Published on in Digital Transformation

Collaboration really is at the heart of Fujitsu – and at the heart of the Distinguished Engineers Conference in particular.

It’s an event which brings together over 250 Distinguished Engineers and delegates for two days of workshops, conferences, and some well-organised fun.

It’s all about the brightest minds in our organisation coming together to make connections, share ideas, and pool their knowledge to solve a team challenge.

So it was the perfect arena for Mark van Rijmenam, founder and CEO of Datafloq, to deliver his keynote speech: ‘The Collaboration Era – How to Thrive in an Exponential World’.

If this year’s conference was an example of collaboration today, Mark’s talk explained exactly what collaboration will look like tomorrow – including the role that big data, blockchain and AI will play.

In this blog, I’m going to share what Mark had to say about how we can all learn to be future collaborators.

Mapping out the future – why collaboration will matter

Organisations move at the pace of technological change – which, Mark pointed out, is now extremely fast.

This means that it’s not enough to have a strategy that’s simply focussed on the current situation: you have to look to the future, or risk being left behind.

And the future will be a very different place.

Mark explained how collaboration among employees, customers, business units and even things (as in, the Internet of Things) will form much more of the future landscape than it does in the present day.

The core of this will be big data, blockchain and AI. Mark described these as “the holy grail for organisations of tomorrow.”

For Mark, the importance of these three technologies cannot be overstated.

He argued that they will not only determine the success of your organisation over the next few decades, but they will also reorganise the entire structure of society.

Big data will empower customers and employees; blockchain will establish universal trust that will enable peer-to-peer collaboration; and artificial intelligence will drive us to work with autonomous machines.

Mark then went on to provide three key takeaways regarding each piece of technology, starting with big data…

Big data: use all available sources to build the biggest picture possible

Mark opened his discussion of big data by reminding us of that old adage: “knowledge is power.”

If your employees have knowledge, he pointed out, they’re empowered to make the right decisions – both for the business and for its customers.

This is important as we move away from the old forms of decision-making based on intuition and experience. We now want to use data to make choices.

And this comes at the right time, as we’re seeing a huge explosion in the amount of data being produced.

Yesterday we used megabytes and gigabytes, today we’re dealing with petabytes and exabytes – Mark even revealed that he had started dealing with brontobytes (which is 10 to the power of 27!).

But for Mark, the amount of data is far less significant than knowing what to do with it.

He advises removing the silos within your business and mixing the data that comes from different departments or different functions across the globe: “We need to see the bigger picture of the entire organisation.”.

In addition to this, Mark made a case for using external data sources.

He suggested Blendle as a great example of a business that does this.

The app uses contextual data to decide how it interacts with its user – for example, if it can see that you are on the motorway, it won’t send you push notifications, because you might be driving.

Mark also highlighted the fact that the best external data source can be the customers and employees themselves.

He cited IBM’s innovation jam, a brainstorming session with all employees and customers, as a good model for an open strategy, in which decisions are made by all stakeholders and not just the C-suite.

“If you can collect data from all of your different stakeholders,” he said, “you build a collective intelligence. And collective intelligence creates a collaboration culture within the organisation”.

Blockchain: a source of the truth that drives collaboration

Mark introduced us to blockchain with a bold claim. This technology, he said, will have as big an impact as the steam engine, or the creation of the internet.

Blockchain, according to Mark’s definition, is a database which is shared, immutable, verifiable, and traceable.

But why does he believe it will cause such a massive paradigm shift?

Because it cannot be changed, it is a “shared single source of the truth” – meaning that it will make it possible to trust anyone, even someone you don’t know.

This will drive peer-to-peer collaboration as it will remove the need for an intermediary.

Currently, for instance, you need to use a bank to exchange money as part of a transaction with someone you don’t know.

But in the future, there will be no need for the bank, as you will be able to trust the other party in the transaction thanks to the blockchain.

Mark also proved the lie to the common misconception that blockchain is just for the financial services sector.

He believes that blockchain will help us combat all sorts of issues, from climate change to poverty.

Bitnation, for example, is using blockchain to provide refugees with a cryptographic ID.

And the veracity of election results will no longer be called into question, as blockchain will be a way to record votes that cannot be manipulated.

Mark then went on to reveal his thoughts on the convergence of blockchain and big data.

For him, it’s when you bring big data and blockchain together that you realise the potential of both technologies.

It becomes possible to make data private, giving the consumer full control over their data and who has access to it or not.

Once the data is on the blockchain you can start sharing that data, but it also becomes possible to make it private.

Essentially, the individual has full control over their ‘blockchained’ data and can control who has access to it.

This will entirely change how we’ll collaborate with our customers, Mark argued.

In the new world you’ll need to ask for consent to use someone’s data – and not just via a cursory T&Cs sheet.

It will be a comprehensive, contractual form of consent that we don’t see today.

Blockchain will give control to the customer, and hence they’ll be in a position of power when it comes to businesses using their data.

Mark also noted that blockchain will allow you to put data into vaults, and choose who has access to it and for how long.

This again will be important for collaboration, because it will allow you to share data securely with your competitors, without giving away any of your trade secrets.

Mark linked this back to his original statement about the value of external data sources – of which your competitors will be one.

So collaboration, it seems, is already completely changing, due to the combination of big data and the blockchain.

AI: great potential alongside great risk

In the final section of his speech Mark turned to the final piece of the collaboration ‘holy grail’: artificial intelligence.

He explained how AI is becoming increasingly intelligent, and, more importantly, intuitive.

“AI will become our boss, copywriter, assistant, driver, and customer service,” he said. “We’ll need to start collaborating with the machines.”

There are examples of this happening already: the Associated Press uses algorithms instead of analysts to write financial reports, and at Deep Knowledge Ventures an algorithm has a seat on the board.

But human-machine collaboration: what does that look like?

According to Mark, this is a question we have yet to answer.

However, he was keen to advise caution when it comes to machine-to-machine or human-to-machine interaction.

He agrees with the view of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking that artificial intelligence will be the last invention humankind ever makes.

It will become so intelligent that it could solve all our problems; but it could also learn from the darker side of humanity, and become a destructive and malevolent force.

For this reason, Mark reasoned, you need to consider the ethical and legal implication of an algorithmic business.

You need responsible artificial intelligence above all else.

This might involve AI that is capable of explaining its actions in plain English. If it can explain its actions, this means that it will be able to justify them. But building this will be very difficult because it requires the AI to debug its own code.

Something else that is necessary, in Mark’s eyes, is a kill switch. You need to be able to deactivate AI at any point – in case it ever becomes dangerous.

Ultimately, Mark’s key message was a reminder that whilst collaboration with machines will bring about great opportunities, it must be approached carefully.

Combining three types of technologies for holistic collaboration

Mark made it clear that these three technologies will come to shape our future – and a major implication of this will be an increased need for collaboration, especially collaboration of a new kind.

Businesses will have to collaborate with their customers, their employees, their competitors and even machines in order to achieve success in the future.

And this collaboration will not just be helpful, or useful: it will be a necessity.

So it’s good to see that, as our team of distinguished engineers grows (this year was the largest conference to date) we’ll have developed our ability to collaborate – both now, and into the future.


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Jim Millen

Digital Content Editor at Fujitsu
I'm the editor for the Fujitsu UK & Ireland blog, and love to write about the exciting work Fujitsu do in digital & technology innovation.

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