Openness as the engine for Digital Innovation

This is the transcript of my talk given on May 28th, 2016 at the MBA PART-TIME of Bologna Business School.

Slide 1: Subtitle of this talk is “a journey with three words”.

Slide 2: Every word has a specific meaning. Do terms “individual” and “person” have the same meaning? Are they equivalent? If we have two different words, we have two different meanings, for sure. Individual term comes from Latin “individuus”, meaning undivided, unique, an entity different from the others. It’s like me today. But I’m not here to speak of my own singularity. Person comes from a Latin word that in turn comes from Etruscan. It refers to the theatrical mask. Have you ever seen an ancient Greek drama? A single actor plays different roles using different masks. Every mask identifies a different character, a person. Every man in his personal life acts different roles: if male, it could be a father, a children, a husband, a grandfather, a colleague, a friend …and so on. The person is the role we play in the society.

Slide 3 – 5: I’m playing the role of an Engineering Group’s manager now. That’s why it’s important that I introduce Engineering Group to you, illustrating our company strategy – where research and innovation are crucial to bring value to our clients – and its market approach. I’m a director at Innovation Division with a particular focus on open source and big data.

Slide 6: Previously, I said that in our life it’s very important to pay attention to the meaning of words. As a consequence, I’ve organized this talk as a journey with three words: complexity, trust and openness.

Slide 7: Few years ago Gartner, the famous IT research firm, said that Nexus of Forces will have transformed many businesses and the entire IT landscape. These forces were Social, Mobile, Cloud and Information management.

Slide 8: Now we are a step forward: we are in the digital innovation era where these forces act together.

Slide 9: Let’s start with the first word: COMPLEXITY. It comes from the Latin term “complexus” meaning to include, tighten, embrace. It’s the whole, a set of factors: something that must be explained or unfold. Complexity is strictly connected with digital innovation. It’s about a hidden complexity, something that computer technicians know very well, but end users ignore – and they should. Let’s see what happens with cloud computing, mobile, big data, internet of things and their evolutions . They are the foundations of digital innovation.

Slide 10: As an example, I see complexity in my daily job – working with big data – when data scientists must choose between different analytical scenarios while looking for bringing new value to the company’s clients.

Slide 11: Moreover, I see the need to handle complexity in the whole big data management scenario.

Slide 12: Again, when data scientists have identified the analytical scenario, the data and the supporting technologies, they must face a new level of complexity managing the different analytical techniques.

Slide 13: Let’s have a look at the different elements at the basis of digital innovation. We get data from the internet of things, form social networks, from mobile sensors and applications. These data are available for data scientist’s analysis both as streaming data for real time analysis and as information stored in the cloud.

Slide 14: This is what’s happening now. And in the near future? Let’s go a step forward. With fog computing we are going to balance advanced analysis of data stored in the cloud with advanced analysis at the network edge (for a deeper insight, see here). Some use cases demonstrate that this is already happening. This could be the step forward, thanks to the growing opportunity to have much more computing resources and analytical capabilities in our devices.

Slide 15:Let’s introduce the second word now: TRUST. It is fiducia in Italian and comes from the Latin “fidĕre”, meaning “to believe”. It refers to a behavior resulting in a positive evaluation of facts, generating a feeling of safety and serenity. I’m not talking of a passive attitude, although we know that we must partially accept it because we’ll not be able to solve all the issues that we face in our daily activities. Trust is something that we must build with tangible and positive actions. If you are looking for a sign of trust you will probably think at shaking hands or, even better, at an embrace .

Slide 16: “Trust and Internet of Things” is one of the hot topics at conferences now. Here trust means privacy and security of information. Let’s see slide 13 again. In all these data flows we must solve these issues.

Slide 17: Let’s see some examples (credits to Paola Liberace ). Nest intelligent thermostat allowing to detect not encrypted source of information; Hello Barbie and possible issue referring to vulnerability of conversations between kids and the doll or unfair marketing; Google car and possible incidents due to wrong interpretation of data coming from sensors.

Slide 18: Trust and IoT is so important that we have a specific alliance working on this topic with a focus on Privacy, Security and Sustainability.

Slide 19: Why sustainability is so important? Have a look at the Revolv story and in particular what Christina Warren said: “In this new era, it’s important to think about the potential that your entire home could just stop working – and planning for those scenarios.” It reminded me a nice movie: Her. Here the protagonist Theodore panicked when Samantha, the operating system in love with him, went offline. In an ever connected world we are going to rely on the reliability of IT systems; as a consequence it’s urgent to start taking care of their stability within an ever changing scenario.

Slide 20: It’s time for the third word now: OPENNESS. In Italian “aperto”, it comes from Latin term “aperire”. It underlines a behavior looking to establish a conversation, a collaboration, a new relation, a common feeling, an … embrace. As you can see, complexity, trust and openness are mutually connected by an embrace.

Slide 21: I’ve learned about openness working for many years with open source global communities. Open Source is the flagship of openness.

Slide 22: For newcomers (if any): what’s open source? Open Source is about empowering freedom. In detail, it allows everyone to use, study, improve and share software code.

Slide 23: Many persons use the “battle” metaphor to describe phenomena. I think that the “game” metaphor is more appropriate, suggesting more insights. So, let’s use this schema to explain open source, starting from my favorite sport that I played years ago: baseball. You can see open source as a game with a goal, played by a team, following some rules.

Slide 24: Open Source is a licensing model following same rules of proprietary model, but turning them upside down. It’s not a market, a philosophy or ideology, a business model, a development model, software free of charge, non-commercial software. Definitively, what is open source about?

Slide 25 – 28 Open Source defends, encourages (and sometimes imposes) freedom, it enables collaboration, it suggests transparent processes and development of best practices, it enables non-traditional commercial models (where freedom is the flagship also over trade systems).

Slide 29: Open source is everywhere. You are probably using it even if you are not aware of this.

Slide 30: Trust is a building block of open source.

Slide 31 -36 : Now you might think I’m a passionate of open source over-emphasizing its role. Thanks to North Bridge and BlackDuck and their annual Future of Open Source Survey you can see what leaders and principal users say of open source. [in my presentation you can find a selection of slides. For a complete overview take the full survey here).

Slide 37: We are now at the end of the journey with my selected three words. So what?

Slide 38: I can tell you which are the ingredients that I use to solve complexity with an approach based on trust and openness. They are infrastructures, tools and people.

Slide 39: Nowadays we have a clear evidence that digital innovation is happening thanks to the development of open source infrastructures. Let’s see what happens in cloud computing, in big data and mobile. We also see examples of open initiatives focusing on specific needs, such as the In-Vehicle Infotainment platform for the automotive market or tools for embedded systems. These communities or consortia work together to build a common platform that can achieve a dimension and inner value thanks to the effort and the creativity that a single entity cannot provide. As a result, in the IT market we have many available infrastructures addressing various needs. A deeper insight shows that 80% of their value is a commodity coming from a shared open baseline. On the other hand, each distributing company inserts in its infrastructure the 20% of added value: it’s secret sauce. This is a model that encourages collaboration and doesn’t exclude – sometimes it enforces – competition. A clear evidence of the co-opetition model.

Slide 40: Nothing to say about tools in particular. We have a lot of available tools in order to solve many issues and we’ll have a lot in the future as well. It’s just a matter of choice.

Slide 41: People is a crucial part of the problem. Let’s see the composition of the big data team in the company where I work. Few years ago team members where just engineers and computer scientists. Now they are physicians, economists, statistician, computational linguists and mathematicians. The future is a multidisciplinary approach where different cultures and knowledge interact and share. Nowadays Information Technology is a polytechnic.

Slide 42: Let’s go straight to conclusions. What’s the message for a future manager attending a master in business administration? A manager must drive strategies. I see two different types of managers: those who can use – and must use – the results coming from innovation and those who lead – and must lead – innovative activities.

Slide 43: A message to managers using innovation: look around, don’t ignore innovation; don’t reinvent the wheel, focus on creating your secret sauce enabling your company to own a business differentiator.

Slide 44: A message to managers leading innovation: let’s act as we usually do at Engineering Group. Look at the future in a proactive way, creating a stock of resources to be used when the time comes; be ready to change direction if wind turns, keep your eyes and mind open to understand and bring out changes at the right time.

Slide 45: Getting back to slide 38 and the ingredients that I use every day, I can say that infrastructures evolve over time; tools are not an issue – I confirm this – we have a great choice; but people … change over time.

Slide 46: Pay attention to millennials’ behavior (I don’t want to face the debate about definition of Generation-x, Y or Z now. I consider millennials people born in this new century or in late 90s). They are different. They are not better or worse than others, they are just different. Are you looking for an insight? Here it is! When doing a research, my behavior (and my neurons) drive me to a vertical search: a paper-made encyclopedia was the foundation of my education. Knowing few things, but with a deep knowledge. On the contrary, millennials study with google. An horizontal approach: surfing the net to know many and many things; few seconds to get just the essence of the meaning. Is the horizontal approach better that the vertical one? It’s just different, it’s the millennial mood, it’s what daily social environment asks for. If technology is both made and used by people we must take into account that people mind and behavior is changing. Food for thoughts.

Slide 47: Final message: look around in a new way, change your point of view, look for new perspectives in a transparent way. You could be surprised discovering what our stereotypes and daily habits hide.

Slide 48: Credits to: Gartner Inc., Accenture, Simon Phipps, North Bridge & Black Duck Software Inc.; Emerson Electric co. ,, Paola Liberace, Vito Mancuso and their suggestions … and …everyone posting images on the internet. All these people and organizations helped me to build this presentation.