Digital Scotland Rocks!

I was away in Edinburgh last week at the launch of the Digital Scotland report.  A fine piece of work which creates a new way of looking at Next Generation Access in the UK by suggesting that Scotland creates a Digtial Scotland Trust with a number of internet hubs which serve 2,000 people or about 800 households.

The report was refreshing – but what I found most interesting (and at the same time most frustrating) is that many of the ideas, issues and blockages on the deployment of Next Generation Access are not new.  The same ideas were being talked about back in 2002!  Yet this time around there are a whole new set of academics and enlightened individuals in the wider society beginning to take much more of an interest because Next Generation Broadband Access is at the heart of the UK’s competitive position in the world and we are seen to be slipping behind.

Professor Michael Fourman kicked-off his talk with the report commissioned by Google which came out that day called the Connected Kingdom – which says that the UK is Number 1 for e-commerce.

So the story gets confusing as those looking at this video will say “we are not slipping behind, we are number 1 for e-commerce – which is what really matters”.

The critical next step is to find a way to educate the politicians on the benefits of NGA and wider ICT to their (drastically reduced) public sector programmes and to see if we can bridge the investment gap of about £10-15 bn to accelerate rollout to the Final Third (both geographically disconnected and socially excluded). A trivial amount for a five year programme in an industry that is worth over £100bn to the UK economy each year. We need to move from a connected kingdom to a hyper-connected kingdom which includes everyone, not just the digitally advantaged.

Although BT has committed a substantial amount of new investment, it cannot crack the problem on its own.  In many ways, the real test for success will be how “open” the so-called OpenReach really is.

The additional investment is needed over-and-above the (approximately £5bn committed by BT,  Virgin Media and the government’s BDUK division with any match-funding from Europe).  It is needed to implement the difficult bits of the 20 year programme which we are half-way through.  And it needs to be invested alongside some new thinking on business models, shared assets, shared investment schemes and business rates rationalisation.

The difficult part of the implementation (of the final third) has started.  It is time for the more enlightened thinking from the Royal Society of Edinburgh (and the August report from the Scottish Reform Trust) as well as the Foundation for Science and Technology to bring new thinking and political momentum to this old problem.  With right political alignment and the realisation that the public sector cuts can only be achieved by investing in a Hyper-Connected Kingdom the required new money will flow in to fill the gap.

As some of you may know, Scotland is (geologically) part of Canada – and only joined Europe relatively recently (in earth time). Rod Mitchell, my namesake, pointed out to me that much of the thinking that went into the Welsh Assembly Government’s commissioning of the FibreSpeed network in North Wales came from Scotland.   I hope this time around that Scotland actually benefits from its own thinking – rather than exporting the ideas without getting the true benefits of implementing them at home!

Putting the UK back at the front with the “Best Broadband in Europe in this government” is totally possible.  It is a simple matter of some clear thinking, a few politicians who “get” it and a bit of rocket fuel under the BDUK and Ofcom to tweak some of the industry structures!

Watch this space!

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Great Inventor Dies

There are very, very few people who invent truly new shapes and ideas that come mainstream and change the way people think within their own lifetime.  However, Benoit Mandelbrot (who died last Thursday) can be said to be one of these very, very few.  He both named and created the field of fractal mathematics.

Whilst he didn’t discover the basic maths of fractals, he found an obscure, almost unknown concept of exploring the world between two dimensions and three dimensions and showed its fundamental role in the fabric of the universe.

Wikipedia has a great entry on what both fractals and Mandelbrot’s other work have done for mathematics.

Benoit Mandlebrot RIP

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Powers of Ten

I have always been intrigued by numbers and dates – and on Sunday we passed the memorable date of 10/10/10 – which works which ever side of the Atlantic you live on!

Thank you, Sebastian, for reminding me of the clear, succinct and beautifully conveyed video “Powers of Ten” — the classic nine-minute film made for IBM by the legendary design team Charles and Ray Eames in 1977.

As intended with all Thursday Thoughts, this one really makes you think!

More on the story from IBM at: http://www.ibm.com/ibm/ideasfromibm/us/powers_of_ten/20101010/index.shtml

and at: http://powersof10.com/

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What Makes A Loyal Customer?

I had a interesting dinner on Tuesday night this week with a group of executives from various Telecoms companies discussing the subject of customer loyalty.  The discussion ranged from offshore contact centres through social media to large databases with customer information and “intelligence”.

How Can I Help You?

When asked to sum up, I thought deeply about what really made me loyal to the brands that I hold dear.  I have had good and bad experiences with both onshore and offshore centres.  I have seen social media used well (and badly).  I am using the emerging tools of webchat more and more to fix problems and find out information without talking to a call centre agent.  In the past I have helped to build very large databases about customers.  But none of these, for me, were the root-idea of what made me loyal.

It struck me that current trends on “fixing processes” and “KPI measurement” and “culture” also often completely miss the point by looking backwards – a bit like driving a car through the rear view mirror.

What made me loyal, I concluded was “An authentic response in the moment”.  The idea went down well.

Very interested to know what other readers might think is the single thing that helps to make them loyal to a service provider…

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The Only Thing That Can Change the World

I continue to be very inspired by the RSA’s Animate series – with fantastic cartoons illustrating really complex ideas.

The clip below has been recently released, with Matthew Taylor’s ideas on 21st Century Enlightenment.

It ends with a great quote Margaret Mead (American cultural anthropologist, 1901-1978):

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

So now you know the only thing that can change the world!

Enjoy!

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The Power of Envisioning Your Ideal Outcome

I was reminded this week of a very useful technique that a friend taught me about five years ago.  She called it the “blueprint method”.  She used it with her partner many times – and it was extraordinarily successful for her.

At the time she taught us the method, my wife and I were looking to move house.  We knew roughly what we wanted.  My friend suggested that we both find a quiet moment and WRITE DOWN on a piece of paper our ideal home – giving it as much description as possible and describing it AS IF WE ALREADY LIVED IN IT AND OWNED IT.

We went home and did just that – and envisioned owning a cottage in the country in the price-range that we could afford (which was considerably less than the going market rate for a three bedroom cottage in our area). We pictured a garden front and back with a garage and beautiful views with a forest we could walk into.  At the time, we were living in a tiny rented cottage in the middle of a village with none of the above features.

Having written down our vision, I filed the paper away and we went on holiday.  During the holiday we discussed the cottage and tried to convince ourselves that our wish-list was possible.  Somehow the price we wanted to pay was far too little against market rates at the time.

Within a week from returning from holiday, the estate agent rang and showed us a cottage that FITTED OUR BLUEPRINT EXACTLY.  My wife and I walked through the door and knew it was where we wanted to live for the next few years.  And it was in our price-range.  We still live in that cottage now!

So this week, I tried the same exercise on a business problem I had.  I conducted the exercise on an IDEAL CLIENT and sure enough, someone fitting the description of my ideal client came right through the door the next day!

So, in summary, here is the MAGIC BLUEPRINT METHOD:

1)  Sit down with a piece of paper (ideally with anyone else who will benefit from the exercise) and WRITE DOWN exactly what you want.  Use pictures, photographs or drawings to bring the wish to life.  It is important to believe that you already OWN OR ARE LIVING YOUR DREAM. (The dream must be for the greater good of those involved, otherwise it is in the realm of black magic and I do not endorse any outcomes).

2)  File the piece of paper away, and each time the idea comes into your mind, simply BELIEVE YOUR WISH HAS ALREADY COME INTO YOUR LIFE

3)  When the time comes for “that for which you have wished for” to come into your life, SIMPLY RECEIVE IT WITH GRATIFICATION!

It might sound whacky and I am sure there are many internet sites making exaggerated claims about similar ideas.  However, many books have been written about this technique for many centuries – including “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill and more recently “The Secret”.  If you envision something for a higher purpose, write it down and allow it to come into your life, then it works every time.  You just have to believe it for it to come true!  It is the stuff fairy stories are made of.

Interested in any folk who have similar stories or have tried it already.  Also to those of you who give it a go and get results.  Try it: it works.  But you have to believe in it!

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Digital Scotland and The Royal Society of Edinburgh

Just returned from the Next Gen ’10 roadshow in Edinburgh.

The most interesting thing for me ( which I had compeletely missed before I went there) is that Scotland has approached this whole problem of upgrading the broadband network by commissioning the Royal Society of Edinburgh to look at the problem afresh.  Unlike The Royal Society (based in London), the RSE has maintained the “Scottish Generalist Tradition” and have brought an eclectic set of wise folk to apply new thought and rigour to working through the issue of broadband in Scotland so that it serves the wider context of society and the economy.  Technology is a means to a greater end, not an end in itself.

The Digital Scotland interim report can be found by first clicking on the RSE logo below and then clicking on the link right at the bottom of the page “Read Interim Report”:

Unlike the Digital Britain report which was written in the time of a dying administration by economist-politicians, bureaucrats and quangos, and then attacked by the new administration to become a nearly totally ineffective set of recommendations, Scotland has approached the problem with refreshing renaissance-style method that only a body like the RSE can do.  It is an elegant combination of mathematical logic combined with rounded, objective reasoning – and moves the debate forward so that Scotland might well take the thought-leadership position when it publishes its final report once the current comments have been digested.

One conclusion that I came away with is that the whole debate about where fibre goes should be re-focused around Fibre to the Community.  Many of the more rural areas in Scotland would benefit tremendously by digging a single fibre into the community.  The current ambitions of Jeremy Hunt and the Con-Lib coalition government for the UK to become the leader in Europe for broadband by 2015 – without any central government funding – becomes even more challenging when one compares us to Finland – which was very well articulated by Professor Michael Fourman in his detailed analysis backing up Digital Scotland at the conference.

One of the strange things is that the interim report talks of Fiber, not Fibre.  I am not sure how this American English has managed to get into a perfectly good Scottish-English Language document.  But Hey Ho – the world moves on!

The Scots, Edinburgh and the RSE have a long tradition of great invention and enlightened thinking.  This blog will keep a keen eye on developments North of the Border.

(P.S.  The talk that I gave on Sir Patrick Geddes will be put onto this post once I transcribe and edit it.)

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When the Pipe is Blocked

Most of the past week has been taken up with me trying to connect my right leg back to my body.

However, my leg has not been cut off – nor have I been involved in any domestic violence or serious accidents.

Let me explain…

Last Thursday, I had been suffering from a cramping pain in my leg for over a week.  The leg had been swollen for a while and felt quite detached from the rest of my body.  So I decided to go to the doctors on Friday – just before the long Bank Holiday weekend.  He suspected some sort of Thrombosis (or a blood-clot in a vein) and I started a course of medication to thin the blood.

A scan on Tuesday confirmed that I had Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT.  The sort of things they get worried about when you are old and go on long-haul flights.  So I am now on blood-thinning medicines for 6 months to get rid of the clot.

Picture from: http://heartstrong.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/march-is-dvt-awareness-month-are-you-at-risk/

I suppose it is strange to you that I am writing about such a personal experience on my blog, but this blog is designed to make you think.  It has certainly made me think hard about the more important things in life like family, friends, fitness and general work-life balance.  Even my own mortality!

I have always taken good health for granted and I have not had to go to the doctor for anything serious for years.  But, more importantly, I was thinking how important good circulation or FLOW is in any organism….and I started to wonder what “Organisational DVT” might look like.

If you look for natural flows in an organisation, then there is deal flow and cash flow and the flow of information to fix a problem.  There is also the flow of planning information to coordinate future plans and get everyone (especially suppliers and customers) in-sync.  If things really go wrong, then we can end up with burst pipes and oil disasters.

So the concept of one of these flows within an organisation getting blocked becomes quite interesting to me in the work that I do.

In many ways, if things are flowing, then life is as it is meant to be.  If things are blocked, then life becomes a struggle and the consultants get called in – both medically and managerially!

So if the analogy can be taken further, then it is interesting to wonder what the equivalent of blood-thinning agents are to organisational DVT…  One of the most important is cash – and if you can’t borrow it, then parts of the organisation will surely become blocked and unhealthy.  But there are probably many more examples.

Now I know what is wrong with my leg, then I hope it will start to reattach itself to the rest of my body, as it were, so that I feel whole again as the clot dissolves.

After all, you only have one body – and selling-off parts or divisions to the highest bidder is not the answer in this particular case!  That is where the analogy between human bodies and organisational bodies perhaps starts to break down.

All the same, it is an interesting analogy and one that I may well explore further in future Thursday Thoughts.

As before, all comments welcome!

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When it’s Time to Quit

This is the first of a new series of “Thursday Thoughts”.  Please do sign up for future editions by completing the form on the THURSDAY THOUGHTS? tab above and I will send you an email in the future every Thursday to stimulate your thoughts!

Having spent a few weeks struggling to master a state-of-the-art Web 2.0 marketing package costing me several hundred dollars in monthly service fees, I decided, this week, to stop the subscription, clear the decks and start again.

In the high-tech world, times like this are both scary and exciting.  You press the “delete button in the sky” and all the work you have put into the old system is gone.  This is particularly true with cloud-based applications – where you have not only put time into configuring – but much the more valuable time of actually learning the system.

The good news is that in the past 24 hours I have managed to re-create a much better integration with my existing website and blog than I ever managed to achieve with the old system – at about a tenth of the ongoing monthly expenses!

The buzz in the past few years might well be right concerning Cloud Services, Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, On Demand etc. etc. as being the next big thing.  But some things don’t change.  INTEGRATION is absolutely key to creating a smooth flow of work between the various application stacks in any company.  This is where the workarounds and exceptions and “knowledge of how things work” becomes the expensive items in any organisation – whether in the Business or IT.

The corageous pioneers of this new cloud-based world will make many mistakes in the early days when choosing which platforms and applications should (or should not run) their companies.  It smacks of the pre-ERP world where integrators made a lot of money from bonding “best of breed” packages.  It was only because of the high costs and failure of many of these projects did  the big ERP vendors like SAP and Oracle make the move to mop up by presenting pre-integrated suites of applications.

From my experience, in the early days of developing anything new, you have to keep it REALLY SIMPLE, find applications that are already well integrated with other things you use.  So often we are taken down a blind alley because some hype or salesman has schmoozed us about all the exciting features in XYZ application – many of which we will never use – however competent we become.

In the past 36 hours I have re-taught myself that when things are simply not going right, it is often a big relief to “call it quits”.  I was pleased that I could at least extract the latest data sets of customers and products that I had on the old system and make an elegant withdrawal from the complexity, confusion and cost that it had given me.  It strikes me that a lot of politicians and civil-servants must be thinking the same about whatever their particular problem is at the moment.

Finally, I always think that the basis of a good decision is whether, 24 hours later, you regret making the change or not.  I am glad to say that today I am very happy with my choice of simplifying and getting back to basics.  Interested to any of your thoughts or stories that support (or counter) this, the First Thursday Thought!

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