Weeknotes #254

This week I did

How information flows

We moved onto a new platform for delivering virtual courses this week, so I’ve spent a lot of time supporting the teams that will be using it and the teams that will be supporting them. There’s lots of new stuff for everyone to learn and I’m keen to spread and embed the knowledge as much as possible. A task or job role might need specific skills and a dedicated owner, but information and knowledge doesn’t work that way. Lots of people can have the same information, regardless of their role. Understanding why the whole system works the way it does, what some of the underlying assumptions are, what tasks others in the team perform, how processes work, etc., . Knowledge shouldn’t be on a need-to-know only basis. The idea that someone only knows what they need to know to do their job will always create gaps in knowledge. I’ve been thinking a bit about how we understand work as flows of information rather than as discrete tasks to be completed., partly from a digital transformation point of view about moving away from a factory mindset of work being about progressing widgets along a production conveyor belt, and partly from reading Galbraith on how the more uncertainty there is about a project, the more information has to be processed in order to complete a task.

Tech Ethics

It’s been a week of tech ethics. I went to a Social Tech Meetup hosted by Rachel Coldicutt and Anna Dent and this week’s lecture was on the ethics of emerging technology.

Tech ethics is a problem of pace. Different things move at different speeds. Implementing laws take time. Ethics progresses faster than laws. But new technologies and the data collection that enables them happens faster than the ethical discussions and positioning. This is why we see things like bias in algorithms, because the tech races ahead of the checks and balances catching up. Although we are more aware of the bias in what is being built, it has also been there. Crash test dummies are based on the male body which meant that for many years cars were designed to protect men better than women. That’s decades old tech ethics, but it’s still the same problem. Different things move at different speeds.

Interface, Integrate, Iterate

I’ve been writing up some of my ideas about how product management creates an interface between customer and organisation, integrates strategy with tactics and teams with the work, and iterates on everything to drive continuous improvement into a short email series. It’s part of some of my ideas about helping more charities understand and use product management thinking to improve their service proposition and delivery.

And I thought about:

What does it mean to deliver?

What does it mean to deliver something, to achieve, to complete something? Its surely more than just completing tasks. Delivering a project should enable the continued realisation of value, it creates something of ongoing usefulness, facilitates other accomplishments. It should be more than the sum of it’s parts. If you deliver enough deliverables, and even the right deliverables, does that mean they’ll add up to create something good? Are good outcomes assumed to be a natural result of a well delivered project? Or is there more to do to connect those outputs and deliverables, fit them into relationships, create flows of information? Does delivering mean delivering an output, an outcome, a project, a change?

Defining hybrid working

I thought a bit more about how to define and understand hybrid working, and how it’s less about location and more about the numbers of people in the same or different locations, and so the relationship dynamics that creates. One person in the office and nine in other locations doesn’t really bring hybrid working dynamics into play. But two in the office and eight in other locations starts to introduce different dynamics because now the two in the office are dealing with one type of interaction between themselves and a different type of interaction with those in other locations. But those in the other locations aren’t involved it the relationship between those in the office. It seems to me that its the dealing with the different forms of interaction that is the underlying problem-to-solve for hybrid working.

Digital transformation is everywhere

An hours walk from the nearest plug socket, even a notice board with tide times is going on a digital transformation journey. QR codes are a start to connecting the physical and digital worlds, maybe in the future every beach will have IoT sensors measure tide height, water quality, etc., and broadcast that information to your phone as you walk into the area. Everything in our world is undergoing digital transformation, some things are further ahead than others, but nothing will be left behind (except, maybe, hopefully, stiles).

And read:

100 Moments

I listen to the new podcast about 100 moments the rocked computer science by professors Sue Black OBE and Gordon Love. This episode talked about search engines and organising information on the internet, and included an interview with Alan Emtage, the inventor of Archie, the first search engine, and some mind-blowing stats about the amount of data we’re creating. With all this data, search, as a concept, becomes about making all that data interpretable and readable by humans, rather than just being about finding things other humans have written on the internet. So search moves upstream in creating value from data and information.

The Hacker Way

The hacker way, “believes that a good solution today is better than a great solution tomorrow. It does not believe that done is better than perfect so much as it believes that being done sooner is the best path to eventual perfection, though it is also skeptical that perfection exists.”. This mindset underpins so much of modern digital and agile thinking (and anarchy beneath that, but I won’t get into that now). Understanding the hacker mindset, and how it informs the ideas a practices of digital people and teams, might help us understand the difficulties and conflicts that occur within organisations as they go through their digital transformation. Maybe there is a fundamental difference in worldview between the digital people and the (for want of a better term) corporate people. Both struggle to understand how the other sees the world, and neither would be willing to adopt the other’s worldview.

Ditch the Solution-First Mindset and Start by Defining the Problem

Both in life and at work, we tend to come up with solutions before defining the problem they solve.” If I had a pound for every time I’ve gone on about understanding the problem…

Weeknotes #253

This week I did

New strategy

Our new organisational strategy was released this week. I’m keen to spend some time soon reading it more deeply and thinking about how to interpret it for the work we’re doing. I’ve noticed a few strategic mis-alignments recently between the work our programme design team is doing and the direction I thought the product team was heading, so now is the time to bring together the different perspectives and course correct before we get into the next phase of work.

I also spent a bit of time working on product strategy to develop some guiding principles. One of those is about the ensuring that the speed we introduce change is matched to the speed at which the changes can be adopted. Just going as fast as we can seems like the wrong thing to do, as counter as it is to lots of product development thinking and my personal beliefs, because it’ll cause bottlenecks and futureshock.

Systems training

Delivered training on using some of the new systems we’re putting in place. As part of the thinking for what to include in the training I was imagining the ‘system of systems’ we have. There are lots of distinct systems that have certain data and perform certain processes, and then there are linking processes, automated and manual, that move that data between the systems, and then the human nodes in the system that contain information about how the system works but are very much part of the system. Maybe I should just stick to delivering the training.

Delivery planning

I wrote out my delivery plan (still a work in progress but mostly there) to help me track what I’ve done throughout the year towards the goals on my roadmap and to get into the habit of monthly planning. As part of my monthly planning cycle I did a retro of the things I’d learned in May that had affected my ability to deliver on my goals. I don’t really have a format that works for me yet but it started me thinking about methods for retrospectives and what they should aim to achieve. I think looking back is useful but really retros should be about increasing agency and ownership in order to change the approach which then improves everything you do in the future rather than just individual process improvements.

Vanlife fail

I visited Stonehenge and found a large community of vanlifers. I wanted to hand out my flyers to ask them to do the survey but it felt really uncomfortable intruding into their community as an outsider. There’s a different between vanlifers who live in semi-permanent communities together and those who live more solitary, transient lifestyles. Some outsiders and more outsiders than others.

Blockchain and social good

This week’s lecture was about how blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are being used for social good, and posed the question, ‘should more technological development be focused on making the world a better place?’ The answer is clearly and obviously, yes. The case study was how blockchain was being used to manage commons resources and some of the resources included a sector-specific study from Stanford University and looking at Blockchain for Humanity, which is a not-for-profit foundation with the mission to drive the adoption of emerging technologies that can offer a positive social impact. There is so much possibility.


And thought about:

Hybrid meetings

I had my first hybrid meeting, with some of us in the room and some joining via video. It started me thinking about the pros and cons of hybrid meetings so I collected my thoughts into a blog post. Although I’m certain that remote, virtual, asynchronous work works best for me, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something interesting to try to figure out about hybrid working, especially if it’s likely that we’ll be working with others who do have hybrid ways of working.

Dealing with unknown unknowns

The common wisdom for dealing with unknown unknowns seems to be to adding them to a matrix with the known knowns, unknown knowns and known unknowns so you can (hopefully) identify by contrast the unknown unknowns. This way assumes that all domains of knowledge exist within that matrix, so I wondered about switch it around and putting a matrix within each domain of knowledge. Galbraith talks about how organisations deal with uncertainty and unknowns by processing more information between decision-makers as the way forward is figured out than is processed where decisions can be pre-planned. If unknowns are broken down into smaller and smaller domains of knowledge then perhaps the unknown unknowns become smaller and more specific, which might make them easier to imagine. Dealing with uncertainty and adapting to change is a capability every organisation is going to have to figure out how to build and I’m not sure there is a lot best practice in how to do that yet.

Ukrainian aviators love me

One of my most popular (I mean popular in my terms, which isn’t very popular by most people’s terms) blog posts is Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix – but for charities. It seems to show in Google searches for Schmenner, and weirdly, the Ukrainian National Aviation University link to it in one of their papers about applying the service process matrix to logistics. This amuses me.


And read this:

Maintaining Radical Focus and Staying on Strategy with OKRs

The One Knight In Product podcast episode with Christina Wodtke was really good. It seemed like a really authentic talk about when and how to use OKRs effectively rather just a sales pitch for a book. The best thing I took away was ‘Cadence is everything!’

What is digital ethics?

“No framework can possibly be complete, so it is important for employees in any organisation to examine the digital ethics dimension in any digital project they undertake.” Ethics isn’t about big dramatic decisions. Every single little decision is an ethical decision.

A thread of product management frameworks

Another thread from Shreyas Doshi, this one about product management frameworks.

My first hybrid meeting

I had my first hybrid meeting today. Six people in the same room and four in different locations. Being able to offer the meeting as a hybrid physical/virtual rather than only virtual had its advantages and it was interesting to begin thinking and learning about how to make hybrid working great.

Personally, I’m hundred percent behind work being virtual, remote and asynchronous, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something interesting to explore around hybrid ways of working. A hybrid meeting specifically, and a hybrid way of working more generally, seems to be usually defined as some people in the office and some working from home. I think we can do better than that. I think we can have a more inspiring vision of what hybrid working could be. Hybrid should be able to offer the best of both physical and virtual.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how to make hybrid working effective and inspiring, but I have some random ideas…

Some axes for thinking about hybrid work

More physical/more virtual: (Where people are when they are interacting) – This is the main thing people think about when they talk about hybrid. I wonder if location is a bit of red herring and really we should be thinking about the numbers of people in the locations. How many people are in the same space and how many are in different places. The split of these numbers must surely affect the dynamics of the meeting. Nine in the room and one virtual will give a different experience of the meeting than if its two in the room and eight virtual. So knowing the numbers and choosing how to run the meeting accordingly

Synchronous/asynchronous (When people interact) – Synchronous means everyone is involved at the same time. Arguably, asynchronous isn’t actually a meeting, but if the purpose of a meeting is to discuss a topic, make a decision, etc., then those things can be achieved asynchronously. If part of figuring what good hybrid working looks like is to make better use of asynchronous communication so that the synchronous parts serve a more specific and perhaps high value then

Codifiable/non-codifiable knowledge (How information is understood) – Knowledge that can be codifable into written information and explained is different to non-codifiable knowledge. Think about the difference between teaching someone how to fix a bike (codifiable) and ride a bike (non-codifiable, must be experienced). Meetings mostly deal with knowledge that has been previously codified in order for it to be shared with others. However, meeting are also social gatherings with all kinds of interaction dynamics between the people involved, and that is non-codifiable. How much social interaction, hierarchy, relationships, etc., affect what goes on in a meeting should be a consciously designed choice.

Ignore the stats

A Boston Consulting Group study of 2,000 UK employees revealed that 67% of those working remotely since COVID-19 want to be able to split their time between the physical workplace and home working in the future. So? That doesn’t tell you how the people you work with want to work. There are far more options than just ‘in the office’ or ‘at home’. We should be capable of considering work in far more flexible ways (including measuring work by the value it provides not the hours it takes, but that’s for another time).

Technology matters

A hybrid meeting where all the virtual attendees are on the same small laptop screen is likely to be difficult for everyone. At the other end of the scale, a well-designed room with a large monitor, multiple microphones, cameras that ensure everyone can be seen, etc., could completely change the experience. All that video screen meeting fatigue could quickly become immersive audio-visual experience fatigue for the people in the room, but help those in different locations know what it going on in the room.

Lots of companies are developing technology for hybrid working and are betting on it becoming the dominant working model, so they don’t really offer a balanced view of the pros and cons, but an interesting thing to consider is how all the focus is on what can be done in the meeting room for the supposed benefit of those not in the room. It’s quite an assumption that those in different places want to be more aware of what’s going on in the room. Perhaps one of benefits for those virtual attendees is the reduced cognitive load of not having to be aware of who’s sitting where, who’s replying to emails, who keeps fidgeting (usually me).

Involvement isn’t dependent on format

Are the virtual attendees at a disadvantage to the physical attendees when it comes to being recognised and taken notice of? Well, making people feel included depends on the cultural norms and social skills of those in the meeting. It should be a part of all good meetings, whether hybrid, virtual or physical. If people are being excluded from the conversation, blaming the technology abdicates our responsibility for finding ways to help people be included in the ways that work for them. In physical meetings its things like seating arrangements that create those barriers, but do we blame the seats?

The language we use

How we refer to the meeting as taking place in the room, with those not in the room ‘dialing in to the meeting’ affects how different groups of people are perceived. Considering the language we use, in fact probably coming up with new language, will be an important part of how/if/when hybrid working gets accepted and adopted in organisations.

Make everyone be virtual, even if some of them are in the same place.

I can see how this seems like it’s equalising the experience for everyone by making it a virtual meeting, but if we want to explore how to make good hybrid meetings then we’re going to have to hold meetings where some people are in the same room and others aren’t, and find different patterns of interacting that work for everyone. The way meetings were/are traditionally structured, with a chairperson controlling the agenda, is a demonstration of power that worked primarily for that person, and should be challenged in every modern organisation along with all the other power dynamics.

What next?

If the discussion about hybrid working does only one thing, let it be that we get better at consciously designing effective interaction patterns at work.

Retrospective May 2021

Why retro? To spot patterns in behaviour and activities and create feedback loops to improve the patterns.

Some things I’ve learned this month:

Vanlife-lockdown-survey hasn’t had many responses. Mostly because I haven’t done very much to find vanlifers. I messaged a few on Instagram and handed out a few flyers. The idea might be slightly flawed as people who are likely to become vanlifers aren’t the sort who like to fill in surveys, and I’m not great at striking up conversations with random people in order to get them to do the survey. The lesson here is not to pick projects that have a really small total addressable market and where the people in that market get no value from what you’re doing, and that rely on me interacting with people. Such is the nature of random projects I do just for my own interest but it’s something I’ll need change if I want to do projects that help towards my goal of contributing to the digital transformation of the charity sector.

Go-live is a phase, not a date. Making it a date might give something to work towards but it can mean that once the date has passed people lose focus and spend less time on the things that make a launch successful.

I set up innovat100n.com to begin collecting email subscibers. The idea is to send a series of one hundred emails, each with a short lecture on an innovation idea. Then I worked out that if I can write one lecture a week, it will take me five years to create all the emails. I hadn’t intended to start working on it until September so I don’t need to make an immediate decision about it, and although it make vaguely fit with acheiving my goals it still serves as a warning about jumping into setting up projects without thinking through the implications.

Communicating something that doesn’t fit an existing mindset is tough. Mindsets make it too easy apply known and comfortable mental models to problems and so too easy to leap to solutions. I think I might try more talking about the problems-to-solve and being more considered about the language I use, perhaps introducing unfamiliar phrases as a way to prompt a different understanding.

New/different decisions that change a previous/existing decision looks too much like failure. Actually, it’s learning new information, responding to change, and being flexible about finding the right solution, but it just doesn’t look like that.

A strategy has pre-requisites. And they aren’t always obvious, but once they become known it can feel like hey need a strategy of their own to get them in place to enable the actual strategy.

The future is already here, it’s just distributed across a decentralised network: the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work

Introduction

It is generally accepted that emerging technologies act as enabling forces for economic, social, and business transformation (Cohen & Amorós, 2014; Paschen, Kietzmann, & Kietzmann, in press, in Morkunas et al, 2019). Morkunas et al (2019) predict that blockchain technologies will “challenge existing business models and offer opportunities for new value creation”, whilst the UK Government Chief Scientific Officer described distributed ledger technology as a “potential explosions of creative potential that catalyse exceptional levels of innovation“ that can “reform our financial markets, supply chains, consumer and business-to-business services, and publicly-held registers” (2016). If these predictions come to fruition then we can expect Distributed Ledger Technology and Blockchain to have considerable impact on business and the future of work.

This essay attempts to reach an answer to the question ‘What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?’ The question is explored through looking at recent literature for a definition of the future of work, how emerging technologies, specifically Distributed Ledger Technology and Blockchain, are expected to affect the nature of work, and which sectors are likely to be most impacted. The discussion considers examples of the use, issues and challenges for DLT and blockchain in the top three affected sectors. In drawing a conclusion about the role of DLT and Blockchain in the future of work I argue that emerging technologies have an amplified impact where more than just a single technology is applied, and that DLT and blockchain are likely to have a greater impact on some sectors than others.

Literature Review

What is the future of work?

Work in the 21st century is entering a Fourth Industrial Revolution, a revolution built on an increasing number of emerging and interacting technologies that is “more comprehensive and all-encompassing than anything we have ever seen” (Schwab & Samans, 2016). ‘The future of work’ is a current and ongoing debate about how every occupation in every sector is undergoing a fundamental transformation as a result of the impacts of emerging technologies and digital transformation. The debate is wide-ranging, with far-reaching consequences, spanning from the offer of benefits for employers and employees augmented by technology (Grabowski, 2018) to mass economic disruption from the loss of jobs (Ernst et al, 2019). While some jobs are threatened by redundancy and others grow rapidly, existing jobs are also going through a change in the skill sets required to do them (Schwab & Samans, 2016). Some sectors can expect greater change than others.

What factors will affect the future of work?

Along with the changes to work and working life brought about by technology there are wider trends such as globalisation of labour markets through the diffusion of outsourcing and offshoring, and job polarisation (Berg et al, 2018) that impact the future of work debate. For the purposes of this paper we cannot consider all of these factors and will instead focus on the potential impacts of emerging technologies in general, and Distributed Ledger Technologies and Blockchain specifically as we try to understand what role they may play in the future of work. However, one closely related trend that is worth discussing is the increase of flexible working arrangements as shown in Figure 1. The graph from the World Economic Forum shows 44% of respondents stated that the changing nature of work was the greatest driver for change across all industries. This matches with the findings from Berg et al (2018) where the two most important reasons for crowdworking were to “complement pay from other jobs” (32%) and because they “prefer to work from home” (22%). This suggests people are looking for more flexibility in their working life and turning to technology to enable it.

Figure 1: Demographic and socio-economic drivers of change, industries overall

Source: The future of jobs: employment, skills, and workforce strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum.

Which technologies will affect the future of work?

The World Economic Forum report lists the nine technologies it’s respondents considered drivers of change (Fig. 2). Noticeably, DLT & Blockchain are not specifically listed as technologies that are expected to drive change. It could be argued that DLT & Blockchain technology has yet to achieve the maturity and adoption necessary for a study of this breadth to recognise its potential impact. This is backed-up by the British Standards Institution report which states the challenges of Blockchain adoption as including: “lack of clarity on the terminology and perceived immaturity of the technology, perceived risks in early adoption and likely disruption to existing industry practices, and insufficient evidence on business gains and wider economic impact” (Deshpande, 2017). DLT and Blockchain should be expected to impact the future of work, but perhaps those expectations are not arising just yet.

Figure 2: Technology drivers of change, industries overall

Source: The future of jobs: employment, skills, and workforce strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum.

If Distributed Ledger Technologies and Blockchain are not yet impacting businesses and the future of work in a generic way like mobile and cloud are, then which specific industries are being affected by DLT and Blockchain?

Which sectors are likely to be most affected by Blockchain?

The Global Blockchain Benchmarking Study (Hileman & Rauchs, 2017) (Fig.3) shows how blockchain is at use by different industry sectors, with the banking & finance industry the highest user, followed by government & public goods, and then insurance. Those sectors which use Blockchain the most stand to be the most affected by its use, and so it is these sectors that we should expect DLT and blockchain to play more of a role in shaping the future of work.

Figure 3. Sectors currently using blockchain.

Source: Global Blockchain Benchmarking Study

Discussion

The following discussion looks at the role DLT and blockchain may play in the future of work in the top three sectors identified in the Global Blockchain Benchmarking Study, including examples and considering some of the challenges and issues.

Distributed Ledger Technology and Blockchain in the Banking and finance sector

The finance sector is being disrupted by DLT and blockchain (Buitenhek, 2016., Natarajan et al, 2017, Treleaven et al, 2017, Hassani et al, 2018). This seems undeniable. Blockchain technology serves a finance use case very well, offering as it does an immutable record of transactions and means of solving the double-spend problem (Nakamoto, 2008). Services such as Corda which “enables businesses in Banking, Capital Markets, Trade Finance, Insurance and beyond to transact directly and in strict privacy using smart contracts, reducing transaction and record-keeping costs and streamlining business operations” (Corda, 2021) demonstrate how large corporations in highly regulated industries are beginning to adopt blockchain technologies.

However, blockchain is not without its weaknesses of security, scalability, and efficiency (Dinh & Thai, 2018) which present considerable challenges in a banking and finance setting. Adoption of new technologies is always dependent on multiple factors, but perhaps it is precisely its disruptiveness that presents a challenge to the adoption of DLT and blockchain in the finance industry. As Tapscott and Tapscott (2017) state, the finance industry suffers from being “centralized, which makes it resistant to change… but the solution to this innovation logjam has emerged: blockchain.”

Let’s consider a case study of how one start-up is using blockchain to provide a disruptive microfinance solution.

Blockchain in Microfinance

“As the fintech landscape evolves at an unprecedented speed, Mastercard provides the infrastructure and assets to help fintech innovators grow and ultimately bring more people into the digital economy,” said Amy Neale, Senior Vice President, Fintech & Enablers. (Mastercard, 2021). One of those innovators is Brazil-based Moeda Seeds, a digital banking, payment and micro credit services powered by blockchain. “Since its founding in 2017, the company has used blockchain technology and has focused on the unbanked and under-banking population in Brazil“ (Moeda, 2021). They use blockchain technology to decrease lending costs, allowing microfinance lenders to send money directly to the recipients without the need for various middlemen (Hofer, 2018). 

Microfinance Institutions, like Moeda, are organizations that provide small loans to borrowers who typically lack collateral, steady employment, or a verifiable credit history and therefore do not have access to traditional commercial banking (Coli et al, 2021). The use of Blockchain technology in microfinance introduces a number of benefits that are difficult to achieve through traditional financial institutions and technologies, including:

  • Transparency for investors to monitor repayments.
  • Reduced transaction fees by removing the need for intermediary organisations.
  • Builds an immutable and publicly available credit history for each lender (Adebaki, 2019).

In the case of Moeda, blockchain plays a role in the future of work for the Brazilian farmers, enabling them to fund their businesses without the need for traditional finance mechanisms such as capital or credit history.

Distributed Ledger Technology and Blockchain’s role in Government & Public Goods

Distributed Ledger Technologies and Blockchain have a role to play in government by performing a range of activities, including: 

  • verification of documents such as licenses, proofs of records, transactions, processes or events such as birth of a child, 
  • movement of assets such as transferring money from one entity to another after some work conditions are met, 
  • asset ownership registers such as land registries, property titles and other types of ownership of physical assets and 
  • management of identities like e-identities for citizens and city residents. (Ojo & Adebayo)

Blockchain can be used to address inefficiencies in government systems to increase the effectiveness of public service activities (Ojo & Adebayo). An example of this can be found in the Illinois Department of Innovation & Technology’s proof-of-concept for providing physicians with a means to obtain licenses to practice in multiple states. The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, built on blockchain, not only offers advantages for the physicians but also strengthens public protection by enhancing the ability of states to share investigative and disciplinary information (Thomas, 2018).

The challenges around government departments adopting emerging technologies such as blockchain include justifying the use of public money and whether blockchain serves sufficient use cases. Estonia has been testing blockchain for limited use cases such as land registry to improve data integrity but has clearly stated that investment in other emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence is a greater priority (Govchain, 2019).

Distributed Ledger Technology and Blockchain in the insurance industry

DLT and blockchain continue to be explored in the insurance industry as a means of achieving the vision where “data is linked automatically to digital contracts which can trigger automated processes. Everyone trusts the accuracy of the data and can share it easily. World-class encryption provides the necessary security, and there’s a clear, immutable audit trail to underpin end-to-end underwriting and claims governance.”  (EY, 2017). EY’s Insurwave, a blockchain enabled marine insurance product, aims to “deliver major gains in transparency, efficiency and auditability in the insurance value chain.” (EY, 2017). Replacing traditional databases with a blockchain creates immutable records allowing for better risk assessments on the part of insurers and quicker claims payouts for shippers. The operational efficiency gained by such solutions reduces the cost of moving information within and between companies. However, an issue to be faced by the insurance industry as a whole is how to work with regulators to ensure legal requirements and regulations evolve in line with new use cases for the technology. Clearly this is a policy issue rather than a technology one but could stand in the way of blockchain solutions becoming the standard across the insurance industry.

Conclusion

This essay started with a definition of the future of work debate as a response to emerging technologies and digital transformation, and considered which sectors are likely to be the most affected by the use of DLT & blockchain. The discussion looked at the use of blockchain in the finance sector, government and insurance industry, considering some current uses, challenges and opportunities. From looking at this we can draw the following conclusions:

  • DLT & blockchain will have a far greater role in changing some industries than it does in others. The effects will be greater in sectors where multiple organisations need access to the same data and for that data to be trusted as a single source of truth.
  • DLT & blockchain is likely to change the nature of the relationship between businesses, transforming aspects where a trust-based relationship exists. It has the potential to enable businesses to move away from centralised authorities.
  • All sectors and industries suffer similar challenges with the adoption of DLT & blockchain, including regulation, understanding and clearly defined use cases.
  • The effects on the future of work are likely to be considerably more profound where DLT & blockchain intersect with other emerging technology such as the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence.

Distributed ledger technologies and blockchain, as two of many emerging technologies, can be expected to have a contributory role in changing the future of work, and it’s clear how these technologies can be used in specific use cases, but it would be less prudent to conclude a general direct impact in the way that automation technologies, for example, can be expected to affect employment and the types of jobs available.

References

Adebaki, B. (2019). Microfinance and alternative data meets the world of Blockchain. Blockchain at Berkeley.

Berg, J., Furrer, M., Harmon, E., Rani, U. and Six Silberman, M. (2018). Digital labour platforms and the future of work: Towards decent work in the online world. International Labour Office – Geneva, ILO, 2018.

Buitenhek, M. (2016). Understanding and applying Blockchain technology in banking: Evolution or revolution? Journal of Digital Banking, Volume 1 / Number 2 / AUTUMN/FALL 2016, pp. 111-119(9).

CB Insights. (2021). Banking Is Only The Beginning: 58 Big Industries Blockchain Could Transform. CBInsights.com.

CB Insights. (2019). How Blockchain Could Disrupt Insurance. CBInsights.com.

Coli, P., Pflueger, C. & Campbell, T. (). Blockchain Uses for Microfinance Institutions in the Water and Sanitation Sector. Inter-American Development Bank.

Corda. (2021). Build permissioned distributed solutions and networks. Corda.net. 

Deshpande, A., Stewart, K., Lepetit, L. & Gunashekar, S. (2017). Distributed Ledger Technologies/Blockchain: Challenges, opportunities and the prospects for standards. British Standards Institution.

Dinh, T. N. & Thai, M. T. (2018). AI and Blockchain: A Disruptive Integration. Computer 51(9):48-53.

Ernst, E., Merola, R. & Samaan, D. (2019) Economics of artificial intelligence: Implications for the future of work. IZA Journal of Labor Policy, Volume: 9, 2019, Issue: 1, Pages: 1-35.

European Commission. (2019). How can Europe benefit from Blockchain technologies? Digital Single Market Report.

EY. (2017). Better-working insurance: moving blockchain from concept to reality. ey.com.

Govchain. (2019). Estonia. govchain.world.

Government Office for Science. (2016). Distributed Ledger Technology: beyond block chain. A report by the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser.

Grabowski, M., Rowen, A & Rancy,J_P. (2018). Evaluation of wearable immersive augmented reality technology in safety-critical systems, Safety Science, Volume 103, 2018, Pages 23-32.

Hileman, Dr. G. & Rauchs, M. (2017). Global Blockchain Benchmarking Study. Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance.

Hofer, L. (2018). Blockchain and microfinance: hype or promise? Theblockchainland.com.

Huibers, F. (2021). Distributed Ledger Technology and the Future of Money and Banking. Accounting, Economics, and Law: A Convivium, 2021.

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Weeknotes #252

This week I did:

Global optimisation

I had some time to begin to think about the work our team will be undertaking over the next few quarters. Second to ‘what’ work we do is ‘how’ we do it. The upsteam and downstream coordination is an interesting challenge to ensure that change is introduced at the pace it can be adopted. I have a sense this is going to feel like slowing down from how we’ve been working over the past year but global optimisation is almost always better than local optimisation.

Team stability

There have been a few conversations and situations this week where the underlying theme seemed to be about the stability and change experienced by a group of people. It seems paradoxical but at the same time completely obvious, to say that stability enables change to be accepted and adopted. Too much change, in these cases, in the membership of teams prevents effective and efficient progress. It stops ownership, accountability and responsibility in it’s tracks. I wonder if the need for the stability of teams changes with the number of teams that make up an organisation, so, can an organisation achieve its strategic goals if it has some stable and some unstable teams, and where is the threshold? How much instability can an organisation absorb?


Thought about:

Technological convergence

I’ve been working on my assignment about what role blockchain might play in the future of work, and the one of the conclusions I’ve reached is that blockchain will have a far greater affect where it converges with other emerging technology such as artificial intelligence and Internet of things devices. This feels like a bit of a revelation to me. I see lots of talk about how AI is going to affect is in the future, what self-driving vehicles might do to transportation, etc., but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about the effects of all these different technologies when they are put together.

Business processes and social structures at work

On one hand, business processes are meant to codify and formalise the way things like decision-making work, to reduce variability and ensure predictability and perhaps even fairness. And on the other hand, social structures are built around influencing people, encouraging cooperation and collaboration to get the right decisions made. How do these two things intersect? Are they both necessary? Do they conflict? I’ve previously thought that hierarchies are good for authority and networks good for information flow, but what structures facilitate decisions?


Read:

Teamwork

I read a bit of this student guide to teamwork. It has some useful references and definitions such as Hughes and Jones (2011) defining “what makes a team something different from any other group of people” as sharing some defining characteristics: a shared collective identity, common goals, interdependence in terms of assigned tasks or outcomes, and distinctive roles within the team. I wonder if work place culture is sometimes anti-intellectual and that we get ideas about things like how teams work from something someone read on a blog post about a book that was based on one person’s experience rather than our understanding being based on research and expertise, so having easy references like this book help my thinking.

The Outsider

I’ve started reading Colin Wilson’s The Outsider. In it Wilson describes the outsider through the works of Kakfa, Camus, Hemmingway and others, as someone alienated from society by their own indifference, as a anti-hero who rejects civilised standards and his duty to society in pursuit of some kind of existential freedom. He says, “freedom is not simply being allowed to do what you like; it is intensity of will, and it appears under any circumstances that limit man and arose his will to live”.

I’m interested in the idea of the outsider in modern digital times. If Wilson was writing today would he still be looking at literature for descriptions of the experience of the outsider or would it be hacker culture, anti-establishment peer-to-peer networks, and social media? How does existential alienation from mainstream culture take place in an always-on inter-connected world? Does it manifest as self-imposed exile to the worlds of games, or absorption in tech-startup fantasies of utopia? So much to think about.