Sunday, October 21, 2007

My recent posts have talked about technology and solutions and less about the Digital Society. Partly due to myopia (its an occupational hazard of working with solution planning) but also deliberately, to show examples of what can form building blocks for the foundation of a digital society. However, today I am suddenly made aware of a live example that can serve as a use case for the Societal Digital Infrastructure (see my other blogposts with this tag).

The TVaksjon is an annual national fund raising event hosted by NRK - the Norwegian state television. An event that, for one day, brings people together to support an organisation that works towards a focused cause. The organisation and cause are carefully chosen to balance multiple perspectives. This year the funds go to UNICEF Norge and the topic is Together for children aimed at helping children face the challenges of HIV and AIDS. This event is a national dugnad has many interesting elements like the use of auctioning technology, use of crowdsourcing techniques to mobilize volunteers nationwide or the use of web technology that helps businesses to leverage their social involvement and profile their products.

For such an initiative to work at this depth of credibility and involvement requires a hidden foundation. A foundation built on a combination of societal practices, social behaviours, laws and governance and enforced and enabled by technology. It is a combination of these that form the foundation of a digital society -- Societal Digital Infrastructure.

It is very likely that similar campaigns exist in other countries or in different communities like this scheme DonorsChoose. Please drop me a note/comment if you have other examples.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In what I would characterise a landmark event for communications, Microsoft and Norwegian telco Telenor teamed to launch the VoIP platform in Oslo today (Norwegian). Demonstrating the merger of software-powered telephony with device/network powered telephony I sensed a major shift -- blurring the lines between traditional communication and collaboration --but also witnessing another example of the consumerisation of IT (i.e. introducing products from the consumer market, into the enterprise).

The two case-study presentations were also impressive; but then Microsoft are very good at recruiting early adopters to demonstrate production-grade implementations. The case studies were from Norway's largest company StatoilHydro (collaboration between land and sea/rig) and one of Northern Europe's most advanced hospitals St. Olav in Trondheim (the VoIP platform as the foundation for communication).

Again, Microsoft showed their willingness to develop hardware, even though it may only be to demonstrate the power of the software platform. The Roundtable device is a simple device with a USB-connected 360-degree camera with voice-detection allowing for automatically zooming to the speaker. The quality of the picture could have been better but anyway, it brings an audio/video dimension to VoIP in the enterprise. And in these climate-conscious days, it could help reduce travel.

Microsoft's VoIP platform (or Unified Communications as it is called) seems poised to be the "web operating system" for developing large scale mobile applications with deep integration of communication and presence. Judging by the partners present and those announced, it looks like a new wave of solutions from ISVs. The video-conferencing sector (like Tandberg) will get a boost from this launch even though I think it is difficult to say if the impact will be positve (i.e. people develop a sense for video conferencing and look for better solutions) or negative (i.e. put off buying expensive video-conferencing equipment).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Following the announcement of this years Nobel Peace Prize; Renny had an interesting post here - Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore or Vint Cerf? I like the line of thinking and would like to extend this nomination for 2008 to also include Robert Kahn (Cerf's co-inventor) and 3 others:

(1) Sir Tim Berners-Lee -- for taking the TCP/IP and layering a powerful "human interface" on it with the sole purpose of sharing information and driving the rapid evolution we experience. But what I think is even more noble (no pun intendend) is his choice to make his invention open and free -- notable if one considers the potential for commercial gain through intellectual property rights. I think CERN his employer at the time, also deserves credit.

(2) Linus Torvalds for almost single-handedly making Open Source a model, not just for software technology innovation, but for inspiring and driving societal innovation and grass-roots development.

(3) Dr Nicholas Negroponte for his $100 computer initiative -- also known as the One Laptop Per Child project. The success of such an initiative is crucial for bridging the digital divide and helping education become a fundamental human right. The Give 1 Get 1 move could open the floodgates.

What appeals is the vision, selflessness and humanness of these individuals in creating an infrastructure needed for a grass-roots knowledge ecosystem that the world needs. These individuals also represent courage and strength in taking on the commercial giants on their own turf -- and driving change. Like Dr Negroponte convincing Intel to collaborate on the OLPC.

As an aside:
The much publicized "During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet." statement from Al Gore during the presidential election drew much fire from the media. I believe the media put a different twist causing misunderstanding and ridicule that "Al Gore claimed he invented the Internet". However, as Internet pioneers Vint Cerf & Bob Kahn set the record straight in this little known article, Al Gore does deserve some credit for making the Internet a global success.

I look forward to hearing Cerf at this years Norwegian Computer Society's annual awards event.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Every now and then it is good to be prodded into blogging. So last week's post by Eirik was indeed welcome! Thanks Eirik! And the encouragement seemed well timed; just as Microsoft had announced their HealthVault initiative. Evidently beating Google to this service (see Google Health)

Enabling consumer-citizens to manage their own healthcare records, the next wave of digital-device invasion of the home is quite clear - healthcare devices! So while MP3 players/iPods, DVDs, and gaming devices have taken their chunk of wallet, the next wave could see a whole range of heart-rate, insulin, blood-pressure monitors and everything the bio-medical electronic firms can conjure up. After all, health is serious business.

To me, this service as another implementation of the Societal Digital Infrastructure (see other blogposts with this tag) -- a service that opens for disruptive changes in the way people and authorities receive and disburse health-care. We in Norway -- and other comparable welfare states -- have health-care served by Government, financed by taxes. While this centralised model works well in a small population -- to get an idea of the depth of integration in Norway see the Electronic prescription intiative -- I am not so convinced it can scale up to work in a diverse and not-so-well-integrated environment like say US or India.

So, will HealthVault offer a means to implement a healthcare service in these environments similar to that of say Norway, with much simpler "integration"? Conversely, will HealthVault challenge the centralised models like that in Norway, by opening up for other options? Microsoft has launched this HealthVault together with some service providers and device manufacturers, in what can be termed as a ecosystem. And Google will soon follow.

I suspect there is sufficient consumer/citizen interest in this domain to make this happen and drive for standardisation of data exchange and device functionality. Then, I hope health-care providers can interoperate in much the same way as telecom providers or banks are forced to interconnect with their competitors to provide a service to their consumers. Ultimately, consumers must benefit from this.

It will be interesting to watch how health-care providers will respond to this service-commodization? And the insurance industry? We all know how reluctant mobile operators were, when number portability was mandated by law. And with bank-number portability in Norway on the drawing-board there is precedent for some interesting times.

As a (software) planning architect I am seeing more examples that convince me that the "S" in SOA should be "Society" :-)