The Global Economic Policy Uncertainty index is at an all-time high: the implications


A group of top economists has created an Economic Policy Uncertainty Index for 17 countries, using media reporting and economic forecasts to show how much uncertainty there is economic policy.

The Global Economic Policy Uncertainty Index is currently the highest it has been since the beginning of the period analyzed starting at the end of 1996.
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The Future of Cities: Visualizing how soaring urbanization will shape the global landscape


By Ross Dawson

Urbanization has been one of the most powerful and consistent trends shaping the last decades, and it looks set to continue apace in coming years. It is one of the few domains where we have reasonable forward-looking data, with United Nations providing World Urbanization Prospects, including predicted urban populations out to 2050.

The following visualization maps the slightly over 100 cities in the world that are forecast have a population of over 5 million in 2050. The size of the circle shows the forecast population in 2050, while the color shows growth rate, from dark green for no growth to red for very rapid growth.

The fastest growing cities are all in Africa, led by Ougadougou in Burkina Faso predicted to grow over 200% in the period 2010-2050, followed by Dar es Salaam and Bamako with 170-180% growth.

East and South Asia are also home to many fast-growing cities, including Xiamen, Hanoi, Surat and Dhaka. Kabul in Afghanistan is also predicted to be grow rapidly, at 127% over the period.

In contrast, cities in North and South America, Europe, Japan and Australia have only moderate growth in prospect, though cities such as Atlanta, Houston, Bogota, and Lima should grow by at least a third of their population before 2050.

Urbanization will continue to drive the demographic landscape, in particular defining the broader shifts in Africa and Asia.

Savvy sci-fi futurists: 21 science fiction writers who predicted inventions way ahead of their time


Many futurists, scientists and inventors have been inspired by the imagination and anticipation of the future inherent to science fiction novels. From the Internet to iPads to smart machines, some of the world’s greatest advances in technology were once fictional speculation. As sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke wrote in Profiles of the Future (1962), “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

Sci-fi is a powerful genre because it envisages how society could function differently. “This is the first step towards progress as it allows us to imagine the future we want, and consider ways to work towards it,” writes physicist and philosopher Dr. Helen Klus. “It also makes us aware of futures we wish to avoid, and helps us prevent them.”

The 21 sci-fi futurists featured below gave some of the earliest recorded mentions of inventions that have since become a reality. Several of these authors doubted that their fictional inventions would ever come to fruition, or thought it would take much longer for their inventions to occur than it actually took. Others were remarkably spot on. Regardless of accuracy, however, what these future thinking authors all recognized was that change is an inevitable and powerful force that can blur the boundaries between fiction and possibility.

1. Rocket-powered space flight: Cyrano de Bergerac, 1657

1.rocket Steve JurvetsonWhile astronomer Johannes Kepler had envisaged lunar travel in his Somnium (The Dream) written in 1608, the idea was so strange at the time that Kepler chose to have demons transport his protagonist. In 1638, Bishop Francis Godwin had a similar flight of fancy: his protagonist in The Man in the Moone hitched a ride with migratory birds. But in The Other World: The States and Empires of the Moon, an early science-fiction story by French author Cyrano de Bergerac, the protagonist makes a machine that launches when soldiers fasten fireworks underneath it:

“I ran to the Soldier that was giving Fire to it… and in great rage threw my self into my Machine, that I might undo the Fire-Works that they had stuck about it; but I came too late, for hardly were both my Feet within, than whip, away went I up in a Cloud.”

In a literary sense, this passage evokes the exhaust flames produced by rockets with internal combustion engines. The first rocket that propelled something into space—the satellite Sputnik—would be launched 300 years later, in 1957.

2. Submarines: Margaret Cavendish, 1666

Many people attribute the first mention of a submarine to Jules Verne, who described an electric submarine in his famous book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870). However, few people know that an early form of submarine was mentioned in The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World (1666), a book about a satirical utopian kingdom, written by Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle. The book is perhaps the only known work of utopian fiction by a woman in the 17th century, as well as one of the earliest examples of what we now call science fiction. Cavendish’s protagonist talks to sentient animals about various scientific theories, including atomic theory, before travelling home in a submarine when she hears that her homeland is under threat.

3. Machine-automated language: Jonathan Swift, 1726

Jonathan Swift, the well-known Irish satirist who wrote Gulliver’s Travels, critiqued the so-called scientific literature of his time, which was not always the result of rational thinking. Consequently, when Swift described an “engine” that could form sentences, he was satirizing the arbitrary methods of some of his scientific contemporaries:

“…the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, might write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, laws, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study”.

What Swift may not have realized was that his ensuing description of a machine containing all the words of the language spoken in Lagado, a fictional city, is one of the earliest known references to a device broadly representing a computer. Nowadays, computers are able to generate permutations of word sets, as Swift envisaged.

4. Eugenics: Nicolas-Edme Rétif, 1781

4. Australe left align croppedSci-fi writers have had their share of scandal. One such writer was Nicolas-Edme Rétif de la Bretonne, a Frenchman whose work was still deemed licentious in 1911 by the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Despite Rétif’s notoriety, some critics now praise his inventions and naturalistic approach in his science fiction book La Découverte Australe par un Homme-Volant (The Discovery of Australasia by a Flying Man). As well as describing aviation gear two years before Louis-Sébastien Lenormand made the first recorded public parachute descent, Rétif converts early thoughts about evolution, adaptation and transformism into fiction.

Among the creatures Rétif’s hero encounters is an articulate half-human, half-baboon. “The book is part natural history, part imaginary evolutionary experiment, in which Rétif brings these primitive beings to life and demonstrates the genetic mixing that gradually results in both the differentiation of animal species and the emergence of humankind,” writes Amy S. Wyngaard. Rétif imagined Australasia as a sort of eugenic utopia, a century before the term “eugenics” would be coined by Charles Darwin’s half-cousin, Francis Galton.

5. Oxygen in air travel and space travel: Jane Webb Loudon, 1828

A future where women wear trousers and automatons function as surgeons and lawyers was foreseen by pioneering sci-fi writer Jane Webb Loudon. In her book The Mummy: A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, Loudon gave a very early mention of the notion that, to survive in outer space in earth’s orbit, it would be necessary to take some air with you. She wrote:

“… and the hampers are filled with elastic plugs for our ears and noses, and tubes and barrels of common air, for us to breathe when we get beyond the atmosphere of the earth.”

So, next time you are on an airplane watching a demo about oxygen masks, don’t forget to remember the contribution of Jane Webb Loudon!

6. Debit cards: Edward Bellamy, 1888

Edward Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward: 2000 to 1887 featured an American utopian society that used so-called “credit cards”. Bellamy’s concept actually relates more to debit cards and spending social security dividends than borrowing from a bank. The main character describes how people are given a stated amount of credit on their card to purchase goods from the public storehouses:

“You observe,” he pursued as I was curiously examining the piece of pasteboard he gave me, “that this card is issued for a certain number of dollars. We have kept the old word, but not the substance…The value of what I procure on this card is checked off by the clerk, who pricks out of these tiers of squares the price of what I order.”

Debit cards and credit cards would be invented more than 60 years later.

7. Electric fences: Mark Twain, 1889

7. electric fence Hannah BannerA lesser-known fact about American novelist and humorist Mark Twain is that he predicted the electric fence. In his novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Twain transports an American engineer back in time to the court of King Arthur, where modern engineering and technology win him fame as a magician. In one passage, Twain described the electric fence in considerable detail, before concluding that it has a marvellous use in defense:

“Now, then, observe the economy of it. A cavalry charge hurls itself against the fence; you are using no power, you are spending no money, for there is only one ground-connection till those horses come against the wire; the moment they touch it they form a connection with the negative brush through the ground, and drop dead.”

Electric fences were not used to control livestock in the United States until the early 1930s.

8. Videoconferencing: Jules Verne, 1889

Famous French sci-fi pioneer Jules Verne described the “phonotelephote”, a forerunner to videoconferencing, in his work In the Year 2889. The phonotelephote allowed “the transmission of images by means of sensitive mirrors connected by wires,” Verne wrote. This was one of the earliest references to a videophone in fiction, according to, a site that traces inventions and ideas from science fiction. In the Year 2889 also predicts newscasts, recorded news, and skywriting—inventions which have all come to fruition well before 2889.

9. X-ray and CAT scan technology: John Elfreth Watkins Jr., 1900

In a visionary article for the Ladies’ Home Journal entitled “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years”, an American named John Elfreth Watkins Jr. made several remarkable predictions. One of the most striking was his prediction of X-ray and CAT scan technology:

“Physicians will be able to see and diagnose internal organs of a moving, living body by rays of invisible light.”

In the same article, Watkins also foresaw high-speed trains, satellite television, the electronic transmission of photographs, and the application of electricity in greenhouses.

10. Radar: Hugo Gernsback, 1911

10. radar U.S. Naval Forces croppedThe beauty of Hugo Gernsback’s prediction of radar lies in its intricate detail. The description occurs in Gernsback’s series of short stories, Ralph 124c 41+, which was a play on “One to Foresee For One Another” (and appears to have anticipated texting language as well):

“A pulsating polarized ether wave, if directed on a metal object can be reflected in the same manner as a light ray is reflected from a bright surface… By manipulating the entire apparatus like a searchlight, waves would be sent over a large area. Sooner or later these waves would strike a space flyer. A small part of these waves would strike the metal body of the flyer, and these rays would be reflected back to the sending apparatus. Here they would fall on the Actinoscope, which records only the reflected waves, not direct ones…From the intensity and elapsed time of the reflected impulses, the distance between the earth and the flyer can then be accurately estimated.”

In 1933, a working radar device that could detect remote objects by signals was created.

11. Atomic bomb: H.G. Wells, 1914

One of the most unfortunate legacies of science fiction is the genre’s inspiration for the atomic bomb. In The World Set Free, H.G. Wells predicted that a new type of bomb fuelled by nuclear reactions would be detonated in the 1956. It happened even sooner than he thought. Physicist Leó Szilárd apparently read Wells’s book and patented the idea. Szilárd was later directly involved in the Manhattan Project, which led to the tragedy of nuclear bombs being dropped on Japan in 1945. Strikingly, Wells spelled not only spelled out the idea of a sustained atomic reaction, he also predicted the moral and ethical horror that people would feel upon the use of atomic bombs, and the radioactive ruin that would last long after the bomb was dropped.

12. Cyborgs: E.V. Odle, 1923

12. clockwork face George BoyceThe Clockwork Man by E.V. Odle depicted a cyborg as a major character and also helped to introduce steampunk. The Clockwork Man is a cyborg who suffers from a glitch that causes him to fall into the world of 1923. The book dealt with what happens to humanity when people merge with machines and live inside a vast cyberspace-like world that seems to offer them infinite plenitude. It wasn’t until 1972 that the cyborg concept gained greater currency, when Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg speculated in depth about human-like bionic limbs. Today, cyborgs are becoming a reality.

Some readers believe that E.V. Odle was a pen name used by Virginia Woolf, who dabbled in science fiction and sought to protect her credibility as a serious writer. Most consider this an unfounded rumor, and hold that E.V. Odle was Edwin Vincent Odle, a little-known British playwright, critic, and author. Regardless of the author’s identity, Virginia Woolf’s work seems to have influenced the novel. Reviewer Annalee Newitz calls the book “an odd mashup of Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells”.

13. In vitro fertilization: J.B.S. Haldane, 1924

J.B.S. Haldane was a British scientist who also imagined the future directions of biology in his book Daedulus; or Science and the Future. The work proclaimed how scientific revolution might alter the most private aspects of life, death, sex, and marriage. This was a bold move given the uproar that inventions like birth control were causing in contemporary media.

Haldane predicted the widespread practice of in vitro fertilization, what he called “ectogenesis”. His theory of reproductive technology and his scientific futurism influenced Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World (1932).

Haldane also stressed that humans need to make advances in ethics to match our advances in science. Otherwise, he feared, science would bring grief, not progress, to humankind.

14. Teleoperated robot surrogates: Manly Wade Wellman, 1938

14. robot surrogate Sebastian DoorisThe short story The Robot and the Lady by Manly Wade Wellman offered an early fictional account of teleoperated robots. The context is entertaining: roboticist Dr. Alvin Peabody seeks a date with another researcher in the field, Muriel Winthrop, but fears he is too “scrawny and fluffy-headed” to attract her. So he chooses his “tall, dashing” prize robot to speak and act for him. Ironically, Winthrop also chooses a robot surrogate to woo Peabody. When both parties discover the mutual deception, they believe they are made for one another and hasten to meet in person.

Some robot surrogates already exist. See, for example, the Inmoov Robots for Good designed for hospitalized children, the InTouch medical rounding robot for doctors, and the Geminoid human replicas.

15. Microwavable heat-n-eat food: Robert Heinlein, 1948

In Space Cadet, famous sci-fi author Robert Heinlein took the newly invented microwave one step further by predicting the rise of ready-to-eat, microwavable food:

“Theoretically every ration taken aboard a Patrol vessel is pre-cooked and ready for eating as soon as it is taken out of freeze and subjected to the number of seconds, plainly marked on the package, of high-frequency heating required.”

It took a few decades before Heinlein’s vision became an everyday reality.

16. Earphones: Ray Bradbury, 1950

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury described earphones that were much more convenient than the huge headphones of his day:

“And in her ears the little seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.”

In-ear headphones were released to the mass market in 1980.

17. Machine intelligence outsmarting humans: Clifford Simak, 1951

In Time and Again (also published as First He Died), Clifford Simak depicted a chess game between a man and a robot:

“In the screen a man was sitting before a chess table. The pieces were in mid-game. Across the board stood a beautifully machined robotic.
The man reached out a hand, thoughtfully played a knight. The robotic clicked and chuckled. It moved a pawn…
“Mr. Benton hasn’t won a game in the past ten years…”
“… Benton must have known, when he had Oscar fabricated, that Oscar would beat him,” Sutton pointed out. “A human simply can’t beat a robotic expert.”

Simak’s early sci-fi reference of robots or computers being unbeatable at chess occurred four decades before futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted in The Age of Intelligent Machines that a computer would beat the best human chess players by 2000. In 1997, sure enough, IBM’s “Deep Blue” beat Garry Kasparov.

18. iPad: Arthur C. Clarke, 1968

18 newspad us vs themThe “newspad” conceived in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel and film 2001: A Space Odyssey has been realized in the iPad, albeit with a greater variety of functions. Clarke wrote:

“When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug in his foolscap-size newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers…Switching to the display unit’s short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. Each had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-size rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he had finished, he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination…”

19. Electric cars: John Brunner, 1969

Perhaps one of the most prophetic novels ever, John Brunner’s novel Stand on Zanzibar, set in 2010, creates an America under the leadership of President Obomi, plagued by school shootings and terrorist attacks. The EU is in existence, major cities like Detroit become impoverished, tobacco faces backlash but marijuana is decriminalised, and gay and bisexual lifestyles have gone mainstream. The inventions used in society include on-demand TV, laser printers, and electric cars. Brunner believed these cars would be powered by rechargeable electric fuel cells, much as they are today, and that Honda would be a leading manufacturer. Recently, Honda has affirmed that its electric vehicles are a “core technology”.

20. Real-time translation: Douglas Adams, 1979

The amusing little Babel Fish in Adams’ renowned The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy brings real-time translation to Arthur Dent and his fellow characters. Several apps now on the market for Android or iOS mimic the Babel Fish’s abilities. One of these apps is Lexifone, which translates from one language to another when someone speaks during a call. Microsoft has also been developing real-time translation for Skype.

21. The ubiquity of the World Wide Web: David Brin, 1990

21. world wide web SEOBrin’s famous book Earth made several remarkable predictions, inspiring fans to monitor its success rate. One of the most prominent and important of these predictions was the ubiquity of the World Wide Web, in a decade where the Web was still new and uncertain. “In EARTH, I portrayed my 21st-century characters using screen displays filled with clickable links—in other words, Web pages,” Brin told PopMech. “As it turned out, Marc Andreessen and Tim Berners-Lee had similar ideas at the same time and were plugging away at changing the real world, making possibilities come true for everyone.”

The ongoing role of sci-fi

As futurist Ross Dawson has observed, “Fiction about the future whets our appetite for new technologies. It is how we discover what it is we truly want, driving new developments.”

As the pace of change continues to increase, a statement by scientist and sci-fi author Isaac Asimov rings truer than ever: “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable. They inspire us to turn fiction into reality, but they also remind us to reflect on the consequences of our actions and remember what is most important to humanity.

Image sources: Steve Jurvetson, Gallica Bibliothèque Numérique, Hannah Banner, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, George Boyce, Sebastian Dooris, us vs th3m, and SEO

Which types of Artificial Intelligence should we be worried about?


By Ross Dawson

I don’t tend to be fan of static column infographics, but I make an exception for this lovely infographic from BBC on whether we should be worried about Artificial Intelligence.

It looks at the many imagined and existing instances where AI is having an impact on our lives, including algorithmic trading, killer robots, seductive operating systems, superhuman cyborgs, and self-replicating AI, and then looks at the domains in which machines and humans excel.



Source: BBC Future

10 Major Trends for Micro to Mid-Sized Business


By Ross Dawson

I was recently asked by the office supplies chain Officeworks to create a list of trends for micro to mid-sized business, which they used in a promotional campaign, matching relevant products from their offerings with my trends. Here are the 10 trends:

From HQ to CQ

It is not just micro-businesses that are increasingly using co-working spaces. Mid-sized businesses are also using them to shift from an HQ ‘Headquarters’ mentality to a CQ ‘Connected Quarters’ approach in which they seek talent, ideas, community and customers as well as giving their workers flexibility. Co-working spaces are perfect to help talented staff work in an attractive space but avoid unnecessary commuting, to set up branches in other cities, and to connect into the communities that will drive your business forward.

Data-Driven Self-Perfection

A whole new generation of technology is allowing us to track every aspect of our lives, with many Australians discovering that they enjoy and get real value from these deeply personal insights. Business owners have always been immensely motivated to be at their very best. Now that they are able to gather data on their work, exercise, food and sleep, they are using what they learn to improve their performance in every aspect of their lives.

Lightning Gratification

Speed is the name of the game. As the world has accelerated over the last years and decades, people’s patience has eroded to the point of vanishing. Customers now expect gratification will be almost simultaneous with their desires. Service is expected not just during normal business hours but sometimes to all hours of the day, and product delivery is anticipated to be close to instantaneous. Companies need to be good at managing customers’ expectations, but they also need to learn how to respond like greased lightning.

Big Data For Small Business

‘Big Data’ – gathering immense amounts of information to improve performance – is top of the agenda for massive companies like banks, supermarkets and utilities. Now small business is able to seize the opportunity, using similar tools to fine-tune and grow their companies. Applications range from predicting what customers are most likely to buy next or micro-tracking the success of marketing campaigns through to rostering staff when they are most productive. Using these kinds of tools can help smaller business sneak ahead of larger, less nimble competitors.

Your Unique 3D Print

Personalisation is moving to the centre of business, with customers expecting to get unique, customised products, and the companies who can offer that leaping ahead. The rise of 3D printing is a major tool allowing these new services to emerge. Manufacturers and designers can create instant prototypes, marketers are creating startling new approaches, and we are now seeing growing companies attract attention and revenue by efficiently creating products that are made uniquely for a single customer.

Very Personal Digital Assistants

We have long had digital devices to assist us. With the advent of new interfaces such as augmented reality glasses and gesture control as well as almost-intelligent software that understands us and what we want, digital assistants have become very personal indeed. Those who learn how to use these tools well will effectively be outsourcing part of their brain to become smarter, more effective and efficient, with more refined senses and increased capabilities, simply out-classing their competitors.

Visual Power

Information overload has run amok, swamping us with far more information than we can deal with. Long passages of text are rarely read, and people are being drawn to visual representations that convey insights quickly and efficiently. In stores where experience is key, and in every marketing and communications media, powerful visuals are increasingly not just necessary to cut through, but fundamental enablers to being seen at all.

Power to the Worker

The MegaTrend of “power to the individual” is highly visible today in how customers and citizens are calling the tune to previously arrogant institutions. As important is the shift of power to the worker. The companies succeeding today and tomorrow are those attracting the most talented to work for them, very simply by giving them what they want. These elite are looking for stimulating work, flexibility in when, where and how they work, and meaning by having a positive impact through their efforts.

Learn to Earn

As change accelerates, a divide is rapidly emerging. Those who take the time to study and learn about new possibilities are seizing new opportunities, while those who continue to rely on what they know of yesterday’s world are being left behind. As the world of business changes, success is increasingly going to those who understand they need to keep on learning in order to grow their earning power.

Light Up Your Life

In a connected world you are either visible or invisible. Being active in social and business worlds, both online and offline, allows you to be seen and to be found. Those who are interested in others will find that they are interesting to others, becoming beacons to customers and opportunities. In the world of business people often used to hide themselves, adopting false personas, but with a changing society being fully and completely ourselves is not just a personal opportunity, but a way to inspire others, be seen and grow businesses fast.

5 shifts that will shape the future of IT


How empowered consumers and the consumerization of technology are shaping business

It’s not often that a week goes past when I don’t hear a new story of a company being ripped apart as it struggles to deal ever more demanding and fickle consumers. Marketing and sales, it’s usually said, have gone rogue leaving finance and IT to pick up the pieces. It’s obviously important to keep selling (and to keep generating revenue), but it’s equally important to do so in a safe and compliant manner (so that you’re still in business next year).

This situation has become bad enough that the analysts are now suggesting that a shift in operating model will be required to solve the problem. That sounds about right, and it looks like the trigger for the shift will be external pressure from regulators.

The problem, then, is to form a sensible picture of how this to-be operating model will function.

Coming up with some general statements about that nature of this new model is fairly easy: it will be more collaborative, it will favor services over assets, innovation will be important, and so on.

What is more important, and much harder to do, is to develop a picture of how the shift to a new operating model will change the roles and responsibilities within a business. How will we heal the rift between the front office – sales and marketing – and the back office – finance and IT?

This is not a question of tweaking the role of the IT department, for example. The IT department’s role – as has been pointed out elsewhere in this publication – is already well defined. IT is the part of the company that is responsible for procuring and maintaining the IT assets a business requires. This isn’t changing. Many businesses need for this role is, however, diminishing.

Nor can the problem be fixed by creating new technology-based roles outside the IT department, such as the Chief Digital Officer or Chief Marketing Technology Officer. While these roles might help the lines of business use technology more effectively, and they may work closely with the CIO and the IT department, they don’t address the root cause of a disconnect forming between the front and back office.

The interesting question then, is “What’s the role of IT in business?” How can the entire business consume and manage IT in a safe and compliant way while still meeting the needs of today’s empower customers?

To answer this question we need insight into who will make the decisions on what IT will be used where and how it will be knitted together. We need some understanding of the drivers behind the current transition in how we consume IT in business.

5 drivers for change

The easiest way to identify these drivers is to consider the shifts we can already see in how we’re managing the technology we have today. We’re not interested in changes in the technologies themselves. Nor are we interested in how the business uses individual technologies. We’re interested in how technology is managed across the business: who gets to decide what and how are conflicts resolved.

First there’s the shift in where technology comes from, and who is responsible for the infrastructure it relies on.

IT has expanded beyond the IT department. The development of on-demand IT (such as Software as a Service, SaaS) and the consumerization of enterprise IT (the use of consumer technology in a business context) mean that businesses, and the lines of business, no longer require the deep IT infrastructure skills that they did in the past. Nor do they want IT to act as a gatekeeper, selecting and procuring the technology to be used by the business.

From this we can identify two obvious trends shaping enterprise IT:

  • Driver 1: Enterprise IT is no longer an infrastructure problem, it’s not an asset we own
  • Driver 2: Consumer trends drive enterprise IT, rather than enterprise IT driving consumer trends

Next, is the impact of these trends on how we manage technology within a business.

Many business stakeholders today feel empowered to make their own decisions on what technology to use where, a result (for many) of a childhood steeped in technology. They’re using new technology in new ways to solve new problems, creating new business opportunities in the process. They don’t want the IT department mediating access to the technology they need, and slowing everything down. Many IT departments are finding themselves on the back foot, unable (or unwilling) to support the business as technology moves out of an automation and cost focused role.

This gives us another two trends:

  • Driver 3: The old core IT skills are not as valuable as they used to be
  • Driver 4: How we define the value of IT has expanded (it’s a lot more than ROI now)

While the previous four trends show us the how IT governance might flex and adapt to changing needs in the business, it is the external constraints that will determine the final role of IT in business.

So what external governance requirements are going to shape how IT fits into a business?

Audit is an obvious candidate. With marketing departments going rogue, often there’s only a tenuous link between what’s happening at the coalface that the company’s chart of accounts. In some instances the only link between sales and the general ledger is a spreadsheet containing the P&L for the new initiatives that is manually uploaded once a month. One day the auditors are going to come in and they will want to see a clear trail of evidence from sales by the new division through to the general ledger.

Another example is anti money-laundering and counter terrorism financing, which is receiving more attention from government as complementary currencies – such as Bitcoin and the “points” used to purchase virtual assets and services in games and social services and which are sold for cash – grow in popularity and attract organized crime. As businesses, even privately held businesses, integrate themselves into new commercial environment they find themselves increasingly subject to AML and CTF regulation.

Consequently our final trend is:

  • Driver 5: External obligations – such as financial reporting, anti money-laundering and counter terrorism financing – will trigger the transition to new operating models

The future role of IT

The future role of IT, as well as the role of the IT department, is not carved in stone. Both are likely to change as businesses find new ways to use IT to create value for them and their customers. The challenge is to understand what is driving this change and which, consequentially, will shape the role of IT, and the role of the IT department, in the future.

What trend do you think will shape the future role of IT and of the IT department in business? What are the drivers that we should be paying attention to?


Design Anthropology and the IT Leader


Leveraging the synthesis of design practice and the study of human culture and behavior

Who is responsible for design in your IT department? If your answer is your Architecture or Business Analyst teams then you may be missing a vital factor. Take a moment to reflect on what design really means and who utilizes the outcome.

Design is led by the individuals and groups that populate your organization’s ecosystem; in internal departments, trading partners, service providers and customers. They grapple daily with sets of increasingly complex information. Where they may have once begrudgingly accepted what was offered, modern consumers will not sit idly by if presented with systems and processes that are increasingly misaligned to their needs.

This shift in behavior means how you manage design (in particular, your service design) must change. Now is the time for the CIO of the Future to consider design anthropology – a powerful, emerging practice that blends the study of humankind with design thinking.

Why the old ways aren’t working

Business problems are often resolved with the materials and capabilities that are on hand. This makes sense if operating in a steady state. Leveraging existing assets means that organizations can make the most of what they have already invested in.

The problem is that an organization does not operate in isolation. Their operating environment is influenced by changes in the competitive landscape, the emergence of new technology and shifts in social behavior.

These changes are not under your control. As a leader you will find yourself increasingly unable to respond to such chaotic and fluid influences with binary and linear solutions. A direct technology or process response will be insufficient. Relying on history (doing the same things you’ve always done) or adopting best practice (copying what others have done) will burn a lot of energy and resources with an ineffective result.

The “I” in CIO is not solely about the provision of information. It is about how it is gathered, shared and applied for the best outcome.

Consider the following trends:

These trends create a major challenge for the traditional practice of design. An isolated, once-off exercise undertaken at the beginning of a project will not produce a sustainable and effective result. This is where design anthropology comes in.

Introducing design anthropology

Systems analysis and design is generally recognized as a defined set of processes followed by individuals or small groups who work in relative isolation from consumers. They produce a concept or specification that is then handed off to engineers to be built. This rigid, closed-door approach results in design outcomes that are no longer meeting consumer needs.

In contrast, design anthropology brings together the dynamic study of people and their behavior with the practice of design. According to Design Anthropologist Julie Cook, key aspects of this practice are that it is:

  • Multi-disciplinary; the diversity of perspective and behaviors is critical
  • Group and socially inclusive; opinions matter strongly and must be identified and captured
  • Critical that participants and leaders embrace ambiguity
  • Taking a holistic, systems view of the organization
  • Beyond “design thinking” and goes to the origins of consumer action and response
  • Radical, in the sense that it is transformational and revolutionary

Supporting this approach, Cook says, is the application of the social science of ethnography – the “collection of data about people through direct observation and interaction”.  This change of focus – from what people say they do to what they actually do – is the ignition point for true innovation. Without this, leaders will be faced with a growing gap between what the consumer desires and the solutions being offered to them.

Expanding the concept of the “consumer” to include the wider workforce of an organization results in a shift in thinking. Team members are no longer seen solely in their role as a “utility” where the most productivity can be yielded, but as consumers of the data, tools and processes that they work with. This is increasingly the case in service-based organizations where people, to put it bluntly, are an organization’s raw materials and processing machines rolled into one.

If the creativity and curiosity of employees is constrained by traditional management methods in the workplace, then it will find ways of manifesting elsewhere. Ideally you want that energy to be directed inwards, to your organization.

Applying the principles

It takes a fundamental shift in how you lead your team to introduce and support the principles of design anthropology. There is no fixed recipe, however Cook provides some essential guidance:

  1. People and coaching. The ability to lead people through change is an increasingly sought after skill. Changing the way things are done consumes considerable time and effort. Your people will be watching you, and taking a cue from how you are seen to support their design approach. They have an emotional value system that is influenced by their consumer experience. Be aware of organizational norms that may have a negative influence on them, such as feeling the need to conform to a set of pre-existing rules and patterns of behavior.
  2. Systems thinking. Design thinking and the impact of consumers cannot be pinned down to a single process or department. Any organization is a set of interdependent systems. Influence mapping tools together with open and critical brainstorming help to uncover the impact of new ideas on far reaching aspects of your organization and the environment it operates within.
  3. Data valency and the missing context. In chemistry, valency refers to the number of bonds or connections an atom can make with another to form a molecule. Valency is an important concept to consider with collections of data. By itself, the data forms an incomplete view of a particular, often narrow, aspect of your business. Go looking for how this data can be joined with other sets and experiment with combining them. Fresh information will emerge as a result, similar to that of a chemical reaction. Use this to explore different outcomes that a single set of data is unlikely to reveal.
  4. Measurements. In a traditional process measurements are made on an absolute (it fits the criteria/tolerance, or it doesn’t) basis. Most organizations will expect formal measures to support the investment required to achieve the outcome. However this must be complemented by measuring consumer sentiment, design success and emotional values. This is especially the case as a result may be many factors removed from the original problem being studied. Observation of how consumers actually use the resulting solution, together with conversations which capture their delight, displeasure or disinterest in the outcome are also important.
  5. Embracing workaround. As frustrating as they can be for a CIO, the implementation of workarounds, also called “shadow IT”, is on the rise. Cook advises that CIOs should fight off their initial reactions to shut them down, as they can be an indication of what people really want. In some environments it may be necessary to do this for compliance and control reasons. However, in effect what has been created is the voice of your consumers saying “this represents what we want.” The CIO of the Future has a role to play in ensuring a continued dialogue as well as supporting initiatives that produce and sustain new insights in an organization. In the emerging workforce where team members cannot recall a time before pervasive internet and personalized devices, this will be an increasingly tough battle for a command-and-control CIO to fight. But it is not a declaration of war; it is a conversation starter about what is desired and needed.

Leaders in design anthropology practice include the Mayo ClinicXeroxIBM and Intel, in particular through the work of Genevieve Bell.

How would you go about applying the principles of design anthropology to your organization? Have you seen examples of where it has produced surprising results?


5 Tactics to Deliver More By Doing Less (and Doing Better)


Your future service delivery model is simpler than you think

It’s good to be popular. Interest in technology and how it can help your organization continues to grow. There are increasing pressures on you and your team to respond to business change while also playing an active role in transforming the company. There is just one hitch – you need to be able to do this with a reduced budget.

This is not a new problem for CIOs. Each budget cycle finds your operational and capital costs robustly challenged. This dilemma – mounting business demand with a shrinking supply of resources – is not yours alone. It is a whole-of-business problem.

The opportunity for you is to use this dilemma as the basis to establish five practices which will allow you to do something that seems to defy logic – deliver more, of better quality, by doing less.

1. Refresh your city plan

In 2000 The McKinsey Quarterly published an article titled “The Paris Guide to IT Architecture” which used city planning as a metaphor for enterprise architecture . This concept was simple to understand and powerful as a communication tool throughout the business.

Like the city you live in, enterprise business systems have:

  • History (legacy systems).
  • Precincts (groups of solutions serving particular functions).
  • Building codes (solution architecture standards).
  • Preferred materials (the right technology for the right job).

When facing spending pressure refresh your city plan and use this as a conversation piece to discuss what parts need to be refurbished, reused or rebuilt. With this improved understanding of your organization’s existing solutions and services you will be able to lead an informed discussion on where future investments should be made.

2. Using scarcity and necessity to your advantage

Both scarcity and necessity are cited as drivers for creativity. The HBR Blog network published opinion pieces in 2011 arguing the case for each. This article states that “deliberately imposing scarcity” was a catalyst for creativity. However, a complementary view is that innovation is most likely to be effective when there is a clear problem to solve.

As a CIO the problems for you and your team to address are not always well defined. Your challenge is to make them clear.

Lead your team and C-level peers through cycles of refining demands and reducing these down to a discrete, achievable set of goals. Challenge your team to respond with solutions which use the technologies and capabilities already at their disposal. Take a leaf from the Apollo 13 playbook – figure out how to fit a round peg into a square hole. You will enable your team to deliver against a more focused set of requirements by leveraging existing investments.

3. Standardize your skill sets

Standardized work practices and continuous improvement are the basis of lean manufacturing. In manufacturing this leads to reduced task time, streamlined work sequences and reduced inventory. In a service delivery environment – such as IT – the opposite approach is more common. Efficiency improvements in IT often rely on the introduction of new technology, the creation of more complex processes, or the duplication of data. These “improvements” are costly to implement and maintain.

Take the lead offered by best practice in materials management and apply lean thinking to your IT service delivery.

Reduce the number of technology platforms you support by applying architectural principles that encourage reuse and identify single solutions for common business functions.

Consolidate the technologies underpinning your business, such as database, infrastructure and client solutions.

Refine the skills and capability of your team members so that you are giving them the best opportunity to excel in their tool of choice, instead of having to relearn a new way of delivering services each time.

4. Don’t be too efficient

In 1984 Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox published “The Goal” which told the story of a manufacturing plant manager facing an ultimatum – improve productivity and profit, or go out of business. While he makes good progress on improving material availability and eliminating bottlenecks, the protagonist encounters an unexpected problem. The removal of gaps and delays caused the equivalent of peak hour gridlock. Productivity began to slide and targets were missed.

This can also occur in IT services and project delivery.

If the space between changes is too small, your team members are constrained as their work is too tightly packed. There is no buffering between major projects, and the minor changes that slip in between them.

To improve the flow, create space between projects and major production releases. Give things time to settle down. Bundle associated groups of changes into their own release. The result will be a consistent flow of delivery work that doesn’t get tangled by being full to capacity.

5. Dining on elephants

How do you eat an elephant? Easy – one bite at a time. It’s a classic kids joke as well as being sound advice for managing large capital budgets in the grown-up world of business.

Future budgets for major projects will come in irregular waves and will be hard fought. There will be high expectations of the projects that support the business trend towards austerity and controlling your non-discretionary “MOOSE” (Maintain and Operate the Organization, Systems and Equipment) spend.

With limited investment in new and improved technologies your portfolio of major projects will be under close scrutiny. Your response should be to design an approach to funding and implementing projects in a tiered, modular manner.

Break your portfolio into three levels – long term strategic programs, medium term tactical projects, and short term operational response initiatives.

Be ruthless in the governance and decision making that drives which projects get funding and which get set aside.

Break the projects into smaller pieces; each piece should deliver a positive business outcome, and should build upon the piece implemented before it.

In this manner you can control three things.

  1. Your peers can see evidence of progress being made and value added with each release
  2. Your team is able to be flexible, adapting to a changing business environment as they go, rather than having a fixed, long-term goal set at the start of a major initiative
  3. Limited capital funding resources are more closely managed, with financial benefits being yielded earlier

Delivering more with fewer resources, and to a better level of quality, may seem an impossible goal. However, this is exactly what will be expected of the CIO of the Future, and all of your C-level peers.

As you lead discussions with your colleagues, bring with you these five talking points to share:

  • What parts of our existing business systems landscape can we refresh, reuse or rebuild to get the job done?
  • Which are the critical issues that we face right now, and how can we use existing resources to respond to them?
  • How can we further consolidate, standardize and simplify our processes and systems to take advantage of our core capabilities?
  • Where on our project roadmaps are we scheduling time to allow changes to truly bed down and become a stable part of our operations?
  • Why don’t we break major projects down into realistic, achievable pieces?

In your experience what are the primary levers of doing more with less?
Are you expected to deliver more, with less? How do you go about this?


Top 3 Priorities for the CIO of the Future in 2014


Digital business leadership and increasing business productivity

Editor’s note: This article is the submission to our CIO of the Future – 2014 Project from Marco Orellana. We are delighted to get a global view from a Latin American perspective, given CODELCO-Chile’s role as the world’s largest copper producer.

From Technological Information Manager to Digital Business Leader

The CIO is becoming a business digital leader and his journey is based on the following points:

    • More Technology to the Core of the Business. Incorporating technology to the core of the business is more and more necessary, since nowadays the traditional relationship methods aren’t a clear competitive advantage, as opposed as technologies used in instances where they really add value.
    • More Education in Business Digital Innovation. Significant changes are required in the innovation of both business processes and products. These changes must enable non-traditional ways to approach business problems; today the technology is a distinctive factor that pushes organizations to develop new spaces in business relationships and interactions. The CIOs role is precisely to enable a digital technology-based innovation culture in order to make the company distinctive in an increasingly competitive world.
    • Moving From Chief Information Officer to Chief Digital Officer. The fundamental change we’re encountering is incorporating digital technologies throughout the business footprint. That’s why the new CIO must be immersed in the business he serves, where there should be not only traditional information technologies but also any kind of digital technology that helps corporations meet their strategic goals in a more effective and efficient manner.
  • Support the Business Strategy: Being the CEO’s Innovation Partner to Address Business Challenges. Today corporations’ challenges are ever-changing, subject to market ups and downs and with more and more government regulations. The CIO’s challenge is to enable the CEO’s strategies, becoming the company’s innovation branch and supporting the business strategies with ad-hoc solutions while meeting deadlines and budget constraints required by the business. A skilled CIO customizes solutions, aligning them correctly with the business strategies, at the right time and with competitive budgets.

Provide Real Support to Increase Business Productivity

    • Transform Technology into a Productivity Tool. Nowadays, digital technologies shouldn’t just automate the organization’s processes, they should be the tool that powers and guides its productivity everywhere, from strategy to operations. Businesses are under intense pressure to provide returns that are shrinking in markets that are increasingly demanding and competitive, making digital technologies exceptional productivity icons.
    • Enable Business Process Transformation: Deploy the Right Technology with Business Sense. The CIO’s job is not just providing the digital technologies required by the business. Today, there is a trend for CIOs to be immersed in business processes, redesigning them with a strong use of technologies that make the business more profitable, efficient, competitive and sustainable. Not only must technology follow the business, but also push it to find new spaces that were unthinkable in the past.
  • Use Business Intelligence to Analyze the Past and Create the Best Future. Digital technologies’ current role in information management is to let us know what has already happened. They allow us to understand very clearly what happened to us. But this is like driving while looking in the rear-view mirror. What is really needed today is to look ahead, towards the future from the present and that can be done with Business Intelligence, which gives us new ways to analyze the same information, finding key insights and modeling probable future scenarios which allows us to anticipate and make decisions today so we are still competitive tomorrow. Clearly the CIO’s role will be centered in this new generation of predictive information systems, which give the company access to new dimensions of the business.

Make the New Technology Wave Run The Business

    • From Social Media To Social BusinessBuild Social Culture with Customers, Partners and Staff. The same technologies used in social networks will be used in business networks. The CIO’s role in this context is that of a pioneer, championing the use and development of this kind of digital technology. Conversations and decision-making revolve around managing great quantities of unstructured information that must be massaged, transformed, interpreted and distributed. Here the CIO’s support is key to guide the adoption of best practices in managing these kind of technologies within the organizations and also in the relationships they have with their environment. The CIO will have to strike a balance between the information made available and the new intellectual or industrial property being generated.
    • Using Big Data and Business Intelligence to Create Business KnowledgeReal Time Predictions. These two components, Big Data and Business Intelligence, converge in the organization as two complementary trends that allow the generation of new knowledge within companies. This new knowledge allows the business to create new competitive advantages. Here the CIO is the main proponent of these new digital technologies.
    • Transform BYOD and Mobility into Business Opportunities. Another trend that the CIO must approach in 2014 is related to mobility and the users’ own devices. In both cases his role will be to provide safe, stable, reliable and robust mechanisms in order to transform both trends into business opportunities. Mobility enables new ways to carry out business tasks, basically anywhere and anytime. The key is that the access and associated security mechanisms are aligned with the business requirements and enable the digital worker to make use of all his skills, feeling comfortable with the technology that suits him best for his day-to-day job.
  • Create a New Cloud Perspective: The Business Personal Cloud. The business has become the sum of micro-businesses that interact among themselves in order to meet goals and execute the overall strategy. Each digital worker needs his own space in cyberspace to host his information, knowledge, tools and everything he needs to develop his role. That’s why, besides having a global strategy, the CIO must at the same time know each and every one of the usage profiles and must provide the virtual environments that enable this new digital way of conducting business.


Free Your Users (or They Will Free Themselves)


The vexed issue of Social Media and BYOD in the workplace

In my last piece on CIO of the Future, Must the Business Always Bypass IT When It Wants to Innovate?, it was pretty clear that I believed that people, and I don’t mean just IT department staff, were a key factor in the issues that come from the introduction of new technologies and new business uses for technology.

I then posed the question as to whether Line of Business (LoB) managers must always bypass the IT department when they want to innovate, and suggested that this is both the right course of action as well as being acceptable from an IT departmental systems risk basis, providing the activities were indeed truly isolated from, and unconnected to, the IT systems. Why? Because these new externally oriented and innovative uses of IT have nothing in common with the use made of IT in the internal environment.

I stated, however, that there are new risks to be clarified and managed around what, where, and how an enterprise’s people actually use these new powerful and often publicly visible capabilities.

The new front office

We look to managers to add their personal value in the form of experience and knowledge that they bring to their role. These roles are those of the Front Office staff whose interactions outside the enterprise, principally with Sales and Marketing, but also with Service Engineers, Purchasing, and Logistics staff, allows new value to be created. By value we mean increased sales revenues, more market share, and new types of products, all of which improve operational results.

This is quite different to IT’s traditional role of enabling the Back Office to operate internal processes at lower cost and with greater efficiency. IT staff don’t readily appreciate this important difference, or why paying for this out of non-IT budgets based on very different justifications makes sense.

The old saying was that half of all marketing spend is wasted, but we don’t know which half. Today marketing spend is on building online, interactive relationships with customers and potential customers, so we no longer quite have this problem.

People are in these externally facing roles for their ability to optimize the outcomes from events that are outside the control of the enterprise, calling on their personal judgment and experience to make the difference. Two decades of IT focused on optimizing internal processes has been able to offer little to help them beyond using mobility to allow them to access internal IT processes.

All too often mobility for the IT department has meant the ability to deliver accessibility to selected enterprise applications from outside the enterprise firewall. In connection with this new external environment, using new technology for the front office ‘mobility’ has a totally different meaning. Cloud suffers from the same challenge in understanding too.

Mobility should mean allowing people to be able to truly work differently by using social tools, services and apps together with a variety of different devices, including BYOD, to achieve ‘mobility’ of purpose, activity, and circumstance.

The new role for CRM

CRM is an excellent example to help us understand the issues and why conflict and confusion occurs.

CRM was introduced initially to make better use of the data created by transactions in enterprise IT applications, and as an internal tool it helped IT to align Sales with the rest of the business.

CRM then moved forward with new capabilities based on increasing use of websites to help enable sales to identify customers buying habits better.

Now CRM is being redefined from the direction of the customer, or even potential customer, to allow an enterprise to hear what the customer wants and then to try to match the customer with its products and services.

Embedding consumer technologies in your organization

As society as a whole moves to become increasingly composed of Digital Natives many industry sectors and enterprises are seeing these new technologies as ‘embedded’ in their business model: think of music, travel, personal banking, etc.

The diagram below breaks the journey from automating the back office to empowering the front office into three stages – Aligned, Enabling, and Embedded – but it doesn’t bring out the dynamics that this reality introduces.

Source: Andy Mulholland

Most IT departments are organized to operate (indeed it is essential that they carefully maintain) the data-centric transaction integrity of core internal processes, but find themselves increasingly being asked to connect to the middle box in the diagram to support various online business initiatives and are rightly wary of the risks, and indeed difficulties of this.

The Line of Business managers are working from a totally different perspective. They are coming from the top right box, driven by the need to compete innovatively in new ways in a market that is synonymous with, and can only exist because of, new technologies.

The new front office is focused outside the business

In Must the Business Always Bypass IT When It Wants to Innovate? I focused on why innovation could happen in this Embedded environment. Rapid experimentation is reasonably safe providing it remains isolated from the aligned environment.

The current conflicts occur when either or both sides try to move together into the enabled zone.

Both sides have good reason for their entrenched positions and both are currently almost irreconcilable, though in time new middleware and integration products and methods will come into play to allow this necessary scaling step in reintegrating an enterprise to occur.

But, and it’s a big but, this reintegration will occur around a different business model. This is an outside-in model, the so called ‘innovative business model’, which tries to match the operating model with how with how customers and clients want to buy and consume the company’s products. This is opposed to the BPR model of ERP that emerged in the early 90s, using technology to design the business model from inside out to restrict variation in favor of reducing costs and improving efficiency as the means of increasing competitiveness.

Inside-Out, referring to the role of IT inside the enterprise and firewall with a limited secondary role outside, versus Outside-In meaning that the new front office is focused outside the enterprise and its firewall with limited access to the IT systems inside. It’s a key point to fully grasp and understand, but do so and most things become clear.

Social Tools and BYOD are key tools for embedding IT in the business

Social Tools and BYOD? These are the key elements that support people-focused embedded businesses, and as such they are the tools that free users from the necessarily constrained environment of IT.

Let’s illustrate this by remembering that email was introduced to support the business model change that PC-based Client-Server introduced as Business Process Re-engineering. As the business processes changed to flow across the enterprise, rather than being contained in departments, a new model was needed to communicate with the people along each process: email! Now we are adopting an event-responsive business model we need a new communication model that frees the constraints that process based email imposes; that’s the role of the collaborative social tools.

It’s hard to let go of users and the mentality that goes with it. But it’s also necessary to understand who should be set free, and why. Failure to do so proactively and properly, merely means that they will escape anyway.

So the lesson is that a controlled and managed release of people equipped with the right training, risk management and indeed using new discovery tools to dynamically understand is the best method to ensure risk and security of the existing systems stays intact, and that your enterprise has people trained to make the most of powerful new technology to innovate with a reduced risk.

Otherwise your users will escape what they will see as the ‘dead hand’ blocking much needed moves to compete. And the problem with escapees is that nobody knows who they are, where they are, or most of all what value or risk and cost they pose!