The real cost of using the cloud – your help needed for research supported by Rackspace and Intel.

It’s almost a given that cloud technology has the power to change the way organisations operate. Cost efficiency, increased business agility and time-saving are just some of the key associated benefits[1]. As cloud technology has matured, it’s likely not enough for businesses to simply have cloud platforms in place as part of their operations. The  optimisation and continual upgrading of the technology may be just as important over the long term. With that in mind, a central research question remains: how can global businesses maximise their use of the cloud? What are the key ingredients they need to maintain, manage and maximise their usage of cloud?

For instance, do enterprises have the technical expertise to roll out the major cloud projects that will reap the significant efficiencies and savings for their business? How can large enterprises ensure they have the right cloud expertise in place to capitalise on innovations in cloud technology and remain competitive? Finally, what are the cost implications of nurturing in-house cloud expertise vs harnessing those of a managed cloud service provider?

A colleague (Carsten Sorensen) and I are working with Rackspace® on a project (which is also sponsored by Intel®) to find out. But we would need some help from IT leaders like you?

How you can help

We’re looking to interview IT decision makers/leaders in some of the UK’s largest enterprises (those with more than 1,000 employees and with a minimum annual turnover of £500m) which use cloud technology in some form, to help guide the insights developed as part of this project.

The interviews will be no more than 30 mins long via telephone. Your participation in the project will also give you early access to the resulting report covering the initial key findings. We would also share subsequent academic articles with you. We follow research ethics guidelines and can ensure anonymity to yourself and your company (feel free to email confidentially to discuss this issue).

If this sounds like something you’d like to get involved in then please email me w.venters@lse.ac.uk

Best wishes,

Dr Will Venters,

Dr Carsten Sorensen,

and Dr Florian Allwein.

  1. Venters, W. and E. Whitley, A Critical Review of Cloud Computing: Researching Desires and Realities. Journal of Information Technology, 2012. 27(3): p. 179-197.

(Photo (cc) Damien Pollet with thanks!)

England’s Electronic Prescription Service: Infrastructure in an Institutional Setting

Good friends in Oslo (Margunn Aanestad, Miria Grisot, Ole Hanseth and Polyxeni Vassilakopoulou) have just launched their edited a book on Information Infrastructure within European Health Care. The book is open-access meaning you can download it for free here.  

Infrastructure Book

Our team’s contribution is chapter 8 which discusses England’s Electronic Prescription Service that we evaluated for NPfIT over a number of years. This service moved UK GPs away from paper prescriptions (FP10s – the green form) to electronic messages sent directly to the pharmacy.  We examine the making of the EPS temporally by looking at:  (1) How existing technology (the installed base) and historical actions affect the project. (2) How the present practices and the wider NPfIT programme influenced. (3) How the desired future, reflected in policy goals and visions, influenced the present actions.

To go to our article directly click here.

England’s Electronic Prescription Service

Ralph HibberdTony Cornford, Valentina Lichtner, Will Venters, Nick Barber.

Abstract

We describe the development of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS), the solution for the electronic transmission of prescriptions adopted by the English NHS for primary care. The chapter is based on both an analysis of data collected as part of a nationally commissioned evaluation of EPS, and on reports of contemporary developments in the service. Drawing on the notion of an installed infrastructural base, we illustrate how EPS has been assembled within a rich institutional and organizational context including causal pasts, contemporary practices and policy visions. This process of assembly is traced using three perspectives; as the realization and negotiation of constraints found in the wider NHS context, as a response to inertia arising from limited resources and weak incentive structures, and as a purposive fidelity to the existing institutional cultures of the NHS. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the significance of this analysis for notions of an installed base.

Image (cc) Simon Harrod via Flickr with thanks!

Government as a Platform – an assessment framework

I’m pleased that my paper with Alan Brown, Jerry Fishenden and Mark Thompson has been published in Government Information Quarterly today! The paper draws together our collective work on platforms and government IT to develop an assessment framework for GaaP (Government as a platform). We then evaluate recent UK government’s digital projects using the framework.

Cover image Government Information Quarterly

“Appraising the impact and role of platform models and Government as a Platform (GaaP) in UK Government public service reform: Towards a Platform Assessment Framework (PAF)”

Alan Brown, Jerry Fishenden, Mark Thompson, Will Venters

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2017.03.003

Abstract

The concept of “Government as a Platform” (GaaP) (O’Reilly, 2009) is coined frequently, but interpreted inconsistently: views of GaaP as being solely about technology and the building of technical components ignore GaaP’s radical and disruptive embrace of a new economic and organisational model with the potential to improve the way Government operates – helping resolve the binary political debate about centralised versus localised models of public service delivery. We offer a structured approach to the application of the platforms that underpin GaaP, encompassing not only their technical architecture, but also the other essential aspects of market dynamics and organisational form. Based on a review of information systems platforms literature, we develop a Platform Appraisal Framework (PAF) incorporating the various dimensions that characterise business models based on digital platforms. We propose this PAF as a general contribution to the strategy and audit of platform initiatives and more specifically as an assessment framework to provide consistency of thinking in GaaP initiatives. We demonstrate the utility of our PAF by applying it to UK Government platform initiatives over two distinct periods, 1999–2010 and 2010 to the present day, drawing practical conclusions concerning implementation of platforms within the unique and complex environment of the public sector.

Keywords

  • Platform;
  • Ecosystem;
  • Government as a Platform;
  • GaaP;
  • Digital Government

Image: Maurice via Flickr (CC BY) with thanks!

The Enterprise Kindergarten for our new AI Babies? Digital Leadership Forum.

I am to be part of a panel at the Digital Leadership Forum event today discussing AI and the Enterprise.  In my opinion, the AI debate has become dominated by the AI technology and the arrival of products sold to Enterprise as “AI solutions” rather than the ecosystems and contexts in which AI algorithms will operate. It is to this that I intend to talk.

It’s ironic though that we should come see AI in this way – as a kind of “black-box” to be purchased and installed. If AI is about “learning” and “intelligence” then surely an enterprises “AI- Baby”, if it is to act sensibly, needs a carefully considered environment which is carefully controlled to help it learn? AI technology is about learning – nurturing even – to ensure the results are relevant. With human babies we spend time choosing the books they will learn from, making the nursery safe and secure, and allowing them to experience the world carefully in a controlled manner. But do enterprises think about investing similar effort in considering the training data for their new AI? And in particular considering the digital ecosystem (Kindergarten) which will provide such data? 

Examples of AI Success clearly demonstrate such a kindergarten approach. AlphaGo grew in a world of well understood problems (Go has logical rules) with data unequivocally relevant to that problem.  The team used experts in the game to hone its learning, and were on hand to drive its success.  Yet many AI solutions seem marketed as “plug-and-play” as though exposing the AI to companies’ messy, often ambiguous, and usually partial data will be fine.

So where should a CxO be spending their time when evaluating enterprise AI? I would argue they should seek to evaluate both the AI product and their organisation’s “AI kindergarten” in which the “AI product” will grow?

Thinking about this further we might recommend that:

  • CxOs should make sure that the data feeding AI represents the companies values and needs and is not biased or partial.
  • Ensure that the AI decisions are taken forward in a controlled way, and that there is human oversight. Ensure the organisation is comfortable with any AI decisions and that even when they are wrong (which AI sometimes will be) they do not harm the company.
  • Ensure that the data required to train the AI is available. As AI can require a huge amount of data to learn effectively so it may be uneconomic for a single company to seek to acquire that data (see UBERs woes in this).
  • Consider what would happen if the data-sources for AI degraded or changed (for example a sensor broke, a camera was changed, data-policy evolved or different types of data emerged). Who would be auditing the AI to ensure it continued to operate as required?
  • Finally, consider that the AI-baby will not live alone – they will be “social”. Partners or competitors might employ similar AI which, within the wider marketplace ecosystem, might affect the world in which the AI operates. (See my previous article on potential AI collusion). Famously the interacting algorithms of high-frequency traders created significant market turbulence dubbed the “flash-crash” with traders’ algorithms failed to understand the wider context of other algorithms interacting. Further, as AI often lacks transparency of its decision making, so this interacting network of AI may act unpredictably and in ways poorly understood.
Image Kassandra Bay (cc) Thanks

Digital infrastructures in organizational agility – Dr Florian Allwein

It was a great pleasure to see Florian Allwein, my PhD student, successfully defend his PhD today. The thesis has significant lessons for practitioners interested in the role of their digital technology in promoting agility within large organisations.

The abstract of Dr Allwein’s thesis:

Organizational agility has received much attention from practitioners and researchers in Information Systems. Existing research, however, has been criticised for a lack of variety. Moreover, as a consequence of digitalization, information systems are turning from traditional, monolithic systems to open systems defined by characteristics like modularity and generativity. The concept of digital infrastructures captures this shift and stresses the evolving, socio-technical nature of such systems. This thesis sees IT in large companies as digital infrastructures and organizational agility as a performance within them. In order to explain how such infrastructures can support performances of agility, a focus on the interactions between IT, information and the user and design communities within them is proposed. A case study was conducted within Telco, a large telecommunications firm in the United Kingdom. It presents three projects employees regarded as agile. Data was collected through interviews, observations of work practices and documents. A critical realist ontology is applied in order to identify generative mechanisms for agility. The mechanism of agilization – making an organization more agile by cultivating digital infrastructures and minding flows of information to attain an appropriate level of agility – is proposed to explain the interactions between digital infrastructures and performances of agility. It is supported by the related mechanisms of informatization and infrastructuralization. Furthermore, the thesis finds that large organizations do not strive for agility unreservedly, instead aiming for bounded agility in well-defined areas that does not put the business at risk. This thesis contributes to the literature by developing the concept of agility as a performance and illustrating how it aligns with digital infrastructures. The proposed mechanisms contribute to an emerging mid-range theory of organizational agility that will also be useful for practitioners. The thesis also contributes clear definitions of the terms “information” and “data” and aligns them to the ontology of critical realism.

(c) Dr Florian Allwein

 

Image: (cc)Erick Pleitez (Thanks)

Anti-competitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) – [FT.com]

Yesterday’s FT provides a fascinating article (available here) on the role algorithms may increasingly plan in price-rigging and collusion. While previously humans have colluded to fix prices, today’s algorithms which seek profit maximization may end up colluding in a way which is hard to detect and difficult to stop. Indeed a recent OECD report states:

“Finding ways to prevent collusion between self-learning algorithms might be one of the biggest challenges that competition law enforcers have ever faced… [Algorithms and Big Data] “may pose serious challenges to competition authorities in the future, as it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove an intention to co-ordinate prices, at least using current antitrust tools”.

While algorithmic trading has proliferated in financial services (reported in many popular books such as “Dark Pools”), it is their increasing use in consumer marketplaces which concerns the article’s authors – airline booking, hotels, and online retailing.

The problem for regulation is that “All of the economic models are based on human incentives and what we think humans rationally will do.” (Terrell McSweeny US FTC) while an AI algorithm which “learns” that its most profitable course of action is price coordination are poorly represented in our understanding.

“What happens if the machines realise it is in their interest to systematically and quickly raise prices in a co-ordinated way without deviating?” (Terrell McSweeny)

Indeed we might ask whether an algorithm which uses huge databases of historical demand and supply data, and detailed data of the competitive marketplace, to arrive at its most profitable price in the milliseconds of a webpage loading is acting competitively in keeping with market principles or against the consumer (who could never undertake similar analysis and therefore faces huge information asymmetry challenges).

An interesting example in the article is an App to track petrol pricing whereby, because the app highlights instantly to competitors that a price has been cut (and they can match the price cut before demand shifts), so it removes the incentive for anyone to discount.

The article even states: “the availability of perfect information, a hallmark of free market theory, might harm rather than empower consumers”

 

(Image (cc) Keith Cooper – thanks)

Professorship in Information Systems at the LSE

It’s exciting that the LSE Department of Management is recruiting another Professor in information systems… For details see…  http://bit.ly/LSEProfIS

“We welcome applicants with a successful research record in areas of digital innovation such as digital platforms, service innovation and e-business, social media and the digital economy, and information infrastructures and digital ecosystems. Scholarship on big data as a key component of digital innovation will be desirable. We expect research that demonstrates strong relevance for understanding the complexity of social or organizational processes and the institutional patterns within which digital innovation is embedded”