Monthly Archives: September 2017

Shaping the internet together

I had the opportunity to speak for BCS on two panels at EuroDIG on aspects of data protection and privacy – one related to identity and payments and the other to big data analytics and the internet of things.

European Digital Single Market initiative
The proposed European Digital Single Market is a very ambitious set of proposals intended to be implemented in an (unrealistically) ambitious timescale by 2016. A European Commission spokesman estimated that full implementation of the Digital Single Market would lift EU GDP by 15 billion euros. It was claimed that EU regulations (such as the roaming regulation) had already reduced cross-border communications costs significantly.

Building on NETmundial
All 47 members of the Council of Europe (except Russia) agreed to take the NETmundial principles forward as the single set of principles for internet governance and to use these as the basis of the global Internet Governance Initiative. This is in accordance with the calls over the last three years at the UN IGF (which is the long term forum – NETmundial was a one-off conference) to agree a global set of principles and is a major step forward for internet governance.

Cross-border internet law
There was an update on progress with the Internet and Jurisdiction Project.

Article 10 of the Human Rights Act refers to freedom of expression and has been interpreted by the European Court of Justice to cover both content and the means of transmission across borders within the 47 countries signed up to the Council of Europe.

ICANN and the IANA stewardship transition
A detailed update was given by officials involved in the IANA stewardship transition. This is the change in the internet numbering and naming regime from oversight by one government (USA) to oversight by all.

In simple terms, on a technical level there was agreement that what was done now worked well and little needed changing other than the oversight. The numbers aspects of transition have been agreed with minor changes and this is currently out for public comment until August.

It was widely agreed that cybersecurity is a key element in sustaining a sound IT society (including privacy and freedom of expression – see below). It was acknowledged that states are now developing military cyber capabilities (a fact that was emphasised by the Under Secretary at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from Estonia and debated robustly with Russian officials) and that cybercrime, which is frequently trans-national, is growing.

Data protection, privacy and the IoT
EuroDIG was greatly concerned about freedom of expression, journalistic freedom and privacy. There was great support for the response to concerns about privacy and surveillance in the UN through the adoption of resolution 68/167 as a result of which the General Assembly requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the right to privacy in the digital age.

A new culture of data sharing

At the moment it feels like we either choose not to participate in modern life, or submit ourselves to corporate whims and mistakes, says David Evans, Director of Policy & Community at BCS.

Is this the lot of the modern man? The tragic disclosure of their affair online, the violation of their person through identity theft. Their data taken, used, lost by corporations so faceless, so uncaring. Subject to the vagaries of outrageous privacy policies. Their right to be forgotten something devoutly to be wished for? Is our digital world just another stage for human anguish?

Perhaps. Yet that is not how most of us act; for most of us the prospect of harm from data sharing is abstract and somewhat disconnected from our experience. Surveys regularly indicate that around three quarters of us will share our data if there is some perceived benefit – and sharing data for free services has been one of the most successful business models of the internet; a business model that generates a lot of the content we enjoy, and arguably makes the internet function.

It would be terribly easy to respond to disasters by calling for public awareness about the dangers of sharing data, but there are three major reasons why that has little utility. Firstly, information security expertise does not protect you from foolishness on the part of others. Secondly, like it or not, choosing not to share will increasingly mean choosing not to participate in society. Finally, it misses the most vital point of all: sharing personal data is good.

What we need to have front of mind is that sharing our data is a necessary and desirable social and economic function, and that personal data is at its most socially useful and economically powerful when it is aggregated. Allowing BMW to tell you all about cars that might suit you when you’re in the market for a new motor is good for you and them.

Helping John Lewis to better understand what you might like to buy in future is helping them to help you. Having the NHS collate and use very specific bits of data about you – even without your consent – may well save your life and the lives of your children, and cost you less in taxes. We need to make this work for our collective benefit.

Sadly, our current path is in the opposite direction; sharing personal data is not working for anyone particularly well, and it is in danger of getting a lot worse.

We are learning to lie and obfuscate as consumers, and businesses are using ever-more invasive techniques to learn about us, while having to spend more to deal with the messy data we give them. Corporations, governments and consumers are moving from a police action into a de facto state of war over data. As the ‘internet of things’ – an explosion of internet connected devices and sensors – becomes a reality and enters your home, the amount of personal data that’s available will explode, so will the potential benefit, and so will the problems.

State of play: Social media in the enterprise

Social media is not very old. Twitter started in 2006 and now boasts 302 million users; Facebook was launched in 2004 and by 2015 has 1.18 billion monthly users; LinkedIn, a venerable old man of social media launched in 2003 now has 364 million users. How well are they being utilised by business? Brian Runciman MBCS reports.

Businesses quickly latched onto the IT-driven phenomenon of social media – with motivations ranging from better measurement of interaction to simply taking advantage of a bigger shop window. One attraction is its ability to measure things that were more intangible in times past such as customers’ sentiment about a product and also for more time-honoured business pursuits such as analysing the competition and helping determine strategy.

What is more difficult to assessing real return on investment (ROI). Revenue data is difficult to come by, if not just irrelevant in some social media contexts. It has seen success, however, in measuring conversion of a potential customers from passive users into a subscribers. And, according to Women’s Wear Daily, a line can be drawn between engagement on social media and effective predictions of ROI. Just the goal of increased interaction with a brand could indicate increased purchasing potential.

A very interesting academic paper in KSII Transactions on Internet & Information Systems looks at the potential inherent in the large amount of unstructured text data in social media that show consumers’ opinions and interests. The writers attempt to formulate a comprehensive and practical methodology to conduct social media opinion mining and then apply it to a case study of the oldest instant noodle product in Korea.

The way they represent the output of this study shows the variety of information types available – they use graphical tools and visualised outputs that include volume and sentiment graphs, time-series graphs, a topic word cloud, a heat map and a valence tree map. The sources mined are public-domain content such as blogs, forum messages and news articles, which are analysed with natural language processing, statistics, and graphics packages.

This kind of business intelligence is becoming more and more important – going beyond simply measuring thumbs on a Facebook campaign to give actionable data.

Inside the enterprise, too, social media tools are helping. The Journal of Business Communication presents results from a survey of 227 business professionals on attitudes towards the use of social networking for team communication, and its frequency of use and perceived effectiveness compared to other communication channels.

Whilst it shows that traditional channels still hold more sway at present, they also point to a sea change for Gen X and Gen Y business professionals, who are quite likely to consider that social networking tools will be the primary means of team communication in the future.

Another recent academic paper looks at the concept of continuance – which, in the IT context, refers to sustained use of a technology by individual users over the long-term after their initial acceptance. It shows that social media may continue to grow in the business context simply because it is enjoyable to use.

Information management

Information management (IM), as it’s normally understood, is really about the management of information technology, or perhaps data management and software tools. Similarly, the chief information officer (CIO) role isn’t really about information either; it’s about technology.

Although, when the role was first created following the 1977 report of the U.S. Commission on Federal Paperwork (chaired by Forest W. Horton and otherwise known as the Horton Report), it really was about the management of information as a strategic resource, rather than the technology management role it later morphed into.

What I want to look at here is a much wider understanding of information and a much broader concept of information management, what I’ll call authentic information management (AIM). Let’s consider Pareto’s 80/20 principle which states that, for many events, roughly 80 per cent of the effects come from 20 per cent of the causes so it wouldn’t be too surprising if just 20 per cent of all information in organisations is actually useful.

The rest is useless or less than useful. If true, that’s a huge waste of resources and a big drag on efficiency. Not only that, but the less-than-useful stuff is blocking out the useful, and this has big implications for overall, systemic effectiveness – not to mention people effectiveness.

For example, back in 1955, the British chain department store Marks and Spencer (M&S), undertook a famous information reduction exercise called Operation Simplification in response to rising overhead costs and falling profits. The well-documented end result was reported to have been an 80 per cent reduction in paperwork!

But the reduction in paperwork didn’t just convert into cost savings. It was also reported at the time that there was evidence everywhere of a hidden treasure of ability and creativity that had been unlocked.An authentic CIO
So how much effort, time and resource is spent on data management compared with information itself? The former is easier to get your head around because it’s specific, it’s tangible, and there are software tools for it. Of course effective data management is vital, particularly for data quality, because it supports information reliability.

But it may be that authentic information management (AIM) is the next frontier in making effective use not only of information and communications technology (ICT) in organisations, but also of information itself and as a whole.

So how do you go about enabling AIM?
The first thing might be the appointment of an authentic CIO, meaning that they will have overall responsibility for promoting the effective use of all information in the organisation as a strategic resource, with the present CIO re-named the chief systems officer (CSO) responsible for the overall management of information systems and business processes.