How IT Fixed London Traffic

I was in London recently, and find traffic flow quite smooth. As it turns out, technology has a critical role to play, according to CIO Magazine:

On Feb. 17, 2003, London began to fight back. The British capital launched an anticongestion scheme, based on tolls, that is attracting attention from all over the world. Unlike American-style tolls, though, there’s no sitting in queues waiting to pay. Or transponders.

Instead, 688 cameras at 203 sites scattered across the 8-square-mile anticongestion area photograph the license plates of the 250,000 cars that traverse it each day. Enter the anticongestion area marked by a red C logo painted on signs and streets. Get photographed. And get ready for a one-off charge payable for that day, irrespective of how long the vehicle is in the zone, or how many times it is photographed. At a data center in central London, Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology is then applied to convert the photograph images to license numbers. Motorists who don’t pay the toll that day are fined about $130, automatically.


Sometimes the most innovative ideas are also seemingly most simplest. Says Mark Pilgrim: “I find that a good measure of how innovative a thing is, is how vehemently people declare it trivial and obvious in hindsight.”

This is what we all seek – an idea which is, as Atanu put it for RISC, “both blindingly obvious and fleetingly elusive.”


Phil Wainewright writes: “Open source software, Enterprise Service Bus and lightweight Business Process Management seem to be the three pillars of the emerging services-based concept of enterprise information technology…With no legacy IT to take into account, Amazon has been able to use Perl to automate and integrate the business processes that power its services. More established companies are having to turn to ESB and next-generation BPM to arrive at an equivalent destination. But the result in both cases is flexible process automation and hence more cost-effective, responsive and adaptable services, whose value is based not on proprietary ownership of a software trick that someone else is bound to emulate in the near future, but on relationships of empathy, trust and knowledge that have been built up over months, years and ultimately decades.”

Phil writes more on ESB, describing it as “the new buzzword that’s becoming even hotter than Services-Oriented Architecture.”

IM Standards

WSJ writes about the standards battle: “Two major standards, which carry the acronyms SIP/SIMPLE (Session initiation protocol for instant messaging and presence leveraging extensions) and XMPP (extensible messaging and presence protocol), are waiting to be ratified by the group, and companies are already beginning to choose between them.”

RSS for Corporate Communications

From a G2B Group white paper:

RSS holds the promise of becoming a key part of a company’s media relations strategy and execution. As much as Federal regulations, corporate strategies, competitive concerns, and partner relations allow, your company can consider setting up a blog and posting news release teasers or even headlines and synopses hours or maybe a day prior to transmission. This could be reasonably expected to elevate users’ perceived value of subscribing to your RSS feeds, which would help in terms of interest measurement and create a closer relationship between your company and those it most wants to influence.

Supported by creative strategies and judiciously applied traditional media relations techniques, news syndication through RSS offers one of the most intriguing possibilities for Internet-supported corporate communications.

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TECH TALK: Useful Concepts: Markets

Markets are everywhere. We live in them, we work in them, we buy and sell in them. And yet, there is perhaps only a faint understanding of the dynamics of markets. For most of us, the stock market is perhaps the one we are most familiar with. eBay has done much to get auctions into our vocabulary. But there are many other types of markets some efficient, some inefficient.

John McMillans Reinventing the Bazaar is a history of markets. It is a fascinating read. Here are a few excerpts:

Markets are subtle organizations. This is one of my themes. The mechanisms that underpin transacting are intricateand they are in everlasting flux. People are ingenious at finding ways to make exchanges that bring mutual gains.

Markets do what they are supposed to do, however, only if they are well structured. Any successful economy has an array of devices and procedures to enable markets to work smoothly. A workable platform for markets has five elements: information flows smoothly; property rights are protected; people can be trusted to live up to their promises; side effects on third parties are curtailed; and competition is fostered.

EBay has created a global market for goods that previously had a purely local market. One of the secrets of eBays success was in recognizing that the Internet, by making it easy for buyers and sellers to get together, created new possibilities for trading knickknacks of all kinds. The other secret of its success was in building a user-friendly and flexible auction mechanism. Pre-Internet auctions had the disadvantage that they required the potential buyers to assemble in one place. (Bids were sometimes made by fax or telephone, but this was clumsy.) Bidders in an eBay auction get together only in cyberspace…EBay showed that the Internet and auctions were made for each other.

Modern markets are sophisticated organizations. Markets for multifaceted products like automobiles and computers, and for labor and financial services, must solve a range of problems that may not arise with simpler items like clothing and food. A market works well only if information flows smoothly through it. An uneven distribution of information hinders negotiations and limits what can be contracted. Information transmission requires devices that ensure the communications are reliable. A market works well, also, only if people can trust each other. Trust requires mechanisms to bolster it since, regrettably, not everyone is inherently trustworthy. Many goods have hidden characteristics, so there must be some way of assuring buyers of the goods quality. Trust is needed also in transactions that take time to complete. People are reluctant to invest in the absence of some assurance that the others promises will be kept. A modern market economy needs a platform sturdy enough to support highly complex dealings.

Market design consists of the mechanisms that organize buying and selling; channels for the flow of information; state-set laws and regulations that define property rights and sustain contracting; and the markets culture, its self-regulating norms, codes, and conventions governing behavior. While the design does not control what happens in the marketas noted, free decision making is keyit shapes and supports the process of transacting.

A workable market design keeps in check transaction coststhe various frictions in the process of making exchanges. These include the time, effort, and money spent in the process of conducting business: both any costs incurred by the buyer in addition to the actual price paid, and any costs incurred by the seller in making the sale.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the PubSubWeb, and took one example at the end the need for an SME Information Marketplace, where SMEs (small and medium enterprises) can find each other easily. In essence, what I was talking about was the creation of a market, which would reduce the search costs among SMEs, and hopefully, help each of them to benefit through increased business. Today, most SMEs find themselves, just like rural India, in a low-equilibrium position. Perhaps, the creation of this information marketplace can move them to another, better equilibrium.

Tomorrow: The CEOs Temptations

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