Is there another digital divide in IT in the UK?

As someone who always devours the latest edition of Wired Magazine – and as an Apple fan – I was more than delighted to see Sir Jonathan Ives on the front cover of the July edition as No.1 in the “2012 Wired 100”, who the magazine describes as the UK’s digital power-brokers.

Now, it is notoriously difficult to categorise in groups the digiratti, since yesterday’s web entrepreneur is today’s venture capitalist and/or government IT adviser.

However, whilst stuck on a long train journey I did try and categorise all 100 of the Wired power-brokers, because something struck me forcibly when I flicked through the list, and I wanted to see if it was really true.

It is, as I said, wonderful to see Sir Jonathan at No.1 – and it is appropriate that he has been recognised with a “K”.  No more needs to be said on that.

So here is my categorisation of the 100:

  • 25 venture capitalists
  • 20 web entrepreneurs
  • 9 media/journalists
  • 7 conference and exhibition organisers
  • 6 IT company leaders
  • 6 in government IT
  • 5 in advertising
  • 4 in retail
  • 4 in games
  • 3 in politics
  • 3 in charity
  • 2 authors
  • 2 inventors
  • 1 consultant
  • 1 in telecomms
  • 1 private sector CIO
  • 1 singing artist (that’s Adele).

What struck me was how different this was from the lists that appear in the CIO Magazines that are aimed at the corporate sector, and this is reasonable enough.  Yes, I know Wired  aims to be uber cool and (ahem) perhaps we CIOs and IT Directors are less so…

So my point is that there is perhaps another ‘digital divide’ in the UK, and that is runs between the web entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on one hand and the corporate CIOs and the IT companies on the other.  The more I think about this, the more it rings true.  We inhabit very different worlds – corporate IT and the web investment world.

This is something of a shame, since – in my own field, for instance – John Lewis is now 25% online company, and retail and many other industries are being revolutionised by web technology.

But, more than a shame, I think this ‘divide’ could also have a serious impact on how IT is viewed as a career and how we train young people in IT skills.

Maybe we should be breaking down the barriers between these worlds?

How Technology will change the World in 2012

I make no claims for originality in these predictions. A characteristic of our connected social media world is that we take our ideas from everyone else – and these are no exception…

  • With “the integration of everything”, apps will work on smartphones, computers and TVs everywhere. You’ll access your email, social media and applications on any device anywhere.
  • The Cloud will turn computing into a utility (at last – after many years of predictions). This will open massive expandable computing power on demand.
  • The Cloud will be not just for businesses but individual consumers. Look at how Facebook – operating in the Cloud – is conquering the world. And Apple’s personal assistant app, Siri – Steve Jobs’ final initiative – will open an infinity of new apps which will learn what you want and, in time, even how you think….
  • Kindle and iPad were the big commercial volume successes of 2011, meaning that Amazon and Apple will be major platforms for – and could also become major publishers for – what we used to call books, films, magazines and newspapers.
  • The TV will be the revolutionary technology device of 2012, with intelligence provided by connectivity from pads and smartphones, no longer presenting just TV channels but everything that is out there on the net and becoming a key element of social media.
  • Social media will continue to grow and will continue to revolutionise  the way we shop, how people remove tyrants, spread our new ideas, connect with friends, family and fellow enthusiasts globally – in short, everything…

Steve Jobs Legacy

I wanted to say some more about Steve Jobs and, in particular, his legacy.

I work for a company in very different industry with a very different heritage.  John Lewis is co-owned Partnership, owned by all of us who work there.  We have Democracy from the shops all the way up to the Partnership Board.

The point of this is that the business of John Lewis of 2011 is still very much the creation of John Spedan Lewis who took his father’s shops and gave them to the people who work there in 1929.  I made a presentation a few days ago to the elected John Lewis Council, which started with Spedan Lewis’ remarkable Principle 1:

“The Partnership’s ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business.  Because the Partnership is owned in trust for its members, they share the responsibilities of ownership as well as its rewards – profit, knowledge and power.”

You can read more about this remarkable and revolutionary statement at the John Lewis Partnership web site.

The point of this is that John Spedan Lewis is still very much alive as the inspirational force for the Company, having made his farewell in 1955.

Steve Jobs’ Apple team is immensely strong.  It will be interesting to see how the genius of this remarkable man lives on over the decades – as Spedan Lewis’ has in John Lewis – in Apple the company he created and then re-created.

We can but hope so.

Steve Job’s Genius

I wish I could say something new and profound about Steve Jobs and Apple.

As I tweeted at the time, I have never felt so impacted by the death of a stranger.  And I was very far from being alone in that.  He shaped the way we live these days with iTunes, iPod, iPhone, iPad and  – watch folks! – iCloud.   Also, for those of us in technology and IT, he was and is a brilliant role-model – and he made IT cool again (like it was 10 years ago)!

But the whole point is, he was never just about technology.

My favourite Steve Jobs quote is about this.  At the end of his speech introducing the iPad2 in March this year, he said:

“Technology alone is not enough, it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Steve Jobs knew that elegance and simplicity of design mattered.  He knew that we live in a world where computers are no longer technology – they are fashion items as well as tools, carried everywhere by many, and they can do almost everything.  He knew that because he created that world.

Customer Interaction – the next frontier for Airline IT

The 11th SITA/Airline Business IT Summit held in June in Brussels was, I think, the best yet.

I had the hard task at the end of the Summit – after a string of fascinating and lively speeches and presentations – of summarising those contributions.  This is what I said then.

Our first speaker was Peter Hartman, CEO of KLM, who told us about his team of over 20 members who drive KLM’s social networking strategy.  They were responsible for the ground-breaking initiative at Schiphol where they delighted passengers waiting to Board with small presents, tailored to their destination and their interests (as inferred from their Facebook or other social presence).   As Peter said about social networking, “Do it, don’t talk!”

Peter predicted that in future people will choose the airline they fly on through the recommendations of their social media connections.  After all, most of us use Trip Adviser now to check out hotels in advance.

In response to questions, Peter returned to the basics of what CEOs expect from Airline CIOs – the technology needs to work reliably and to costs must keep going down!

Dr Munir Majid, Chairman of MAS, talked about the convergence of technology in a “flattening World”.  Dr Majid argued that innovation matters for survival – something he illustrated with Malaysian’s innovative use of Facebook for Group bookings.

Jan Albrecht, CEO of the Star Alliance, stressed the importance of doing more IT for less.  He saw it as essential that airline IT departments provided users with modern IT tools and technology that worked with app-like ease.   Fresh thinking was essential these days in the new social-networked world.  He mused on what Steve Jobs would do for airline technology.   He asked how we as an industry could catch up with our customers’ expectations.

Having had a challenging start from the CEOs on both social networking and getting the basics right, the audience of IT Directors and CIOs returned (after a nerve-steadying cup of coffee) to a technical session on Cloud Computing.

This was a double act from Vivek Badrinath and Francesco Violante, the CEOs of OBS and SITA.  They described what I believe is going to be a game-changer for the Air Transport Industry – the Industry’s own private Cloud.  OBS and SITA described how they would provide on-demand services from a network of six data-centres in five Continents to airlines and airports – consistently, securely and cost-effectively.  Francesco pointed to the possibility of savings from virtual CUTE and SSKs, and on-demand apps.

After lunch, we were privileged to hear two industry technology experts who attempted to shock the audience: Philip Wolf, CEO of PhoCusWright, looked at how mobility and connectivity were transforming today’s travel industry. Online booking was continuing to grow and there would be 2billion new travelers by 2030.  “What would the impact of a travel app from Google be?” he asked.  His challenge to the audience was to wake up to the impact of mobility and connectivity – these days, devices know where you are, who you like and what you want.

Then Nawal Taneja, Professor of Aviation at Ohio State University, warmed to this theme and urged airlines to provide genuinely personalized service.  What if Google or Apple could take over the retail distribution of airline services? Then, he warned, the airlines would become simply the ‘manufacturer’ of seats!

Chris Klingenberg, CIO of Lufthansa (and fellow SITA Board member), provided what he termed an antidote to all this very technology-based agenda.  He said airlines would not be so foolish as to give away their “crown jewels” in the form of the link to their customers.  They would remain masters of their own destiny.   He also advanced the refreshing notion that you should be proud of higher IT spend than your competitors since this showed you were innovating ahead of them.   He advocated bringing IT out of the “Techie Corner” and getting the Boardroom to understand how important it was.  Great points, I thought!

We then finished with two excellent contributions, the first from Antoine Rostworowski, of Aeroports de Montreal, who stressed the importance of integrating airports into the new visions for airline passengers.  Then Qiang Li, MD of Information Management at Air China, talked about the challenges of massive growth that they face.  He came up with a tremendous list of the IT initiatives he is leading, which would form a great ‘to do’ list for any airline CIO:

  • Cloud Computing
  • Mobile
  • Social Networking
  • Passenger Service Systems
  • Customer Relationship Management, and
  • In-flight Connectivity.

So then I had to try to summarise what all this adds up to!  I think the most important fact is that there was total agreement between CEOs and CIOs, analysts and suppliers, airlines and airports, that IT really matters in the modern world.

We have heard that before and it is really important.  But there is another new factor: we in IT are now central to the airlines’ and airports’ relationship with customers through game-changing technology – mobility is now ubiquitous and social networking adds a completely new dimension to customer relationships.

So, IT matters – and that’s now widely recognised.

And IT is central to airlines in operations, in selling, in servicing and, now, in customer interaction.

Is there anything new to say on the iPad2?

Almost certainly not, given its amazing success.  It’s certainly still flying out of our John Lewis electrical sections.

I have had mine for a 3 weeks now and was reflecting this morning on why I just like it so much.

My conclusion was that my enthusiasm is not entirely logical, since what my iPad2 does is not that much different from my iPad1.  I have largely the same Apps, and use it in much the same way and same places.  Sure, I have used the camera a bit, and the screen resolution is fantastic.   The main difference is that I have changed the background!

So why do I love it?  Well, it’s the overall experience of using something so brilliantly designed.  The cover is pure genius, with the magnetic screen springing the machine into life as soon as you open it and acting as the holder. The amazing thinness of the body and the form and colour.  The way you can use it to do your emails standing up on the way to work on South West Trains (UGH), make notes at meetings, Facetime with the family, tweet, blog – and provide the background music to a picnic on the Norfolk Broads.  All at the tap of a few fingers.  And this has hardly scratched the surface.

I know we take all this for granted now, but just stand back and think about how IT has changed – and is changing – the way we interact with each other in significant and rather enjoyable ways.

Nothing new so far, I grant.   Lots of people gush like me about the iPad – and, as they say, other tablets and phones are available, which also provide comparable, amazingly easy-to-use services.

But what happens when we apply this wonderful world of convenient computing and social networking to corporate IT?

I am a CIO/IT Director by profession. The computing experience of almost all of us at work is, these days, very different from our experience at home and with our own smart phones.

There is absolutely no criticism here of the people who run in-house corporate IT, since this is all about cost and relative priority.  The cost of basic desktops, laptops, emails, software licences, networks (and security that has to go alongside) runs into several millions in all corporates.  If there is an investment choice between customer facing IT or in-house, there is of course no contest!

So we work very hard to give our customers on johnlewis.com a great shopping experience and to integrate our online world into our multi-channel branches.

As the old Hollywood saying goes, “put all the money on the screen”.   There are obvious and very good reasons for this – customer service, competition, ROIC, security, business priorities and so forth.  And yet…..

Perhaps the biggest challenge for us in the IT Service profession (that’s CIOs and suppliers) these days is to work out how we can make it as easy (and, dare I say, as cool and fun) to use our internal systems and corporate hardware; as it is to use our external systems using one’s personal smart-phones, iPads and so on.  And of course to do this in an affordable way.

So I would be really interested in your thoughts here.  Perhaps is self-provide the answer?  Is it the famous Cloud?  Can we really make business cases that will fly?

Starting a Blog

It’s quite scary being faced with a large white space and wondering (a) what on earth to say and (b) whether anyone is going to read it. Somewhat reassuringly I read that 346,000,000 people read blogs so maybe  there is some hope!

So what’s this Blog going to be about?   Well this is going to be about being a CIO in 2010, which is one of the most interesting and enjoyable jobs on the face of the planet.   Why do I say this?   Well technology and telecommunications are changing the way we all work and perhaps much more interestingly the way we all communicate  with each other, the way we buy things and the way we interact at work and at play.   My job is to be part of all of this.

This Blog will therefore be about what’s happening in technology, and how it affects business, society and me.  I will try and post once a week, at the weekend.   This will be hard to keep up and even harder to keep interesting.

This week the news is of course the launch of the iPad, to decidedly mixed reception, but so too had the iPhone.   I am sure there are already millions of blogs about the iPad but there should be it’s the future of books and newspapers – maybe?

Now I freely confess I just want one.   This is because I have loved the iPod, the iPhone which moved me onto this MacBook for personal use.   So why wouldn’t I love the iPad even if it does not have Flash and iBooks isn’t available yet in the UK and so forth.

I want it because Apple is what technology should be about – well designed, easy to use, fun and desirable.

I want it because Steve Jobs said that “Apple stands at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.”   This is what IT should be about: not about the technology but what the technology can do.  I loved the iPod because it gave me music in the way I wanted it.  I love the iPhone because it gives me apps I never knew I needed and is great for photos when I am traveling and I love the Mac because it sorts these photos out intuitively and lets me put music to accompany my albums.  They are all beautiful objects beautifully made that make your life easier and more fun.

As I CIO, if only our apps and interfaces enabled our businesses this well.   That’s what our colleagues want!

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