Data-Driven Government

 

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We all know that President Obama had a strong advantage over his opponents because of “big data” and the hordes of programmers hired to cultivate and curate the analytics.  Now that the election is over it also has become quite evident that the information gathered over the past years is valuable in another way: governing.

I saw the movie ‘Lincoln’ the other day and noticed how important and powerful representative government works.  It is also inefficient and (potentially) corrupt.  “WHAT IF” we could each have a voice in our daily government activities directly, without need for representation?  Why have a representative travel to Washington when my voice can be heard directly?  I have access, you have my data. Why should my representative filter out what I have to say when I can say it directly to the government and politicians can reach out to me without that filter?

Oh wait, isn’t that what President Obama’s doing right now?  Taking governing ‘to the people’, much like campaigning?  Get used to it.

Think about these enabling changes in technology these days.  Then go see the movie and consider what the world ‘would have been’ without the wheeling and dealing of representative government.  Change is coming fast, and technologists and entrepreneurs need to move faster.
P-Cz

Data, Data Everywhere and Not a Thought to Think! (redux)

 

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OK, I’ve blogged about this before.  I wrote that application-performance-data-aggregation was the answer to ‘too much data’.  I was wr…um,  I was wro…uh, I wasn’t exactly right.  In my defense I was young and naive and I’ve learned from my mistakes.Data Smog.  Signal-to-Noise Ratio.  Data Glut. We call it many things.  In a world where data has started consuming us, how do we sift through it all and extract meaningful information?  Merely aggregating the data into two-dimensions of visualization isn’t enough and it’s just too much work.

Yesterday I drilled down into an application performance alert, trying to make sense of the data, only to find, eventually, that it was a false alarm.  If I don’t trust the alert, I either turn it off or ignore it.  Or cover it with electrician’s tape.

Some people solve the problem of too much data by implementing “Business Intelligence” software.  This typically is  simple, visualized mashups of the different datasets.  Pretty charts; little value.  Others attempt a more comprehensive data-analytics approach, but I haven’t seen any of them cross the 80% probability threshold.

80% probability that it will rain today may make me take my umbrella to work, but I’m not going to cancel a golf-outing based on 80% confidence.

Trusting APM alerts requires that the information has a high probability of accuracy.  We compile a lot of data with intelligent analytics, but the output still needs validation and corroboration.  So, how do you raise the probability level of analytics to an answer you can trust?

Humans!  HA!  Humans have an amazing ability at solving complex problems.  We just don’t scale very well.

Computer weather-models may only give us 80% probability but add in knowledge and realtime analysis from sky-watchers and storm-chasers and you now have a model with a probability level that allows you to plan your outdoor activities.  Some of us may love to play “amateur meteorologist” and dig through all those statistics, but all I want to know is if I can go outside at recess today.  The same goes for application monitoring.  Just tell me what the problem is so that I can get it resolved quickly.

To solve this problem, we need BIG DATA to store every object we can, grind through complex analytics to discover what is truly worth noticing.   Once noticed, we need a correlation engine that will help us decide what the problem is that we need to act upon.  Once the decision to act is trusted, we need a collaboration platform that will help us crowd-source the problem, finding the technicians, subject-matter-experts and decision-makers required to solve the problem.   And once we solve the problem, we need to capture the knowledge that solved the problem so that the correlation and collaboration technologies can leverage that intelligence for future reference.

The interesting thing about this solution is that it crosses many use-cases.  A couple of startups I am working with are solving their particular problems in very much the same way.  Make their digital analytics smarter with human intelligence that allow the answer to be achieved quickly and with confidence.

So, Mr Kurzweil, until we achieve the Singularity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity), we simple humans still have relevance.  We just need to invent technology that scales our domain knowledge so that we don’t have to ‘redo’ our analysis over and over.

Yay us!

P-Cz

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

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I am THE Venture Technologist.  Nice, maybe I should start referring to myself in the third-person.

Thirty-six years programming, testing, architecting, operating, managing…

After thirty-six years working for startups, founding startups, performing due-diligence for M&A work, and now mentoring startups and doing due-diligence and consulting for private-equity investments, I have finally defined myself.   Funk Brother, Rock-&-Roll genius.  No, wait, those dreams will have to wait a while.

What we do at Compuware Ventures that is different from most VCs is focus on technology delivery models that give us insight into higher probability for success.  Apps are important, great programmers and designers are critical, the right mix of technology and management are key, but it’s the mix of all-of-the-above and the balance of business acumen that makes a startup successful.  I love taking a technical approach to evaluate a business plan because the technical DNA of a company, no matter how large or small, expresses a lot about the company, their people, and their probability for future growth and success.

CODE DOESN’T LIE.When I was a young pup at programming, almost all of my peers hated to work on someone else’s code.  Mostly because there were a lot of different technical complexities  that we had to contend with and many times the code was difficult to decipher.  I always prided myself  on my ability to ‘decode’ another programmer’s program and understand every ‘moving part’ of the system.  I made it fun and tried to imagine what someone was thinking when they put together their solution.  The coding, design, quality control, testing, source-code repositories, architecture, operations, support; all are critical to a whole-product solution and each can break a system’s integrity if not put together properly.  We can do a complete code and process review of any system, and material weaknesses, as well as value, are exposed very quickly,  We can also find weaknesses and strengths simply by talking to the technical folks involved.

PROGRAMMERS DON’T LIE.Maybe I should state that as “PROGRAMMERS CAN’T LIE”.  I don’t know if it’s because we’re inherently ethical or we’re just bad liars!  In any case, technical people are very transparent and talking to them always gives us the best insight and evaluation of an organization.  In addition to the knowledge we acquire about the company’s technology, we also understand how well they work as a team and communicate with their customers and stakeholders.  Great ideas and technology can’t succeed if the organization is dysfunctional.

There are many things to look at when evaluating these opportunities, and the technology of any venture is a critical component to the probabilityof success.  I’ve finally grown up, I’m Mr. venture Technologist.  So, when you give your pitch, run the numbers, tell your story, remember, I’m waiting to talk to the techie behind the scenes.

And I pity the programmer who tries to fool me!

P-Cz

A Plethora of Programmers

“Well, you told me I have a plethora. And I just would like to know if you know what a plethora is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has no idea what it means to have a plethora.”

Thank you, El Guapo, for setting me up on my mission for 2012.

But I’m talking about programmers, not piñatas.  And right now, there is NOT a plethora of programmers, in fact it’s just the opposite – there is a ‘dearth of developers’.

I’ve talked about this in the past but now it’s all very clear.  WE have an awesome opportunity to create an educated, no, a  trained workforce that  can address the technical challenges faced by Detroit, Michigan, the USA and the world.

On Monday, December 19th, the MEDC hosted their information night for their Ann-Arbor “Shifting Code” initiative.  I was concerned about the classes selected and became very concerned when over seven-hundred people signed up for the information night.  My concerns escalated when I saw for myself the demand for the few slots available BUT I was won over when I saw the passion that everyone brought to the event.  The passion to “teach” and the passion”to be taught”.  The numbers only underline the opportunity and if we don’t figure out how to train thousands of folks to join the technical communities in Michigan, then SHAME ON US!

OK, off my soapbox. 

I’ve absorbed so much during the last month and it’s all very clear to me.  I thought I was ‘so smrt’ but I discovered that everyone saw the same thing.  We urgently need technical people in Michigan and we need them quick!  Government, business and education leaders have all stepped up.  There is a ton of FREE material available for those who are motivated to educate themselves but what also is needed is trainers, mentors and communities to teach, guide and encourage our fellow Michiganders on their journey.  In the early weeks of January, there are already meetings on my calendar to address these very issues.

There will not be one, easy answer, but there will be a lot of brainpower figuring this out in a collaborative, non-competitive, selfless-serving way.  I can clearly remember a conversation I had with my colleague Linglong He from Quicken: “Let’s not compete for technical talent; if we solve the shortage, we’ll all win”.   OK, the conversation probably wasn’t exactly like that, but that spirit of cooperation now exists with organizations such as the US and Michigan governments, Compuware, Quicken Loans, Detroit Labs, GalaxE Solutions, BizdomU, MEDC, PureMichigan, AnnArbor Spark, MTAM, WCC, W3C,  OCC, WSU, UM,  Compuware Ventures, Detroit Ventures, and the list goes on and on.  If we can figure out how to do this under one umbrella, that would be fine, but the reality is that we all are running fast at different cadences.  If the end result is a skilled workforce, WHO CARES?  Right?  Jobs, in Michigan, in Detroit, in Copper-Harbor and AuGres, everywhere.

SKILLED PEOPLE = JOBS = INNOVATION = COMPANIES = REVENUES = TAXES

My formula above proves that you don’t need math skills to be successful in technology skills.  Hear that, educators!?!  Stop discouraging young people with your “math-demands”.

APTITUDE & ATTITUDE.  I know that somewhere in Detroit there is a youngster who has the intelligence, passion and desire to be a programmer, but not the means.  It BREAKS MY HEART if we don’t find this person.  I know this for a fact because in 1976 I WAS THAT young person.  I got lucky, I backed into my career and don’t take anything for granted.

At the information meeting, I invited everyone to send me an e-mail and tell me their “story”.  Understanding this will help us to make sure that we’re serving everyone who wants to learn.  As Bill Wagner of SRT Solutions said “it’s a great job and a rewarding career”.  Or something like that, I really need to write these things down!

A “Plethora of Programmers”?  A very Happy New Year!!!  

P-Cz

“Well, we really don’t have a plan B. We didn’t expect for the first plan to work. Sometimes you can overplan these things.”

If you don’t recognize my quotes, SHAME ON YOU!

 About Paul Czarnik

Paul the former CTO of Compuware, a venture-technologist and programmer. His hands-on experience and technical diligence model help with M&A activities and incubator/startups. Contact him at @PaulCzrnk to chat about IT Transformation (even though he hates that word), agile delivery, lean startup methodologies or music.

Paul serves on the boards of, iRule, the Motown Museum and the Admission/Retention Committee for Wayne State University.