Sunday, January 14, 2007

Oh yes, Microsoft and Apple both managed to take center stage last week. Clearly the Digital Home appears to be heading in the direction of "commodity service".

However, it is Prof. Lessig, in his column for Wired Magazine, who has triggered this blogpost. He makes some interesting points in relation to the development of "basic infrastructure" for the Digital Society (my term, not his). He draws on his experiences from the Microsoft vs. Dept of Justice case. The learnings from such a landmark case should be used to drive policy-makers and solution designers in deciding on matters of such vital importance.

Prof. Lessig mentions municipalities and network-neutrality -- important aspects in the discussion of basic infrastructure for the Digital Society. I take the consumer-citizen perspective to discuss the scenarios needed to drive the  societal digital infrastructure (SDI) and solutions. SDI is at a higher-level of abstraction than basic infrastructure and is absolutely dependent on a stable basic infrastructure. I hope that a "citizen-driven design" approach can force "infrastructure providers" to agree on standards and terms for competition.
(Aside: At a very early stage, the Norwegian banking industry agreed on what portions of the banking value network were deemed "infrastructure" and what were open for competition; this formed the basis for creation of very advanced banking services. Latterly, the railways were split into an organisation for maintaining the tracks; and opening for companies operating train services. Surprisingly, this has not happened as transparently for the Telecom & broadband industry. Which makes Prof. Lessig's article interesting)

Reading Prof. Lessig's comments on the Linux / Microsoft discussion; I recalled my own observations when the anti-trust lawsuit was at it's hottest. Microsoft was, and still is, very clever in managing its status as the company "people love to hate"; Microsoft have driven the platform development and the solution development tracks simultaneously. Most businesses that are part of their partner ecosystem accept the "carrot" (basic infrastructure) while understanding the "stick" (Microsoft's ability to enters markets that they believe are neccessary to build out the platform). This Darwinistic approach to platform-building has served users well, it has definitely helped Microsoft ... and I suppose partners also have benefitted.

So, is there anything municipalities can learn from Microsoft's strategies? They can learn from another Microsoft'ism -- being user-centric, focusing on making things as simple as possible (but not simpler -- to quote Albert Einstein).

I hope the Trådløse Trondheim (Wireless Trondheim) project can constructively drive the basic infrastructure discussion for the Digital Society. We need to move past the discussions of operating systems and network protocols; we must solve technical interoperability if we are to solve the challenges of semantic interoperability.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Consumer Electronics Show starts in a few hours in Las Vegas. Bill Gates is scheduled to deliver the keynote (as he has done the last 8-9 years). I have been following the show over the last 4 years (from a distance, have not yet had a chance to visit). The focus has been almost only entertainment related topics and more recently on mobile and wireless topics. While most agree that consumer technology is much more than just entertainment, it is entertainment that drives the volumes and the development of technologies. This year, I noticed that (probably for the first time) CES has a topic on healthcare. I’m referring to “The Future of Consumer Electronics: Convergence with Home Health”.

What triggered this post was a poster I saw while watching the Christmas season special of Extreme Makeovers : Home Edition. The focus of this episode was rebuilding a free clinic in Los Angeles, USA. The poster at the clinic said "Health care is not a privilege it is a basic right". Living in Norway, I tend to take basic healthcare services for granted (they are a basic right mandated by law). Well, this is not a “social work” post; it is about an integration solution creating a win-win-win-wn-win proposition for players in different industries – broadcast, audio, video and display devices, software, broadband --- and ofcourse government, insurance and home security. The benefits are easy to comprehend but some very relevant questions need to be addressed. Questions like
• Who initiates and drives such a project?
• What type of governance structure does such a project need?
• How is a business case formed? Or metrics does one need to measure value?
The technology is probably the least challenging part; but add to the list of questions “patents” and “intellectual property” issues and a nightmare project emerges. So, is this a government or commercial? I’d say a joint-venture?

Hopefully, we have learned from creating railway tracks with different gauges, and can secure digital railway standardization quickly. Or can we? This infrastructure will drive value creation in the Digital Society – with new intermediaries, standards and protocols for digital services. I called this infrastructure “Societal Digital Infrastructure” and am hoping the entertainment industry can play an active role in accelerating the development of this infrastructure. Perhaps we, in the Nordics can leverage our investments in societal infrastructure to exploit hardware and software technologies to create such an infrastructure. Why not use the Nordics as a test-bed for advanced societal services? After all, we showed the way with mobile technologies….

Health care services/solutions was the theme for last year's "Imagine Cup" (Microsoft's student programming challenge competition). I saw some interesting solutions from the Nordics. So, I’m curious as to what Bill Gates would say in his opening keynote starting in a couple of hours… Could he trigger something ambitious enough to match Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child education project?