Innovative Complacency or the Wisdom of the Deceived?

 

This is where I see a real problem for developed Asia: a complacency and disinterest in the role of technology and innovation. Or is it the clarity of vision from too much innovation?

Screenshot 2016 08 26 05 09 48
Source: Avaya, THE PROMISE OF DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION (DX) IN ASIA PACIFIC’S LEADING INSTITUTIONS

In a survey conducted by IDC on behalf of Avaya (no link available, you need to sign up to get a copy), key IT decision makers from developed Asian countries (leaving aside Australia for now) were much more likely to downplay the role of innovation in driving business. Singapore came lowest with 14% of respondents believing the statement “innovation is extremely important to drive business.” Compare that to around 40% in India, Thailand and the Philippines.

(Avaya, in case you’re wondering, “is a leading provider of solutions that enable customer and team engagement across multiple channels and devices for better customer experience, increased productivity and enhanced financial performance.” That could probably be simplified.)

In short (excluding Taiwan for which there is no World Bank data, and Australia, for now) the Asian economies with the highest GDP per capita — Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong – are those that value innovation the least. South Korea is only slightly behind there in terms of valuing innovation.

The same holds true when measured by Internet penetration: the more internet there is, the less valued is innovation.

Screenshot 2016 08 27 14 29 10
Source: Avaya survey (col 1), World Bank (cols 2-3)

 

At the other end, it’s also generally true. The lower the GDP, the more likely a country is to value innovation.

The sad truism is that once you reach a certain level of development — and you don’t experience serious recession or other economic upheaval — you tend to see innovation as an unwelcome disruption. In other words, you identify with the established industries, the established way of doing things, probably because that’s where you work and get your living from.

Looking at it the other way, the less developed a country is, the more people — and we’re talking ‘key IT decision makers’ here, not the rank and file folk — see innovation as a way of improving things.

Of course, there’s another possibility too: that those ‘key IT decision makers’ have seen innovation and they realise it isn’t as great as everyone makes it out to be. Indeed, I have some sympathy with that view. The more ‘disruptive’ a technology is, the more disruption it causes — meaning not just that big slow behemoths are put to the sword, but the people who work for them, the companies that supply to them, or make a little here and there in the supply chain.

A truly disruptive business/technology will not only chop off the head of an industry, it will cut off the entrails and lay to waste the body. That can be painful, and not necessarily good for consumers, or anyone standing in the way.

The other question raised in the survey was whether traditional traditional companies in the Asia Pacific would be able to take control against ‘Uber-like’ competitors. Nearly half said it was difficult to compete against such disruptors, and only 3% said they planned to be disruptors themselves. And while 43% felt they were on a par with their peers in terms of being able to fight back, only 6% felt they were “best in class”. Asian modesty, or a serious crisis of confidence?

Australia and China are worth a separate look here. Australia scored highest on the innovation/importance question, with more than 46% of respondents reckoning it was important. That’s good, but it’s probably part cultural. Why would you not at least pay lip service to the Innovation God?

And China skewed the other way. You would kind of expect China to be up there given what is going on in technology. But it’s low — 21/5% — less than South Korea, suggesting that either they were asking the wrong folk, or, maybe the disruption in China is already giving ‘key IT decision makers’ pause. China is by far the furthest down the track in terms of disruption in Asia, so maybe there is some truth in the alternative explanation of this (admittedly scant) data: As economies become more disrupted, so the key ‘IT decision makers’ in them become more pessimistic about how useful innovation is to the economy.

[Reuters] Sliced and diced, digitally: autopsy as a service

A piece I wrote for Reuters. 

Sliced and diced, digitally: autopsy as a service

SINGAPORE | Tue Aug 20, 2013 4:57pm EDT

Aug 21 (Reuters) – Malaysian entrepreneur Matt Chandran wants to revive the moribund post-mortem by replacing the scalpel with a scanner and the autopsy slab with a touchscreen computer.

He believes his so-called digital autopsy could largely displace the centuries-old traditional knife-bound one, speeding up investigations, reducing the stress on grieving families and placating religious sensibilities.

He is confident there’s money in what he calls his Autopsy as a Service, and hopes to launch the first of at least 18 digital autopsy facilities in Britain in October, working closely with local authorities.

Around 70 million people die each year, says Chandran, and around a tenth of those deaths are medico-legal cases that require an autopsy. “That’s a huge number, so we’re of the view that this is a major line of services that is shaping up around the world,” he said in an interview.

The poor common perception of autopsies has undermined their commercial appeal. “Unfortunately, because the process of the post-mortem is seen as gruesome, one tends to ignore that,” says Chandran.

Humans have been cutting each other open for at least 3,000 years to learn more about death, but the autopsy has never been widely embraced outside TV crime dramas. Surgeons in 18th century Britain, for example, robbed graves for corpses to dissect, some even commissioning murders when supplies dried up.

By the 1950s, the autopsy was at its zenith, with pathologists performing post-mortems on more than 60 percent of those who died in the United States and Europe – helping uncover more than 80 major, and perhaps thousands of minor, medical conditions.

But the number of autopsies has fallen steadily: Today, fewer than 20 percent of deaths in Britain are followed by autopsy, and most of these are ordered by coroners in cases where the cause of death is unclear or disputed.

The fall has been blamed on a growing distaste for a procedure regarded by some as crude and outdated – a feeling fanned by the public discovery in Britain in 1999 that medical institutions had been retaining organs and tissue after post-mortems for decades.

DIGITAL MAKEOVER

Chandran, 45, wants to change all this by simply connecting his company iGene’s 3D imaging software to any standard medical CT or MRI scanner. An expert can then inspect the virtual cadaver in 3D, removing layers of cloth, skin and bone with a mouse or by gestures on a tabletop touchscreen.

The advantages, Chandran says, are considerable.

The digital evidence remains intact and can be reviewed; experts can more easily spot and identify fracture, foreign objects such as bullets, and the tips of knife wounds; and grieving families can swiftly learn how their loved ones died and without having to cut open the body.

iGene isn’t the first to run a scanner over a corpse. Radiology has been used on skulls for 30 years, and Israel first introduced the concept of a virtual autopsy in 1994. The U.S. military started conducting CT scans of all soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004 in addition to traditional autopsies.

The results have been encouraging. Researchers from University College London concluded that in fetuses and individuals aged 16 and younger, a minimally invasive autopsy incorporating an MRI scan identified the same cause of death as 90 percent of traditional autopsies.

COMMERCIALISE

But iGene is, Chandran says, the first to package the process and offer it commercially as a suite of services that stretches from the moment of death to the delivery of a post-mortem report.

His company provides a software suite that uses existing medical scanners from the likes of Siemens, General Electric, Toshiba and Philips. These form the heart of iGene’s digital autopsy facilities which the company plans to build close to UK mortuaries. The first will open in October in the northern English city of Sheffield.

A spokesperson for Sheffield City Council confirmed it was working with iGene on such a centre, but declined to give details.

Chandran says his company will spend around $77 million to build and run the facilities and will make its money from those cases where a coroner demands a post-mortem. About 200,000 deaths require autopsies each year in Britain, he said.

Next of kin will be given the option of a classical autopsy, paid for by the state, or a digital autopsy, costing about 500 pounds ($780) and paid for by the family.

SKEPTICS

Not everyone believes the digital autopsy is ready for prime time. Some question whether it can spot some diseases. And even a pioneer like Guy Rutty, chief forensic pathologist at the University of Leicester and the first to use CT images as evidence in a criminal trial, says that while demand may be growing there are limits to what a digital autopsy can do – particularly determining where and in some cases when a patient died.

“There are centres providing such services, but others have been more cautious and are still at a research stage,” he said in an email interview.

Chandran and his team are undeterred. They say the digital autopsy facility combines with other non-invasive diagnostic tools such as angiography and toxicology.

Pramod Bagali, chief operations officer of iGene’s parent company InfoValley, says the system is “a complementary method, not a complete replacement” to traditional autopsies, but could handle 70 percent of routine cases. The others could be done digitally to start with and then a decision could be made about whether to open up the body. “It’s not replacing one flawed system with another,” he says.

Crucially, iGene offers a business model that overcomes concerns that scanning corpses is expensive, says Chandran. He estimates his UK operation will be profitable within three years. But that, he says, is just the start. By then, he says, he hopes to have built at least 10 more facilities in his native Malaysia, with interest also from the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere in Asia.

“The potential for this is global,” said Mark Rozario, CEO of Agensi Inovasi Malaysia, a government body which this year bought a 20 percent stake in iGene for $21.5 million.

SUPPORTERS

Chandran and his supporters see this as the beginning of his innovation, not the end of it. The digital autopsy facilities are nodes in a broader ecosystem Chandran likens to Apple Inc’s iTunes.

Michael Thali, a Swiss academic who has been promoting a “virtual autopsy” for more than a decade, said he tried and failed to get the scanner makers interested in developing such services. Now an adviser to iGene, Thali says this leaves open the field to other companies to deliver improvements in the chain of examination.

“The future will be for smaller companies who are bringing a service for this niche,” he says. “The most important thing is that you have a real chain based on IT.”

This is some way off – and may never happen.

Milos Todorovic, lead analyst at Lux Research and a specialist in medical innovation, says that while iGene’s approach is intriguing, it faces hurdles – not least the fact that the company is starting from scratch in an expensive business. “A lot of things would have to fall into place for them to be able to succeed with something like this,” he said.

That isn’t stopping Chandran from dreaming big – including the idea of scanning the living as part of any regular medical checkup.

“Just like a birth certificate starts with the birth of a baby, the end of a person’s life will end with a report in which the 3D body of a person is captured,” he said. “In that way we can archive every person born on this planet.”

Malaysiakini’s office

An unprepossessing corner building near Bangsar station, wedged between a body shop and a long-distance bus pickup. There’s usually a guy fast asleep in the doorway. There’s a sticker on the door saying “Please press button marked Button” or somesuch. 

In Malaysia, online election battles take a nasty turn

2013 05 03 15 49 30

Jahabar Sadiq of The Malaysian Insider

Here’s a piece I did from KL on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s election. It was pushed out ahead of the poll for obvious reasons but it might have a broader interest in how the battle for influence over online media has evolved in Malaysia, with relevance elsewhere. 

May 4 (Reuters) – Ahead of Malaysia’s elections on Sunday, independent online media say they are being targeted in Internet attacks which filter content and throttle access to websites, threatening to deprive voters of their main source of independent reporting.

Independent online news sites have emerged in recent years to challenge the dominance of mostly government-linked traditional media. The government denies any attempts to hobble access to the Internet in the run-up to a close-fought election.

“During the 2008 election we were wiped off the Internet,” said Premesh Chandran, CEO of independent online news provider Malaysiakini.

“Our concern is that we’ll see a repeat of that on May 5. Can we really live without independent media on election night, given that both sides might not accept the result?”

More here: In Malaysia, online election battles take a nasty turn

The Battery DDOS: Tip of An Iceberg

An interesting story brewing about the FBI investigating a DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on websites selling batteries. But the reporting does not go far enough: In fact, a little research reveals this is part of a much bigger assault on a range of industries.

As a starting point, look at Elinor Mills of the excellent Insecurity Complex at CNET:

U.S. battery firms reportedly targeted in online attack | InSecurity Complex – CNET News: “The FBI is investigating denial-of-service attacks targeting several U.S. battery retail Web sites last year that were traced to computers at Russian domains in what looks like a corporate-sabotage campaign, according to documents published yesterday by The Smoking Gun.”

But a closer look at the source documents suggests this is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. The Smoking Gun incorrectly reports the email address used by the alleged hacker, a St Petersburg man called Korjov Sergey Mihalivich, as lvf56fre@yahoo.com. In fact, the FBI lists it as lvf56kre@yahoo.com, which yields much more interesting results. Such as this one, from ShadowServer.

ShadowServer shows that the domains under that person’s control, globdomain.ru (not globdomian.ru as reported by the Smoking Gun) and greenter.ru, have been prolific since 2010 in launching DDOS attacks against 14 countries and more than 30 industries and government websites. An update from ShadowServer in January 2011 counted 170 “different victims. Again, these attacks are across many different industries and target some rather high profile sites.” (It doesn’t identify them.)

The DDOS attacks use the BlackEnergy botnet, described by Arbor Networks’ Jose Nazario in a 2007 paper [PDF]. Back then Nazario reported the botnet’s C&C systems were hosted in Malaysia and Russia.

The same email address used for those two domains has registered other domains: trashdomain.ru, which has been recorded as the host for a Trojan dropper called Microjoin.

In other words, this is a lot more than about batteries. This appears to be a DDOS for rent to businesses wanting to take out business rivals in a host of fields. Indeed, the FBI investigation makes this clear, and cites the $600,000 damage caused as included attacks on “a wide range of businesses located in the United States.” (This does not include the dozen other countries affected, hence, presumably, the quite low sum involved.)

The batteries attack took place in October 2010, but the FBI document makes clear that as of May 2011 the attacks were still going on.

At present it’s not clear who is behind these attacks–in other words, who is paying for them. This could be a ransom attack–pay up or we will keep DDOSing–but this doesn’t seem to be the case, as Batteries4less.com Chief Executive Coryon Redd doesn’t mention any such approach in an interview with Mills. He seems to believe that “[t]he competitor is going to be U.S.-based and contracting out with a bad guy in Russia.”

Could be right. In which case the investigation has stumbled on a dark world of business tactics stretching from banking to astrology consultants. More research needed, please.

Facebook’s ‘Locality of Friendship’

This visualization by Facebook intern Paul Butler illustrates what he calls

the locality of friendship. I was interested in seeing how geography and political borders affected where people lived relative to their friends. I wanted a visualization that would show which cities had a lot of friendships between them.

It’s a magnificent effort and scores marks for beauty:

and for the amazing amount of data it carries within it.

Look at how the world of social media breaks down into clusters:

Europe is hard to subdivide: 

image

But Australia and New Zealand are almost three countries:

image

But of greatest interest to me is my own patch, Southeast Asia:

image

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are, perhaps unsurprisingly intimately connected:

image

North vs South

While the links between the southern  half of the region and Thailand and Indochina are by comparison quite weak:

image

Philippines stands alone

But the links between the Philippines and Hong Kong appear as strong as those between the Philippines and the southern half of Southeast Asia:

image

The other point to take into account is how spread out Facebook is in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is about as densely packed as Italy or England.

Facebook is not a phemenon limited to the country’s major cities (and this is true of the Philippines and Malaysia, of course.)

I’ll be updating my Facebook Asia Pacific data later this week.

(Thanks to the Guardian’s Simon Rogers.)

Facebook in Asia: Seeds of Decline?

Some thoughts after trawling through data I’m collecting on Facebook membership in selected Asia Pacific countries

Membership of Facebook in developed Asia Pacific territories declined for the first time in a year in September, suggesting, possibly, that interest in the social networking site in the region has peaked. The figures may also reveal insights on whether, in developing countries, a social networking site can break out of their middle class enclaves.

Facebook populations in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong all fell during the month, while those in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines all either grew only marginally or shrank somewhat. Hong Kong dropped by the largest margin—5.7%—while Thailand, alone among the countries under study, grew by more or less the same amount.

India and China, though included in the study, offer a more confusing picture. China’s data may be unreliable: after showing slow but steady growth until April, membership dropped precipitously before rising by nearly 140% in the past month. The reasons for these spikes and dips are unclear, but may have something to do with China’s limits on access to the service. In any case, the proportion of China’s real population remains negligible.

India’s too is negligible, although it did rise above 1% in July and and has been growing by between 400,000 and 1.7 million people per month. In most other countries that would be noteworthy.

But while the data overall remain questionable—these figures are from Facebook’s own statistics, but are not transparent, and are based on where members say they are from or in—there are some identifiable trends:

  • Australia and New Zealand seem to have not only hit a limit in terms of percentage of their overall population who are on Facebook (45% and 41% respectively), but may actually have begun to decline. After recording impressive growth up until May, membership plateaued for a month or two before falling in September. Google Trends graphs measuring traffic to facebook.com in these countries seem to confirm this. (Australia; New Zealand)
  • Hong Kong and Singapore seem to be in a similar boat. While more than half of Hong Kong was on Facebook in July, and nearly 49% of Singapore was on Facebook in August, both populations shrank in September. Only five months ago both territories were recording double digit growth.
  • Thailand is still growing, as is the Philippines. But both are from low bases: Less than 3% of Thailand began the year on Facebook, although that has now grown to 8%. The Philippines has risen from about 10% of the population to about 18% in the same period, but growth in both has dropped recently from earlier rates of up to 25% per month.
  • Indonesia is an interesting case. Its membership, too, was surging in the first half of the year—twice growing by a quarter in the space of a month—but has slowed considerably in the second half. Indeed, its population seems to have plateaued at about 11% of the overall population. That pretty much covers the country’s middle class, according to my calculations. (I wouldn’t want to labor the point, but based on the latest ADB figures, Indonesia is remarkable in the way that Facebook has extended beyond what would usually be considered the middle class limits of an Internet-based service. Those considered to be middle class or above by the ADB is about 11.6% of the population, which is exactly where Facebook’s Indonesia population currently stands. The Philippines—at 18.25%, about 5 percentage points behind the ADB’s calculation of the country’s middle class—has a little way to go, while Malaysia’s Facebook population has space to double in size. Of course, this has a lot to do with the growth of the mobile Internet, which is another topic in itself. )

Previous Facebook data posts:

Facebook in Asia: A Limit to Growth? – loose wire blog

Facebooks Asian Growth: Not Everywhere is North – loose wire blog

Facebook’s Asian Growth: Not Everywhere is North

I’ve seen some posts recently suggesting that Facebook is not doing well in Asia-Pacific. This, for example, from Forrester’s Reineke Reitsma:

For example, Facebook is struggling to gain ground in Asia Pacific:

With 58% of online adults accessing it, Orkut is the leading social platform in metropolitan India, while 27% of Japanese online adults use mixi; and in South Korea, Cyworld is most popular, attracting 63% of South Korean Internet users.

I won’t quarrel with her stats, but I’d suggest she’s missing a bigger picture: Facebook is growing at quite a clip in many Asian countries. My figures, based on Facebook data—which doesn’t include Japan and South Korea, admittedly–indicate that in 10 Asia-Pacific countries, Facebook membership has been growing at an average of nearly 9% per month for the past five months. That includes Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and India.

By far the biggest growth is in Southeast Asia, with Indonesia growing at 14% per month, Thailand 15%, Malaysia 12% and Philippines 13%.

India is growing at a similar rate, but with a far smaller proportion of population: still less than 1%. Thailand is less than 5%, but 10% of Indonesians now have a Facebook account, as do 23% of Malaysians, 14% of Filipinos and 42% of Singaporeans. Only Hong Kong beats that, with 44% of the population having a Facebook account.

Hong Kong and Singapore join other developed economies at reaching a critical mass—Australia 38%, New Zealand 36%—where growth has understandably tapered off to 5% per month or less.

So while it may well be true that Facebook ain’t big in North Asia, it’d be a mistake to assume that’s true of the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. Facebook is still the one to watch, and showing consistent growth this year in all 10 countries I’m monitoring.

(This updates my post back in January on Facebook stats.)

Facebook in Asia: A Limit to Growth?

image

Here are the latest figures for Facebook populations in Asia-Pacific:

Country Users
Australia    7,395,200
New Zealand  1,279,260
Indonesia    15,254,060 
Singapore    1,763,340
Malaysia    4,155,880
Philippines    8,667,880
Thailand    2,000,320
Hong Kong 2,565,440
China    60,440
India 5,459,440

While there’s no doubt that Facebook is the premier social networking site in most Asia-Pacific countries, with subscription growing by about 20% in the past month in some countries, growth is tapering off in the developed economies of Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The figures, gathered over the past six weeks from Facebook’s own data, suggest that once about a third of the population is on Facebook, there’s not much more room for growth.

image

A comparison of Facebook users between November and January shows growth of 2.6% in Australia, 7% in New Zealand, 4.7% in Hong Kong and 2% in Singapore.

 

Australia

Hong Kong

New Zealand

Singapore

Proportion of population on Facebook

34.6%

36.77%

30%

36.44%

Growth, Dec-Jan

2.6%

4.7%

7%

2%

The Emerging Four

Compare this with the four Southeast Asian countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, where despite impressive growth Facebook penetration remains relatively low:

 

Indonesia

Malaysia

Philippines

Thailand

Proportion of population on Facebook

6.68%

15.4%

9.6%

2.97%

Growth, Dec-Jan

24%

18.3%

20.2%

20.1%

India and China

In India and China, Facebook has yet to make much of a dent: China restricts access to the service, while in India users make up less than half a percent of the population. With 5.5 million users, Facebook’s India footprint is smaller than the Philippines.

Country observations

What growth there is among Facebookers in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong comes from younger users, particularly the under 18s.

In Singapore, with the highest penetration in the region, is growing only among those groups with a small pre-existing share of users: Females over the age of 35, for example.

In Malaysia growth is being driven by teens: the number of females and males between the age of 13 and 17 grew by a third between December and January.

Indonesia is seeing growth across the board, particularly among males (there are 3 million more males on Facebook than females in Indonesia.)

Thailand’s Facebook population is still relatively a small proportion of the country—less than 3%—but is showing impressive growth, especially among the under 25s.

How Good Information Goes Bad

image 

The Internet is fast becoming a sort of gossip chamber where the real merges with the fantasy, leaving ordinary people overwhelmed. I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

Take an email my wife forwarded me this morning. It’s from a newsgroup comprising Indonesian expat mothers in Singapore (talk about niches!). The sender had forwarded an email they received from someone who claimed to have had the scam they describe befall them in Singapore.

The scam itself is ingenious: someone phones a resident, saying they’ve got a package to deliver and confirming someone will be home. The package is a beautiful basket of flowers and wine. No card (the delivery guy says it’s coming later.) Recipient happy, but told will have to pay $3.50 as proof the delivery guy left the alcohol-containing package to an adult. Fair enough.

The recipient goes to get cash. No, says the guy, it has to be by EFTPOS—a bank card—because he’s not allowed to handle cash. Fair enough.

He swipes the card on  his machine, recipient enters PIN, and off delivery guy goes.

Within a few days, several thousand dollars disappears from the recipient’s account, via a duplicated card and the stolen PIN number.

Now this is a good, classy and brazen scam. And it’s true. It did happen—in Sydney, Australia, in October (and possibly November) 2008. The guy involved was arrested on November 21.

But it didn’t, as far as we know, happen in Singapore. Or anywhere else.

But that hasn’t stopped the email from spreading virally. In Malaysia, Canada, and elsewhere.

Myth-busting sites like Snopes and Hoax Slayer have done a good job of trying to separate fact and fiction. The problem is that as these legitimate stories spread, they serve to confuse and alarm rather than educate the public. As Hoax Slayer puts it:

While they may be perfectly valid when first launched, a problem with such warning emails is that they may continue to circulate for years and eventually become outdated and redundant. And, as noted, false or misleading information may be added to the messages as they circulate and such additions can significantly erode their use as warnings. Before forwarding such warning messages, it is always wise to check that the information they contain is accurate and up-to-date.

I quite agree. It’s good that people are wary, but not based on stories that are no longer true.

Checklist to avoid such scams:

  • Ask to see credentials of any delivery guy, whether or not he’s giving you free stuff.
  • If you’re wary, don’t accept the delivery. Even if it’s free stuff.
  • You should not be asked to pay money by someone appearing at your door unless you’re expecting the package. Sadly this is not properly adhered to, even by supposedly reputable couriers. In Indonesia I would find the couriers demanding duty payments that were not sufficiently documented.
  • Don’t let anyone swipe your bank card unless you’ve established who they are.
  • If in doubt, demand a name card and take a photo of the person with your cellphone. Then close the door.

Photo credit: North Shore Times.