🗂 Link: Experimenting with the UK’s first till-free grocery store

Take-up was as we had expected – at peak times better than we’d expected – and it’s clear that not all our customers are ready for a totally till-free store. Some customers preferred to pay with cash and card, which sometimes meant they were queuing to use the helpdesk, particularly at peak times of day. This is why we’ve added a manned till and two self-checkouts back into the store so those looking to pay by cash and card can do so quickly and conveniently. We want to be the most inclusive retailer where people love to work and shop, so it’s really important to us that our customers can pay how they want to…. We’ll take the learnings from this experiment to develop our technology even further to help make shopping easier and more convenient for all our customers.

Source: Experimenting with the UK’s first till-free grocery store

🗂 Link: Digital banks on track to treble customers in next year but profits remain elusive

.As they mature, digital startups are now turning their attention from customer acquisition to becoming profitable. With no branch networks and legacy IT systems, digital challengers have a substantially lower cost-to-serve than incumbents of £20-£50 per account compared to £170. Meanwhile, deposit balances for challengers have increased from £70 to £350 per customer. However, this is still dwarfed by the £9000 average for incumbents.However, the majority of new entrants are still not profitable, with the average digital bank losing £9 per customer

Source: Digital banks on track to treble customers in next year but profits remain elusive

How Sainsbury’s uses AWS

On Sainsbury’s move and use of AWS, serverless, and DevOps:

“Our relationship with AWS really kicked off at the point we decided to take our groceries online business and rebuild it in the cloud. This was effectively taking a WebSphere e-commerce monolith with an Oracle RAC database, and moving it, and modularising it, and putting it into AWS,” Sainsbury’s CIO Phil Jordan told the audience.

“That movement of RAC to RDS and that big database migration was all done using AWS services, and now we have a fully fledged cloud-native-ish service that runs groceries online across all of our business. Today, we run about 80 per cent of our groceries online with EC2, and 20 per cent is serverless.”

In total, the company migrated more than 7TB of data into the cloud. As a result, or so Jordan claimed, the mart spends 30 per cent less on infrastructure, and regularly sees a 70-80 per cent improvement in performance of interactions on the website and batch processing. So far, there’s been no “major” outages, said the CIO, without defining “major”.

Moving to the cloud has also helped Sainsbury’s into the warm infinity-looped embrace of DevOps. The company has moved from five to six releases per year to multiple releases per day, said the CIO.

Source: Holy high street, Sainsbury’s! Have you forgotten Bezos’ bunch are the competition?

Check out their talk, scrub in to about 24:10.

Related, the Sainsbury’s tech blog is pretty good.

And, from elsewhere and unrelated to Sainsbury’s, some clearer notion that “serverless” forces an event-driven architecture:

So why can’t we just write an event-driven system for our corporate infrastructure? Our world, is event-driven, and generally, we reduce the complexity of our systems by just defining events. “When there’s an access to the FTP service of upload … do this …”, “When there’s an access on a column on a database … do this “. In an IoT world, with billions of disparate devices, it is the only way to go. And if we are to create truly citizen-focused systems, we need to define the events which trigger. How many organisations could crisply define the operation of their infrastructure and all the interactions that happen?

Rather than just defining a server running Exchange, we could have some code which triggers on “When Bob logs-in open up his mail box”, or “When Alice changes the marks for her students, send an update to the exams office”. This is a world where the complexity of servers moves us towards “The Cloud” as a computation resource. In this way we write rules based on events and enact them in the Cloud. There’s no concept of running Exchange or Web servers.

Fix your boring, but immediate problems first

When GDS started in 2011, mobile apps were that day’s special on the fad menu. Ministers all wanted their own. Top officials thought they sounded like a great idea. Delighted suppliers queued up to offer their services to government. We’ll talk about apps in more detail later. For now, all you need to know is that GDS blocked 99% of requests for them. Government wasn’t ready for apps, because the people asking for them didn’t really know what they were for. They just sounded good. The blogpost explaining the apps policy, written by Tom Loosemore in 2013, quickly became the digital team’s most widely read post. 16 We have seen too many chief executives and department heads proudly explain their organisation’s pioneering work on artificial intelligence, say, while in the same breath conceding their back office systems can’t reliably pay employees on time. Or running pilots with connected devices while thousands of their customers still post them cheques. This is not to say that preparing for the future isn’t right and good. Responsible leaders need to keep their eyes on the horizon. The successful leaders are those who can do this while remaining mindful their view will be ruined if they step in something disgusting lying on the floor.

from “Digital Transformation at Scale: Why the Strategy Is Delivery (Perspectives)” by Andrew Greenway, Ben Terrett, Mike Bracken, Tom Loosemore

See more…

Link: Lessons from the UK Government’s Digital Transformation Journey

It’s probably OK:

In any organisation that’s been around for a while, ways of doing things build up and often disconnect from the reasons they were put in place. Things are cited as “rules” which are really just norms. We had to get really good at working out the difference, and on pushing back on some of those rules to get to the core principles.

Get involved with the backend people:

I know of one government project where the digital team couldn’t even add one extra textbox to their address fields, something users were complaining about, because the backend IT teams were too busy to make the change.

Working with the end user changes staff for the better:

I’ve talked to a lot of teams in large organisations who have taken all the right steps in moving to agile but are still having trouble motivating their teams, and the missing piece is almost always being exposed directly to your users. Whether they’re end customers, or internal users, there’s nothing like seeing people use your products to motivate the team to make them better.

Original source: Lessons from the UK Government’s Digital Transformation Journey

Link: Do you need a corporate vision in government IT?

“In an organisation like a local authority this is especially tough as they are such disparate entities. Think about it, in what strange universe does it make sense for a single organisation to collect taxes, deliver social care, pick up bins and operate transport? None of these and many of the other services councils deliver have much to do with each other, apart from the coincidence of local delivery… Coming up with a single vision or operating model for such an organisation is pretty tricky therefore, which makes it less likely that transformation teams are going to get one. So, without a clear destination, what should they be doing?… I think the key is to think of councils – and other similar organisations – as groups of individual businesses, rather than a single cohesive organisation.”
Original source: Do you need a corporate vision in government IT?

Link: Making public policy in the digital age – digital HKS

When you can put our releases weekly, how do you channel the feedback to government policy and laws? We’re used to policy being static, and slow. But with a small batch approach, you could experiment and change policy, just like you can the software.

It’ll likely be a long, long time before that happens, but it’d be a lot cooler if it did.
Original source: Making public policy in the digital age – digital HKS

Link: Amazon is coming for the insurance industry – should we be worried?

“While UK insurers are investing in tech and providing digital services, the majority are light years behind Amazon,” noted Davies. “If insurers are not careful, they may be pushed out of having a direct relationship with customers and be relegated to the role of a price-driven risk carrier at the back end (assuming Amazon doesn’t want to hold the risk too).”
Original source: Amazon is coming for the insurance industry – should we be worried?

Link: Info Commissioner tears into Google’s ‘call us journalists’ trial defence

‘This argument enraged the ICO, which said in the submission: “The concept of ‘journalism’ presupposes a process by which content is published to an audience pursuant to the taking of human editorial decisions as to the substantive nature and extent of that content.”… In plain English, humans (mostly) don’t decide what appears in search results so calling Google’s activities “journalism” is just plain wrong, according to the commissioner.’
Original source: Info Commissioner tears into Google’s ‘call us journalists’ trial defence

“I have become the hustler,” Robert Brook – Lord of Computing Podcast #004

Summary

It can take a long time to get “the mainstream” to use new technologies. One would assume that this would be true in supporting the government, as Robert Brook does in his day job. In this brief episode, over the din and bottle collection activities at Monkigras, I catch up with him on just that topic and how he tries to manage being a change agent for the benefit of the UK Parliament.

See the full show-notes.

Subscribe: iTunes, RSS Feed

Show-notes and Links

For this episode, we also have a transcript thanks to Pivotal:

Coté:
How many times do you think we can get you to cackle?

Robert Brook:
No, I … You will. Definitely, you will. I’m so worried about this new machinery you’ve got set up.

Coté:
I know. I know. You know, I think we have a shared interest.

Robert Brook:
Yeah, we do.

Coté:
In the Roland R09, if I remember.

Robert Brook:
Yeah.

Coté:
Which is a lovely piece of equipment.

Robert Brook:
Mine is all dusty and broken. Yours is all new and shiny.

Coté:
This is a zoom H4N.

Robert Brook:
It’s amazing.

Coté:
I last used this equipment back when I was doing videos for Redmonk. What’s nice about it, it has XLR lens in.

Robert Brook:
Oh, right.

Coté:
Which, unless you’ve actually tried to do any AV stuff, means nothing to you.

Robert Brook:
Did you plug a mic in?

Coté:
Oh, yeah, I used to have two lav, three lav mics and a little mixer thing.

Robert Brook:
This is like the market for you.

Coté:
Sure.

Robert Brook:
Or that’s being in the toilet in London.

Coté:
We are sort of in a kitchenette area here in Monkigras. I think it’s quite exciting. Who are you? Let me pull a Scoville on you.

Robert Brook:
Who? Yeah, who am I? What does he ask?

Coté:
I think he says who are you, and what do you do, and tell me something cool in Google+.

Robert Brook:
Oh, god, I’m too old for any of this. I’m too old for anything. My name is Robert Brook.

Coté:
That’s right.

Robert Brook:
I work at UK Parliament. I’ve been working there for 14 years, which means I’m completely institutionalized.

Coté:
This is what I’m actually most excited about. I can finally figure out what you do exactly.

Robert Brook:
You think that’s going to happen.

Coté:
I’m going to pull a Coté Sr. on you. He’s always trying to figure out what I do, and I’m not sure if he knows quite yet.

Robert Brook:
My dad’s completely given up on that. He just thinks I’m the guy who fixes the Princes.

Coté:
Now, from what I can tell, you sort of pay attention to interesting, new, small technologies.

Robert Brook:
I do do that.

Coté:
Small in a beneficial way. And you think, “How might this be applied to the UK Parliament?”

Robert Brook:
No. Well yes I do do that, but I don’t get paid to do that by my employer. I just do that out of the kindness of my heart.

Coté:
You do get paid for this.

Robert Brook:
Yeah, I do get paid.

Coté:
This would be the Sunshine Bakery.

Robert Brook:
It’s a fascinating place to work, but I understand why it attracts certain sorts of people. I understand why it frustrates most people because a lot of people want it to be like a business, or a department, government department, and it just isn’t. It’s a really weird place to work.

Coté:
Yeah.

Robert Brook:
But I’m still there.

Coté:
Over the years you’ve come out with all sorts of interesting little projects, which may be one of your personal time things. Still I think they’re reflective of a “software could make this suck less.”

Robert Brook:
Totally. I think I, occasionally, I might think to myself, “Am I quoting Coté here?” I keep thinking I probably am. I keep thinking, I want to help reduce friction in the existing systems.

Coté:
Yeah.

Robert Brook:
Which is such a low bar.

Coté:
I know what you mean. We saw a talk from a Swedish reporter. She was going over some … I wouldn’t call them friction-reduction, but friction-coping techniques, like dealing with PDFs. She basically just wanted to get data into a spreadsheet to do analysis over, and it turns out that’s quite hard but she had astounding results, which is really nice.

Robert Brook:
Which is, in a very small way, what I’ve been doing recently as well. Which is, most of it is really grunt work, with stuff like open refine and getting CSV files in and out, that sort of stuff. It’s boring day to day,

Coté:
Give us some examples of that. What are some less frictionful. How have you been removing friction?

Robert Brook:
How have I been removing friction? A lot of my time now is talking to people and convincing them to do things and think about stuff and not worry. I used to. I never called myself a developer …

Coté:
You’ve become a hustler.

Robert Brook:
I’ve become the hustler.

Coté:
This is a very valid career track for technical people. Sometimes this is also known as being a CTO.

Robert Brook:
We have a new CTO come to join us.

Coté:
Oh, good.

Robert Brook:
We have a new regime. It’s called digital; apparently, we’re doing digital. I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

Coté:
When I was writing up my “why I’m working at pivotal-dot” post, I was realizing I’ve never really been comfortable with the idea of digital enterprise. Now I like it, because I’m always hunting for the opposite of something. Is that an adjective that you add to something? Like if you attach an adjective to it, it must imply there was a negative to it, otherwise, something. Otherwise Hemingway cries. It does seem like it’s a good foil to talk about; there’s an analog world, an analog business, because I think that really is the way to highlight how much interesting opportunity there is, code war.

Robert Brook:
This is hugely self-indulgent, which is why I’m not on the Internet anymore. I’m so self-obsessed that I just want to sit around and think, because there’s so much to think about. That gap between where we were 25 years ago and where we should be now, and why we aren’t there. Why haven’t things got better quicker? Why aren’t everybody …

Coté:
Right. Like, remember when podcasting was new?

Robert Brook:
Yeah.

Coté:
Jon Udell had a podcast, and he was like, “All I want to do is get my local library to have an iCal file.” I think he’s still working on that.

Robert Brook:
iCal is a good example because it worked for a while. Apple did that iCal exchange stuff.

Coté:
What was that company Yahoo! bought? Upcoming.org? Then obviously I guess because it was an organization, it didn’t make a profit, so that died out. Now you’ve got the Lanyard and things like that. It can be really hard just to get an iCal file.

Robert Brook:
Yeah, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed generally. I always expect more, particularly at work. I’m notoriously curmudgeonly. I always want everything to be better faster, and the quite reasonable response to me has always been, “Well, Robert, what do you think we’re doing? This just takes a lot longer and is much more expensive than we think.”

Coté:
There’s like, you know, we only got democracy about what, a hundred years ago? Just slow down, man!

Robert Brook:
Exactly! What the hell is wrong with you people? Computers, what is this? The organization I work in, we don’t have the benefits or the disbenefits of working for a business.

Coté:
Right.

Robert Brook:
We don’t have the pressures that businesses are under. We have different pressures. Those pressures are usually weird pressures. Seeing our internal processes in terms of external actions is really, really strange.

Coté:
What’s an example of when you were doing your hustling, as you were saying about earlier? When you had to go talk to someone and convince them, like, “It would be a good idea if we had an iCal file”? What are the objections that they usually raise, and how do you soothe them?

Robert Brook:
Well, often, it’s simply, “I don’t understand what you just said.” That’s definitely my problem, at communicating why the hell people should do stuff at all. There’s this big argument about, well, loads of green screen stuff is going to stay on the green screen, and it’s never going to make it to your lovely little iPad or something like that. But, I mean, it should. We should expect more.

Coté:
Yeah.

Robert Brook:
I don’t think we expect enough. We seem to be satisfied with the shiny and the immediate, and we’re not satisfied with, particularly, our parents. It’s not enough, it’s just not enough.

Coté:
I think that’s true. When I was at the apex of my DevOps peddling at 451, that was sort of the more uplifting thing and I guess I still do when I talk about DevOps. Now we’ve arrived at, “the business should expect more.” Like I don’t really know what the business is. It does seem like that’s the next large challenge that we have. Like you know, we can all replicate how Netflix runs and does all that, but we need those business folks, or the enterprise people, to actually make demands of us.

Robert Brook:
We can scale servers, but we can’t scale people that give a shit.

Coté:
Well said.

Robert Brook:
That’s a big … There’s a kind of no man’s land between the tech people and the CEO people. That promise hasn’t been delivered. Not because there’s a technical gap; there clearly isn’t. Technology is great. Technology is great, and it’s going to get better.

Coté:
There’s like a business analyst gap. There needs to be a translator between these things. Bi-directionally.

Robert Brook:
Yeah. I’m completely aware, this is like a well-trodden path. We’ve been through this, and business analysis are supposed to in the BPM and all that sort of stuff. We’re supposed to solve this.

Coté:
Oh, BPM.

Robert Brook:
Yeah.

Coté:
I remember I read a great book on business process modeling. I must have been in my 20s because I read the whole book in detail, and at the end, I was like, “What the fuck did this just say?” As I grew older, I was like, oh! You’re, like, modeling out the processes of the business.

Robert Brook:
Yeah. We went so far as, remember the BPML?

Coté:
Yes!

Robert Brook:
It was like business process modeling language. It was like, “Who the hell thought of this?”

Coté:
Man, I wish I could find that book. It was quite the tome.

Robert Brook:
There’s a lot of gap there. It just feels like we haven’t got the grits for that. There are these two separate tracks. There was talk recently of having more tech people at kind of the senior board level. Then there was talk that you need a chief technology officer; you need a chief marketing officer; you need a chief copy officer. No, you just need to get it right.

Coté:
Yeah. It’s … I always wonder when you have all these CXOs, as it were. It’s almost like it’s not a misapplication. It’s an overapplication of the theory that one person should have ownership of something.

Robert Brook:
I totally think it’s actually unfair to put people in that position and to give them that supposed role and say, “Right, you’re going to help out.” You think, “Wait a minute, where could we actually put the lever in the organization for the most effect?” It’s going to be much, much lower down the grades. It’s going to be those people sitting.

Coté:
Bottoms up, if you will.

Robert Brook:
Oh, completely, yeah.

Coté:
One theory of hope, or one hopeful theory, depending on how you want to describe it, is you got the kids with their Facebook and their mobile phones.

Robert Brook:
iPads.

Coté:
These millennials. Do they call them that over here? Millennials.

Robert Brook:
Probably, yeah.

Coté:
Who knows. You’ve got these millennials, and they just know about computers. Maybe as they get into the workforce, they will be this bottoms-up tide rising. Do you see any hints of that happening?

Robert Brook:
Yeah, on the hardware usage side, there’s Federica Bottici talked about this recently, about the introduction to medium-size screens into organizations. Stephen Hackett was arguing he doesn’t see it anywhere, this isn’t a corporate thing and Federica was saying, “No, kids playing games on their iPad are going to be writing college papers on their iPad in a couple of years, and then they’re going to go the workforce”

Coté:
Yeah, man, they’ve got to figure out that moving your finger around to move your text, because that’s hard.

Robert Brook:
Well, once you come onto the software side of it, you think, “Well, okay, is iPad close to a general purpose computer? If so, what are we going to do? Are we going to have these kids coming in with just ipads and just documents?” I mean it’s not going to … We’re at the backend systems.

Coté:
Yeah, that’s a concrete thing to imagine out. Do some futurology. In the sort of problem domains or the friction areas you deal with, what would it mean to be iPad-first, or tablet-first? How do you imagine that would change things around? Like, I show up in a government office, and I’ve got an iPad, or whatever; I’ve got a tablet. Then the interloquer, the person I’m dealing with, the person who’s assisting me to realize my ambitions with the government also has a tablet, and then what? Am I beaming things back and forth?

Robert Brook:
Well, I’m going to be really crappy and say I don’t work for the government. But anyway …

Coté:
Let’s just imagine it.

Robert Brook:
Some people here do work for the government, the picker boys, a very impressive bunch of people. I think that the rather obvious thing is mobile first, so where people are consuming these services, you can imagine the services being extended out to obviously where the eyeballs are. The interaction is not yet …. Again, I just want to have people sit around and think about this.

Coté:
Yeah, like I went to go, I’ve gotten a lot of traction out of this DMV story. But I went to the DMV recently, and it sort of occurred to me, that why don’t I just take a picture of myself and be done? There’s all sorts of fraud and security and chain-of-trust nonsense, but there’s some basically fundamental things that it would be interesting …

Robert Brook:
There’s the equivalent over here is the DVLA, the vehicle licensing authority or something like that, and that’s exactly the changes they’re going through at the moment which are huge, absolutely huge.

Coté:
Yeah, that would be fun. It’s your point of it’s just slow change. Let’s just use the on-board camera, and that’s just what we’re going to do for the next few years.

Robert Brook:
Yeah.

Your address book is worth ~$45, your medical records ~£12,000

I’m envisioning one of those butcher charts with all the cuts of meat, except it’s a human and all their social info and personal data/records:

If Facebook values your phone book at $42, or £25.24 today, what do you think your lifelong medical record is worth? The health industry is a colossal business, much bigger than internet social networking, and pharmaceutical companies desperately need the data to reduce the risk on their own drug research planning. They have the means and willingness to pay for this data. [The UK government says £11,865.]

Your address book is worth ~$45, your medical records ~£12,000