Connected but not united

With the connected world we are living in comes an interesting byproduct: the connected vacation. I am not sure that this is the greatest benefit brought to us by the digital age.

This year it was particularly hard for me to enjoy a break from work. Not that I am a
workaholic, I welcomed the time away from the office and looked forward to some quality time with my family. But we would have had to rent a piece of desert or a drifting iceberg, away from the Internet, TV, radios or even other people to fully enjoy it. Not a day went by when we did not capture a piece of grim news about the world. Famine is striking in the Horn of Africa, war or unrest is raging in North Africa and in the Middle East where people fight for freedom of expression and for a decent life. And of course, the financial markets shaken by the downgrade of the U.S. rating are anxiously summing up the sovereign debts of the Western world. Adding insult to injury, the weather offered plenty of opportunity to stay indoors.

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by ohdarling

It is easy to blame the messenger, whether it is the device or technology bearing the news or the media providing the content. Media companies are not cause for unhappiness nor should I dispose of my smartphone and tablet for fear of depression. The fact is that we are lucky to have ubiquitous access to information and close to immediate knowledge of anything happening in this world that may or may not affect our lives.

The challenge we are faced with is how we take action based on this knowledge. Many problems are beyond our reach. Sometimes we can share in the pain experienced by others and try to alleviate it by giving to charity and NGOs. Sometimes we can cast a ballot and clearly state our preferences. Many times though, we are simply powerless. We do have ideas, opinions, alternative proposals, all of them sparking rich debates on social networks or forums, but what is actually done escapes us. We are connected but not united.

The Euro zone is a good example. We have seventeen countries sharing the same currency – the same data format – in their domestic and international trading making
exchanges much easier between the members and sometimes with other economic actors. The problem however, as is now widely known, is that there is no common governance for the Euro zone and no easy way to quickly and efficiently react to a critical situation. Current leaders should get credit for staying on deck in the summer time and for their efforts to overcome this daunting challenge: adapting governance mechanisms and tools to the pace of the connected market.

In our connected society, speed is of the essence as never before. As seen in the past week, a simple rumor – such as France’s downgrading or Societe Generale’s imminent bankruptcy – can spread within minutes via social networks and if left unchecked can result in losses of billion dollars. Some commentators made calls to senior executive staff to actually intervene on platforms like Twitter and respond to the rumors with facts.

The same is true and applies to connected things (M2M): to avoid power blackouts
decisions need to be taken within milliseconds based on information provided by smartmeters distributed throughout the electrical network. Connected vehicles could make driving a completely different experience. For example with cars adapting their speed automatically based on information detected from the road signs: no more speeding tickets.

But here as the speed of decision-making is important, so is its reliability and security. We do not want any hacker to tinker with such devices and somehow cause harm to critical systems. There are other growing domains such as eHealth or mHealth services where these considerations are even more obvious.

I like to look at ng Connect as an ecosystem of experts of the connected experience. Not only do members understand the benefits users can achieve from being connected in various situations, they also realize the challenges, that to get there they need to build an end-to-end infrastructure which provides fast if not instant reactivity and the kind of reliability and security you find in vital systems.

Interestingly service providers used to offer that with POTS (plain old telephone service): you picked up the handset and you got a dial tone. ISDN (integrated services digital network) brought you good quality and intelligent services. And there was the effective 5 9s reliability. The advent of mobility and Internet did change our perception of the network: it became much more convenient at the expense of quality. In other words we use the network more but tend to trust it less, and to some extent tend to trust service providers less. But the fundamentals are still there: they know how to build and operate the high bandwidth, reliable and secure networks to power tomorrow’s user experience. They hold a key piece of the connected puzzle, so it is time (and the right thing to do) to welcome them into the ng Connect community.

ng Connect will almost certainly not address the need for connected politics, or geostrategic decision-making described at the start of this post. But some of the innovation being worked out in the program may help shape decision-making in the enterprise and large verticals and provide more efficient networks and management tools to match end user expectations.

Vincent Weyl


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