Just like any emerging technology, AI is still, to some extent, an enigma. However, the consumer market gets constant glimpses of how AI can have a positive impact on people’s lifestyle. Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft, Apple – to name a few – have all introduced smart AI solutions to their consumer products. From smart voice assistants that help us with our voice searches to controlling homes with digital assistants, users have been impressed with their early interactions with AI. Many think that the same way as AI has percolated into their personal lives, it will one day be pervasive in enterprises as well. The requirements of an enterprise AI solution is completely different and complex. For example, wearables and wellness mobile apps can help you take control of your health, but for them to become part of the healthcare system, they require FDA approval, a well-documented workflow and policy implementations. But, wearables get people curious and create a buzz about the role of AI in healthcare.
Several governments are engaging and getting serious about AI and are investing in AI R&D. Many have created an AI roadmap including governance, to promote the adoption of AI. AI.gov was launched by the US Government to centralise AI efforts, share knowledge on AI and drive adoption across government agencies and departments. Some departments have already adopted AI. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been using AI to improve their forecasts. This helps in better prediction of high-impact weather events. Smart city applications are also seeing increased adoption of AI, including in citizen engagement. Cities and government departments are investing in AI-based call centres to answer repeated or routine queries. For example, the United States Army uses an interactive virtual assistant to check qualifications and answer questions with more accuracy. When governments back a technology area, it creates an interest in the citizens.
Every day we read about some AI implementation that has positively impacted an organisation or its customers. Twitter’s use of AI-driven text and image analytics to detect hate speeches and terrorist activities has been well-publicised. Gaming companies are actively using AI to improve user experience through Mixed Reality and AI technologies. The recent coronavirus outbreak was first detected by BlueDot, a Canadian company using AI technologies. Such success stories encourage other enterprises to evaluate the technology.
Beyond the Buzz
While we are adopting AI/automation as part of our consumer goods (such as phones, smart home systems) and services (such as search engines, online maps) the enterprise adoption of AI does not really match up to the hype around it.
Ecosystm research shows us what the popular AI solutions are and what their current adoption is globally, as well as what it is likely to be at the end of the year (Figure 1). While some solutions have become popular, especially in industries such as Manufacturing, Mining & Resources and Construction, the reality is that we have not yet reached mass adoption. Of the organisations that are planning to implement some AI solutions, 44% consider the investment as strategic to their organisational goal. The rest are mostly looking at ad-hoc implementations to test the waters.
What is hampering more widespread adoption of AI? For both organisations that have embarked on their AI journeys and those who plan to in 2020, the challenges are the same (Figure 2).
AI integration is a complex process. The more organisations want to integrate AI investments into their transformation journey, the more complicated the integration becomes. There needs to be an identification of the expected outcomes, mapping of the data that will be required to help the algorithms, real-time or near real-time data sources and consistency in data infrastructure and sources. Organisations have legacy systems that run in siloes. Integration requires a clear roadmap and dedicated resources, often a third party.
Even in industries that have access to huge organisational data repositories, data access can be a challenge, for technological or compliance reasons. AI requires a huge amount of data to train and run algorithms. Data scientists are often challenged with access to quality training data at the scale required to train the AI systems.
Cybersecurity concerns are natural for any emerging technology area. AI systems have access to enormous organisational data. With threats ranging from ransomware, data breaches to hackers tampering with physical and industrial systems, it is dangerous if AI system falls in the hands of cybercriminals. Instances such as when criminals used an AI-based software to impersonate the voice of a company CEO to commit a €220,000 fraud, also add to the concerns around cybersecurity and AI.
Another reason why organisations find deploying AI solutions difficult is that they do not involve the right organisational stakeholders in the AI decision-making process (Figure 3). While IT is likely to know where the data resides and have a better understanding of the systems implemented, the true success of AI deployments will be measured in user acceptance. An AI solution will obviously impact the existent workflows in an organisation, and if the stakeholders are not convinced, or are unsure of the benefits, it will be difficult for AI to have an organisation-wide impact.
Moreover, internal IT may not have the right skills to implement and maintain an AI solution. It will become important for organisations to involve strategic partners who can guide the implementations, at least in the initial stages. While 51% of organisations that have an AI solution engage an external strategic partner, only 33% of organisations that are planning to adopt AI have planned for a strategic partner to guide them. A strategic partner – with the right technical expertise and business experience – can help combat some of the challenges around integration issues and provide guidance on cybersecurity best practices.
AI clearly has immense possibilities and indeed is a revolutionary technology that will bring value to almost all industries. What is required for a successful AI implementation however is a roadmap – including a cross-departmental Centre of Excellence (CoE), a clear timeframe and KPIs to measure both business and technological success of the AI models. Unless organisations can plan their AI investments, the technology will not translate from hype to reality.
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In the Top 5 Cloud Trends for 2020, Principal Analyst Claus Mortensen observed that 2020 is a do-or-die year for Oracle if they wanted to remain as a key contender in the Cloud market. Mortensen said, “Oracle has not been able to break into Cloud in the same way as their competitors and has so far not made the same “leap of faith” into this area as similar companies have. Unless the company makes a clear decision about their Cloud strategy and succeeds in communicating it to the market in 2020, Oracle may quickly find itself more of a niche Cloud player going forward.”
Oracle’s intentions to remain one of the leading global Cloud providers becomes clear as they actively expand their global coverage. Last week Oracle announced that, as part of their ongoing regional expansion plan, they have added local regions in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Melbourne (Australia), Osaka (Japan), Montreal (Canada) and Amsterdam (The Netherlands). This expands the reach of Oracle’s Generation 2 Cloud to 21 independent locations, and Oracle intends to further add 15 locations by the end of 2020. At OpenWorld last year, Oracle had announced their plans to have Cloud sites dedicated to the enterprise market as well as government customers.
Dr Alea Fairchild, Principal Advisor Ecosystm, thinks that Oracle appreciates the needs of their enterprise customers. “Oracle understands the sensitivity of the enterprise to the location and availability of their data, which remains an issue with Cloud implementations involving large data sets. They have broken some ground as the first public Cloud vendor with data centres in Saudi Arabia, and are putting efforts in to offer a minimum of two regions in almost every country in which they operate,” says Dr Fairchild. “From a corporate user’s perspective, regional data management and appropriate licensing models are still sensitive spots when it comes to database management.”
Getting Ready for the Hybrid Cloud Market
Oracle also appears to be ramping up for the growing hybrid Cloud market. Ecosystm research shows that more than a third of global organisations have adopted the hybrid Cloud and this will only increase. Given the increased uptake of hybrid and multi-cloud environments, Oracle offers preconfigured links between Oracle and Microsoft Azure cloud regions in the eastern states of the US, London, and Toronto, as part of the Cloud interoperability partnership announced in June 2019. Last year, saw another mutually beneficial partnership between VMWare and Oracle, that supports their customers’ hybrid cloud strategies, allowing the VMware Cloud Foundation to run on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. Organisations can also avail technical support for Oracle software running in VMware environments both in on-premise data centres and Oracle-certified cloud environments.
“Oracle’s Generation 2 Cloud is now available in 21 locations and is on track to have a total of 36 Cloud regions up and running by the end of the year,” adds Dr Fairchild. “But when compared to AWS, Microsoft and IBM, Oracle still holds a fraction of the market share. They can be seen as a niche infrastructure provider, but indeed the partnerships with Microsoft and VMware are set to help Oracle’s Cloud business make traction with companies that are adopting multi-cloud strategies.”
At the end of last year, Ecosystm published The Top 5 IoT Trends for 2020. Principal advisors, Kaushik Ghatak and Francisco Maroto predicted that in 2020 5G providers will be forced to operate outside their comfort zone. While the impact on network and communications equipment providers will be immense, 5G will also force telecom providers to re-think their existing business models. They may not be the best equipped to take 5G technology to market, they way the operate now.
Traditionally telecom providers have been focused on horizontal technologies and on connecting people. They have not had to have conversations around connecting machines – where every industry has their own unique use cases. This verticalisation, will force telecom providers to deal with newer stakeholders in their client organisations – not just IT infrastructure and Facilities. Several telecom providers have in the past become public cloud providers, as their markets becomes smaller and they face competition from global cloud storage providers. Now, telecom providers will increasingly look to partner with cloud providers and systems integrators with relevant industry experience, to translate the value proposition of what they are offering. “Strategic partnerships between leading technology and telecom operators are taking place especially in building various 5G use cases and applications centred on the cloud computing platform,” says Shamir Amanullah, Principal Advisor Ecosystm.
Maxis Strengthening their Market Position in Malaysia
The recently announced partnership between Maxis and Microsoft is an example of how these partnerships will pan out. Maxis does not want to be viewed only as a telecom provider and wants to be the leading Malaysia-based solutions provider. As telecom providers also start to tap the enterprise market, cloud and IoT will be key technology areas, that they should focus on.
“Maxis is leading the way as a converged solutions provider in Malaysia and following the appointment of Gökhan Ogut as the CEO in 2019, there has been a focus to grow the enterprise business which promises a lucrative opportunity,” says Amanullah.
“While the mobile connectivity market is effectively about customer retention in a saturated market, new opportunities lie in enterprise needs for fixed connectivity, managed services, cloud and IoT which is largely untapped. The expected deployment of the 5G network will spur new applications, business models and partnerships.”
Maxis’ move appears to be well-thought. Amanullah thinks that the strategic partnership with Microsoft will help Maxis accelerate its enterprise solutions offering combined IoT and 5G capabilities with Microsoft’s Azure IoT technology. It will also allow for hybrid environments, which is important given the rise of hybrid and multi-cloud adoption. Ecosystm research shows that hybrid cloud adoption in Malaysia is at a nascent 7%. But if they take a lesson from their neighbour, the rise in adoption will be steep. Our research finds that hybrid cloud adoption in Singapore is around 42%.
Telecom providers are also focusing on Digital Transformation (DX). In the Top 5 Telecommunications & Mobility Trends for 2020, Liam Gunson, Director Ecosystm says, “In 2020, operators will focus on transforming the core – remove unnecessary costs, improve customer experience, capture new opportunities – and on building telecom networks with scalability, flexibility, efficiency and agility.” Microsoft’s enterprise Modern Workplace solutions including Microsoft Teams will aid Maxis’ own DX efforts. Maxis will offer fixed line voice calls with the unified communications service.
Mutually Beneficial Partnership
Amanullah also sees this as a positive move for Microsoft. “Microsoft is poised to lead efforts in 5G network deployment which promises to enhance capabilities and drive new economic growth, especially with the focus on Industry 4.0. Maxis’ position as a leading enterprise communications provider and Microsoft’s enterprise technology experience and offerings promises a mutually beneficial partnership.”
Ecosystm research finds that Microsoft is the leading cloud provider in Malaysia when it comes to brand perception, and about a third of enterprise cloud deployments use Microsoft. Amanullah thinks that, “Microsoft’s leading position in cloud platforms is an attractive proposition for enterprises that are looking at speed, performance, reliability, global scale, security and lower costs.”
Talking about the 5G applications that the Malaysia market will see, Amanullah sees tremendous business opportunities in areas such as smart city, autonomous driving, smart traffic management, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), cloud gaming, and healthcare, to name a few.
Following these announcements, this month Microsoft unveiled its fully managed Azure Blockchain Service, a package designed to simplify the processes and eliminate the pain points of blockchain networks. Microsoft Azure blockchain service will provide the required infrastructure, connection to services to develop, run and take advantage of applications on its Cloud-based platform.
To leverage blockchain Microsoft and J.P. Morgan announced a partnershipto accelerate the adoption of enterprise blockchain. Quorum, an Ethereum-based distributed ledger protocol developed by J.P. Morgan will be the first ledger available through Azure Blockchain Service, on the cloud.
Joining the bandwagon, Starbucks will use Azure and the Ethereum blockchain to track coffee from farm to the cup. In the same way, with a forward-thinking approach, Microsoft and GE Aviation collaborated to bring blockchain into aviation. GE Aviation has built a supply chain track-and-trace blockchain with the help of Microsoft Azure to monitor and collate data in relation to aircraft engine parts, life cycle, when to repair, this technology that the group has come up with is termed as ‘TRUEngine’.
Unfolding blockchain for “regular” businesses and SMEs
Blockchain technology, by its very nature leads itself to the digital transformation journey of an enterprise. Blockchain can address some of the pitfalls of digital transformation such as identity, security, and trust. From digital identity to tokenisation to using smart contracts to automate businesses, blockchain technology is swiftly establishing itself as a key enabler of the emerging digitised enterprise.
Speaking on the subject, Ecosystm’s Principal Advisor, Amit Sharmathinks that “For Small and Mid-Size Enterprise (SMEs), blockchain can simplify and automate processes related to Trade Finance which would mean less paperwork and automation in supply chains and it also opens up a huge alternative finance channel to deal with their cash flow challenges.”
Overall the blockchain network should facilitate the interworking between IT systems, financial systems and ledgers that are today primarily managed in silos and require heavy manual processes.
Are we already there?
“All disruptive technology has a ‘tipping point’ – the exact moment when it moves from early adopters to widespread acceptance. We are now approaching the tipping point for blockchain. Even though the development of blockchain for business is still in its early stages, business leaders have swiftly moved from understanding blockchain and its potential uses to running pilots,” says Sharma.
Blockchain has attracted attention across industries such as financial services, transportation and shipping, healthcare, energy and utilities, and supply chain management.
These share some common themes. Blockchain is a natural fit for use cases that are transactional but with a high degree of process complexity or volume. Blockchain will become the default technology wherever there is a need to ensure the integrity of data.
Blockchain Adoption by Organisations
Despite the flurry of activity and promising initial developments, blockchain faces a number of obstacles that will need to be overcome before companies choose to adopt it on a broader scale. Its decentralised network runs counter to the current business emphasis on centralising data or functions to support security efforts. Users and operators alike must shift their mindset to embrace and trust the system.“Among blockchain’s selling points is its security: high encryption and protocols. Since the general public largely doesn’t understand how the technology works, many still have concerns with data privacy and cyber security” says Sharma. “As with all new technology, when it comes to blockchain, business leaders should view any initial use cases as part of their enterprise risk management. Executives are attuned to the business and risk implications of blockchain. And in many cases, blockchain, like other technology platforms and systems, can be covered under existing insurance programs.”
Implementation by the large technology providers
“With the large technology providers such as Microsoft and AWS now offering BaaS (Blockchain-as-a-Service) over multiple frameworks supported by a ‘Pay as you use’ model, this technology is much more accessible. Pre-built integrations to the network and infrastructure services that are being offered by some of these players will significantly reduce the development time and cost for enterprise customers” says Sharma.
The next several years could see blockchain move from testbed to becoming an essential business tool, so staying abreast of the latest developments and how it is being used will be critical.
A new high speed CPU-to-device interconnect standard, the Common Express Link (CXL) 1.0 was announced by Intel and a consortium of leading technology companies (Huawei and Cisco in the network infrastructure space, HPE and Dell EMC in the server hardware market, and Alibaba, Facebook, Google and Microsoft for the cloud services provider markets). CXL joins a crowded field of other standards already in the server link market including CAPI, NVLINK, GEN-Z and CCIX. CXL is being positioned to improve the performance of the links between FPGA and GPUs, the most common accelerators to be involved in ML-like workloads.
Of course there were some names that were absent from the launch – Arm, AMD, Nvidia, IBM, Amazon and Baidu. Each of them are members of the other standards bodies and probably are playing the waiting game.
Now let’s pause for a moment and look at the other announcement that happened at the same time. Nvidia and Mellanox announced that the two companies had reached a definitive agreement under which Nvidia will acquire Mellanox for $6.9 billion. Nvidia puts the acquisition reasons as “The data and compute intensity of modern workloads in AI, scientific computing and data analytics is growing exponentially and has put enormous performance demands on hyperscale and enterprise datacenters. While computing demand is surging, CPU performance advances are slowing as Moore’s law has ended. This has led to the adoption of accelerated computing with Nvidia GPUs and Mellanox’s intelligent networking solutions.”
So to me it seems that despite Intel working on CXL for four years, it looks like they might have been outbid by Nvidia for Mellanox. Mellanox has been around for 20 years and was the major supplier of Infiniband, a high speed interconnect that is common in high performance workloads and very well accepted by the HPC industry. (Note: Intel was also one of the founders of the Infiniband Trade Association, IBTA, before they opted to refocus on the PCI bus). With the growing need for fast links between the accelerators and the microprocessors, it would seem like Mellanox persistence had paid off and now has the market coming to it. One can’t help but think that as soon as Intel knew that Nvidia was getting Mellanox, it pushed forward with the CXL announcement – rumors that have had no response from any of the parties.
Advice for Tech Suppliers:
The two announcements are great for any vendor who is entering the AI, intense computing world using graphics and floating point arithmetic functions. We know that more digital-oriented solutions are asking for analytics based outcomes so there will be a growing demand for broader commoditized server platforms to support them. Tech suppliers should avoid backing or picking one of either the CXL or Infiniband at the moment until we see how the CXL standard evolves and how nVidia integrates Mellanox.
Advice for Tech Users:
These two announcements reflect innovation that is generally so far away from the end user, that it can go unnoticed. However, think about how USB (Universal Serial Bus) has changed the way we connect devices to our laptops, servers and other mobile devices. The same will true for this connection as more and more data is both read and outcomes generated by the ‘accelerators’ for the way we drive our cars, digitize our factories, run our hospitals, and search the Internet. Innovation in this space just got a shot in the arm from these two announcements.
Let’s not forget that technology takes longer to roll out that all of us want to think and 5G is no different. We have had no excuses since we only have to look at how long it took 3G and LTE to become mainstream and how long the transition from the prior technology took to move to the next generation.
However, the mobile and telecom industry is not the same as it was when earlier telecommunication tech was being upgraded. In the past hardware, benchmarks feeds and speeds dominated the marketing messages, but now it is about software, cloud and ecosystem collaboration. Gone are the days when the telecom equipment vendors ruled the conversation about their technology – that has clearly been replaced by IT companies leading the charge with topics such as virtualization, IoT, analytics and new services. Once there was a US automobile commercial that touted the latest edition of its cars was ‘This is not your father’s Oldsmobile’. Well, 5G is not your father’s telecom infrastructure!
This time around, operator and equipment vendors may have to take the collaborative partner role in any new digital solution. Instead of 5G projects being dominated by Ericsson or Huawei for example, there is a role for the likes of VMware, Microsoft, and Salesforce to be the lead company. In some cases, it could be Bosch, PTC, or Siemens while in others it could be Audi, BMW or Mercedes. The overall trend here is that all of these companies are being digitally driven to deliver new services to a customer that is firmly at the center of an ecosystem. The one industry sector who might lose out could be the telco operators who could be squeezed by the surge from IT vendor relevance, despite them investing heavily on 5G licenses. However, this time the operators are in a much stronger position to be the perfect channel for the massive amount of intelligence-laden data being created by smart connected devices that are not typical mobile devices.
So what was the outcome at MWC? I visited both the Huawei and Ericsson booths following pre-MWC briefing sessions to see if the customer buzz was there – and indeed it was.
Ericsson may have won the prize for the most crowded booth, while Huawei’s sprawling booth wins the most lavish and largest booth. The two company’s 5G messages could not have been more different.
The Big Two
For me, Huawei had invested heavily in making its hardware products very compelling for operators to install. Clearly, there had been a lot of research had gone into replacing existing infrastructure with massive performance upgrades and deployment friendly attributes e.g. size and weight of base stations that could be mounted by individuals rather than by cranes. The result of this strategy is that Huawei’s customers can quickly deploy 5G platforms with lower CapEx and OpEx thus creating significant incentives for operators to migrate to 5G networks.
Ericsson’s leading story was about migrating to 5G by highlighting its key enablers (i.e. carrier aggregation, LTE-NR spectrum sharing, and dual mode 5G cloud core). It appeared that Ericsson had moved its message off hardware (which, by the way, is still table stakes in any selection process and Ericsson had plenty of new 5G related offerings) and onto a strategy of smooth evolution and deployment at scale – a much more business leader discussion than a network, driven by software. Finally, both companies had strong messages around their AI capabilities to help their service providers make sense of the growing complexity of services that will be generated by the connected smart IoT devices.
The Importance of IT Software On 5G
IT and industrial companies played an increasingly important role at this year’s MWC as service providers and they became involved in deeper partnerships. 2019 was the year when the gaps for 5G between the network and IT services were being filled in. For example, I saw AR (augmented reality) solutions by PTC supported by Microsoft and being fed by data off a 5G network. This showed how industry, cloud and network service providers will accelerate new technologies.
In another example, Salesforce showed how Edge Computing events triggered Salesforce SaaS-based enterprise management services while being supported by AT&T’s 5G network and the modules being designed and tested at AT&T’s Foundry. Here, AT&T 5G network was being used as a high-value channel for Salesforce’s customers to run their business functions at the edge of the network.
Digital twins have shown up as a digital representation of a physical device or asset. However, this year, I saw a Wipro example of how 5G could drive digital twin concepts beyond physical assets and into the workflow, supply chain management, logistics and worker safety. Every ‘asset’ that was to be used in a factory floor was digitized into a digital twin and then a 5G network was used to monitor and manage every aspect of the factory. It seemed that Industry 4.0 had arrived in its full glory.
Finally, VMware continues to be the IT company that service providers will either love or dislike – I still don’t know which one it will be. VMware’s virtualization and cloud management capabilities have been extended right into 5G networks. For example, NFV (Network Function Virtualization) is critical to operators as they slice the 5G bandwidth into the appropriate services. VMware has its strategy correct when it says that it could virtualize the network just as it has with the cloud, but in doing so is making itself either a partner or a competitor of the operators for their 5G services revenues. 2018 was the year when VMware made a big splash at MWC, 2019 was the year when they showed that they have something to offer – will 2020 be the year when they take over the network software virtualization profit pools just as they did with the enterprise server virtualization market?
Crawl, Walk, Run
In conclusion, MWC 2019 was the year that the 5G gaps to make end-to-end infrastructure solutions where clearly being filled in. Service providers had stepped up their willingness to be part of the customer-centric ecosystem that is almost certainly being led by IT software companies. Telecom equipment vendors were offering technology solutions to speed up 5G deployments while making forward compatible solutions much easier. Finally, 5G-supported applications remain the last piece of the puzzle that MWC hasn’t addressed fully. As a result of the massively varied 5G use cases, there is still a look of curiosity on which industry will be the lead for 5G – will it be the auto industry with autonomous cars, will it be Industry 4.0 and the smart factory, or will it be smart cities with video surveillance. In addition, it is certain that IoT is still very much a necessary part of any 5G strategy just as AI outcomes continue to fuel IoT-based sensors in technologies such as the self-driving cars, AR, and digital twins. 2019 may have been the year that decided that it won’t matter whether the connected IoT device used licensed (NB-IoT) or unlicensed (LoRa) spectrum protocols as both will be seamlessly connected to a 5G network. IoT was not dead, it had simply grown up and was now integrated with more valuable solutions.