Blockchain Revolution – Where Can We Go From Here?

I presented “Blockchain Revolution – Where Can We Go From Here?” at the University of Waterloo Centre for Information Integrity & Information Systems Assurance 9th Biennial Research Symposium(http://jebcl.com/symposium/program-symposium-2015)

This presentation will take a quick tour through the history of the blockchain technology underlying the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. It will highlight blockchain’s current applications and pose important questions about its future in Finance, Accounting and digital assets. For the information security and audit domain, the discussion will include such questions as “Is it finally possible to have immutable data?” and “What is the impact of blockchain’s triple entry accounting concept?”. An overview of leading of leading applications in the blockchain space will be presented.

Blockchain technology, the innovation introduced with Bitcoin digital currency, will undoubtedly have a disruptive impact to virtually every data-driven organization.  From banking, capital markets and insurance to retail and manufacturing, future information systems and new business models will be underpinned by blockchain technology.

If you’d like to discuss the potential impacts of blockchain technology further, please contact me at alan@leadingknowledge.com

WEF/Deloitte Report Showcases Disruptive FinTech Innovation

To be competitive in 2015, every business needs to think of itself as a technology business.  With Software as a Service in the cloud and Internet of Things, virtually every technology business is a data business.

We already know that hundreds (1,147 according to VentureScanner) of innovative FinTech startups and larger technology firms (Apple Pay, Google-Alphabet Wallet), are seeking to unbundle the Big Banks.

Not only are the FinTech players looking to move up the Christensen’s curve of disruption, we also know that the Big Banks are trying to figure out how to incorporate the latest FinTech.

Despite a rocky startup phase, Bitcoin and its underlying disruptive blockchain technologies are no longer fringe projects.  Deutsche Bank, for example, believes the blockchain and related distributed ledger technologies will result in more stable and resilient systems.  Barclays, among others, has created FinTech accelerators/incubators in New York and other global sites to have its own employees work alongside the innovators and entrepreneurs.

The World Economic Forum recently validated the global disruptive potential of FinTech in its recently published “Future of Financial Services” (How disruptive innovations are reshaping the way financial services are structured, provisioned and consumed).

In a collaboration with Deloitte, the report looked at 6 key clusters of innovation:
1. Payments
2. Insurance: Disaggregating Forces and the Connected World
3. Savings & Lendings / Primary Accounts
4. Capital Raising: Alternative Capital Raising Platforms
5. Investment Management: Empowered
6. Market Provisioning: Smarter Machines and Connected Trade

In the Payments innovation cluster, for example, the report specifically calls out “New Payment Rails” as new cashless payments emerge. In the context of today’s centralized model as rife with cost and complexity, the report points to “the greatest impact of cryptocurrency protocols like bitcoin will likely be their ability to radically streamline the transfer of value”

Check back for more in-depth analysis…

Why Banks Need to Embrace the Opportunity in Disruptive New FinTech Code

“Code” is everywhere in business today.  Fuelled by data, Code lives in the algorithms that are the strategic weapons in the information age.  We’re in an era of “code or be coded” and industries are getting rebooted.

From Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM to Uber, Square, Stripe, Airbnb, Docker, and a host of new “unicorns” (new companies valued at over $1B), Code is at the heart of their disruptive technologies, their new business models and their fantastic user experiences.

Code: Algorithms hit the C-Suite Agenda

Code is driving new business strategies including the topic of this post: the hot “FinTechs” (financial technology companies) rising in the traditionally stable Financial Services (Ten CEOs who are disrupting finance with technology).

The importance of understanding Code is why Bloomberg Businessweek recently published an entire 38,000 word essay in a double issue (June 11, 2015) for the purpose of “demystifying Code” to executives – (all executives, not just Chief Information Officers and Chief Data & Analytics Officers).  The cover’s call to action: “If You Can’t Read That, You’d Better Read This“.  It’s an excellent issue that gets right to the point:

“Recognizing that the world now belongs to people who code, and those who don’t understand it will be left behind, the issue is devoted to demystifying code and the culture of the people who make it.”

“Code directs the fate of everything from media to e-commerce to banking, and is arguably the most important phenomenon for the twenty-first century businessperson to understand. Yet it remains an intimidating mystery to most execs…Which means that people have been faking their way through meetings about software, and the code that builds it, for generations… ignorance is no longer acceptable.”

Fundamentally, Code is shorthand for the software and algorithms that digitize business processes by storing and swiftly moving data.  While Big Data is getting the spotlight, Code manipulates and analyzes the data to drive new value from it.  Code is what makes up artificial intelligence, machine intelligence and cognitive computing.

With a tidal wave of data (Goldman Sachs: 28 Billion things by 2020 ) flooding business from the “Internet of Things” (IoT), every business will be increasingly information-rich. What we do with all that data to improve customer experiences and drive efficiencies is today’s pressing question.

From healthcare to publishing to financial services, we’re in the process of digitizing and Coding virtually every industry.

Algonomic Strategy – A New Model for Business Strategy for Code and Data  

It’s long been said that data is a strategic asset – but what then is the strategy? I suggest today’s overarching executive challenge is to develop a Code strategy to take advantage of Big Data and Analytics, to drive value for customers, employees, and shareholders. Just as financial knowledge became a requirement throughout the C-suite, arguably every CFO, CMO, CHRO & CRO should be Code-savvy and partner with the CIO and CDO on an aligned data-driven and Code-driven business strategy.

I think of this information-age approach to business strategy with a new term I call being “Algonomic.  An Algonomic strategy describes how the business will compete in the market to deliver economic value using algorithms (aka “Code”) either owned in house or licensed, big data, and analytics.

Google, Facebook, Amazon are largely companies natively built to deliver services and compete with their Code. Code is their strategic weapon and they’re highly Algonomic, making use of large amounts of data to drive the best advertising engines, friend suggestions, and book recommendation engines.  They nurture their Code and, they’re so good at it they’ve begun offering their machine intelligence to other organizations as a cloud service.(See Amazon’s Cloud (Profitably!) Powers Major BrandsAmazon Web Services)

Code Natives

Much of the Millennial generation have grown up digital natives and many know Code. In my case I came to business already knowing Code, starting in high school with Assembly Language and Basic before the web existed.  I’m wired to “get” Code as a second language but unlike spoke languages, programming is a dynamic landscape that takes effort to stay current, so I now speak the new languages of the web including: PHP, HTML5, full stack Javascript(Meteor) and iOS Swift (Apple’s mobile app development platform).

Executives defining strategy in the information age need to understand how information flows through the thousands of Application Programming Interfaces (API) of the “programmable web“. Code and data strategies underpin new collaborative partnerships (e.g. IBM in data sharing agreements with Twitter & Facebook) and competitive battles (e.g. Apple vs. Google vs. Microsoft vs Amazon in the Cloud Services space). Data and information sharing strategies (HBR: “The Strategic Value of API’s”) will drive new data-driven services and Code needs to be thought of by the C-level as a strategic asset too.

It’s 2015 and Here Comes FinTech…

So, given how critical Code is to business success, let’s use Code as a theme to see its impact in the banking and financial services industry, where arguably Big Data began.

A previous blog, FinTech Startups: Unbundling Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America, highlighted the potential disruption already taking place in banking.   Many new non-bank startups are bringing Code with them to attack the incumbents on their own turf.  Bain & Company also focused on the topic with Rebooting IT: Why financial institutions need a new technology model.

In addition to high profile “Ten CEOs who are disrupting finance with technology”, the overall pace of FinTech development is accelerating. VentureScanner.com is monitoring over a 1,100 FinTech companies over at least 15 categories.  They also have a good view on Which Financial Technology Category Is Most Mature.  At 5 years of age, Square is a relative newcomer and crowdfunding is even younger.  It’s challenging to keep up with the pace of new entrants.

venturescanner-fintech-July-02-2015

Recently, Santander Innoventures, Santander Group’s innovation fund partnered up with management consultants Oliver Wyman and digital financial services investment firm Anthemis Group for this must read report: The FinTech 2.0 Paper: rebooting financial services

They conclude: “Fintech 2.0 will cause a major disruption of the banking market“.  The recommended response, with Santander being one of the Big Banks with its own FinTech investment arm, calls for a stronger collaboration between FinTechs and the banks to realise the incredible opportunity ahead:

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Why The “Always On Customer Brain” is Big Data in Action

Pegasystems held its PegaWORLD Conference this week (June 2015) with excellent keynotes showcasing today’s leading big data, analytics solutions for sales and marketing.

In the “The Always On Customer Brain“(1), Dr. Rob Walker, Pegasystems, presented the future of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as an enterprise brain, leveraging big data, analytics and automated decision-making systems:

The Customer Brain is evolving, it’s learning…and it’s not the human brain.  It’s not the brain of a customer.  It’s an enterprise brain, worrying about customers.

This “brain” can now listen to very granular events that come in with very high velocity.  And it never forgets anything.

Listening to these millions of interactions, this “brain” is discerning different patterns…and that’s what it uses…to choose between different actions.

Dr. Walker shows compellingly how big data is combined with deep learning algorithms to sense customers’ needs and automatically present the next best actions.  These interactions happen in the retail environment each and every day – and these new solutions are scaling them to include today’s fully digital environments as well.

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How IBM Disrupted Google With “News as a Service”

If you or I need to find news, everyone knows you can “just Google it”.  Or use news.google.com

In the Enterprise, however, analyzing the news in real-time for actionable insights in Marketing or Risk decisions, we’ve always needed teams of analysts.

Even though Google’s been the defacto search tool, new Twitter and Facebook firehoses are here and our analysts just can’t monitor our real-time world anymore.

Now, with big data, machine intelligence and cloud computing, we have a dawn of new solutions.  IBM has bet its existence on cloud and cognitive computing – in the “news analytics” space it’s bearing fruit.

Let’s take a look at how in one single move, IBM has just disrupted Google search, other news aggregators and many human analysts by making the world’s news available in a new database form for innovative applications to use – it’s a new API (Application Programming Interface) and we can call it “News as a Service“.

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FinTech Startups: Unbundling Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America

CB Insights has published its excellent graphical overview on how FinTech is “unbundling” or disaggregating American Banks. The graphic illustrates the intense FinTech activity in the traditional banking space:

In November, Tom Loverro of RRE Ventures wrote that “banks are under attack” and showed a few of the major players leading this trend. Inspired by his post and Alexander Pease’s, we wanted to dig in and see how banks are being unbundled by startups. The graphic below details companies attacking bank services ranging from robo-advisers wealth management services like Wealthfront and Betterment to small business loan companies like OnDeck Capital and Kabbage to small business service providers like Zenefits and ZenPayroll, and many other areas.

It’s worth highlighting a few key quotes from Tom Leverro’s original post:

Non-bank actors are attacking just about every valuable and revenue-generating activity that traditional players engage in

One of the core threads you can pull out from this disruption is that we are in the early stages of the financial services industry’s version of the Industrial Revolution

Algorithm-driven disruption is occurring everywhere from wealth management to lending and just about everywhere in between.

These are early days to be sure but are these new players really innovating and can they really compare against the traditional banks?  Will these new “non-bank” players compete head on or will they complement existing services?

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

LendingHome, operating for only a year, was featured in a April 2105 Forbes article Mortgage Marketplace LendingHome Reels In $70 Million From China’s Renren highlighting its recent investment round:

“We’re rethinking the entirety of the mortgage process–how we find borrowers with the experience originating online,” said CEO Humphrey.  ”[We’re] closing in days not months and applications are taking minutes, not days. We’re rethinking that to frankly what we think a customer expects in 2015 for an industry that has traditionally been trapped many years in the past.”

LendingHome provides real estate loans but in their words:

We brought together the best technology, operations, and data to build the next generation mortgage platform. This meant rethinking customer acquisition, user experience, credit analysis, algorithmic underwriting, operational efficiency, loan servicing, capital markets, financial automation, consumer brand, and more.

Fundamentally, we believe a technology-enabled marketplace that brings together borrowers and investors is the future of mortgage. By combining our platform with a world-class entrepreneurial team, we’ve made that future a reality.

The key point is that Silicon Valley technologists are building digital platforms.

LendingClub (NYSE:LC) is more established and focuses on the peer to peer lending space.  It bills itself as the world’s largest online credit marketplace boasting frictionless transactions:

Borrowers access lower interest rate loans through a fast and easy online or mobile interface. Investors provide the capital to enable many of the loans in exchange for earning interest. We operate fully online with no branch infrastructure, and use technology to lower cost and deliver an amazing experience. We pass the cost savings to borrowers in the form of lower rates and investors in the form of attractive returns. We’re transforming the banking system into a frictionless, transparent and highly efficient online marketplace, helping people achieve their financial goals everyday.

It has attracted high profile support:

“Lending Club’s platform has the potential to profoundly transform traditional banking over the next decade.”

— Larry Summers, 71st Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America; Lending Club Board member

Very interestingly, LendingClub recently (April 2015) announced Lending Club and Citi Team Up on Community Lending:

Renaud Laplanche, founder and CEO of Lending Club, said, “Many banks across the country are looking for opportunities to enhance their community lending efforts for low- and moderate-income families. We’re excited to expand the use of the Lending Club platform to make this process easier for Citi and other banks, and help lower the cost of credit for borrowers.”

The PR adds:

Lending Club’s mission is to transform the banking system to make credit more affordable and investing more rewarding. The company’s technology platform enables it to deliver innovative solutions to borrowers and investors.

Again, what’s most interesting here is that the strategic move to work with Citi illustrates one important fact: Lending Club is very much a technology company, born on the web and designed as a platform.  Being a platform gives it the ability to scale and extend its service to traditional lenders.

It’s far too early to say that traditional banks will be disrupted but it’s clear that the new players are taking the banks head on.  As we peel back the story of these potential disruptors, we see that the use of big data, new algorithms and cloud technologies are at the heart of these new disruptive forces.

Amazon’s Cloud (Profitably!) Power’s Major Brands

The Atlantic recently had an excellent overview of “The Unbelievable Power of Amazon’s Cloud

The article highlights the extent to which Amazon underpins increasingly ‘mission critical’ (definitely healthcare…although many consider Netflix critical as well) web services:

The company’s Web Services—which undergird Netflix, Healthcare.gov, and Spotify—might be the single most important piece of technology to the modern tech boom.

Amazon itself provides us a glimpse into case studies for a wide variety of business that use AWS.

From AirBNB, Comcast, Edmondo, Expedia, to Foursquare and Johnson & Johnson, Linosgate and Netflix, AWS powers some of the world’s largest brands.

Startups like Square, previously mentioned here, are also using AWS.

And, it’s clearly found a way to make the Cloud profitable…

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Watch the Cloud for Next Generation Analytics

This was a big week for Business Analytics solutions.

CIO’s and CDO’s struggling to deliver insights on demand with their existing business intelligence tools had some great news.

First, Tableau announced a major upgrade to Tableau 9.0.  Bringing a new user experience they call Analytics in the Flow, Tableau released their new user experience of its on-premise next-generation business intelligence suite.  Gone are the days of taking weeks or months to build static reports and hand-crafting dashboards with drill-downs and interactive visualizations.   Tableau users can connect to their data source and build dashboards in hours.  It doesn’t yet offer IBM’s artificial intelligence and automated visualizations available in its Watson Analytics but Tableau’s interface has undergone a welcome upgrade and makes the process from data to insight very smooth and fast.  Tableau users will also benefit from new data preparation capabilities, which takes messy data and cleans it up.

Next up, some real buzz was generated by stealth startup Domo, which showed its cloud-based “business management platform”.  It’s frankly amazing that they’ve built an analytics solution over the last 5 years without any marketing. Covered by TechCrunch (“With Another $200M in the Bank, Josh James Finally Takes the Wraps Off Business Analytics Startup Domo“), Domo explains the secret sauce to how their cloud platform is already generating $100 million in sales is that it can hook into more than 300 different data sources.

a platform for collecting, normalizing and visualizing business intelligence data from an incredibly wide range of sources. The idea is to make all that information available in real-time and giving executives the ability to get a completely transparent view into what’s happening throughout their companies.

Domo can extract data from everything from traditional SAP and Oracle operating databases to native cloud applications like Salesforce, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.  They claim real-time data integration and the latest in on-demand mobile applications with the latest data visualizations and dashboards.  This solution certainly raises the bar on cloud-based business solutions.

After years of building static reports, we’re finally seeing some real innovation and the promise of on-demand business analytics.  It’s an exciting time for CIO’s and CDO’s with an enterprise-wide business intelligence mandate.

How Square Marketing Delivers Customer Analytics and Powers Customer Growth

With Square Marketing, Square just elevated its innovative offering to a whole new level with new customer engagement tools.

I’ve written previously that data is the real story of Square when Square first launched.

Building on the sales data collected by its innovative Square Register,  Square Capital and Square’s recent acquisition of Canadian innovator Kili Technology, Square Marketing now puts the power of customer relationship management tools in the hands of local business operators.

Square calls its new services ‘your ultimate customer list, accessible from anywhere’

With Square’s customer relationship management (CRM) software, you can track all your customers’ information in one place, including names, email addresses, phone numbers, preferences, purchases, and more.

Our CRM software shows you how often customers come in, how much they spend, and what they buy—all invaluable insights to help you adjust and grow your business.

It’s a simple but powerful story: understand your customers and their buying behaviours, and engage with them through the latest customer analytics and marketing technologies. This is a powerful integration of sales and marketing…and mobile payments data is at the heart of it.

With over 98% of Canadian businesses being small business, Square targets a significant market.  Square brings beautiful email marketing previously only available through separate services like MailChimp.  This is the power of customer data made real and brought to the businesses that either couldn’t afford it or didn’t know how to integrate it.

With Square now providing email to sales integration, even small business growth can be fueled by data.

It’s an exciting time for small business.

Why your CDO’s Business Intelligence Roadmap Needs an Enterprise Decision Inventory

In a previous post, I recommended a new approach to Business Intelligence that I called Decision Intelligence. Decision Intelligence directly connects the insights from analytics to decisions.  Decision Intelligence improves the quality of the decisions.  The business, and every decision, then becomes more “data-driven”.

Simply put: data fuels decisions; better quality data results in better quality decisions; bigger data sets enable more accurate business predictions; and faster analysis of big data sets result in better and faster decisions.

So, which decisions need better data fuel for better analytics?  As organizations increasingly appoint new Chief Data Officers (see this post here or this IBM report: Your Chief Data Officer or this Experian report: Dawn of the CDO ) to become more data-driven and agile, it’s vital to establish an enterprise-wide Decision Inventory and use it to determine which decisions generate the most value.  In my experience few organizations have a clear Enterprise Decision Inventory.

CDOs are perfectly positioned to partner with their C-suite team to establish an Enterprise Decision Inventory.  Based on my experience, I categorize a decision inventory into 3 groups: 1) Strategic, 2) Operational and 3) Organizational decisions.

Let’s look at each briefly….

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