Ed Toner

The Elusive "Easy Button"

My team knows, I am very cautious about adopting what I call “Hyped Emerging Technology”. I take the approach that taxpayers dollars should not be utilized for adopting the latest technology without first building a solid business case, then researching the technology (which includes a mandatory proof of concept); then, if there is still confidence in the technology, implement on time and on budget.

I caution against the relentless chase for innovation. To be first to implement is not a goal, and is more often a waste of resources. My standard reply is that in Public sector, it is fine to be second. We have no motivation to beat the competition to the market to increase our customer footprint. Our mission of “Respect for the Taxpayers of Nebraska” means providing reliable, highly available service that meets or exceeds our citizens’ needs utilizing proven cost effective technologies.

In my quest to attain the goal of respect for the taxpayers, I may have become known among my peer State CIO’s for my lack of support for Blockchain in the public sector. The standards that I often speak and write about are to “never lead with a technology in search of a problem”. In Nebraska, we define the problem before we determine the technology that is best suited and appropriate to resolve the problem. So this headline caught my eye when it was recently published on Bitcoinist.com “92% OF BLOCKCHAIN PROJECTS HAVE ALREADY FAILED, AVERAGE LIFESPAN OF 1.22 YEARS”.

Blockchain has struggled for 10 years to be relevant and unfortunately the hype influenced some of the decision-makers in our community who were looking for a problem to solve (Technology Without a Business Case). Now, according to Forrester, companies are aware of the negative associations connected to the word “blockchain” and are now using the term ”distributed ledger technology” in an attempt to distance themselves from the negative connotations.

I continue to follow a former boss, who I admire for his leadership style and his vision, Asiff Hirji. Asiff is also a leading proponent of blockchain. In his role he is very comfortable and successful at being first with bleeding edge technology, and I enjoy his perspective, specifically because it is not in line with my own in my current role. Asiff continues to intellectually challenge my views on this technology through his interviews and writing. I encourage everyone to follow someone who they admire, but do not share the same vision with, questioning our own beliefs can make us better at what we do by.

Asiff is a hugely successful visionary venture capitalist and if anyone can make blockchain, and in turn crypto currency, mainstream it would be Asiff. I watched a MOIP interview with Asiff recently where he made a profound statement on why we have not seen progress in this technology, “Most Crypto companies have failed to answer the question, why is it 10X better than the alternative?” He went on to state, “You must have one Killer use case.” Always thoughtful and very direct in his approach with the added ability to take an abstract concept and make it understandable.

In my last blog Urgency to Fail I discussed the constant search for the elusive “easy button” to solve our immediate problems. Why do we have a constant supply of purveyors feeding that need and why do we continue to buy into the promises? Recently during the pandemic crisis, one of the State agencies agreed to a proof of concept to utilize a chat bot solution. In a discussion last week, I learned the results were less than effective, the POC ended with no immediate intention of installation. This should not be viewed as a condemnation of the technology, but rather the unrealistic promises of how easy it would have been for the agency to immediately derive benefit from the technology. If the agency cannot provide the content the chat bot needs, the chat bot cannot provide answers. On the other hand programmers must limit their focus and avoid doing too much too soon. As another former boss once told me, “You only get one first impression,” and if a flawed product gets launched it could drive away your customers.

 

IT Requests

 

There are both pain points and concerns with the massive adoption of chat bots. An independent survey among 3,000 UK and US customers conducted by Chatbots.org published the following biggest pain points while using a chat bot:

#1 - “When they transfer me to a human agent, that agent asks me to repeat all the information I had given to the virtual assistant already”. (62% in the US and 55% in the UK)

#2 - “They get stuck and don’t know what to do next” (29% US and 37% UK)

Issue #1 can easily be addressed via integration with the support tools used by live agents, but Issue #2 can only be addressed in preparation and programming.

To address my personal concerns with this technology, I will simply caution those users who may be too trusting. Do not provide personal data to chat bots. Unfortunately chat bots are already proven to be another attack vector to facilitate fraud, much like email phishing.

To be fair, there is a lot of potential in chat bots. At the OCIO we are currently performing a proof of concept for this technology. The POC is under stringent controls, and data collection will objectively determine if the tool has a significant impact on our Service Desk call volume. The data analytics will tell the story of whether the chat bot meets our definition of success clarified prior to the start of the POC.

The OCIO has a unique mission to meet the technology needs of the State and as always, I appreciate your efforts each and every day.

Ed