Public awareness of data privacy rights has also been improving worldwide. Surveying respondents in 12 of the world’s largest economies in Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, the Cisco Consumer Privacy Study conducted in May 2019 showed that 84% of these respondents care about privacy – of these, 80% stated that ‘they are willing to act to protect it’.
While both surveys convey strong sentiments about data privacy, findings also imply that beyond mere awareness, there is an insufficient understanding of privacy regulations on a deeper level. The study by Pew Research Center showed that 63% of American adults disclosed that they have ‘very little or no understanding of the laws and regulations’ that are set to protect their privacy. 33% of them stated that ‘they have some understanding’, while only 3% stated that they have a good comprehension of these laws. In the Cisco Consumer Privacy Study, only approximately one-third of all respondents knew about the regulations.
The Importance of Building Trust
These findings illustrate that more needs to be done to gain consumer trust in the digital realm. And if the majority of the consumers don’t trust how the government and organisations such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and the like, handle data, then will the doors shut on the large AI community that is focused on collecting data and helping create a better world for all citizens? How could government agencies and organisations drive operational efficiency and better user experience if they are unable to obtain value and insights from a collection of very limited dataset, with all the regulatory compliance requirements?
Lately, tech giants such as IBM, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have been researching and developing advancements towards a better AI world, while at the same time remaining compliant to any data privacy laws. Here in Singapore, institutions of higher learning such as the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) are similarly researching and developing privacy preservation technologies (PP technologies).
At A*STAR, a programme team was formed and named the Trusted Data Vault (TDV) Programme, to research and develop a suite of PP technologies – be it as a standalone or in combination – to be commercialised by industry partners.
The Role of Privacy Preservation Technologies
Through intense research, technology development and industry collaborations, the TDV programme aims to advocate PP technologies towards applications that will unlock the potential of AI. This will create new value for digital services while ensuring compliance with privacy regulations and high ethical standards.
The heart of the TDV programme lies in the various PP technologies that have been garnering massive interest worldwide in resolving data privacy challenges, stemming from the rapid advancement of digital technology coupled with global privacy laws. The programme covers the research and development of federated learning (a technology coined by Google back in 2018), homomorphic encryption (a technology founded by Craig Gentry from IBM), secure multiparty computing, blockchain, and so on. Progressively, PP technologies have been a subject of interest for organisations who are pursuing ways to relieve privacy concerns of consumers and fulfil the terms of privacy laws. In short, PP technologies aim to keep sensitive data secure and protected while it is being used, as well as enhance the privacy of data when it is being analysed.
As datasets become larger, more complex and diversified, PP technologies have emerged as the most feasible solution to privacy issues. A patent analytics study conducted by Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) stated that homomorphic encryption (HE), secure multiparty computing (MPC), differential privacy (DP) and federated learning (FL) have emerged as promising solutions among various the PP technologies developed. These are the same technologies that institutions such as NUS, NTU and A*STAR are pursuing.
Homomorphic encryption (HE) transforms data to a different dataset to protect sensitive information while allowing computation on its encrypted version, also known as cyphertext. This method, therefore, does not compromise any data integrity.
Secure multiparty computing (MPC) is a cryptographic protocol that distributes computation across multiple parties where no individual party can see the other party’s data. MPC protocols can enable data scientists and analysts to compliantly, securely, and privately compute on distributed data without ever exposing or moving it.
Differential privacy (DP) is an easier process compared to MPC and HE, and it involves introducing noise such that the query result cannot be used to infer much about any single individual and therefore provides privacy.
Federated learning (FL) is an emerging PP technology, which is a machine learning technique that achieves computation and model training without exchanging data between data owners and data consumers. This prevents data leakage from the data owner’s premises.
Of these four PP technologies that were outlines, HE, MPC and FL are at the forefront of research and development in the A*STAR’s TDV programme.
On the whole, industrial implementation of these PP technologies are still at an early stage. It has been reflected in the patented inventions at IPOS that the financial sector is the top industry of interest, followed by healthcare, social media applications and logistics/supply chain.
On a global scale, patented inventions relating to PP technologies have been on the rise. From 2009 to 2018, over 23,000 PP-related inventions were being published worldwide, with high annual growth of 18% in the recent five years, according to IPOS. Due to strong market demands, innovations in these technologies are expected to grow even as more research and development works are needed to improve their capabilities and industrial applications.
The Role of Blockchain
A*STAR’s TDV programme also focuses on blockchain. As the literature shows these days, blockchain has grown to varying types since it was first mooted by Satoshi Nakamoto. Blockchain these days is classified into public blockchain, private blockchain, and consortium or sometimes known as a federated blockchain.
Ms. Angela Wang, the Programme Manager of TDV at A*STAR, says, ”The big difference between public blockchain and consortium/federated blockchain is that anyone, even those you don’t trust, can join the public blockchain, while consortium/federated blockchain considers each member as a trusted partner to begin with.”
The future appears bright for the privacy landscape worldwide, as researchers and top tech companies continue to invest their resources in PP technologies to create secure digital platforms, products and services. This will give rise to a healthy ecosystem of digital trust between organisations and consumers.
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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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.
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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Going back to my previous statement about rubbish and social media, the validation and quality of data exchange is part of the value proposition of using mobile technology.
What aspects of our current IT infrastructure create that ‘data value add’?
IoT and Edge Computing. Most of us are not going to be comfortable in crowds going forward. If I can reserve a space, or I can use a sensor to see how full an environment currently is, it will impact my decision to go somewhere. The faster that real-time information is processed and available, the better the outcome.
Blockchain technology is functioning enough to address the challenge of how to secure the data and prevent malicious cyber-attacks. This includes medical data hacking, supply chain theft, and other data-oriented safety issues on hygiene and product providence that we are experiencing now.
At Ecosystm, we highlight how and where enterprises plan to invest and adopt technology while adding insights and expertise on to the use cases and trends. We are also able to reflect upon the agility of the same enterprises to make that technology investment count towards the next phase of their business model. In a post-COVID situation we see inventive ways enterprises are using technology. This is not only for societal benefit, but to make a difference in the marketplace. And mobile plays a key role in this next phase of engagements.
The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for FMCG companies, focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). It is clear that their key priority is to handle the competitive market by focusing both on the consumer and the supply chain. Supply chain optimisation through demand forecasting ensures that they are not managing extra stock, and simultaneously not losing out on customers because of lack of stock. This just-in-time inventory management includes initiatives such as pricing optimisation in response to market demand, competition and – especially in the case of perishables – ensuring that stock closer to the use by date is cleared.
Technology as an Enabler of FMCG Transformation
The one advantage that FMCG companies have today is they have access to enormous customer and inventory data. As a result, they are able to leverage several emerging technologies to transform.
One area that is transforming the industry is digital marketing which includes multiple aspects such as search engine marketing, video marketing, social media activity and email marketing. While several technologies come together for a digital marketing solution and AI is a key component of the solutions, there are platforms that provide an end-to-end solution.
Digital marketing is most effective with a targeted group of customers and when organisations can identify digital or social champions. Johnson & Johnson’s Babycenter.com is a good example of how creating a digital community can help market products. The core idea behind the website is to give expecting and new mothers advice on early childhood. While on the surface it appears disassociated from Johnson & Johnson, the site almost exclusively carries their advertisements. This gives them a targeted base to push their products to. Dollar Shave Club is another example of how brands can leverage digital marketing. Their social media engagement has been so successful that they got bought over by Unilever. The digital campaign includes incentivising members with their products for posting about them on Instagram or Facebook.
FMCG companies are investing in Blockchain and digital ledger technologies for track and trace functionalities and operational efficiency. The technology not only helps manage the supply chain better by effective shipping timelines maintenance, delivery management and inventory management; it also helps build trust in a brand. It helps in compliance management, reduces the number or need for middlemen, easier handling of cross-border transactions and brings about an end-to-end accountability.
Danone initiated a Track & Connect service for their baby formula using Blockchain for transparency and traceability to show the authenticity of their products to parents and for better customer experience. FMCG companies will benefit immensely from the farm-to-fork accountability concept initiated by Agriculture.
From predictive analysis to machine learning to deep learning, AI is bringing a lot of benefits to FMCG companies. AI is enabling companies to discover gaps (both in their consumer interactions and in the supply chain) and make their processes intelligent – including demand forecasting, supply chain optimisation, personalised product offerings, social media analytics, consumer sentiment analytics and recommendation engines.
FMCG organisations are analysing internal and external data sources for both sales and improved customer experience. As FMCGs are forced to sell online to remain competitive, they have access to a high volume of the consumer as well as supply chain and inventory management data. Coca Cola remains one of the leaders in the FMCG market by leveraging this data, including product research and social data mining. Even their vending machines are looking to leverage AI for personalised offerings and for loyalty programs.
The need to enhance the customer experience has also seen innovations like the Maggi Chatbot – “Kim”- that helps customers learn about Maggi recipes, ingredients and dietary requirements, through Facebook Messenger.
FMCG companies that cannot afford to invest in technologies such as AI also have the option of leveraging the technology offerings of their online retail platform. eBay offers analytics as a service to the sellers – offering them data, metrics and analytics to help them succeed. They also introduced computer vision technology to help sellers create clearer and more attractive images for the platform.
In this competitive market, we will see FMCG companies – and not just the big global brands but also the local producers – embrace more technology.
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The industry also faces the challenge of skills shortage. A survey conducted by the Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) found that nearly 70% of Oil and Gas professionals think the industry is already facing skills shortage or will be hit by it within the next 5 years. This is due to a number of reasons, including a reluctance of younger professionals to commit to a profession that has harsher conditions than many. Moreover, as energy transition becomes a topic of global discussion, many have a perception that the industry is not sustainable in the future. The industry also goes through cycles where they cut back on exploration and production, which results in the loss of skills and inadequate knowledge transfer. It has a long-term challenge around knowledge management.
Safety and environmental regulations
The industry has to contend with green energy movements and environmental regulations. There are several country-level regulations around air and water quality. Most Oil and Gas companies have cross-border operations and have to comply with a number of regulations on harmful emissions, greenhouse gases and offshore activities, in several countries. Increasingly, all leading Oil and Gas companies have to work in alignment with the Paris Agreement when developing solutions across functions – exploration, extraction and supply chain. There are also worker safety regulations and standards that they have to comply with.
The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for Oil and Gas companies that are focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). It is very clear that the key areas of focus are process automation, asset and supply chain management and compliance.
Technology as an Enabler of Oil and Gas Transformation
Several emerging technologies are being used by the Oil and Gas industry as they continue their struggle to remain competitive across the different stages of operations – upstream, midstream and downstream.
As the costs of sensors go down, connectivity widens and computing power increases, the industry is seeing greater uptake of Industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions. From wearables (to monitor employee safety) to drones with smart cameras (for remote inspections, environmental monitoring), IoT solutions have an immense role to play in the Oil and Gas industry. The industry has had to be cautious about the choice of devices, however, due to pervasive inflammable hydrocarbons and the related regulations.
Not only are they implementing sensors, Ecosystm research finds that 30% of Oil and Gas companies are also leveraging the IoT sensor data for analytics and intelligence. A common application is in predictive maintenance. Two years ago, Chevron launched predictive maintenance solutions in its oil fields and refineries. While the pilot ran on heat exchangers, the company aims to connect all assets by 2024 and expects to save millions on asset management.
AI and machine learning have applications across Oil and Gas operations, leveraging IoT sensor data. “Smart fields” where production is monitored centrally, has a high level of automated controls. AI/Analytics is allowing companies to run simulations, use predictive data models and identify patterns to gauge risks associated with new projects. This has an impact on production, exploration and making efficient use of existing infrastructure. Oilfield services company Baker Hughes has worked on an AI-based application that allows well operators to view real-time production data and predict future production with more accuracy.
While the applications of AI in the industry are often focused on upstream activities, AI has applications across all operations. In the midstream, transporting crude oil to refineries has always had its unique challenges. Since transport lead times are long and prices fluctuate based on the availability of products, organisations benefit from demand forecasting and price risk modelling. While the common perception of the industry does not include customer interactions, the truth is that the industry is increasingly focusing on the retail space. The need is enough for Shell to begin experimenting with virtual assistants as far back as in 2015, to interact with their retail customers. In fact, the company anticipates a higher adoption of AI in the industry and is collaborating with Udacity to bridge the skills gap.
Technologies empowering employees
As discussed earlier, one of the key challenges of the industry is the inability to manage a reliable knowledge management system that can help consistent knowledge and skills transfer. A single source of truth that can be accessed by all employees on processes, including safety requirements has an immense role to play to help with the skills shortage in the industry.
Enterprise mobility is another tech area that holds immense potential for the industry, with its huge proportion of mobile workers, many in remote locations. Mobility solutions can help in productivity, process optimisation and monitoring of health and safety of the employees and are increasingly incorporating wearables and location-based services. GIS and GPS systems are helping employees with accurate directions, easier access to drilling locations and more. Given the number of devices, platforms and OSs, the industry is seeing an increased interest in unified enterprise mobility (UEM) solutions. Ecosystm finds that more than a third of Oil and Gas companies have implemented or are evaluating UEM, while another 20% are expressing early interests.
The sheer quantity of documents, transaction records and contracts that a typical Oil and Gas company has to manage – including cross-border transactions – poses some difficulty for the industry. The companies have to reconcile and handle issues involving multiple contractors, sub-contractors, and suppliers. Supply chain and inventory management is also a challenge. With the adoption of Blockchain, the industry can automate the management of purchase orders, change orders, receipts, and other trade-related documentation, as well as inventory data with more efficiency and transparency. Blockchain is enabling a seamless supply chain, improved project management and simplifying contractual obligations at each point along the way. Gazprom Neft’s aviation refuelling business is an early adopter of Blockchain-based smart contracts. All refuelling operations are undertaken exclusively on the basis of digital contracts approved by both parties near real-time and eliminates the possibility of any breach of contract and makes the accounting process more transparent.
As the market continues to be volatile for Oil and Gas companies and uncertainties loom in the future, the industry will increasingly depend on technology to remain competitive.
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Industries and governments have shifted focus to areas such as smart energy, Industry 4.0, autonomous driving, smart buildings, and remote healthcare, to name a few. In the coming days, most initial commercial deployments will centre around network speed and latency. Technologies like GPON, 5G, Wifi 6, WiGig, Edge computing, and software-defined networking are bringing new capabilities and altering costs.
Ecosystm’s telecommunications and mobility predictions for 2020, discusses how 5G will transform the industry in multiple ways. For example, it will give enterprises the opportunity to incorporate fixed network capabilities natively to their mobility solutions, meaning less customisation of enterprise networking. Talking about the opportunity 5G gives to telecom service providers, Amanullah says, “With theoretical speeds of 20 times of 4G, low latency of 1 millisecond and a million connections per square kilometre, the era of mobile Internet of Everything (IoE) is expected to transform industries including Manufacturing, Healthcare and Transportation. Telecom operators can accelerate and realise their DX, as focus shifts to solutions for not just consumers but for enterprises and governments.”
Changing Customer Profile
Amanullah adds, “Telecom operators can no longer offer “basic” services – they must become customer-obsessed and customer experience (CX) must be at the forefront of their DX goals.” But the real challenge is that their traditional customer base has steadily diverged. On the one hand, their existent retail customers expect better CX – at par with other service providers, such as the banking sector. Building a customer-centric capability is not simple and involves a substantial operational and technological shift.
On the other hand, as they bring newer products to market and change their business models, they are being forced to shift focus away from horizontal technologies and connecting people – to industry solutions and connecting machines. As their business becomes more solution-based, they are being forced to address their offerings at new buying centres, beyond IT infrastructure and Facilities. Their new customer base within organisations wants to talk about a variety of managed services such as VoIP, IoT, Edge computing, AI and automation.
The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for telecom service providers, focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). It is very clear that the top priorities are driving customer loyalty (through better coverage, smart billing and competitive pricing) and process optimisation (including asset maintenance).
Technology as an Enabler of Telecom Transformation
Several emerging technologies are being used internally by telecom service providers as they look towards DX to remain competitive. They are transforming both asset and customer management in the telecom industry.
IoT & AI
Telecom infrastructure includes expensive equipment, towers and data centres, and providers are embedding IoT devices to monitor and maintain the equipment while ensuring minimal downtime. The generators, meters, towers are being fitted with IoT sensors for remote asset management and predictive maintenance, which has cost as well as customer service benefits. AI is also unlocking advanced network traffic optimisation capabilities to extend network coverage intelligently, and dynamically distribute frequencies across users to improve network experience.
Chatbots and virtual assistants are used by operators to improve customer service and assist customers with equipment set-up, troubleshooting and maintenance. These AI investments see tremendous improvement in customer satisfaction. This also has an impact on employee experience (EX) as these automation tools free workforce from repetitive tasks and they be deployed to more advanced tasks.
Telecom providers have access to large volumes of customer data that can help them predict customer usage patterns. This helps them in price optimisation and last-minute deals, giving them a competitive edge. More data is being collected and used as several operators provide location-based services and offerings.
In the end, the IoT data and the AI/Analytics solutions are enabling telecom service providers to improve products and solutions and offer their customers the innovation that they want. For instance, Vodafone partnered with BMW to incorporate an in-built SIM that enables vehicle tracking and provides theft protection. In case of emergencies, alerts can also be sent to emergency services and contacts. AT&T designed a fraud detection application to look for patterns and detect suspected fraud, spam and robocalls. The system looks for multiple short-duration calls from a single source to numbers on the ‘Do Not Call’ registry. This enables them to block calls and prevent scammers, telemarketers and identity theft issues.
Talking about the significance of increasing investments in cybersecurity solutions by telecom service providers, Amanullah says, “Telecom operators have large customer databases and provide a range of services which gives criminals a great incentive to steal identity and payment information, damage websites and cause loss of reputation. They have to ramp up their investment in cybersecurity technology, processes and people. A telecom operator’s compromised security can have country-wide, and even global consequences. As networks become more complex with numerous partnerships, there is a need for strategic planning and implementation of security, with clear accountability defined for each party.”
One major threat to the users is the attack on infrastructure or network equipment, such as routers or DDoS attacks through communication lines. Once the equipment has been compromised, hackers can use it to steal data, launch other anonymous attacks, store exfiltrated data or access expensive services such as international phone calls. To avoid security breaches, telecom companies are enhancing cybersecurity in such devices. However, what has become even more important for the telecom providers is to actually let their consumers know the security features they have in place and incorporate it into their go-to-market messaging. Comcast introduced an advanced router to monitor connected devices, inform security threats and block online threats to provide automatic seamless protection to connected devices.
Blockchain can bring tremendous benefits to the telecom industry, according to Amanullah. “It will undeniably increase security, transparency and reduce fraud in areas including billing and roaming services, and in simply knowing your customer better. With possibilities of 5G, IoT and Edge computing, more and more devices are on the network – and identity and security are critical. Newer business models are expected, including those provided for by 5G network slicing, which involves articulation in the OSS and BSS.”
Blockchain will be increasingly used for supply chain and SLA management. Tencent and China Unicom launched an eSIM card which implements new identity authentication standards. The blockchain-based authentication system will be used in consumer electronics, vehicles, connected devices and smart city applications.
Adoption of emerging technologies for DX may well be the key to survival for many telecom operators, over the next few years.
What are the key priorities of public sector organisations? The global Ecosystm CX study finds that citizens and employees are the top priorities for government agencies and departments.
Blockchain can help the public sector achieve many of its goals –
Improving Citizen Services
As more countries aim to be eGovernments, there is a need for real-time data access, information management, and fraud prevention. Blockchain is enabling governments to provide innovative services to citizens. It is possible now to decentralise the citizen database, reducing the time and cost of fetching records. Moreover, Blockchain enhances transparency and makes the highly regulated public sector audit-ready by creating a single source of truth for all connected devices and stakeholders.
One of the earliest use cases we see is in records management. Population records are useful for several agencies from healthcare to civil services to welfare departments. In Myanmar, UNICEF has collaborated with the industry to introduce a mobile birth and death registration system based on Blockchain. This digital mobile recording system is maintained on an integrated platform controlled by several parties who maintain birth and death records of Myanmar’s citizens and is a step towards achieving universal registration.
Citizen services such as notarisation, recording and time-stamping events, transactional real-estate contracts, online storing and verification of academic degrees, identity management and so on are benefiting from Blockchain deployment.
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.
Improving Employee Experience
Maintaining massive records about individuals, organisations, assets, activities, location and national information by the government department employees is a time-consuming process. In addition to this, managing and updating the ever-growing records is made more difficult by data silos and information management protocols and of course errors creep in.
Blockchain is streamlining the workflow and information management system at an individual as well as at a departmental level. In government departments, Blockchain can redefine processes by including events and agents in a block-based system where each activity can be easily managed and accounted for. This prevents issues such as miscounts, delayed processes and slipped deadlines.
The Chilean National Energy Commission has piloted a Blockchain platform to regulate the energy sector such as installed capacity, average market price, marginal costs, hydrocarbons and more. To implement this, first the energy data was stored on an Open Energy database which was then distributed across hundreds of secure servers countrywide. Later the employees verified anomalies which minimised their workload and made it convenient to edit the central database. The information added to open ledger is readily available to employees and citizens.
Compliance with Regulations
One of the primary benefits of Blockchain technology in the public sector is compliance. The transactions recorded on distributed ledgers are documented in a central ledger providing a comprehensive, precise, irreversible, permanent and secure trail. For instance, Blockchain is used to streamline cross-border compliance adherence by matching the data with the actual trade transactions. This creates an efficient and secure system ensuring real-time compliance, significant reduction of transaction costs, elimination of customs evasion and fraud from the outset.
In June, the Chinese Customs deployed its cross-border Blockchain compliance solution. The platform aims to increase efficiency by monitoring the flow of imports and exports and helping with risk assessments and document management. As transaction information can be stored safely and transparently on a Blockchain, the platform enables easy identification of documents to be checked, making compliance easier.
Data Management and Privacy
Blockchain acts as a default record keeper for society and governments and prevents the data from being misused by criminals and hackers. Through the responsible deployment of Blockchain data structures, governments can strengthen network security by reducing risks of single points-of-failure and preventing data breaches.
Democracy Earth – a Blockchain-based community has established a decentralised online governance platform, entirely built on open source technologies. The website helps users to cast votes on various policies based on tokens assigned to the users. This also minimises expenses and creates a secure information flow in a Blockchain-based voting system.
Government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are also getting serious about Blockchain applications in data management and privacy. DHS is funding R&D in Blockchain start-ups to explore new approaches to cybersecurity. The U.S. military is also utilising Blockchain (SIMBA Chain) to secure its military communication, messaging and applications. Blockchain is used for communication between ground troops and their headquarters. In addition to securing communications, the US Airforce is using Blockchain to track 3D printed components throughout their life cycle. With SIMBA, the top-secret printing blueprints are shared without much surveillance – this has enabled the Department of Defense to maintain a digital library of parts.
The government has clear citizen responsibilities and fulfilling them with a limited set of resources is one of the prime challenges for public departments. Reconciling expenditure with the budget is a time-consuming, and expensive procedure. Blockchain-based payment and accounting systems can help governments to reduce process costs by removing redundancies, streamlining processes, decreasing audit burden and ensuring systems integrity. By removing the requirement for third-party agencies to handle operations and maintain records, Blockchain technology is helping governments to reduce costs.
Blockchain is still an emerging concept with significant benefits. The Ecosystm IoT study finds that only 20% of public sector IT decision-makers are fully aware of the capabilities and limitations of Blockchain. Adopters and developers are still resolving the challenges. On the technology side, there are concerns on platform scalability, integration, standardisation and validation methods. On the management side, there are concerns about business models, transaction scale, maturity, and structure. However, government agencies will benefit immensely from the technology in the near future.