Are we placing our potential behind the espresso maker?

I like desperate men. Men with broken teeth, broken minds and broken ways. They are full of surprises and explosions.” – Charles Bukowski

A while back there was a journalistic leitmotif about whether we (Canada) were adequately training our grads for our collective future well-being. The gist was a lament for non-practically trained university graduates (i.e., not business (under)grads or engineers) being shunted from productive higher-paying jobs in favour of those MBAs and engineers, and other professional school finishers.  The stories were directed to the economics and so on of why this is a terrible situation not only for those underemployed but also for Canadian society at large, which ultimately funds higher education, and for the employers passing up these people.  For the employers, the argument is that these folks—the arts grads, for clarity–bring with them everything that employers say they want except for instant work-readiness–something that business training provides allegedly.

My take was a little different.

While the authors made good points and arguments, I think that there is much more damage going on by this practice, especially as it applies to the MBA-holding candidate bias. Let me make one entirely different argument for why the bias toward business grads (read: MBAs) and against arts or music or science grads is regressive and suboptimal.  It has to do with innovation.

The syllogism is straight-forward.

Premise:  Innovation is based on the unusual connection of disparate pieces into combinations that unlock new value.  This can be by both bringing new knowledge into the system/situation or by perceiving the system/situation differently.

Premise:  MBAs in particular and representing those favoured “business” education programs, are given high-level trade training (which is what makes them job-ready), which is consistent with the best practices of the trade.

Premise:  It is alleged that post-secondary students are all taught to think (even business students), but the ratio of critical thinking training to trade training in the desirable programs is well below one. To the contrary, in the arts and sciences the ratio exceeds 1, sometimes nearing infinity.  (In other words:  in some arts programs there is NO trade training, only training to think for yourself.)

Conclusion:  Therefore, if innovation requires high doses of both different thinking and critical thinking the most likely candidates to achieve that would be anybody but the graduates of the more favoured programs such as MBAs. QED.  And I would hope the reasoning is obvious.

So, not only would looking harder at archeology and biochemistry graduates keep them from behind the espresso maker, it would also raise the potential for innovation by the employer’s organization. Just a thought.


The impending decline of current financial systems in the wake of the shared economy.

In the fight between you and the world, back the world.” – Franz Kafka

As western economies continue on a slow-growth trajectory that exacerbates inequalities, increasing numbers of people will recognize that patterns of consumption and sources of value based on current socioeconomic models are no longer sustainable. This will directly impact trust in the financial system and institutions, leading to an increasing embrace of the principles of the shared economy, disrupting current models of banking and finance, and restoring to people greater control over the design and evolution of social and economic structures.

Whilst Millennials contemplate being the first generation since the industrial revolution to have a lower standard of living than their parents, and Gen-X and late Boomers contemplate being less secure in retirement than the previous generation, the great intergenerational machine of wealth transfer that sustained increasing standards of living in western societies has slowed, and in many cases, reversed.  This reversal challenges key tenets of the market economy such as home ownership and wealth generation through investment, as well as the tenets of the modern welfare state such as secure retirements and robust social programs.  Our societies are increasingly left with neither the prospect of enterprise-driven progress nor the comfort of a social safety net, a future that unites free marketers and socialists in disappointment.

As this fundamental realization sinks in, and we as a society adjust to a future that is less promising than what could be contemplated as recently as 15-20 years ago, there will be deep and lasting changes in patterns of living, ownership and value creation for the vast majority of western civilization.  Home ownership and savings are already starkly lower among millennials vs. other generations, and many seniors face the prospect of home and food insecurity in perilous and prolonged retirements.  The linkage between higher education and high-paying jobs is broken, except for some specialized disciplines.  Previous cycles of consumption and accumulation based on readily available credit are no longer feasible given high debt ratios and lower incomes.  Stock market valuations have grown at the expense of employment for over a generation, and are seen as benefiting an exclusive cabal of insiders with privileged access.

These trends conspire to create a slow-growth society with exacerbated inequalities, and challenge the legitimacy of current socioeconomic models. In response, the ownership imperative is increasingly replaced with the values of the shared economy, trust in the financial system is eroded to the point where unconventional definitions of economic value (e.g. Bitcoin) become attractive, and alternative models of trade and commerce (e.g. barter and co-operative living) become preferable to continued participation in a system that the young see as rigged and the old see as failed.

As western societies grapple with the full impact of the great schism between growth and equality, there will be long-lasting impacts on future generations. Millennials and Boomers alike will realize that traditional patterns of consumption and traditional definitions of value are unsustainable. The current financial system and institutions will continue to lose even more relevance, and not matter in the lives of a substantial part of our societies. Banks, credit, stock markets, home ownership, nuclear families – all foundational to social organization in the last 70 years, will be replaced by new models of social and economic organization based on the shared economy. For incumbent leaders that currently shape our economy, this loss of trust will inevitably lead to the loss of control, and the eventual loss of relevance.

In some ways, this is the undoing of four hundred years of economic development, and harkens back to pre-industrial days.  But perhaps a system that robs the young of opportunity and the old of security in equal measure deserves to go gently into the good night.


An Interview with Robert Herjavec About the Decline of Digital Democracy.

At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation and prejudice.” – Gore Vidal

With politically polarizing elections in Ottawa and Edmonton just around the corner, the direct correlation between technology, privacy, economics and democracy has never been clearer or more profound. Any Canadian political operation that views democracy as an infallible right of passage may well find itself in the dustbin of Canadian political history. And even the most cynical and apolitical Canadian citizen might agree that the future of our brave country will look much different, depending on whether Rachel Notley or Jason Kenney are driving the engine of Alberta and Canada’s so-called future economy.

To date, Canadians have seemed relatively powerless against technological assaults to our democracy. Public education of the ongoing threat is moving orders of magnitude slower than those actors perpetrating it. Those who seek to destabilize our elections deal with politically polarizing topics that have a natural constituency. Attempting to separate fact from fiction in this realm is a very tricky grey area — for social media, the government and the citizen alike.

In an effort to move the conversation from one of reaction to proaction, I sat down with Robert Herjavec, Founder and CEO of global cybersecurity firm Herjavec Group, Jason Hermitage, Vice President of Public Sector at Microsoft Canada and Bryan Rutledge, Canadian Country Manager at McAfee, to find out what citizens, governments and political parties can do to protect against the potential ethical and societal risks of this emerging threat.

How do businesses and governments defend themselves against an actor with unlimited resources, tech-savvy agents and an unwavering focus on destabilizing western democracies?


Threats to our democratic processes from cyber-enabled interference have become a critical concern. Addressing this threat to democracy will require significant new efforts by governments, technology companies — both individually and in partnership — as well as academia and civil society.

We, as an industry, need to acknowledge that there is no single step by itself that will be sufficient to address this problem. Each of our companies can continue to do more to protect and defend our customers around the world. But in addition, we believe the time has come to call on the world’s governments to come together, affirm international cybersecurity norms that have emerged in recent years, adopt new and binding rules and get to work implementing them.

Social media has proven to be a very profitable engine for disseminating disinformation on a mass scale. Should the Canadian government follow the lead of the European Union and the introduction of their GDPR privacy legislation to try and contain the mass proliferation and monetization of personal data?


While much of the attention around GDPR is focused on penalties, the advantage it brings will be the need for organizations to implement a comprehensive data management program. Clearly there is a need for robust data protection regardless of regulatory compliance requirements. Experience tells us that organizations must make efforts to improve data resiliency and implement contingency programs to ensure availability of their data following catastrophic events. A key success factor for a comprehensive data management program is the active and genuine participation of end users to understand the importance of the organization’s data, how it is used and how important it is to protect it.

How can consumers protect themselves against digitally weaponized psychology to ensure that they don’t fall victim to campaigns of disinformation and manufactured political bias?


This one’s simple to me — if you didn’t enter a lottery you didn’t win it, no one from Russia wants to marry you all of a sudden and you’re not going on a vacation for free — so don’t click! We have to mature as a population to the click bait, social engineering scams and of course weaponized psychology, as you put it, that can distort our beliefs and make us vulnerable to cyber attacks.

We all know humans are the weakest link in any enterprise, so as business leaders, it’s our responsibility to limit access to select sites or tools that are traditionally weak in security; and make our people more aware of cyber risks through regular training and tests. Again, security isn’t perfect, but we can improve and learn because security is everyone’s responsibility.


A Tale of Emerging Land, Technology and People in Alberta’s Next Economy.

Economic development, especially in resource economies, has historically been a balancing act between forced false choices – growth vs. equity; opportunity vs. outcomes; profit vs. people; economics vs. environment.

Traditional approaches to economic policy have devolved into existential battles between two ideological solitudes, further entrenched in social and political divides that prevent meaningful discussion, policy and execution.

Alberta, for long the engine of Canada’s growth, faces not only these policy debates, but also a new uncertainty related to what has historically been its primary resource – non-renewable traditional energy sources. Optimism in the face of uncertainty is no policy, and Alberta needs to balance a continued focus on the oil sands with a diversified and renewed focus on the other two critical natural resources every sovereign has at its disposal – land and people.

The planned and purposeful application of emerging technology to economic development, through a true partnership between entrepreneurs, governments and societies, can create new employment opportunities, new pathways to success, and new communities linked through technology into common social and economic pursuits.

Financial institutions, particularly through credit, become critical to this new model for economic development, by supporting the various drivers of innovation, making opportunities available to a broad ecosystem of citizens and residents, and reflecting emerging patterns of value and consumption that are different from what existed even 10 years ago. Innovation in finance, when partnered with technology-driven economic development, can truly revolutionize how societies are defined, formed and function, and how value is defined, created, and shared.

What progressive digital initiatives are being leveraged in your organization to improve not only the survivability of your business or government, but also the survivability of the province at large?


The Government of Alberta is active on many fronts, and with many projects to better enable Alberta business, the entrepreneur and the innovator to have more tools for success, and to ensure that government doesn’t get in the way of being successful. This would include enabling technologies, data and services. Here are just a few examples:

Open Government. Alberta has the largest and most diverse open government provincial presence in Canada. The service also provides access to critical reports such as Environmental Impact Assessments, the laws and regulations of Alberta and large volume of geospatial datasets. Removing barriers to accessing government information gives Alberta a business an advantage and indirectly lowers the costs of doing business in Alberta, especially where there is reliance on government information. The service also provides access to datasets for entrepreneurs building digital solutions that requires government data.

My Alberta eServices including MyAlberta Digital ID, and soon, MyAlberta Business ID. MyAlberta eServices provides access to government services at any time, from anywhere and on any device. This will make it more simple, intuitive and provide easy-to-complete transactions for Albertans and business that requires interaction with the GoA. This means more efficient and lower costs of doing business in Alberta for Alberta companies and citizens. It means lowering barriers for Alberta business so that they can focus on being competitive and innovative.

Enterprise Data Analytics Strategy. For decades IMT solutions in government were siloed solutions with data locked up within the application; acting as a repository of records of transactions. Rarely was there consideration of the enterprise perspective. This strategy seeks to creates a data-ecosystem across government, and its partners, so that those involved in client support, policy development or day-to-day operations can leverage data, both historical and in real-time to make better, more informed and more timely decisions.

The team behind has been re-writing tens of thousands of web pages to put them in plain language, embrace the science of CX (citizen experience) with the purpose of providing meaningful communication for citizens, business and stakeholders. The goal, as above is to reduce barriers and therefore lower the costs of doing business in Alberta.


Universities are very traditional and highly complex institutions with long institutional memories. The adoption of digital technologies has been slow to take root and they are behind similarly sized organizations in other sectors. This challenge can be related to their complexity, to the nature of digital technology development and to traditional approaches that remain effective. Technologies are now becoming available to address these institutional needs. In addition, successful adoption across many sectors requires students to be educated to understand and use sophisticated digital technology driving change in teaching and research.

We are in the process of architecting a digital infrastructure to support all aspects of the University’s mission teaching, research and administration. These new architectures include the incorporation of cloud technologies to simplify and improve infrastructure and increase service flexibility and functionality; exploring the use of AI and analytics in student and client service and in business process optimization, understanding the potential of blockchain in enabling credential sharing and exploring the abilities of virtual and augmented reality.

How is your business or government leveraging public-private sector partnerships to accelerate the rate of innovation and economic diversification across the province?


ATB is embracing partnerships in academia and business in order to cross-pollinate insights and rapidly execute. Some of our partnerships are in-province, like our AI partnership with UAlberta, our partnership with Calgary Economic Development’s EvolveU to skill up out of work talent for tech-based positions and our burgeoning relationship with the many like-minded meetups in Alberta around exponential technology. Some are outside of Alberta like Singularity University, Sovrin Foundation, IBM and MIT. All of them, at the core of it, are meant to benefit Albertans and Alberta.


Let me give an example of an interesting project that involves the Government of Alberta, Alberta Data Partnership (a not-for-profit organization) and the private sector. The Open Data Areas Project. Open Data Areas Alberta is a new undertaking being spearheaded by Alberta Data Partnerships to put extensive data in the hands of those who can use it.

Datasets from six key rural areas across Alberta is available for no cost to inspired entrepreneurs, SMEs and creative problem solvers. These will include earth observation, remote sensing, geospatial data, environmental data, and social and economic datasets from private industry and government. Funding is also available to support entrepreneurs. Through an agreement with Alberta Economic Development and Trade, grants will be offered for pre-commercial development of technology-based tools utilizing the data provided through the Open Data Areas and focused on the needs of industry and/or government. A number of firms have already received funding through this program including GeoAnalysis Inc., SensorUp Inc. and Waterline Resources Inc.

Is it realistic to think Alberta can transform itself from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy in time to effectively compete in the digital age? What challenges do you feel the province will have to overcome to effectively facilitate such a monumental transition? Are you optimistic about this transformation?


It is not a matter of going from resource-based economy TO something else. We have seen huge technology shifts in resource-based companies to either become less focused on traditional energy sources or have actually pushed the boundaries here to make reserves economic that perhaps weren’t in the past and to leverage technology (like Blockchain) themselves.

To that end, the transformation of Alberta’s economy doesn’t necessarily need to be on the back of moving completely away from oil & gas investment.

It’s a matter of becoming more efficient and realistic with how we extract value from the natural resources sector AND adding in intentional development of the tech sector. This is quite realistic, but probably over a moderate to long-term time frame. The key to helping the province overcome this is developing homegrown talent and reskilling the talent we have that has been displaced during shifts in the energy industry…some of those petroleum engineers are 6-9 months away from becoming full stack developers from a skill set perspective. There’s a strong demand for skilled tech talent and many companies in prime tech environments (TO, Silicon Valley) are having a tough time hiring, so you can imagine as an Alberta-based organization of any size, there is a need.

Alberta has always been resilient and entrepreneurial so we’re optimistic we can make the shift and find ways to develop home grown talent to support that shift.


The province has a very robust educational system k-20, including world-class research universities. These provide a foundation for tech innovation enabling entrepreneurs access to intellectual, capital and organizational resources to assist with early-stage development. Our educational structure is well supported within Alberta and across Canada with an Internet backbone providing high bandwidth connectivity essential to digital age development. It appears, that the need to replace the resource income has not yet hit a pitch where the diversified economy has shifted out of a low gear. The delay may cost us dearly as lost ground may not be easy to make up. Nonetheless, the potential is growing; the infrastructure is being built and the human capital is being developed. We are putting ourselves in a very strong position to pivot into the fourth industrial revolution.

What competitive advantages or differentiators does Alberta have that could be leveraged in attracting global investment in our technology industry?


I’d like to mention three programs that differentiate Alberta.

Cybera. Cybera protects Alberta’s economic future as the publicly funded agency in the province responsible for ensuring the development of advanced and efficient cyberinfrastructure, or e-infrastructure, a now essential foundation for innovation. Cybera’s team of experts works behind the scenes to manage Alberta’s ultra-high-speed advanced research network — CyberaNet — which connects local researchers to some 100 research networks around the world. Working with partners in the public and private sectors, Cybera is also leading ‘above the network’ projects in Alberta to pilot emerging technologies that help to build e-infrastructure to support the province’s economic growth.

Alberta’s consolidated data sets. From secondary health data to environmental monitoring data, Alberta has been a leader with providing rich data available for research. The Secondary Use Data Project is a provincially led, multi-partner project to facilitate the enhanced and advanced use of secondary use health and social data for the health and socioeconomic benefit of Albertans. This collection of data sets Alberta apart and bring health research companies to Alberta to support their research objectives.

The Environmental Monitoring and Science Division, as part of the Government of Alberta is responsible for monitoring, evaluating and reporting on key air, water, land and biodiversity indicators. The division’s mandate is to provide open and transparent access to scientific data and information on the condition of Alberta’s environment, including specific indicators as well as cumulative effects, both provincially and in specific locations. The mandate of this division makes it a world leader in supporting research in environmental science.

Machine intelligence. AMII is the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, a research lab at the University of Alberta previously known as the Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning (AICML). They work to enhance understanding and innovation in a number of subfields of machine intelligence. The teams conduct leading-edge research to push the bounds of academic knowledge, and forge business collaborations both locally and internationally to create innovative, adaptive solutions to the toughest problems facing Alberta and the world.


Factors that would be conducive for investment in growing tech businesses and talent here.

  • A solid amount of move-in ready corporate space
  • The highest concentration of head offices per capita in the country (source: Calgary Economic Development),
  • A rapidly growing ecosystem of entrepreneurs (as evidenced by the continual growth of accelerators, entrepreneur-focused programs, and expansion of ATB’s own entrepreneur centres).
  • Young population. The average age in Alberta is 36.5 years with median ages in Edmonton and Calgary being around the same.
  • A very reasonable cost of living and work-life balance with a significant amount of park space and geographical features (mountains) nearby.


Alberta has always been an innovative province with a long and rich history of technical innovation in the resource industry. The potential of the oil sands was converted into an economic resource base through innovative engineering technology. Both the physical and human capital gained from the expansion of the resource base provides Alberta a significant head start in adopting digital technologies to transform its economic base.

Our understanding of the global investment market and our established relationships and credibility with the investment community does and will continue to provide significant value to Albertan entrepreneurs.


The City of Vancouver’s CTO on Canada’s First Municipal Digital Strategy.

In 2013, digital specialist Jessie Adcock, now the CTO of the City of Vancouver, was tasked with landing the planes at the City of Vancouver.  The City had approved Canada’s first municipal digital strategy. And Adcock was the country’s first public sector Chief Digital Officer. She would lead the way.

“The City had benchmarked its digital maturity against other cities and it was deemed to be low in comparison to other global cities.  Our presence on social was just beginning, public Wi-Fi was limited, services weren’t yet mobile,” says Adcock.

“Online, our website was more notice board, less service delivery and engagement channel. We needed a common playbook in terms of digital goals and objectives.” Adcock took a citizen-centric approach in executing the four-year digital strategy. The people of Vancouver were demanding it. “That’s basically what drives the business case for digital in government,” she says.

Fast forward to 2016, the final year of the strategy.  The City’s website is easier to navigate and mobile optimized.  Public Wi-Fi is available in 80 locations. Citizens can use the VanConnect app to stay updated and submit service requests as well as access tools built with open data sets.  People are emailing the City to say their experience has become easier.

As other cities put their digital strategies into play, Vancouver is looking at the next step, harnessing the city’s tech boom and continuing to develop digital maturity.  “In terms of innovative tech, we have the hottest economy in the country,” says Adcock. “Tech and innovation are leading job growth. Part of what we do to help as a city is that we continue to be mindful of the tech sector and do whatever we can to enable it to thrive.”

And now in 2018, the next step is a Smart one. “The smart city paradigm is the holy grail for cities. Cities are marching toward greater adoption of technology and data-driven insights all over the world,” says Adcock. “We all want to be intelligent cities, we all want to be smart cities. We all want to use data to help us manage the city in an open, transparent, innovative, resilient and sustainable manner.   She’ll be looking at the City’s legacy applications and evolving technology needs to support transformation.

“We’re going to take an ecosystem of disconnected technologies and weave a thread through them to create an integrated technology layer for the city,” she says.

Adcock says that a connected architecture will allow Vancouver to leverage smart city technology, the Internet of Things and the promise of big data. Cities aren’t often at the leading edge, according to Adcock. “It’s just not always feasible. We have daily realities that we need to manage.  Things are changing rapidly so we have to have internal processes that keep us on the right side of the rules we have to follow but also enable us to be flexible and adaptable. That’s the secret sauce.”

Digital is relatively new to government, but it’s being applied and prioritized across the board now.  When the penny drops, the penny drops. Vancouver is proud to have been one of the first cities to create and successfully execute a digital strategy.  The strategy has served to build a solid foundation upon which to leverage the promises and benefits of emerging technologies in this digital world.


An Interview with AltaML’s Managing Director about AI’s Role in Reshaping Calgary’s Digital Future.

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” – George Bernard Shaw

Calgary, the historical heart of the Canadian oil & gas industry, is at a once-in-an-epoch inflection point that will determine our destiny for this next millennium and beyond. Energy sources and technologies that have powered the creation of wealth and opportunity in Canada and beyond for multiple generations are now caught in an existential struggle between the past and the future. New energy alternatives promise a road to a sustainable future but provide limited answers for the present. Utopian solutions offered by leading advocates are often not grounded in the reality of present-day economies and communities.

For us to compete, indeed, to survive, in the 21st century, all of us – oil & gas enterprises, governments, civic society organizations – must come together in a common purpose to define our common future.

With depressed commodity prices, increased volatility and the rapidly evolving requirement to balance economic and ecological progress; the motivation to seek greater paths of operational efficiency in the energy industry is at an all-time high. Energy companies are in relentless pursuit of a unified technology platform that will automate, accelerate and digitally empower their business. Until now, the digital transformation of the energy industry has been suppressed by cost, complexity and insufficient advances in industry-centric technology.

Slow, archaic and fragmented business processes have been supported by legacy IT systems, disparate and divergent architectural structures and unintelligible sets of data. The modern industrial enterprise may have already attempted to digitize several business processes, but through this process of digitization, they have often only magnified the staggering level of operational inefficiency; and in many cases paid an equally staggering price tag in order to do so.

Quite simply, the business itself needs to digitally change and transform; not just the processes and applications that support the business. So, where can these companies turn to transform their business and survive, grow and prosper in the Digital Age? I sat down with Lucas Scheer, Managing Director of AltaML to find out.

What role is AltaML playing in the proliferation of a more diverse, prosperous and globally competitive Alberta digital ecosystem?

Alberta is uniquely positioned to be competitive on a global scale in this area. Investment in Artificial Intelligence began in this province over twenty years ago, long before the current hype cycle began. As a result, we have people coming to this province from all over the world to study and conduct AI research.

One role that AltaML plays is to retain this talent in Alberta and marry that skillset with the business problems and data of more traditional industries. In doing so we can keep that intellectual capital and wealth creation right here in Alberta. We also work closely with post-secondaries and other stakeholders to build a more robust talent stream in the cities we operate in, specifically Calgary and Edmonton.

What are real-world examples of practical tools that companies like AltaML are offering to an energy industry in an impending state of momentous transition? How does Machine Learning help oil and gas companies amalgamate business, industrial and digital innovation into a unified, value-differentiating strategy?

Machine Learning is certainly just one piece of the puzzle but is an essential tool for companies looking to drive cost reduction in their industrial processes. Practically speaking ML can help oil and gas companies reduce greenhouse gas emissions, optimize production, predict more efficient maintenance programs, and more. There are also compelling use cases in health and safety, HR, and finance. Cost reduction is great, but any time you can do something to ensure you’re keeping people out of harm’s way, increase the sustainability of your business, it’s a huge win.

Can you tell us about a customer success story in the oil and gas industry you are most proud of? What problem(s) did you help the customer solve using ML and what were the business outcomes?

It’s tough to choose a favourite. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done in drilling and completions to help our customers in those areas solve some of their toughest problems and ultimately help them be more competitive. I think I’m most excited about the health and safety use cases we’re just starting to unpack now.

The holy grail there is being able to predict when an incident will occur. There are many other ways we can help be proactive about safety including helping our customers assemble crews and schedule work to ensure the lowest chance of an incident occurring. Tied for first would be anything involving reducing GHG emissions, we’re seeing a lot of interest in this area as well.

How can private enterprise, government, community, and industry work together to define a common purpose for our province and ensure a utopian future is realized for the vast majority of our population?

I don’t have a twelve-step program to ensure a utopian future or solve world hunger. I do think there are several things that are important to Alberta’s future.

It’s important to understand that artificial intelligence and other transformational technologies are a horizontal enabler for the existing industries in Alberta. Sometimes I get the sense there’s a feeling that tech will compete for dollars with oil and gas for example. This isn’t the case. These traditional industries will be the benefactors of this investment in the form of cost savings and other benefits.

We also need to continue to nurture our province’s previous investments in AI. We’re seeing budgetary cuts across the board in Alberta right now including cuts to investment in tech, AI, and research. These cuts will limit the province’s ability to be competitive in this arena and similarly reduce to a positive impact on traditional industries. Lastly, I think there’s more that could be done to create a favourable environment for investment in early-stage companies across all industries. Being attractive to investment in new ventures is key to creating a robust economy here.

Lucas will be joining Mike Henrich, Managing Director of DevOps at ATB Financial for a one-on-one fireside chat at The ERA Digital Foundation’s upcoming ‘The Soft Machine’ live-action event series in Calgary on May 14, 2020.


A Story About How Digital Innovation Saved a City from Near-Extinction.

Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

As western economies continue on a slow-growth trajectory that exacerbates inequalities, increasing numbers of people will recognize that patterns of consumption and sources of value based on current socio-economic models are no longer sustainable. This will directly impact trust in the financial system and institutions, leading to an increasing embrace of the principles of the shared economy, disrupting current models of banking and finance, and restoring to people greater control over the design and evolution of social and economic structures.

As Millennials contemplate being the first generation since the industrial revolution to have a lower standard of living than their parents, and Gen-X and late Boomers contemplate being less secure in retirement than the previous generation, the great intergenerational machine of wealth transfer that sustained increasing standards of living in western societies has slowed, and in many cases, reversed. This reversal challenges key tenets of the market economy such as home ownership and wealth generation through investment, as well as the tenets of the modern welfare state such as secure retirements and robust social programs. Our societies are increasingly left with neither the prospect of enterprise-driven progress nor the comfort of a social safety net, a future that unites free marketers and socialists in disappointment.

Home ownership and savings are already starkly lower among millennials vs. other generations, and many seniors face the prospect of home and food insecurity in perilous and prolonged retirements. The linkage between higher education and high-paying jobs is broken, except for some specialized disciplines. Previous cycles of consumption and accumulation based on readily available credit are no longer feasible given high debt ratios and lower incomes. Stock market valuations have grown at the expense of employment for over a generation, and are seen as benefiting an exclusive cabal of insiders with privileged access.

As western societies grapple with the full impact of the great schism between growth and equality, there will be long-lasting impacts on future generations. Millennials and Boomers alike will realize that traditional patterns of consumption and traditional definitions of value are unsustainable. The current financial system and institutions will continue to lose even more relevance, and not matter in the lives of a substantial part of our societies. Banks, credit, stock markets, home ownership, nuclear families – all foundational to social organization in the last 70 years, will be replaced by new models of social and economic organization based on the shared economy.

Perhaps no city on the planet has felt the impact of this story greater than the City of Calgary. And as the head of technology for the Calgary Drop In Centre, Helen Wetherley Knight is driving transformation.
I recently sat down with Helen to discuss the impact of the changing future on the everyday Calgarian; and how she is leveraging technological innovation to fight poverty and create a brighter future for a city in desperate need of socio-economic transformation.

Congratulations on being named as a finalist for 2018 CIO of the Year by ITAC. How is your organization leveraging technology to serve the rapidly changing realities of Calgary’s economic climate and the ever-growing gap between the city’s rich and poor?

Thank you Robert, it really is quite an honor to be named as a finalist, especially in a sector long overlooked as a technical innovator. The Calgary Drop-In Centre is a large emergency shelter with the capacity to sleep 1,000 people per night, and we are transitioning to become the most effective housing-focused shelter in North America. To help vulnerable and marginalized Calgarians find the community and housing support they need, it is critical we have the right systems and technology in place and that our staff are well-trained in these systems.

When I started at the DI in October 2016, it was apparent there was a great deal of user pain caused by antiquated technology systems. I interviewed a team member from every role within the facility and quickly identified that there was enormous effort being spent using disparate systems. I calculated the cost of staff time having to enter data into multiple spreadsheets and various access databases and I found that over 2 million dollars a year was being lost through manual processes. By modernizing our infrastructure and transforming our systems into an integrated ecosystem, the Calgary Drop-In Centre will be able to return 10% of our annual operating cost to the bottom line every year, and that money can be used to increase the services provided to the vulnerable Calgarians who come to us for help.

Starting in 2017, phase one focused on developing an integrated donor and volunteer system. When that project went live, it realized a return of 20 hours, per staff member, per week in the engagement department. Hours that had been spent managing multiple calendars and hundreds of phone calls are now invested in relationship management, identifying new volunteer partnerships and increased donor engagement. Phase two focused on the departments that provide functional support to front-line staff: Health & safety, Maintenance, and Information Technology. When that project went live, we streamlined the processes to get help for all staff, so that everyone in the facility had an open view to the work being done, eliminating needless phone calls and emails, and ensuring the staff needs were met, so they could focus on the critical work they came here to do… helping our clients find homes. 

The next two phases will focus on Client Relationship Management, Human Resources and Finance. Once all these tools are in place, we will have a seamless ecosystem that will elevate our important work and provide evidence to identify future opportunities to help Calgarians in need. To be the efficient and effective housing-focused shelter the DI has the potential to be; a shelter that empowers individuals experiencing homelessness to regain independence, lift out of poverty, and create a sustainable future; we require the updated and modernized technology that this IT transformation project will bring. Having the systems, the savings and the data driven evidence to advocate for real solutions to alleviate poverty, and prevent people from becoming homeless, will enable the DI to be agile in the face of a rapidly changing landscape. 

The planned and purposeful application of emerging technology to economic development, through a true partnership between entrepreneurs, governments and societies, can create new employment opportunities, new pathways to success, and new communities linked through technology into common social and economic pursuits. This is something you seem to be very passionate about and something that is certainly needed in Calgary in order to ensure the city’s survivability. Can you tell me a little about what is happening in Calgary right now to drive economic transformation and the inevitable evolution to a
digitally shared economy?

With around 300 staff, 10,000 volunteers and approximately 100 new clients per month, the DI has grown into a large and complex agency. Within the IT department, I couldn’t have delivered the changes we’ve made without the support of the community. On my second day at the DI I called the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) Information Communications Technology department and asked for help. They answered by sending me 8 skilled and eager practicum students from the Network Technology and the Database Administration programs. Together we worked to understand the scope and scale of opportunity and made a plan to improve technology at the DI. In 2017 when I needed a network refresh, I wrote the SAIT final exam in the style of a Request for Proposal and benefited from having 20 students and 2 SAIT Instructors bring forward a detailed infrastructure recommendation. The students benefited from having real world experience, and the DI benefited from having the support of a team I simply couldn’t afford otherwise.

Two years later, the DI IT department has provided practicum opportunities for more than 32 SAIT students, representing more than 8000 labour hours. We’ve been delighted to discover that when the students graduate and join corporate roles, they still remember our work and have advocated to their employers to donate used technical equipment to the DI. Starting in 2017 I also began working with Making Changes Association – Women In Technology Program, where they provide women employment and life skills program, then technical training, then work experience.
We have benefited at the DI from having more women in our IT department during these practicums as the diversity increases our collective intelligence, and the students have again gained hands on experience working in a busy IT department delivering meaningful change. We are so proud of the graduates of the first program, and we can’t wait to receive more students from the second successful year. From the University of Calgary, I have found support from Biometric and Computer Engineering, and the Business Technology faculties.

The corporate community has also come to our aid – Suncor Energy has volunteered numerous hours in our donation centre, where they refurbish donated computers that we provide free of charge to marginalized Calgarians struggling with poverty. Suncor IT benefited by having a team building activity, and some friendly competition to see which team could build more PCs, while we benefited by having so many talented volunteers we actually ran out of computers for them to refurbish!
Many other corporations have made meaningful donations, kindly donating computers, hardware and services. Shaw donated five years of free Wi-Fi for our staff and clients, and Convergint Technologies volunteers ran 40,000 feet of Cat5 through our main facility to enable us to upgrade our camera infrastructure (to put that in perspective, Mt. Everest is fewer than 30,000 feet!). The way the community has come together to support the DIs IT Transformation shows me that Calgarians have the ability to evolve into the digitally shared economy as a team, lifting those struggling with poverty over the technical divide, ready to benefit from our collective success together.

Is it realistic to think Alberta can transform itself from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy in time to effectively compete in the digital age? Are you optimistic about this transformation and the hopeful improvements it will bring in terms of creating a more equal, resilient and accessible society and economy?

The City of Calgary has been selected as a one of 100 in a global network of cities (100RC) working to address some of the biggest challenges facing cities. Urban Resilience, as defined by 100RC, is the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kind of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.By inviting stakeholders representing diverse groups, including myself in my role as Director of IT at the DI, the city is really working to ensure all voices are heard as we work to transform to a knowledge-based economy. I am absolutely optimistic about our capacity for transformation as a province, and as a nation.

Across Canada, there is very little demographic data on homelessness. The total population is unknown, data is difficult to collect, applied differently by region, and inconsistently funded. But there is amazing, ground breaking, and innovative work being done, as a community, to transform the way we have thought about resilience, homelessness, society and economy. I am not worried that we don’t have the answers yet, because it is the willingness to dwell in the mess, dig deep into all the interrelated challenges, where we will together find the solutions to our shared challenges, and emerge with a more equal, resilient and accessible society and economy.


An Observation on the State of Cloud Computing in the New Millennium.

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to any efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” – Bill Gates

Over the past five years, cloud services have moved from being perceived as a risky solution suited for non-critical services to prevalence in the vast majority of enterprises impacting the vast majority of business functions.
Cloud services have reliably addressed the false promises of inflated expectations, myopic forays into disjointed and non-critical solutions, the steady assault of misleading claims from legacy vendors cloudwashing legacy solutions, challenges from frivolous new entrants who trivialize the concept of cloud, and legitimate concerns about security, privacy, and sovereignty. For cloud services to become ubiquitous across enterprises and business functions in the face of these challenges is a testament to the steep change in utility costs that cloud delivers, the acceleration in innovation that cloud enables, and the potential for discontinuous business value that cloud makes possible.

This success has been accompanied by exponential increases in the criticality of business functions which leverage the cloud, the diversity of technology and service delivery models delivering cloud services, and the complexity of management and governance models for cloud services. As cloud services have matured beyond the confines of peripheral and experimental solutions into the core of the enterprise, these enterprises need to integrate cloud into transformation strategies, leverage cloud for enterprise-scale solutions, and manage cloud as a strategic imperative.
This new breed of enterprise cloud services is already the foundation of enterprise transformation. Whether it can be the catalyst for the next wave of technology-driven innovation depends on how enterprises shape the direction of transformation and harness the power of enterprise cloud.


Based on the experience of hundreds of major enterprises defining and executing enterprise cloud strategies, there are several new realities that all partners in the enterprise cloud ecosystems – clients, cloud platforms, integrators, service providers, consultants – need to recognize and address. The data presented below is taken from Avasant Research’s online survey of over 1,500 global technology executives from January to May 2018.


Even at the height of the last of the luddites holding on to their legacy technology bastions, cloud adoption had already crossed 50 per cent as early as 2012. Since then, the conversation has shifted from “never cloud” to more subtle, or passive-aggressive, “not time yet.” Despite the oft-heard narrative that cloud adoption is always a moving target of two to five years away, over 90 per cent of North American enterprises are already leveraging some form or another of cloud services, with the penetration of cloud services expected to reach almost 100 per cent by 2020.
Cloud services have also matured to support complex and mission-critical functions, penetrating far beyond early-stage forays into non-critical and peripheral workloads. Of enterprises in 2017:

  • Over 80 per cent use cloud services for early-adoption functions such as workplace productivity, sales & marketing, customer management, portals, content management, and analytics & reporting.
  • Between 70 per cent and 80 per cent use cloud services for core back-office functions such as finance & accounting, human resources, and procurement.
  • Over 55 per cent have adopted cloud services even for mission-critical supply chain and R&D functions, with even the most intransigent services related to manufacturing have 45 per cent cloud adoption.

By 2020, cloud adoption for the early-adoption functions will range from 90 per cent to 97 per cent, and be in the 85 per cent range for core back office functions. Over 75 per cent of supply chain and R&D functions will leverage cloud services, and even manufacturing will see adoption levels close to two-thirds.


In addition to the broad adoption of enterprise cloud services, there is a proliferation of technology and service delivery models. Enterprise cloud is no longer a choice between virtualized cloudwashed solutions from legacy providers and one-size-fits-all hyperscale solutions, but present a wide range of viable choices for each business function:

  • Software as a Service, based on a combination of software solutions available on hyperscale solutions, on-demand solutions provided directly by software vendors, or on-demand services provided as integrated solutions by industry-specific specialized integrators.
  • Public infrastructure or Platform as a Service, based on hyperscale solutions providing platforms for enterprise applications in a multi-tenant model.
  • Private infrastructure or Platform as a Service, based on on-demand delivery models in a dedicated environment with hyperscale vendors, major integrators, or even in their own premises.


As enterprise cloud services have become more prevalent, more embedded in core operations, and more diverse, the key challenges have shifted from the hygiene factors such as security, privacy, and sovereignty, to more complex needs related to service performance and end-to-end process orchestration.

Following an evolution not dissimilar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the traditional existential challenges which lent themselves to unfounded hysteria based on fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) have largely been addressed, and have been replaced with new challenges which go to the heart of enterprise cloud services operating as a core part of enterprise business processes, with even newer challenges related to business value realization beginning to emerge as enterprises start measuring the business impact of cloud services.

Over the last five years, the key risks related to security, privacy, and data sovereignty have largely been addressed, as there is only a small minority of enterprise (10 per cent or less) that continue to see issues with these critical risks not being readily addressable in the market. The erstwhile #1 concern, market availability, has essentially become a non-issue as more enterprises believe there are readily-available solutions than perceive market availability as an issue.

The primary focus of enterprises has shifted to ensuring that enterprise cloud services can meet the needs of mission-critical operations, with issues such as functional fit, service availability, incident restoration, and monitoring & alerts being perceived as a key risk by between 80 per cent and 95 per cent of enterprises, and over 20 per cent continuing to see these risks as not readily addressable in the market. Disaster recovery, as part of broader resilience and continuity concerns, remains the most critical issue, with over 40 per cent of enterprises not seeing readily-available solutions in the market to address this risk. Together, these operational concerns represent the most important obstacles to enterprise cloud adoption.

As enterprises gain more experience in implementing and managing Enterprise Cloud solutions, issues that were previously ignored have started emerging as key considerations. Technology issues such as network architecture, data integration, and enterprise integration are being better understood, and are a key concern of 50 per cent of enterprises, with between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of enterprises failing to see readily-available solutions. The ability to ensure end-to-end performance management and accountability is the most significant of these concerns, with over 30 per cent of enterprise not seeing readily-available solutions. These technology and integration issues are rapidly becoming as important as the operational concerns, and require a concerted effort to address before they become the next generation of obstacles to the adoption of enterprise cloud.

As the first generation of enterprises are beginning to mature in their leveraging of enterprise cloud services, there is a growing concern related to business impacts which were taken for granted in the early days of cloud adoption. Perversely, as the previous risk issues are largely acknowledged as being addressed, enterprises are increasingly questioning the very premise of Enterprise Cloud as a driver of business value. Issues related to the realization of cost savings, the delivery of greater business agility and the ability to support greater innovation are still nascent, with less than 35 per cent of enterprises perceiving these as concerns.

These unseen issues are however early signs of concern, with 10 per cent of enterprises, (or one-third to 40 per cent of those perceiving concerns) not seeing readily-available solutions to these concerns. Proportionately, this gap is higher than that for the key operational concerns, and as the business value of enterprise cloud becomes more of a focus as cloud adoption matures, the gap will widen unless proactively addressed by enterprises.
As the focus of enterprise cloud discussions shifts from risk to integration to value creation, traditional approaches to technology and service management are going to become increasingly irrelevant.


Enterprises have spent the greater part of three decades optimizing technology and service management disciplines around the concept of expensive, complex, disparate solutions that require significant operational oversight, significant time to change consumption patterns, and significant cost and effort to improve. Cloud services, by the nature of flexible on-demand consumption, are not suited to management and governance approaches based on pre-negotiated baselines or customized pricing for incremental consumption or considerations of fixed cost amortization. These services are most certainly not suited to monthly or quarterly reporting and analysis of consumption and performance, or extended planning processes related to new functionality or lifecycle management.
The value leakage related to unforeseen demand, poorly-managed provisioning, inefficient architecture, immature performance management, and inflexible integration and innovation management can more than double the cost of enterprise cloud services, undo even fundamental benefits related to lifecycle management and almost eliminate the significant cost advantage that well-architected and well-managed cloud services can offer. The data presented below is taken from Avasant Research’s online survey of over 1,500 global technology executives from January to May 2018.

  • Unanticipated Demand– Clients who are exploiting cloud services for enterprise workloads typically report a 30-40 per cent higher cost than budgeted, based on higher consumption. Forty per cent of this consumption is due to cloud adoption at a faster pace than anticipated. However, with cloud consumption scaling up on a daily, hourly, or even per-minute basis, and capacity decisions for legacy environments being made on a quarterly or annual basis (if at all), there are often no corresponding reductions in traditional workloads, leading to a higher cost with no offsets.
  • Unmanaged Demand – The larger issue is that close to 60 per cent of this higher cost is due to inefficient or unmanaged consumption of cloud resources, starting with simple issues such as provisioning the wrong commercial model for specific workload needs, to continuing utilization of cloud resources after the on-demand need has been fulfilled. Together, these factors reduce the on-demand nature of cloud consumption and create excess unused capacity that companies continue to pay for, not unlike traditional on-premises or outsourced data center delivery models.
  • Inefficient Architecture – The single biggest driver of inefficiency is application and integration architecture that is inefficient and leads to higher transaction volumes in and out of cloud environments. While in traditional delivery models, transaction inefficiency does not have a direct impact on costs given the high level of unused excess capacity, these superfluous transactions have a direct impact on cloud costs, as much as 40-50 per cent higher than what can be achieved with well-architected solutions.
  • Management Complexity – While hyperscale solutions offer a high degree of automation, monitoring and reporting of the native workloads, there is significant cost and effort involved in integrating and orchestrating these services with both applications hosted in an IaaS/PaaS model, and with other services outside the native cloud environment. The costs of instrumentation, monitoring, automation, integration, and reporting can erode any management and governance efficiencies compared to traditional on-premises or outsourced managed services.
  • Legacy Integration – Inability to restructure operations to support the much higher velocity of change in cloud environments, and the need to ensure these changes are coordinated with and integrated into other workloads, can effectively offset any benefits of lifecycle management that are possible from cloud services. Collectively, the need for increased integration effort, lifecycle management of non-cloud environments, and the management and governance of these efforts can cost as much as, if not more than, the lifecycle management efforts related to traditional environments.


Despite the significant progress in cloud adoption, the ubiquity of Enterprise Cloud services, and clear understanding of the barriers to value creation, there remains one final barrier to transformation that has held business innovation back for over two decades and perpetuated legacy and obsolete technologies in enterprises.

The prohibitive cost of transforming obsolete, customized, and inflexible technologies, when combined with lack of capital in many industries, leads to over half of transformation initiatives never seeing the light of day, and over 95 per cent of technology spend continues to be sundered on the maintenance of increasingly obsolete solutions. Even when executed, traditional approaches to transformation are associated with an abysmal track record, with 65 per cent of initiatives failing to meet scope, cost, or time objectives, the average cost overrun being 50 per cent, and a mind-boggling 90 per cent of initiatives requiring immediate remediation due to obsolescence caused by long planning and execution cycles, typically three-four years from ideation to execution.

Progressive technology companies and leading enterprises are responding by disposing of the traditional portfolio management and capital budgeting approach to transformation, and instead adopt Zero Cost Transformation approaches based on:

  • Significantly reducing or eliminating capital investment required for innovation
  • Investment by strategic technology partners in the digital transformation program
  • Compensation for technology partners linked to tangible business value generated, measured, and reported 

In 2017, over 25 percent of all transformation initiatives are based on co-investment, and close to one-third of initiatives link some or all vendor compensation to tangible business value generation. This partnership is made possible by the significantly lower cost of readily available cloud-native solutions, the exponential impact on business efficiencies, increased flexibility to switch technologies and vendors based on open standards, and rapid maturation of the market for co-innovation partnerships. Most critically, by leveraging cloud-native solutions and embedding DevOps into transformation initiatives, enterprises can shrink initiative timelines from three to four years to three to six months; greatly accelerating innovation, reducing cost and time risks, and virtually eliminating the risk of technology obsolescence.


A Brave Attempt to Demystify the Art of Digital Transformation.

As we slowly rise out of the fallen ashes of 2020s Great Pandemic, digital innovation has now become a ubiquitous and essential component of corporate strategy. From simplistic approaches to social, mobile, analytics and cloud which first propagated in 2012, digital innovation now extends to disruptive technologies that are prevalent in the majority of business functions in most large enterprises.

This evolution over the last eight years has seen not only a proliferation in the technologies that can be applied to transform business, but also an exponential growth in the impact of these innovations in driving deep and fundamental changes to business operations and business models. Digital innovation is now a top enterprise priority, with an ever-growing critical mass of executives believing that digital innovation is key not just to competitive advantage, but also to survival.

When applied strategically and purposefully, digital innovation has direct and sustained impact on both growing revenues and reducing costs of enterprises. These impacts are not limited to technological benefits, but extend to creation of better or new business models, increased customer engagement, innovative commercial models, and greater efficiency of core operations.

Over a three-year period from 2015 to 2018, the top 10 per cent of companies in terms of successfully developing and executing digital business strategies have seen margins grow by 215 per cent compared to the median through a combination of sustained revenue growth and systematic cost reduction, as shown in the chart below. These impacts are a function of purposeful identification of opportunities and systematic execution of initiatives that impact top-lineline growth and operations improvement. 

Critically, the same data also show that innovation is a key driver of competitive advantage; with the top 10 per cent of companies far outperforming the bottom 25 per cent in terms of cost reduction across all business functions. And, therein lies the challenge of digital innovation. While the top performing digitally enabled companies, those that are born digital or have adopted digital early and effectively, have benefitted disproportionately from digital innovation, the majority of companies have struggled to adopt digital innovation and are increasingly falling behind the competition. The days of digital innovation being equated with shiny new toys or risky experiments are over; the challenge now is to ensure that the promise of sustained competitive advantage is consistently maintained.  


When we look beyond the exceptional results and strategic advantage that accrue to the enterprises best able to leverage digital innovation, the reality is that digital innovation has largely failed to deliver on its promise or realize its potential. The key driver of this disconnect between potential and performance is the inability of enterprises to look beyond digital technologies to the business applications of digital innovation.

Very few digital initiatives focus on new business capabilities, and over 70 per cent of initiatives are essentially a modernization of legacy technologies with little or no integration of the business capabilities of emerging technologies. As a result, the vast majority of digital innovation efforts end in limited or no business impact, aborted efforts and outright failure, and expensive investment cycles no different than the previous generations of technologies.


While it is tempting to lay the blame at the feet of corporate leadership, this disconnect is more a reflection of emerging technologies posing a bewildering array of choices, presented by thought leaders and visionaries who do not relate to tangible business imperatives. A typical view into emerging technologies, shown in the figure below, may make for great academic content, but is of limited value to enterprises.

 What drives this disconnect even further is that the so-called experts in the field, the key influencers who set the digital agenda, focus almost exclusively on technology when discussing digital innovation. The figure below depicts the key terms discussed by the top 100 digital influencers in 2018, which shockingly have no consideration of business applications of digital innovation. While disappointing, this is not surprising as 90 per cent of the top 50 influencers are involved in research, services, sales, startups, events or media focused on technology, and only two are executives in enterprise clients.


Even when companies look past the self-serving hype and try and focus on business impact, they are confronted with the almost infinite number of permutations and dependencies made possible by the large and growing number of technologies and complex and interrelated business value chains.

Perhaps nowhere is the confluence of confusion, hype and simplistic responses to complex business needs more apparent than in the feeding frenzy around blockchain. Self-declared experts opine on blockchain despite a reductive and simplistic view anchored in legacy mindsets, software ranging from the profound to the trivial are marketed as blockchain panacea based on crowdsourced public opinion and technology salesmen are breathlessly anointing blockchain as a solution that revolutionizes every industry. 
The reality is that blockchain may have a critical foundational role in business transactions that require distributed trust, but does not disrupt the vast majority of business value chains and performs unfavourably compared to cheaper readily available solutions that already meet business needs for what blockchain purports to do. Even the venerable McKinsey has clarified the perspective of blockchain boosters published three years ago, anchoring blockchain in a more realistic and business-aligned framework, a sentiment echoed by the Great and Powerful Woz himself.

It is almost as if the “experts” want digital to be difficult, so business leaders have to rely on technologists to define enterprise needs and priorities. The sooner the conversation pivots to what the business needs versus what technology solutions in search of problem, the sooner enterprises will be better served.


An Interview with Vasu Jakkal, CMO of FireEye.

States are not moral agents. People are.” – Noam Chomsky

Recent history is replete with positive and negative examples of what can happen to a democratic society when the advancement of technology outpaces regulatory momentum.

Not since the advent of the printing press have democracies seen such a foundational shift in the way citizens and state actors engage with the electoral process. Combine that with the hyper-polarized nature of our modern body politic and you have a recipe for disaster, or is it a recipe for hope? Depends on who you ask.

In the case of the so-called “Arab Spring” of late 2010, technology platforms such as Twitter allowed 10s of thousands to organize outside of the tightly controlled communication channels in Tunisia, much to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s dismay. More recently in the U.K., Pro-Brexit campaigners took advantage of high tech organizing strategies to micro-target the individual voter and flip the table of the European order. Those same companies went on to enter the collective mind of the United States and help propel a former reality TV host to the White House.

The media coverage around these high-tech antics has mostly centered around the negative effects, but these advanced tool sets can be looked at in another way. One could even argue they must be looked at in another way if the average citizen is ever going to have a chance to keep up. Millions of dollars from an international bipartisan buffet of political operations have been pouring into sophisticated marketing campaigns usually only commissioned by major brands and big-box chains. The societal anxiety over the sway marketers have on our youth and on our culture isn’t itself new, but the advanced nature of the threat landscape is. The key technological advancement of this threat is the application of modern marketing tools to the political world, in many cases for the first time.

Will the resistance to these digital weapons of mass destruction be born out of the fight for human rights and democratic freedoms, or the ages-old entrenched technology oligarchs co-opting yet another resistance movement and branding it progress?

I sat down with Vasu Jakkal, EVP and CMO of FireEye to find out.

What tools are cyber security companies using to keep up with the emergent threat of digital weapons of mass destruction?

As the virtual and physical worlds blend and the connection between technology and biology deepens, the consequences of cyber attacks become graver. If it can be connected to the internet, it can be potentially hacked – from the tiniest of wearable devices to major industrial control systems. In particular, there are a few vulnerable areas that, if attackers went after them, could cause widespread disruption, including the electric grid, nuclear safety, aviation, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure.

At FireEye, we believe that to protect these targets against cyber threats technology alone is not enough – you need people and technology working seamlessly together detecting, preventing and responding to cyber attacks. Cyber security is a cat and mouse game, and as the rules of engagement rapidly change you need analysts and experts on the frontlines, equipped with the best cyber security tools and aided by machine intelligence and automation. In turn, these experts need to continuously integrate the frontline knowledge back into these security tools, forming a tight innovation loop. Additionally, you need community collaboration – such as rapid sharing of the most up-to-date threat intelligence, both from private vendors like FireEye, which publicly releases a significant amount of threat research, malware analysis, and indicators every year, and from less sensitive public sources provided by ISACs (Information Sharing and Analysis Centres) and other sharing environments. Rapid collaboration combined with state of art technology and rockstar security professionals that have been empowered to protect and defend –now that’s a tough combination to beat.

With so many variables in this space, it can be easy to miss the important developments, what emerging threat has everyone missed?

I think the public knows that there are social media campaigns, from both malicious actors and benign ones, with the aim of altering perceptions around political or religious issues. It took several years, but eventually many people became aware of our research on these threats. But we also see examples of criminals trying to alter legitimate data, and I don’t think people really have thought about that yet. It’s one thing to see a fake news story and be aware of the risks, but it’s another to worry about data manipulation changes that impact your real bank statement or health records, for instance. Cyber threats to the integrity of trusted, legitimate data are going to be a real challenge in the years ahead.

We can’t always wait for politicians to catch up with coders. What can be done to enshrine greater protection of our democratic processes and systems at the binary code level?

I think governments have done a good job of protecting the actual voting equipment and official websites, along with informing the public about the risks of foreign information operations campaigns. We’ve gotten better at that every year, working in partnership between the public sector, FireEye, and other private experts. But in the future, we might see individual politicians targeted, or more foreign influence campaigns that go after local officials rather than national elections. It’s a race to see if the techniques, information sharing, and best technology that have protected national campaigns in Europe and North America can also make their way to protecting smaller races that are also crucial to democracy.