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No that intelligent contracts

For some years, the term smart contracts has become popular, over all closely linked to the technological field, which is where it comes from, but now it is already present in other areas due to its great potential.
The first references I had of smart contracts were in relation to blockchain technology, which is what supports the cryptocurrency structure such as Bitcoin. Nowadays, this virtual currency has a bad reputation for the speculation that it is subject to, as well as for its supposedly unethical use. I think that both accusations are debatable or, at least, not exclusive; in the end, everything that is in an open market can suffer the effects of supply and demand; and I doubt there is a physical currency which hasn’t been used to buy drugs, weapons, influences … but this is the subject of another debate.
Without going into technicalities that I do not know, one could say that smart contracts are self-executing computer programs when the conditions established in those contracts are met, and based on the aforementioned blockchain technology that would provide robustness, transparency and reliability. Maybe this doesn’t seem particularly relevant, but my impression is that its generalization would mean the simplification of agreements between parties, providing them with greater security.
However, and this is my complaint, I believe that we are not in the moment or in the environment so that we can fully benefit from this technology. Among other things, because of the following reasons:
– Greater definition and clarity of the contract: many contracts are drafted in a vague manner, especially in relation to the effects of non-compliance or breach of its articles. And that is an especially powerful element of smart contracts, which are automatically executed when there is a causality (if, them) in that contract.
Perhaps some prefer those vague texts that, in case of discrepancy, allow tricks to litigate. That is contrary to the philosophy of smart contracts.
– A new language is needed: writing these contracts will be more similar to programming than writing a document. Therefore, people who have the knowledge to program the content of the contract will be necessary.
– Lack of legal development: to expand this technological innovation it will be required minimum legal conditions that the parties assume and allow them to get involved. This may require the establishment of standards at the transnational level, which may take time.

In the absence of these conditions, I believe that only some highly interrelated sectors, such as finance, will be able to launch initiatives based on smart contracts.

Open learning: my edX experience

Toronto University CertificateSome months ago, I wrote a post about a variety of free learning opportunities which were available on the net. I talked about sites where we can find courses imparted by leading universities or business schools.

I decided that I couldn’t write about this subject if I didn’t know in-depth. That is the reason why I decided to register for an edX course. In this entry, I will explain my experience.

The election

At the beginning of October I dived into the web to find an attracting course. Since my career is related to Finance, I was looking for a course in that area; you know…accounting, cash management and that type of stuff. However, I didn’t find any. Having this problem of availability, I chose the one I saw was something to do with business management.  I joined “behavioral economics in action”, a training in the area of choice architecture and decision making process.

The course

The program, which was offered by the University of Toronto, started on October 14th and had a length of six weeks. Each week was divided in sections and each section in units. The units could take the form of lecture videos (main teaching tool), texts (supporting documents) or practice quizzes (for testing the topic comprehension).

The length of the videos was appropriate (between 5 and 15 minutes) and they were based on the traditional teaching system; that is: a teacher explaining the topic.  Although I didn’t always agree, I found the explanations interesting and sometimes funny. The transcript of the videos was available, which helped to check some concepts I didn’t understand, or to take notes and make summaries.

There was something relevant regarding the progress of the course: the sections of each week were only available from the beginning of that week. For example, at the beginning of week 2, only the sections of week 1 and week 2 were available, but not the ones of the remaining weeks. For me this was good, because I organized my time to the sections of each week.

The examination

Here is where I have my main doubts. The examination was composed by two short exams (each represented the 20% of the final grade), a self assessed reflection (20%) and the design of a short project (40%) assessed by other students taking part in the course.

While the exams were ok, I don’t see the sense of self assessing. On the other hand, although there were some instructions to assess others’ projects, I noticed that mine was rated very kindly. I understand that it is difficult to find a system to evaluate all students’ works (more than 200, in this case), but maybe the process somehow should be improved.

 After finishing all the tests and passing them (minimum score of 60%), a certificate like the one attached to this post was sent.

Conclusions

This first experience was positive. I selected a course about a subject I didn’t know that existed, which I found more than interesting. The length of the course and the lectures were correct. I missed a better way to clearly fix the main concepts. However, there were many supporting texts to help and to deepen.

It is something that I would recommend. But, please, take into account that like all the teaching systems this has its limits. On the other hand, there are other attracting places which also offer good courses, such as Coursera.

Towards the virtual office: stop accumulating physic documents

documentsIt is known by everybody that Finance and Administration departments in a company are the ones which accumulate more papers and documents. It is already a classic image the one of an office full of shelves loaded with thousands of files, which in many cases are only able to handle and understand by the employee who works in that place. Imagine what happens when that person is fired, or resigns or simply moves to another post.

I definitely believe that we are in a New Era, in which our office could be anywhere and the information and documents should be available as well. So it is about high time that we move forward.

Firstly, I see it clear that a real change of habits must be performed. This change must be started by the managers but it has to be followed by all the members of the team. Which new habits are required?

  • Stop storing physic documents: we have to scan those documents we want to save and throw away the original, with the only exception of official documents (i.e. tax returns, stamped contracts…). We should encourage our documents providers that they only send them in digital format.
  • Have a clear organization system: since the beginning we have to decide how the documents are organized so that not only us but other members in the team can find them easily. Using standard rules, as suggested by Lean methodology, can be extremely helpful.

Secondly, we have to develop a work environment which enables and develops the change:

  • Test and change, if necessary, the workflow. When you do this, you may discover that some documents which always ended on your desk could be elsewhere. By implementing clear and new procedures everybody is responsible for his documents.
  • Use new tools: in most cases scanners are required. In some others it could be advisable to purchase a program to manage the documents. But be careful, my personal experience is that those programs can be very expensive. Calculate the return before making that investment.

In conclusion, we should leave the papers behind. Now there are no excuses to continue accumulating papers. I have decided to do so and in the medium term I expect to reduce dramatically the amount of papers on my desk.

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