SAS & Microsoft Announce Technology & Go-to-Market Partnership

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This week saw SAS and Microsoft announce a strategic partnership both in their technology offerings and go-to-market strategy. SAS analytical products and industry solutions will be migrated onto Microsoft Azure as the preferred cloud provider for the SAS Cloud. Microsoft hopes to leverage SAS’ industry expertise, especially in healthcare and financial services. This partnership builds on SAS integrations across Microsoft cloud solutions for Azure, Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365 and Power Platform.

Here is what our Analysts say:

Andrew Milroy - Ecosystm Principal Advisor

To date, the focus of cloud computing has been around providing customers with levels of agility, speed, and scalability that cannot be provided by on-premises solutions. Customers have benefitted from this cloud functionality by being able to provision new services rapidly, pivot swiftly when they need to change their business models and build resilience and flexibility into the ways in which they do business. Today, customers are asking for more. Microsoft has responded to this demand by forming or enhancing cloud partnerships with leading cloud vendors including Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Workday, ServiceNow and Adobe, as part of an overall strategy to make it easier for customers to choose Azure as their key enterprise foundation, and to offer more functionality.

Across industries, from healthcare to financial services, businesses finally realise the potential value of data. They recognise that the most competitive businesses are those that fully leverage the data that they can access. Businesses want cloud services to offer AI and machine learning capabilities. They want to use these capabilities to become more innovative and more competitive. To do this, these cloud services need to be integrated more tightly with capabilities which Microsoft does not have.

SAS is the leader in data analytics and AI software for enterprises, so it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to partner with the company. Integrating SAS models with Microsoft’s cloud estate, in particular Azure will enable Microsoft to offer its customers more than the typical benefits of cloud services. They can offer their customers intelligent cloud services.

SAS can offer its customers a more comprehensive solution by integrating its AI and machine learning capabilities into the Microsoft cloud estate. SAS and Microsoft will combine their engineering resources to ensure that SAS’ analytics products work well on Azure. A key priority is building an Azure-optimised version of Viya, the cloud version of SAS’ core analytics toolkit. SAS will also look at ways in which it can integrate its software with the native analytics services provided in Azure.

Importantly, companies will create joint solutions across multiple verticals. An example of a joint solution is SAS’ IoT analytics and the Azure IoT platform being used to increase situational awareness of rising stream levels, to predict where flooding might occur, thus improving emergency response.

SAS software will continue to be cloud-agnostic. But, SAS itself will migrate its internal operation and its global cloud business to Azure. The expanded partnership with Microsoft does not impact SAS customers who run on AWS or GCP. But, Azure customers can expect to see benefits over time as SAS and Microsoft work closely on joint solutions.”

Tim Sheedy - Ecosystm Principal Advisor

“The SAS and Microsoft relationship goes well beyond ‘Azure is our cloud hosting platform of choice’. It brings together Microsoft’s leading suite of AI tools and cloud infrastructure and platform capabilities and the leading analytics and intelligent applications provider. Through the combined toolset, every-day applications have the opportunity to become even more intelligent – and the industry-specific intelligent business processes that SAS is known for will be able to be hosted on the cloud, and more deeply integrated into existing solutions and PaaS services. The ability to embed SAS workloads into containers means that a broader user set can access and learn from the analytics that they provide – and automate an even greater number of business and customer processes using the AI and Analytics toolsets from both providers.

It also simplifies the management of SAS software and gives a clear and easy path to the public cloud for SAS customers who have not yet made that transition.

The partnership has the opportunity to further accelerate Microsoft’s transition towards even smarter applications. Microsoft has already been recognised in the market as having one of the better AI capabilities – mostly because of embedding intelligence into existing applications and processes. But Microsoft was never going to be able to provide the intelligence for every process in every industry. This partnership will accelerate Microsoft towards the automation of more processes that are used by customers across the spectrum of sectors and industries – and it obviously extends SAS’ reach beyond their traditional customer base.”

 

 

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Tech Spotlight for May – Cybersecurity

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In his blog, The Cybercrime Pandemic, Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Andrew Milroy says, “Remote working has reached unprecedented levels as organisations try hard to keep going. This is massively expanding the attack surface for cybercriminals, weakening security and leading to a cybercrime pandemic. Hacking activity and phishing, inspired by the COVID-19 crisis, are growing rapidly.” Remote working has seen an increase in adoption of cloud applications and collaborative tools, and organisations and governments are having to re-think their risk management programs.

We are seeing the market respond to this need and May saw initiatives from governments and enterprises on strengthening risk management practices and standards. Tech vendors have also stepped up their game, strengthening their Cybersecurity offerings.

Market Consolidation through M&As Continues

The Cybersecurity market is extremely fragmented and is ripe for consolidation. The last couple of years has seen some consolidation of the market, especially through acquisitions by larger platform players (wishing to provide an end-to-end solution) and private equity firms (who have a better view of the Cybersecurity start-up ecosystem). Cybersecurity providers continue to acquire niche providers to strengthen their end-to-end offering and respond to market requirements.

As organisations cope with remote working, network security, threat identification and identity and access management are becoming important. CyberArk acquired Identity as a Service provider Idaptive to work on an AI-based identity solution. The acquisition expands its identity management offerings across hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Quick Heal invested in Singapore-based Ray, a start-up specialising in next-gen wireless and network technology. This would benefit Quick Heal in building a safe, secure, and seamless digital experience for users. This investment also shows Quick Heal’s strategy of investing in disruptive technologies to maintain its market presence and to develop a full-fledged integrated solution beneficial for its users.

Another interesting deal was Venafi acquiring Jetstack.  Jetstack’s open-source Kubernetes certificate manager controller – cert-manager – with a thriving developer community of over 200 contributors, has been used by many global organisations as the go-to tool for using certificates in the Kubernetes space. The community has provided feedback through design discussion, user experience reports, code and documentation contributions as well as serving as a source for free community support. The partnership will see Venafi’s Machine Identity Protection having cloud-native capabilities.   The deal came a day after VMware announced its intent to acquire Octarine to extend VMware’s Intrinsic Security Capabilities for Containers and Kubernetes and integrate Octarine’s technology to VMware’s Carbon Black, a security company which VMware bought last year.

Cybersecurity vendors are not the only ones that are acquiring niche Cybersecurity providers. In the wake of a rapid increase in user base and a surge in traffic, that exposed it to cyber-attacks (including the ‘zoombombing’ incidents), Zoom acquired secure messaging service Keybase, a secure messaging and file-sharing service to enhance their security and to build end-to-end encryption capability to strengthen their overall security posture.

Governments actively working on their Cyber Standards

Governments are forging ahead with digital transformation, providing better citizen services and better protection of citizen data.  This has been especially important in the way they have had to manage the COVID-19 crisis – introducing restrictions fast, keeping citizens in the loop and often accessing citizens’ health and location data to contain the disaster. Various security guidelines and initiatives were announced by governments across the globe, to ensure that citizen data was being managed and used securely and to instil trust in citizens so that they would be willing to share their data.

Singapore, following its Smart Nation initiative, introduced a set of enhanced data security measures for public sector. There have been a few high-profile data breaches (especially in the public healthcare sector) in the last couple of years and the Government rolled out a common security framework for public agencies and their officials making them all accountable to a common code of practice. Measures include clarifying the roles and responsibilities of public officers involved in managing data security, and mandating that top public sector leadership be accountable for creating a strong organisational data security regime. The Government has also empowered citizens to raise a flag against unauthorised data disclosures through a simple incident report form available on Singapore’s Smart Nation Website.

Australia is also ramping up measures to protect the public sector and the country’s data against threats and breaches by issuing guidelines to Australia’s critical infrastructure providers from cyber-attacks. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) especially aims key employees working in services such as power and water distribution networks, and transport and communications grids. In the US agencies such as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) have issued guidelines on safeguarding the country’s critical infrastructure. Similarly, UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued cybersecurity best practices for Industrial Control Systems (ICS).

Cyber Awareness emerges as the need of the hour

While governments will continue to strengthen their Cybersecurity standards, the truth is Cybersecurity breaches often happen because of employee actions – sometimes deliberate, but often out of unawareness of the risks. As remote working becomes a norm for more organisations, there is a need for greater awareness amongst employees and Cybersecurity caution should become part of the organisational culture.

Comtech received a US$8.4 million in additional orders from the US Federal Government for a Joint Cyber Analysis Course. The company has been providing cyber-training to government agencies in the communications sector. Another public-private partnership to raise awareness on Cybersecurity announced in May was the MoU between Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and Capgemini Netherlands. With this MoU, Capgemini and Europol are collaborating on activities such as the development of cyber simulation exercises, capacity building, and prevention and awareness campaigns. They are also partnered on a No More Ransomware project by National High Tech Crime Unit of the Netherlands’ Police, Kaspersky and McAfee to help victims fight against ransomware threats.

The Industry continues to gear up for the Future

Technology providers, including Cybersecurity vendors, continue to evolve their offerings and several innovations were reported in May. Futuristic initiatives such as these show that technology vendors are aware of the acute need to build AI-based cyber solutions to stay ahead of cybercriminals.

Samsung introduced a new secure element (SE) Cybersecurity chip to protect mobile devices against security threats. The chip received an Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL) 6+ certification from CC EAL – a technology security evaluation agency which certifies IT products security on a scale of EAL0 to EAL7. Further applications of the chip could include securing e-passports, crypto hardware wallets and mobile devices based on standalone hardware-level security. Samsung also introduced a new smartphone in which Samsung is using a chipset from SK Telecom with quantum-crypto technology. This involves Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG) to enhance the security of applications and services instead of using normal random number generators. The technology uses LED and CMOS sensor to capture quantum randomness and produce unpredictable strings and patterns which are difficult to hack. This is in line with what we are seeing in the findings of an Ecosystm business pulse study to gauge how organisations are prioritising their IT investments to adapt to the New Normal. 36% of organisations in the Asia Pacific region invested significantly in Mobile Security is a response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The same study reveals that nearly 40% of organisations in the region have also increased investments in Threat Analysis & Intelligence. At the Southern Methodist University in Texas, engineers at Darwin Deason Institute for Cybersecurity have created a software to detect and prevent ransomware threats before they can occur. Their detection method known as sensor-based ransomware detection can even spot new ransomware attacks and terminates the encryption process without relying on the signature of past infections. The university has filed a patent for this technique with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Microsoft and Intel are working on a project called STAMINA (static malware-as-image network analysis). The project involves a new deep learning approach that converts malware into grayscale images to scan the text and structural patterns specific to malware. This works by converting a file’s binary form into a stream of raw pixel data (1D) which is later converted into a photo (2D) to feed into image analysis algorithms based on a pre-trained deep neural network to scan and classify images as clean or infected.

 


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Digital Acceleration: Moving Forward with Cloud Automation and Intelligence

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Focused on Digital Transformation? It is now more about how fast you can react to market shifts by using specific infrastructural resources.

This period is about digital acceleration. Cloud automation, artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning are all means to accelerate using infrastructure scalability.

Digital acceleration addresses the pace of change

Enterprises are searching to find unique and innovative ways to leverage cloud infrastructures with automation and intelligence. This is both to modernise and to optimise business processes while decreasing expenses. The speed at which the economic landscape has changed during the pandemic has removed debates on cloud usage:

  • Remote work from home (WFH) with the need for video conferencing and collaboration tools has been supported by cloud
  • Record amounts of SPAM and hacking attempts during the pandemic have leveraged cloud implementations for key security controls
  • Tracking apps and classification and encryption of personally identifiable information (PII) via mobile devices are using cloud technology for greater automation and use of AI

Bandwidth and capacity are needed now. The ability to pivot, turn and shoot forward is critical to surviving and thriving in today’s radically changed marketplace. Cloud enablement can deliver enhanced customer experiences, monetise data assets, and can create new revenue streams by enabling new business models.

Cloud enablement explained

Digital acceleration is driven by cloud enablement, amplifying the enterprise value in the infrastructural investment.

Cloud enablement is an ongoing operational model. It incorporates orchestration, correctly organising teams, and a shift away from thinking only about platforms. The cloud platform is now a launchpad, not the main choice that has to be made. Orchestration is around the business and the business model, not just the technology.

Creating a cloud enablement strategic vision can identify where you need to go. It can provide the necessary requirements for expertise along the journey and deliver rapid, meaningful automation services engagements to deliver unbreakable delivery pipelines and agile cloud operations.

But this also involves managing and adjusting on the fly. Initial platform decisions, rolling out countless configuration changes and adjusting to new cloud investments make cloud enablement a tricky road to manage. Enterprises need to be cloud-smart towards their own business model and their strategy. Whatever configuration (on-prem, hybrid, private, public) combination works is dependent on many factors, including industry, size of the enterprise, employee resources and location.

The goal is implementing secure, flexible, scalable, and cost-effective cloud solutions. To do this requires regular cloud enablement audits as to the state of play and measuring successes.

Building and maintaining modern IT

Modern IT is hybrid and all the pieces that collect and manage the data need to be properly and securely managed.  Just as technological (and economic) disruption has generally led to automation and the elimination of outdated processes, it has also always created new ideas and innovations.

One way to make your organisation more data-centric and digital is to selectively invest in those technology choices that are most adaptable and flexible to business needs. Data is the most strategic of assets and can be empowered by increasingly sophisticated intelligent operations. Process automation and AI help put that data to work by adding valued intelligence and encapsulating information.

Hybrid cloud coordination automated

Hybrid cloud coordination is an increasing enterprise demand, particularly in the Asia Pacific region, leading to enhanced data centres with joint customer support like the new Tokyo interconnection with Oracle and Microsoft Azure. The key to successfully monitoring a distributed cloud ecosystem is not only in gathering data on usage; it’s about knowing which questions to ask to make it more efficient and effective. This includes tracking connectivity speeds, creating common technical support and using single sign-on for better security. Here both AI and automation can help.

In Asia Pacific, the multi-cloud theme is being promoted heavily among integration providers with solutions that can plug into multiple clouds with virtual machine usage. Enterprises value enabled automated orchestration between cloud platforms.  There will be a continued need for integrated tools across public and private clouds.  This includes advanced analytics and AI as important aspects of an IT infrastructural investment.

Your choice of vendor for AI & Automation

In my opinion, AWS has the broadest AI service capabilities in the Asia Pacific cloud/ AI space, when compared to Microsoft, Google, and IBM. AWS provides users with pre-trained AI services for computer vision, language, recommendations, and forecasting to build, train, and deploy machine learning models at scale.

The Ecosystm VendorScope (Figure 1) rates the leading AI & Automation vendors in Asia Pacific based solely on quantifiable feedback from those who actually procure technology. It becomes clear from the responses that many organisations still start their AI journey through Automation.  Ecosystm Vendorscope: AI & Automation, Asia Pacific

Most organisations understand the importance of leveraging AI to gain competitive advantage. But they do not necessarily know where to start.  The secret is that AI is about intelligent process automation, and the firms who understand this are not the ones automating tasks. The use of RPA with vendors such as Antworks, WorkFusion, Arago and Automation Anywhere, leverages automated reasoning using knowledge-based problem-solving engines. These vendors add RPA to AI, not the other way around.

And domain-specific service providers have been creating the synergies for enterprises to link intelligent automation software and industry knowledge to create the necessary end-to-end workflows. An innate understanding of the specific business process is key to leveraging intelligent automation.

Focusing on developing a modern data supply chain process, with actionable analytics insights built into the infrastructure, can aid the development of self-service business intelligence capabilities along with visual data discovery solutions.

Cloud enablement solutions generate maximum business value by enabling IT with scalability and flexibility. This can reduce maintenance and security costs. A focus on cloud intelligence and scalability allows IT departments to concentrate more on innovative solutions, insights and systems that drive significant business growth. Now is the time, and speed is of the essence.


Ecosystm Vendorscope: AI & Automation

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Technology Enabling Transformation in the Utilities Industry

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In the midst of the current global crisis, the Utilities industry has had to continue to provide essential public services – through supply chain disruption, reduction of demand in the commercial sector, demand spikes in the consumer sector, change in peak profiles, remote staff management, cyber-attacks and so on. Robust business continuity planning and technology adoption are key to the continued success of Utilities companies. The Ecosystm Business Pulse Study which aims to find how organisations are adapting to the New Normal finds that 6 out of 10 Utilities companies are accelerating or refocusing the Digital Transformation initiatives after the COVID-19 outbreak, underpinning the industry’s need for technology adoption to remain competitive.

Drivers of Transformation in the Utilities Industry

The Evolving Energy Industry. As consumers become more energy-conscious, many are making changes in their usage pattern to stay off the grid as much as possible, potentially reducing the customer base of Utilities companies. This increases their reliance on renewable energy sources (such as solar panels and wind turbines) and batteries, forcing Power companies to diversify and leverage other energy sources such as biomass, hydropower, solar, wind, and geothermal. The challenge is further heightened by the fast depletion of fossil fuels – it is estimated that the world will have run out of fossil fuels in 60 years. The industry is also mandated by government regulations and cleaner energy pacts that focus on climate change and carbon emission – there are strict mandates around how Utilities companies produce, deliver and consume energy.

Business Continuity & Disaster Management. Perhaps no other industry is as vulnerable to natural disasters as Utilities. One of the reasons why the industry has been better prepared to handle the current crisis is because their usual business requires them to have a strong focus on business continuity through natural disasters. This includes having real-time resource management systems and processes to evaluate the requirement of resources, as well as a plan for resource-sharing. There is also the danger of cyber-attacks which has been compounded recently by employees who have access to critical systems such as production and grid networks, working from home. The industry needs to focus on a multi-layered security approach, securing connections, proactively detecting threats and anomalies, and having a clearly-defined incident response process.

The Need to Upgrade Infrastructure. This has been an ongoing challenge for the industry – deciding when to upgrade ageing infrastructure to make production more efficient and to reduce the burden of ongoing maintenance costs. The industry has been one of the early adopters of IoT in its Smart Grid and Smart Meter adoption. With the availability of technology and advanced engineering products, the industry also views upgrading the infrastructure as a means to mitigate some of its other challenges such as the need to provide better customer service and business continuity planning. For example, distributed energy generation systems using ‘micro grids’ have the potential to reduce the impact of storms and other natural disasters – they can also improve efficiency and quality of service because the distance electricity travels is reduced, reducing the loss of resources.

The Evolving Consumer Profile. As the market evolves and the number of Energy retailers increases, the industry has had to focus more on their consumers. Consumers have become more demanding in the service that they expect from their Utilities provider. They are increasingly focused on energy efficiency and reduction of energy consumption. They also expect more transparency in the service they get – be it in the bills they receive or the information they need on outages and disruptions. The industry has traditionally been focused on maintaining supply, but now there is a need to evaluate their consumer base, to evolve their offerings and even personalise them to suit consumer needs.

The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for Utilities companies, that are focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). It is noticeably clear that the key areas of focus are cost optimisation (including automating production processes), infrastructure management and disaster management (including prevention).  Top Tech Priorities for Utilities Companies

Technology as an Enabler of Utilities Sector transformation

Utilities companies have been leveraging technology and adopting new business models for cost optimisation, employee management and improved customer experience. Here are some instances of how technology is transforming the industry:

Interconnected Systems and Operations using IoT

Utilities providers have realised that an intelligent, interconnected system can deliver both efficiency and customer-centricity. As mentioned earlier, the industry has been one of the early adopters of IoT both for better distribution management (Smart Grids) and for consumer services (Smart Meters). This has also given the organisations access to enormous data on consumer and usage patterns that can be used to make resource allocation more efficient.

For instance, the US Government’s Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program aims to modernise legacy systems through the installation of advanced meters supporting two-way communication, identification of demand through smart appliances and equipment in homes and factories, and exchange of energy usage information through smart communication systems.

IoT is also being used for predictive maintenance and in enhancing employee safety. Smart sensors can monitor parameters such as vibrations, temperature and moisture, and detect abnormal behaviours in equipment – helping field workers to make maintenance decisions in real-time, enhancing their safety.

GIS is being used to get spatial data and map project distribution plans for water, sewage, and electricity. For instance, India’s Restructured Accelerated Power Development & Reforms Program (R-APDRP) government project involves mapping of project areas through GIS for identification of energy distribution assets including transformers and feeders with actual locations of high tension and low tension wires to provide data and maintain energy distribution over a geographical region. R-APDRP is also focused on reducing power loss.

Transparency and Efficiency using Blockchain

Blockchain-based systems are helping the Utilities industry in centralising consumer data, enabling information sharing across key departments and offering more transparent services to consumers.

Energy and Utilities companies are also using the technology to redistribute power from a central location and form smart contracts on Blockchain for decisions and data storage. This is opening opportunities for the industry to trade on energy, and create contracts based on their demand and supply. US-based Brooklyn Microgrid, for example, is a local energy marketplace in New York City based on Blockchain for solar panel owners to trade excess energy generated to commercial and domestic consumers. In an initiative launched by Singapore’s leading Power company, SP Group, companies can purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) through a Blockchain-powered trading platform, from renewable producers in a transparent, centralised and inexpensive way.

Blockchain is also being used to give consumers the transparency they demand. Spanish renewable energy firm Acciona Energía allows its consumers to track the origin of electricity from its wind and solar farms in real-time providing full transparency to certify renewable energy origin.

Intelligence in Products and Services using AI

Utilities companies are using AI & Automation to both transform customer experience and automate backend processes. Smart Meters, in itself, generate a lot of data which can be used for intelligence based on demographics, usage patterns, demand and supply. This is used for load forecasting and balancing supply and demand for yield optimisation. It is also being leveraged for targeted marketing including personalised messages on Smart Energy usage.

Researchers in Germany have developed a machine learning program called EWeLiNE which is helping grid operators with a program that can calculate renewable energy generation over 48 hours from the data taken from solar panels and wind turbines, through an early warning system.

Niche providers of Smart Energy products have been working with providing energy intelligence to consumers. UK start-up Verv, as an example, uses an AI-based assistant to guide consumers on energy management by tracing the energy usage data from appliances through meters and assisting in reducing costs. Increasingly, Utilities companies will partner with such niche providers to offer similar services to their customers.

Utilities companies have started using chatbots and conversational AI to improve customer experience. For instance, Exelon in the US is using a chatbot to answer common customer queries on power outages and billing.

 

While the predominant technology focus of Utilities companies is still on cost optimisation,  infrastructure management and disaster management, the industry is fast realising the power of having an interconnected system that can transform the entire value chain.

 


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Customer Momentum: Key Differentiator in the AI/Automation Market

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I’m really excited to launch our AI and Automation VendorScope! This new tool can help technology buyers understand which vendors are offering an exceptional customer experience, which ones have momentum and which are executing and delivering on their promised capabilities. The positioning of vendors in Ecosystm VendorScopes is independent of analyst bias or opinion or vendor influence – customers directly rate their suppliers in our ongoing market benchmarks and assessments.

The Evolution of the AI Market

The AI market has evolved significantly over the past few years. It has gone from a niche, poorly understood technology, to a mainstream one. Projects have moved from large, complex, moonshot-style “change the world” initiatives to small, focused capabilities that look to deliver value quickly. And they have moved from primarily internally focused projects to delivering value to customers and partners. Even the current pandemic is changing the lens of AI projects as 38% of the companies we benchmarked in Asia Pacific in the Ecosystm Business Pulse Study, are recalibrating their AI models for the significant change in trading conditions and customer circumstances.

Automation has changed too – from a heavily fragmented market with many specific – and often very simple tools – to comprehensive suites of automation capabilities. We are also beginning to see the use of machine learning within the automation platforms as this market matures and chases after the bigger automation opportunities where processes are not only simplified but removed through intelligent automation.

Cloud Platform Providers Continue to Lead

But what has changed little over the years is the dominance of the big cloud providers as the AI leaders. Azure, IBM and AWS continue to dominate customer mentions and intentions. And it is in customer mentions that the frontrunners in the VendorScope – Microsoft and IBM – set themselves apart. Not only are they important players today – but existing customers AND non-customers plan to use their services over the next 12-24 months. This gives them the market momentum over the other players. Even AWS and Google – the other two public cloud giants – who also have strong AI offerings – didn’t see the same proportions of customers and prospects planning to use their AI platforms and tools.

While Microsoft and IBM may have stolen the lead for now, they cannot expect the challengers to sit still. In the last few weeks alone we have seen several major launches of AI capabilities from some providers. And the Automation vendors are looking to new products and partnerships to take them forward.

Without the market momentum, Microsoft and IBM would still stand above the rest of the pack – just not as dramatically! Both companies are not just offering the AI building blocks, but also offer smart applications and services – this is possibly what sets them apart in an era where more and more customers want their applications to be smart out-of-the-box (or out-of-the-cloud). The appetite for long, expensive AI projects is waning – fast time to value will win deals today.

 

The biggest change in AI over the next few years will hopefully be more buyers demanding that their applications are smart out-of-the-box/cloud. AI and Automation shouldn’t be expensive add-ons – they should form the core of smart applications – applications that work for the business and for the customer. Applications that will deliver the next generation of employee and customer experiences.


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PropTech: Driving Digital Transformation in the Wake of COVID-19

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COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation activities across industries. Remote working is now standard practice and digital engagement is replacing face-to-face interaction. Cloud technology has become essential rather than an option, and rollouts of new technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and intelligent automation are being expedited.

One of the industries that offer great potential for technology-driven transformation is the property sector.

Many activities within the property ecosystem have remained unchanged for decades. There are several opportunities for digital engagement and automation in this sector, ranging from the use of robots in construction to the ‘uberisation’ of the residential property customer journey.

The processes associated with buying or renting property remain cumbersome and complex for customers. Indeed, customers engage with many different organisations throughout their residential property lifecycles. When compared to some other industries, the customer experience can be poor. Components of the journey – such as property search – offer some great experiences but other parts such as exchanging contracts can rarely be described as positive customer experiences.

Although AR and virtual reality (VR) technologies can facilitate property inspection, most inspections are still undertaken on-premise, together with a real estate agent. Contract exchanges often involve interactions with legal professionals in-person. Securing a mortgage or a rental agreement also typically requires face-to-face interaction. Deposits commonly necessitate the physical presentation of a cheque.

The Uberisation of the Property Sector

So, in the residential sector, there are clear opportunities for start-ups and property search platforms to offer greatly enhanced customer experiences. The COVID-19 crisis will speed up the rate at which digital technologies are used to automate activities throughout the residential property customer journey and to engage customers digitally.

Property search platforms such as Singapore-based PropertyGuru, have been creating innovative ways of engaging customers and extending their range of services, for many years. For PropertyGuru, its news features, mortgage calculator, and ability to search for investment properties overseas, have enabled it to offer customers more value from its platform. Its PropertyGuru Lens feature uses AR and artificial intelligence (AI) to give customers a more immersive and improved experience. In common with other real estate platforms, it offers AR and VR tools for inspections.

Today’s crisis creates opportunities for platforms such as ProperyGuru to engage customers throughout their journey. It can potentially transform the residential property business, by becoming an Uber-style platform for agents, movers, shippers, storage companies, interior designers, renovation firms and all other stakeholders within the residential property ecosystem. Subject to regulation, it could also act as a mortgage broker and an agency for the exchange of contracts. In other words, it could ‘own’ the customer journey and act as a platform for all services associated with residential property. From the customer perspective, such a platform would be a welcome way of enhancing the experience associated with buying, renting, maintaining, improving, managing, and selling residential property.

IoT and the Commercial Property Sector

From a commercial property perspective, the COVID-19 crisis can also be expected to accelerate the digitalisation of many activities associated with the construction, maintenance, and management of buildings.

According to the findings of the Ecosystm IoT Study, the Construction industry is evaluating several technology solutions that are expected to benefit the industry (Figure 1).High Traction IoT Solutions - Construction Industry

While the industry views these solutions as beneficial, the adoption has so far been low. This will change. Drones have been used to inspect the outside of tall buildings for several years, but this is not yet standard practice. Structural inspections and maintenance of buildings will be automated at a much faster rate post COVID-19. IoT technology will be used for building management. Using IoT technology for the predictive maintenance and management of lighting, climate control, elevators, security, windows and doors will become standard as firms seek to reduce human interactions. Technology that measures footfall, manages safe distancing, takes peoples’ temperatures and identifies those who enter and leave buildings will be introduced, as organisations guard against disease clusters developing within or around their premises.

In essence, the COVID-19 crisis will act as a catalyst for the digital transformation of the property sector. There is a huge opportunity to create new business models not least by offering customers a digital platform on which all of their property-related needs can be addressed. For the commercial property sector, a similar platform can be offered. Additionally, many core activities ranging from construction to building management will be automated, fully leveraging robot, AI and IoT technologies.


Milroy was recently part of a conversation with Hari V Krishnan, Group CEO of ProperyGuru Group and Ecosystm CEO, Amit Gupta. Watch the video here ?
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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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Technology Enabling Transformation in the Public Sector

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4.7/5 (3)

Governments face multiple challenges which are further getting highlighted by the ongoing global crisis. They have to manage the countries’ financial performances, reducing fiscal deficits. Every economy – whether emerging or mature – face challenges in bridging economic and social divides and ensuring equal access to infrastructure across the population. Most governments have challenges associated with the changes in demographics – whether because of rapid urbanisation, a fast ageing population or those associated with immigration policies.

Government agencies have the task of ensuring reliable public service, keeping their citizens safe, and striving for cost optimisation. In this constantly evolving world, agencies need to rely on technology to manage ever-growing citizen expectations and rising costs. Several government agencies have started their digital transformation (DX) journey replacing their legacy systems to transform the way they deliver services to their citizens.

Drivers of Transformation in Public Sector

Creating cross-agency synergies

Government agencies have access to enormous quantities of citizen data. But much of that data resides with individual agencies, often with no real synergies between them. For improved cost management and better utilisation of the data, it is imperative for governments to think of cross-agency collaboration systems and tools which give the larger entity a better visibility of their resources, contracts and citizen information. This involves, developing procedures, frameworks and working beyond their limited boundaries, leveraging technology to share information, applications, platform and processes. While this has been in discussion for nearly a decade now, most government agencies still work in departmental siloes and find it hard to work as a networked entity. The Ecosystm AI study finds that nearly three-quarters of public sector organisations find data access a challenge for their AI projects.

Improving citizen engagement

Increasingly, citizens are becoming tech-savvy and are expecting digital services from their government agencies. Not only that, but they are also ready to have conversations with agencies and provide feedback on matters of convenience and public safety. With the popularity of social media, citizens now have the capability to take their feedback to a wider open forum, if the agency fails to engage with them. Public sector organisations have to streamline and automate the services they provide, including payments, and provide real-time services that require collaborative feedback and increased participation from citizens. Smart governments are successfully able to leverage their citizen engagement to use open data platforms –  Data.gov and data.gov.uk, are allowing communities to target and solve problems for which governments do not have the bandwidth. With citizen centricity and open government policies, there is also an ever-increasing need for greater accountability and transparency.

Managing project performance and costs

Most government projects involve several stakeholders and are complex in terms of the data, infrastructure and investments required. To take better decisions in terms of project complexity, risks and investments, public sector agencies need to have a structured project management framework, using an optimum mix of physical. technical, financial and human resources. In an environment where citizens expect more accountability and transparency, and where projects are often funded by citizens’ taxes, running these projects become even more complicated. Government agencies struggle to get funding, optimise costs (especially in projects that run over multiple years and political environments), and demonstrate some form of ROI. There is also an overwhelming requirement to detect and prevent frauds.

The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for public sector, that are focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). It is very clear that the key areas of focus are cost optimisation (including fraud detection and project performance management) and having access to better data to provide improved citizen services (such as public safety and predicting citizen behaviour).

Technology as an Enabler of Public Sector transformation

Several emerging technologies are being used by government agencies as they look towards DX in the public sector.

The Push to Adopt Cloud

To prepare for the data surge that governments are facing and will continue to face, there is a push towards replacing legacy systems and obsolete infrastructure. The adoption of cloud services for data processing and storage is helping governments to provide efficient services, improve productivity, and reduce maintenance costs. Moreover, cloud infrastructure and services help governments provide open citizen services.  The Government of India has built MeghRaj, India’s national cloud initiative to host government services and applications including local government services to promote eGovernance and better citizen services. The New Zealand Government has sent a clear directive to public sector organisations that public cloud services are preferred over traditional IT systems, in order to enhance customer experiences, streamline operations and create new delivery models. The objective is to use public cloud services for  Blockchain, IoT, AI and data analytics.

Transparency through Communication & Collaboration technologies

Since the 1990s, the concept of eGovernment has required agencies to not only digitise citizen services but also work on how they communicate better with their citizens. While earlier modes of communication with citizens were restricted to print, radio or television, digital government initiatives have introduced more active communication using mobile applications, discussion forums, online feedback forms, eLearning, social media, and so on. Australia’s  Just Ask Once allows citizens to access information on various government services at one place for better accessibility. More and more government agencies are implementing an omnichannel communication platform, which allows them to disseminate information across channels such as web, mobile apps, social media and so on. In the blog The Use of Technology in Singapore’s COVID-19 Response, Ecosystm analysts spoke about the daily updates shared by the Government through mobile phones. Demonstrating cross-agency collaboration, the information disseminated comes from multiple government agencies – the same channel is also used to drip-feed hygiene guidelines and the evolving government policies on travel, trade and so on.

AI & Automation for Process Efficiency and Actionable Intelligence

Governments are focusing on leveraging centralised resources and making processes smarter through the adoption of AI platforms. Initiatives such as the Singapore Government’s concept of Single Sources of Truth (SSOT), where all decision-making agencies have access to the same data, is the first step in efficient AI adoption. Singapore’s government agencies also have three data aggregators – Trusted Centers (TCs). This enables initiatives such as Vault-Gov.SG which allows government officials to browse a metadata catalogue and download sample data to run exploratory analytics. To push the adoption of AI, several governments are focusing on roadmaps and strategies such as Singapore’s National AI Strategies to transform the country by 2030, and the Government of Australia’s AI Roadmap and framework to help in the field of industry, science, energy, and education.

The first step of AI adoption is often through automation tools, such as virtual assistants and chatbots. The US Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) introduced an AI powered chatbot Emma to better support citizens through self-service options and reduce the workload of their customer service agents. The department of Human Services in Australia rolled out various chatbots named Roxy, Sam, Oliver, Charles and the most latest in progress PIPA (Platform Independent Personal Assistant) to provide information on various services and assist on queries.

Real-time data access with IoT

Governments have the responsibility of enforcing law and order, infrastructure management and disaster management. Real-time information data access is key to these initiatives. IoT sensors are being used in various government applications in object detection, and risk assessment in cities as well as remote areas. For example, IoT-enabled traffic monitoring and surveillance systems are embedded to provide real-time updates and continuous monitoring that can be used to solve issues, as well as provide real-time information to citizens. In a futuristic step, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) is working with auto manufacturers on embedding vehicle to vehicle communication capabilities in all vehicles to avoid collision with emergency braking and vehicle speed monitoring. In an effort to promoting smart city initiatives and for infrastructure maintenance, New Zealand has installed smart cameras with automated processing capabilities, and IoT based street lighting system.  IoT has tremendously benefited the supply chain and logistics sector. The US Army’s Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA) is using IoT for one of the Government’s biggest logistics systems. and military hardware with on-board sensors to analyse data directly from the vehicles for better asset maintenance. Again like in AI, there is a need for a clear roadmap for government adoption of emerging technologies, especially considering the safety and ethics angle. The Government of UK has introduced IoTUK, a program to help the public sector and private enterprises to come together and develop IoT technologies considering aspects such as privacy, security, and reliability.

Blockchain enabled Traceability & Transparency

Moving paper-based systems to digitised systems makes processes efficient to a degree. However, more is required for full traceability and transparency. Managing the data flow and safeguarding the information is vital for government organisations, especially as there is an increase in cross-agency collaboration. Government agencies and departments across the globe are increasingly collaborating using Blockchain technology, while at the same time maintaining the security of the data. For instance, in Georgia, the government department of Land, Property and Housing Management is using Blockchain to maintain land and property records. The blockchain-based land registry allows speedier approvals with no involvement of paperwork or multi-party signatures on physical documents. This is enhancing service quality while offering better security measures as the data is digitally stored in the National Agency of Public Registry’s land title database. Estonia is using Blockchain to protect their digital services such as electronic health records, legal records, police records, banking information, covering data and devices from attacks, misuse, and corruption.

 

Technology-led digital transformation has become the norm for public sector organisations across both emerging and mature economies. However, agencies need to create clear roadmaps and frameworks, including RoI considerations (which may not only be financial but should include citizen experience) and avoid ad-hoc implementations. The key consideration that government agencies should keep in mind is citizen security and ethics when adopting emerging technologies.


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How Important is Industry Experience when Selecting your Tech Vendor?

5/5 (2)

5/5 (2)

Identifying and selecting a vendor for your tech project can be a daunting task – especially when it comes to emerging technologies or when implementing a tech solution for the first time. Organisations look for a certain degree of alignment with their tech vendors – in terms of products and pricing, sure, but also in terms of demonstrable areas of expertise and culture. Several factors are involved in the selection process – vendors’ ability to deliver, to match expected quality standards, to offer the best pricing, to follow the terms of the contract and so on. They are also evaluated based on favourable reviews from the tech buyer community.

Often businesses in a particular industry tend to have their unique challenges; for example, the Financial Services industries have their specific set of compliance laws which might need to be built into their CRM systems. Over the years, vendors have built on their industry expertise and have industry teams that can advise organisations on how their business requirements can be met through technology adoption. These experts speak in the language of the industry and understand their business and technology pain points. They are able to customise their product and service offerings to the needs of the industry for a single client – which can then be repeated for other businesses in that industry. Vendors arm themselves with a portfolio of industry use cases, especially when they are entering a new market – and this often gives them an upper hand at the evaluation stage. In the end, organisations want less customisations to keep the complexity and costs down.

Do organisations evaluate vendors on industry experience?

Ecosystm research finds that industry experience can be a significant vendor selection criterion for some tech areas (Figure 1), especially in emerging technologies such as AI. AI and automation applications and algorithms are considered to be distinctive to each industry. While a vendor may have the right certifications and a team of skilled professionals, there is no substitute for experience. With that in mind, a vendor with experience in building machine learning models for the Telecommunications industry might not be perceived as the right fit for a Utilities industry implementation.

Whereas, we find that cybersecurity is at the other end of the spectrum, and organisations perceive that industry expertise is not required as network, applications and data protection requirements are not considered unique to any industry.

Is that necessarily the right approach?

Yes and no. If we look at the history of the ERP solution, as an example, we find that it was initially meant for and deeply entrenched in Manufacturing organisations. In fact, the precursor to modern-day ERP is the Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP II) software of the 1980s. Now, we primarily look at ERP as a cross-industry solution. Every business has taken lessons on inventory and supply chain management from the Manufacturing industry and has an enterprise-wide system. However, there are industries such as Hospitality and Healthcare that have their niche vendors who bundle in ERP features with their industry-specific solutions. This will be the general pattern that all tech solutions will follow: a) an industry use case will become popular; b) other industries will try to incorporate that solution, and in the process; c) create their own industry-specific customisations. It is important, therefore, for those who are evaluating emerging technologies to cast their net wide to identify use cases from other industries.

AI and automation is one such tech area where organisations should look to leverage cross-industry expertise. They should ask their vendors about their implementations in other allied industries and, in some cases, in industries that are not allied.

For cybersecurity, their approach should be entirely different. As companies move on from network security to more specific areas such as data security and emerging areas such as GRC communication, it will be important to evaluate industry experience. Data protection and compliance laws are often specific to industries – for example, while customer-focused industries are mandated on how to handle customer data, the Banking, Insurance, Healthcare and Public Sector industries have the need to store more sensitive data than other industries. They should look at solutions that have in-built checks and balances in place, incorporating their GRC requirements.

So, the answer to whether organisations should look for industry expertise in their vendors is that they should for more mature tech areas. An eCommerce company should look for industry experience when choosing a web hosting partner, but should look for experience in other industries such as Banking, when they are looking to invest in virtual assistants.

Are some industries more focused on industry experience than others?

Ecosystm research also sought to find out which industries look for industry expertise more than others (Figure 2). Surprisingly, there are no clear differences across industries. The Services, Healthcare and Public Sector industries emphasise marginally more on industry expertise – but the differences are almost negligible.

There are some differences when we look at specific tech areas, however. For example, industries that may be considered early adopters of IoT – Transportation, Manufacturing and Healthcare – tend to give more credit to industry experience because there are previous use cases that they can leverage. There are industries that are still formulating standards when it comes to IoT and they will be more open to evaluating vendors that have a successful solution for their requirement – irrespective of the industry.

The Healthcare Industry Example

Ecosystm Principal Analyst, Sash Mukherjee says, “In today’s fast-evolving technology market, it is important to go beyond use cases in only your industries and look for vendors that have a demonstrated history of innovation and experience in delivering measurable results, irrespective of the industry.” Mukherjee takes the example of the Healthcare industry. “No one vendor can provide the entire gamut of functionalities required for patient lifecycle management.  In spite of recent trends of multi-capability vendors, hospitals need multiple vendors for the hospital information systems (HIS), ERP, HR systems, document management systems, auxiliary department systems and so on. For some areas such as electronic health records (EHR) systems, obviously industry expertise is paramount. However, if healthcare organisations continue to look for industry expertise and partner with the same vendors, they miss out on important learnings from other industries.”

Talking about industries that have influenced and will influence the Healthcare industry in the very near future, Mukherjee says, “Healthcare providers have learnt a lot from the Manufacturing industry – and several organisations have evaluated and implemented Lean Healthcare and Six Sigma to improve clinical outcomes. The industry has also learnt from the Retail and Hospitality industries on how to be customer focused. In the Top 5 Healthtech trends for 2020, I had pointed out the similarities between the Financial and Healthcare industries (stringent regulations, process-based legacy systems and so on). As the Healthcare industry focuses on value-based outcomes, governments introduce more regulations around accountability and transparency, and people expect the experience that they get out of their retail interactions, Healthtech start-ups will become as mainstream as Fintech start-ups.”

 

It is time for tech buyers to re-evaluate whether they are restricting themselves by looking at industry use cases, especially for emerging technologies. While less industry customisations mean easier deployments, it may also hamper innovation.

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