Monthly Archives: April 2020

Do civilisations collapse?

By Guy D Middleton – We also need to think about what we apply the term ‘collapse’ to – what exactly was it that collapsed? Very often, it’s suggested that civilizations collapse, but this isn’t quite right. It is more accurate to say that states collapse. States are tangible, identifiable ‘units’ whereas civilization is a more slippery term referring broadly to sets of traditions. Many historians, including Arnold Toynbee, author of the 12-volume A Study of History (1934-61), have defined and tried to identify ‘civilizations’, but they often come up with different ideas and different numbers. But we have seen that while Mycenaean states collapsed, several strands of Mycenaean material and non-material culture survived – so it would seem wrong to say that their ‘civilization’ collapsed. Likewise, if we think of Egyptian or Greek or Roman ‘civilization’, none of these collapsed – they transformed as circumstances and values changed. We might think of each civilization in a particular way, defined by a particular type of architecture or art or literature – pyramids, temples, amphitheatres, for example – but this reflects our own values and interests.

It is the same with the Maya and with the Easter Islanders. In both cases, civilization and state have been confused and conflated. The Maya world was spread across a huge area with many different environments, from the dry northern Yucatán Peninsula to the river-fed lowlands in the south, and beyond into the mountains. It was an old and interconnected world of cities and kings, divided up among super-states of wide influence and more modest kingdoms that could fall under their spell. There were probably 60 to 70 ‘independent’ states; the fortunes of all waxed and waned. It was a bigger and more complex world than Late Bronze Age Greece.

he idea of a collapse of Maya civilization seems just wrong – and it carries with it the wrong kind of implications – that the Maya all disappeared or that their post-collapse culture is less important or less worthy of our attention. Via many individual collapses, Classic Maya society transformed through the Terminal Classic and into the Postclassic – a development that is hardly surprising when compared with the changing map of Europe across any five-century period. Maya society continued to change with the arrival of the Spanish, and through the colonial and modern eras. If we value the Maya’s so-called Classic period more than their culture at other times, this is our choice – but it is one that should be recognized and questioned. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Purpose: Shifting from why to how
What is your company’s core reason for being, and where can you have a unique, positive impact on society? Now more than ever, you need good answers to these questions.
By Arne Gast, Pablo Illanes, Nina Probst, Bill Schaninger and Bruce Simpson – Only 7 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs believe their companies should “mainly focus on making profits and not be distracted by social goals.” And with good reason. While shareholder capitalism has catalyzed enormous progress, it also has struggled to address deeply vexing issues such as climate change and income inequality—or, looking forward, the employment implications of artificial intelligence.

But where do we go from here? How do we deliver a sense of purpose across a wide range of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) priorities? Doing so means moving from business as usual to a less traveled path that may feel like “painting outside the lines.” Are we going too far beyond our core mandate? Does it mean we’ll lose focus on bottom-line results? Will transparency expose painful tensions better left unexamined? Will our boards, management teams, employees, and stakeholders want to follow us, or will they think we have “lost the plot”? There are no easy answers to these questions; corporate engagement is messy, and pitfalls, including criticism from skeptical stakeholders, abound.

Yet when companies fully leverage their scale to benefit society, the impact can be extraordinary. The power of purpose is evident as the world fights the urgent threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a number of companies doubling down on their purpose, at the very time stakeholders need it the most (for more, see “Demonstrating corporate purpose in the time of coronavirus”). Business also has an opportunity, and an obligation, to engage on the urgent needs of our planet, where waiting for governments and nongovernmental organizations to act on their own through traditional means such as regulation and community engagement carries risk.

Fortunately, a “how to” playbook is starting to emerge as a growing number of companies lead. In this article, we try to distill some inspiring steps taken by forward-looking companies. more>


Updates from Ciena

Improving universal edge access with flexible and pluggable 10G PON
The network edge is where content lives, and to operators, where successful business outcomes are determined. With Ciena’s new 10G PON solution, we’re bringing more value to the network edge – via both access and aggregation. Ciena’s Wayne Hickey details the latest addition to our packet networking transceiver family.
By Wayne Hickey – For most network operators, their environment is a very challenging one, as they are experiencing surging traffic growth in both their wireless and wireline networks. Complicating this enormous growth is that most of the traffic is IP-based, an area where the industry for many years has seen flat to declining revenues and associated margins.

his trend is expected to continue well into the future, with many key access and metro trends driving the growth at the network edge today:

The Internet of Things (IoT) will drive in orders of magnitude more endpoints or physical computing devices, each performing application-specific functions as part of an associated product or service. This will drive more endpoints and increased traffic diversity. Just think of the complexity associated with the interconnecting of tens of billions of machines!

In the next few years, the promise of 5G is expected to make the number of connected devices and bandwidth swell, but 5G is more than just a wireless upgrade. It means IoT enablement, up to 100 times higher user data rates, up to 10 times lower latency, and up to 1000 times more data volumes. Having the right capabilities at the network edge is key to delivering much faster download speeds and guaranteed lower latency.

When it comes to computer-generated simulations of virtual and augment reality (VR/AR), less latency is key to a quality user-experience. Both AR and VR will require more bandwidth and near real-time performance. And yet another new video format is just around the corner – 8K, which quadruples the number of pixels, just like 4K did with 1080p.

The network edge is where content lives, and to operators, this is where successful business outcomes are determined. For network operators, improving the ability to offer new service revenue opportunities, as well as improving margins, is essential to maintaining existing customers, as well as attracting new ones. more>


The international order after COVID-19

By Robert Malley – Running parallel to the global battle against the coronavirus pandemic is a tug of war between two competing narratives about how the world ought to be governed. Although addressing the pandemic is more urgent, which narrative prevails will have equally far-reaching consequences.

The first narrative is straightforward: a global health crisis has further demonstrated the need for multilateralism and exposed the fallacy of go-it-alone nationalism or isolationism. The second narrative offers the counterview: globalization and open borders create vulnerabilities to viruses and other threats, and the current struggle for control of supply lines and life-saving equipment requires that each country first take care of its own. Those in the first camp regard the pandemic as proof that countries must come together to defeat common threats; those in the second see it as proof that countries are safer standing apart.

At first blush, COVID-19 seems likely to corroborate the argument for a more coordinated international approach. Given that the coronavirus does not stop at national borders, it stands to reason that the response should not be constrained by them either.

This makes perfect sense from a public health perspective. If COVID-19 persists anywhere, it will remain an incipient threat everywhere, regardless of efforts to wall it off. The more widely that testing kits and, when discovered, treatments and vaccines, are distributed, the faster the pandemic will be vanquished. The more that scientific knowledge is shared, the faster those drugs will be developed. And, in the meantime, the more that governments coordinate on matters such as travel restrictions and social distancing, the smoother the exit from this crisis. more>

It’s a virus, and this isn’t a war

The coronavirus crisis is a social challenge, Karin Pettersson writes, which the formerly secure are now being reminded is hitting the poor hardest.
By Karin Pettersson – In an essay in Wired magazine, the British author Laurie Penny describes how most of our disaster scenarios describe situations where those who survive are saved by raw strength and weapons. The hero is a man, alone against the danger: terrorists, zombies, aliens.

When the crisis came—our actual crisis—it turned out to look nothing like we had imagined. The hero who risks his life to save us is not a survivalist ‘prepper’ wrapped in a cartridge belt with a gun over his shoulder.

The heroine is an underpaid temp working in a home for the elderly, forced to expose herself to the virus without sanitizer or proper protection. The ‘frontline combatants’ in this apocalypse are not soldiers, but nurses and doctors, cleaners and cashiers. Surgical masks and ventilators, not weapons, are unloaded from Finnish emergency warehouses.

What stands between us and collapse is not raw strength but protective equipment, medication and hospital beds. It is the very welfare capacity which has been underfunded and even privatized in recent decades. It’s the prosaic infrastructure of civilization: eldercare, health care, social security.

This is also where our shortcomings become visible. The stories are by now commonplace—how people working in nursing homes kept on going to work when the virus exploded, even though they had a sore throat. They simply could not afford to stay at home. In the end they, and many others, lacked two layers of protection—against poverty as well as the virus.

Some politicians have called the challenge of dealing with the virus a ‘war’ nonetheless. But a real war, heaven forfend, calls for action. What is needed now, from most of us, is the opposite: patience, caring for others, quiet solidarity, small acts of kindness.

Of course, if it really were a war, as the author Arundhati Roy rhetorically asks, who would be better prepared than the United States? ‘If it were not masks and gloves that its frontline soldiers needed, but guns, smart bombs, bunker busters, submarines, fighter jets and nuclear bombs, would there be a shortage?’ Certainly not. more>

Updates from McKinsey

The future is now: Closing the skills gap in Europe’s public sector
As the need for digital government capabilities increases during the COVID-19 pandemic, the European public sector can close the skills gap by focusing on three areas.
By David Chinn, Solveigh Hieronimus, Julian Kirchherr, and Julia Klier – The advance of digital technologies and especially artificial intelligence (AI) presents the European Union and the United Kingdom (the EU-28) with enormous opportunities for growth. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute shows that if digitally lagging sectors—such as manufacturing, mining, healthcare, and education—double their use of digital assets and increase the digitization of labor, the EU-28 could add €2.5 trillion to its GDP by 2025, boosting GDP growth by 1 percent per year until then. In its 2020 European Digital Strategy, the European Commission is attempting to realize this potential through measures such as increasing investments in AI development to more than €20 billion per year through 2030, compared with €3.2 billion in 2016.

The advance of digital technologies has raised European businesses’ and citizens’ expectations regarding improvements in smart regulation and citizen experience—for instance, through the digital delivery of public services—as well increased funding for technological development. Today, the COVID-19 outbreak is not only intensifying the need for the digitization of a wide range of administrative services (such as unemployment benefits), but it is also making digital skills a prerequisite for employees to successfully work from home. While the pandemic poses immense challenges, the current crisis is also an impetus for governments across the EU-28 to accelerate and deliver on their digital ambitions.

Indeed, governments across the EU-28 have already launched a range of initiatives toward end-to-end e-government. However, our analysis suggests a shortage of digital and technological skills to successfully and rapidly implement these initiatives—a total of 8.6 million people across the EU-28 public sector without the necessary skills by 2023 (exhibit). As a result, opportunity exists to harness the full benefits of technology, such as improving efficiency and transparency of government operations, advancing service quality for citizens, and improving the EU-28’s overall competitiveness. The public sector also faces the dual challenge of shaping how the digital revolution affects business and society while empowering its own employees, which constitute roughly 17 percent of all employees across the EU-28, to learn and apply new technical and digital skills.

To close the skills gap and best equip the workforce to operate in an increasingly digitized and automated world, governments will need to focus on recruiting, upskilling, and reskilling efforts. And in the context of COVID-19, moving quickly in these areas is more essential than ever. more>


Updates from Ciena

5G is your business – even if you are in the wireline business
5G is not just about updating handsets, radios, and antennas. Learn about the impacts and opportunities 5G will bring for regional wireline service providers.
By Eric Danielson – 5G is at the forefront of current technology discussions, promising orders of magnitude improvements in data rates, latency, number of connected devices, and overall traffic volumes when compared to today’s 4G LTE. This new generation of mobile network technology will shape and enable the evolution of augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), IoT, esports, and Industry 4.0 applications and use cases. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are investing heavily in 5G, but even if you’re a regional provider of wireline services, 5G will affect your business, bringing substantial new opportunities and threats.

5G is more than upgrading the handsets, radios, and antennas that comprise the Radio Access Network (RAN). Most of the journey content takes from the end device to the data center, where accessed content is hosted, is over (fixed) wireline networks. As 5G removes the last-mile access bottleneck, the unstoppable traffic demand of bandwidth-hungry users and applications will pulse through the entire network.

The first major impact falls over the infrastructure that connects the cell towers to the MNOs’ switching offices. It will need to deliver much higher capacity to a larger number of sites, boosting the wholesale backhaul connectivity business that relies heavily on regional infrastructure service providers.

5G New Radios (NR) will provide much faster download speeds by leveraging millimeter wave wireless spectrum – high frequency electromagnetic waves that don’t propagate far or well through buildings and obstacles – creating the need for many more small cells, much closer to subscribers, humans and machines. It means numerous new sites to interconnect, each one requiring 1Gb/s or (much) higher bandwidth, depending on the expected traffic profile. Mobile backhaul has been a key growth driver for fiber players in recent years and as it surges with 5G deployments, a new competitive environment will arise.

Another significant shift on the wireline fabric will come from the transition of radio networks to centralized/cloud-based architectures (C-RAN model). The radio intelligence, the Baseband Unit (BBU) that once sat on the base of the tower, will be moved to centralized locations and virtualized for improved cost and performance efficiencies.

In 4G, these high-capacity and low-latency fronthaul connections between Radio Heads (RRHs) and BBUs were served mainly by dark fiber links, as fronthaul was closed and proprietary. Fortunately, 5G fronthaul is expected to be open and standards-based, which opens a new fronthaul services market for wholesale operators. more>


Updates from Chicago Booth

A simple framework to help revive the US economy
By Emily Lambert – The COVID-19 crisis has seemingly left US policy makers with a choice between two terrible options: keep the economy shut down, or risk allowing the disease to run rampant throughout the populace, overwhelming the health system and opening the door to an unthinkable number of deaths.

But there is a middle course that decision makers can chart, and Chicago Booth’s Eric Budish has created a framework to help them do so. Managing COVID-19 for the time being, he says, requires bringing the rate of the disease’s spread down to an acceptable level and then finding ways to maximize economic activity without exceeding those epidemiological bounds. And he suggests that some combination of low-cost interventions, such as public-awareness campaigns and requiring people to wear masks in public, could be the way forward.

His framework starts with the rate of transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Let’s assume the rate of transmission is 2—one person infects two people, those two infect four, the four infect eight, and so on. The actual rate is currently uncertain, but many estimates put the unconstrained rate, absent interventions, at between 2.5 and 3.

Ideally, interventions would bring the rate of infection to 0 and wipe COVID-19 from the planet. But there could be huge social and economic costs involved, at least until a vaccine or cure is developed. For example, one influential epidemiological model by scholars at Imperial College London, which helped push the US and UK governments to impose lockdown measures, predicts that schools would need to be closed for most of two years, Budish notes.

Is there an acceptable alternative? Reducing the rate to 1 or less would contain the spread, he notes. Take R as the rate of transmission. If R = 2, the number of infections doubles constantly and quickly, but R < 1 constrains the exponential growth. China, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong have all managed to bring the rate under 1 by using social distancing, widespread testing, and other nonpharmaceutical interventions, Budish writes. Other countries could similarly reduce the rate to below 1, maybe by overshooting it at first to err on the side of human health. more>


Out of the tragedy of coronavirus may come hope of a more just society

The lessons of necessity and solidarity learned during the pandemic must inform a transition to a just society within ecological limits in its aftermath.
By Michael D Higgins – The global loss of life and disruption to our daily lives resulting from the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in living memory. We have learned through tragedy that we have a shared, globalized vulnerability common to all humanity. We are learning how we, as a matter of urgency, must make changes to improve resilience in a range of essential areas: employment, healthcare, housing. We have been forced to recognize our dependence on our public-sector frontline workers, and the state’s broader role in mitigating this crisis and saving lives.

The coronavirus has magnified the scale of our existing social crises and has proved, if ever proof were required, how government can act decisively when the will is there. It has shown us how so many are only ever one wage payment away from impoverishment, how those in self-employment or workers in the ‘gig’ economy lack security and basic employment rights, how private tenants in unregulated housing markets are at the mercy of their landlords, how many designated ‘key workers’ are appallingly undervalued and underpaid. Averting our gaze to these grim truths is no longer an option.

Years of eroding welfare states in many societies have had to give way, under pressure from the virus, to significant welfare actions as emergency measures. These reflect the impact decades of unfettered neoliberalism have had on whole sectors of society and economy, left without protection as to basic necessities of life, security and the ability to participate.

There is now a widespread, recovered recognition not only of the state’s positive role in managing such crises but of how it can play a decisive, transformative role in our lives for the better. The erosion of the state’s role, the weakening of its institutions and the undermining of its significance for over four decades has left us with a less just and more precarious society and economy. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Digital strategy in a time of crisis
Now is the time for bold learning at scale.
By Simon Blackburn, Laura LaBerge, Clayton O’Toole, and Jeremy Schneider – If the pace of the pre-coronavirus world was already fast, the luxury of time now seems to have disappeared completely. Businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one- to three-year phases must now scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks.

In one European survey, about 70 percent of executives from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland said the pandemic is likely to accelerate the pace of their digital transformation. The quickening is evident already across sectors and geographies. Consider how Asian banks have swiftly migrated physical channels online. How healthcare providers have moved rapidly into telehealth, insurers into self-service claims assessment, and retailers into contactless shopping and delivery.

The COVID-19 crisis seemingly provides a sudden glimpse into a future world, one in which digital has become central to every interaction, forcing both organizations and individuals further up the adoption curve almost overnight. A world in which digital channels become the primary (and, in some cases, sole) customer-engagement model, and automated processes become a primary driver of productivity—and the basis of flexible, transparent, and stable supply chains. A world in which agile ways of working are a prerequisite to meeting seemingly daily changes to customer behavior.

If a silver lining can be found, it might be in the falling barriers to improvisation and experimentation that have emerged among customers, markets, regulators, and organizations. In this unique moment, companies can learn and progress more quickly than ever before. The ways they learn from and adjust to today’s crisis will deeply influence their performance in tomorrow’s changed world, providing the opportunity to retain greater agility as well as closer ties with customers, employees, and suppliers. Those that are successfully able to make gains “stick” will likely be more successful during recovery and beyond. more>