30.10.2017: CBRA Interview with Geneva-based Mr. Matti Heikkurinen, who works as a part-time ICT and standardization expert at CBRA.
Hi Matti! Can you please tell a bit about yourself: who you are and what you do?
I guess I’m a typical computer scientist/ software engineer turned into an informatics practitioner and research manager with a weakness for science communications. A ten-year detour as a consultant/ independent researcher/ entrepreneur between the two probably ticks the remaining boxes of “the usual story”.
While the end points may seem similar at a glance, they are pretty much opposite ends of the spectrum. The initial motivation was to find an area where everything is binary, formalized and human element is ideally absent – or at least, tamed into an abstract specification. These days most of the work deals with human element, or at least the failure of the reality to comply with the theoretical specifications. Thus, the yin became the yang and an introvert an extrovert – at least in the office…
One constant has been working with distributed systems, typically in settings where the components are from different organizations or countries. Whether we are talking about the web – even web 1.0 -, cloud computing or big/ open data, you tend to see similar patterns. Success requires solving fundamental technical challenges – starting from the fact that the speed of light that is too slow -, finding semantics that work across language and cultural barriers, and coming up with operational practices and governance models that balance efficient decision making and shared sense of ownership. System tends to be as strong as the weakest link, but even defining the “weakest” is a transdisciplinary problem!
On the concrete level the “what I do” has ranged from developing system software for telephone switches to supporting policy work related to IT services for European research and education – network, computing and data services ranging from laptops to supercomputers supporting 50 million users. Analysis, outreach and fundraising work that I do at the moment often ends up covering surprisingly large fraction of the range – analyzing the impact of new technical specifications in order to put their potential impact into context of a joint research agenda or socioeconomic impact tend to fit a multi-pronged approach.
How did you join CBRA?
I think in the end it was inevitable, just to balance out the very improbable history of how I met Juha Hintsa, the founder of CBRA. Juha and I were at the same high school for same time – ahem, a few years ago – but even though we had common friends we never met. Two decades or so later, we had the same boss for five years – but again, never met. One more decade, and we both got curious about management of the IT systems in the cross-border trade domain, got email-introduced by our ex-boss, had several interesting chats on the phone, co-authored a conference paper sketching out the problem domain. But although we talked, a lot for two Finns, but didn’t meet. In the end, some of the themes in the CORE project resonated with the ideas we had with the paper, there was a specific task that needed extra effort quickly and I got hired. We even managed to meet!
Which work you have been carrying out in CBRA while working in projects like CORE and SYNCHRO-NET?
A lot of the work has been related to different standards that both projects need to take into account in their developments. One of the interesting things, that keeps on surprising me, is the variety and sheer number of relevant standards. Global supply chains rely on standards ranging from specifying meaning of specific bits in an RFID chip to rules balancing the privacy and law enforcement needs – and anything and everything in between. And for each domain, the saying “The wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from” holds true… I have also been guilty of interfering with some formal modelling tasks that capture how different supply chain actors interact, and how they could optimally interact.
At the moment I am in the process of analyzing the standardization approach of the CORE project, distilling an overview of the experiences and identifying trends and lessons learned. These summaries will hopefully be useful for the follow-up activities as well as serving as basis for training and education material for the different target audiences of the project.
What have been the most interesting tasks that you have been assigned to in CBRA?
I think picking the most interesting task at CBRA would be very difficult. The scale and inherent complexity of the global supply chains makes the IT systems supporting them very interesting area of study. The new opportunities and challenges brought on by maturing solutions like big/open data services or blockchain technologies are especially interesting in an environment where the impact of even the tiniest incremental optimization will be measured in tens or hundreds of millions of euros, or, improved access to markets for whole nations, or reduction of environmental footprint on the global scale..
Thanks Matti for the interview, and see you again soon, in Geneva or Lausanne or somewhere else where CBRA projects may take us to…!
CBRA Interview on 30.10.2017 by Ms. Susana Wong (photos: Matti Heikkurinen)