Home Global-ICTGlobal-ICT 2013 Innovation in the digital age

Innovation in the digital age

by david.nunes
Clive SelleyIssue:Global 2013
Article no.:5
Topic:Innovation in the digital age
Author:Clive Selley
Title:CEO, BT Innovate & Design
Organisation:BT (British Telecom)
PDF size:230KB

About author

Clive Selley is CEO of BT Technology Service & Operations (BT TSO) and CIO for BT Group plc. Mr Selley was previously CEO of BT Innovate & Design and President, BT Global Services Portfolio & Service Design.

Clive Selley has a B.Eng Electronic Engineering and an M.A. International Business Management.

Article abstract

The world is experiencing a period of immense technological change in the realm of communications. Access to connectivity and the Internet is now an essential part of everyday life. But connectivity alone is not the main innovation: the real story is the big data explosion. The data we generate from connecting the things around us and then using that information to create a better future will be the next big innovation in our society.

Full Article

As the world’s oldest telecommunications company BT can trace its roots back to 1846 and The Electric Telegraph Company. This was the first business to build a nationwide communications network and only ten years later it had gone international. Communications that previously took weeks were now possible in minutes.

A few years later in 1879, another communications invention was big news, the telephone. This time though some were less than enthusiastic. Sir William H Preece, Post Office Engineer-in-Chief wrote “I fancy the descriptions we get of its use in America are a little exaggerated; but there are conditions in America that necessitate the use of instruments of this kind more than here. Here we have a super-abundance of messengers, errand boys and other things of that kind.”

That same year the first telephone exchange was opened in London. 134 years later and the world is embarking on another period of immense technological change in the world of communications. Access to connectivity and the Internet has gone from being something that few people knew about; to being an essential part of everyday life. Pick any statistic and you see just how much connectivity dominates our lives. Today it is estimated 34 per cent of the world’s population is connected to the Internet. It will reach 50 per cent in two years and 70 per cent in five years.

But connectivity alone is not where the innovation story for the next twenty years is. The real story is in the data explosion. It’s the data created as connectivity moves from being a feature of ‘people’ to being a feature of everyday ‘things’. When all cars, all domestic appliances, all buildings, all pets are connected. There is a lively debate about the number of connected things there will be in five years’ time. In a world of seven billion people, some are suggesting numbers like 50 to 100 billion connected devices by 2020.

Big data explosion

The volume of data that’s produced from all these connected devices is already staggering. Early studies by the University of California, Berkeley suggested that by the end of 1999 the sum of human produced information was about 12 exabyte’s or, or 12,000,000,000 gigabytes, the equivalent of 480 million Blu-ray discs. In 2006 the International Data Corporation estimated that 17.3 exabytes of digital information was created, and in 2013 Internet data alone will reach 1,000 exabytes.

Imagine what that will be when there are 50 billion connected devices and what does this mean for business, technologists and society as a whole?

There are many that believe the big data explosion is going to bring profound benefits to our everyday lives. Being able to monitor and control every device in the home means we can be much more efficient and consume less of the planets resources.

No matter where you look there are exciting possibilities for how the instrumentation of our society can benefit everyone. Having devices on every road and vehicle monitoring traffic flow might mean we are never again late to pick the kids up, or late for that meeting. Our phones can monitor the health of our hearts and the effectiveness of our medication; sending us to the doctor before we even feel ill and possibly saving our lives at the same time.

However for businesses we don’t have to wait for futuristic visions to be realized, the big data explosion is already here. We can store and process this data effectively and cheaply, but analysing and making decisions from ever increasing data volumes – and of course exploiting ever richer data to derive value and ‘insight’ for our companies – that is altogether more challenging.

Extensive network surveillance and fault correlation systems in networks indicate what is broken and where. By analysing the vast, near real-time data publicly out there on the popular social networking sites, the scale of the customer impact and the effectiveness of a fix or a mitigation action can now be assessed. By ‘mining’ data across multiple networks and systems faults can be diagnosed and localised faster; in some instances a fault can even be predicted before it ever affects a customer.

Many companies can gain value from using the data already available, provided that specialist data scientists can be found to focus on the problem, and provided that they can spend the time to get under the skin of the business issues to address it directly. However, for big data to really pay off we need tools and processes that allow business people to get at the meaning in these archives. We predict this will be a two way process; better tools and methodologies are emerging – enabling every day folk to move beyond Excel and into advanced analytics; but data and data analysis is increasingly becoming the language of business and to be successful in the enterprise of the future business people are going to have to learn to speak it.

Security has become critical

But there is another even greater challenge. If data is becoming more valuable, then the security of that data, and the management of its use in the enterprise, has become critical.

There are many legitimate uses of the data we give to companies that enhance our experience of the goods and services we buy. But at every level of a company it is critical that the power these data give us is used ethically, and that the privacy of customers is respected while delivering what they want, when they want it. Companies that fail to behave properly are likely to suffer severe penalties – not only from the law, but also because customers will not tolerate privacy abuses for long if they have any option at all.

Companies also store data on their own products and services. Some of this is extremely valuable – it is IPR, it is what encapsulates value for the company. Whether it is customer confidential data, or company confidential data protecting it is becoming more difficult and the environment is becoming increasingly hostile out there.

Cloud, convergence, consolidation and mobility are trends that whilst empowering customers and businesses, are also making the job of securing data more complex. Hacking is no longer a hobby, it is no longer about competing for bragging rights rather it is becoming employment; a hacker can afford many months of time to steal high value assets … and a hacker attack from a distance can be hard to pursue legally.

The rate of attacks is also rising. According to a US government report, cyber-attacks and intrusions into critical energy infrastructures increased at an alarming rate in 2012 – up by 52 per cent over 2011. But most worrying is that many businesses often don’t know they have been attacked.

If we are to harness the real power of data then we as technologists, business and individuals must address the security and privacy of the data we create and store. Too often we hear of companies storing data without their user’s knowledge, or devices capturing information that can be used by malicious hackers. On the other hand, do we as individuals really pay close attention to what data we create and where we store it? Probably not as much as we should.

The data we generate from connecting the things around us and then using that information to create a better future will be the next big innovation in our society. To make it successful, business and individuals must come together to balance the need to understand and use data whilst at the same time protecting it from those that want to cause damage.

A Tommy Flowers memorial, marking the 70th anniversary of the creation of the first electronic computer, will be unveiled at BT’s Global Research and Development Centre on 12th December 2013.

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