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Exploring the science and magic of Identity and Access Management

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do … but how much love we put in that action. — Mother Teresa

Friday, October 9, 2015

First Model T Introduced 107 years ago today

Author: Mark Dixon
Thursday, October 1, 2015
3:48 pm

One hundred and seven years ago today, on October 1, 1908, the first Model T Ford was introduced.  According to the Ford media center:

The car that established a mass market for automobiles, the Model T, was introduced on Oct. 1, 1908. The first Model T had a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, reached a top speed of about 45 miles per hour, got about 13 to 21 miles per gallon of gasoline and weighed 1,200 pounds. It was the ninth of Henry Ford’s production cars.

More than 15,000,000 Model T’s were built and sold. The Model T was the first low-priced, mass- produced car with standard interchangeable parts. The Model T popularized the left-side steering column. The engine design, a single block with a removable cylinder head, became the industry standard.

The Model T’s agile planetary transmission enabled novices to operate the gears, and was a forerunner of modern automatic transmission designs. Vanadium steel, an alloy manufactured for the company at the direction of Henry Ford, gave the car great strength and durability without extra weight.

Here is a short video that discusses the history of the Model T and show some cool old photos and moving pictures!


What in the world is Digital Transformation?

Business, Technology
Author: Mark Dixon
Friday, September 4, 2015
5:11 pm

Digital: “of, relating to, or using data in the form of numerical digits

Transformation: “change in form, appearance, nature, or character.”

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The more I read about and discuss the hot buzzword “Digital Transformation,” the more I think of the old “Blind Men and the Elephant” story.  Each blind man’s perception of reality was different, depending on which part of the elephant’s anatomy he examined. The meaning of Digital Transformation also seems to depend highly on who is thinking about the subject.

First, consider a few examples of how business leaders may think of Digital Transformation:

To the business leader who has the vision of leveraging a company’s vast data resources to open new revenue opportunities through selling access to that data to interested customers, Digital Transformation is all about rapidly delivering that digital asset (data) to customers in new, innovative ways.

To the leader who is primarily interested in customer acquisition and loyalty in a consumer goods market, Digital Transformation may include “store of the future” concepts and providing a omni-channel customer buying experience.

To the health care executive, Digital Transformation may include providing electronic health records for patients that span multiple care providers to provide a more seamless and effective experience for patients and more profitable revenue channels for the many enterprises involved.

I’m sure thou can think of many more business examples.

Now think about what you have heard technology vendors say about Digital Transformation:

“You must leverage the Cloud to enable Digital Transformation.”

“Exposing and consuming APIs are essential are essential to Digital Transformation.”

“Digital Transformation is removing or consolidating information system silos.”

“Digital Transformation is all about enabling multi-channel customer experience.”

“Digital Transformation is all about harnessing Big Data.”

There are lots of body parts to the Digital Transformation elephant. Each of the viewpoints above is somewhat correct, but is lacking in completeness.  Digital Transformation is a big subject.

Perhaps the overall business perspective might be described in these ways:

Digital business models have become essential for companies across a range of industries. … going digital is now a prerequisite for surviving and thriving. (McKinsey)

Competing successfully in the digital industrial economy is rapidly becoming a leading strategic imperative for businesses all around the world. (Gartner)

Digital Transformation involves dramatically changing the enterprise to embrace and leverage digital technology to compete in new, innovative and disruptive ways.

From the technology viewpoint, we must remember that technology must enable business, not just exist for the sheer beauty of new stuff. Many technologies are converging to enable Digital Transformation – Mobile, Social, Cloud, Big Data, Internet of Things, APIs – I have probably missed a few. Any or all of these technologies can be leveraged in a Digital Transformation, depending on what is needed to support the business. No single technology is sufficient.  

We must remember that huge changes must be made in IT to enable dramatic changes in business. Gartner’s Peter Sondergaard recommends:

Digital startups sit inside your organization, in your marketing department, in HR, in logistics and in sales. As IT leaders, you must design, resource and deploy for a world that’s digital first. In this new model, every business unit is a technology startup. Now is your opportunity to create that team. Partner with the digital startups inside your organization and prove that you can move fast too. Embrace the outside change. 

Taking both business views and IT views into consideration, I rather like this definition of Digital Transformation from the Agile Elephant, a UK based consultancy:

Digital transformation is the process of shifting your organisation from a legacy approach to new ways of working and thinking using digital, social, mobile and emerging technologies.  It involves a change in leadership, different thinking, the encouragement of innovation and new business models, incorporating digitisation of assets and an increased use of technology to improve the experience of your organisation’s employees, customers, suppliers, partners and stakeholders.

This made me remember a statement made by Tom Peters in his book, Thriving on Chaos, which I first read in 1989:

Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change. That is, excellent firms of tomorrow will cherish impermanence and thrive on chaos!

A word of warning, however. Several years ago, when “Business Process Re-engineering” was a popular buzzword, a friend of mine was really excited when he was first assigned to a re-engineering team in his company.  He was not so happy a while later when he hold me his position in the company was re-engineered. He had been laid off!

We must be agile ourselves to survive and thrive!



Enabling Digital Transformation with REST API

Author: Mark Dixon
Friday, September 4, 2015
3:39 pm

I was recently introduced to a powerful new tool created by the folks at Persistent Systems, a long time Oracle development and systems integrator partner. The Oracle Identity and Access Management platform has a very rich set of Java APIs that enable developers to access nearly all of the functionality this platform from external applications.  The challenge is not completeness, but complexity.  To take advantage of this rich API set, external developers have to know much about the internal workings of the IAM products and the intricacies of writing the Java code to access the APIs.

The Persistent Systems engineers have developed a REST API on top of the Oracle Identity Governance Java API that exposes OIG capabilities in a much simpler, more “process friendly” way. For example, a few services available are:

  • User Access Request
  • Get User’s Provisioned Roles
  • Acting on Pending Authorizations
  • Authenticate User
  • Authorize User

… and the list goes on.

How would you like to translate those “business level” requests into Java API calls?

To demonstrate the capability of the REST API, a developer at Persistent Systems created the application shown in the image below, with a clean, easy-to use interface for OIG approvals and certifications – all without being an expert in Java or the detailed processes within OIG.  The iPhone and Apple watch images include screen shots from my phone and watch.  It really does work!

The most important thing to consider is not the neat user interface – although it has some cool features – it is how an intelligently constructed REST API can provide development agility, application flexibility and rapid deployment, all essential enablers for digital transformation.

Persistent Systems

 Leonardo Da Vinci has been credited with the wise statement, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  I think Leonardo would like this approach.


On this day in 1968: The First US ATM

Identity, Technology History
Author: Mark Dixon
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
10:44 am


Sixty two years ago today, as I was commencing my junior year in high school, the first Automated Teller Machine, called the “Docuteller,” began dispensing cash at Chemical Bank in Rockville Centre, New York. According to a Wired article

It marked the first time reusable, magnetically coded cards were used to withdraw cash.

Nowadays, ATMs are ubiquitous. Mag stripe cards are widely used for identification at ATMs and in many other applications. EMV chip-and-PIN cards are becoming more broadly used in the US, although they have been used widely in Europe for many years.

Wide proliferation of ATMs dramatically changed the consumer banking industry. I suppose that mobile banking apps and mobile payments are now changing banking as dramatically as ATMs did over the past sixty years!

By the way, the Chemical Bank ATM was not the first ATM in the world.  The British beat the US by a couple of years, albeit without the mag stripe plastic ATM card. According to Wikipedia

It is widely accepted that the first ATM was put into use by Barclays Bank in its Enfield Town branch in north London, United Kingdom, on 27 June 1967. This machine was inaugurated by English comedy actor Reg Varney  This instance of the invention is credited to John Shepherd-Barron of printing firm De La Rue, who was awarded an OBE in the 2005 New Year Honours. This design used paper cheques issued by a teller or cashier, marked with carbon-14 for machine readability and security, which in a latter model were matched with a personal identification number (PIN).


We have come a long way!


Educational Resources for Astronomy

Author: Mark Dixon
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
8:46 pm

Star parties

Last month, I posted a short piece on “Educational Resources for Space,” provided by Jasmine Dyoco from Educator Labs.   This week, she provided a set of links for learning about Astronomy.  I am pleased to share the links here:

Thanks again, Jasmine and Educator Labs, for your dedication to science education!

One more resource that looks really interesting:

  • Go Astronomy - a site with a wealth of astronomy information and the great picture on this post

Enjoy our wonderful universe!


The Power of PowerPoint

Business, Humor
Author: Mark Dixon
Monday, August 24, 2015
8:31 am

How many PowerPoint slides have you presented?  How many statistics have you used (or abused)?

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Educational Resources for Space

Education, Space Travel
Author: Mark Dixon
Monday, August 3, 2015
6:36 pm


Recently, I received some fun suggestions from Jasmine Dyoco from EducatorLabs via the Feedback page on this site. Intrigued by some of the Space Travel posts on this blog, she suggested a number of great links to educational sites related to Space and science:

I was impressed by the Vision of EducatorLabs:

EducatorLabs is comprised of school librarians and media/market research specialists who work as curators and conservators of the scholastic web. In previous decades, our resource collections were finite and we knew our card catalog backwards and forwards; nowadays, modern technology provides us with a seemingly infinite inventory of educational resources. Unfortunately, there simply are no comprehensive card catalogs for the internet and, sadly, many untapped resources go undiscovered by most teachers.

Naturally, we feel compelled to bridge the gap. Our mission is to assist educators, for whom time is a precious commodity, in discovering valuable resources of substance for classroom use. We also seek to strengthen connections among the educational web by acting as courier: because of our high standards, our approach is grassroots and hands-on in nature.

As a father of six children, all of whom graduated from public schools in Mesa, AZ, I have deep respect for dedicated educators who go above and beyond their “job descriptions” to offer students outstanding educational experience. And now, as my grandchildren are growing up, I am so grateful for teachers and schools that are willing to go the extra mile to help young minds learn and grow and spread their wings of discovery!

Thank you, Jasmine!


The Scraping Threat Report 2015

Information Security
Author: Mark Dixon
Monday, August 3, 2015
5:33 pm


Back in May, I wrote a couple of posts about Illicit Internet bots:

I recently read a short, but interesting report on “Scraping,” a process of using bots and similar tools to steal information. The Scraping Threat Report 2015  published by ScrapeSentry. This reports includes this definition:

Scraping (also known as web scraping, screen scraping or data scraping) is when large amounts of data from a web site is copied manually or with a script or program. Malicious scraping is the systematic theft of intellectual property in the form of data accessible on a web site.

This theft of intellectual property can be very damaging to businesses. If, for example, a scraper can download airline fares from a legitimate site through illicit means, the stolen data can be exploited to fuel unfair business practices.

Some interesting statistics:

  • 17 % increase in scraping attacks in 2014
  • 22 % of all site visitors are considered to be scrapers
  • 49 % of the total scraping traffic originates from the US, but the ratio of total traffic to scraper traffic is worst from traffic originating in China.
  • China accounts for 1.40 % of the total traffic but 17.13 % of the scraper traffic.
  • Companies in the travel industry remain top targets for scrapers, closely followed by Online Directories and Online Classifieds.
Scrapers are generally categorized into the following areas:
  • Amateur Scrapers: These scrapers utilize a small number of IP addresses and user agent strings, and are blatantly visible in traffic logs.
  • Professional Scrapers: These scrapers are much more elusive, and usually redistribute what they scrape to other companies for a profit.
  • Advanced Scrapers: These scrapers are extremely dedicated and have a wide range of IP addresses. They change their browsing tactics and user-agents moments after a block.

In short, if you are an Internet user, these scrapers are generating so much traffic that they are undoubtedly impacting the performance of websites you visit. If you are website operator and your website contains any type of information that could exploited for nefarious purposes, scrapers probably have already penetrated your defenses or at least have you in their bomb sights.


Coolest Travel Voucher I’ve Seen!

Space Travel, Travel
Author: Mark Dixon
Monday, August 3, 2015
12:45 pm

Submitting expense reports is one of the seemingly never-ending exercises I have had to endure in over three decades of professional travel. But last week I saw a copy of the coolest travel expense report I have ever seen.

Col. Buzz Aldrin submitted an expense report requesting reimbursement for $33.31 to cover personal expenses for his Apollo 11 trip to the moon!






No, I don’t want to engage!

Business, Identity
Author: Mark Dixon
Monday, June 22, 2015
8:05 pm

Do you ever wonder why in the world you receive the ads you do on Facebook or other online venues? Methinks personalized, targeted advertising still has a long way to go.

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