Monday, August 10, 2020

Implementing DevOps could save your organization big money...

A primary purpose of DevOps is to release software builds at better quality with higher frequency. Automation in DevOps should be embraced to realize this objective, without introducing a negative effect into the quality or frequency of software released to end-users. Based on an analysis conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of GitLab, the report concludes organizations can save as much as $3.7 million by reducing the number of DevOps tools they need to acquire by a factor of four.

The report also claims organizations can also see a 12x increase in the number of revenue-generating application releases in a year, resulting in $12.3 million in additional revenue, while at the same time reducing code defects to generate more than $16.8 million in savings. Overall, the report says there is a 407% return on investment (ROI) in the GitLab platform.

As a global economic downturn brought on by the pandemic unfolds, many organizations are focusing on costs. Being able to accelerate the rate of application development -- and deployment -- should be part of digital business transformation initiatives. The more business processes become automated, the less expensive to maintain. This is obvious giving the more dependent organizations are becoming on software. But many leaders are navigating ways to reduce costs without forcing every member of the team to standardize.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Russia is Expert at Online Disinformation

At her Thursday keynote, Stanford Internet Observatory's research manager Renee DiResta explained how Russian military intelligence – the GRU – and the private Internet Research Agency (IRA) were putting the likes of China to shame. Security companies and government agencies have good reason to move their focus from Beijing to Moscow, she warned.

The basic methods of hacking public opinion are fairly simple, DiResta explained. Fake accounts generate content and spam it out on social media to amplify the message. If enough real people pick up and the posts go viral the mainstream media kicks in and amplifies the desired message still further.

In Russia's case, it spreads divisive material, stolen information, and fake news in an attempt to turn Americans against each other, sour civil society, sow doubt, and create distractions, leaving people unsure of what's really going on. This worked. In China's case, it tried to make people like China. This didn't work.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Empower the Real Users of Software - with a No-Code Approach

Way back in the distant past, I used Hypercard, FileMaker, and, later, NeXT tools, to build complex expert systems, knowledge management, and financial planning tools for a diverse customer base. Applying a little bit of "MBA-powered" know-how with real-world entrepreneurialism enabled me to solve problems in the environmental sector, for small businesses, and even for the mortgage industry.

Fast forward to present day, and we see many software-as-a-service solutions that offer pre-packaged solutions to widely acknowledged challenges. My own solution for team management comes from a history of fixing broken projects for others -- I am a firm believer in the philosophy of "eat your own dogfood."

Now, we loop back to the past, with the increasing availability to low- or no-code software development solutions. Airtable, the Salesforce platform and web-based tools such as Ninox for databases are all useful tools to quickly assemble software to address highly specific problems. These are kind of the "spreadsheet" of the 21st century. One stand-out is Zapier, which has opened the door for many to integrate existing platforms with other popular web apps. Integrating applications with code can be a challenge, but Zapier makes it possible with a few clicks.

While no-code won't solve all technical challenges, having an easily accessible stack can undoubtedly help get specific jobs done faster, easier, and cheaper. Democratizing development is the overall benefit of no-code software development solutions. A few others include reducing the work load on an IT department, as such solutions enable business users to build applications without any coding knowledge. This reduces the burden on an understaffed IT department.

We can also enjoy an accelerated development cycle, so one doesn't have to wait for solution requests to be answered by theaters. Tasks that used to take months (even years) to complete can now be done in a few hours or days, depending on its complexity.

With many point-and-click user interfaces for the development of no-code solutions, one can quickly build solutions to meet exact requirements and specifications, and be updated on the fly. These aspects are important to keep the business competitive and agile. While a no-code solution allows the development of applications for immediate impact, it can also prove to be cost-efficient in the long run.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Oracle or SAP? How about.. neither? Go Open Source for your ERP

Seems like there are two major contenders for an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Oracle and SAP. However, there are a number of flexible, feature-rich, and cost-effective open source ERP systems available, as well.

Over at Forbes, we read:

How Do The Core Businesses For Oracle And SAP Compare? Oracle provides products and services that address enterprise information technology environments. The products and services include applications and infrastructure offerings that are delivered worldwide through a variety of flexible and interoperable IT deployment models. These models include on-premise deployments, cloud-based deployments, and hybrid deployments (an approach that combines both on-premise and cloud-based deployment).       Oracle’s geographical revenue mix is strong with 55% coming from the Americas, 29% from EMEA countries (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), and the rest from Asia-Pacific.
   SAP is a multinational software corporation that develops and delivers software, services, and support that address business needs. The company offers a wide range of enterprise resource planning applications which includes customer relationship management, human capital management, financial management, product life-cycle management, and supply chain management. The company also has a foray in business intelligence with SAP BusinessObjects. SAP’s geographical revenue mix is also strong with 44% coming from EMEA countries (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), 40% from the Americas, and rest from Asia-Pacific.

Depending on the organization's needs, more features doesn't always mean better. Further needs may evolve as the business grows, so search for an ERP system that can expand. That could mean the system has additional modules or supports plugins and add-ons.

Most open source ERP systems are web applications that can be downloaded and installed on a server or with a VM image. But if lacking the skills or staff to maintain a system, look for a hosted version of the application. Choose an application that has good documentation and good support, which may be either paid support or an active user community. Some include:

ERPNext is a classic open source projects, featured on in 2014. It was designed to address a particular need, replacing a creaky and expensive proprietary ERP implementations. It includes modules for accounting, managing inventory, sales, purchase, and project management. The applications that make up ERPNext are form-driven—you fill information in a set of fields and let the application do the rest. The whole suite is easy to use.

pache OFBiz's suite of related business tools is built on a common architecture that enables organizations to customize the ERP to their needs. As a result, it's best suited for midsize or large enterprises that have the internal development resources to adapt and integrate it within their existing IT and business processes.

OFBiz is a mature open source ERP system; its website says it's been a top-level Apache project for a decade. Modules are available for accounting, manufacturing, HR, inventory management, catalog management, CRM, and e-commerce. You can also demo out its e-commerce web store and backend.

Odoo is an integrated suite of ERP applications: project management, billing, accounting, inventory management, manufacturing, and purchasing. Those modules can communicate with each other to efficiently and seamlessly exchange information. Odoo provides a friendly, almost spartan, interface. Odoo is a web app, with subscriptions to individual modules, or download the source code from GitHub. It's licensed under LGPLv3.

Solving complicated supply chain or financial management problems for a business doesn’t mean buying a big-money ERP system. While vendors like Oracle and SAP may dominate the market, there are free and open source solutions that can help get an organization digital with little investment.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Another Tool to Help Address the Housing Crisis

Most believe renters "throw away" money because they don’t build equity over time. But new startups are hoping to offer  a different approach. For example, when someone rents an apartment in a new complex in Columbus, Ohio, they can now also get a financial stake in the building.

Companies such as Rhove offer the security of ownership with the flexibility of renting. Rhove extends “renterships” to tenants in Rhove-partnered apartment complexes. The arrangements give tenants a stake in the building -- and their assets grow with the property’s value.

Rhove acts as an investor in the property by paying a lump sum to the owners. Tenants earn returns as property owners collect rent from the whole building, and as the property appreciates, the value of the shares increases. Another start-up, Nico, offers a similar concept, launching in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, where gentrification threatened to push out some long-time residents. By purchasing rent-stabilized buildings and registering them in a financial trust, Nico offers portfolio shares to residents. This provides an opportunity keep their homes. Such ideas are not new: a real estate investment trust (REIT) is a closed-end investment company that owns assets related to real estate such as buildings, land and real estate securities. REITs sell on the major stock market exchanges just like common stock.

According to Hotpads, a young person will spend $200k+ in rent over the course of his or her lifetime. With many Americans spending a third of their income on rent, it can be difficult to save money to eventually buy a home. And renters generally don’t have the same opportunities to accrue wealth as homeowners. This Harvard study found wide wealth gaps between older homeowners and renters, even when their incomes are similar.

Read more here

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

New Chips from Apple - Good for Performance, but Goodbye Bootcamp

Apple has said that switching to its own, ARM-based Apple silicon will end Boot Camp support.  Apple will start switching its Macs to its own ARM-based processors later in 2020, but users won't be able to run Windows in Boot Camp mode on them.

Microsoft only licenses Windows 10 on ARM to PC makers to preinstall on new hardware, and the company hasn't made copies of the operating system available for anyone to license or freely install. By switching to ARM-based machines, Apple might not be ruling out Bootcamp, Parallels, etc., but it is significantly reduce the number of available apps available on either operating system. ARM CPUs process instructions differently from x86 CPUs (made by Intel and AMD) so any specific app has to be written for ARM in order to function. This will hurt people who rely on specific apps (either MacOS or Windows) until/unless the vendors for those apps release updates that support ARM.

On John Gruber's WWDC Talk Show, Craig Federighi confirmed that Apple would not support Boot Camp on ARM Macs: "We're not direct booting an alternate operating system. Purely virtualization is the route. These hypervisors can be very efficient, so the need to direct boot shouldn't really be the concern."

Apple demonstrated Parallels Desktop running Linux in a virtual machine, but there was no mention of Windows support. VMWare has asked its community about how they would use its Fusion virtualization on ARM-based Macs, but there’s no commitment to building the app just yet.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Robo-Taxis on the Streets of China... by the millions?

Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing says it plans to operate more than a million self-driving vehicles by 2030. The robo-taxis are to be deployed in places where ride-hailing drivers are less available, according to Meng Xing, Didi’s chief operating officer, speaking at an online conference hosted by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper.

In 2016, US tech giant Apple invested $1bn in Didi in an unusually large and public investment. Apple is known to be interested in autonomous driving, having tested its own driverless vehicle on public roads in California in recent years.

The local government in Shanghai awarded Didi a permit to test its autonomous vehicles on public roads in Jiading District of Shanghai. The company says it plans to expand beyond that district starting in 2021, deploying “30 different models of L4 autonomous vehicles.” (L4 means Level 4 on the Society of Automotive Engineers scale of autonomy, which means the vehicle is able to operate without any human intervention within a defined geographic area.)

It wasn't that long ago that the company experimented with autonomous vehicles... read more here...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Leverage Serverless for a Better Tomorrow

Over at this podcast, we hear Johnny Boursiquot, Site Reliability Engineer at Heroku tell how he has found Go to be a useful language for building Function-as-a-Service (FaaS) style applications -- an extension of microservices. In an interview, he expounds on the capability to build Go applications into a static binary -- and reduce the need for dependency management. With rapid application startup, another benefit is runtime speed and scaling.

Focusing on a development toolchain focused on the cloud means programmers benefit from flexibility. For example, many cloud providers provide local runtimes such as AWS SAM Local, and service simulators. Testing in production is facilitated by the ability to do on-channel launches and test deployments with a "canary in a coal mine" approach.

One can develop “serverless” applications while not avoiding the need for operational expertise on a DevOps team. Designing systems appropriately and getting the most out of the runtime (with minimal cost) requires knowledge of the underlying infrastructure components.

An emerging role is that of the Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), often an expert who can adapt well-established patterns and practices into their activities. They act as “go-betweens,” working closely with product teams to share knowledge around operational best practices.

One under appreciated skill is the ability to teach or mentor, regardless of the job. Knowledge transfer to coders or setting as SOPs important operational principles is extremely valuable.

Listen to the podcast here...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Distributed Data Model Wins Out in the UK for Tracking COVID19

The UK government will abandon its centralized COVID-19 contact-tracing smartphone app in favor of the distributed system proposed by Apple and Google more than two months ago. This decision follows that the app, once said to be a key part of the government's test-and-trace system, would not be ready until at least winter this year.

The idea is that a user runs one of these apps on their phone, and the software uses the Apple-Google-developed interface to communicate with copies of itself on other people's nearby devices over Bluetooth. When someone declares, via the app, that they may have likely or certainly caught the COVID-19 disease, all phones that have been in the vicinity of that person's mobile will find out, alerting their owners that they may have been exposed to the virus. Each country or region is expected to have its own app. No data goes to Apple or Google. The numbers of people coming in contact with those thought or confirmed to be infected may help experts monitor and analyze the actual spread of the virus.

In related news, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has offered to roll out the German Corona-Warn-App in the UK in a short time at "zero cost to the taxpayers". "If the government can't pull themselves together, we can," via a tweet.

Read more at the BBC...

Monday, June 22, 2020

Pandemic Fallout: the printer industry

Analyst firm IDC reports that the printer industry has been suffering as a result of the Pandemic. The firm suggested predicted “page volume will fall 13.7percent in 2020, from 3.2 trillion pages in 2019 to 2.8 trillion pages in 2020.” The impact will be lasting: between 2015 and 2019 compound annual growth rate for pages printed was -1.2 percent. From 2020 to 2024 that will hit -4.8 percent.

"The dramatic and sudden transition to work from home in many of the world's largest economies had a direct impact on office device print volumes," said Ilona Stankeova, IDC Europe’s senior research director for Imaging Devices and Document Solutions. "More than six million pages were printed every minute globally in 2019. This amount covers the area of 54 football pitches. COVID-19 is expected to remove print volume that would fill the area of seven football fields every minute in 2020."
"Multifunction printers (MFPs) and increasing adoption of digitization efforts on a global scale are pushing for further maturation of the single-function printer (SFP) market. The trade war between China and the United States and the economic downturn in Western Europe are also pushing down shipment expectations. We still expect the market to be sustainable through the forecast period as SFPs still provide a lower-cost option for customers interested in printing." — Max Pepper, research analyst, IDC's Imaging, Printing, and Document Solutions
The IDC study covers worldwide printer market opportunities and analyzes issues, trends, and product advances. It contains 2013–2018 data showing actual unit shipments, value of shipments (end-user spending), and average selling value. 2019–2023 data is projected.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Entrepreneurs can contribute to solving global problems

Check out this Entrepreneur Magazine article on how entrepreneurs can help solve the world’s biggest challenges, leveraging the unique mindset shared of entrepreneurs: born problem-solvers, always looking for new and better ways to do things.
Damian Merlak, co-founder of NGEN: “Even something as seemingly simple as app development can improve the flexibility, scalability and redundancy of a problem-solving solution,” he explained, continuing that, “Real-time data collection, remote access, more efficient energy production — all of these can serve as a jumping-off point for developing more effective solutions that reach a wider number of people. Finding new ways to use the technology that is available can unlock amazing innovations.”
...As bleak as present circumstances can feel, this is no time for entrepreneurs to give up. You may be asked to “hunker down” physically, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep working toward meaningful solutions that will improve our world as a whole. And few are better equipped for the challenge than an entrepreneur.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Aerial Delivery in the People's Republic of China, via Drone

Chinese drones will deliver goods to houses -- the tech company EHang will use its advanced drone pilot-less helicopters to deliver bulky goods to residents' houses after receiving official permission to demo the service.

These 'air taxis' can carry up to 150 kilos (331 pounds) of goods per flight and send them to remote and mountainous areas, according to their manufacturer. The mega drones will be tasked to transport products 'between ground and hilltop and between shore and islands' in the Chinese city of Taizhou during trial runs.

Watch the flight:

Based in Guangzhou, EHang suggests that their drones are the world's first electric passenger-carrying autonomous aerial vehicles. The company obtained approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to use its drones in for transporting heavy-lifting merchandise.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Contact Tracing App API from Apple and Google

Isolate potentially infected individuals, track and trace contacts -- these are steps responsible governments are taking to help stem the tide of the COVID19 pandemic in 2020.

Many governments around the world are developing contact tracing apps which meet the privacy standard advocated by Google and Apple, in order to ensure their apps will function only on Android and IOS devices. Google and Apple, the world’s leading makers of smartphone operating systems, recently released their contact tracing API (known as the “exposure notification” API) to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Some 22 countries (including Ireland) across 5 continents and a number of US states have already requested access to the software.  Notably missing from this list are France and the UK.

The API is not itself a contact tracing application -- instead, it enables governments and public health authorities to incorporate the software into their own apps that people install. The API will enable Bluetooth technology to run in the background of the phone, including on a locked phone. Without this ability for background use of Bluetooth technology, the utility of Apps would be greatly decreased.

Users would turn on and unlocks their phones, for the Apps to be able to use Bluetooth and log encounters. Apple and Google are limiting use of their API technology to government contact-tracing Apps.

Privacy activists have praised the protections ordered by Apple and Google’s API, as being in line with the principles of data protection by design and by default.

Google and Apple have explicitly barred use of the API in any apps that seek GPS loca on data from users, which means some apps being developed by public health authori es for contact tracing will not be able to use the API. In addition, the API can will only work on Apps using a decentralized system that uses randomly generated temporary keys created on a user’s device (but not linked to their specific identity or exact location).

The API allows public health officials to decide what constitutes exposure in terms of exposure time and distance. They can adjust transmission risk and other factors according to their own standards.


Monday, June 1, 2020

Think Six-Sigma Code is Not Possible? You just need to think like NASA

To get high quality code in your application, consider adopting NASA’s 10 rules for writing mission-critical source code:

  1. Restrict all code to very simple control flow constructs – do not use goto statements, setjmp or longjmp constructs, and direct or indirect recursion.
  2. All loops must have a fixed upper-bound. It must be trivially possible for a checking tool to prove statically that a preset upper-bound on the number of iterations of a loop cannot be exceeded. If the loop-bound cannot be proven statically, the rule is considered violated.
  3. Do not use dynamic memory allocation after initialization.
  4. No function should be longer than what can be printed on a single sheet of paper in a standard reference format with one line per statement and one line per declaration. Typically, this means no more than about 60 lines of code per function.
  5. The assertion density of the code should average to a minimum of two assertions per function. Assertions are used to check for anomalous conditions that should never happen in real-life executions. Assertions must always be side-effect free and should be defined as Boolean tests. When an assertion fails, an explicit recovery action must be taken, e.g., by returning an error condition to the caller of the function that executes the failing assertion. Any assertion for which a static checking tool can prove that it can never fail or never hold violates this rule (I.e., it is not possible to satisfy the rule by adding unhelpful “assert(true)” statements).
  6. Data objects must be declared at the smallest possible level of scope.
  7. The return value of non-void functions must be checked by each calling function, and the validity of parameters must be checked inside each function.
  8. The use of the preprocessor must be limited to the inclusion of header files and simple macro definitions. Token pasting, variable argument lists (ellipses), and recursive macro calls are not allowed. All macros must expand into complete syntactic units. The use of conditional compilation directives is often also dubious, but cannot always be avoided. This means that there should rarely be justification for more than one or two conditional compilation directives even in large software development efforts, beyond the standard boilerplate that avoids multiple inclusion of the same header file. Each such use should be flagged by a tool-based checker and justified in the code.
  9. The use of pointers should be restricted. Specifically, no more than one level of dereferencing is allowed. Pointer dereference operations may not be hidden in macro definitions or inside typedef declarations. Function pointers are not permitted.
  10. All code must be compiled, from the first day of development, with all compiler warnings enabled at the compiler’s most pedantic setting. All code must compile with these setting without any warnings. All code must be checked daily with at least one, but preferably more than one, state-of-the-art static source code analyzer and should pass the analyses with zero warnings.

According to NASA, the rules act like the seatbelt in your car: initially they are perhaps a little uncomfortable, but after a while their use becomes second-nature and not using them becomes unimaginable.

Read more here...

Friday, May 29, 2020

Work from home? Work from anywhere

Perhaps you are responding to an order to work from home? Or as an employer, you are considering the safety of your team, and your community? Working from home has gotten a big boost during this situation. But what about... remote work from anywhere? As the article at Techcrunch relates,

“Work From Home” is terrible branding, precisely because it fails to communicate the fundamental freedom that comes with these new policies. It’s not about further imprisoning us in our homes — it’s about empowering us to think and work exactly where we are personally most productive.

Sure, some remote jobs might have location requirements:

  • Meetings: to be close in proximity to company for customer offices for in-person meetings
  • Taxes: employment tax law requirements pertaining to their state or country
  • Certifications: a job requires certifications that are location-specific
  • Travel: a position is travel-heavy so you need to be close to transport hubs
  • Time zone: addressing collaboration with peers a certain time zone

If you can dod the job one mile from the office, what is stopping you from one hundred miles, or the other side of the globe/ Working remotely increases flexibility and autonomy for staff. Technology such as the internet, video conferencing, collaboration platforms, and cloud services keep people connected. Attend meetings and be productive on projects from anywhere, anytime. You can also find more and better-qualified candidates, and incentivize to retain talent, and saving on overhead costs.
Read more here...

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Read an Article about Group Problem Solving, Improved by Distance

From the BBC, we learn of the latest psychological literature suggesting that less communication might actually be better than constant inputs. Collaboration in an "always on" mode may in fact reduce ‘collective intelligence’ (a team’s joint problem-solving ability). Instead of always staying in touch with colleagues with continual chats on Slack, for example, the study suggests a better model would be to concentrate group communication to short, intermittent bursts – a single daily video call, for example – to boost team problem solving and creativity.

Besides helping us to make better use of our time during the current crisis, these findings could help to shape the ways that we go about team decision making in the future. Even if we are in the office, we might all benefit from having a bit more me time and a bit less team time.

Read more and download a PDF of the article.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Cold Warrior Satellites Like Corona Help Track Species Decline

The United States launched early spy satellites in response to the Soviet Union Sputnik (first artificial satellite, 1957) and other space efforts. The espionage program, titled Corona, was aimed at locating Soviet missile sites, but its orbital photography captured something unintended: snapshots of animals and their habitats frozen in time. Now, by comparing these images with modern data, scientists have found a way to track the decline of biodiversity in regions that lack historic records.

The researchers tested the approach on bobak marmot (Marmota bobak) populations in the grassland region of northern Kazakhstan. There, Soviets converted millions of hectares of natural habitat into cropland in the 1960s. The scientists searched the satellites' black and white film images on a U.S. Geological Survey database for signs of the squirrel-like animal's burrows.

They identified more than 5,000 historic marmot homes and compared them with contemporary digital images of the region, mapping more than 12,000 marmot burrows in all. About eight generations of marmots occupied the same burrows in the study area over more than 50 years, even when their habitats underwent major changes, the team reports in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Overall, the researchers estimate the number of marmot burrows dropped by 14% since the '60s. But the number of burrows in some of the oldest fields -- those persistently disturbed by humans plowing grassland to plant wheat -- plunged by much more -- about 60%.
Read more over at Slashdot...

Friday, May 22, 2020

People Would Be More Accepting of Jonny-Cab Once They Try Them Out

Autonomous vehicles seem to have s public perception problem, according to new survey data collected by an industry group. Partners for Automated Vehicle Education surveyed 1,200 Americans earlier this year and found that 48 percent of Americans say they would "never get in a taxi or ride-share vehicle that was being driven autonomously." And slightly more Americans -- 20 percent versus 18 percent -- think autonomous vehicles will never be safe compared to those who say they'd put their names down on a waiting list to get a ride in an autonomous vehicle.

According to the survey data, getting a ride in a robotaxi might change some of those minds. Three in five said that they'd have more trust in autonomous vehicles if they had a better understanding of how those vehicles worked, and 58 percent said that firsthand experience -- i.e. going for a ride in a self-driving car -- would make them trust the technology more.
"Of the 1,200 survey respondents, 678 reported owning an [advanced driver assistance system] ADAS-equipped vehicle, and three-quarters of them said they 'will feel safer on the road when I know that most other vehicles have enhanced safety features,' with the same number saying they are eager to see what new safety features will be on their next vehicle," the report adds.

As describer at Slashdot, "Interestingly, drivers who own cars with forward collision warning (FCW), blind spot monitoring (BSM), lane departure warning (LDW), and automatic emergency braking (AEB) were also more likely to believe that safe autonomous vehicles would be available within the next 10 years compared to those without those features."

Monday, May 18, 2020

Old Dogs Can Learn... to love Open Source

In 2001, then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer described Linux as "a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches."

This week at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Microsoft's current president Brad Smith admitted that--

"Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open-source exploded at the beginning of the century." "And I can say that about me personally. The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn...that you need to change.

"Today, Microsoft is the single largest contributor to open-source projects in the world when it comes to businesses. When we look at GitHub, we see it as the home for open-source development, and we see our responsibility as its steward to make it a secure, productive home for [developers]."

So there you have it... acknowledgement of what the world-at-large has known for quite some time. By its very nature, open source enables anyone to look for and fix security flaws. And since it is peer-reviewed, software is opened up to a larger cadre of inspectors who can quickly detect issues. In fact, many open source solutions are much more secure than proprietary commercial-off-the-shelf products.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Internet Co-Founder on the Value of... the Internet During this Pandemic

One of the creators of the internet, Vint Cerf, suggests that privacy legislation might hinder the development of a vaccination for the COVID-19 coronavirus. He does highlight that the global network has more than proven its worth by facilitating social interactions and economic activity that would otherwise would be conducted face-to-face. With many places in lock-down, these interactions may not have been conducted at all.
Score one for the Interweb!

The novel SARS-COV-2 virus that leads to COVID-19 disease is teaching us a great many lessons about infrastructure writ large. We are discovering weaknesses in socio-economic safety nets, in our healthcare systems, public transportation system, our education systems and many others.

To the degree that working and living can be done in some remote way, the Internet has become an important component of COVID-19 response. It permits remote interaction with customers and even patients. It allows people to order goods and services online for delivery to doorsteps. It provides researchers with access to global sources of information and to computing power in unprecedented quantities. The openness, interoperability and distributed nature of the Internet has contributed to its utility. Its scalability in many dimensions has allowed it to expand to accommodate new demands. Remarkably, the capacity to support streaming video is now also supporting real-time videoconferencing as a substitute for in-person meetings.

The grey-beard of the internet age values privacy as much as anyone, but observers, "Variations of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are propagating around the world with good intent although implementation has shown some unintended consequences, not least of which may be the ability to share health information that would assist in finding a vaccine against SARS-COV-2." Europe's GDPR does require researchers to develop the same data management plans as those of commercial entities -- sometimes a heavy lift. This article in the European Journal Of Human Genetics (March 2020) elucidates on how GDPR means secondary researchers can’t identify individuals and could therefore make it harder to translate research into action.

The Internet, World-Wide-Web, and mobile phones are a powerful combination for some tracking and tracing system designs. Vint Cerf doesn't describe the current remote education tool as being complete: "...the current crisis has shown that online education is powerful but needs further evolution."

“More generally, we must imagine other potential global catastrophes and put in place plans to mitigate,” he says as the piece winds up. “The time to agree on best practices for emergency response is before the emergency, not during.”

“We must not allow this pandemic or a future one to become our society’s Titanic.”

Read the full article here...

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

How to do Contact Tracing while Respecting Privacy -- and avoiding the Hunger Games?

With the pandemic continuing, the agreed-upon model for dealing with this (until and if a vaccine can be developed) is a combination of social distancing, stepped-up testing for exposure, and contact tracing.

Following the vectors for infection is a key way to get those infected to self-quarantine. Using smart phones as a tool has been shown by South Korea to be effective. But any system that uses our ubiquitous smartphone to track locations and contacts could bump up against privacy needs, and create surveillance problem. Of course, surveillance of infected persons could also save millions of lives — and put us back on tract to get out to work, and restart the economy. Thus is born a paradoxical challenge: to build a comprehensive tracking system without it becoming a tool of oppression.

South Korea has shown to be effective in the management of the viral outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19. One area is South Korea’s enormous virus testing program. Another is the country’s use of surveillance technology, notably CCTV and the tracking of bank card and mobile phone usage, to identify who to test. The central part of the South Korean strategy is simple: test as many people as possible. But if patients can’t be located, testing capacity doesn’t matter. This is where smart city infrastructure comes in, with the goal of working out where known patients have been and test anyone who might have come into contact with them. South Korea uses contactless payment transactions to plot a card user’s movements on a map. Smartphone data is also used, because phone locations are automatically recorded when devices connect to up to to three transceivers (for triangulation). Facila recognition with CCTV cameras also enable authorities to identify people who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients.

Does this sound like a technological panopticon? To many westerners, such tracking could be anathema to the philosophy of individual privacy. Apple and Google have mapped a possible solution, obfuscating smartphone data enough to obscure individuals, but proving enough data to enable vector mapping of infected persons.

Abuse by authorities of raw location data could reveal sensitive information about anyone — from political dissent to journalists' sources. The big tech companies are looking to enable contact tracing systems without mass surveillance. We will soon see apps that notify potentially exposed users without revealing location data to the government. In some cases, personal information and health privacy laws means keep an infected individual's test results private while still warning anyone who might have entered their physical zone of contact.

The best way to protect geolocation data from abuse, is not to collect it in the first place. Or so suggests Stanford computer scientist Cristina White, working on the project. Covid-Watch uses Bluetooth as a kind of proximity detector. The app constantly pings out Bluetooth signals to nearby phones, looking for others that might be running the app within about two meters, or six and a half feet. If two phones spend 15 minutes in range of each other, the app considers them to have had a "contact event." They each generate a unique random number for that event, record the numbers, and transmit them to each other.

GPS location tracking will likely play a role in contact-tracing apps, too, with all of the privacy risks that come with sharing a map of users’ movements.

Read more here

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Another Potential Outcome of Pandemic Re-Engineering: Will Agile Adoption Grow?

A core aspect of agile is the idea that if a product or service does what customers need, they will be willing to pay for. At many organizations, an agile principle of customer collaboration is key. Products can be delivered quicker by working in iterations. In multi-disciplined teams professionals work together to deliver working software. This presentation talks about the financial returns generated via an agile approach.

It may take an expert in management consulting to translate into actual behavior and decision terms such as ‘waste’ (in Lean) or ‘flow’ (in Kanban), but the results can be impactful. But how do you know if work done by your teams result in value? What does ‘maximizing value’ mean in terms of behavior and decisions? What are the different kinds of value -- and are they equal? How do you compare them?

In these days of re-imagining the very foundations of conducting business, delivering a product or services, and other challenges brought about as a result of global pandemic, we could think of "business value" as an informal term that includes all forms of positive inputs that contribute to the health and well-being of an organization in the long run. The idea that agile can be used outside of software development is growing. Darrell K. Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez of Bain:

“To create a truly agile enterprise,” in the May-June 2020 article, “The Agile C-Suite”, discuses, “the top officers—most, if not all, of the C-suite—must embrace agile principles too.”

Loyal readers of this venue recognize that agility, of course, is not a new idea. With members of the C-suite -- besides the CIO -- embracing the approach, will we see improved efficiency in other lines-of-business?

Read more at the HBR...

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Supply Chain Management Systems Are Taking a Beating During this Pandemic

From medical supply shortages to consumers hoarding toilet paper, the links in supply chains are under strain. Can we learn valuable lessons for the future?

For example, design of the medical supply chain in the United States has low stress resilience. In early stages of the pandemic, most hospitals are already experience a shortage of personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks. As COVID19 cases spread, so will scarcity.

Normally, most enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions can reliably analyze things like inventory levels, historical purchasing trends, and discounts to recommend how much of a product to order. During the worldwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many programs a are making fluctuating recommendations, and adjustments to inputs are occurring more frequently. As this becomes more dynamic, the frequency of monitoring by supply chain managers is increasing. Human interventions into automated systems can have adverse impacts on algorithms.

Most retail companies rely on some type of model or algorithm to help predict customer demand, from a basic Excel spreadsheet or a refined, software engineer-built application. Normally, those models are fairly reliable and work well. But as with virtual all other systems, they are being impacted by the pandemic. On the news, we see how customers may be concerned about having enough access to essentials such as paper towels.

One reason for added stress is that a lot of trade is international -- for example, trade between the US and other countries, particularly China, has been under stress due to the virus. So distributors and retailers have had to find new sources for products.

Machine learning-based algorithms are the foundation of the next generation of ERP, particularly around logistics. We will see the most significant cost efficiencies around advanced resource scheduling. Neural net and A.I.-based methods are the foundation of a broad spectrum of next-generation logistics and supply chain technologies under the hood of the best ERP solutions. Significant gains are being made where machine learning can contribute to addressing complex constraint, cost, and delivery problems organizations face. Automated analysis can help provide significant insights into how supply chain performance can be improved, anticipating anomalies in logistics constraints, and matching "pull" performance before shortages occur.

Another example is using a decentralized supply chain for track-and-trace applications. This would improve performance and reduce costs. A study found that in a 30-node configuration when blockchain is used to share data in real-time across a supplier network, combined with better analytics insight, cost savings appeared to be more than $5 million a year.

Watch this video to learn more, or read this article.

Friday, April 24, 2020

This Crisis Will Be With Us for Awhile -- What Can We Do to Help, Now?

This pandemic will be with us for awhile. Although studies are showing that quarantine and isolation methods are indeed “flattening the curve” and that we should all continue to keep our physical distance, it is hard not to grow impatient: how long this is likely to last?

IN an interview on with the BBC, Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, says, “Waiting for a vaccine should not be honored with the name ‘strategy;’ that is not a strategy.” Governments should not rely on the advent of vaccines to end the pandemic. Bottom line: a vaccine might be available in 12-18 months. The logistics of inoculating millions will be substantial, once such a solution is mass-produced.

A professor of vaccinology at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and Head of the Department of Immunology at the University of Bern in Switzerland, Professor Martin Bachmann said, “The real question is, can you keep it down long enough to have a vaccine? Without a vaccine, we are maybe looking at something like a year. But this would mean that 60–70% of the population would have had exposure to the virus.”

So what should we do, as knowledge workers, for the foreseeable future? As management consultants, the team here at Bluedog recommends a few steps that can be undertaken now, to ease the burden. Start by enabling easy, yet secure, remote access for staff who can effectively work at home.

Many jobs can at least partly be done remotely. Staff who may contribute to a customer experience, for example, should be able to do so. Even back office staff can be part of a solution, even more so in times of crisis. We suggest investing in infrastructure and tools that your employees need to stay productive and in contact, even when they cannot come into the office.

From a human resources perspective, ensure the organization has relevant guidelines and procedures in place that help people to work remotely. This includes training on systems that people need to do their work via remote access. To minimize the disaster recovery challenges, run these systems in the cloud. An important aspect of this infrastructure is an appropriate set of productivity tools that facilitate people working collaboratively. There are a plethora of software suites available that allow this, starting with Microsoft’s Office365 along with Slack, Zoom, Google Hang Outs, and many more. Of course, with Workbench “Always on the Job!” an organization can manage teams and projects, in the cloud.

Automation can improve effectiveness and efficiency. For example, give sales representatives backup by building A.I.-like conversational technologies that take away some of the upfront workload. One way to achieve this is implementing a conversational A.I. that supports your business processes. Pre-screen inquiries with fast and efficient flows that get to the root question a customer contact has. Be sure to enable short implementation times to achieve value.

There are a number of techniques, tools, and technologies that can smooth over the radical changes we are all experiencing — remote work is just one aspect of the changing world, as we all work together to weather this crisis.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Agile Philosophies in Practice for Remote Workers

Have you made your move to your home office yet? Ensure you have a setup that works for you and your team. This may mean investing the time up front to evaluate options and put in place everything you need to be productive and comfortable. First, create a space where you are least likely to be distracted.

From an agile perspective, teams are most efficient when balancing time devoted to collaboration with time allocated to the concentrated efforts required for development and other knowledge work activities. When stationed remotely, workers have to be online — but also share their availability. Tools like Slack and Zoom allow you to communicate. Where possible, set availability status and mute notifications when you are embroiled in “flow.” Using status settings is important when teams are accessing flexible work hours.

Project managers, technical leads, and product owners should regularly enquire with questions about their teammates’ level of understanding around requirements, inhibitors to progress, and what might be needed to improve productivity. Some helpful tips include:
  • Employ digital whiteboard tools for sprint planning and design sessions
  • Schedule video web conferencing for stand-up meetings
  • Assign one person to screen-share during reviews
  • Craft simple surveys to capture feedback

Teams working remotely for extended durations may want to discuss documentation standards and see if more significant efforts would be helpful. Sometimes, documenting can replace in-person implementation discussions — the venerable wiki makes a great tool for this.
Leverage the philosophy of being agile, not just by following agile practices, but in recognizing how to embrace change, for the better.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

When Demand Increases, Innovation Follows - Non-Contact Deliveries in the time of Pandemic

Alphabet subsidiary Wing is looking to help out through this pandemic with the scaling up of use of drones. Wing reports its drone delivery service is increasing the number of vendors and new items for delivery as it experiences a "dramatic" increase in customers.

Last April, Wing became the U.S.’ first drone operator to be FAA-certified as an air carrier, and in October it rolled out a test delivery program in the rural town of Christiansburg, Virginia (USA). Deliveries have more than doubled in the area, Wing says. The company has partnered with FedEx and Walgreens, and has added a local bakery, Mockingbird Cafe.

"We're trying to support local businesses that aren't able to open their doors by allowing them to deliver their products directly to customers' homes," Wing said. It pointed to a local bakery in Christiansburg, Virginia, which is now selling 50% more pastries via Wing on one weekend than it usually sells in store.

Social distancing and the need to isolate ourselves has fueled massive demand for delivery. Restaurants are re-tooling to serve take-away in place of sit-down. Uber and Lift are shifting drivers away from carrying passengers (who are not traveling) to help delivery comestibles and even pharmacy orders. Gig workers quickly have emerged as frontline responders, often driving people to the hospital or delivering food to those who have been quarantined, such as the elderly, disabled, or ill.

The San Antonio-based company Xenex has been deploying UV disinfection robots to keep up with coronavirus-fueled demand. The company’s flagship product, the LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robot, is a four-wheeled unit with a long, lantern-like tower mounted on it. This "bot" automates the cleaning process, using pulsing xenon lamps that quickly knock out germs lingering in a room’s corners and surfaces.

Xenex’s robots are already in more than 500 hospitals around the world — including Italy, Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom — and that number is growing daily due to the coronavirus outbreak. Specialized cleaner robots, like those made by Xenex and others, are more useful than ever right now. They not only help hospitals reduce coronavirus transmission from surfaces, their work also frees up staff to spend more time focusing on tasks that require a human element — attending to sick patients, for instance.

There will be growing scenarios for curb-to-door robots. Such autonomous vehicles could roll up to a household for patient testing, garbage collection, and sanitizing services. One of the added benefits of such a tiered approach to delivery automation is that robots can also be tasked with safely delivering testing kits, then collecting test samples from quarantined populations. This is a logistical challenge for local, state, and federal agencies. Community and landlord-operated robots could also be tasked with collecting and disposing of garbage from quarantined households in a manner that would limit unnecessary exposure and contamination.

But such work still exposes human workers to the threat of contracting COVID-19, among other health risks. Here is an opportunity for coronavirus-immune alternatives like autonomous vehicles and drones to prove they can save the day.

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.