diginomica 2017 - the year according to Martin

Profile picture for user mbanks By Martin Banks December 19, 2017
In the third of our year-end reviews, Martin Banks takes a look back at the highlights of infrastructure content and analysis on diginomica in 2017. 

(1) Compliance vs innovation

The probability is that new innovations in business management will fall foul of automated compliance management systems when new ways of running existing business processes and entirely new business processes both run the risk of appearing non-compliant.

Why? This is an interesting example of how CIOs and IT managements need to be thinking in much wider arcs than ever before. Security systems are vital, but almost useless if human curiosity and fecklessness is not held in check. No amount of compliance policy has achieved that so AI-enforced compliance management now looks a good option. But at the same time the increasing commonality and commoditisation of the technology means that the focus for innovation moves on to how that commonality can be used to create new business processes - new ways of doing business (or at least significantly improving the old ways). Technologies such as APIs mean that new collaborations between disparate applications become possible. And new processes such as that are liable to run foul of AI-based compliance management tools designed to spot, and stop, activities that fall outside policy. The AI-based compliance may be the last thing that is actually needed, though it will certainly be needed for its security capabilities. In the end it will require AI systems and machine learning systems that have a much higher contribution for the 'I' element - that continually run anything suspicious in sandboxes, that report back on findings, can predict areas of future contention, insecurity or failure, but not just `STOP'. For now that the tools for innovation in business process are available the chances are they will soon start to be used with some vengeance by business managers.

(2) Splunk gets chatty with Alexa

The order could be made: 'Alexa, ask CSI to show me the network traffic for yesterday'. And though in a hotel room, with some doubts about WiFi connectivity, up comes the results on the laptop from the company’s servers. Then came more complex, convoluted questions drilling down into the data, such as specific network traffic to Germany.

Why? Love this one, not just because it is fun to bump into a bit of Quatermas/Star Trek SciFi in real life but because it demonstrates some readily accessible and understandable value from AI, even if one does not demonstrate a good understanding of some of the subtleties of managing security systems. One of the key issues with data analytics is the need to have a detailed understanding of the type of question that needs to be asked at any one point in time, and the ability to then phrase correctly. Here, the ability to talk to Alexa and have that interface to the Insight Engines' natural language analysis tools in order to build the correct query for Splunk's log analysis tools, and get the answer to a hotel room in Washington DC is not just `cooo'-worthy. It is also a real indicator of how close we are to some fundamental shifts in both working and life practices.

(3) 72 hours to doomsday - GDPR draws near

The bigger issue for the breached organisation is not how they manage to stop the loss of information and remediate the damage done, but how they prevent the authorities starting the process of imposing truly swingeing financial penalties?

Why? Here is a story that, while about the impact of GDPR and wider security issues, also identifies a significant underlying trend that has implications across the board. The word `audit' has had a well understood, financially focused meaning: `an official inspection of an organisation's accounts, typically by an independent body.' Now, however, businesses are being obliged to have the tools available to `audit' their every activity, if only so they can demonstrate their compliance with an increasingly wide range of regulations and controls. And many of these now have sharp, expensive teeth that CIOs and IT managers need to be well aware of. GDPR is a very good example. Come the end of May 2018, some companies could face fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover for the preceding financial year if a serious breach occurs. And the only way to manage that fine downwards will be to prove that all possible defences were used, what actions were taken to contain and reduce the impact of the breach, and that all necessary actions were taken to inform all relevant interested parties of the breach within a set time. That will require some kind of real time audit of everything that happened on the system. It seems safe to suggest that GDPR will not be the last regulation that will require that capability.

(4) EU Services e-card changes the game

It will offer an alternative route to show compliance with the applicable national rules, and will allow service providers to use a fully-electronic, EU-level procedure to complete formalities when expanding abroad. This should give them increased legal certainty and significantly reduced administrative complexity.

Why? Here is a story in the 'yet to come to pass' category, and possibly in the may never come to pass one. But on the assumption that it does, this will be a development that could have far-reaching implications for the IT services industry, particularly in the UK. The European Union is planning to issue a new card that can be obtained by European-based services providers across a wide range of industry sectors, including IT. It will be used to ratify their credentials in their industry sector so that, when they tout for business in another European country, potential customers can be assured that they meet required criteria in terms of capabilities, skills, and even business areas such as insurance. It will no longer be necessary for potential customers to conduct extensive due diligence on services providers from foreign lands that they do not already know. This will, it is reckoned, cut the time taken, save significant amounts of money, and generate more revenue and profits for both the services companies and their customers. With the coming of Brexit, however, the chance of UK-based services providers getting to participate hangs in the balance between what type of Brexit the UK ends up with.

(5) Huawei's five mega-cloud prediction

The mega-cloud is a popular idea with the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Google (and now Huawei), but is it something that users want to work with? Or would they prefer to work with a wide range of smaller, more specialist service providers which can provide as close to bespoke solutions as possible from ranges of targeted but standard process components that they have developed, both quickly and cost-effectively.

Why? Back in September, Huawei announced that it was setting out to become one of the top global players in the provision of cloud services and, with little more information than this desire, it was a bit hard to see them rapidly squaring up to the likes of Amazon AWS in the marketplace. But a company event later in the year, in Berlin, put flesh on the bones that demonstrated the company had a more specific goal in mind - becoming the cloud-based home for all things retaining to 'Industry 4.0'. This is the moniker given to that point in time where digitalisation, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence come together both in maturity and capability to make increasingly automated industrial activity not just possible, but inevitable. It is a point in time where some are already calling it `Industry x.0' on the basis that '5, 6, and-the-rest.0' will follow along in short order. This, at least at the broad concept level, is similar to Microsoft's Azure service, which is obviously well-disposed to running, cloud instances of Microsoft's wide range of server products. Manufacturing and related businesses are pretty much global so offering a cloud service dedicated to that sector is a sensible option. And having a growing number of tools and services available that map onto industrial needs is a good example of how cloud services are moving beyond the mega-global resource-only model and towards providing a focus that targets the specific needs of a user community.

(6) Helping AI to be more responsible

There is coming a time when the human half of the equation will need to be asking the machine half: `What the hell are you doing, and why are you doing it'?

Why? Research organisation, PARC Inc, has spotted the obvious` flaw' in A: it can already out-think a human in terms of speed, and it won't be long before it can do it in terms of complexity as well. But its CEO, Tolga Kutoglu is already on the case, having given his researchers a clear brief to to come up with ways of making AI explain itself and its reasoning to its human minders/compatriots. It is generally held that it will be a while before humans can be beaten by AI in the wider, broader, deeper games of `yeah, but....' thinking that can so often lead to the exposure of unseen and unsuspected flaws in ideas or processes.

(7) Low code, no code?

An essential way of getting business people with just a modicum of technology smarts to pull together the business process applications they require themselves, rather than have to brief developers to do the job for them.

Why? In many ways this is just a straight forward tech-development story, but it is also one about a goal that has spawned several glorious failures over the years and until now has never been fulfilled. The idea of making it easy and straight forward for business people - or real end users of any flavour - to create the applications they need has been around for years. But from the early 1980's appearance of The Last One - claimed to be the last program any code-cutter needed to write ever again - it has only ever been a fond dream. But this has been the year when it has not only appeared, but has also grained some real traction. It remains to be seen if that traction gathers speed and acceptance across the user community, but with the likelihood that innovation will start coming from that user community rather than the tech vendors, a tool that removes many of the nuts and bolts of coding technology should play an increasingly important role.

(8) HPE and 'The Machine'

If its dreams come true, we are now staring at an architecture that can easily scale to an Exabyte-scale, single-memory system as it stands. Out into the future the company is already talking mind-boggling numbers: how about 4,096 Yottabytes? (where a Yottabyte equals 1024 bytes). That, the company reckons, is the equivalent of 250,000 times the entire digital universe that exists today...in a box.

Why? At the time, as My Take on the announcement of The Machine and what it might portend, I wrote: `For reasons I cannot defend by any other justification than there lies the direction in which my knee doth jerk, I think `The Machine’ prototype marks the birth of the next big technology blockbuster. But I also think HPE now has a tiger by the tail, and with the departure of so many other businesses which were, while maybe not desperately profitable, potentially resilient alternatives for the company, that tiger may well bite. Now the company seems increasingly exposed as a mainly hardware tech business playing high roller poker with an unknown high-risk tech development as its stake.' I would still stand by that view.

(9) 'No-brainer' cloud storytelling

Cloud is not about the technology, it is about the results, and the way the resources are consumed to achieve those results. So what is needed are companies that finding ways to achieve that de-cerebralisation – making cloud a ‘no-brainer’ by packaging up resources and/or services so that the technology is put out of sight to do its job, rather than be the focal point of discussion.

Why? One of the key problems about the cloud has been the insistence of the vendor community to talk about it in technological terms - an approach that is as relevant as discussing the dimensions and materials specific of piston rings is to driving away on holiday. This was a call for the vendors to look beyond their technologies and jump up a few levels of abstraction in order to decerebralise the cloud and make it relevant to what users need to 'buy' rather than what the vendors want to 'sell'. It has now started to happen.

(10) 5G and the digital economy

5G as a service delivery platform is following hard on the heals of some other developments, particularly SDEA (Software-Defined Everything and Anything), and in-memory processing that, when taken together, could provide the foundations of a basketful of business management innovations.

Why? A two-part look at the coming of 5G mobile telecoms and how it may impact the way business users do business. Though much of the infrastructure needed is already largely in place - for will exploit 3xisting 4G technologies where possible. And while much of the new stuff may well be landline-based the key difference will be that the great telecoms bugbear of utilising `last mile' copper (and even aluminium) connections from local exchanges to individual properties. Not only will all `last miles' be air-borne, they are also expected to deliver eye-watering bandwidths and significant increase in service options for both individual and business users. This is likely to provide the underpinning for a serious expansion in new business services exploiting new technologies that current communications services cannot hope to provide. Yes, the target arrival date for 5G is 2020, but that is now only two years away, and businesses really need to be at least building their aspirations, and starting their implementation planning.