Changing the culture is the real global challenge with Covid-19

Well it’s here, it will go and something else will come again. We have taken for granted that:

  • physically close social interaction is a way of life
  • the healthcare system can handle anything
  • the shelves are always full of whatever we want
  • we commute on mass transit to and from work
  • we work in close proximity with others
  • we socialize, worship and entertain ourselves in high human density crowds such as stadiums, arenas, churches and theatres
  • we eat in open buffets, shop where there is unprotected bulk food
  • we wash our hands in public bathrooms and promptly dry them with hot air from a dryer (the dryer is the bad idea)
  • we send our kids to daycare or school and assume they are safe
  • we travel anywhere in the world

Culturally, we are not prepared to survive a pandemic. What we have taken for granted, we need to reexamine and adjust, forever. Technology will play an enabling role in some areas, but the real transformation will need to be cultural, right at the core of who we are and how we behave. Video conference technology has been around since 1956. That’s not a typo, it was 64 years ago. AT&T brought the first capability to market over regular analog phone lines. 47 years later Skype came to market in 2003 for global consumer use. 17 years later, today we have the beginnings of Holoportation. What’s that?

“Holoportation is a new type of 3D capture technology that allows high quality 3D models of people to be reconstructed, compressed, and transmitted anywhere in the world in real-time. When combined with mixed reality displays such as HoloLens, this technology allows users to see and interact with remote participants in 3D as if they are actually present in their physical space.”

In short, it’s just like they are really there, but they are not. However, it is just a technology. Without a willingness to adopt it, nothing changes.

Covid-19 was not unexpected. People have been warning for over 50 years about uncontrolled global Viruses; Ebola, SARS, Dengue and many others. We continue to consolidate and make populations more dense with cities approaching 50,000 people per square kilometer/ 120,000 per square mile. (Manilla), Seoul Korea’s Yoido Full Gospel Church average number of active weekly attendees is more than 480,000. Yes, almost a half million people weekly.

The earth has 24,642,757 square miles of habitable land, at 7 Billion people that’s a density of 284 people per square mile. Of course, we will never get to that low of density, it’s just not our global culture (yet).

The technology exists and is almost ubiquitous to enable safety in personal interactions but will we  need to change our culture.

Will we

  • Stop going into the office?
  • Stop going on mass transit?
  • Invite people into our homes only virtually?
  • Only see plays, movies, church and concerts electronically?
  • Never again eat at an open buffet?
  • Never have a play date for our kid’s friends at home?

No, we won’t stop, well maybe a bit. When this subsides we will go back it to it, but we can make choices to reduce the risk and get comfortable with the technology to enable us to limit exposure when it happens again. The point is we can embrace technology that makes us safe, have it be a normal part of our lives and potentially prevent another bad situation from being a catastrophe.

If you haven’t done a TEAMS or Skype video call, I’ll help you figure it out (or just watch anyone under 20 years old) and you can have fun with it.

Links for the technology are here.

TEAMS – (if you’re trying to work with someone or a group to get work done – pick the free version)

SKYPE – (if you’re wanting to get together with your family and friends – also free)


Not yet folks! Give it a little while longer (:>) , almost there.

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And soon it will just feel normal

Recently Mitsubishi has been running ads for its plug-in hybrid SUV. There is a tag line in the ad that says the future just sort of sneaks up on you and one day you’re plugging in your SUV and it just seems normal. The distance between the future and today keeps getting smaller and we perceive change less and less over time. Complex problem solving, once only the in the realm of people with multiple PHD’s, now has usable tools that can be used by the majority of us now to do the same thing. Soon, we’ll ask “Hey Cortana, what do we do to fix the traffic crisis in Toronto?” and we probably won’t even notice, because it will be commonplace to let the machines provide the options and analysis. It’s not decades away, only months or years.

The biggest challenge is not technology. Technology is advancing at an ever-increasing pace and (in a term I like from Microsoft) being democratized. The bottom line is super-advanced tech is available to anyone for any reason at minimal cost. Did you know that Azure Machine Learning Studio is less than $13.00 / month and under $2.00/hour for running models? That’s less than a Big Mac, Shake and a Large Fry by the way and you’ll be smarter, not heavier. The new normal is to expect that Machine Learning will be taught first in high schools and then elementary schools. It’s a natural extension of data explosion to be able to process it into something meaningful, consumable and useful. The biggest challenge is getting over ourselves, realizing that technology like Machine Learning will be as pervasive as having a microwave in the kitchen, a smartphone in our hand or a car that’s getting ever closer to just driving itself.

Your business has data. Lots of it. It’s hiding all sorts of critical information that can make your business better. If you’ve acquiesced to having a microwave, smartphone and a smarter car… you’re 75% there. Take the next short step towards the future, before your kids do.

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So was I right?

I wrote an article in 2011 talking about why cloud technology would run rampant over what the dominant models were at that time, only 7 years ago. If you had bought $1000 worth shares of both Oracle and Microsoft at that time and sold them today. You would have made $2,400 profit on Microsoft and $880 on Oracle or about 2.7 times Microsoft over Oracle on profit. It’s only because of the cloud and Microsoft’s foresight, research, development and services in Cloud.


While core cloud services like IaaS Virtual Machine are now commonplace and there are now very few IT groups who have not adopted this approach, hundreds (yes hundreds) of other services are just in their infancy and will continue to pull services away from traditional computing and create completely new capabilities.

  • Machine Learning
  • Cognitive
  • Cloud ERP
  • High Scale Analytics
  • Pervasive PC Virtualization with No/Little user device apps

Next 4-5 years will see the next generation of cloud services with no stop in sight yet. As I indicated in the 2011 article, Microsoft missed the trend on phone, but that mistake was certainly not made with Cloud. Now the #1 cloud provider in the world. Buckle up tight, there is lots more to come.



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Blockchain enabling Santa Claus

I am often asked what all the fuss is about Blockchain and then asked to explain it. Well the fuss is about a fundamental paradigm shift in how electronic transactions can be done. BitCoin is just one of millions of uses. So, for a quick example, let’s Blockchain enable Santa Claus. The chain starts with a letter from Jimmy requesting a Paw Patroller toy. This is in essence a contract, the payment (Jimmy’s joy) is only made when the contract is fulfilled (the aforementioned paw patroller vehicle is in pristine condition, under Jimmy’s family tree, specifically on the morning of December 25th before 6 am local time) The chain involves:

  • Delivery of the contract (postal service)
  • Santa’s review
  • Naughty or Nice Review (could result in other conditions being added to contract)
  • Manufacturing
  • Inventory
  • Shipping
  • Final Delivery
  • Verification of Delivery.

One of the key points is that each link in the chain, has peer-to-peer visibility to the state at any point. Example: Shipping would know if the item was in manufacture or in inventory and be able to schedule the reindeer and sleigh accordingly. Although Jimmy is paying in smiles on the contract fulfilment, unlike a traditional retail purchase where you order and pay online and then the product ships (but they already have your money), blockchain enables verification. Specifically, in this example the contract requires item condition, place and on-time delivery of the item and payment is only made when that is complete. That’s basically how block chain works and how to block chain enable Santa. Merry Christmas!


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AI will make the world’s first trillionaires

Hate or love Mark Cuban, you have to agree that the man has an eye for trends, after all he made one of the biggest gains in tech history getting Yahoo! to pay him a few billion for his startup. Here’s what he is saying about Artificial Intelligence.

“I am telling you, the world’s first trillionaires are going to come from somebody who masters AI and all its derivatives and applies it in ways we never thought of.”

By the way, the best way to conceptualize a trillion dollars is to think of the following question. If someone tasked you with spending $100,000 a day, how long would it take you to spend a trillion dollars? The answer: 27,397 years. We will have trillionaires in the next 25 years, they are very likely already born.

The obvious uses of AI are things like:

  • Self-driving cars
  • Pilotless aircraft
  • Robotic soldiers

These are all obvious uses because they all exist today.

  • You can take spin around town safely in an autonomous car in some cities from many manufacturers, thanks to AI.
  • You can quite safely program a late model AirBus, Boeing or Bombardier aircraft to land itself without a pilot at most of the world’s airports, thanks to AI.
  • You can see robotic technology in the battlefield today (no the machines don’t look like the Hollywood ones), thanks to AI.

AI is not new. I worked on AI projects in the early 90’s that figured out Gate handling at airports. I worked on AI systems in the late 90’s that did financial risk analysis and in the 2000’s that sorted out identity and eligibility determination but none of these are transformational solutions. What’s changed?

Over the last 30 years AI has been used in “point solutions” where you have a very specific business problem that needs an answer. It was complex and expensive to build solutions and thus it was only used in very specific cases. Today, AI is pervasive, cheap and democratized.

What does the democratization of AI mean? This is what Microsoft says:

  • We’re going to harness artificial intelligence to fundamentally change how we interact with the ambient computing, the agents, in our lives.
  • We’re going to infuse every application that we interact with, on any device, at any point in time, with intelligence.
  • We’ll make these same intelligent capabilities that are infused in our own apps — the cognitive capabilities — available to every application developer in the world.
  • We’re building the world’s most powerful AI supercomputer and making it available to anyone, via the cloud, to enable all to harness its power and tackle AI challenges, large and small.

In short we go from “point solutions” in AI, to “everything with AI”. Simple examples of this at work include the new Huawei smart phone that now has an on-board chip for real-time translation of spoken languages.

Mark Cuban is right. We are the edge of revolution that will be bigger than the personal computer. The entrepreneurs that figure out the way to build the things that will again transform the world are very likely our first trillionaires. What’s your idea on how to use AI?

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Note to CEO from your shareholders: If you think cloud IT is optional, please resign now.

When I first joined Microsoft in 2001 I met the indomitable Bob McDowell, the founder of Microsoft Consulting Services and the author of “Driving Digital” (yes in 2001). He relayed a story of his meeting with a CEO of a financial institution, where his secretary brought him his email printed out on paper for him to read. When the CEO asked Bob what recommendations could be made, Bob’s response was “you should resign”. The point being that by 2001 if you were not using email yourself, you were totally missing the power of technology to transform your business. We are at another such point.

Niagara Falls sends about 2.2 Million litres/second (600,000 gallons/second) over the edge. That’s a good analogy to the velocity and volume of cloud computing now. Some technology trends have been fads that start and then fizzle, some are persistent. This is one of the persistent ones with well over $200 Billion invested by the major cloud players today. There may be people in your organization that still want to paddle upstream and continue trying to serve your company with traditional technology, but it is only a matter of time before they physically exhaust themselves and get swept over the edge, perhaps unprepared to have your company make the journey safely. The key point being is all that time spent paddling against the current, just lets your competitors get further downstream and you may never catch them again.

The most important thing you need to realize about Cloud Computing is not the inherent cost savings. It is the velocity. Innovations and new competitive capabilities are delivered on the cloud daily, not in the 3, 5 or 10 year cycles of traditional on-premise computing. If you as CEO are not being told what machine learning or BOT technology or cognitive services can do for your business from your IT group, go ask them.



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Real Digital Transformation vs. Snake Oil


I had dinner with a very good friend of mine last week. He asked me what I was working on these days, but before I could answer he said laughing “Please tell me it’s NOT Digital Transformation”.

So, in the past 24 months you have heard all the IT terms or the associated acronyms for:
• Digital Transformation (DT)
• Augmented Reality (AR)
• Big Data
• Machine Learning (ML)
• Artificial Intelligence (AI)
• Blockchain
• Everything on Demand (EOD)
• Internet of Things (IOT)
• Self Serve Analytics
• And of course, Cloud etc.

Are they just buzzwords or is it something real that 10 years from now you are going to really, really wish you had paid closer attention to? Let’s check history.
In the 80’s, these buzzwords were around:

• Personal Computing (PC)
• Windows
• Local Area Networking (LAN)
• Open Systems (Unix)
• Relational Databases (RDBMS)
• Electronic Mail (email)

In the 90’s,

• Wireless Fidelity (WiFi)
• eCommerce (eBay, Amazon)
• World Wide Web (www)
• Google, Yahoo
• Laptop Computer

In the first decade of 2000,

• Bluetooth
• Voice over IP (VOIP)
• Search Engine
• Facebook
• Social Networking
• Twitter
• Smartphone (Blackberry, iPhone etc.)

In the 2010’s

• Tablets
• iPad
• Android

Historically, many buzzwords are associated with technology that has fundamentally changed our lives and changed the world. However, everyone likes to jump on the buzzword bandwagon, some without crystalizing what it actually means and some purveyors of “Digital Transformation” are no different than snake-oil salespersons and that’s why, rightfully, it gets a laugh at the dinner table.

However, real Digital Transformation means that there are and will be completely new ways of how you conduct business enabled by technologies that are being created at an ever-accelerating pace. It took 20+ years for email to be pervasive but it took less than 10 years for Facebook to be ubiquitous. Today no business would ignore either of these channels as they are both core to their consumer contact. In 5 years, UBER changed transportation globally as we know it. The time from concept to production in new technologies and services is continually shrinking. This is why Digital Transformation is critical to any business and even more critical, what partner you pick to go on that journey with. Your partner cannot be someone that just see’s today’s technologies, because by the time you implement them, the next generation is already upon you. Pick someone with vision and a true understanding of digital transformation … not just a snake-oil salesperson.


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You are running out of pencils….


Eventually you will run out of pencils and can’t give your users any more. Faber-Castell was one of the first to mass manufacture introduce this awesome productivity tool in the mid 1700’s. We have received more than 250 years use across the globe from this innovation. Today, most organizations have found even better ways for communication…. but some enterprises ….

My children have never known life without a computer, my grandchildren don’t comprehend a world without a smartphone and ubiquitous internet access. Knowledge is always accessible, human interaction with friends, family anywhere in the world is a click away for a face to face conversation yet in the business world, some IT organizations are still metaphorically handing out pencils to their users. I can tell you today that my grandchildren entering the workforce in the next 5 years or so, won’t take a job where you point them at the desk and say, “enjoy your 3270.. use the F keys to submit”. They expect mobile, tablets, intuitive interfaces, speed and parity with today’s omnipresent cloud tools and devices , or they won’t work for you and you will need them.

The cloud is no longer new. It is well established and quite frankly if you think you can do a better job of service, operations, admin, CapEx/OpEx cost control or security in your data center than the cloud today, you are simply wrong.


When nefarious people hack an enterprise class cloud service, a dedicated team responds to address it and fixes the issue then inoculates and immunizes thousands of other customer’s systems as a preventive measure, many times without any requirement for them to even know. You don’t have that team, you don’t know about the dangers you have not experienced and you can’t be proactive to the same level. You’re not as good. Period. With Scale and dedicated responsiveness, the enterprise cloud is better. Need a case study, just think about the factors in the last US election for on-premise services.

Innovation Cycle

The second factor is the rate of innovation and improvement. If you took two organizations, one with on-premise software and the other with cloud that initially did the same functions at day zero of implementation what would happen?

On-premise software is known in the industry as a “packaged product”. This stems back from its days when software was purchased and then shipped out to the datacenter on tapes, CD’s, DVD’s or now electronic downloads. It has an update cycle generally measured in years. Release 1, Release 2 etc.

On the cloud, new capabilities are tested and released sometimes daily. Major enhancements every quarter and within a year (even if the products were identical day 0) the cloud version is likely a full year ahead of the on-premise solution. Application developers now build for the cloud first and then they retrofit those changes into an on-premise product lifecycle at defined intervals. 3 years out, an on-premise solution can easily be 2 full years behind in features and capabilities from the cloud version. You can create competitive business advantage by being on the cloud.

Cloud Ecosystem

The third factor is the cloud ecosystem. One of the biggest myths is that running a solution on-premise and in the cloud is identical because it’s just “where you run it”. No, it’s not. Perhaps more correctly, no it’s not if you are actually leveraging the cloud, not just running on it.

  • Elasticity, the ability to perform better during peak usage periods like month-end, year-end, retail seasons etc.
  • Business Intelligence, Analytical tools that can easily and securely leverage cloud data and generate insights and power better decisions.
  • Eliminate help desk calls by leveraging self-serve capabilities inherent in the cloud.
  • Be instantly mobile and secure on smartphones and tablets at a higher level of security than you could provide on-premise with more features, more integration and better user experiences.
  • Empower your businesses to find what they need in the cloud marketplace and use it with full enterprise controls for security, audit and compliance.


The fourth factor is cost. I can speak with some authority on this topic as a decade ago, I led an initiative to build a 150 Megawatt Cloud DC. The key adjective in the description is megawatt. 150 MW is 150 million watts. Now think about your electricity bill. In Ontario Canada today the rates are $.09, $.13 and $.18 per Kilowatt hour for off-peak, mid and peak usage. Simple math, drop 3 zeros from 150MW. Is .150 million watts times (pick an average $.13) You have an electricity bill of $19,500 per hour, $468,000 per day, $171 Million per year. It is your biggest cost.

Because of the scale of the consumption, cloud providers lock in bulk power rates you can only dream of. Cloud providers do not order servers from, they custom build ultra-energy-efficient servers and match the servers to the workload. Then the cloud provider, micro manages power consumption taking resources off-line when not in use and uses sophisticated load forecasting to spool up capacity. Cloud providers have a service fabric that allows for near-instant instantiation of capacity on demand. You don’t have equivalent economies of scale.

From a Cloud DC operations perspective, it’s all about scale. A very small operations staff is required for a massive datacenter and most things can be done “lights-out” without ever stepping foot in the actual DC. Cloud DC’s in most cases are connected with vendor-owned dark fibre with multi TB/second capacities and ultra-low data transmission costs that even the largest commercial enterprises could not fund for themselves. Once again, it’s about scale.

The bottom line is that you will never approach the cost-efficiency of a cloud mega-datacenter. Your competitors have or will go to the cloud and if you want to keep your CapEx/OpEx costs in line, you need to go also, because you will never achieve similar cost savings on-premise. Anyone who tells you differently is practicing “alternative facts”.

The cloud is no longer new. It has proven itself and IT organizations that are “too proud to do cloud” just need to keep sharpening those pencils a little longer.

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The Rise of the Personal Non-Maskable Interrupt (NMI)


In computer technology a processor interrupt is a signal to the processor indicating an event that needs attention. The processor responds by suspending its current activities, saving its state and executing a routine to deal with the event. This interruption is temporary and after the interrupt handler finishes, the processor resumes normal activities.

As an interrupt is expensive for processors, most interrupts are maskable. Basically, they can be ignored or delayed. A good example is your mouse. As you slide it across the desk it generates signals on its motions. In fact, it generates way more signals than are actually required to position your cursor on the screen, therefore most of them are ignored.

The counter example is holding the ctrl-alt-delete key combination down on your Windows device. This is a non-maskable interrupt. It says, stop whatever you are doing and ask me if it’s time to reboot the computer or kill a process.


One of the biggest challenges we face as connected humans these days is the pernicious rise of the non-maskable personal interrupt. In the 1970’s if you called someone’s telephone and they were not at their desk, you simply tried again later or someone answered and took a message for you to call them back. There was no expectation on the part of the caller of an immediate response.

In 1979, voicemail systems started to arrive on the scene, where a verbal message could be left for the person, they could dial in and pick up messages and return your call. The expectation was now that the time to return the call was shorter.

In 1983 the first analog cell phones were launched. When the recipient of a call was in range of a cell tower, the caller could get through. If the person was in a meeting, very likely the brick sized cell phone was not with them. It would simply ring. Whether a call was received or returned quickly was random.

It was 1992 when the first SMS message was sent. Here was a great answer to send someone a short message asynchronously and they could call back or text a response when it was convenient. Again, there was no expectation of the caller of immediate response.

In 2002 the first high speed cellular digital networks went into global use. With this, internet tools and instant messaging were now mobile. Unlike SMS, it was now expected that you were always connected and always available to response. Then in 2006 Facebook launched globally and mobile with global social networking added to the capabilities and higher subsequent expectation of responsiveness.

Today, I carry an advanced Windows smartphone with me almost 100% of the time. I am rarely in an area where there is no high speed data service and there is a deluge of information that pours into this device daily.

Each day, on average, I receive a few hundred corporate emails, dozens of Yammer notifications, Facebook notifications, Linkedin notifications and a few dozen personal emails across a few accounts. Oh… and not to forget text messages and proxied text messages (sent from another IM source such as Facebook to my SMS device channel)

So when you receive a text, what happens if you don’t respond quickly?


As it is with processors, human interrupts are expensive, distracting and for the most part unnecessary where a delayed response may be perfectly fine. The expectation that any text sent will be treated as a non-maskable interrupt is an expectation we need to reset with people who communicate with us. Simply by letting everyone know that your SLA for returning a message is 3-4 hours will fix this problem.

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Don’t Migrate to the Cloud … Restart on it



There are two philosophies of using cloud: moving workloads to the cloud and using cloud to move workloads. They are two very different approaches. When you move a workload to the cloud, you take what you are doing today and move it from your datacenter to a cloud datacenter. It’s the same service but now runs in the cloud. You get the benefit of cloud efficiencies and you retain your existing service more or less as is. It is an infrastructure change. Now using cloud to move a workload is a different approach. You can use cloud services to extend your existing capabilities, effectively harnessing the new services to the old or you can start with the solitary cloud approach, start new and build again; a second chance so to speak.

One of the most common myths of cloud computing is that you need to use your same directory approach and network for access. It can be a cumbersome process to ready your local directory services and network for the cloud, or… you can choose a solitary approach. The solitary cloud uses its own domain, establishes identities and then federates the identities back to the corporate directory for access validation. You still have full control but without the headache of maintaining identities. Why do you ask is this important? Here’s why.

The solitary cloud approach means that you can turn on new cloud services for your users TODAY, with no major migration projects, very minimal integration and most importantly virtually no impact on your already stretched internal IT Operations. Solitary clouds are self-sustaining.

Let’s pick an example to highlight the difference. Your corporate communications portal. On this site you have company vision, strategy, messages from the CEO, health and workplace safety, employee surveys and some discussion boards. Today it runs on servers in your datacenter and it’s a decade or so old. Functional but not up to date and certainly not driving engagement with your employees.


A. You can move it to a cloud service and reduce the IT operations costs of the service

B. You can reinvent the service on the cloud

Which one to you think will take longer? If you said “B”, you will be wrong 9 times of out 10. It is actually less work to restart on the cloud than to migrate to it.

To establish our new company communications portal on the cloud I

  • create a new domain,
  • create a new corporate site on the cloud for corporate communications and social networking (SharePoint On-line and Yammer from Microsoft)
  • grab my HR file with employee email addresses personal or corporate
  • I send them an email to self-provision an account with the email account of their choice (facebook, Microsoft ID, corporate, gmail etc.)
  • They now have full (and secure access [could even be two factor]) to the corporate site and yammer from ANY device from the internet in a fully responsive design (PC, Android, iPhone, WindowsPhone, Blackberry etc.)
  • If they leave the company for any reason, the federation of their ID is automatically removed by an HR feed and they no longer have access to the site.
  • If they need a password reset, they call Facebook, Microsoft or Google, not your IT Department.

What did we NOT do.

  • We did not migrate the current portal
  • We did not reuse the internal ID’s from the directory service
  • We did not do any integration with our local systems/datacenter except for federating the Identity and sending out 1 original on-boarding email.

We simply used the cloud to move a workload. When you are considering the cloud, consider moving to the cloud but also consider if you can use the cloud to move you.



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