Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Non-Repudiation in Supply Chain Management - Use Case for Blockchain

Supply chains are under strain at the moment -- the fragility of current systems is laid bare during this pandemic crisis. Blockchain, simplified, is a data structure that maintains transactional records and while ensuring security. This decentralized approach ensures — a chain of records which are controlled by no single authority. This enables digital information to be distributed, but not copied, so each individual piece of data can only have one owner. Blockchain is the underlying technology of digital currencies. But it has a multiplicity of uses.

Many call blockchain a “digital ledger” stored in a distributed network. Here is one way to think about how Blockchain works:

“Picture a spreadsheet that is duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers. Then imagine that this network is designed to regularly update this spreadsheet…”

This information is constantly reconciled into a database, which is stored in multiple locations and updated instantly. That means the records are public and verifiable. Since there’s no central location, it harder to disrupt as the data exists simultaneously in millions of places.

In the service of supply chain management, manifests could be secured with this approach. Modern supply chains are complex. A business’ supply chain consists of all the links to creating and distributing it products. Depending on the goods, a supply chain can be extraordinarily complex, spanning numerous stages with multiple geographical (often global) locations. The documentation can consist of a multitude of invoices, statements, payments, bills of lading, etc., and have several individuals and entities involved. The timeframe, even with just-in-time production, can require months for the process to go from raw materials, component construction and assembly, through packaging and distribution.

The idea of using blockchain to streamline workflows for all parties, no matter the size of the business network, is not new. In government procurement, for example, shared infrastructure provides auditors with greater visibility into participants’ activities along the value chain.

The challenges in many supply chains include lack of transparency because data consolidation clouds repudiation. There's a lack of real-time issue resolution resulting in ineffective supply chain risk management. Shocks (as we have seen) result in sudden demand changes -- a "bullwhip" effect that reverberates throughout the vendor ecosystem.

A use case might look like this: instead of having a central intermediary, use blockchain in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution to synchronize data and transactions across the network. Each participant verifies the work and calculations of others. This relives the enormous amount of redundancy and crosschecking found in many current systems.

With the right implementation strategy, blockchain has the potential to drive efficiencies, lower costs, and to enhance consumer experience through transparency and traceability.

Monday, April 6, 2020

With remote business and social distancing, now is the time to switch to e-signatures

Businesses are striving to continue to operate normally during the COVID-19 world-wide pandemic. With restrictions on physical meetings, with many businesses are now operating as much as possible remotely. This may raise the question: how to execute documents in these circumstances? Do you wonder whether it is possible to validly execute documents by electronic signature? The short answer is, electronic signatures can be validly used in many circumstances.

An electronic signature allows a person to electronically add a signature to an online contract. An electronic signature (or e-signature) is a digital version of the paper-based method of signing signatures, the person with the intent to sign simply electronically signs the document -- thus removing the necessity of handwritten signatures. It is often an image of a signature.

A digital signature is a different method of validating an online document. Encryption software is required. This involves electronic data, encrypted message and encryption protections. Whilst a digital signature can be grouped with the category of electronic signature, it uses algorithms to create a digital fingerprint or private key (or secret key) unique to your document.

Read more over at

Friday, March 27, 2020

UPS in a Deal for Drones to Delivery Packages

Flight Forward, a subsidiary of UPS that handles drone delivery, has partnered with German drone manufacturer Wingcopter to develop the next generation of package delivery drones for a variety of use cases in the United States and internationally. An article in GPS World writes:
UPS chose Wingcopter for its unmanned aircraft technology and its track record in delivering a variety of goods over long distances in multiple international settings. As part of this collaboration -- UPSFF's first new relationship with a drone manufacturer since its formation -- both companies will work toward earning regulatory certification for a Wingcopter unmanned aircraft to make commercial delivery flights in the United States. It also is a critical step toward building a diverse fleet of drones with varying capabilities to meet potential customer needs. 
The Wingcopter drones feature vertical takeoffs and landings in tight spaces, transitioning to efficient, high-speed horizontal flight, enabling ranges suitable for a variety of uses. These capabilities will allow UPSFF to begin developing solutions that, if approved, will go well beyond the healthcare and retail industries to solve long-standing challenges for high-tech, industrial manufacturing, hospitality, entertainment and other customers. [Wincopter's] electric vertical takeoff and landing drones have a patented tilt-rotor mechanism, which enables a seamless transition between two drone modes: multicopter for hovering and fixed-wing for low-noise forward flight. The aerodynamic Wingcopter aircrafts operate with stability even in harsh weather conditions.
"Drone delivery is not a one-size-fits-all operation," said Bala Ganesh, vice president of the UPS Advanced Technology Group. "Our collaboration with Wingcopter helps pave the way for us to start drone delivery service in new use-cases. UPS Flight Forward is building a network of technology partners to broaden our unique capability to serve customers and extend our leadership in drone delivery."

Monday, March 23, 2020

Pandemic - This is Just What the Internet was Developed For

As more countries enforce social distancing (and even quarantine), the internet will stay online during the Coronavirus pandemic. It was designed for just this type of situation (well, nuclear war, but a catastrophe is a catastrophe). The internet got its start in the US more than 50 years ago as a government solution to problems likely in the Cold War -- Arpanet was designed to resist destruction of nodes. For years, scientists and researchers used it to communicate and share data with one another.

The work-from-home model is set to strain the internet’s underlying infrastructure, with a burden likely to be particularly felt in the home networks that people have set up, and internet service providers such as Comcast, Charter and Verizon who connect those home networks.

During the Cold War there was constant fear of nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.  A communications system for computers was envisioned, and universities took the lead. Today's Internet emerged from military technology. ARPANET, developed by the American military as a network of communication across the country on servers that were decentralized, as a way to safeguard against the possibility of a nuclear attack.

By decentralizing the network, if one server of computers went down, the others would still be able to function because they would be able to simply pick up the same information from another server. A communications system for computers was envisioned, and universities took the lead. Only a few computers were the first connected in the original ARPANET, located in the respective computer research labs of UCLA, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. ARPANET protected the flow of information between military installations by creating a network of geographically separated computers that could exchange information via a newly developed protocol (rule for how computers interact) called NCP (Network Control Protocol).

Another area of concern: response to the Coronavirus exposes Internet inequality among U.S. students as schools close their doors, as millions of Americans lack web access. This digital divide causes problems for educators’ efforts to continue instruction during this health crisis.

Read more here....

Friday, March 20, 2020

When Drone Delivery Moves from Fad to Requirement

The concept of “social distancing,” in the face of the pandemic, is racing around the world. This signals a time for cities and governments to embrace drone delivery -- not just for speed and convenience, but to protect citizens' most vulnerable members.

Drones originally designed to spray pesticides for agricultural applications were adapted in China to spray disinfecting chemicals in some public spaces and on epidemic prevention vehicles traveling between impacted areas. (Coronavirus is mainly transmitted via respiratory droplets and can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces. Disinfectant spray helps reduce these transmission mechanisms.)

The drone delivery company JD worked with government stakeholders to dramatically increase service areas to bring supplies to quarantined and isolated areas. JD explains that the drones drop parcels at a fixed point, allowing customers to pick them up without human-to-human contact – which minimizes the risk for both the courier and the customer.

In Spain, drones were used to alert people to the need to shelter in place. Drones have also been used for surveillance of large groups of people. Soaring over crowds, these devices can pinpoint if anyone is in need of medical attention. Of course, this is another method that is allowing medical employees to scan at a distance. Some drones are even equipped with infrared thermometers to detect body temperatures. A high temperature can mean that the person has the coronavirus, yet this method is far from foolproof. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Why Social Distancing is a Must Right Now

The concept of interrupting the spread COVID19 is not radical. Travel bans enacted in the early outbreak could have short-stepped the process of dispersal of the contagion, but that time has, sadly, passed. Social distancing is the practice of purposefully reducing close contact between people. According to the CDC, social distancing means remaining out of “congregate settings” as much as possible. Everyone should avoid mass gatherings and maintain distance of about 6 feet from others when possible.

This chunk from the below-referenced article explains what happened in South Korea, triggering the wildfire effect:

Patient 31 - It’s not clear where Patient 31 became infected with the virus, but in the days before her diagnosis, she travelled to crowded spots in Daegu, as well as in the capital Seoul. On February 6 she was in a minor traffic accident in Daegu, and checked herself into an Oriental medicine hospital. While at that hospital, she attended services at the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, on February 9 and again on February 16.
It seems South Korea has stabilized its outbreak. Social distancing is crucial for preventing the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). COVID-19 can spread through coughing, sneezing and close contact. By minimizing the amount of close contact we have with others, we reduce our chances of catching the virus and spreading it to our loved ones and within our community.

Read more here...

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

When a Chef is the Boss - Learn from Great Leadership

Here is a great role model, for these difficult pandemic times: Chef José Andrés. The celebrity chef is shuttering his Washington D.C.-area restaurants because of COVID19. He is converting many into "Community Kitchens" offering lunches to people in need.

It seems Andrés plans to scale the project across the U.S.A. through his disaster relief nonprofit, World Central Kitchen. Andrés and his non-profit have already helped serve over 3,000 people stuck on the quarantined Grand Princess cruise ship.

Andrés and his wife Patricia created the charity in 2010 to help feed people in Haiti after a major earthquake. Every year, the nonprofit serves millions of meals around the world to people recovering from disasters, and they are expert at getting a kitchen up-and-running quickly and working under difficult conditions.

WCK served close to 4 million meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, in 2017, and is still on task in PR to improve food security. Let's all take a lesson from this -- the time to help each other is now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Can We Move Past a Materialistic, Consumption-Driven Economy?

One important question that arises, during this difficult time, is, can we move past a materialistic, consumption-driven economy?

Most present economic models result in rising inequality, impacting income, wealth, education, health, and social perceptions.

"... [a] materialistic social contract rests on philosopher and economist Adam Smith’s principle of the invisible hand, whereby people pursuing their own self-interest in free markets are led—as if by an invisible hand—to make everyone in society as well off as possible. The popular appeal of capitalist economies relies heavily on this principle, since people usually support capitalism because it is alleged to deliver higher living standards and more economic freedom than alternative economic systems."

The underlying assumption is that human needs can be satisfied through material prosperity and that decentralized, self-interested market decisions tend to generate such material prosperity more efficiently than more centralized, coordinated approaches. Too often, assessments of capitalism aim to focus on so-called "triumph" over socialism. Be real -- there is no such thing as a pure capitalist system. Humans embrace many different forms of capitalist economies; since money was invented about 5,000 years ago, people understand that trading improves both parties' position.

The current institutional capitalism and corporatism represents one of many different versions. And, around the globe, there are many iterations of capitalism right now. Singapore, for example, is the fourth richest country in the world in terms of per-capita GDP with an unemployment rate of 2.2 percent or lower since 2009. Who doesn't regard this city-state as one of the most free and open, pro-business economies in the world? Yet the government in Singapore routinely guides investment policy, and government-linked firms dominate telecommunications, media, and finance. Such intertwining would be unthinkable in America, Norway, Japan, or Canada. Like Singapore, many countries’ form of capitalism is steered not by that unseen hand — but by defined policy.

Human-centered capitalism: Utilizing market forces (capitalism) to benefit society, measured in gross national well-being instead of domestic product (human-centered)

What activities add up what might be considered a "normal life," one that is well-rounded? Could our model for consumption and interaction be more accommodating to a lifestyle where care of each other, of personal character development, can be fostered? We all benefit from lifestyles influencing community in a positive way, infused with personal creativity and work-life balance.Economics enables us to explore why people sometimes make irrational decisions, and why and how their behavior does not follow the predictions of so-called experts. Humans are emotional, oft times making decisions that are not in their self-interest. We should aspire to get away from viewing capitalism as some cold, numbers-only thing or a zero sum game that pits business profits against government taxes or capitalist bosses vs socialist workers.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Robots Taking Jobs... Again

The robot future started years ago...

The adoption of industrial robots in France makes manufacturing businesses more productive and profitable but at the expense of jobs, according to a recent paper presented by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, non-profit, non-partisan research organization in America. 
In a paper titled "Competing with Robots: Firm-Level Evidence from France," economics professors Daron Acemoglu (MIT), Claire LeLarge (University of Paris Saclay), and Pascual Restrepo (Boston University) analyzed 55,390 French manufacturing firms to study the economic impact of robot adoption.

Monday, March 2, 2020

What is Europe's Strategy for Data?

The European Commission presented its long-awaited EU data strategy in Brussels on February 29, 2020. In response to evolving economic and social concerns brought about through digital transformation, European lawmakers debuted a discussion paper addressing a vision for Europe as a leader in the global data economy. The paper was presented together with the Commission’s Communication, Shaping Europe’s Digital Future and other papers, such as on Artificial Intelligence.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Google Users in the UK to fall under US, not EU data protection rules

According to Reuters, Google is planning to move its British users' accounts out of the control of European Union privacy regulators, placing them under U.S. jurisdiction instead:
The shift, prompted by Britain's exit from the EU, will leave the sensitive personal information of tens of millions with less protection and within easier reach of British law enforcement. The change was described to Reuters by three people familiar with its plans. Google intends to require its British users to acknowledge new terms of service including the new jurisdiction.
Ireland, where Google and other U.S. tech companies have their European headquarters, is staying in the EU, which has one of the world's most aggressive data protection rules, the General Data Protection Regulation. Google has decided to move its British users out of Irish jurisdiction because it is unclear whether Britain will follow GDPR or adopt other rules that could affect the handling of user data, the people said. If British Google users have their data kept in Ireland, it would be more difficult for British authorities to recover it in criminal investigations.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

It Might Be a Good Time to Consider More Remote Workers

Worried about the heath implications of spreading contagions? Or maybe you are just seeking to bolster your team with a more geographically dispersed workforce.

My advice is to manage remote workers by focusing on accomplishments, outcomes, and goals rather than just workflow. Of course, you still need to put place those processes — repeatable processes are the key to continuous improvement. But micromanagement of off-site personnel will hamper productivity.

Plan for remote interactions at the outset: email, texts, conference calls, slack or other chat services. One difference between face-to-face communication and communication via email and chat is that it is difficult to determine a person's intent from electronic communication because there is no tone or facial expression to provide context. When face-to-face, you are absorbing body language and facial expression. Humans understand a lot from those cues — as much or more than verbally.

Both employees and managers should resist the impulse to overanalyze every word in every message and to read negative intent into brief replies.

Pro tip: set office hours a few days a month when everyone is in the same place at the same time — overlapping time zone differences.

Finally, by cognizant of the need to intentional facilitate productivity boosts through trust, as well as cultivating opportunities for personal interaction.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Want to Stop a Pandemic? Start with Flying

For an excellent analysis of aviation's response to the ongoing Wuhan Novel Coronavirus problem, we read at Lexology:
A large number of international airlines have suspended their flights to mainland China. Those airlines which are still flying have allowed cabin crew to wear face masks, and crew layover time has been reduced or ended altogether. Some airlines have also modified their in-flight services, for instance by no longer providing pillows or blankets, suspending duty-free sales, and changing the nature of meal service.
Based on experience from previous epidemics, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has produced an Emergency Response Plan for use by airlines in the event of a public health emergency. Although a number of airlines do have an emergency response plan to deal with public health emergencies, the template Emergency Response Plan has been issued by IATA for those airlines that do not. It details the roles and responsibilities of the emergency response team, along with specific checklists to be adopted.
In relation to suspected communicable disease generally, IATA has also issued various best practice guidelines for airline employees and agents. These cover, for example:
  • Cabin crew: setting out how to identify passengers with a suspected communicable disease, and the actions to take once such a person is identified. These include informing the Captain, who is required to report the suspected case to air traffic control under international regulations. Similar guidance for cabin crew has been issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection, which has also issued recent recommendations for dealing with the 2019-nCov virus.
  • Cleaning crew: setting out the procedures to follow to clean and disinfect an arriving aircraft with a suspected case of communicable disease.
  • Cargo and baggage handlers: drawing on previous experience with SARS, avian flu and Ebola, this guideline notes that there is no evidence that these infections could be transmitted by cargo or baggage handling. Although it recommends proper hand hygiene, no specific measures are advised.
  • Guidance has also been issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), who issued a Safety Information Bulletin on 27 January 2020. EASA recommended that airlines provide information to crew members as to how to identify and manage a case of acute respiratory infection on board an aircraft. It also recommended that airlines performing passenger flights to or from affected countries should be equipped with protection kits for crew members assisting with potentially infectious cases. In addition, the Bulletin calls upon airlines and airport operators to collaborate as much as possible with public health authorities, in order to provide support in tracing passengers in the event of flights where 2019-nCov infection has been confirmed.
As far as airports are concerned, the responsibility for managing the risk of communicable diseases at airports rests with both national and local public health authorities and the relevant airport operator. 

As of Feb 6, 2020, the WSJ is writing: "World Health Authorities Warn Virus Hasn’t Peaked After China’s Deadliest Day - Death toll in country now stands at 636, with more than 31,000 cases."

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Uncool and Hard, But Worth It

So the Real-World Quadrant Q1 2020 has come out... showing my chosen path (service oriented architecture, SOA) as in the uncool/hard quadrant. I've never shied away from hard work, when the payoff can be worth it. And that's the case with SOA. SOA is an architectural approach to make (often already implemented) services available in an agnostic format to consumers (where consumer is some other IT process).

From the perspective of reusability, SOA makes perfect sense. But it isn't the answer, always. I like to think of SOA as a way to think about applications and the way they interact with other business processes. If these processes work in concert, that can be an avenue for extra value. Now if doing that doesnt gain any business value, then other models might make more sense. The key is to look forward, and do the hard (and uncool) work.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

How do I write better proposals?

Not long ago, I was asked by a client what my "secret sauce" for writing great proposals is. I thought about it, and realized there is no secret! Writing clearly is the first step. The second is applying tried-and-true techniques picked up from being a magazine journalist, a technical author, and, yes, even a poet.

In more than 20 years in the business, I have found that if I'm writing regularly about technology, management, and other topics, it makes sense to get hands-on. As a technologist and management consultant, I am able to incorporate my expertise into technical responses. Here is a snapshot of my approach to making a technical response stand out:  

I build an accurate "fact bank," a series of statements describing the company and its past performances. Before I start filling in the bullets from the "pink" version of the technical response, I go through source material for the company and write down 5-10 sentences that precisely describe the successes of the firm, how the team works, major features of our solution, and how those features translate into important benefits. During on-going review, Workbench notifies the client, so that they review the "fact bank" and make any necessary corrections, additions, or deletions. After they do that, I incorporate their edits. Now I have the body of pre-approved content I use to construct the technical response, and I know what I'm writing is factually accurate. The clients is able to review drafts, stored in the document management tab in Workbench, knowing a draft addresses the PWS/SOW in a compelling way that's on the mark.

When I'm chasing content on subjects I am not personally expert in, I do three things:

  • I do basic research into the topic. For example, when addressing a requirement to assess IOT vulnerabilities, I found a library of white papers from IBM that provided the meat-and-potatoes of a technical model. IBM's approach, available under Creative Commons license, is a sensible one that knowledgable staff can implement.
  • I interview subject matter experts (SMEs) within the organization. When I was tasked with writing a response for Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) to design and implement a processing center, I could write authoritatively about the IT systems requirements. But for the architectural aspects, I contacted the teaming partner, a building design firm in Texas, to interview one of their senior architects on an optimized design approach. I incorporated that information into the overall winning response.
  • Finally, I ask the client for PowerPoints from their engineering team. Having been one, I know engineers in particular tend to be visually oriented, and it benefits the response to have visuals to accompany technical copy. The "meat" of an idea can be extracted from the visual -- then I write a clear, descriptive caption for it. Translating ideas from a visual into text helps everyone understand technical concepts.

On the subject of capturing information from SMEs, I often conduct interviews over the phone. But occasionally I get SMEs who prefer to express themselves other than verbally. In those cases, I offer to email them questions so they can email me their replies. Often those people with technical aptitude may not speak English as a first language, but can compose emails well enough. If responses are unclear, I rewrite them in plain English and then reply back with my rewrite for review. Usually the SME makes a few minor edits, and after that, I can move forward incorporating into the larger technical response.

Not rocket science, and perhaps Mr Herger, my 11th grade English teacher at Good Counsel, might recommend a few more tips. But this is a good start on drafting technical proposals that stand out.