The Physical Geography of Companies (Part 2 – The City Motif)

On Tuesday, May 3, I will be at the opening of an exhibit at MOMA in New York City. I am excited about this particular opening because the artist is my wife’s cousin, Francis Alÿs.  Francis is Belgian but has had his home and studio in Mexico City for a number of years. Over the course of my 21 years of marriage to Maureen (cousin to Francis), I’ve had the pleasure of being with my wife’s family in Brussels many times and staying in Francis’ ‘apartment’ that he keeps there.

For me, Francis’ philosophy is as important an influence on my thinking as the visual impact of his work and his art.  Of particular note in this series on the physical geography of companies is a particular quote from a conversation between David Toop and Francis Alys recorded in London, July 6, 2005.  The quote relates to the dynamic of a city, which if you read Part 1 of the Physical Geography of Companies, is a compelling thought framework for the evolving connected company: Continue Reading →

CLOUDDimensions: Monetary Instruments Though the Lens of WHO, WHAT, WHEN & WHERE (Part 2 – Credit & Debit Cards)

Since the first installment of monetary instruments through the lens of CLOUD Dimensions, I’ve had the pleasure of attending both SWIFT’s Operations Forum of the Americas and am in the midst of the South by Southwest Interactive. Earlier today, I attended two panels at SXSWi. One was on the topic of consumer lending, and the second was on the topic of bank innovation.  Each of these events have added to my thinking on this topic, as well as reinforced my belief that we need to dig below our conceptions of money and banks to truly understand where the advance of technology is taking both us and our future economy.

Throughout the second panel, ably led by Brett King of Banks 2.0 fame, I found myself repetitively tweeting the same meme that is developing here on monetary instruments. “Money has always been mobile.” We once moved it around by stagecoach. With the advance of technology, we’ve added checks, debit and credit cards to the mix. And, as was pointed out during the bank innovation panel at SXSWi, we are now adding mobile devices to the mix, too.

Whether by stage coach, card or mobile, however, each of these mechanisms is simply a distribution mechanism for the money itself. Mobile hasn’t reinvented money, it has just become the stagecoach of the 21st century. So, to understand the future of banks and monetary instruments, we must continue to think about the ways in which we use money as a medium of exchange, unit of account, and a store of value. Because it is in its role as a store of value, that the magic of money can be advanced in the 21st century. Money began as commodity money. Early coins, like shekels, had value based on the weight of a commodity. In the case of shekels, that commodity was barley (citation to wikipedia). Of course, money is now digitally recorded, so we must ask ourselves, how do we ‘weigh’ the value of money in the 21st century?

I began this journey over the meaning of money at Sibos in Amsterdam, and the conversation continues at Chris Skinner’s blog at the Financial Services Club in his post on “Money is meaningless.” CLOUD has added some additional comments on this topic at the FSC blog. The other comments are also worth your attention.

To be continued….

CLOUDDimensions: Monetary Instruments Though the Lens of WHO, WHAT, WHEN & WHERE (Part 1 – Checks)

As I was reading through my opinion piece from Sibos 2010, so graciously included by the editors in the latest SWIFT Dialogue magazine, a number of additional thoughts began to strike me about our monetary instruments and the sheer number of tags that intersect through them.

Late last year, I put together a series of posts in the standards section of our CLOUD website on the dimensions of CTML, outlining the basics of WHO, WHAT, WHEN and WHERE I Am™.  Each of these individual posts looked at these dimensions through the lens of an individual, however, these axes can extend beyond people.  They are equally capable of being applied to other physical artifacts, like our monetary instruments, the most common of which are check, debit cards and credit cards.

The goal of this discussion is to explore these four dimensions and how they intersect through our monetary instruments, starting with the most traditional of instruments, a check and then building on this same exercise with other instruments like credit and debit cards.  These individual posts on monetary instruments will lay the foundation for a broader whitepaper on payment systems and how they could work in a future CLOUD-enabled Internet.  I’m looking forward to the work session on the payments landscape in 2011 at SWIFT’s Operations Forum – Americas in NYC next week to get a better sense of the industry’s current thinking on the topic.

As you read through this thinking, it may be useful to pull out a check from your wallet, purse, briefcase or office drawer and take a look at it from the view of CLOUD’s dimensions. The first thing I noticed when I looked at one of my own checks was the fact that there are three separate instances of a WHO tag on this piece of paper.  One of these WHO tags is in the top left and bottom right corners of most checks.  In the case of my check, my name, my wife’s name and our address is in the top left corner.  This same exact tag is also found in the bottom right corner. Of course, in this case, the WHO tag is represented as a machine-readable number, my account number, but in essence, it represents the same information that is found in the top left corner.

The next set of WHO tags is found in the bottom left-hand corner of the check and not far above it in the same region of the check.  This WHO is both the human-readable and machine-readable tags representing the bank that holds my account. The machine-readable tag is commonly known as a routing number.  The final WHO tag is the one which we write on the “Pay to the Order Of” line.  It indicates to whom these funds will be remitted.

Before moving on to the WHAT I Am and WHEN I Am™ tags found on our checks, it is important to point out that a check is not actually money (obvious but worth restating).  In a sense, it is a distribution tag that states how my funds are to be moved.  The same is true of debit and credit cards.  They aren’t money either.  They, too, are distribution mechanisms that state how, when and under what terms money is to be exchanged.  I won’t dwell on the topic here, but it is possible, and very likely, that we each have not only checks that we use for our banking relationship but debit cards and credit cards that come from the same institution.  In the case of the debit card, it really isn’t a different monetary instrument at all but simply another distribution tag that streamlines the paper process of a check.  And, for that matter, the credit card is the same as the debit card, except I’m not moving the underlying funds from my own account but “borrowing” them under specific credit and interest terms for the money that I will have available to me in the future, just not now.  More on this line of thinking later…

So, let’s return to our check and the CLOUD Dimensions associated with it.  In the top right hand corner of our check, we have a line for the date, something we call WHEN I Am in the language of CTML.  This WHEN I Am could be today or a date in the future.  It is a way of saying to the payee and the bank when the funds can be exchanged. We also have a place for a WHAT, which we represent both numerically and in words.  Of course, I’m referring to the amount of funds to be exchanged.

What I discovered going through this exercise is that this one ‘monetary instrument’ is basically a large physical tag cloud to use an Internet term.  On this one piece of paper, there are a significant number of tags, each representing not only a unique piece of information but also representing a number of interacting relationships, all of which have “context” because the tag cloud all occurs on this one piece of paper.  The next post on CLOUD Dimensions and monetary instruments will look at this idea of tag clouds and their representation by credit and debit cards.

CLOUDDimensions: WHO I Am™

During meetings this past week in New York City and Philadelphia regarding CLOUD in both finance and health, two separate questions were raised that help frame a deeper discussion regarding WHO I Am™.  The first question posed was in relationship to Facebook Connect, OpenID and CLOUD’s concept of WHO, and the second was in regards to whether WHO I Am or WHAT I Am would be the container by which various dimensions and data would be stored.

WHO I Am

Technology Problem or Time for a Paradigm Change?

Since CLOUD believes the future of the Internet lies in a paradigm shift and not just a technology shift, the initial drafting of CTML (contextual markup language) is still in the future.  Crafting a new standard while the issues are still framed by paper-based paradigms like web pages would be putting the cart before the horse.

However, it is useful to discuss some of the more philosophical underpinnings embedded in these questions from our northeast roadshow. Since log-ins and forms have boxed us in to solutions that mimic how we’ve handled these issues in the past, it is better to not allow them to box in our visions of the future.  Rather than thinking about WHO I Am in the context of web pages or forms, let’s think about this question in a broader way.

Does My Birthday Define WHO I Am?

Each of us is defined by not only our relationships with other people but by a collection of information that is gathered up over a life time.  Does our address or our birth date really define WHO I Am?  Birthdays or addresses, in some ways, are simply tags (WHAT I Am), tags that mark some aspect of our paths through life.  As discussed by our recent posting on WHEN I Am, even birthdays are not fixed in time as evidenced by our own country’s change in calendars in the 1700s that moved us from the Old Style to the New Style calendar, a change that also “moved” George Washington’s birthday by some two weeks.  Of course, the date of our birth is an important mark along any path.  It is “where” we each start.  It is the ultimate expression of two WHO I Ams combining so as to create a whole new WHO I Am, but the birthday as a discrete data element doesn’t define us or define our WHO.

No matter how well OpenID captures my data and enters it efficiently into the multiple web pages and associated forms, it is still entering data into forms.  And, that is the problem.  Even the OpenID foundation web site recognizes this, “OpenID is a safer, faster and easier way to log in to web sites.” But I don’t want to log into websites.  That’s the whole problem.  With all of these websites, I have my data scattered everywhere. Having my birthdate entered into more web silos, faster is exactly the problem.  Why reenter the birthdate at all?

Somewhere on the Internet, there exists a data point that validates that I was born.  I have in my filing cabinet a physical “tag” that proves where I was born, when I was born and to whom I was born.  It is called a birth certificate.  That “tag” is the most valid version of my birthdate in existence.  I’ve certainly written my birthdate down on a lot of forms in my over 40 years on this planet, but not one of them is validated.  The OpenID-style approach makes it easier to further populate the Internet with this same date.  But that completely misses the point.

With the many eGovernment efforts occurring globally (I was born outside of London), it is entirely within reason to expect that my birth certificate, or more importantly, the data and tags contained within it, would be accessible electronically.  This validated birthdate should never be required to “move,” just like web pages don’t move.  It should become one of many tags or threads that intersect to form my evolving WHO I Am.  On my path through life, I have also been tagged by the United States government as a citizen (of which I am very proud), and every ten years, I receive another WHO tag from the US Government in the form of my passport.  None of these tags are part of my identity, but the accumulation of these tags create a very robust “tag cloud” that makes it quite clear that I am WHO I say I am.

WHO I Am and Digital Weaving

So, WHO I Am is a really a tag cloud and not a data container.  It is a cloud formed by our connections to other people and other experiences.  These connections are much like the threads of a weaver (discussed further in my End of LInearity blog), and these threads/tags “flow” through my WHO I Am.  The richer these connections; the richer and more colorful is the fabric that is woven by the “flow” of my tags.  As a result of the distributed nature of information in a CLOUD-enabled Internet, the idea of “logging in” goes away.  It is entirely within reason to envision a CLOUD-enabled web page or other presentation layer that allows me “to pierce my fabric” (in the words of a recent lunch companion) to see my connections to other WHOs or my other WHATs (from health to education to finance and beyond).  No logging in necessary, because that is just not WHO I Am.