Monday, October 27, 2008

So its here. Microsoft's foray into the world of cloud computing - the buzzword everyone is using to refer to the "next big thing". Launching Azure today, Microsoft is taking on Amazon and Google who have their own cloud offerings. Actually, Microsoft has had its cloud offering in the form of Windows Live for sometime now (but only after Google put the pressure on them and then Amazon).

To me, this represents the next wave of programming and runtime platforms -- not just from a Microsoft perspective. The advances in virtualisation, storage technologies and operating system technologies is making software-as-a-service more realistic. Azure appears to follow the long line of Microsoft programming platforms MS-DOS, COM and .NET; Azure will attract a new wave of programmers and extend the shelf-life of existing MS-programmers. This opens for a whole new wave of services and therefore service providers -- and then business opportunities. Judging from Microsoft's past record in programming platforms, the developers are going to be the target for all attention and objects for Microsoft's marketing dollars.

The non-Microsoft world of developers will have to rely on Open Source solutions and Google APIs, that may slow them down somewhat. In a way, Microsoft has reduced Java to a programming language - even though Java represented a platform (remember the Java vs. .NET wars?) and with the rise of popularity of alternative langauges like PHP and Ruby, it is a matter of time before Java turns "legacy" (almost like COBOL).

In a different annoucement earlier last week, Aetna and Microsoft announced the use of Microsoft's HealthVault services. A demonstration that Microsoft is also addressing the "vertical" space for services. This opens for some interesting business opportunities in the healthcare sector. Watch my blog on digital health and wellbeing for commentary.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

As I learn more about the current global financial crisis and watch the crisis unfold and expand, I cannot help thinking that the crisis is a stark reminder of our increasingly digital existence. The digital society is here and I sense we may have been able to avoid this crisis if we had some of the important bits like global governance in place.

Perhaps if consumers had been more proactive in demanding full traceability of their liability from their financial service providers, then the story could have been different. I believe a consumer-centered design of financial services could have made consumers think twice before taking on loans that they were unable to service.

With the uptake of telephony and commercial air travel our society has gradually gone global over the last 35 years or so. The advanced nature of digitisation of our business transactions has made it very easy to use services that are very complex on the inside but deceptively simple on the outside. Borrowing and lending have grown wildly and without any sense of "ownership", global governance nor traceability. The speed and lack of transparency have made this network of transactions impossible to manage -- at least from the perspective of avoiding negligence and fraud. This has happended despite the fact that the banking sector has a robust institute like the BIS that sets guidelines for monetary stability. However, BIS cannot enforce these guidelines -- that is left to the individual nations.

It is inconceivable that our physical society would have exploited the innovations of the industrial age without the standardisation brought on by national and international bodies like ISO. But, our digital society is still young but moving fast -- and I believe we have not yet even conceived the standards that are needed to enforce security, traceability and interoperability -- some of the key requirements for collaboration without friction. We are barely at the early stages of standards for technical interoperability, something that allows software to collaborate. We have not yet scratched the surface of semantic and organisational interoperability -- that what is needed for organisations to operate and govern in a consistent manner.

Commerce in the world is advancing, and with an increasing amount of value-creation coming from the service economy. Not just finance, but healthcare and education sectors. Interoperability is then a neccessary condition for good and effective governance, but this governance must be global -- not in the sense of a hierarchical "one global head" sense, but in a consensus-driven format -- not unlike the way the Internet is managed.

Can our political and business leaders work on creating this platform without stifling innovation and entrepreneurship? I believe the time is right for government and commercial players to collaborate in creating a platform for innovation for the service economy. And for consumer-citizens to be aware of their role in making this platform useful.

PS! In some earlier posts I refered to this platform as the "societal digital infrastructure"