available or is too messy to use. So what then? (It is worth reading this New York Times story on “Data Wrangling”).

Organisations need to work out – strategically and operationally – how to collect data appropriately, what data they need and then what they might need to look for. There are data scrubbing tools, deduping tools and analytical tools but if the raw data is not in an appropriate state, obviously it isn’t possible to scrub or dedupe data that doesn’t exist.

So it is crucial for CIOs to look initially at their overall application architecture and work out the data flows and how they integrate, and then what insight we might need and operationally what data is needed and where it can be sourced. This isn’t difficult but it requires formality and strategy rather than ad hoc evolution. The current trend in SaaS proliferation and services bought ad hoc on the credit card at the departmental level is haphazard and making data increasingly difficult for CIOs to manage. Not only because the data is decentralised, in different clouds, but because there are now different data models that are often quite difficult to access and often quite complicated to understand.

If organisations want to truly benefit from the Big Data opportunity there needs to be some sober and disciplined thoughts about data analysis skills, data quality control and data strategy before the kind of frantic technology acquisition that the media and vendors promote and discuss. Otherwise we are going to get no closer to any kind of data optimisation than we are now – we will just create more data mayhem and the Return on Investment will remain just as elusive.

Picture credit: bigdatapix.tumblr.com

Forecast is Cloudy with the chance of Pain

weather-icons-headerI am continually frustrated with the way that the IT industry has sometimes embraced cloud computing in a manner that I can only describe as naive and short-sighted. I wrote earlier this year about this, questioning whether CIOs are really considering what the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of their cloud investment is as they leap onto the cloud bandwagon at the behest of vendor and media hype.

Well I have been forced to put pen to paper again this week as I question whether enough thought has been put into the future roadmap of all the integration required to pull all their various ad hoc and short term cloud deployments together.

Rust Report: Cloud has come of age, but now it’s time to grow 

It has led me to try and draw a map of what I think the future of the cloud industry looks like and who I think the key cloud players will be. This should help any speculative investment decisions I think because it identifies where the real value is going to come from. I think we have moved out of the first phase of cloud – its childhood if you like – and it will be interesting to see how it matures into a fully grown industry from here. 

Just like any adolescent, this industry could learn the lessons of its past and adapt according to how the world needs it to develop; or it could completely go off the rails, neglect its study and concentrate on the partying! I certainly hope for all our sakes it is the former…but to mix metaphors, I think the forecast will get worse before it gets better.

[Picture Credit: nature.com]

Rackspace on the Rack

RackspaceThere’s nothing like having your opinion validated and this week I read that comments I made in an article last month in the Rust Report about the travails of IaaS Cloud provider, Rackspace, have been totally echoed in non other than…Forbes Magazine!

In the Rust Report article I talked about how Rackspace simply could not expect to compete in a world dominated by players such as Microsoft, Oracle and Google who command vast amounts of capital, benefit from huge customer bases and demonstrate equal amounts of ruthlessness. I drew analogies with the airline industry where ultimately as the service became increasingly commoditised the result was brutal market consolidation.

Then this week I found my view was reflected by Forbes’ Mike Kavis, who writes today:

This is why I chuckle when new comers to the IaaS game unleash their PR machines to declare they are throwing their hat in the ring and investing $1B to enter the market. Their competition is investing more than that every quarter.

So as Rackspace exits IaaS and will now focus its efforts on Managed Services, I wonder even how that will go. Managed Services is itself a crowded market, equally dominated by big players like IBM, HP, EDS etc. Their corporate story is more proof yet that unless you continue to innovate your offering, the market will eat you for lunch. A radical pioneer only a few years ago, it seems Rackspace is today perhaps running out of room to move?

[Picture Credit: Forbes]

A Rock Solid Strategy!

10ReasonsInfoG_smallOne of the more exciting ventures I’ve ever been involved in in my career has been participating in the evolution of a business called Rock Solid. Working closely with its founder, Tony Bain, together we have been able to fundamentally disrupt the business of SQL Server Database management. No matter what space you are able to disrupt, it is always exhilarating and exciting – I can highly recommend it!

Rock Solid’s story was covered this week here in The Rust Report.

Tony has been able to innovate a tool to manage and monitor SQL Server databases that can slash the cost of their management – up to 60 per cent of traditional costs – for clients. Now, as that message has begun to get across, the growth of that business is exponential.

This has brought its own challenges for us of course, but ones that we welcome. Managing huge demand and scaling a business to meet that rapid demand are good problems to have! The next challenge for the team is to capitalise on this exciting opportunity now, international expansion, more growth, innovative partnership and so on. But the experience has also proved for me that the incubator model is powerful – as Tony himself explains well:

“[Red Rock] shared the vision and understood what our objective has always been…they have allowed us to heavily invest in our technology, putting us at a considerable advantage in terms of our capability to rapidly grow the business.”

Start Ups need capital of course, but they also need direction, advice, resources and so on. This venture has helped me realise that the incubation sector in Australia should be expanded and this is maybe something Government should help more with?