Disruptive Technologies UK 2016

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Disruptive Technologies UK 2016 event in London and found it both interesting and thought-provoking.

The event was the first annual UK conference on disruptive innovation and included a combination of keynotes, workshops and networking sessions. Different speakers, from academia, industry and government institutions shared the stage and presented new ideas and theories.

The event revolved around the idea of fourth industrial revolution. In the last two hundred years, three industrial revolutions shaped the way we live and work. These revolutions have been initiated by major disruptive innovations, such as the introduction of steam power, electricity and IT systems.

Nowadays, we are on the verge of the fourth industrial revolution, characterised by cyber physical systems.

The emergence of cyber physical systems, thanks to big data, robotics, Internet of Things, drones and advanced biology, holds the potential to revolutionise the world as we know it.

The Government has already invested billions of pounds in Catapult centres and the Innovate UK agency. This funding aims to create the right business environment to nurture and sustain the numerous new commercial ventures in this area.

The morning session focused on how the fourth industrial revolution can disrupt buildings and shape the cities of the future. Smart cities are not only connected and highly technological cities, but they should be analysed using a wider, holistic approach.

Citizens should be at the centre and the aim must be to improve the quality of life.

Local councils are already embracing this revolution and for example Cambridgeshire developed an API from which businesses can use the data collected by the council. Smart buildings will be a fundamental block of the cities of the future and thus the traditional concept of buildings must be re-thought. The overall experience of living and working in predefined places will change and technology, along with new workforce management ways, will allow people to work from anywhere, at any time.

The afternoon kicked off with elevator pitches from different tech start-ups which are looking to solve problems around parking, product design, teleconferencing and passports on mobile devices. After, two case studies have been presented. The first on Tekcapital, a company who invests in University intellectual property and makes it accessible to private companies, and the second on Epicardio, an Oxford based startup which developed a real-time 3D simulation of Cardiac Electrophysiology and Electrocardiography, set to revolutionise academia and hospitals.

The next talk explored the concept of bitcoin and blockchain. The blockchain, the technology underpinning bitcoin, carries many expectations on how it will impact the financial industry. However, many barriers, such as the lack of national and international regulatory frameworks, along with the lack of technical skills, are slowing its integration in our society. Another barrier to bitcoin becoming mainstream is the vast amount of energy required to power the pools of computers used to mine bitcoins.

The day was wrapped up by two final talks on financial inclusion and on how to holistically look at the technological landscape and not pick a particular innovation as the only “winner”.

The ideas shown and the great panel of speakers effectively conveyed the significant opportunities that the fourth industrial revolution carries, impacting businesses, people and government.

Disruption can only happen if people and communities are buying into the benefits that technological advancement can bring

For this happen, a change in thinking is required, starting to ask why instead of the how.

If you want to know more about some of the technology trends disrupting our future, why not read what we have to say about the digital horizon and smart cities or contact me by email.

Is Blockchain in the MASH for Local Government?

In their latest insight briefing, SOCITM pose the question, Blockchain technology: could it transform digital-enabled councils?

They urge councils and wider public sector authorities to follow developments around blockchain Distributed Ledger technologies with a view to experimenting with their potential use in the development of future service transformation plans.

It is safe to say that blockchain is currently one of the hot technology topics trying to establish itself as a new way of handling trusted transactions. The rise and publicity surrounding BitCoin has driven this current hype and whilst the underlying technology of blockchain is very appropriate for financial-based systems, it is still unclear what viable (and practical) uses there will be across other sectors.

UK Government has issued a number of articles and papers regarding this topic, and they are actively investigating the potential of the technology to support a number of public-facing services. But the challenge is: ‘what is the use case that can exploit the capabilities of blockchain?’.

As an organisation, Sopra Steria sees the potential of this technology to provide immutable chain of evidence based systems and we are actively working on a number of potential use cases across a number of sectors.

The opportunities for Local Government need further investigation to consider how blockchain could be used to improve services, reduce costs, or help tackle fraud. As the SOCITM article suggests, these opportunities have yet to be clearly defined and articulated. Whilst G-Cloud 8 now shows services related to blockchain, there are only two of any real substance – one from a leading provider of blockchain Distributed Ledger Technologies, and the second a consultative service on what, and how, to use blockchain.  The others simply make reference to blockchain – so there is still a substantial way to go before there are pre-defined services available for Local Government.

Should Local Government be investigating the opportunities for blockchain/Distributed Ledger technology?  Absolutely!

There are a number of potential areas where the ability of providing chain of evidence based capabilities could be used, but the challenge for Local Government is to define the business and application processes needed to use blockchain. One of the areas in which we see major opportunities is the ability of coordinating MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs) by providing a means of identifying master records across different agencies. The ability of establishing a clear data level trust relationship is going to be critical to delivering successful MASH services.

Sopra Steria supports SOCITM’s call to identify the appropriate uses and applications of blockchain which will stand the test of time. As an integral part of their design process, councils should now be considering the advantages of using both blockchain, and other emerging technologies, when shaping future transformation programmes.

Take a look at our paper, “Blockchain: harnessing the power of distributed ledgers”, earlier posts on this topic on our blog or leave your thoughts on this subject below.

Reflections on London Technology Week 2016

 Last week our feet didn’t touch the ground. Throwing ourselves into the annual jamboree of London Technology Week, we were blown away by the vibrancy and energy of the experience. As a dynamic, innovation team, we’re always open to great insights from the cutting edge of tech. And yet, we made surprising discoveries, courtesy of the tech festival’s diverse contributors, on the four consecutive ‘Digital Breakfast Bites’ we hosted.

On Monday, for us it was all about the challenge of moving beyond the prototype. In a lively canter through Blockchain, we investigated the state of play for shared ledgers and how this seemingly unregulated and risky technology can not only work alongside a large enterprise, but be used to enhance their regulatory compliance and security.

On Tuesday, we learnt how great service design is shaping the banks of the future. Stepping out of the wilderness of fintech, we discussed how the foundations of great UX and customer centric design are shared across all industries, and how a fundamental grass-roots upheaval is required by the big players in the banking sector to keep up with innovative new challenger banks.

Wednesday saw us enter the store of the future, with a whistle-stop tour of the technologies and interfaces that are being used to engage with the customer. From virtual reality to motion sensing, we explored how all digital experiences are linked by the fundamental desire to gather and analyse data and to better understand our customers.

On Thursday we traversed the vast reaches of ‘Digital at Scale’, where large enterprises tackle the nexus of digital technology and legacy platforms. We saw how the two, apparently irreconcilable powers can have a symbiotic and not mutually exclusive relationship.

And that’s where we left it – with belief in the reconciliation of two opposable forces to achieve a transformational outcome. Quite apposite you’d think for a week marked by a referendum of tumultuous consequences. When the dust has settled we’ll still be reflecting on the great experiences we has as a London Technology Week host. Bring on 2017.

Did you participate in a London Technology Week 2016 event? Leave your comment below, or contact me by email.

Assisted evolution

Natural selection is Charles Darwin’s most celebrated theory.  It depends on the fact that in each generation there will be mutation. This mutation creates variation in a species affording some with an advantage to survive in a changing world.

Today we are seeing a new world emerging.  A world of rapid change, iteration and re-invention, even within a single lifespan.  This is the digital world.  As we observe the rise of the digital world we are also seeing the evolution of a new ‘breed’ of human, the Digital Human.  In place of favourable genetic mutations the Digital Human augments his or herself in a shroud of technology which is constantly mutating, iterating and updating, and bolting on modular upgrades as and when they see fit to suit their individual needs and desires.

The Digital Human feeds off data, and demands a highly personalised experience from the applications that they use and the services that they interact with.

The evolution of the Digital Human can be seen through the lens of the three technological topics in Aurora, our Horizon Scanning Programme: Intelligent Insight & Automation, Ubiquitous Interaction and Distributed Disruption.

Intelligent Insight & Automation explores the future of data beyond predictive analytics, through to prescriptive analytics and full robotics. Critically this technology is adaptive and able, like the most successful creatures in evolution, to respond to changes in its environment.  For the Digital Human analytics and automation platforms help them to understand the changing world around them and automate responses quickly to survive through, or take advantage of these changes.

The Digital Human feeds its desire for data through a ‘Device Mesh’, a shroud of devices and sensors connected to each other via the cloud.  These devices may manifest in many different forms from manual entry on a PC, to obvious collection on our smartphone and wearable devices to almost invisible gathering and transmission.  All of this data however is nothing without intelligent use of analytics to provide insight back to the user, automating changes, evolving with the world around them seamlessly.

The way that technology is able to play back its insights to us is critical to our digital evolution.  In order for us to interpret an all pervasive layer of information interactions must be subtle but clear.  Technologies like augmented reality offer a platform for information to be layered on top of the world around us, allowing us to draw on the crowd sourced knowledge of the internet to obtain a ‘perfect knowledge’ of any given subject without having the need to learn or memorise any details.  This trend is set to continue with the ‘interfaceless interface’ silently helping us about our daily lives. The ambient or embedded nature of these interactions enhances the sense that we are ‘evolving’ as digital humans.

The way that we interact with services is also shifting from centralised control to distributed mediums.  Services like Airbnb and Uber have been a great expression of this change, connecting consumers directly with individual suppliers of services, but even systems like this still depend on centralised validation for their financial transactions.  A technology taking this world by storm is the blockchain, the fundamental technology behind bitcoins distributed validation of transactions, which has the potential to change not only the way that we carry out payment, but how do we as individuals play a part in the collective validation process, forming a part of a crowd sourced consensus of validity and building up a quantified self, a digitised self through a history of transactions and validations?

It makes you wonder, is it our digitised self that is evolving
or is it us?

What do you think? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Learn more about Aurora, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team, and the topics that we are researching.

Blockchain – survival of the fittest

Recently, I took part in a discussion on blockchain broadcast by Digital Leader’s DLTV team. Guided superbly by the BBC’s Kate Russell, myself and three others (Maja Zehavi, Anish Mohammed and John Bertrand) wandered through the latest thinking and future possibilities of the world of distributed ledgers.

And it left me with something really quite striking.

Blockchain is complicated – we know that. It relies on a vocabulary that includes sophisticated cryptographic terminology and brain-aching concepts around decentralised consensus models. And yet, the principles are beguilingly simple. Aside from the complexity of the solution, the concept of everyone involved in a transaction having open, trusted access to a distributed ledger is something that a rapidly expanding community are eagerly pursuing.

And it’s the speed at which this community is collaborating that is so striking. We are at very early days in the development of this technology. (Never mind the applications, many of the core protocols are still being debated.) Despite its formative state, research and development around blockchain is distinctively collaborative, with start-ups, big business, regulators and academia all openly sharing knowledge about what works and what doesn’t.

In the programme, one of my co-speakers, Anish described this as being ‘Evolutionary’, in a Darwinian sense. Progress is being made through collaborative experimentation and a form of natural selection that enables progress to be made at speed through ‘generations’ of iteration.

It’s an approach that reflects our digital times. The value of knowledge is now ephemeral. It’s the application of knowledge that is key. The accessibility of digital technology – be it blockchain or otherwise – invites us to develop new use cases, test solutions and refine them. Openly. Collaboratively. And rapidly.

And in the end the fittest ideas survive. ‘Distributed Digital Darwinism’ in action courtesy of the blockchain.

Why not watch the episode on YouTube? and read our latest thought leadership paper “Blockchain: Harnessing the Power of Distributed Ledgers”.

Sopra Steria is proud to support Digital Leaders – helping to organise and host digital salons for Digital Leaders Scotland and Digital Leaders Northern Ireland. Learn more about Digital Leaders.

What are your thoughts about blockchain? Leave a replay below or contact me by email.

New kids on the blockchain

At Sopra Steria we often talk about a world ‘beyond digital’. This is so that we can help our clients to prepare themselves and their organisations for the challenges they are likely to face looking out three to five years into the future.

I shared some of the topics we have identified for a world beyond digital with an audience of digital and eCommerce professionals at a Thought Leaders of the North West event a couple of weeks ago. Our themes seemed to resonate with those in the room prompting plenty of discussion and debate.

One theme attracting a lot of interest was the ongoing challenge we face in the world of Information Security, where we see protection from attack being built into new products and services from the ground up rather than as an afterthought.

We also see an emerging era of unprecedented corporate responsiveness and agility as industry giants look to iterate their business models ‘on-the-fly’ in response to unforeseen threats and attacks in the way Sony Pictures did recently in immediately releasing ‘The Interview’ to digital channels and abandoning its plans for a full theatrical release.

Disintermediation is another concept having an immediate impact on the way we live, work and do business. Services such as Uber and AirB’n’B are already beginning to transform different aspects of the travel industry through their creative use of the crowd, the cloud and the semantic web.

In financial services we see the ‘blockchain’ threatening to disintermediate the traditional banking industry as Bitcoin continues to gain profile and transacting in such crypto-currencies nudges its way ever closer to the mainstream.

“whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”

It was in this field, at a second technology event I attended recently that I witnessed a tense debate between an established retail bank and an up-and-coming Bitcoin podcaster.

The bank, when talking about FinTech start-ups looking to establish themselves in the emerging global Bitcoin economy, outside of a traditionally regulated banking industry, suggested that “whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”, which is the kind of thing they used to say in the music industry in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, the power of the ‘blockchain’, the virtual ledger where the crowd validates transactions without the assistance of traditional banking infrastructure and regulation, may actually be found beyond Bitcoin trading, as new and emerging use cases emerge for this technology bring it further into many people’s lives.

One such service which could be leveraged by the blockchain may be that of personal data broking, where citizens take control of the value of their own personal data and begin to firmly negotiate with local and global organisations alike based on the value of their own data as derived from their own connections, online activity and their extended social graph.

Sopra Steria is working with some of the world’s most exciting start-ups in exploring these concepts, as these ‘new kids on the blockchain’ begin to collaborate with us and our clients as, together, we continue to play a vital role in the transformation of business for a world ‘beyond digital’.

We’d love to hear how you think ‘blockchain’ technology will transform our lives. Leave a reply below, contact me by email, tim.difford@soprasteria.com or on Twitter, @timdifford

Photo: used and modified under Creative Commons license thanks to BTCKeychain