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Posts from the ‘Things I Want to See’ Category


The Internet of Things: Interconnectedness is the key

I was at an Internet of Things event a couple of weeks ago and listening to the examples it was clear there is too much focus on connecting devices, and not enough focus on interconnecting devices.

Connecting devices implies building devices that are designed specifically to work within a closed ecosystem, to report back to some central hub that manages the relationship with the purpose-built device. Interconnected devices are designed in such a way that they can learn to collaborate with devices they were never designed to work with and react to events of interest to them.

So what will this look like? For one possible scenario, let’s start with the ubiquitous “smart fridge” example and expand this to look at the way we buy our food. There has been talk for years about how fridges will be telling us about the contents, how old they are, whether anything in them has been reserved for a special meal, what is on the shopping list etc. Even to the idea of placing automatic orders with the food suppliers, but what if we want to still be involved in the physical purchasing process, how will the Internet of Things, with interconnected devices work in that scenario? Here’s a chain of steps involved:

  1. Assuming our fridge is the central point for our shopping list, and we want to physically do the shopping ourselves, we can tap the fridge with our phones and the shopping list will be transferred to the phone.
  2. The fridge or our phone can tell us how busy the nearby supermarkets currently are, and based on regular shopping patterns, how many people will likely be there at certain times in the immediate future. Sensors in the checkout will let us know what the average time is for people to be cleared. Any specials that we regularly buy will be listed for us to help make the decision about which store to visit.
  3. We go to the supermarket and the first thing that happens is the supermarket re-orders our shopping list in accordance with the layout of the store.
  4. The phone notifies our family members that we are at the supermarket and lets them know we are there so they can modify our shopping list.
  5. We get a shopping trolley, which immediately introduces itself to our phone. It checks with our preferences in the phone as to whether we want its assistance, whether it is allowed to record our shopping experience for our use, or to assist the store with store planning
  6. As we walk around the store, the phone or the trolley alerts us to the fact that we are near one of the items on our shopping list.
  7. If we have allowed it, the trolley can make recommendations based on our shopping list of related products, compatible recipes, with current costs, and offer to place the additional products into the shopping list on the phone and even into our shopping list template stored in the fridge if we want.
  8. As we make our way to the checkout, the trolley checks its contents against what is on our shopping list and alerts us to anything missing. Clever incentives might also be offered at this time based on the current purchase.
  9. As soon as the trolley is told by the cash register that the goods have been paid for, it will clear its memory, first uploading any pertinent information you have allowed.
  10. Independent of the shopping experience and the identifiability of the shopper and their habits, the store will be able to store the movements of the trolley through the store, and identify how fast, any stopping points to identify interest and analyse for product placement.
  11. Once we get home, we stock the cupboard and the fridge, both of which update our shopping list.
  12. As soon as we put the empty wrapper in the trash, the trash can will read the wrapper and add the item to a provisional entry in the shopping list, unless we have explicitly pre-authorised that product for future purchase.

Another example would be linking an airline live schedule to your alarm clock and taxi booking, to give you extra sleep in the morning if the flight is delayed. Or having your car notify the home that it looks like it is heading home and to have the air conditioner check whether it should turn on.

While we focus only on pre-ordaining the way devices should work during their design, we limit their ability to improve our lives. By building devices that are capable of being  interconnected with other devices in ways that can be exploited at run time we open up a world of possibilities we haven’t begun to imagine.


Techs and Non-Techs: Society’s Left Brain and Right Brain

Our progress as an ever advancing civilization is being held back by the way we approach the education of information technology. We have created a false dichotomy: we have those who come out of the education system understanding technology but not the way the real world works, and we have those who learn some aspect of the business world, but have no idea how technology is applied to their domain. It seems the more powerful the software developer, the less grounded they are in the real world, and the same is probably true for those who are strong in some vertical business functional area.

Over time, this one-sidedness is mitigated by experience and exposure, but it is not the same as having the fundamental understanding of what goes on over the fence. It is like having two separate brain hemispheres – one that is focused on how stuff can be built, and another that is focused on what needs to happen. The left brain (the software developers) know how to mix ingredients and build something, but it takes the right-brain to see how things need to be used.

The trouble is, without some means of conveying their expertise, a lot is lost in translation. Nontechs are unaware of what is possible, or have no idea whether something is technically risky or feasible. Technologists know lots of cool tech stuff but have no idea how some gem can be applied to the real world.

Technology is so pervasive, so fundamental to the way we now live that we need to rethink our education strategy or miss out on generations of possibilities. If you think we are doing just fine, why has it taken us 30+ years to apply social media principles to our computing, with publisher-subscriber models only beginning to permeate into our IT systems in natural human-facing ways? These new modes of operation are natural, what we have been doing previously is not natural, hence our historic fear of IT, our frustration with information overload, our expensive overruns and ridiculously high rates of project failures.

I was talking to some software department heads at one of Australia’s leading universities recently and I asked them when they thought we should begin teaching HTML and CSS to our students. Their response: grade two – that’s seven year olds. With this kind of fundamental understanding of the building blocks in web pages, these students will be much better prepared to build an understanding of what is possible.

On the same topic, why are we not teaching secondary students the fundamentals of object-oriented programming? I was rather shocked to learn that in the State of Victoria, Australia, there are only 14 secondary teachers who are qualified computer scientists.

Society will benefit greatly when the two hemispheres are able to communicate more effectively. Current workarounds like product managers and business analysts are a necessary glue, but how much more effective will be if there is a more fundamental understanding of what is going on in the other half of the brain. Imagine constructing buildings where the builder and architect have only a vague understanding of what the building’s purpose might be, or a prospective customer has no sense of the cost of adding a room after the walls have gone up.

I believe we need to start teaching the fundamentals of IT as part of our primary and secondary education, and carry that through to the all the university vertical domains so that computer technology is an intrinsic part of the education of every discipline. Likewise, we need to be introducing Applied Computer Science courses into the CompSci and InfoSys courses on offer so that graduates learn things like the application of Big Data, Publisher Subscriber models, marketing automation, the cost of downtime, basic risk etc, and are able to apply them to real world problems.

We need to be able to cultivate a society where both sides can make meaningful contributions to the other’s discipline by seeing through the other’s perspectives. Only then will be begin to recognise our full potential.



Things I Want to See – 2. Salesforce Page Layouts with Multiple Related Lists per Object

One of the beautiful things about Salesforce is the ability to create or modify an object’s structure with defined relationships, permissions, application contexts, business rules and page layouts.

Think about it for a second: how many frameworks do you know of that enable you to modify the data schema and automatically set:

  • Relationships between objects;
  • Indexes;
  • Cardinality rules, (definitions of how objects relate to each other in terms of how many of one can be related to how many of another);
  • Business rules, (what fields are mandatory, what fields are dependent, default values, what fields are read only or even visible for certain users, which fields must be unique);
  • Referential Integrity rules (which records will be deleted when a parent is deleted);
  • A User Interface, even one that can be different for each user profile;
  • Application context (which objects belong together to form a sub application;
  • Access to reports; and
  • A Notification engine that can share changes with subscribers or record owners, or handle task assignments.

And all with a point and click interface – no programming required (unless you want to), and all with defaults to allow you get the job done quickly. Very quickly. Read more »


Things I Want to See – 1. True Cloud-based Email

This article is the first in a series of articles looking at changes/improvements I would like to see happen. You will find them categorised under the category “Things I Want to See”, and also filed under specific vendors where appropriate.

An increasing number of people are coming to understand intuitively the difference between traditional peer-to-peer document sharing modes where multiple instances of documents exist, at least once on each client machine. You know the drill, you attach a document to an email, the recipient opens the attachment, edits it, saves it and then attaches the saved new version to a new email and sends it back. Before long, there are multiple copies of the document and it can be difficult to know how the document evolved. In the case of several people, it can even be difficult to know which version of the document is the current one. There may not even be one single latest version, as two people may edit two different earlier versions at once. Stitching these all back into a master document is not easy.

A lot of tools have been developed to simplify the potentially incredibly complex task of managing all these document versions. But the cloud provides a simpler way, by fundamentally only having one document location. So instead of linking people to people, you link people to documents and the problem elegantly goes away:

Diagram 1 – Handling shared documents
Traditional Document Sharing Cloud-based Document Sharing

Read more »


Hello World!

Hello World!

I am Alan Perkins, CIO at Altium Limited, a company that lives and breathes the philosophy that innovation is the key to a better world. Our company reflects it, our people reflect it and our products reflect it.

For the past four years we have been moving our entire business into the cloud and I am often asked to speak about our achievements and experiences. IDC recognised this last year by awarding Altium with an Enterprise Innovation award and naming me one of the top ten finalists for Asia Pacific CIO of the Year.

I intend to share my thoughts about various aspects of the cloud here. I welcome comments, and am keen to see others learn from my experiences, both the good and the not so good.

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