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Singapore’s first 5G Industry 4.0 trial

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Manufacturing is estimated to account for a fifth of Singapore’s GDP and is one of its growth pillars. Singapore has been talking about re-inventing the Manufacturing industry since 2017, when the Industry 4.0 initiatives to enable digitalisation and process automation of processes and to ensure global competitiveness were first launched. As part of the long-term strategy, the Government had spoken about investment into research and development (R&D) projects, developing transformation roadmaps and strengthening the skill sets of the workforce.

Singapore’s 5G Rollout

Last month, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) announced that Singtel and JVCo (formed by Starhub and M1) has won the 5G Call for Proposal. They will be required to provide coverage for at least half of Singapore by end-2022, scaling up to nationwide coverage by end 2025. While Singtel and JVCo will be allocated radio frequency spectrum to deploy nationwide 5G networks, other mobile operators, including MVNOs, can access these network services through a wholesale arrangement. The networks will also be supplemented by localised mmWave deployments that will provide high capacity 5G hotspots.

In October 2019, IMDA and the National Research Foundation had set aside $40 million to support 5G trials in strategic sectors such as maritime, aviation, smart estates, consumer applications, Industry 4.0 and government applications. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Jannat Maqbool says, “Reach, performance and robustness of connectivity and devices have long held back the ability to scale with the IoT as well as successful deployment of some solutions altogether. The integration of 5G with IoT has the potential to change that immensely. However, and possibly even more importantly, 5G will see the emergence of a true ‘Internet’, defined as ‘interconnected networks using standardised communication protocols’, made up of ‘things’ enabling never-before contemplated innovation – supporting economic development and community well-being.”

“While 5G offers enormous potential to produce economic and social benefits, to reach that potential we need to evaluate from a strategic perspective what it could mean for industries, employers and communities – then we need to invest in the infrastructure, innovation and associated development required to leverage the technology.”

Singapore’s Industry 4.0 Transformation

The Government is also focused on getting the industry ready for the transformation that 5G will bring. Last week, Singapore announced its first Industry 4.0 trial, where IMDA collaborates with IBM, M1 and Samsung to design, develop, test and benchmark 5G-enabled Industry 4.0 solutions that can be applied across various industries. The trials will begin at IBM’s facility in Singapore and involve open source infrastructure solutions from Red Hat to test Industry 4.0 use cases.

The project will test 5G-enabled use cases for Manufacturing, focusing on areas such as automated visual inspection using image recognition and video analytics, equipment monitoring and predictive maintenance, and the use of AR in increasing productivity and quality. The focus is also on leveraging 5G to reduce the cost of processing, by shifting the load from the edge device to centralised systems.

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says, “For some time now, the Singapore Manufacturing industry has been in the quest for higher productivity in order to regain its foothold as a destination of choice for global manufacturing outsourcing. The 5G Industry 4.0 trial is a great initiative to fast-track identification and adoption of the right use cases in Manufacturing, in the areas of automation, visibility, analytics, as well as for opening new revenue streams through servitisation of smart products.”

5G will see increased collaboration in the Tech industry

With the advent of 5G, the market will see more collaboration between government agencies, telecom providers and cloud platform providers and network equipment providers. Governments globally have invested in 5G and so have the network and communications equipment providers. However, telecom providers are unsure of how to monetise 5G and cater to the shift in their customer profile from consumers to enterprises. IBM and Samsung had already announced the launch of a joint platform in late 2019. Collaborations such as these will be key to widespread 5G deployment and uptake.

Talking about the benefits of collaborative efforts such as this, Maqbool says, “Robustness and security built into 5G deployment from the outset is essential to enable the applications and innovation that many are promising the technology will deliver, including the ability to self-scale, automate fault management and support edge processing.”

It is interesting that the solutions developed will be featured at IBM’s Industry 4.0 Studio 5G Solutions Showcase, and that IBM and Samsung will evaluate successful solutions developed during the project for possible use in their operations in a broad range of markets and sectors. “Availability of proven use cases at IBM’s Solutions Showcase centre would benefit local manufactures greatly; in terms of easy access to right skills and proven technology architectures,” says Ghatak.  “This initiative is a huge step towards realising the promise of the cyber physical world. The collaboration between the leaders in communications, equipment and software will ensure that the use case development is truly cutting edge.”

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The-Cybercrime-Pandemic
The Cybercrime Pandemic

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Organisations across the globe, are facing disruption on a scale never seen before, and are urgently seeking ways of remaining viable. Predictably, cybersecurity is a secondary concern and is often handled reactively. To make matters worse, a chronic cybersecurity skills shortage is being made much more severe by the crisis.

Remote working has reached unprecedented levels as organisations try hard to keep going. This is massively expanding the attack surface for cyber criminals, weakening security and leading to a cybercrime pandemic. Hacking activity and phishing, inspired by the COVID-19 crisis, are growing rapidly. Containing and suppressing this cybercrime pandemic is proving to be almost impossible.

Remote working intensifies known threats posed by phishing and ransomware. More alarming are the distinctive cybersecurity vulnerabilities associated with home working including reliance on home Wi-Fi, increased use of unpatched VPNs and devices, and the exponential growth of network access points. These vulnerabilities increase the likelihood of a breach enormously.

Corporate IT is in a very challenging position. It needs to ensure that organisations can operate in a way that they have never operated before, while ensuring that their assets are secure – a very difficult, if not an impossible task for which there is no precedent.

Some important cybersecurity considerations, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic include:

Re-enforce Basic Cyber Hygiene

As massive numbers of people work from home, basic cyber hygiene becomes more critical than ever before. Organisations must maintain awareness of security threats among employees, ensure security policies are being followed and be certain that corporate software is being updated and patched on time. With a dispersed workforce, these basic practices are more challenging, and training becomes more critical. Phishing attacks are often the primary attack vector for malicious actors, so employees must be able to identify these attacks. They increasingly exploit shortages of goods such as protective equipment and sometimes claim to offer official information relating to COVID-19.

Remote employees often access sensitive business data through home Wi-Fi networks that will not have the same security controls – such as firewalls – that are used in offices. There is more connectivity from remote locations, which requires greater focus on data privacy, and hunting for intrusions from a much larger number of entry points.

Place More Focus on Endpoint Security

The unprecedented switch to remote working is radically increasing the number of vulnerable endpoints. Given that endpoints are located at a distance from corporate premises, it is frequently difficult for IT departments to configure endpoint systems and install necessary security software.

It is vital to assess the security posture of all endpoints connecting to the corporate network. This practice enables an organisation to determine whether or not an endpoint requesting to access internal resources meets security policy requirements. It requires the ability to monitor and enforce policy across all devices, while making onboarding and offboarding seamless.

It is essential that endpoint solutions can be rapidly deployed for remote workers, as needed on both personal and corporate devices. Devices used for remote work need much more than the basic antivirus and antispyware protection. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) and on-board endpoint detection and response (EDR) capabilities are crucial.

Be More Selective About How and When Video Conferencing and Collaboration Platforms are Used

Since lockdowns spread around the world, the use of video conferencing and collaboration tools has grown beyond the wildest expectations of suppliers of these tools. The extraordinary growth of Zoom has made it a target for attackers. Many security vulnerabilities have been discovered with Zoom such as, a vulnerability to UNC path injection in the client chat feature, which allows hackers to steal Windows credentials, keeping decryption keys in the cloud which can potentially be accessed by hackers and gives the ability for trolls to ‘Zoombomb’ open and unprotected meetings. Zoom has so far managed to augment its security features in part by its recent acquisition of Keybase, a secure messaging service.

Switching to an alternative video conferencing platform will not necessarily offer greater levels of security as privacy is typically not a strength of any collaboration platform. Collaboration platforms tend to tread a fine line between a great experience and security. Too much security can cause performance and usability to be impacted negatively. Too little security, as we have seen, allows hackers to find vulnerabilities. If data privacy is critical for a meeting, then perhaps collaboration platforms should not be used, or organisations should not share critical information on them.

Protect all Cloud Workloads

In today’s remote working paradigm, cloud computing is being used more than ever. This frequently exposes organisations to risks that are not adequately mitigated.

Organisations typically need to manage a mix of on-premises technology together with multiple clouds, which are often poorly integrated.  These complexities are compounded by the increasing risk from cyberattacks associated with cloud migration and hybrid cloud implementations. In cloud environments, the leading cybersecurity risks include insecure interfaces and APIs, data breaches and data loss, unauthorised access, DDoS attacks, and a lack of a unified view of assets.

Protection requirements for securing hybrid multicloud environments are evolving rapidly. In addition to tightening up endpoint security, organisations must also place greater emphasis on cloud workload protection. Cloud security solutions need to offer a unified and consistent view across all physical machines, virtual machines, serverless workloads and containers, used by an organisation.

Amend Incident Response Plans

It is the containment of breaches that often determines the success of security policies and procedures. Basic cyber hygiene as well as changes to IT architecture, such as micro segmentation, play an essential role in breach containment. But incident response plans also need to be made relevant to the current pandemic scenario.

Employees and IT teams are now working in a completely different environment than envisaged by most incident response plans. Existing plans may now be obsolete. At the very least, they will need to be modified. Usually, incident response plans are designed to respond to threats when most employees are operating in a corporate environment. This clearly needs to change. Employees need to be trained in the updated plan and know how to reach support if they believe that a security breach has occurred in their remote location.

Critically, new alert and warning systems need to be established, which can be used by employees to warn of threats as well as to receive information on threats and best practices.

 

Organisations are struggling to keep the lights on. In this battle to remain operational, cybersecurity has been taking a back seat. This cannot last for long as the deluge of new vulnerabilities is creating easy pickings for attackers. Cyber hygiene, endpoint security, cloud security, security policies and incident response plans must be continually reviewed.


This blog is based on Andrew Milroy’s recent report titled “Cybersecurity in the COVID-19 Era”.
Click here to download the full report 👇

Download Report


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Zoom selects Oracle as Cloud Infrastructure Provider

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The COVID-19 crisis has forced countries to implement work from home policies and lockdowns. Since the crisis hit, uptake of cloud communication and collaboration solutions have seen a dramatic increase. Video conferencing provider, Zoom has emerged as a key player in the market, with a rapid increase in user base from 10 million daily active participants in December 2019 to 200 million in March 2020 – a growth in the number of users of nearly 200%!

Security Concerns around Zoom

The rapid increase in user base and the surge in traffic has required Zoom to re-evaluate its offerings and capacity. The platform was primarily built for enterprises and now is seeing unprecedented usage in conducting team meetings, webinars, virtual conferences, e-learning, and social events.

The one area where they were impacted most is security. In his report, Cybersecurity Considerations in the COVID-19 Era, Ecosystm Principal Advisor Andrew Milroy says, “The extraordinary growth of Zoom has made it a target for attackers. It has had to work remarkably hard to plug the security gaps, identified by numerous breaches. Many security vulnerabilities have been discovered with Zoom such as, a vulnerability to UNC path injection in the client chat feature, which allows hackers to steal Windows credentials, keeping decryption keys in the cloud which can potentially be accessed by hackers and the ability for trolls to ‘Zoombomb’ open and unprotected meetings.”

“Zoom largely responded to these disclosures quickly and transparently, and it has already patched many of the weaknesses highlighted by the security community. But it continues to receive rigorous stress testing by hackers, exposing more vulnerabilities.”

However, Milroy does not think that this issue is unique to Zoom. “Collaboration platforms tend to tread a fine line between performance and security. Too much security can cause performance and usability to be impacted negatively. Too little security, as we have seen, allows hackers to find vulnerabilities. If data privacy is critical for a meeting, then perhaps collaboration platforms should not be used, or organisations should not share critical information on them.”

Zoom to increase Capacity and Scalability

Zoom is aware that it has to increase its service capacity and scalability of its offerings, if it has to successfully leverage its current market presence, beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Last week Zoom announced that that it had selected Oracle as its cloud Infrastructure provider. One of the reasons cited for the choice is Oracle’s “industry-leading security”. It has been reported that Zoom is transferring more than 7 PB of data through Oracle Cloud Infrastructure servers daily.

In addition to growing their data centres, Zoom has been using AWS and Microsoft Azure as its hosting providers. Milroy says, “It makes sense for Zoom to use another supplier rather than putting ‘all its eggs in one or two baskets’. Zoom has not shared the commercial details, but it is likely that Oracle has offered more predictable pricing. Also, the security offered by the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure deal is likely to have impacted the choice and it is likely that Oracle has also priced its security features very competitively.”

“It must also be borne in mind that Google, Microsoft and Amazon are all competing directly with Zoom. They all offer video collaboration platforms and like Zoom, are seeing huge growth in demand. Zoom may not wish to contribute to the growth of its competitors any more than it needs to.”

Milroy sees another benefit to using Oracle. “Oracle is known to have a presence in the government sector – especially in the US. Working with Oracle might make it easier for Zoom to win large government contracts, to consolidate its market presence.”

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Survive to Thrive: How the Right Technologies can keep you Engaged with your Employees

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As we get into the second month of Circuit Breaker here in Singapore and most people are working from home, we are hearing a lot more about the difficulties that organisations and individuals have faced when it comes to operating as a remote workforce – or what is commonly called working from home or “WFH”.

As the CEO of technology research and advisory platform, I am lucky to have some of the global experts and thought-leaders in remote working as part of our team. While it is not an easy ask of staff, and some find it harder than others, remote working is going to be an increasingly important component of our work lives in the future, and something we need to get right in order to “Survive to Thrive”.

People and Engagement

​Let’s face it – we are in a humanitarian crisis, foremost and the economic crisis is just a fallout of it. So impact on People has to be the number one consideration. Working from home can be a real culture shock. Gone is the ability to quickly speak to the colleague next to you, meet someone for lunch or even just have a discussion in the pantry. Taking away these social interactions can impact employee morale and therefore productivity. Putting an effort into team-building – as hard as it is to do remotely – is very important.

Groups on social messaging apps (outside of the work-related ones) can help rebuild that camaraderie and strengthen social bonds. Plan team-building exercises such as quizzes, virtual drinks, or even networking lunches that can be done remotely. Remember, the wellness of your teams is directly proportionate to the well-being of the business.

Process and Practice​

Working from home requires a different mindset to being in the office, and it is easy to get dragged into an endless cycle of emails and conference calls. This often means that the act of planning and discussing replaces the act of doing!

This is where good-practice from the pre-COVID-19 era becomes an essential practice right now. Note-taking, summarising discussions, and recapping roles and responsibilities for project execution becomes paramount. Documenting and tracking progress will have a positive impact on productivity and ensure that teams are focused on their collective and individual responsibilities.

While there are many applications that you may consider to manage and monitor projects, you may also want to explore appointing dedicated people whose role is to identify how processes have been affected by remote working, and how bottlenecks can be cleared with more effective use of collaboration software.

Technology to get Digital Ready

Teams need the applications to communicate and carry out their responsibilities diligently. Luckily, in the age of cloud computing, most organisations were able to quite easily transition to a work from home environment. Those that struggled were the companies that had not embraced digital and were not using any cloud-based software (for email, collaboration, bookkeeping, HR or CRM); or those that are mandated by strict compliance and cybersecurity measures that cannot be enforced in employees’ homes.

While many organisations were already using a variety of communication & collaboration solutions, in the new work from home setups, you may want to consider additional solutions to help you get through your current challenges. The good news is that many technology providers have made their offerings available for free trials during this period, so the financial outlay may be minimal or non-existent.

You should also not overlook the importance of cybersecurity at this time. Regulations around data privacy are still applicable, and home-networks are not as secure as enterprise networks. At the same time, social-engineering and phishing attacks are also on the rise. So be sure to provide regular updates to your teams with guidance on how they can help maintain the security of your data and networks.

 

In conclusion, as we come to terms with the current normal, and get a glimpse of what the future normal may look like; we continue to see the old adage that it’s people, process and technology – in that order – which will guide us through the current situation and set us up for continued success. While no one has a crystal ball, it is actions – how you interact with your colleagues and the processes you put in place – and not technology that will ultimately best position your organisation to thrive in the future.

 

As published in the tabla! (An SPH Publication)

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The Future of Healthcare: Revolution or Evolution

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I was recently part of a virtual session with my fellow Ecosystm analysts, discussing what transformation will look like for various industries. One of the points that emerged is that the one industry that has had to transform itself completely, without having the luxury or time to think about it is Healthcare. Healthcare will emerge from this a transformed industry – in their rapid tech adoption; in their business processes and; in the mindset of the clinicians and administrative staff who’ve been at the frontline of this crisis. Will this be a revolution, or will the industry have to step back, once the immediate crisis is over?

Here are my thoughts on what is happening to the industry now and where we might be headed.

#1 Are we closer to our remote care dream?

I know I don’t sound very futuristic when I say that the biggest win from this crisis for the Healthcare industry will be the widespread adoption of telemedicine. We have heard the term bandied around for more than half a century now and over the years we have coined terms such as eHealth, digital health, mHealth and remote care, with the evolution of technology. Several healthcare providers in the Asia Pacific have implemented teleconsultation facilities to provide healthcare to remote, underserved regions and to out-of-country patients (especially those that actively seek to serve in the medical tourism space). Even for healthcare organisations that have the technology capabilities, it did not always make financial or regulatory sense to push for widespread adoption.

They have had to rush into it now, often throwing caution about cybersecurity and compliance to the winds. I am not saying that their hesitation will not return once this immediate crisis dies down – but what will happen is that governments will work with cybersecurity and legal experts to mandate it better. Once these guidelines are clearer, healthcare providers will be forced to create workflows and assign responsibilities. So, remote care where your healthcare provider will liaise with the data from your personal devices is not far off.

#2 Will we see a second wave of health and wellness apps?

With the rise of the use of smartphones, the last decade has seen a steady rise in healthcare apps. Most of these apps sync with health and wellness devices, but some use data from FDA-approved clinical devices, targeting chronic health conditions. This pandemic and the allied challenges of surviving in uncertain times, locked down in their homes, has also seen a rise of mental and emotional challenges. There will be a consumer uptake of these apps, as people realise that mental and emotional health can be as critical as physical illnesses. We will, therefore, see a proliferation of mental well-being apps.

Several organisations are having to deal with a remote workforce, with no clear visibility on how their employees are coping. It is not too far-fetched to imagine HR practices in some organisations, leveraging wellness apps – if not to monitor their employees’ mental state (that would be unethical), but – to engage with their remote employees and motivate them. These communications will largely be around the business, but some will use gamification to keep employees connected to the organisation’s visions and goals.

#3 Will healthcare providers realise the importance of evolving their supply chain management?

The healthcare industry, for all the cutting-edge research, that it represents has been remarkably slow to transform. The common perception of healthcare transformation is better clinical outcomes, genomics etc. But the reality is that most tech adoption in hospitals happens in Operations. The earliest impact of this crisis, when it was still confined to China was the disruption of the supply chain. Can you imagine how hard it must have been for the Healthcare industry to not be able to halt operations because of lack of resources? Premier healthcare institutions, mostly in the US, had realised the importance of better supply chain management long back – some implementing Lean and Six Sigma. Now healthcare organisations the world over – even in emerging economies – will adopt more technology in managing their supply chain.

However, what the COVID-19 crisis has exposed is the need for better collaboration and better visibility of external resources, to handle unprecedented scenarios. Countries that have done well to manage the crisis are those where the government took the vital step of encouraging and being the hub for cross-agency collaboration. Horror stories of US states outbidding each other for PPEs have emerged. On the other hand, we have had countries where governments have been able to guide healthcare providers on bed availability – across the public and private sector – so that affected patients could move seamlessly from one facility to another without any impact on the clinical outcome. Having a siloed view of your supply chain may not be sufficient in combating larger challenges – some healthcare organisations at least will opt for a more collaborative supply chain.

#4 Did super specialisation leave us underprepared?

Healthcare professionals have also been impacted in hugely different ways. On the one hand, we have nurses and doctors working 7-day shifts (without breaks), and healthcare systems looking to bring back retired clinicians to counter the shortage of healthcare staff. The Irish prime minister re-joined the healthcare workforce, making international headlines. On the other hand, we have several specialists who have practically no patient volume. Many of them are using teleconsultations to give basic healthcare advice and to guide patients on when to actually go into a hospital and when not. Several of these doctors actually want to help combat the COVID-19 crisis. But they will be the first to acknowledge that they are hesitant because they may have lost the skills needed to handle emergency situations.

While specialised knowledge in a particular disciple has helped improve clinical outcomes and often keep healthcare costs down – the rise of speciality hospitals in India is a good example – does it also leave doctors unprepared in times of crisis? Many doctors across the globe get subsidised education – partly funded by citizen taxes. Is it time for countries to look at a process where these doctors, irrespective of their specialisation, have to get re-trained in emergency services for a fixed period every year?

#5 What happens when the focus shifts to re-building other industries?

While the Healthcare industry has undoubtedly transformed, one must bear in mind that often transformation is a slower, steadier and more detailed journey. A transformation that rises out of disruption may not be successful in the longer term. Moreover, every healthcare provider organisation has had to evolve their processes almost in an isolated manner. Once the immediate crisis is over, the industry needs to take a pause (if they are able to) and take stock of the new practices and processes and evaluate what can continue and what has enormous associated risks.

But realistically, the Healthcare crisis is far from over. Once the threats from COVID-19 subside, healthcare providers will have to focus on elective procedures and other healthcare issues that are being put on hold now. People will visit hospitals more to consult about the health issues that they have been ignoring during these times. This will also coincide with when governments focus on re-building other industries – so Healthcare may not have access to emergency funds that they have now.

While we are all focused on handling the current crisis, now is also the time for healthcare policymakers to think ahead on how to sustain and evolve the Healthcare industry.

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Tech Spotlight for April – 5G

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April saw the disruption of normal business operations due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, telecommunications companies continued initiatives to identify the best ways to serve customers and enterprises. The month saw a lot of activity in the 5G space across the globe, including partnerships, innovation in productisation and identifying 5G use cases.

Telecom providers building their 5G capabilities

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Shamir Amanullah noted in his blog that in the new normal telecom providers have fast evolved as the backbone of business and social interactions. Telecom operators are fervently working towards 5G network and services deployment in order to be an early mover in the market. In China, China Mobile has been one of the leaders in rolling out country-wide 5G.  The tender to build around 250,000 fifth-generation wireless network base stations across 28 provincial regions was put out in March and in early April, Huawei emerged as the key winner with the contract to build nearly 60% of the base stations. ZTE also won nearly a third of the contract. Global network equipment providers will find entering the China market as challenge for a number of reasons, including the strength of their local players.

Huawei continues to be under scrutiny in the global market, however British telecom provider chose Ericsson to build the core of its 5G network. BT hopes to create and define a future roadmap of new services such as mobile edge computing, network slicing, enhanced mobile broadband and various enterprise services. The US market is another arena where the battle for 5G will be fought out. The T-Mobile – Sprint merger was finalised in early April.  The New T-Mobile is committed to building the world’s best nationwide 5G network, which will bring lightning-fast speeds to urban areas and underserved rural communities alike. Other vendors are also vying for a larger share of the US market.  Nex-Tech Wireless, a smaller rural telecom provider based in Kansas, is planning to transition from 4G to 5G by using Ericsson’s Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to deploy 5G on existing bands. This will help Next-Tech wireless to leverage existing assets instead of building 5G capabilities from the ground-up – enabling them to seamlessly transfer from 4G to 5G.

The 5G developments are by no means limited mostly to the US and China. Korea’s telecom provider, KT and Far EasTone Taiwan (FET) signed an MOU to collaborate and jointly develop 5G services and digital content. With this deal, KT plans to boost its 5G powered content and services presence through FET.

Tech Vendors evolving their 5G offerings

Network and communications equipment providers have much to gain and more to lose as organisations look to leverage 5G for their IoT use cases. If 5G uptake does not take off, the bigger losers will be the network and communications equipment providers – the real investors in the technology. Also, as telecom providers look to monetise 5G they will find themselves dealing with a completely different customer base – they will take help from tech vendors that have more experience in the enterprise space, as well as industry expertise. Both network equipment vendors and other tech vendors are actively evolving their product offerings. There were numerous examples of this in April.

Microsoft’s decision to acquire Affirmed Networks is an example of how the major cloud providers are trying to be better embedded with 5G capabilities. This month also saw Microsoft announce Azure Edge Zones aimed at reducing latency for both public and private networks. AT&T is a good example of how public carriers will use the Azure Edge Zones. As part of the ongoing partnership with Microsoft, AT&T has already launched a Dallas Edge Zone, with another one planned for Los Angeles, later in the year. Microsoft also intends to offer the Azure Edge Zones, independent of carriers in denser areas. They also launched Azure Private Edge Zones for private enterprise networks suitable for delivering ultra-low latency performance for IoT devices.

The examples go beyond the cloud platform providers. Samsung and Xilinx, have joined forces to enable 5G deployments, with Samsung aiming to use the Xilinx Versal adaptive compute acceleration platform (ACAP) for worldwide 5G commercial deployments. Versal ACAP offers the compute density at low power consumption to perform the real-time, low-latency signal processing needed by 5G. Following the successful pilot of 450 MHz proof of concept 5G network, Nokia has partnered with PGE Systemy, a large energy sector company in Poland to deploy industrial grade 5G solutions and to support energy distribution for its next gen power grid. It is the band of choice for machine-to-machine communications in the energy sector, including smart meters. Nokia also released an AI-as-a-service offering – Nokia AVA 5G cognitive operations – to help telecom providers transform their services with AI-based solutions to support, network, business and operations.

Use cases for 5G adoption firming up

5G promises to revolutionise various industry solutions based on required data rates, low latency, reliability, and machine-type communications. Telecom providers and tech vendors alike are working on developing industry use cases to drive up adoption.

Vodafone Qatar and Dreama Orphan Care Centre and Protection Social Rehabilitation Centre (AMAN) have collaborated to support remote learning and education using 5G technology. This is aimed to enhance virtual education through e-learning, online schools, and connecting teachers and students through high-speed learning environment. In the post-COVID 19 era remote learning is expected to become a key sector and there is immense potential for uptake.

The Manufacturing industry remains a top focus area for 5G providers, with their early adoption of sensors and sensor data analytics. The Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol, UK  has been awarded a 2 years project by UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to enable 5G connectivity for the manufacturing sector. The project will primarily work on improving productivity and manufacturing, easy asset tracking and management with involvement of AR/VR technologies and industrial system management.

Gaming is another sector with huge potential for 5G adoption. With cloud gaming, gamers can access a library of popular high-quality games minus the need for expensive hardware which has been the case in the past. China Mobile Hong Kong and Ubitus teamed up to launch a 5G cloud gaming service – UGAME. The application is available for download from the Google Play store. While still at a beta phase, the telecom provider promises a revolutionary gaming experience, where the need for computers or consoles will be lessened by augmented smartphone capabilities.

 

In the midst of the uncertainties, telecom, network equipment providers and cloud platform providers appear to be gearing up for 5G in enabling a contactless and remote economy.

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Facebook Invests in India’s Jio Platforms

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India has clearly been a target market for Facebook due to the size of the country’s untapped market and the proportion of its younger population. It is estimated that nearly 45% of the population is below 25 years – a prime target for social media and eCommerce platforms.  Facebook’s Free Basic program, launched in 2016 to introduce the potential of the Internet to the underprivileged and digitally unskilled, failed primarily because it did not have knowledge of the telecommunications market in India.  Facebook returned to the India market the following year, this time in collaboration with Airtel, to launch Express WiFi, aimed at setting up WiFi hotspots to provide internet in public places – again aimed at India’s connectivity issues.

Making its largest foray into the Indian market yet, last week Facebook announced that it is investing US$5.7 billion in Jio Platforms – India’s largest telecom operator – for a 9.9% minority stake. Facebook makes its intentions very clear and is targeting the 60 million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who can be the backbone of India’s growing digital economy. This includes a rather unorganised retail sector, which has had to adopt digital at breakneck speed following the Government’s earlier financial reforms, which impacted the smaller retailers, dependent primarily on cash transactions. Facebook is by no means the only global giant with an interest in India’s retail business – with Amazon and Walmart leading the way.

The JioMart and WhatsApp Pilot

Just days after the announcement, JioMart – an eCommerce venture also a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, like Jio Platforms – has launched a pilot in Mumbai which allows users to order groceries through WhatsApp. Customers can now place grocery orders through WhatsApp Business with JioMart reaching out to small-scale retailers and brick and mortar stores – or “Kirana stores” as they are referred to in India – to fulfil the order. More than 1,200 local stores have been engaged for this pilot. It currently does not include a digital payment option and invoices and alerts are sent through WhatsApp. Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and MD of Reliance Industries, says that the JioMart and WhatsApp collaboration has the potential to make it possible for around 30 million neighbourhood stores to transact digitally.

India Emerging as the New Battlefield

India is an important eCommerce market for global giants such as Facebook and Amazon, who have struggled with establishing a presence in China. Walmart has also set it its sights on India, with its recent acquisition of Flipkart. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says. “India represents the final frontier, where the battle lines are being drawn, and the three are heading towards a collision path. Facebook’s recent move has just upped the game for Amazon and Walmart, as well as for the eCommerce and Fintech start-ups who have been eyeing this market.”

Amazon has been the early mover, establishing its eCommerce presence in India way back in 2013. Ghatak says, “From its initial marketplace approach of curating suppliers to start selling on its platform, Amazon graduated to offering its own delivery and fulfilment services, by establishing dozens of warehouses across India. This was to ensure the quality and timeliness of deliveries, upholding its ‘Fulfilment by Amazon’ (FBA) brand promise. There was a considerable cost though, in terms of time to ramp up and investments – with the associated asset risks. Also, reaching out to the diffused retail sector, with their non-existent or very low level of digitalisation, has been difficult for all the major eCommerce players such as Amazon and Flipkart. Jeff Bezos’ announcement of an additional investment of $ 1 billion, earlier this year, to digitise SMEs, allowing them to sell and operate online, is a step to extend its reach into this diffused retail market.”

JioMart’s model, according to Ghatak is in stark contrast to Amazon’s. “JioMart’s currently ongoing pilot in Mumbai is a classic B2C marketplace model, with little or no asset risk. The orders placed by the customers are routed to the nearest Kirana store based on stock availability, with the customers going to pick up the ordered items themselves at times.”

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Niloy Mukherjee says, “Jio has unparalleled market access in India with reports showing north of 370 million subscribers. Even at a $1.7 per month revenue from such a huge number, one can get to a $7.5 billion-dollar annual business. But even this is dwarfed by what that subscriber base itself is worth – through the data it provides, the products that can be sold and so on. Similarly, WhatsApp will prove to be more important than Facebook in India, with more than 400 million users. Using WhatsApp to get Kirana stores to do delivery can be a true game-changer.”

Talking about how this competes with Amazon, Mukherjee says, “This can eat into the business of an Amazon and my guess is, it will be far more efficient. The proximity to the customer will allow multiple deliveries per day at short notice, and fresh produce guarantees – maybe even door returns if not satisfied – that would be hard to match. Given the traffic situation in large Indian cities, delivery logistics from a more distant source will always struggle to compete. This is one tip of a multi-pronged spear –  there are obviously other products that can be contemplated, leading to additional revenues.”

The Possibilities Ahead

Mukherjee explains why he thinks Facebook invested in Jio Platforms, rather than just forging a collaboration model. “Clearly both parties want to tie the other down and make sure that this alliance is long term. And this possibly means revenue will be shared instead of the usual commission model. Also, the go-to-market implications can run to more than just the Indian market. WeChat Pay is huge in China but not really elsewhere. If this works, there could be a potential “WhatsApp Pay” in the rest of the world. For Jio who already dominates the telecom landscape in India, this deal is a step towards taking their earnings to a new level, above the top end of the telecom category – they can access profit pools available to hardly any telecom provider worldwide.”

At a time when a market entry for foreign players in India is getting tougher with increasing regulatory pressures, a tie-up with the biggest player in India is indeed a very promising step – for both Facebook and Reliance. “For Facebook, this is a great opportunity to take its dependence away from a primarily ad-driven revenue model. The digitalisation of the diffused retail sector in India will open up new revenue opportunities from its WhatsApp Business App, WhatsApp Business API, and WhatsApp Pay-UPI gateway (pending regulatory approval). There is a potential of revenues from a variety of marketing services, membership fees, customer management services, product sales, commissions on transactions, and software service fees,” says Ghatak.

Talking about the potential for Reliance Industries, Ghatak says, “The technology horsepower of Facebook will help propel them ahead of Fintech and eCommerce companies in India – challenging already established players such as Amazon and Flipkart, and the newbie start-ups. Ability to drive transactions and digital payments in the diffused retail sector will open up huge revenue opportunities that were largely untapped until now, with low asset risks. Also, this sector has traditionally operated on a cash-based model and the recent COVID-19 crisis has exposed how vulnerable the sector is with a limited view of the supply chain, and limited funding for working capital. Developing relationships with the millions of Kirana stores spread across India also gives the opportunity of revenue generation through supply chain financing – a largely ignored sub-sector until now.”

Mukherjee thinks that this alliance will challenge players such as Amazon and Amazon Pay, Google Pay and PayTM. Ghatak also thinks that eventually, Jio Platform will have to either choose between or integrate the best features of WhatsApp Pay and the Jio Money Merchant payment gateways.

However, Ghatak offers a word of caution on the downside risks as well. “Partnering with Facebook is a hugely ambitious game plan for Reliance Industries. The success of its plans will also depend on how well it is able to curate the suppliers who are responsible for the actual delivery. In a consumer-driven business model, trust and customer experience cannot be compromised. The low asset, high leverage and high reach model can unravel itself if the customer gets the short end of the stick, in this rush for eCommerce domination.”

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Why CEOs Should Care about Cloud

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CEOs have an active role to play in an organisation’s transformation needs and journey – including in the technology decisions. Last month we spoke about why CEOs should get involved in their organisation’s IoT investments. Now, we look at Cloud – which has been a part of the CIO’s purview so far. Under the current circumstances, most organisations are actively pushing to go digital and the internal discussions will often revolve around empowering remote employees and digital customers. All the technologies that are being evaluated by organisations today have Cloud as their pillar. Increasingly, we see organisations adopt the hybrid and the multi-cloud. And organisations may not have the capabilities – technological and skills – to support the complexity of their Cloud environment. While a CEO does not have to understand the technology fully, it is important to understand the business impact of the technology.

Why should a CEO get involved in and have visibility into an organisation’s Cloud investments? There are a few important reasons.

 

#1 Cloud is not a cost-saving measure – it will enable you to transform

Organisations have matured in their Cloud adoption and no longer evaluate the benefits of Cloud only in terms of shifting CapEx to OpEx. If we look at the benefits of Cloud adoption, reduction of IT costs is not even in the top 3 benefits that organisations are seeking from Cloud anymore. Operational efficiency and collaboration emerge as key benefits (Figure 1) – while some companies still move to the Cloud for the savings, they stay there for other benefits.

Key benefits of Cloud Adoption

This requires organisations to think of Cloud as a technology empowering their infrastructure and services. Cloud acts as an enabler for ease of doing business, real-time data access for productivity increase, and process automation. This impacts the entire organisation. It also involves prioritising the needs of certain functions over others – definitely not what a CIO should have to do.

If we look at just Cloud storage as an example, organisations can no longer have individual functions and their associated shadow IT teams having their own Cloud storage (and collaboration). This often turns out to be more expensive and there is a lack of consolidated view and management. While organisations forge ahead with the dream of having real-time information sharing across functions, a CIO has to consider the entire organisation’s technological and business needs – a CEO is the best person to guide the CIO in translating the organisation’s vision into IT priorities.

 #2 In fact Cloud adoption may not cut costs at all!

Organisations are also re-evaluating the cost benefits of Cloud. Investing in a Cloud infrastructure with a short-term view on the investments involved has led to instances of Cloud solutions being brought back in-house because of rising costs. While security, data privacy and integration remain the key challenges of Cloud adoption (Figure 2), over a third of the organisations find Cloud more expensive than traditional licensing or owning the hardware.

Top Challenges of Cloud Deployment

Organisations find that the cost considerations do not stop after the adoption or migration. As businesses use Cloud to scale, there are several aspects that require constant re-evaluation and often further investments – cybersecurity measures, continuous data protection (CDP), disaster recovery management, rightsizing capacity, software and database licenses and day-to-day maintenance, to name a few. In addition to this, the cost of finding and recruiting a team of professionals to manage and maintain the Cloud environment also adds up to the OpEx.

If the CIO is talking about a Cloud migration for cost benefits only, the CEO and the CFO need to step in to evaluate that all factors have been taken into consideration. Moreover, the CIO may not have full visibility of how and where the organisation is looking to scale up or down. It is the CEO’s responsibility to share that vision with the CIO to guide Cloud investments.

#3 Cloud will increasingly be part of all tech adoption considerations

In this disruptive world, CEOs should explore possibilities and understand the technical capabilities which can give organisations an edge over their competitors. It is then up to the CIOs to implement that vision with this larger context in mind. As organisations look to leverage emerging technologies, organisations will adopt Cloud to optimise their resources and workloads.

AI is changing the way organisations need to store, process and analyse the data to derive useful insights and decision-making practices. This is pushing the adoption of Cloud, even in the most conservative organisations. Cloud is no longer only required for infrastructure and back-up – but actually improving business processes, by enabling real-time data and systems access. Similarly, IoT devices will grow exponentially. Today, data is already going into the Cloud and data centres on a real-time basis from sensors and automated devices. However, as these devices become bi-directional, decisions will need to be made in real-time as well. Edge Computing will be essential in this intelligent and automated world. Cloud platform vendors are building on their edge solutions and tech buyers are increasingly getting interested in the Edge allowing better decision-making through machine learning and AI.

In view of the recent global crisis, we will see a sharp uptake of Cloud solutions across tech areas. IaaS will remain the key area of focus in the near future, especially Desktop-as-as-Service. Organisations will also look to evaluate more SaaS solutions, in order to empower a mobile and remote workforce. This will allow the workforce of the future to stay connected, informed and make more decisions. More than ever, CEOs have to drive business growth with innovative products and services – not understanding the capabilities and challenges of Cloud adoption and the advancements in the technology can be a serious handicap for CEOs.

#4 Your IT Team may be more complacent about Cloud security than you think

Another domain that requires the CEO’s attention is cybersecurity. The Cloud is used for computing operations and to store data including, intellectual property rights, financial information, employee details and other sensitive data. Cybersecurity breaches have immense financial and reputational implications and IT Teams cannot solely be responsible for it.  Cybersecurity has become a Board-level conversation and many organisations are employing a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) who reports directly into the CEO. Cybersecurity is an aspect of an organisation’s risk management program.

Evaluating the security features of the Cloud offerings, therefore, becomes an important aspect of an IT decision-maker’s job. While security remains a key concern when it comes to Cloud adoption, Cloud is often regarded as a more secure option than on-premise. Cloud providers have dedicated security focus, constantly upgrade their security capabilities in response to newer threats and evolve their partner ecosystem. There is also better traceability with the Cloud as every virtual activity can be tracked, monitored, and logged. Ecosystm research finds that more than 40% of IT decision-makers think the Public Cloud has enough security measures and does not need complementing (Figure 3).

IT Decision makers' Perception on Public Cloud Security

However, the Cloud is as secure as an organisation makes it. The perception that there is no need to supplement Public Cloud security features can have disastrous outcomes. It is important to supplement the Cloud provider’s security with event-driven security measures within an organisation’s applications and cloud interface.

It is the job of the CEO – through the CISO – to evaluate how cyber ready the IT Team really is. Do they know enough about shared responsibility? Do they have full cognizance of the SLAs of their Cloud providers? Do they have sufficient internal cybersecurity skills? Do they understand that data breaches can have cost and reputational impacts? As cybersecurity breaches begin to have more financial implications than ever and can derail an organisation, a CEO should have visibility of the risks of the organisation’s Cloud adoption.

Cloud is no longer just a technological decision – it is a business decision and takes into account the organisation’s vision. A full visibility of the Cloud roadmap – including the pitfalls, the risks and the immense potential – will empower a CEO immensely.

 


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Blockchain Adoption Rises in Global Financial Services

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The ongoing global crisis is expected to drive more investments in Fintech, especially in the area of digital payments, as more organisations and consumers adopt eCommerce. Fintech will also continue to grow in areas such as Regtech and Blockchain for ease of reporting and enhanced transaction security.

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Paul Gestro says, “In the environment, we find ourselves in now – and will be for some time – we have likely already switched to a number of new online channels, or at the very least increased the use of them. Fintech has played a big role already with online shopping & delivery, contactless payments and the general reduction in face to face transacting. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) may gain the most as Fintech has enabled credit to be approved and distributed faster, either by banks or governments.”

“Fintech have been able to develop bespoke applications based on their open platforms to provide immediate channels to get much-needed capital flowing through the economy. Governments have often turned to the Fintechs first rather than traditional financial institutions. If Fintechs can still access investment capital to survive and keep growing, they will continue to disrupt the intermediaries across all sectors. It is yet to be seen if this will accelerate or be curtailed, but that will depend on how the financial institutions react to whatever the new normal will be.”

The Role of Blockchain in Financial Services

Talking about the role of Blockchain in Financial Services, Gestro says, “Overall Blockchain will lead to a more open and interconnected economy that is borderless, transparent and does not need counter-party trust to operate. To date, banks and other financial institutions have been the intermediary to make this happen but, in many areas, it can be slow and costly. Blockchain has the advantage of eliminating the intermediary or ‘middleman’.”

“One particular area is the use of ‘Smart Contracts’. Financial contracts involve legal work, document handling, sighting, signing and sending them to the right people. All of this involves both time and people and proves to be an expensive option eventually. Blockchain can speed this process up in a secure (with no failure points), interoperable and risk-free environment. Trade finance, lending and Islamic Banking are all potential areas that will benefit immensely.”

However, Gestro also extends a word of caution. “On paper, a cross-border Blockchain ecosystem makes perfect sense. However financial institutions have strict and long-standing governance and compliance boundaries that do not make it so easy to ‘switch’ to Blockchain overnight. The entire rationale of Blockchain is decentralising the legacy of competing rules and regulations and different agendas – this would mean that without a decision-maker, bottlenecks will form,” says Gestro. “On the other hand, financial institutions have also developed rapid transactional processing capability and Blockchain technology may be a long way from replicating that speed. So, even though Blockchain will prove immensely beneficial, scalability, risk management and compliance are the three areas that are inhibiting financial institutions from a full-blown adoption.”

Blockchain in Islamic Banking

One of the key benefits of Fintech is to drive financial inclusion. This is particularly true when it comes to widespread access to Islamic Banking facilities. With Fintech, Islamic Banking becomes more accessible to a larger population who do not bank because the banking and financial practices are not Shariah-compliant. Gestro sees a clear role of Blockchain in Islamic Banking. “The two key principles of Islamic Banking are the sharing of profit/loss and the prohibition of interest collection/payment. A key principle of Blockchain finance is smart contracts. With smart contracts, the entire contractual process can be automated quickly and transparently with the terms of each contract enforced as it should. A smart contract will be in compliance with the Shariah objective of ensuring transparency in a deal with clear asset definitions, payment terms and enforcement – all aligned with the principles of trust.”

UAE has been the hub of global Islamic financial services and there have been a few initiatives in 2019 to drive the adoption of Fintech in Banking and Financial Services. Etisalat Digital – the digital arm of Etisalat focused on transformational technologies – has developed the UAE Trade Connect (UTC), a nationwide platform that uses disruptive technologies to digitalise trade in the UAE. The initial phase will focus on addressing the risks of double financing and invoice fraud before turning to other key areas of trade finance. Created in partnership with First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) and Avanza Innovations, the platform has since seen the participation of 7 other major banks in the UAE. The goal of UTC is to drive transformation in trading practices by enabling banks, enterprises and governments to collaboratively evaluate technologies such as Blockchain, AI, machine learning and robotics.

Later in the year, during the Middle East Banking Forum in Abu Dhabi, the Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE) announced the formation of a Fintech office to develop countrywide regulations for financial technology firms. The country has clearly been evaluating Fintech as a means of growth in the financial sector. Last week, the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB), in the UAE announced that they had successfully executed a Digital Ledger Technology (DLT) trade transaction with TradeAssets, a trade finance e-marketplace powered by Blockchain technology. It became the first Islamic Bank to transact on DLT.

As the global Islamic banking market heats up – with countries such as Malaysia openly vying to be a market leader – we will see higher adoption of Regtech and Blockchain in this sector.

Blockchain in China’s Financial Industry

Gestro says, “China is at the forefront of Blockchain technology development. Xi Jinping has announced that Blockchain is one of China’s technological priorities with the impending launch of the Blockchain Service Network (BCN). This is similar to the Belt and Road Initiative to provide infrastructure for the world to use, be a first mover and gain a strong foothold. It is no coincidence that China has filed the most Blockchain patents in the world. It has the collective power of the banking system, telecommunications behemoths and internet giants – all collaborating to realise China’s Blockchain vision.”

Last year, China unveiled plans to adopt and develop Blockchain to reduce banking fraud, offer secure loans, and streamline transactions in the financial industry. A Blockchain committee called the National Blockchain and Distributed Accounting Technology Standardisation Technical Committee was set up to explore the possibilities. The primary goal of the committee is to set standards for the adoption of Blockchain and involved big tech companies, such as Huawei, Tencent, Baidu, Ant Financial Services, and JD.com.

Ant Financial Services – Alibaba’s Fintech arm – recently created a new consortium Blockchain platform called Open Alliance Chain aimed at SMEs and developers. The available Blockchain tools would be able to help supply chain, invoices, donations, financial transactions and promote various other Blockchain uses across financial services.

 

There appears to be an interest in global financial services around Blockchain. It will be interesting to watch this space to see if Blockchain adoption in the Financial Services industry becomes mainstream, as the global economy adjusts to the new normal.

 

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