Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Big Six Future ICT Projections

I am reading a book entitled "the future of the internet". This book is a real eye opener.  After reading this book, I am compelled to think of some  internet "strategic" projections for the next few years.Here are some of "the way I see it" ideas. Beware some of the ideas are "GEEKY".

1.The future of the internet will hinge on its capability to create and solve more social problems.  The Internet is evolving to be an ubiquitous mode of communication, entertainment, education, business and socialising. You could define ubiquitous as the state of being widely present. You can say that it is possible to literally "carry" the internet in your pocket (..if you have a smart phone that is!!!). This of course will solve the problem of communication and information access but will create further social problems including privacy, copyrights, pornograghy, child abuse etc. As long as the internet stays a double edged sword and creates the allure of "you cannot manage me" then this is going to keep attracting various professionals including the humanists, social scientists, public administrators  while not forgetting the technologists themselves.

2. The call for a unified international legal framework to "manage" the internet will only be a far fetched attempt to do the impossible. In my tribe, there is a saying that goes something like this: "One man's medicine is another man's poison". One of the reasons that the internet has been very successful is that it has been able to accommodate these two types of "men" quiet comfortably. Take the issue of copyrights, some countries have been known to have abolished copyright laws as and when historically was favorable to them. These countries now want to protect their Intellectual property,how about the other countries? Drugs and prostitution are legal in some countries, in others...? The internet today will need a "unified" international law to "manage" it. This is a very very difficulty task to achieve. Even after the fervent cold war and the push for democracy and communism by the then two super-powers, there still exist today many countries in the world that have neither the two forms of governments. Is it possible to achieve such a wide scale clear cut philosophical war on the internet and start pushing for a common agenda. Is it possible to create fronts of ideological differences or commons?

3. The generative PC is here to stay. Even though others have succeeded in the development of a business model centered around the use of controlled internet access devices, this trend will not suffice to significantly affect the continued use of the generative PC. An example now is the use of googledocs and other internet based collaborative services that are controlled by a minority of players. This trend creates over- dependency or reliance to a particular vendor or a minority group of vendors, many people are sitting very uncomfortably with these situations. Governments and any institutions projecting a "sovereignity" of the people will not wish to place all their "eggs in one basket". The generative PC has facilitated the exponential growth of the internet because of its ability to allow a very large pool of software developers to develop many applications that not a single "big" software vendor can be able to achieve. This wave cannot be stopped and it is bound to grow.

4. Free and Open Source Software usage will support continued expansion of the internet. Do I need to say more here? Barriers on the acquisition of costly proprietary software for the generative PC will be lowered through the use of FLOSS. The growth of the generative PC  will ensure that the usage of FLOSS continues to soar. Adhoc implementation of copyright protection legislation will push many entrants to the FLOSS way.

5. IT Security will remain a portent threat unto the near future. Many organisations implemented ICT with a very keen eye on the potential benefits that ICT can offer them interms of efficiency in service delivery and information management. Very little regard was placed on the security aspects that were overlooked in the more than warranted drive to achieve growth, profitability and efficiency objectives. It is now the realization that these systems ,that we rely on so heavily ,are vulnerable. Because of this, the issue of security is being addressed in a patchwork manner. We are fixing protocols, encapsulating data with additional security layers etc, these will not significantly address this challenge. A total rethink of the ICT Security fabric will be necessary in the long-term.

6. Open Collaborative Systems and Content Development Networks will be the "Next big thing". Investments to increase internet access are finally bearing fruit in Africa. The submarine cables are finally here (See map to your left). But what will run on those cables? How much of local content is available on the internet? Try searching for something specific to an African country on the internet then you will realise this sorry state. This is more acute in educational content. There is going to be this realisation and more efforts will go towards collaboration in the development of relevant content suitable for localised consumption.

Now...there you have it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A fallacy: Power and the virtue of selflessness

I define power to be the possession of controlling influence. This generally is achieved through politics, technology and knowledge and/or economic/military superiority. I always wonder about the men/women who possess this kind of power and how difficulty it is for them to be selfless in the display or use of that power. Here is a case on African democracy that will illustrate the problem.
I come from a community that has to choose a parliamentary representative every five years. In our last election, we noted with pleasure a "new" parliament comprising of a new breed of legislative representatives. We gladly thought that the "old is gone and the new is here". Two and a half years down the road, we find ourselves in the same circle of disgraceful events characterised by corruption and greed to amass personal wealth. I then realised that it is more than just a change of personalities. This has to do with an intrinsic problem deep within our democratic process. I presume that this happens in majority of other African countries.
Think about this. The electrorate expect the representative to mobilise and carry out an exciting campaign that involves the dishing out of favours and money during the election process. I know from some members of parliament,who are my friends, that they had to undertake a considerable "investment" in becoming parliamentary representatives. Where a lucky incubent becomes successful he/she becomes overwhelmed with joy as this is a sure path to "wealth". Those who fail, and especially those who have used their personal wealth in the process, tend to fade away into a life of regret constanly announcing to whoever will care to listen that "politics is bad". Few live to try it again.
Others and especially those in the presidential campaigns spend huge amounts of money in their campaign trails. Some may be lucky as some powerful business people may choose to quietly support their endevours in exchange for a five/four year committment to offer lucrative contracts in a particular field/sector. Support used in this manner can only lead to a situation where "favours are for sale", "scratch-my-back-as-I-scratch-yours" mentality where representation is portrayed as all encompassing but only applies to a select case of interests that must be met inorder to maintain reasonable chances of continued stay in power.The defining strategy is to work with the few who have the will to "put their money where their mouth is" and play games with the rest of the electrorate to portray a persona of genuine concern to address their problems. Many a times the unfortunate electorate falls into this trap. Election period is a time of equivocal allegiance and loyalty, "eating" on the prospectives candidate as we wait to be "eaten" by the successful representative.
Thinking about this situation, I find it naive for the electrorate to demand unselfish leadership from representation elected in this manner. I see Civil Society Organisations putting in a lot of work in demanding positive change. I wonder whether there will be any fruits to bear. The harsh reality is that there is individual/collective "investment" before acquisition of power. This investment has to somehow be paid. The lucky leader who manages to acquire the seat of power will then have to pay his/her dues before anybody else. Religious convictions have not been known to help.
This has been a problem where very few people have been brave enough to try and face this problem. Representation that require "investment" will not suffice. An alternative form of representation or a beat-up of the existing one may address this challenge. The biggest challenge is WHICH ONE?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A cartel of ignorance - ICT Investments in African Universities

This has been a very heavy topic in my heart of late, I better get it off my chest. I have had various discussions with senior University admnistrators in Africa on the potential that outsourced ICT services can have on their institutions, both as a means of cutting costs and a way of guaranteeing reliability and availability of ICT services. This I can attest has mostly fallen on deaf ears.

The core business of a University is not ICT. A University or any other Educational Institution for that matter, should only use ICT as a tool to drive its outreach, increase efficiency and productivity, improve its learners learning experience and support its research and dissemination of its research findings. This is clearly realised. The problem has been the unwarranted investment in the establishment of internal ICT environments that are marred with constant availability problems because of lack of redundancy, inability to guarantee security, integrity and confidentiality of data plus appropriately trained ICT personnel to man the technological platforms hosted within the Universities.

To give an example, many African Universities are struggling to offer reliable email and group collaboration services to their students and researchers yet these are available as a free alternative through Google mail and groupware solutions. Why would a University invest in establishing an expensive server farm yet this services can be obtained at a very low cost from service providers who offer this as their core business. Why establish a very expensive video conferencing solution when there are scalable alternatives at very low costs?

I fail to understand this unwarranted expenditure in times like this of global economic recession. In today's web/internet based age, it does not matter where your services are physically/geographically located as one can be able to access services hosted anywhere in the world. The fact that an institution has its computing environment located internally under "lock and key" does not necessarily guarantee the security of its data. It is logical and not physical security.

What would happen if Universities are able to share resources? Economies of scale will be a sure advantage. Risks will be minimised and scarce resources will be utilised more effectively. It is more important that more resources go to guaranteeing end user computing needs e.g students acquiring computing resources, establishing more powerful local area networks etc. These are services that can be offered by a stripped down ICT support service located within the University. By interconnecting University networks, one can be able to guarantee the sharing of resources by both lecturers and students from one institution with the others. Educational and Research networks will have to work extra hard to achieve this as there a very strong inherent competition between educational institutions themselves.

The Politics of Software Development

I happen to be in Ghana now, and I have been having some discussions with a fellow ICT consultant from Nigeria. We have discussed a number of issues regarding Kenyan and Nigerian ICT environments. What is coming out is how difficulty it is for an SME in Software Development to succeed in an environment of pathogenic software pirates, corrupt and short sighted Governments, disfunctional historical and cultural alignments and very aggressive but skewed business environments.

It pains to look at the potential that the local software development industry can offer to young enterpreneurs with the appropriate knowledge and skills. The software industry in many African countries has been left unregulated. This could be because of the inability of many Government officials to understand its growth dynamics. Many of the software development companies are just channel distributors selling solutions that they can do very little or no customisations on their own. Local talent goes untapped as many of these channel distributors relies on expertise from foreign countries. African has continued to be a continent of users with very little contribution to the global software development market.

The question is whether this environment is likely to change? Is there a real possibility that a vibrant software development market can be developed and sustained in Africa? I think this is very possible. The internet and especially Web 2.0 tools, peer to peer networks and other net based resources have contributed greatly in the transfer of knowledge. Though small in number, Africa is generating high quality developers participating in various global software development initiatives especially in the field of Free and Open Source Software.

As our Governments continue to sleep, this opportunity is slowly slipping away as other developing economies embrace and run with it. The world is now a knowledge economy. This realisation has enabled countries with minimal natural resources to evolve into global economies. Do I need to mention names? The countries that saw this opportunity early enough have significantly benefited.

There is a need to regulate the software industry. It is an industry just like any other that should be protected and nursed from adverse and unfair competition as it grows to be a national oppotunity. Entry barriers especially in tendering should be lowered. I do not understand how a Government can expect to find a local software development company that has a turn over of over USD 10M per annum. This is ridiculous and many Governments fail to realise that by doing so they automatically snuff the life out of any would be successful local software development company. The Government is the biggest spender in many of the African countries contributing to over 66% of all expenditure in the economy. If you are not doing business with the Governments then you may as well say you are not in business.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The poverty cylce and its tendency to undermine conventional economic theories

Poverty Cycle or "The Cycle of Poverty" has been defined by this encyclopedia as "a set of factors or events by which poverty, once started, is likely to continue unless there is outside intervention. Once an area or a person has become poor, this tends to lead to other disadvantages, which may in turn result in further poverty". I always wonder about this malevolent spirit laced truth, thinking as to whether this drive is internally or externally drieven.

Coming from a poor country, I always think of the cyclic of events that seem to conspire to our doom. In this blog, I will not want to focus on grand ideas of getting out of this poverty cycle. I will endeavour to let the sick thoughts of passing the blame to someone pass until I see myself as the man in the mirror. Quoting Karl Marx when he said the "labor of man continues the work of God, who, in creating all beings, did but externally realize the eternal laws of reason". Is this labor of man subject to other factors? Certainly. I cannot dare to differ with this basic reasoning. It is time for this force to come from within. Nowadays, external interventions are accompanied with string attachments that makes it difficult to cause significant intervention to those wishing to come of the poverty cycle. I have vowed to work with my own hands and not to sell my soul to this unfortunate "beggers" economy. It should also be noted that I have no personal desire to acquire the whole world but I have strong ambitions to grow financially.

Secondly, whenever possible assist more in the production of what I do not have. "“The capacity for all products, whether natural or industrial, to contribute to man’s subsistence is specifically termed use value; their capacity to be given in exchange for one another, exchange value...........since a very large number of the things I need occur in nature only in moderate quantities, or even not at all, I am forced to assist in the production of what I lack. And as I cannot set my hand to so many things, I shall propose to other men, my collaborators in various functions, to cede to me a part of their products in exchange for mine." - Karl Marx. This I can do by developing the capability to spend. My ability to spend is highly correlated to the amount I can earn. I still wonder about the Keynesian Theories which articulate that "some micro-level actions of individuals and firms can lead to aggregate macroeconomic outcomes in which the economy operates below its potential output and growth". In many of developing countries, majority of individual efforts get swallowed up by a few of the all powerful minorities.

I struggle to ensure that there is value in what I offer and pray that I do not get unwarranted attention to those who thrive on "helping the poor" but shall succeed on what I have the ability to deliver and produce meaningful output. I wonder how much this contribute to my country's drive towards poverty eradication but certainly this has had an effect on my personal efforts to overcome the poverty cycle. Touting this invisible line that exist for those striving to come out of poverty. It is at this point in time that one needs to pull all the inner strengths to be able to drive yourself across this unfortunate divide. This will require long hours of work with little pay coupled with little regard for personal pampering as the drive to achieve this becomes greater and greater as the hope to break through the poverty circle possesses oneself. This is so for those who know the pains of poverty and strive to overcome ( Read Slumdog Millionnaire...). Who their worst nightmare would be to wake up poor!!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A decision to do the right thing....

A very good friend of mine recently told me to "Remember to update your website and Linked-in page! Do some careful project planning now and don't go shopping for a new car!". I noted this advise and I have made a decision to constantly update my blog. I have been a trainer of Web 2.0 technologies for a while now and I have helped many to create blogs especially for academic purposes. I want to confess of my lack of consistency in doing this yet I understand perfectly the benefits of some of these technologies.

After a critical self evaluation, I want to note below some of the reasons that have made me to struggle to blog and to let the whole world know some of the good things that I am involved in:

  1. Self justification- "I have no time": Of late my life seems to be very busy. I am struggling to complete my assignments and projects. I turn away for a few days from a specific project then am back around wondering WCHGW - What could have gone wrong? This could be an indicator of my intrinsic fear of delegation. I struggle not to peep on my teams back to just find out how they are coping on their projects even when we have clearly defined appropriate outputs and guidelines. I need to change this as I believe this is one of the reasons I have been unable to keep a consistent blog.
  2. Self justification - "Priorities": I need help here as I have to set alot of my priorities right. I wonder at the back of the mind if this is a priority among the lists of my daily priorities? Who in the world will care about another "blog" in the global blogsphere. What unique contributions can I bring to this huge word of collective thoughts and "rants". For someone like me, who does not have a very grand ground breaking vision on how to change the world ....I always wonder whether blogging my small "issues" will be of any significance.

In my contemplations, I came across this philosopy and it explained some of the things I have been grappling with of late:

Note the various definitions of the moralities. I thought this applies very well to alot of things that we do. From Governance ("Read Democracy"), to online social interactions via twitter, facebook etc, advertising campaigns and product promotion etc. The age of individualised and personalised opinions or ideas is long gone. You have to conform and this is because the "herd" has said so. AND THAT IS THE BOTTOMLINE...