The future of the L&P data centre (part 1)

In response to conversations with some Life and Pensions organisations recently I have been pondering the future of the data centre in that sector.

Regulatory challenges, internal operational strategy, and intellectual property all influence the future of the data centre in the Life and Pensions sector.  Although the provision of information technology is not the key business of an L&P organisation, it is understandable that these influences will result in a desire for a number of these organisations to deliver at least some technology services internally.

Whilst regulatory requirements continue to be immature in comparison with the IT industry’s experience of delivering technology, those responsible for risk will be driven by caution regarding placement of customer data.  Within those constraints, additional questions will continue to be asked regarding placement of homegrown, organisation-specific applications which in their way represent a company’s intellectual property.

The advantages and disadvantages can be debated and in reality, the future for some financial services institutions will be outsourcing of their entire IT estate, for others to maintain their own IT function but to use only cloud, and for others the preference will be to use a hybrid cloud model.

In all honesty, I expect the same considerations and changes will have an impact on all – or most – financial institutions, no matter the specialism, although my expertise across the Financial Services sector varies.

Systems of Engagement are a Driving Force upon the Provision of IT

IT is moving from Systems of Record, focused on transactions, to Systems of Engagement, focused on interactions.  To quote Martin Gale, IBM Client Technical Architect, “Systems of Engagement support consumers and knowledge workers in the achievement of their objectives. Systems of Engagement optimise the effectiveness of the user by providing the required responsiveness and flexibility to deal with the fluidity of everyday life.”[1]  Martin explains that although Systems of Record will continue to have a key role because of their efficiency and robustness in quality of service, they have limitations as they are usually enable only a subset of the process to achieve the real outcome desired, and are constructed from a provider’s point of view rather than the consumer’s.

The Harvard Business Review[2] describes nine traits of Systems of Engagement:

  • Design for sense and response
  • Address massive social scale
  • Foster conversation
  • Utilise a multitude of media styles for user experience
  • Deliver speed in real time
  • Reach to multi-channel networks
  • Factor in new types of information management
  • Apply a richer social orientation
  • Rely on smarter intelligence

These Systems of Engagement will have new workload characteristics such as an integrated lifecycle (through DevOps); rapidly changing, bursty workloads; eventual consistency and continuous availability.  They are enabled by the proliferation of mobile devices, the increasing use of social tools, analytics and big data capabilities, and cloud computing as a delivery model.

As traditional L&P organisations move to a more customer-focused model and greater embrace mobile and social technologies, the underlying platforms must be enabled as systems of engagement.  New entrants to the market will have the advantage with greater flexibility in developing such systems.

Systems of Engagement for blog

Increased Industrialisation of IT

As the architecture management discipline matures further it will be possible to enable standardised and integrated application and infrastructure landscapes underpinned by automation of IT service design and delivery.   A L&P business should have these demands of their IT provider, whether an outsourcer or internal organisation.

IT processes must be made efficient by running on top of an optimised application portfolio and a scalable IT infrastructure.

With increasing pressure on cost of resource the application delivery model, IT service operations, support and management model should be optimised to balance resources.  Alignment of skills should be performed with respect to business requirements; cheapest skills do not always lead to cheapest models.

Although more centralised IT functions have arisen in industry to provide greater control and standardisation, the weight of influence on IT decisions is increasingly coming from lines of business, increasing the importance of alignment of business and IT strategies.  Governance is ever more key to ensure effective and targeted IT service provision, especially where growth means that technology delivery moves to a global model.

Next Time… DevOps, Automation and Cloud…

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Apps in business: bandwagon or reality?

These days everyone wants to access the function they need to do their job in the shape of apps for their smartphones and tablets don’t they?  More and more app stores are available whether iTunes, Windows Store, Google Play, IBM PureSystems Centre, and so on.

A conversation I had recently got me thinking more about how we consume IT and the changes IT delivery organisations will experience.  I also wonder about the hype cycle and where we may be on it these days.

Right now an organisation may find that consumers of its IT want access to just one or two functions via an app, and perhaps 10 apps will be created for 10 different functions.  (By function I do mean one type of interaction with some back end technology, whatever that may be, perhaps searching for client information.  I don’t mean the “Sales” function or other such organisation.)  And that sort of thing is proliferating, so perhaps we’re somewhere between the “Technology Trigger” and “Peak of Inflated Expectations” with lots of these new apps being developed.

But where do we draw the line?  That is, is it realistic or unmanageable to have to navigate between 10 or 20 apps to do one’s job?  As we move more and more to this new model driven by the consumerisation of IT I think we will hit that “Trough of Disillusionment” when it starts to get hard.  As it is I have well over 100 apps on my smart phone, and while very few of them are to do my job,  I expect that to change increasingly.  Management of that is going to be very hard.


So, I’m thinking about what is next.   Will we ditch our smartphones, tablets and their apps, and go back to a desktop/laptop world to access enterprise applications?  Back to green-screens anyone?  I seriously doubt it.   There will clearly continue to be a place for both.

We’ll mature into a world with more feature-rich apps to allow us to do more from our smart devices in a sensible manner, and with better models for identifying which instruments are best for which tasks.

So, what changes?  Our architects must be able to design technology which has the flexibility to support a number of interaction models, and a variety of performance models, and our requirements gatherers (business analysts, system analysts, etc.) must understand our companies’ business models to better define who needs access to what function and information in what form.   The “business” must get closer to “IT”, DevOps must become BusDevOps, and whilst a technical person may think their business counterparts need to listen more perhaps technical leaders must learn to become trusted advisors.

Analytics will become increasingly important to allow us to understand the non-functional characteristics and apply that knowledge to future developments.  Is it possible for security to be any more important than it already is?  Perhaps not, but we may see more organisations begin to take it more seriously, and we certainly need to adapt our security measures more quickly.

And as these are just my initial thoughts they’ll evolve and mature themselves!

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Don’t be afraid…

… to get it wrong.

That was another conclusion from a Smarter City workshop and I think it’s so important.

Not every good idea will work in every area in every city.  But not every idea that fails in one area will fail in another too.  So don’t be afraid to trial things.

After all, it can be expensive and hard to implement a solution city wide, especially when so many of those that are in the name of sustainability come with results that can be hard to quantify in advance.  So, try them out in a couple of areas; a Proof of Concept is not a bad thing.

Then understand why an idea was successful, or why it was not.  And keep a record.

Of course, wouldn’t it be nice if you *could* predict whether something will work?  And that’s where predictive analytics comes in.  Wikipedia’s definition is “Predictive analytics encompasses a variety of techniques from statistics, modeling, machine learning, and data mining that analyze current and historical facts to make predictions about future events”.

So, a local authority can use a variety of data (e.g. the demographics of where a solution is be applied, asset management in the area, historical data about similar solutions in this city and others) to model the implementation of the solution and the likelihood of its success across the city.  A small investment up front in the analytic solution can mean resources are better applied to sustainability: whatever shape those resources come in (funding, people, tools, etc.).  Spend wisely to spend even more wisely.

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Two for the price of one

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I sat down in a workshop with Sustainable Glasgow to discuss the future of the city centre in Glasgow and what changes are required, with limited resources, to cater for future needs.

The climate is changing, and it’s likely to get wetter and warmer.   Anna Beswick, of Adaptation Scotland, presented on the subject, and some solutions which assist.  Take a look at their website to find out more.

What jumped out at me was the need to implement solutions that can address more than one problem, thus maximising any investment.  For example, green walls and roofs assist with CO2 challenges, but also provide a level of insulation which reduces fuel consumption and therefore costs to domestic households, and to businesses, and carbon emissions by the energy providers.  Of course, this would not be appropriate for every property, but where applicable more than one challenge is being (in part) addressed by one solution.

I know less about these non-technical solutions than ones which are provided by technology, but I believe the principle applies to technology also.  One of the benefits of a system such as IBM’s Intelligent Operations Centre, is that it is a platform which allow reuse of technologies which have been applied to one requirement of a city – and of the learnings from that technology – for additional requirements of the city.  For example, it can be used to integrate asset management of roads and demographic data (typically data held by different functions in a local authority) so that it is possible to work out which roads and pavements should be gritted first in winter based upon the people that use them.  The next step could then be to integrate with CCTV provided by organisations external to the local authority to monitor traffic on the roads, and enhance the gritting plans based upon that.  (Ordinarily this example would be appropriate for this time of year, but perhaps I need to change this to dealing with flooding and floodwater instead.)

Two (or more) for the price of one is always an attractive proposition.

The challenge now is assisting cities with how to allocate cost internally when one solution helping more than one department…

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I’ll be talking about Fuel Poverty in December

In 2011 I had the privilege of being a part of an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team, a team deployed to Glasgow to tackle the issue that is Fuel Poverty.  Making our goal “affordable warmth” we recommended a long list of actions for Glasgow, and not all of them were based on technology, but about collaboration and sharing experiences.

I’m going to be talking about this at an event for BCSWomen in Scotland on 6th December, in the early evening.  So, save the date in your diary, and I’ll add a post here when the sign-up page for the event is ready.  In the meantime take a look here

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Small steps

I’ve been thinking about the “how” of Smarter and reading the vision for Smarter Cities at is an inspirational one. But for those who already have commitments on resources (people, budget specifically) then the approach to Smarter can be achieved with smaller steps.

Let’s think about a single view of the citizen and what that may mean. A local government will comprise of many departments and for one citizen, lets call him Dave, each department may have their own copy of his contact and personal details. It is quite possible that one department will have more than one record for Dave, perhaps one with an old address and one with a newer one. And neither of those records may be as up to date as one held by another department. If Dave calls in, who do they think they are talking to? Can they allow him to access services online and be sure they are providing to the right Dave? Do they offer the same services to all the different versions of Dave?

But, we’re taking a small steps approach so we can’t rip out these IT Systems and start again, trying to consolidate into one. After all, there could be reason for having many different systems. What we need is to implement a master data management layer between systems or components that request citizen data and the databases that store data. MDM can interrogate the various data sources and present one consolidated, and more accurate, view of Dave. A view consistent for all departments.

We can increase certainty that Dave will be offered the right services, charged correctly for council tax, given the appropriate benefits and so on.

Perhaps with this single view the next step is to provide multi-channel access to the same services.

However, a local government may prefer a first step to be focused on internal operations. IBM’s Intelligent Operating Center enables a city leader to have a view of the performance of the local government and the city. The council could monitor how waste disposal is performing or how traffic is flowing on the city’s roads. But, if we are thinking in small steps it may prefer to employ intelligence capability, such as that provided by IBM Cognos to interrogate data and tackle Absenteeism and the associated costs. It can identify if the same people are continually off sick at the same time, or regularly after certain sporting events. But the patterns identified will not always be such. It could be possible to identify others not necessarily associated with questionable behaviour. What if a local government came across patterns which would indicate a member of staff had depression? What are the ethical implications?

So, not everything need be done in a big bang. It’s quite possible, and often preferable, to take smaller, yet still significant, steps to becoming Smarter.

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A few thoughts on the “cities” of “smarter cities”

When I first thought about what the “cities” of “smarter cities” might mean I fell into the trap of thinking about local government and the related connotations. But I suspected that was just a little short-sighted.

So, I decided to think about what a city is from the perspective of a citizen, and of someone who uses a city. What is a city to me? For me, it’s the place I live, whether I own, rent or something else. It’s the place where I pay my council tax so that it’s kept clean and tidy, so that my bins are collected and the city council can work towards sustainability by implementing recycling, and so that I get a continued water supply to my property. So that parks are looked after and safe places to be. Which leads me on: the city is the place where I want to be safe (having been mugged once I can assure you it’s no fun), where I might need to be treated for an illness, and may need to receive care in my home too.

I need to be able to travel around the city (let’s avoid a debate about Edinburgh trams shall we?), and ideally find the fastest, and least taxing route to where I need to be.

The city is a place full of buildings. If it wasn’t it wouldn’t be a city. Some of those buildings are schools – and thus a city is also where I am educated – and some are stadiums, which are also places with their own special safety requirements. It’s a place that provides entertainment and hospitality, not just to its citizens but to city users.

The city is a place with finite resources which need to be used with effectiveness and efficiency.

But not one, sole person is in charge of all of the requirements of a city. Nor in charge of all the resources. And many different parties impose rules and regulations, on citizens and on those that supply their needs.

So, making cities smarter is quite a challenge.

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So, what does “Smart” really mean?

Well, here we go. My first venture into the world of blogging. (Do most blogs start like this?)

I was asked to cover Smarter Cities as an “Industry Segment” in IBM back in January, and when I’ve been able to snatch a few minutes or hours here and there I’ve been trying to get a handle on what Smarter Cities is as an agenda, and what a Smarter City might look like.

So far I’ve come to the conclusion that although “smart” is a goal to aim for, there will always be something else that can be done “smarter”, and that’s because technology should always get better and be more capable. So, getting smarter with what technology affords us today won’t be as smart as what we will be able to do next year.

Initially I though being smart just meant using resources in a more efficient, more sustainable way, whatever those resources are: people, money, man made materials, and so on. But now I think that’s the outcome of being smart. Being smart, to me, is more about the ways in which we determine how to use resources in a more efficient, more sustainable way.

So, where in the past we may have used spreadsheets with rows and rows, and columns and columns, of data to try to work out the status of a situation, we represent that data in a far more effective way using tools such as dashboarding and 3D visualisations on maps which bring that data to life. And, we don’t just analyse what’s happened: we can predict what will too. But a Smarter City is so much more than that.

So, having though about what “smart” means, I’ll add the “City” next time around. (Already as I type this I can see future posts discussing topics such as what do we use the data for, how do we capture that data, what else should we capture, is it just about data?)

Should you have a desire to read more, and the official messages from IBM you can take a look at

Don’t forget, these opinions are my own.

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