diginomica 2014 - Derek's choice

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez December 26, 2014
Derek du Preez offers up his top ten favorite stories from diginomica in 2014.


What a year. Joining diginomica in February was a big change for me - I went from a traditional, global publishing house, where I focused mostly on news and was based in an office five days a week, to a new publication that focuses on long-form content and in-depth analysis, where I am pretty much able to write only about what I find interesting. And that is an incredible privilege.

When I was asked by Stuart to put together a list of my top-ten stories for the year, and began looking through all the stories I have written since I joined, I soon realised that a lot of what we have published this year I wouldn't have had the chance to write anywhere else. That's what I love about diginomica - we don't follow the pack. Bring on 2015.

10. TMI: Does everyone else have a love/hate relationship with the internet too?

For those of you that aren’t into your web acronyms, TMI stands for Too Much Information. And that’s going to be the general theme for this piece – the paranoid assumption currently stands that knowledge is power, but I’m starting to think that actually too much information isn’t necessarily a good thing and our generation needs to be careful about how much they rely on the internet.

Why?  This story is a prime example of something I wouldn't have been able to write elsewhere - yes it's a story about my relationship with the internet, but it's also a story about how the internet is impacting business, friendships, industries and society in general.

9. Lloyds Banking Group reveals the complexities behind digital simplification

We haven’t quite finished the simplification programme, and although we feel that the journey we have had has been difficult, we are overcoming this and delivering real benefits to the business. We have increased straight through processing and we won [this programme] by systematically picking off our challenges and building a centre of excellence within the Group.

Why?  I love a good use case - without hearing the good and bad from buyers, it's very hard to differentiate what is vendor marketing spiel and what's fact. Director of channels at Lloyds, Julie Perkins, gave an honest and frank explanation of the challenges of transforming one of the largest banks in the world into a digital organisation.

8. A big data reality check - what the hell is the use case?

As you can see, over half (51%) have no idea what benefits they are receiving from their big data projects. Not exactly a vote of confidence for those wanting to follow suite. Also, only 13% have identified new business opportunities and only 9% have been able to make more reliable decisions. This is very troubling indeed. If the early adopters aren’t yet achieving any measurable benefits, the lack of exemplar use cases will be noticed and deter others from deploying technologies.

Why? I never thought a write-up of a research paper would end up in my top ten stories, but the response to the piece has meant that it has ended up in the number 8 spot. We hear so much about big data - it must have been the technology term of 2014 - but it seems that buyers are still incredibly confused. This reality check serves as a reminder that once again there is a big gap between what the vendors say is happening and what is actually happening.

7. Expedia is investing billions in data to create personalized ‘travel-graphs’

Andrew Warner,the company's senior marketing director, wants Expedia to go back to an old fashioned way of doing business. He said online retailers have largely used advancements in retail technology to take costs out of transactions, which has led to a commoditised service and a low barrier to entry. However, he wants Expedia to be a company that knows its customers so well that when they come to search for travel options, it can largely predict what they need.

Why? Although some people need a reality check on big-data, others are getting on with it. This story grabbed a lot of interest because it highlighted how that in industries that are becoming increasingly commoditised, knowing the customer is the best way to get a competitive advantage. Data is key.

6. The truth about what’s wrong with UK government’s Digital Services Framework

My Freedom of Information request was submitted to the Cabinet Office on the 29th April and according to the rules governing the process, I would expect a response within 20 working days. It is now the 29th May and I am pleased to say that I have received a response – 20 working days after I submitted it if you don’t include the 29th, 21 days if you do, but I’m not going to split hairs. The results landed in my inbox at 11.35am GMT this morning, a full half an hour before I received another notification email informing me that the Government Digital Service has released a new blog about….guess what…the Digital Services Framework spend figures. Now I’m not even going to pretend that this might be a coincidence, this is PR working at its best, and I kind of admire them for being so savvy. It’s amazing what government can do when it wants to, right? So basically my FoI request has backed them into a corner and instead of being open and honest from the beginning and rolling with the punches, they’ve been forced into a narrative about the framework. Cool.

Why?  Although the Digital Services Framework doesn't get as much attention as its more successful sister, the G-Cloud, it's just as important. It's going to play a critical role in helping government departments in the UK source skills and tools to build digital products for the future. However, as this story highlights, it isn't (yet) doing the trick. Let's see if things improve in 2015.

5. UK government CTO Liam Maxwell: the competition nut

I always get people saying ‘he’s an open source nut’, or ‘he’s an SME nut’. I’m not actually, I’m a competition nut. This is about enabling competition.

Why? This interview with the UK government's Chief Technology Office was my first story for diginomica - a profile that sums up many of the challenges and opportunities facing the public sector this side of the pond. My first piece and one of the most well received.

4. Infor hits back at criticism of its decision to use AWS for CloudSuite

It’s a ludicrous proposition. Here’s the thing, it’s a scale game. Amazon has got 5 times more storage and compute capacity than the next fourteen guys combined. They seem to reduce their price every week. The investments they are making in automation at the infrastructure level are going to way outstrip something that little old NetSuite can do on its own. To compare it on purchasing power or economics is ludicrous. NetSuite is never going to be able to invest in the type of data centre architecture and skill sets that Amazon has. Any dimension that you look at, whether it is scaling, or it’s security, or failover and auto-start up, there’s no way. Amazon shipped 286 new cloud services just in the last year. It’s like comparing someone that builds jumbo jets to someone that tries to do it on their own as a hobby. It’s so ludicrous.

Why? This story makes it into my top five for two reasons - firstly, it taps into one of the more interesting debates going on in the SaaS market at the moment. Secondly, it's fun. Duncan Angove and Stephan Scholl were on top form during this interview and some of the quotes are some of the more memorable from the year.

3. Government-as-a-platform could be a big win for the UK – but what’s the strategy?

I am really struggling to get to grips with what the strategy is for this all-encompassing ‘government-as-a-platform’. I get that it was done with GOV.UK and I get that it is being done with Verify – those are two very real and tangible examples. But they are just two examples. To move to becoming a ‘platform’, that involves a hell of a lot more stuff. So what’s the plan? What’s the strategy? What’s the pipeline? What projects are coming up that are going to be developed using open source and made available for re-use? Who is going to be responsible for building them? Will it be the Government Digital Service? Will it be departments I just don’t know. It’s all well and good throwing around words like ‘open source’, ‘APIs’, ‘flexible’ etc etc. We get it. It’s a great idea. But what’s happening and how?

Why?  This story may deliver more questions than it does answers, but it's significance will play out well into next year - hence the reason for it ranking so highly. Government-as-a-platform is the new big win for whichever party wins the UK General Election next May and we are all very keen to find out how it is going to be achieved.

2. Silicon Valley: It’s hard out here for a bitch

Now, I’m not advocating some sort of Marxist revolution in Silicon Valley, but I do wonder if the corporate structures we have built up over the years need a fundamental overhaul to cater for the equal society that we should be living in today. Women shouldn’t be judged for having children, they shouldn’t be judged for flexible working and they shouldn’t have to act like men (whatever that means) to get ahead. All of which I’ve experienced first hand. I also think if we put some of the onus of childcare on men, that would help – like they do in Sweden, for example, where the amount of parental leave is 480 days per child. It isn’t maternity and paternity leave, you get 480 days per child and you as parents can decide how to split that…down to the hour. I’m convinced that this sort of incentive would level out the playing field a bit in the US and the UK.

Why? My top two stories from this year relate to issues that I feel strongly about - the first being women working in the technology industry. The headline was intended to grab attention and shock, but overall this piece is about sparking debate about how we can fundamentally change our corporate systems so that women can succeed at work just as well as men can. We still have a long way to go.

1. NetBiscuits CEO comes out as gay and urges other gay CEOs to go public

It feels almost inaccurate to write in the headline that NetBiscuits CEO Daniel Weisbeck is ‘coming out’ as gay, given that he has been open about being a homosexual man in his personal life for quite some time. In fact he has been with his partner now for 14 years – which is impressive, regardless of his sexuality. However, this is the problem with coming out as being gay. It’s not generally a one-time thing. You have to come out to your friends, then your family, then to your colleagues and then whenever you meet somebody for the first time. Of course many people choose not to and choose to rather have select groups of people in their lives that they feel comfortable telling, whilst simply concealing certain facts from other groups that are perhaps a bit more ‘risky’ This is particularly true of the workplace group. And this is even more pertinent when talking about the technology industry, which has a rather embarrassing history of maintaining a certain level of ‘bro-ness’.

Why? An important story for so many reasons and an incredibly brave interview with Daniel Weisbeck. Let's hope interviews like this pave the way for more gay CEOs to come out and feel like they can be who they are at work without it impacting their progression in the enterprise.

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