Working like a startup at IBM

How a small and passionate team used modern techniques to shift a business on a short timeline.

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Over the past year, I assisted in creating an application that helped shift a major part of IBM to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. I did this with the help of a small but excellent development team that was inspired by the culture and practices of web startups. To be clear, it wasn’t easy – changing how we worked led to frequent friction and conflict – but in the end it worked, and we made a difference.

In mid-2013, the IBM Service Management business and engineering leaders decided to make a big bet on moving our software to the cloud. Traditionally we have sold “on premises” software products. These are software products that a customer buys, downloads, and installs on their own equipment, in their own data centers and facilities. Although we love the on-premises business, we realized that cloud delivery of software is also a great option, and as our customers evolved to a hybrid on-premises / cloud future, we needed to be there to help them.

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One man willingly gave Google his data. See what happened next.

Google requires quid for its quo, but it offers something many don’t: user data access.

Despite some misgivings about the company’s product course and service permanence (I was an early and fanatical user of Google Wave), my relationship with Google is one of mutual symbiosis. Its “better mousetrap” approach to products and services, the width and breadth of online, mobile, and behind-the-scenes offerings saves me countless hours every week in exchange for a slice of my private life, laid bare before its algorithms and analyzed for marketing purposes.

I am writing this on a Chromebook by a lake, using Google Docs and images in Google Drive. I found my way here, through the thick underbrush along a long since forgotten former fishmonger’s trail, on Google Maps after Google Now offered me a glimpse of the place as one of the recommended local attractions.

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The lake I found via Google Maps and a recommendation from Google Now.

Admittedly, having my documents, my photos, my to-do lists, contacts, and much more on Google, depending on it as a research tool and mail client, map provider and domain host, is scary. And as much as I understand my dependence on Google to carry the potential for problems, the fact remains that none of those dependencies, not one shred of data, and certainly not one iota of my private life, is known to the company without my explicit, active, consent. Read more…

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Small brains, big data

How neuroscience is benefiting from distributed computing — and how computing might learn from neuroscience.

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When we think about big data, we usually think about the web: the billions of users of social media, the sensors on millions of mobile phones, the thousands of contributions to Wikipedia, and so forth. Due to recent innovations, web-scale data can now also come from a camera pointed at a small, but extremely complex object: the brain. New progress in distributed computing is changing how neuroscientists work with the resulting data — and may, in the process, change how we think about computation. Read more…

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Synthetic biology on the cusp

Oliver Medvedik on the grassroots future of biohacking and the problems with government overreach.

BioCoder image plants in dish with tweezersWhither thou goest, synthetic biology? First, let’s put aside the dystopian scenarios of nasty modified viruses escaping from the fermentor Junior has jury-rigged in his bedroom lab. Designing virulent microbes is well beyond the expertise and budgets of homegrown biocoders.

“Moreover, it’s extremely difficult to ‘improve’ on the lethality of nature,” says Oliver Medvedik, a visiting assistant professor at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and the assistant director of the Maurice Kanbar Center for Biomedical Engineering. “The pathogens that already exist are more legitimate cause for worry.” Read more…

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Not just the government’s playbook

The 13 principles in the U.S. CIO's Digital Services Playbook are applicable for everyone.

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Whenever I hear someone say that “government should be run like a business,” my first reaction is “do you know how badly most businesses are run?” Seriously. I do not want my government to run like a business — whether it’s like the local restaurants that pop up and die like wildflowers, or megacorporations that sell broken products, whether financial, automotive, or otherwise.

If you read some elements of the press, it’s easy to think that healthcare.gov is the first time that a website failed. And it’s easy to forget that a large non-government website was failing, in surprisingly similar ways, at roughly the same time. I’m talking about the Common App site, the site high school seniors use to apply to most colleges in the US. There were problems with pasting in essays, problems with accepting payments, problems with the app mysteriously hanging for hours, and more.

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Ten years of OpenStreetMap

OSM is moving out of its awkward adolescence and into its mature, young adult phase.

OSM_logo-2Next to GPS, the most significant development in the Open Geo Data movement is OpenStreetMap (OSM), a community-driven mapping project whose goal is to create the most detailed, correct, and current open map of the world. This week, OSM celebrates its 10th birthday, which provides a convenient excuse to highlight why its achievements to-date are amazing, unusual, and promising in equal parts.

When the project was begun by Steve Coast in 2004, map data sources were few, and largely controlled by a small collection of private and governmental players. The scarcity of map data ensured that it remained both expensive and highly restrictive, and no one but the largest navigation companies could use map data. Steve changed the rules by creating a wiki-like resource of the entire globe, which everyone could use without hinderance. Read more…

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