Impossible Things with David Terrar S1 E14
DAVID TERRAR [00:01:00] Hi and good day to you. It’s David Terrar. Welcome to Episode 14 of Impossible Things with David Terrar. And first, let me tell you that it’s called impossible things because of. Partly because of Arthur C. Clarke’s, third law about any sufficiently advanced technology being like magic and partly because we love the queen in Alice through the Looking Glass saying she does 6 impossible things before breakfast. So we’re into the impossible side of technology. And I’ve got a really brilliant guest today. JP Rangaswami who’s, in my opinion, a legend of the Internet. We first met actually virtually “big… day” for me when he put my blog on his blog “row” back in the 2000s. We first met them in 2007 physically when he was MD of BT “design”. And since then he’s been Salesforce’s Chief Scientist and Deutsche Bank’s Data Chief Military Officer. He wants me to make sure you realise, though, he doesn’t have any executive director roles now, he’s retired. Well, actually, I think he’s busier now than he ever was before. JP, welcome to the show.
JP RANGASWAMI [00:02:10] Thank you. Always a pleasure to be with you.
DAVID TERRAR [00:02:15] Tell us a little bit more about yourself.
JP RANGASWAMI [00:02:19] I’ll be 63 this year. “Vira an Chuck” have arrived before 64. So I’m 64, there’s a small chance maybe there’ll be three grandchildren but there’s no better practise for being an exec director than learning to be a granddad. Between COVID and retirement, I had to learn things I’ve never known much about to be brought up in Calcutta. You don’t know much about gardening. So rather than aspire after it now actually started growing more than just chillis. So it’s been a real learning experience, being part of a locked down state and taught me a lot.
DAVID TERRAR [00:03:11] Excellent stuff. Now, JP’s jobsworth of the Internet and writes it confused to “Calcutta”. And I mean even around since the early days of social media and collaboration and enterprise 2.0, it’s interesting with the the pandemic, because that’s given corporation a kind of a forward. What do you what do you think?
JP RANGASWAMI [00:03:39] I think that, you know, in some respects, what COVID allowed us to do is have a dress rehearsal for other pandemics to come on for the relatively sort of super complex based call climate change, we’re suddenly learning how humanity has to collaborate. And it’s been fascinating watching assess society in different parts of the world. Learn just to take commuting out of the equation. Right. When suddenly work was something you did and not somewhere you went. And it’s I think it’s really important to understand how privileged many of us were. Because for many people, what you paid and where you worked had to be the same. With the tools of work were not at home. And I think for those who like studying the aspects of inequality that’s implied within the digitalisation of the world. We’ve got a rude awakening. And realising that not all homes were equipped for people to work in, knowing they may not have been enough machinery in the house to be able to connect people up when multiple people wanted use of that connection. The connections may not have been good enough. The capacity to have to have multiple at the same time required social understanding in the home of whose turn it was and who keeps out of the room. We also started learning things about people who couldn’t afford the connection. And what happens when you have credit rating issues? So I think it was an incredible experiment which continues for us. I’m not in any way belittling the tragedy that has occurred to so many hundreds of thousands of people. And that’s not one that’s stopping soon. But also recognising that what COVID has done is accelerate trends that have been bubbling under for 20 years, maybe longer. And we are finally finding out. Well, you know, connectivity in the U.K. is not that bad. Most of us who were privileged enough to be white collar work at home could continue. And I say this as a non-exec. And I’ve even managed to join a board without meeting anyone there in real life in principle and having the board meetings continue. But you know, to put it in that bluntest form, we’ve got the stress on the system that COVID 19 has performed has allowed us a much deeper understanding of what doesn’t work and how to fix it. Nicholas Zetterstrom, when I was talking to him, mentioned how much the capacity for us to have video conferencing and collaboration with each other. Has improved in weeks rather than months. The years that preceded it were relatively slow. Touch paper was lit properly. Only a few months ago and now we see many tools. Zoom has entered people’s vocabulary. I noticed “Thomas Months of Magdala”, another person I’m sure, you know, sort of mentioning on social media even earlier today that we’ve had seven years of innovation in the space and seven weeks. But that’s the kind of thing where while we can celebrate what has worked, we need to take very careful stock of what hasn’t, how we make sure that there are affordable connectivities there for everyone that the infrastructure is in place in the home. The affordability is guaranteed because that’s what’s needed to help us transform lives.
DAVID TERRAR [00:08:23] You know, you’re absolutely right to highlight that that digital divide that inequality, because those of us have got a MacBook and iPad and a smartphone, it’s been relatively easy to make some space to our homes and work from home. But you’re right to seeing the people on the news. What were you suddenly discover that there’s a family there that actually has one smartphone between five of them and life’s very different for those so it’s very important. Thinking about how it’s developed over the last 20 years to give me some highlights. What’s been good? What’s been bad about the way Cloud and everything’s developed because you’ve been at the forefront of that working for a company like Salesforce for a period.
JP RANGASWAMI [00:09:06] I think that, you know, even when I was at Dresdner, and then through BT and to Salesforce and beyond I’ve tended to find this sort of an almost although it’s been attributed to an early I think, 1918 or 19 union official in America, they you know, the user of the phrase, you know, first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you and then you you win sort of element. I’ve seen that approach taken for technology. And it was therefore open source. Where it was considered, you know, an American communists somehow evil to be using open source. And there was a lot of pushback on it in the mid to late 90s. We saw that with the Cloud. And I don’t want to embarrass people by listing the number of very large Cloud press who seem to be making a habit of talking about it as irrelevant, unimportant, will not scale security, “poor” and everything else. And now they’re all on the bandwagon. You know, a decade later, fifteen years later. But that’s more what I see as incumbent responses to changes in technology. But the underlying big shift for me, without taking words out of “John Haigoline, John Seelybrown” and you know, their sort of seminal work in that regard is that when you can replicate something as a mathematical model, it really allows you to start making it functional. The magic was in being able to create a fundable infrastructure. That allowed us to scale up or down without all the misbehaviour and clumsiness of the atoms and the relative elegance of bits. And you see that in any world you dematerialise when you move from analogue to digital. Technical infrastructure, digital was a huge game. But, you know, if you imagine the world’s first mobile phone call was made, I think, in. You know, in the early 70s, 71 or 72 and the first email was sent around that time. The creation of, you know, ARPANET and the work at Darbar that preceded creating the Internet as we know it. And then though the Web dies, it’s sort of its principal reference point to us. These are things that are measured in decades, multiple decades. So, you know, I think we’re at a fascinating point where a number of these technologies have come to maturity, where going back to your imposible things and all the clock called. These are accepted. And we start recognising them when they don’t work. We expect them to work. And we’ve learnt something about the unequal distribution and the inequality that we have to act on. But the magic is in the fact that starting a journey maybe during the middle of a lost the World War all the way through to today. We’ve seen seeds of ideas emerge. That have created and connected infrastructure that allows us to do things that we’ve never considered. I mean, if I take my own life, you know, I’ve had multiple heart attacks fifteen years ago and I carry quite a lot of expensive equipment inside me. But being called by the hospital. As lockdown was approaching and saying, we’ve sent you something in the post, we’d rather you didn’t come in from this point on, your quarterly checks are gonna be carried out at home. Well, I’d actually ask for that a few years earlier, but they were “not enough empowering me to play with my own heart” and now they have given me “read” access. They “haven’t given the right access” but at least I can do some of the reading at that example of things I could do for a moment. In Britain, we’re lucky. Many of the things that we want to do, pay bills, connect to government services, even things like this, you know, impossible things is not a child of the virus. You built this as a service without reference to the virus. So, you know, it’s important to realise you could and as you say, even 20 years ago, we formed a digital relationship. What then became an in real life relationship, six or seven years later.
DAVID TERRAR [00:14:27] Exactly. Excellent stuff. Tell me a bit about the importance of data. Because obviously, you moved to Deutsche Bank and you were their Chief Data Officer. I’m fascinated by organisations like that who obviously been around for a long time and have a lot of legacy systems and different systems. So tells us a bit about your time there.
JP RANGASWAMI [00:14:49] I mean, without ever breaking confidentiality, because I keep that as part of a professional requirement, I would say the challenge of data, data has always been part of the technology landscape ever since we had computers. There’s no point having computers without data but, you know, when I started work anyway, we used to be called the DP Department. That’s what we do. Process data. Then suddenly became a new thing to look after. What changed was scale. And it’s not that scale didn’t exist beforehand either, because if you worked in an oil exploration or in geology or climate science, these were things that had very large quantities of data. What changed, as I think the the sensing apparatus that we had worldwide? To generate data scaled up tremendously as we went to mobile and IoT. And the difficulty in knowing how to look for a signal amongst all that noise, how to find and view the wood amongst the trees. I think that difficulty had to manifest itself in people learning certain disciplines. So the explosion of data meant that you needed to build disciplines around its management before you could generate value from it. That discipline appeared to come through in forefronts. One is you have to have standards to be able to aggregate or share. So data governance became an issue that you’d never really considered in the same form as seriously. The second element was, you know, even 50 years ago when the machine room was in the cellar of the building that you worked in and all the data that you used at work was created in that machine room by programmes written by people who worked for you. You had very high trust in that data. Then, as there was more partnering and outsourcing and mobility, something we face in social and political spheres as well. You are no longer certain of the data that you had was real or true. So they needed a second order to say, besides basic governance, you had to have the ability to deal with provenance, with immutability, with knowing the truthiness of the data as it were. Which were not skills you needed 40 years ago in computing, all right. Then the third element was the engineering aspects to say, you know, it’s one thing to say we’re all living in a world of Cloud but actually building Cloud native applications is non-trivial. There is as much cultural issues to deal with it. You know, I remember “BD” when we first put out a Twitter based care service. The people manning the care service work Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, which made 6 o’clock Friday, an interesting time to be on Twitter. All right. So the idea that if it Cloud gives you that seamless 24/7 experience, you need to back it up with a service that can match that, it became important. So, you know, overall, the Deutsche being as large as it was being the scale player on a number of markets having access to and an incredible amount of data measured and multi petabytes and growing at petabytes. It was a wonderful place to learn how to create a governance structure that was sort of fixing the plane in midair. And we could attract a lot of talent because people knew that working on the data was going to be an experience.
DAVID TERRAR [00:19:07] So, in terms of the way things are changing, I think we have moved from a period where we owned our own software and our own data centres and a computer system. To a period where we rented software systems. And I think the next phase is all about marketplaces and ecosystems and communities that will join. Do you agree with that?
JP RANGASWAMI [00:19:38] Well not necessarily in the exact words, but with the same themes. You know, I definitely think that platform based services and the ability to build ecosystems, some of which overlap rather than mutually exclusive, are very much a key direction. I think we will see specialist, you know, I see the CDs behind you. The example I use is “discords” okay. Yeah. See how “discords” is an open and transparent site that you can look into the “goblins” of it as much as you want. Your even able to build services on top. You’re able to extract and download what you want from it and yeah “TEDTalk”. It’s just an open multisided platform with the world’s best vinyl database underpinning it. And there is a sense that we will go from the general to the specific on these marketplaces, that you will belong to more than one of them. And, you know, as “The Cluefind” guys kept reminding us 20 years ago, markets are conversations.
DAVID TERRAR [00:21:07] For those of you who don’t know what that is. Check out cluetfind.com. Carry on, JP.
JP RANGASWAMI [00:21:12] Yeah, but, you know, seeing those sort of changes were not just visualised, but written off in depth in 1999. And now we have a generation of people who may not have heard the term “called” read the book. “Otherwise, I’m a little or removed”. But, you know, I absolutely I think that because more people are empowered with technology than ever before and they no longer have the pains of having to own it and to maintain it and they can rent it and have seamless access to it. Obviously, the next generation had to be able to build value services on top of it. I have even something as simple as my dealing with my printer, connecting it, being able to access it remotely from anywhere in the house. Be able to have automatic reorder of toner levels. Know how the paper is doing. So much has changed in terms of the complexity of connecting to the Internet and onto the Web and being to have the hardware and software, because we can say we are, you know, serverless and computer less and software, less than whatever else, but I still have. Something that looks like a piece of machinery on my desk. And at least one printer in the house. We restrict ourselves to one. We need to print a few things every now and then. But, you know, the pathway you describe is very much right. I remember a conversation between Bill Gates and Esther Dyson. Oh, yes. Maybe 15 years ago, 16 years ago, where they were talking about “search”. Bill use the phrase, the future of search is verbs. And that, you know, we’ve moved away from finding to doing. And that’s what I was trying to write about in the old days, that, you know, there are only four things you do in enterprise. You know, the search subscribed fulfilled and they turn the conversation to transact as it work. Whether you remember those four pillars time. But that is still at the heart of what I think now we’re now building those services. We’ve gone higher up the oversized stack for those who still remember what those stacks were.
DAVID TERRAR [00:23:43] You were on BBC World Service Programme recently talking about where making the Web better. What next? Talked about what you talked about there with “Vint Cerfin” and a few others as well.
JP RANGASWAMI [00:23:58] And Wendy and Bill Thompson and Drew. And they I think the key to me was that the problems we face, many of those problems are not unique to a single time zone or culture or language or civilisation. And for us to solve them, we need to learn how to work across them. And in the early stages of computing, it was a very numerate STEM discipline and over time as and are again taking your imposible things statement. As technology has become very much part of the fabric of our lives. It’s important technology pays attention to the rest of the fabric of our lives, which includes our humanity, our privacy, our legal structure, as our social norms are human capacity to effect and to accept change. There are many things that we’ve had to learn about, and websites is really there to help get that holistic view of learning how to study ourselves using the web, but making sure that the web itself is fit for purpose. And that can’t be taken for granted because there is organization and fragmentation. There is the digital sort of divide and the inequality that’s available there. There is the lack of trust in the data. There is the ability, as we’ve seen in multiple countries, for governments not just to mutate the content, but also to cut access off. So we’ve got to keep coming back to saying, you know, can we understand and build that better to make sure that whether it’s in our health, our education, our welfare, our ability to to build generative value rather than build extractive systems. And to learn to cooperate across these cultures and time zones, we use tooling that we may have taken for granted in each wave. And we have to renew our vows in terms of making sure it remains our right with affordable access and ubiquitous access. With an ability to become, you know, a creative commons in its own right, with preventing a monopolistic characteristics. Making sure it cannot be turned against us. And I think we’ve learnt a lot. I mean, the scientific collaboration I’ve seen during the Corona virus has been tested. Right? And we’ve seen games played with the data. We’ve seen games played with the information. We see that politicisation. But it doesn’t matter. We have learnt that the foundations of what we’ve built as a collaborative environment. Are fit for purpose. Now we have to solve the inequality, “that digital divide aspects of it”. And through that connectivity and the education that we can empower through it, we can build towards a society that helps take care of some of these problems.
DAVID TERRAR [00:27:25] Excellent. I’ve got one last question for you. We’re almost out of time. We’ve obviously just all experienced this massive change and working from home. And “it’s been months of bravery… of innovation in seven weeks” as organisations begin to move on to the next stage. Have you got any advice for them as to what they should think about as as things begin to open up and change a bit?
JP RANGASWAMI [00:27:53] I think that, you know, putting everything as a bet on “23 red” or whatever and saying this virus will solve everything. I think is a risk. We need to recognise that the medical and scientific side have made incredible progress. We will expect to know that hospitals are dealing with the challenges better, that medical staff who paid for their participation in lives. Know a lot more because we used to use the term novel Corona Virus when it began. We sort of dropped the novel. But part of the challenge was the novelty. We didn’t know anything about it. We know a lot more now and we’ve learnt how to do better with the therapeutics and we have some good signs that vaccines will come. We’ve made and learn from the errors we’ve made in public policy, all in different forms. But now the changes are social. And really understanding. Not all work can be detached from the workplace. Not all work should be detached from the workplace. But the workplace itself can be a lot more distributed than we had the temerity to consider earlier. That the 24/7 service demand side can be attached to a supply side that looks like that. But it requires us to rethink what the workplace is and the tensions that that forms and saying commuting is not going to be the same thing, whether it’s sort of midlandic travel or midchannel travel or mid-London travel. Actually thinking we would, you know, especially with the challenges of climate change also bearing down on us. It’s not a bad time to sit back and say we will ban those chips when we need to and not when we want to. Work should always have been about what we do and not where we work, but understanding how to make the tools for work accessible where we are. Making sure we don’t disenfranchise people is important. Recognising that only those things that need to be locked to a physical place should be. Is interesting, but you know what an extreme I mean, even consider. Well, we have situations where parents take children to work. And that this school from work, because it’s a quick reuse of the spare desks they would otherwise have with the compute power etc., it requires some care. But if your place at home is not suitable for you to work from. Maybe your place at work is suitable for your children to school from. And, you know, I go back to the village school concept of saying you used to have children of mixed ages in one schoolhouse. And the teacher was a facilitator of learning because you can’t chalk and talk teach when you have mixed age, mixed gender, mixed everything, children. So now maybe pair programming kind of skills will revert. So you group children together who are similar in age to learn from each other and they connect up and they connect remotely into their classes and they do go into school. Not every day. I don’t know. What I do know is the idea that school was a place you went to and work was a place you went to, rather than work with something you did. And learning was something you did. This detachment of police from activity and all the benefits, as well as the risks that represents. How to get the watercooler the coffee machine effect the playground for the kids, saying these are not things to throw away. These are things to rethink. And Corona virus has forced us to do some of that rethinking. We’ve seen what breaks. We’ve got innovation and ingenuity in how we’re fixing them. But the social side of it. You know how long before I know. I can’t consider that I’m anywhere close to wanting to be in crowded, enclosed spaces with “bloor a” circulation. Vaccine or no vaccine. Because, you know, I’m older and I’m more vulnerable and I’d like to be around to see my grandchildren grow up. My father didn’t get that chance. My grandfather didn’t get that chance. And I’d like to savour that privilege and protected and respected.
JP RANGASWAMI [00:32:58] It’s a great “intervention”. JP, that has been fascinating and fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your knowledge with us.
JP RANGASWAMI [00:33:07] David, as always, thank you for the invite, all the best.
DAVID TERRAR [00:33:13] So that’s JP Rangaswami, some fantastic ideas and thoughts there. If you want more content like this check back to @DT, my Twitter id, @DisruptiveLIVE go do impossiblethings.fyi. Next week’s show, Episode 15 will actually be all about the future of work in a slightly different kind of frame of mind with a guy called Luis Suarez a great body who will be talking about the presence of work. See you next week.