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Business Intelligence: Four Generalized Hurdles

August 30, 2016

Business intelligence, like government intelligence, may be an oxymoron. Nevertheless, doing “intelligence” is a big business. That’s why Palantir Technologies is hoping lawyers can crack open the US Army’s coin purse.

I read “4 Huge Challenges Facing CIOs and IT Leaders.” I quite like the use of “chief information officer” and “information technology leaders” in the headline. CIOs seems to be struggling to meet their budgets, deal with security issues, and attend conferences. The notional “information technology leader” is busy reading reports from mid tier consulting firms, dealing with the all-too-frequent emergencies, and removing malware from senior executives’ computing devices.

The write up identifies four “challenges” these busy professionals must convert to opportunities in their spare time. What are these “challenges”? Here’s my translation of MBA speak into Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky lingo:

  1. Executives have to write checks and push aside bureaucratic baloney to that business intelligence can move forward. If the top dog doesn’t care, well, you can always check out Facebook and read Reddit.
  2. Get something done when  you said you would complete the task. Good luck with that. Meetings, approvals, crashes [see the comment above about information technology professionals’ time allocation], and software that simply doesn’t work are enemies of finishing a job. I assume that the people performing business intelligence know what they are doing most of the time when they are not sure what the objective of the project is.
  3. Normalizing, vetting, and processing data. Yikes, this challenge has been in the fast lanes of the information superhighway for more than 50 years. Hey, that XML is just great, isn’t it?
  4. Getting users to use the business intelligence outputs. If the users don’t understand the outputs, don’t trust the outputs, or prefer their own methods—up date that link graph thing on Microsoft LinkedIn.

When one steps back from this list of challenges, the issues are not new. The more chaotic the business environment is perceived to be, the less likely converting these opportunities into a career win may be.

Even when a system does deliver useful outputs like Palantir Gotham, getting acceptance is a very difficult challenge. A person without the resources of Palantir might find the conversion of these challenges a bit of a challenge in itself.

May I suggest that the solution is to start small, demonstrate value, and move forward? How popular is that approach? Not very.

Stephen E Arnold, August 30, 2016

Technical Debt and Technical Wealth

August 29, 2016

I read “Forget Technical Debt. Here’s How to Build Technical Wealth.” Lemons? Make lemonade. Works almost every time.

The write up begins with a reminder that recent code which is tough to improve is a version of legacy code. I understand. I highlighted this statement:

Legacy code isn’t a technical problem. It’s a communication problem.

I am not sure I understand. But let’s move forward in the write up. I noted this statement:

“It’s the law that says your codebase will mirror the communication structures across your organization. If you want to fix your legacy code, you can’t do it without also addressing operations, too. That’s the missing link that so many people miss.”—Andrea Goulet, CEO of Corgibytes

So what’s the fix for legacy code an an outfit like Delta Airlines or the US air traffic control system or the US Internal Revenue Service or a Web site crafted in 1995?

I highlighted this advice:

Forget debt, build technical wealth.

Very MBA-ish. I trust MBAs. Heck, I have affection for some, well, one or two. The mental orientation struck me as quite Wordsworthian:

Stop thinking about your software as a project. Start thinking about it as a house you will live in for a long time…

Just like with a house, modernization and upkeep happens in two ways: small, superficial changes (“I bought a new rug!”) and big, costly investments that will pay off over time (“I guess we’ll replace the plumbing…”). You have to think about both to keep your product current and your team running smoothly. This also requires budgeting ahead — if you don’t, those bigger purchases are going to hurt. Regular upkeep is the expected cost of home ownership. Shockingly, many companies don’t anticipate maintenance as the cost of doing business.

Okay, let’s think about legacy code in something like a “typical” airline or a “typical” agency of the US Executive Branch. Efforts have been made over the last 20 years to improve the systems. Yet these outfits, like many commercial enterprises, are a digital Joseph’s coat of many systems, software, hardware, systems, and methods. The idea is to keep the IRS up and running; that is, good enough to remain dry when it rains and pours.

There is, in my opinion, not enough money to “fix” the IRS systems. If there were money, the problem of code written by many hands over many years is intractable. The idea for “menders” is a good one. But where does one find enough menders to remediate the systems at a big outfit.

Google’s approach is to minimize “legacy” code in some situations. See “Google Is in a Vicious Build Retire Cycle.”

The MBA charts, graphs and checklists do not deliver wealth. The approach sidesteps a very important fact. There are legacy systems which, if they crash, are increasingly difficult to get back up and running. The thought of remediating the systems coded by folks long since retired or deceased is something that few people, including me, have a desire to contemplate. Legacy code is a problem, and there is no quick, easy, or business school thinking fix I know about.

Maybe somewhere? Maybe someplace? Just not in Harrod’s Creek.

Stephen E Arnold, August 29, 2016

An IBM Watson Retrospective

August 20, 2016

We love IBM Watson. We avidly devoured “A Look at IBM’s Watson 5 Years After Its Breathtaking Jeopardy Debut.” The “singularity” is associated in my mind with Google, but the write up is about IBM Watson. What’s not to like?

The review kicks off by reminding the reader (in this case, me) that Watson is a version of DeepQA software. I added this mental footnote: Lucene, home brew code, and acquired technologies.)

I did not know that IBM wanted to create a Siri for business. IBM and Apple have formed a bit of a teamlet in the last year or so.

I highlighted this passage:

Watson shrunk from the size of a large bedroom to that of four pizza boxes and is now accessible via the cloud on tablet and smartphone. The system is 240% more powerful than its predecessor and can process 28 types (or modules) of data, compared to just 5 previously.

In 2013, IBM open-sourced Watson’s API and now offers IBM Bluemix, a comprehensive cloud platform for third-party developers to build and run apps on top of Watson’s many computing capabilities.

But one of the biggest moves that’s made Watson into what it is today was when, in 2014, IBM invested $1 billion into creating “IBM Watson Group,” a massive division dedicated to all things Watson and housing some 2,000 employees. This was the tipping point when Watson went from “startup mode” to making cognitive computing mainstream. It’s when Watson started to feel very, well, “IBM.” Fast-forward to 2016, and Watson has more enterprise services and solutions than I can list here—financial advisor, automated customer service representative, research compiler—you name the service, Watson can probably do it.

The confidence in Watson seems unbounded.

The write up explains the future of Watson. I learned:

IBM is aware of deep learning and last year told MIT Technology Review that the team is integrating the deep learning approach into Watson. The original system was already a bit of a mashup—combining natural language understanding with statistical analysis of large datasets. Deep learning may round it out further.

I was under the impression that training Watson with data was part of the plumbing. Deep learning, I conclude, is a bit of frosting on the cake.

The review ends with a reminder that Watson is an augmented intelligence system just like Palantir Technologies’ Gotham and Metropolitan systems, not an artificial intelligence system.

The future is “powerful ways” for IBM, humans, and Watson to work together. I believe this. I believe this. I believe this. I believe this. I believe… Sustainable revenues and profits will follow. I believe this too.

Stephen E Arnold, August 20, 2016

Google Maps: Suddenly Exciting

August 18, 2016

The Alphabet Google thing wants to do maps its way. That’s fine. The Sillycon Valley outfit often perceives that its “logical” approach is the one true way. Not everyone is riding Google’s self driving car, however.

Two write ups caught my eye only because I noticed the dust up over naming places in the Crimea. I assume the Crimea is a nifty place and that the residents are thrilled to have Google adjust map names to make their life easier.

The first write up concerns Palestine. Navigate to the delightfully named article “Palestine Is Exactly Where It Was. Google Cannot You See!” The main point of the write up is:

Search engine Google has removed Palestine from its maps service on July 25 and replaced it with Israel

But Google says, “Palestine was never on Google Maps after claims it had been airbrushed away.” This point appeared in a story in the UK newspaper The Telegraph. Google apparently uses a dashed line to display a “disputed” terrritory. Adding a bit of spice to the story was this statement in the rejoinder:

Google said in a response that Palestine had never been marked as a territory on its map, but that a glitch in the software had resulted in Palestinian areas being removed. “There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps,” said a spokesman for Google. “However, we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip’. We’re working quickly to get these labels back to the area.”

A glitch is nothing new in Harrod’s Creek. My steam powered computer and Bell+Howell camera are often persnickety. In the contentious part of world in which Palestine exists, the Google change has caught some attention.

The other story is about South Korea. Point your easily monitored browser at “Google Accused of Getting Free Ride on Map Data.” The issue, as i understand it, is the location of the map data. The notion of distributed computing is A OKAY with the Alphabet Google thing, but the concept seems to run counter to the wishes of a nation state. I learned:

Google’s recent attempts to carry South Korea’s geographical information outside the nation is mired in controversy. Those who oppose Google’s use and storage of the Korean map data overseas argue that sensitive security data, including locations of military facilities, would be exposed to external threats and Google wants to get a free ride by accessing the data for which the government and Korean firms spent trillions of won to develop.

The idea of using Google’s existing systems is not making some folks happy in
South Korea.

How will Google plot a course through the dangerous shoals of online maps. I experienced one solution a couple of years ago. Google did not include a location on a Google map. That works. Fortunately I was standing outside the Washington, DC eatery called Cuba Libre when I noticed the restaurant was not on the map.

If it is not on Google, the restaurant did not exist, at least at that point in time in front of the physical restaurant.

Logical, of course.

Stephen E Arnold, August 18, 2016

Yahoo and Its Five Mistakes Mom Insists You Must Not Make

August 18, 2016

I love parental inputs to commercial enterprises run by real professional managers, mavens, accountants, and lawyers. The advice is fascinating and almost as amusing as a 1946 episode of “The Jack Benny Show.”

Navigate to “5 Things Entrepreneurs and MBAs Should Learn from Yahoo’s Fall.” Let’s look at each of the admonitions. Mom, I promise that I am listening to you.

The first point is that Yahoo mixed up “being in the right place at the right time” as being smart. Okay, Yahoo was one of the first directories for the Internet. Since folks were struggling to get a sense of what the Internet was, Yahoo’s directory was a good place to start. The company followed its nose and ended up with a big valuation in those early Internet years almost a quarter century ago. The write up points out:

[Yahoo] should have built strong engineering foundation instead focusing on sales and revenue.

My thought is that Yahoo, like many other outfits at that time was trying to figure out how to keep the site online, cope with bandwidth issues, and pay for stuff. Looking back, mom, it is easy to do the shoulda woulda coulda. Yahoo is amazing for surviving as long as it did. Money, mom, is important. May I have my allowance now?

The second point in the write up is tough for me to figure out: “Yahoo forgot what had taken them there.” I am not sure Yahoo knew where the company was at any one point in time. The growth, the engineering challenges, the successes and the failures were one crazy blur. Yahoo in its hay day was like Google now but without the online advertising revenue. Sure, Yahoo had GoTo.com, Overture.com, and its own systems, but lacked the ability to do what Google did. In case you forgot, mom, Google focused on using online advertising to generate revenue from search. That’s it. The rest of Google did not exist. Yahoo had the disadvantage of being in the midst of a cyclone of opportunities. Yahoo, even today, cannot contain the environmental effects of being blindsided by success in its formative years. Mom, I don’t know what happened after the punch I drank.

The third point seems to be that Yahoo killed its “golden goose.” For Yahoo, selling its share of Alibaba was a bad idea. I am not sure that Yahoo management at any point in time could identify a goose, let alone a golden one. Mom, I don’t know why I jumped naked into the Wilson’s swimming pool last night. Honest. Yahoo was and remains a consequence of its formative experiences. Companies have cultural momentum. Change is not particularly  effective. Mom, yes, I will pick up my room.

The fourth point is that Yahoo hired professional managers to fix up the company. See point three. Change is hard. Mom, yes, I will take out the garbage as soon as I get home from Jim’s house.

The fifth point is sort of an MBA diagram. Like many great MBA diagrams, the arrows offer several subtle management insights. Here’s the diagram:


Yahoo did not see opportunities. Yahoo ran into icebergs just like the Titanic. Mom, I promise I will enjoy my time in juvie detention. It will be okay. I have learned my lesson.

What the write up says, in my opinion, is that an entrepreneur riding a hugely successful, little understood roller coaster should:

  1. Understand that luck is not intelligence or, even better, wisdom
  2. Nosce Te Ipsum. Figure out what made one successful: Luck, lots of cash, inept competitors, users who came from the woodwork, etc.
  3. Do not kill sources of money
  4. Do not hire MBAs
  5. Recognize the next big thing and make it a huge success.

Easy. Just like growing up. Mom, you really helped me after I was arrested. I promise I won’t get in trouble again. Parental inputs were, are, and will be the type of information that often makes zero sense. Entrepreneurs, listen to your mother.

Stephen E Arnold, August 18, 2016

Quote to Note: Hard Work Equals Winning Maybe Sometimes or Not

August 16, 2016

I am not much of a worker. I am fat, lazy, indifferent, and a good citizen of Harrod’s Creek, my home in rural Kentucky. That’s why I don’t understand articles like “Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Explains How She Worked 130 Hours a Week and Why It Matters.”

I noted this point:

Mayer [top Yahooligan and Xoogler] added that hard work is what separates startups that succeed and fail, and that she’s able to tell which ones are more likely to succeed — without even knowing what they do — by simply looking at their work ethics.

I recall reading “Here’s What Happened To All 53 of Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo Acquisitions.” If the information is this write up is correct, the Xoogler asserted success with these acquisitions. I noted:

The reasons for Yahoo’s decline are complex. But what’s clear is that the MaVeNS and acquisitions rescue strategy hasn’t been able to save the company from itself, despite Mayer’s protestations that it was successful.

So what’s the disconnect? Talking and believing are easy, even when one works without sleep. Delivering is a different kettle of fish.

My slothful self thinks that there is a gap between hard work, recognizing winners from start up land, and creating a successful company. If Ms. Mayer’s Yahoo were a success, would not Yahoo be more than a unit of the old America Online, which is owned by a former Baby Bell?

I am too lazy to think about that. I need a nap.

Stephen E Arnold, August 16, 2016

Palantir Technologies Fancies Silk

August 15, 2016

Palantir Technologies has developed a fondness for Silk. Silk is an interactive data visualization company. You can read about the announcement in “CIA-Backed Palantir Just Bought This Entire Startup Team.” If the write up is correct, Silk is an “acquihire” play, not a product play. I learned:

Employees of the graph and chart-making platform will directly join Palantir, leaving the Silk platform behind running on its own. Meanwhile, the Silk team will “work on even bigger and more important data problems”

A British newspaper described Silk as a “Tumblr for data.” Silk’s technology allowed a person viewing an interactive Silk-generated visualization to point and click to explore the data. A Silk user can flip between a map or a traditional bar chart, also with a click.

Several observations:

  • Palantir wants to add to its secret sauce with some visual exploration spice. The wheel menu was hot years ago, but the shelf life of “wow” can be short
  • Palantir has designs on the commercial sector, which makes sense. Even though Palantir has government work, the banks and pharma companies may have a quicker buy cycle to go with their desire for instant analysis
  • Buying a company to get people is one way to deal with the shortage of certain types of technical and management talent.

Palantir competitors like IBM i2 Analyst’s Notebook have been, in my opinion, less agile in moving their systems toward the burgeoning millennial decision makers.

Stephen E Arnold, August 15, 2016

The Yahooing of Alphabet Google

August 12, 2016

I read “Google Isn’t Safe from Yahoo’s Fate.” The write up is a business school type analysis which reminded me of the inevitable decline of many businesses. Case studies pose MBAs to be to the thrills of success and the consequences of management missteps. I recall a book, published by a now lost and forgotten outfit, which talked about blind spots and management myopia. Humans have a tendency to make errors. That’s what makes life exciting. But I see a GooHoo trajectory.


I learned in this article:

Google is on the wrong side of major trends in the digital advertising industry: Google captures direct response dollars as digital ad spend shifts up the funnel, its focus is still on browsers and websites as engagement is moving into apps and feeds, Google is deeply dependent on search during a shift to serendipitous discovery and ads designed to interrupt the user’s attention are being replaced by advertising designed to engage them. Its competitor, Facebook, is on the right side of all these trends.

The Alphabet Google thing has not been able to hit home runs in social media in my opinion. The Google Facebook dust up exists, and it seems to me that Google is withdrawing from the field of social battle.

The write up informed me:

Google’s search advertising model is built on direct response in that it charges for search ads that people click on. In theory, this is an entirely transparent model: After all, advertisers only pay when the advertising works. What it conceals is that they are taking more credit (and charging more) for value that its ads didn’t deliver. By charging you for the click that follows a search, Google effectively takes credit for the entire funnel of purchase consideration that led you to type in the search and click on the link in the first place….But the ad itself didn’t create their purchase intent — it just takes credit for it. Google’s lower funnel ads are getting credit for upper-funnel effectiveness, in no small part because the latter is just too hard to measure.

Read more

Internet Ad Fraud, Who Knew There Would Be Such a Thing?

August 8, 2016

I hate Internet ads. They pop up everywhere when I am trying to watch a video, read an email, or skim through an article.  I know Internet ads are important to commerce and help keep certain services free, but why must they have sounds now?  It should not come as a surprise with the amount of Internet ads that fraud would be associated with them at some point.  The Register shares how to detect fraud in the story, “Digital Ad Biz Is Fraudulent By Design, Complain Big Brands.”

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) is a global trade body that represents the biggest spenders in digital advertising.  (MasterCard and Unilever are two of the biggest cash cows.)  Adverting fraud not only harms advertising firms, but also brands seeking to sell their products and services.  The WFA urges advertising firms that they not only clean up their own acts, devout resources to fight fraud, and not be so desperate for clicks and pocket change.

Businesses end up buying “cheap” traffic to bolster their numbers, but they are throwing their dollars into a money pit.  The WFA advises that businesses limit their digital investments to avoid fraud.  The WFA also predicts that by 2025 digital ad fraud could exceed $50 billion a year.

Digital ad fraud can take many forms:

“There are many shady practices at work, falling into three categories, the report explains.

  • Website fraud is where the operator is an ad network affiliate, such as in conversion fraud schemes.
  • Platform fraud includes social network and user-generated-content hosting sites.
  • Data fraud includes fiddling the numbers, for example by using a botnet.

Website fraud can be identified because the site sends more traffic to an ad exchange than its size suggests it should – so it could be bumping up the numbers. Website fraud encompasses a range of schemes including hidden ads, cookie stuffing, clickjacking and cloudbot traffic. The latter is where a hosting company’s IP addresses generate traffic.”

Ad fraud is easier than ever, because if you create a simple bot algorithm, paint yourself with a reputable ad business, and snap of a up clients you are set to wheel in the dollars.  It is not unsurprising that ad fraud is so common and regulation is slow.  Internet standards are hard to regulate, even Google has its own problems.


Whitney Grace, August 8, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden /Dark Web meet up on August 23, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233019199/


Hewlett Packard: A Future of Uncertainty

August 7, 2016

I read “Private Equity Ponders Hewlett Packard Enterprise Buyout.” I think this is called a tap out in millennial lingo or quitting in less zippy language. I recognize that absolutely everything I read on the Internet is true. Especially Information.

Hewlett Packard has created some of its problems (Board of Directors’ issues, the exciting Autonomy matter, and the great mitosis which saw ink go one way and enterprise services another.) Other problems are external. Who imagined Amazon, the digital Wal-Mart, becoming the big dog in cloud computing. The economy? Well, let’s leave that to the political and economic wizards with MBAs, CPAs, and lawyers, lots of lawyers.

The write up, which I assume is spot on, informed me with information:

Several private equity firms including KKR, Apollo Global Management and Carlyle Group are sniffing around Hewlett Packard Enterprise, contemplating a buyout of the firm, said a person who has had talks with representatives of the firms. Such a deal would be worth more than $40 billion.

What else does the write up assert? I don’t know because after the “exclusive” and the fetching factoid, I have to pony up dough to learn more. My hunch is that the green eyeshade crowd believes that the individual chunks of HPE are worth more than the company in its present form.

Fortune Magazine, once a unit of America Online, knows of what it speaks in “These Private Equity Firms Could Be Looking to Buy Hewlett Packard Enterprise.” No one is exactly sure what’s afoot. I highlighted this passage:

Regardless of the conflicting reports, it seems that HPE is undergoing another significant transformation again.

I like the “transformation” angle. It reminds me of Dr. Daphne Swartz’s lecture in Biology 101 about the caterpillar to butterfly thing. You know a crawly worm with fur becomes a winged creature with nifty scales. These scales impart the color. Otherwise, the butterfly’s wings, like the emperor without clothes, are not much to look at.

What about Autonomy I ask myself? Well, it seems that it is a race to see who will sell the software first. Hewlett Packard seems to be shopping the unit. But if those fun loving green hued folks get their first, some other pavement pounders will get in on the act.

What’s this mean for licensees of Autonomy? The sunk costs can be fascinating. Unlike the colors of the butterfly’s wings, the costs of training, tuning, and maintaining the system can be spectacular.

The turmoil swirling around HPE is chaotic, maybe disruptive. To some, that’s a good thing. To those who just want to find information, the future looks like a furry caterpillar: Ugly and pesticides infuse the stuff the worm eats.

Stephen E Arnold, August 6, 2016

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