Achieving Sustainability: The Tide is Turning

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In this blog, our guest author HE Jo Tyndall, delivers a message of hope for the future and talks about initiatives across all levels to combat climate change and biodiversity loss. “The pieces of the puzzle that will create a sustainable future are all there – it is time to start fitting them together.”

If, like me, you have watched Sir David Attenborough’s “witness statement” (A Life On Our Planet), it is easy to despair of the wanton, wilful destruction humanity has wreaked on the Earth, and to be horrified that so much of this has happened in one man’s (admittedly long) lifetime. The images he conjures – of distressed orangutans, starving polar bears, floods, fires and droughts, and of rampant deforestation – underscore how ubiquitous, urgent and overwhelming the climate change and biodiversity crises are.

But Sir David ends with a message of hope, and it is this I want to emphasise. Everywhere we look, there are green shoots of hope, many growing into sturdy saplings. They are coming thick and fast, and they are becoming mainstream – no longer relegated to the tick-box margins of policy or practice. The pieces of the puzzle that will create a sustainable future are all there – it is time to start fitting them together.

Political Signals Create a Ripple Effect

First, and foremost, in 2015 we got the Paris Agreement (and subsequently its rulebook). This was no mean feat. It set climate goals, gave us global rules for being transparent and accountable, and put governments on a path of continuous improvement to reach those collective goals. It is easy to dismiss global treaties as just words on paper, but this is to ignore the profound ripple effect those words have already had. (The Agreement held firm despite the US withdrawal – but the fillip when it re-joins will be welcome.)  

The political signals set the first ripples off as governments needed climate policies to meet their Paris undertakings. The European Green Deal aims for a sustainable EU economy, with no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, decoupling economic growth from resource use. The UK will host next year’s UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) – and has doubled its climate finance for the period 2021-2025.

In September this year, China – the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases – announced it would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Japan and Korea, too, have upped their mid-century targets to bring net emissions to zero.  

The New Zealand Government has set a legislated goal for the country to be carbon neutral by 2050; has amended our Emissions Trading System (ETS) to ensure price signals encourage a move to low carbon; set up a green investment fund; invested heavily in research into reducing emissions from livestock production; and, most recently, made carbon-related financial disclosures mandatory for specified companies, banks, insurers and investment managers. We have also made it our mission to encourage governments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies (some US$400bn each year) that promote excessive consumption.  

The Ripples Reach Cities and Businesses…

The political signals have flowed through to regional and local government. The C40 group (cities around the world working towards sustainability goals) now has 96 participating members – with many cities finding opportunities to collaborate with others in the network on joint projects.

It is becoming obvious that fossil fuel industries are at a disadvantage against increasingly cost-competitive renewable energy. Governments are working out how to manage a ‘just transition’ for the energy sector, while forward-leaning energy companies are re-shaping their business models in anticipation of a low carbon future.

Political signals encourage businesses to factor climate change into their planning and investment decisions. Businesses everywhere have read the political tea leaves and we see weekly announcements of pledges for carbon neutrality, ethical investing, green financing and so on. Whether it is Blackrock or NZ Super Fund making environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations integral to their investments, or Ikea’s IWAY (its ESG code of conduct for itself and its suppliers), business is showing a deeper commitment to sustainability than ever before. 

Some industries will have to be more invested than others in emissions reduction, but this opens a world of opportunity and innovation. Energy & Utilities companies are implementing waste-to-energy solutions – Singapore’s Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF) is set to be the world’s largest energy recovery facility – and adoption of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) facilities is at last gathering momentum across energy systems. Industries like aviation and maritime, too, have to play a key role in a circular economy.

… And Individuals (the Last – and First – Pieces of the Puzzle)

The ripples have spread to individuals – people like you and me. I know there are still plenty of climate deniers around. But mindsets are changing – and when that happens, the ripples become a tidal wave of real change. If we each start thinking we can do it and we will do it, the change will happen. If we make it clear, in our preferences as consumers, and in our expectations of the businesses we buy from or invest in, the change will happen.

The numbers who recognise we must live within our planetary boundaries are growing, values are changing (especially in light of the pandemic), and our low-carbon future is a high-tech one – not hemp shirts and home-made candles (unless of course these are your thing). Digital is a critical part of the story. Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) is being used to cater to a new generation of consumers, conscious of buying what is good for the world in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss. Food products are being branded using track-and-trace capabilities of Blockchain for ‘farm to fork’ visibility. 

Who doesn’t want to breathe clean air, have lower energy bills, and eat safe and healthy food? Maybe we will see more initiatives like America’s Pledge, bringing together an entire ecosystem committed to fighting climate change, growing the economy, and protecting public health – an ecosystem of states, cities, businesses, universities, and citizens.

We now have the rules, the policy tools, the technologies, and – increasingly – we have the will to act. As we re-build our economies, our businesses, and our lives, let us re-build better. So, I would echo Sir David Attenborough’s optimism – it is just that we do not have his (95 years) lifetime left to put things right.


Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Impact Summit

For more insights, attend the Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Impact Summit which will cover topics tied to climate change and sustainability to build a better future

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Woolworths Australia Automates Dark Store

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The Retail industry has had to pivot fast this year – having faced early supply chain disruptions, social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19, uncertain demand and falling margins. But the biggest challenge faced was the evolved consumer buying behaviour. Customers were forced to go online, and eCommerce platforms thrived even through the difficult times. Retailers have to continue to cater to this shift in buyer behaviour.   

As retailers continue to evolve their capabilities, Woolworths, the Australian chain of grocery stores, recently announced that it has launched new micro automation technology for one of its eCommerce facilities located in Melbourne to speed up the fulfilment of online grocery orders. In 2019 Woolworths had partnered with a US based eGrocery startup, Takeoff Technologies.

Woolworths Automates Dark Store

Woolworths eCommerce floor space spanning across 2,400 sqm is equipped with micro automation technology that allows it to segregate and move groceries from automated storage units that can hold an inventory of 10,000 products and bring them directly to those you pick the orders. The innovative model is designed to make the inventory storage space compact and move high-volume online grocery products to consumers with greater speed, efficiency and accuracy. While grocery products will be picked from automated units, perishables such as fruits, vegetables and meat will continue to be picked up by shop floor workers. Woolworths has employed 50 new employees to fulfil online orders and is expected to fill 100 more vacancies.

“It appears that Woolworths is continuing to use New Zealand to test new technology before introducing it into their much larger Australian market. They are extending the introduction of the technology they first announced for use in their New Zealand online fulfilment centres – the Auckland dark store in November 2019 with a second in Christchurch announced in January 2020,” says Ecosystm Principal Advisor Alan Hesketh. “The Carrum Downs, Melbourne, store will be the first implementation of automation in Australia. Woolworths has announced a third dark store for Wellington in late September 2020 – it would be surprising it was not automated as well.”

Talking about the increase in the use of dark stores, Hesketh sayss, “The challenge with the current model of online stores is the use of expensive retail floor space for picking orders that cannot be used to serve physical customers. With the increase in online sales, accelerated by COVID-19, the volumes are now sufficient in urban areas to make these dark stores profitable. This allows the use of lower-cost, centralised, distribution central space for the dark stores.”

An Example of how Retailers are Pivoting Successfully

Woolworths has been constantly developing their capabilities to improve customer experience and process efficiency.  The demand for online products and groceries skyrocketed during COVID-19 which resulted in a temporary shortage of online products and Woolworths had to temporarily stop online ‘Pick up’ and ‘Delivery Now’ orders nationally. To ensure smoother delivery services, they partnered with Sherpa, Drive Yellow, and Uber. Earlier this month, Woolworths announced that six stores in Australia would go completely cashless. Woolworths has around 1,050 stores in Australia which operates on a mix of cash and e-payments.

To keep pace with the online growth, Woolworths automated dark stores will be a potential game changer as they are expected to be able to dispatch online orders five times faster, compared to a standard Woolworths store.

“This increased capacity also means Woolworths’ online offer is less likely to be overwhelmed in the event of another COVID-19 lockdown. This improved access to groceries will be an important benefit to vulnerable members of communities, as well as those customers wary of visiting physical stores,” says Hesketh.

“For their physical stores that support home delivery, Woolworths will now be able to repurpose or release the space used by the pick-and-pack operations. In-store customers will get a better experience without the Woolworths personnel picking orders in the aisles.”


More insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and technology areas that will see transformation post COVID, as organisations get into the recovery phase, can be found in the Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study

Ecosystm COVID-19 Research Data

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NAB Embraces Multicloud, Partners with Microsoft

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5/5 (1) The National Australia Bank (NAB) and Microsoft announced a strategic partnership last week, to develop and architect a multicloud environment to be used by both NAB and its New Zealand counterpart, Bank of New Zealand (BNZ).

The five-year partnership will involve Microsoft and NAB sharing development costs and investments to migrate around 1,000 out of 2,600 applications from the NAB and BNZ stacks, on Microsoft Azure. By 2023, NAB aims to run 80% of its application on the cloud, build a robust cloud foundation, and enable customers to access applications and services on the cloud.

The partnership aims to support NAB’s commitment to continuous improvement and innovation, leveraging the Microsoft global engineering team. It also involves setting up of the NAB Cloud Guild program, where Microsoft will train 5,000 NAB and BNZ technologists to equip them on cloud and allied technology skills.

NAB and Microsoft have previously collaborated to improve the experience for NAB customers, through cloud-based applications. NAB’s cloud-based AI powered ATM was the result of a proof-of-concept (PoC) developed on Microsoft Azure’s cognitive services, in 2018. It involved general ATM security captures along with facial biometrics to enable customers to withdraw cash without a card or a phone.

Besides the partnership with Microsoft, NAB also uses Google Cloud for multicloud workloads as well as AWS for its AI competencies and resources across platforms. In February, NAB launched an AI-based voice service to boost the bank’s contact centre experience along with AWS.

Ecosystm Comments

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Tim Sheedy says, “If ever there was a sign that multicloud is the predominant approach for businesses, this is it. NAB is a big AWS client – in Australia and New Zealand. They lead the way for businesses in training thousands of employees on AWS technologies through their Cloud Guild. But now Azure is also developing a strong foothold in NAB – the public cloud services market is not a one-horse race!”

“Many businesses that have standardised on – or preferred – a single cloud vendor will find that they will likely use multiple cloud environments, in the future. The key to enabling this will be the adoption of modern development environments and architectures. Containers, microservices, open-source, DevOps and other technologies and capabilities will help them run their applications, data and processes across the best cloud for them at the time – not just the one that they have used in the past.”

Sheedy thinks, “NAB’s competitive advantage will not come from whether they are using AWS or Azure – it will come from the significant time and effort they are investing in giving their employees the skills they need to take advantage of these environments to drive change at pace. Too many businesses are increasing their cloud usage without making the necessary investments to upskill their employees – if you know you are planning to spend more on the cloud, then start now in reskilling and upskilling your staff. There is already a real shortage of cloud skills and it is only going to get worse.”

 

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Ecosystm Snapshot: New Zealand’s digital transformation roadmap

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5/5 (2) To drive its digital transformation initiatives, the Government of New Zealand recently published a roadmap ‘Growing innovative industries in New Zealand: From the knowledge wave to the digital age’, which outlines the strategic objectives of the Government to uplift and drive innovation for the country’s industries. The policy is focused on achieving a sustainable and productive economy for the country. The central elements for the plan were developed in consultation with all the key industry players and include the ideas necessary for transitioning the economy.

The Government will primarily focus on four significant sectors for its Industry Transformation Plans: food and beverage, agritech, forestry and wood processing, and digital technologies. For this, the government will work with businesses, workforce, and Māori to determine the best path towards to achieve their goals.

 

Agritech Industry Transformation Plan

New Zealand’s agritech sector spans across a range of technologies including genetics, information and communications technology, machinery and equipment, including robotics. The government is working with industry body ‘Agritech NZ’ and other relevant entities to draft a strategy and action plan for agritech transformation in New Zealand. The objective is to support production, drive innovation and increase exports for New Zealand’s industry.

Commenting on the NZ’s digital transformation Ecosystm Principal Advisor, New Zealand-based Jannat Maqbool, said “the agriculture sector needs to focus on innovation in order to compete and thrive as global trends and consumer demand presents challenges in feeding the growing global population. Investment in programmes driving investment in technologies and related initiatives to boost innovation and productivity in the sector will support the growing Agritech sector including work to scale Agritech businesses internationally.”

 

Digital technology opportunities

To support the ongoing development of New Zealand’s technology and industrial sector, the NZ government is taking several actions. The government has plans for more coordinated action between industry and the Government. Including:

  • Continuing work with the IoT Alliance and the AI Forum to drive applications of digital technologies;
  • Implementing Industry 4.0 programmes to increase uptake technologies and processes across manufacturing sectors, improving productivity and competitiveness;
  • Coordinating, developing and rolling out a National Digital Infrastructure Model to generate value from data for all aspects of the economy–e.g. infrastructure management and development;
  • Supporting New Zealand digital technology firms by providing a level playing field for New Zealand firms to compete for government business;
  • Working through the Digital Skills Forum to ensure the digital technology sector, and the industries that rely on digital technology workers, can access the tech talent needed to support the growth of these sectors and the economy.

With Government setting itself for the fourth industrial revolution, there will be certain challenges and opportunities in the implementation, “the opportunity is for increased productivity and to focus more on value add to compete internationally whereas a key challenge will be finding the skilled employees that will be required as industry 4.0 is adopted” said Maqbool.

 

Journey of NZ industries for digital transformation

SMEs make up over 97 percent of enterprises in New Zealand and digital transformation presents an opportunity for accelerated growth and competitiveness, potentially contributing US$7 billion to New Zealand’s GDP. “Digital transformation requires awareness, adoption and effective change management but before all of this there needs to be a shift in mindset of those in charge or a changing of the guard so to speak to understand and appreciate that the move is necessary, not only for the business itself but for bridging the digital skills gap and supporting a region’s productivity and economic growth ” said Maqbool.

 

The Government has also created plans for tourism, creative industries, aerospace, renewable energy and health technologies for the digital push. These advances will facilitate the development of new industries in New Zealand.

“It essential that efforts through government initiatives align with other approaches already driving the move to digital in order to ensure available resources are effectively utilised and for ongoing sustainability,” says Maqbool.

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The New Zealand Agritech Story – Fieldays, Waikato

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4.2/5 (5) The largest agricultural event in the southern hemisphere has just come to a close in Waikato New Zealand, across 114 hectares, with over 1,050 exhibitors, more than 125,000 visitors, including delegates from over 40 countries, and total sales revenue of around half a billion over the four days. Fieldays, an idea from the late 1960s  focused on connecting farmers with innovative products and services, was officially opened by the Rt. Hon. Jacinda Ardern who spoke of the strength of New Zealand’s primary industry and its importance to the people of New Zealand. Of specific interest to me as I joined the crowds on day two, was the emerging technology innovations in agriculture on show at the Innovation Centre.

A preview of the New Zealand Agritech Story, developed along with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), was kicked off on a foggy Waikato morning on day two of Fieldays, providing insights into the country’s competitive advantage in Agritech along with perceptions of key global players. This was then followed by the New Zealand government announcing a new $20 million Agritech investment venture fund.

NZ Tech reports that the tech sector in New Zealand is the third largest and fastest growing export sector, worth $6.3 billion in 2015, and according to the TIN100, the Waikato, has had the fastest growing tech sector in the country two years in a row. New Zealand Agritech exports stand at $1.4 billion in 2018 and is growing – and together with a strong tech sector overall, the investment will help position New Zealand at the forefront of Agritech innovation globally.

Day two also revealed Fieldays Innovation Award winners across a range of categories including Modusense who took out the Gait International Innovation Award for Product Design and Scalability. Modusense, developed here in the Waikato, is a secure, scalable and reliable Internet of Things (IoT) device platform that provides everything needed to deploy remote data collection. In the primary industries sector, Modusense enables complete apiary health monitoring.

Gait International Innovation Award for Product Design and Scalability presented to Modusense

Another IoT enabled solution, RiverWatch, was awarded the AWS Innovation Award in Data for their “Fitbit for water” – an inexpensive water quality monitoring device. RiverWatch is currently running trials in the upper Waikato River in partnership with Te Arawa River Iwi Trust to look at the impacts of industry and farming on water health.

The RiverWatch IoT solution

Agritech will transform the industry, and innovations such as those mentioned will further advance New Zealand’s position in the agriculture industry. The true value of Agritech will be realised when AI-enabled IoT is leveraged for cost savings through process automation, and for greater visibility of the entire supply chain. And leading organisations in the industry are aware of it. In the global Ecosystm AI study, Resource & Primary industries (including Agriculture) emerged as a leader when it comes to current and future deployments of IoT Sensor Analytics.

Innovations in IoT

Shipping and logistics in the agricultural sector present unique challenges including a lack of transparency, something that Sparrows.io is working to solve with a hardware and software solution that provides actionable insights using custom sensor modules and live tracking to enable visibility over the supply chain.

The recently launched TRex – IoT, Telemetry, Data and Messaging I/O Transceiver, was also being showcased in the Innovation Centre. Designed to be used for long range monitoring and control, the solution enables two-way messaging and is customisable to meet the needs of applications across various industry sectors including agriculture and farming.

Another innovation that caught my attention at the Innovation Centre was a water monitoring and management device designed to be connected to the irrigation system to enable effective management of water through a mesh network. Hailing from the deep south Next Farm has developed two solutions, with their Remote Irrigation Mesh (RIM) product utilising integrated farm sensor technology together with cloud-based dashboards allowing farmers to maximise the efficiency of water usage while minimising runoff.

Innovations in AI

One of my favourites from last year, Halter, were in the Mystery Creek Pavillion this year and after raising $8 million in funding to refine and further trial their solar-powered collar, for herding cows and monitoring their health, in the Waikato they are close to hitting the open market. Head of Data Science at Halter, Harry She, previously employed by NASA, oversees the development of what the team calls “cowgorithms” which form the basis of the AI underpinning much of the product functions. The collars, which can receive signals up to 8 kms away, is available free and farmers then subscribe on a monthly basis, at a cost per cow, to enable the features they require.

Another product back for another year was the PAWS® Pest Identification Sensor Pad from Lincoln Agritech which is able to identify pests, differentiating these from native species, and transmit the result to the Department of Conservation staff. Utilising machine learning and AI, amongst other technologies, the device greatly reduces surveillance workload and enables staff to detect and respond to re-invasion more rapidly.

PAWS Pest Identification Sensor Pad
PAWS® Pest Identification Sensor Pad

However, as exciting as the idea of a Fitbit for cows and innovation in the pursuit of a predator-free New Zealand is, I must admit the highlight of my Fieldays visit was a team of Agribusiness students from Hamilton’s St Paul’s Collegiate school who were awarded the Fieldays Innovations Young Innovator of the Year Award for their floating electro unit “Bobble Trough” designed to keep animal water troughs clean by preventing the growth of algae and microorganisms through the release of copper ions into the water.

Agribusiness students from Hamilton’s St Paul’s Collegiate school

I am now working to secure the team’s innovation as a display in a Smart Space being launched in July as part of the Hamilton City Council’s smart cities initiative, Smart Hamilton. A space designed to provide an opportunity for the wider community to engage with technology innovation and be involved in co-creating solutions that enhance the wellbeing of Hamiltonians.

For information on emerging technology innovation in the agriculture sector in New Zealand access my other reports on technology in agriculture in New Zealand.

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Ecosystm Snapshot: Singapore & New Zealand Strengthen Ties in Cybersecurity and Digital Technology

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5/5 (3) On 17 May 2019, the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong signed a formal arrangement, to step up  collaboration in the areas of trade, defence, cybersecurity, science and technology, and arts and culture.

To strengthen cybersecurity, the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) and the National Cyber Policy Office (NCPO) of New Zealand inked an agreement on information sharing, cybersecurity and capacity building in the region. A new Cyber Security Arrangement will support greater  information exchange, including through an annual cybersecurity dialogue between the two countries. The aim of the agreement is to increase information exchange, prevent incidents and threats and follow best practices on data, infrastructure, and systems protection.

Commenting on the announcement Ecosystm Principal Advisor, New Zealand-based Jannat Maqbool, said, “Engaging internationally on cybersecurity research and initiatives is fundamental given the trans-boundary nature of the cyberspace. As both nations become more digitised and connected, a collaboration will enable each to leverage strengths in key areas to develop a multi-pronged approach to cybersecurity. Both countries will also be in a better position to weigh in on the development of rules-based international order for cyberspace.”

Echoing these comments, Ecosystm Board Advisor, and former Global Head, Digital Development Unit at the World Bank, Randeep Sudan explains how cybersecurity is critical to the growth and development of the digital economy. “Mitigating cyber risks will require coordinated action by multiple stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, academia, and non-governmental organisations,” Sudan says. These bilateral and multilateral G2G partnerships are, therefore, an essential piece in tackling cyber threats. “Given that Singapore and New Zealand are leading players in cyberspace, a G2G collaboration between them will offer learnings of immense value to other governments,” Sudan continues.

Due to Ecosystm’s own close ties with New Zealand, and considering that we are headquartered in Singapore, we are ourselves actively engaged in promoting the dialogue between New Zealand and Singapore. Ecosystm CEO Amit Gupta and Chief Operating Officer, Ullrich Loeffler are in New Zealand this week to participate in Techweek New Zealand (an annual initiative to promote and build awareness for new technologies and innovation in New Zealand) to meet key stakeholders and attend industry events.

Amit With Jacinda Ardern_1

Commenting on the sidelines of Techweek, Amit Gupta gave his thoughts on the agreement, “Both New Zealand and Singapore are in hyper-innovation mode at the moment. With the advent of Blockchain and AI especially spurring the growth of the Fintech ecosystem in New Zealand, there is strong potential gains in engaging with the already thriving Singapore Fintech ecosystem.”

New Zealand and Singapore are not only model free markets, but also have been key proponents of data privacy over the years, an area that requires a serious look, as we start to apply new emerging technologies such as AI. “There is an opportunity for these two forward-looking nations to take it a step further to build an actionable Data Privacy Corridor to streamline the Fintech collaboration between them,” Gupta added. “With New Zealand being an export economy and Singapore, a strong services economy, this would enable a much more seamless collaboration between these two countries.”

The collaboration does not end at cybersecurity and Fintech. As part of the partnership, a joint work programme is being negotiated, starting with two flagship collaborations – an advanced data science research platform to build New Zealand’s data science capability; and a food and nutrition cooperative science programme with a focus on ‘future foods’. Both countries have different areas of expertise, and collaborative measures such as these, give them an opportunity to share best practices that will prove mutually beneficial.

 

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