Demonstration: cloud, analytics, mobile and social using IBM Bluemix

This post was originally published on ThoughtsOnCloud on January 3rd, 2015.

In the 2013 IBM Annual Report, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty talked about the shifts that she sees occurring in industries:

“Competitive advantage will be created through data and analytics, business models will be shaped by cloud, and individual engagement will be powered by mobile and social technologies. Therefore, IBM is making a new future for our clients, our industry and our company…As important as cloud is, its economic significance is often misunderstood. That lies less in the technology, which is relatively straightforward, than in the new business models cloud will enable for enterprises and institutions…The phenomena of data and cloud are changing the arena of global business and society. At the same time, proliferating mobile technology and the spread of social business are empowering people with knowledge, enriching them through networks and changing their expectations.”

Consequently, IBM is focusing on three strategic imperatives: data, cloud and engagement.

Recently I have been demonstrating this in a holistic way by showing the fast deployment of an application running on IBM Bluemix, the company’s platform as a service (PaaS) offering. It’s a social analytics application that provides cross-selling and product placement opportunities enabling systems of engagement with systems of insight. It analyzes social trends like tweets to help sales, marketing and operational staff to target specific customers with more personalized offers using mobile technologies.

Take a look at this video of my demonstration:

How governments can tap into cloud and Internet of Things

This post was originally published on ThoughtsOnCloud on October 2nd, 2014.

In my previous post, I discussed some of the innovations that can be achieved by governments using cloud. I presented on this topic recently at the Westminster eForum Keynote Seminar: Next steps for cloud computing. At the session I went on to explore mobile, the Internet of Things and some changes in the skills needed for cloud.

The session abstract asked the following question about mobile: As device processing power increases, yet cloud solutions rely less and less on that power, is there a disconnect between hardware manufacturers and app and software developers? I think this misses the point. Cloud isn’t about shifting the processing power from one place to another; it’s about doing the right processing in the right place.

U.S. Marine using GPS capabilities on a handheld device to check his location.

At IBM, we talk about the nexus of forces of cloud, analytics, mobile and social (CAMS) and we split information technology (IT) into Systems of Record and Systems of Engagement.

The Systems of Record are the traditional IT—the databases that we’re talking about moving from the existing data centers to the cloud. And, as I’ve discussed in a previous post, moving into the cloud means that we can perform a lot of new analytics.

With mobile and social we now have Systems of Engagement. We have devices that interact with people and the world. Because of their fantastic processing power, these devices can gather data that we’ve never had access to before. For example, these devices make it really easy to take a photo of graffiti or a hole in the road and send it to the local council through FixMyStreet in order to have it fixed. It’s not just the additional processing power; it’s the new instrumentation that this brings. We now have a GPS location so the council knows exactly where the hole is.

In a case I discussed in my previous post, this would have made it a lot easier to send photos and even videos of Madeleine McCann to a photo analytics site, to assist in the investigation of her disappearance in 2007.

We’re also working with Westminster council to optimize their parking. The instrumentation and communication from phones helps us do things we’ve never done before, moving us onto the Internet of Things and making it possible to put connected sensors in parking spaces.

With connected cars, we have even more instrumentation and possibilities. We have millions of cars with thermometers, rain detection, GPS and connectivity that can tell the National Weather Service exactly what the weather is with incredible granularity, as well as the more obvious solutions like traffic optimization.

Let’s move on to talk about skills. IBM has an Academic Initiative in which we supply software to universities at no cost, and IBMers work with university administrators and professors on the curriculum and even act as guest lecturers. For Imperial College, we’re providing cloud based marketing analytics software as well as data sets and skills, so that they can focus on teaching the subject rather than worrying about the IT. Since computer science curriculum in schools is changing to focus more on programming skills, we can offer cloud based development environments like IBM Bluemix. We’re working with the Oxford and Cambridge examination board on their modules for cloud, big data and security.

Students at the lecture 21440848

To be honest, it’s still hard. Universities are a competitive environment and they have to offer courses that students are interested in rather than ones that industry and the country need. IT is changing so fast that we can’t keep up.

Lecturers will teach subjects that they’re comfortable with and students will apply for courses that they understand or that their parents are familiar with. A university recently offered a course on social media analytics, which you’d think would be quite trendy and attractive, but they only had two attendees. It used to be that universities would teach theory and the ability to learn, and then industry would hire them and give them the skills. Now, things are moving so fast that industry doesn’t have the skills and is looking for the graduates to bring them.

Looking at the strategy of moving to the cloud and the changing role of the IT department, we’re finding that outsourcing the day-to-day running of the technology brings about a change in skills needed. It’s less about hands-on IT and more about architecture, governance, and managing relationships with third party providers. A lot of this is typically offered by the business faculty of a university, rather than the computing faculty. We need these groups to work closer together.

To a certain extent, we’re addressing this with apprenticeships. IBM has been running an apprenticeship scheme for the last four years. This on-the-job training means that industry can provide hands-on training with the best blend of up-to-the-minute technical, business and personal skills. This has been very effective, with IBM winning the Best Apprenticeship Scheme from Target National Recruitment Awards and National Apprenticeship Services and Everywoman in technology.

In summary, we need to be looking at the new things that can be achieved by moving to cloud and shared services; exploiting mobile and the internet of things; and training for the most appropriate skills in the most appropriate way.

How do you think governments should utilize cloud and the Internet of Things? And what changes do you think are needed to equip students for a cloud based future? Please leave a comment to join the conversation.

Can cloud improve our children’s education?

This post was originally published on ThoughtsOnCloud on August 28, 2012

As a school governor responsible for the education of four to seven year olds in information technology I’ve been thinking recently about how cloud affects both what we need our children to learn and also how they learn it.

In the last couple of decades a lot of technical work has been off-shored to countries where the less skilled, easily specified and repeatable IT tasks have been cheaper, and in the more developed countries we’ve focused on the higher value roles such as product innovation and design. This has meant that there’s been no real demand for a workforce who can program computers. School IT education has focused more on being consumers of IT rather than creators of it, for example, how to use a spreadsheet or a word processor rather than how to write one. There’s also been no real demand from children themselves to learn programming. When I was young we bought a ZX81 or an Atari ST, for example, to play games on, and then some of us were curious enough to wonder how it worked. We had everything we needed in our game’s computers to learn and try out programming. Soon after that we moved to games consoles and the opportunity to program them disappeared. So the people coming out of schools at the moment don’t know programming, and maybe we don’t need them to as this work is off-shored. Unfortunately they don’t know IT design, governance, and how to manage relationships with offshore companies either.

Until recently I’d been advocating that these were the skills that we should be teaching our youth. However with the advent of cloud things have changed a little. Now that we have private cloud with automation, a lot of the menial work like build and test can be done by software so the off-shored work can now be moved back onshore. The need for managing the relationship with the external company is disappearing to be replaced by a need to be able to work with the cloud.

With the advent of platform as a service children now have immediate access once again to sandbox environments where they can learn to program and test out ideas, so there can be a new wave of innovation and creativity driven by curiosity and excitement and the desire to learn.

Also, with the advent of tablets there will be increased access to technology in the classroom. At the moment there are schools with cupboards full of unused laptops because over time each one has gradually had a minor problem that the teachers have been unable to fix. With tablets, appliances with very little running on them, where very little can go wrong because they are thin clients accessing the cloud where most of the processing happens, we have much more robust computers requiring far less technical skill to maintain them. This is going to mean that finally the dream can be achieved that we thought was going to happen when we bought all those laptops.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about the role of the teacher. In primary school teachers have a dual role. They educate children in academic subjects but they also act as a surrogate mother giving the children emotional support and attention.  When I was at school we had fairly small class sizes with one teacher per class. Now this has been optimised to have larger classes where there is one fully qualified teacher responsible for the class’s education but there is also a teaching assistant who ensures that the children have enough support, both with the task that they’re working on as well as emotionally.

At the moment IBM is helping various schools and colleges to offer education virtually. Using IBM Smart Business Desktop Cloud and IBM SmartCloud for Social Business we can significantly enhance traditional online learning by adding collaboration and a virtual desktop environment. IBM is doing this with the Classroom in the Cloud at Birmingham Metropolitan College in the UK and the virtual desktops at Pike County Schools in the USA. This is allowing education bodies to broaden their audience to students off campus and even outside the country.  Thinking about how this applies to primary school children, it occurs to me that we can have a teacher in the cloud delivering education to many children remotely, with the cheaper, lesser qualified teaching assistant sitting with the child to deliver the assistance and support.  Video conferencing is almost at the stage where you can have a full size image of the teacher right next to the student.

This last idea may be going a bit far for now so I’m not going to be recommending it to my school any time in the near future but I can imagine the possibilities of giving all children access to the very best teachers in the world, and I’m excited by the opportunities that cloud is bringing to education.