Tuesday, 20 March 2018

5 Things a financial professional can’t miss at IBM Think 2018

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As the term “fintech” becomes further engrained and more ubiquitous in the banking and financial industry, these businesses classified by the same fintech name have ascended beyond the small, ardent startup scene and have established themselves as equal challengers in the arena, standing up and competing with institutions that are a century old or longer. Now, more than ever, the marriage between technology and finance is apparent. Looking forward, the line between the two will continue to intertwine. Enter, IBM Think 2018, the premier business and technology event of the year that underscores and emphasizes the bond between business and technology.

Simultaneously, the latest adage of “disruption” has also moved on from the startup space to large, established financial institutions. Generations-old businesses, with legacy systems, are looking to become more agile, embracing change with an open-minded philosophy perhaps never seen before. With the event quickly approaching, we put get together a list of five things not to be missed as a financial services professional with an eye toward the future, at IBM Think 2018:

1. Building a bank designed on disruption

The idea is simple: Large financial institutions must embrace disruption to stay competitive with their smaller, more agile brethren. If you look for a common theme among the financial and banking sessions, speakers, demos and client stories at Think 2018, it is disruption through agility. Applying technologies not known for their use in banking will be some of the most popular sessions and demos at Think. Advanced use and deployment of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, machine learning, are well-represented and will be explored at Think 2018.

2. Sessions, sessions, sessions!

With over 100 banking and financial sessions alone, there is enough to do at Think for banking and finance professionals as a stand alone event. Some of the areas that are well represented in the finance industry are:

◈ Blockchain
◈ Digital front office
◈ Digital wealth management
◈ Digital back office
◈ DevOps
◈ Payments
◈ Risk & compliance

3. Developers and C-Level

Are you a developer? What about a C-level executive? Somewhere in between? Few conferences can offer a range of business technology certifications, networking, speakers and certifications up and down the corporate ladder and types of roles like Think can. The premier business technology event has an abundance of material for both the developers and operations side of business, and equally there is plenty of deliverables that appeals to the C-level, executive and managerial level of experience.

4. Real-world experience

Besides IBM thought leaders and luminaries, some of the most influential disruptors in the technical finance and banking community will be on hand. Innovators and thinkers from organizations such as Barclays, BNP Paribas, Citi, and TD Ameritrade, will be well-represented at Think sharing their digital transformation journeys. Aside from the vast networking opportunities, these industry experts under one roof lends itself for a tremendous education experience in a small amount of time.

5. Blockchain

No business technology conference would be complete without a significant amount of blockchain material. Of course, the 2017 buzzword of the year in business is well-represented at Think. Starting with a keynote on “Bringing Trust and Transparency to Business Networks with Blockchain” (session 8794A), then 50 sessions, hands-on demos, and meet the experts on blockchain await. Ranging from getting started and beginner hands-on (1559A and 1535B), through accelerating your blockchain journey (1546B), to technical deep-dives such as (1548A and 7978A). In these times, who doesn’t need to learn about blockchain? Just about no one.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Accelerate & Reinvent Telecom Digital Transformation Process

So, how can IBM’s RETAIN service for the Telecom industry help CSPs accelerate the Telecom digital transformation? Major trends across the Telecom industry are forcing the transformation of business and operating models.

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Market demands are driving three corresponding imperatives in Telecom Industry:

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1. Accelerate Digital Transformation
As consumers are increasingly becoming digitally empowered using mobile devices over their networks, communication service providers (CSPs) must adapt quickly to a changing landscape. This places them in a prime spot to provide digital information and services.

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In a fully connected, mobile and digital world, consumers expect a multichannel experience that is consistent across any device and network they are using, and this in turn has redefined the “traditional” relationship between consumer, brand and service. This paradigm shift has forced CSPs to re-evaluate their position and transform their businesses into ones that can sell an array of interactive services and experiences direct from the consumer’s device, in an instant

2. Create Infrastructure Agility

Convergence of network and IT are simplifying and re-focusing the industry. To respond quickly, CSPs are shifting more of their infrastructure to cloud to gain both agility and OPEX benefits.  IBM’s cloud based offerings for Telco are designed to deliver a set of consumable outcomes for clients without the pain of integration and deep organizational transformation and have in common:

– Analytics driven insights

– Cloud based technologies

– People expertise

The IBM RETAIN solution, engineered to reduce churn, is delivered via IBM’s Cloud Business Solution construct, meaning fast execution, lower total cost of ownership and rapid setup and start of services. The IBM team will first understand the requirements, then set up the appropriate processes and technologies to support the marketing requirements, execute and scale up with proven best practices to accelerate benefit realization.

The agile cloud based infrastructure better positions both the network and the business to meet changing demands. This approach positions the CSP to offer new services at higher margins, reduce OPEX, and provide a business infrastructure strengthens competitive positioning in a converging marketplace. Potential benefits include cost reduction, improved efficiency, faster time to market, and new business models.

Customer retention strategy is an iterative process.

Customer retention is an iterative process, starting with capturing data, tracking performance, planning the offers across the customer lifecycle by building customer intelligence & engagement models, predicting behavior and taking action. The IBM RETAIN cloud based service for Telcos applies predictive models to drive retention and make the ‘next best offer’ to keep the subscriber from defecting to a competitor or churning to a lower value package.

The IBM team has experience working with CSP marketing teams to apply analytics that deliver results:

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3. Achieve Enterprise Excellence

Achieving enterprise excellence requires benchmarking operations against best of breed and closing the gaps to meet those standards. IBM’s Cloud Business Solutions for Telco incorporates the IBM Enterprise Process Improvement Continuum (EPIC) which includes process maturity techniques, continuous improvement and strong talent. When it comes to end-to-end process simplification, IBM has a global framework based on 15 key processes. These frameworks, supported with advanced analytics, help us to understand the client challenges, resolve complexities and focus on outcomes. Building on this foundation, we help organizations transform – creating the roadmap, aligning the stakeholders, applying our models around global shared services, outsourcing, and even build-operate-transfer models.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Top 4 Reasons Your Business Should Conduct a Network Assessment

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Why perform a network assessment?

There are a number of business benefits of conducting a network assessment. It goes far beyond a maintenance check – providing a key enabler for strategic planning and growth.

Undertaking a network assessment may include an analysis of security vulnerabilities, hardware and software alerts, inventory listing of your network devices, lifecycle information, coverage status and corresponding remedial actions.

Here are the top four reasons you should consider a network assessment:

Better manage business risks.

Network assessment enables network managers to identify risk areas in the network and address them accordingly. Knowing the extent of devices under service coverage and reaching end of support allows you to formulate action plans to reduce the potential costs and business risks of network outages. This helps improve network availability and reduce mean time restoration.

Network assessments provide visibility to uncovered devices that need to be placed under service contract. This ensures timely access to technical support resources when needed.

Network assessments also help you identify security vulnerabilities within the network, which leads to more effective mitigation of network security threats.

Optimise business performance

Understanding which devices have reached end of life means you have the opportunity to upgrade the network equipment to optimise network performance, better serving the needs of your business.

Improve business performance and strategic network architecture planning

CIOs focus on strategic planning of the organisations’ network architecture to support business growth and profitability. Network assessment is a data-driven approach to linking technology goals with business goals. Having a detailed view of the current state of your network supports you in making informed decisions about the strategy and roadmap of your network architecture development. You can also determine the readiness of your network and next steps in adopting next-generation technologies such as Cloud and Cognitive Computing. You now have the supporting data and metrics to build a stronger business case for network expansion and/or enhancements. This in turn accelerates the time to market for delivering new IT capabilities within your organization.

Improve financial management of assets

Network assessment is a useful asset management process for taxation, accounting and compliance. For Finance leaders, knowing which network devices are obsolete assists in planning and forecasting for their IT spend. The network assessment and associated reports also serve as an inventory management tool for internal reporting. Having advanced knowledge of the lifecycle status of your network devices helps reduce Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) associated with downtime and equipment maintenance.

How to measure the ROI and business value of network assessments.

Forrester Consulting recently conducted a Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) study examining the potential return on investment (ROI) organisations may realise by performing a network assessment through IBM Intelligent Networking Support. The infographic below highlights the key areas of measurable financial impact and business results, such as a payback less than 12 months and realization of a significant 368% return.

Click on the image to view/download the full-size infographic.

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Friday, 16 March 2018

2018 is the year of security: Are you secure enough?

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Multiple security advisories in the recent past have shown how tirelessly security researchers work to identify and address vulnerabilities. With the extensive reach of the Internet, the digital space has become a hacker’s world.

Keeping your IT environment protected is an important part of any enterprise IT strategy. Having a vulnerability doesn’t necessarily mean something is compromised. However, it’s important to ensure vulnerabilities are addressed immediately, and a safe and secure environment is provided for business, and to enable comprehensive security layers within the data center so that a breach is prevented or, in the worst case, detected and eliminated immediately.

The old adage “Prevention is better than cure” applies to IT security as much as anything else today. So how do you make sure your business is secure enough?

Preventing IT security risks

IT security has multiple components. From simple things like subscribing to security alerts to complex things like engaging legal hackers to test your environment, there are many ways to proactively secure an IT environment. Server security is a crucial aspect of this. How can you prevent unauthorized access into your application and data environments?

A few years ago, clients weren’t very interested in security audits, but with a quick compliance check we could show them their vulnerabilities and make a strong case for taking better security hardening measures.

For example, during one migration project for a client we ran AIXpert (a bundled tool on the IBM AIX operating system for security compliance and hardening) and found a few vulnerabilities, including weak passwords, passwords that wouldn’t expire, users that had super user access and so forth. The organization’s head of IT was impressed at the efficiency of the tool, gave us a go-ahead to start a hardening project and provided a list of compliance rules that are important for their business. The resulting assessment and hardening activity ensured a secure and compliant environment.

We’ve come a long way in recent years, and today many clients request regular security checks. In IBM Power Systems, the focus on security is very high, and we take it seriously. IBM PowerSC was created a couple of years ago and has rich set of security features that provide security at various levels on IBM Power Systems.

How can IBM PowerSC help?

One important feature of PowerSC is that it provides ready-made hardening profiles based on security standards like PCI-DSS, HIPAA, SOX-COBIT and so forth. Complying with these standards is a mandatory requirement for most organizations, and system administrators often struggle to keep their systems compliant as these standards can be complex to understand. PowerSC security profiles prove to be handy since a system administrator can quickly deploy them to achieve the desire hardening. The profiles can be deployed as is or customized based on organizational needs. Hardening is not a one-time activity because systems may get out of compliance either accidentally or maliciously. PowerSC helps administrators to not only harden their systems, but also continuously monitor them and generate real-time alerts if the system goes out of compliance. Administrators will have peace of mind since they know they’ll get an immediate alert the moment there’s a compliance violation.

PowerSC also provides an automated patch management feature. Administrators no longer need to worry about questions like, is there is a new vulnerability announced? Does it affect my systems? How do I download the fix? How to patch? All this is automated by PowerSC. PowerSC automatically downloads patches, sends notifications to administrators, and if desired automatically patches the affected systems. Administrators can happily focus on other critical activities and leave the patch management task to PowerSC.

PowerSC has many other advanced security features, such as:

◈ Centralized log management
◈ Tracking changes to sensitive files
◈ Implementing firewall rules
◈ Detecting malware and rootkit attacks

Finally, PowerSC provides a user-friendly interface (GUI) to help you manage its features so you don’t have to learn new commands in order to implement security. The interface provides dashboard-style reporting, which helps administrators get a view of the security configuration of an entire data center in a few minutes.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Measure Education Coverage

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I want to share some thoughts around coverage. In general, there are lots of discussions around the question “Is your company having a good education coverage?” Most responses are negative. People do not have a clear definition on what education coverage is exactly. In the end, everybody has his own definition. Let us reflect a little bit about this topic so that next time you’re involved into a discussion around coverage, you have better arguments.


What is Education Coverage? How do we measure coverage? First, we need to define our audience. Let’s make this easy and talk only about Technical IT Education.

If you’re talking to clients of IT companies they’re asking primarily two questions: “are you delivering skills in a specific country?” If a company has more than one product, the second question is:” are you delivering skills for a certain product in a specific country?” From the view of an IT company it is a fact: clients will only use a product in a certain country if they are properly trained. This means that the two prior questions seem to be key to the coverage discussion.

Keep in mind that there are more questions possible related to Technical IT Education. For example questions about the delivery methodology or language. But these are not important if we measure coverage. As long as students accept training, we do not care. Once we have in parallel a measurement for successful training in a product it is not important how this happened in this context. We could discuss if other methodologies or languages could increase skills. But this is a business development consideration and doesn’t influence our basic definition. Here we want to focus on the definition of how to measure coverage.

As summary we can state that there are two things for which we need to find a measurement: the countries and the skills you need for a certain product.

Country Coverage

Moving now from Education Coverage to the details. Country coverage as a simple measurement is to count countries where at least one student gets trained in a year. It may sound easy to say “we’re covering a country with education” when just one student was trained, but it is the most basic measurement. There are lots of cases where you want to measure more: number of students compared to population, number of students compared to revenue etc.. You could come to an endless list of criteria. But take it back to the basics: One day you need to train your first student. Prior to having at least once student trained in a country you do not have to think about more complex criteria. So for our purpose we define “A country is treated as covered with education once one student per year received education”

Skill Coverage

IBM has developed a market-leading digital badges program to transform the way the IT industry develops and takes inventory of skills. The program was motivated by exactly what we’re speaking about. Find a measurable approach for skills when we talk about education coverage.

Specifically, the key organizational objectives behind the badges program were:

• Track skills at nano-level. Create a heat map of critical skills for achievements earned across the globe

• Solidify the client base.  Build advocacy and strengthening client relationship and commitment to IBM

• Build a developer base.  Increase the number of developers using IBM’s offerings

• Proliferate skills.  Build a vibrant and large pool of skilled talent to support our products and solutions

• Increase license sales.  Drive potential customers to act by downloading trial versions of our offerings upon badge completion

• Reduce customer service.  Motivate customers to develop skills in-house to reduce support calls and critical situations

Compared to any other measurement the success of the badges for IBM is unique. Today universities are starting to accept badges from the industry. I think there is no question that badges are the right way to measure product skills.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

IBM Transforming Retail Marketing Operations

Why do Retail CMOs need innovation in Retail Marketing Operations? Chief Marketing Officers in the Retail industry are challenged with improving the customer experience, growing revenue and building customer loyalty. There are increasingly new technologies and channels opening up presenting a need to evolve and incorporate new touch points into campaigns quickly.

Challenges of transforming retail marketing operations include:

1. Personalization – Lack of instrumentation and insights to deliver personalized experiences

2. Omnichannel – Difficulty in quickly identifying, including and managing customer engagement channels thereby limiting sales and marketing opportunities.

3. Acquire and retain new customers – Easy for customers to compare and shift

4. Speed – Need to shift quickly to new digital and mobile channels

5. Skills – Lack of marketing automation tool and analytics expertise

6. Customer Data – Increasing volume, difficult to rationalize and discern actionable insights

7. Costs – No additional budget available to support new initiatives

How can IBM help transform Retail Marketing Operations?

IBM has partnered with multiple retail clients to help transform their marketing processes by providing them with committed business outcomes like:

◈ Improved cross-selling
◈ Increased customer engagement and optimize promotional offers
◈ Responding faster to market dynamics
◈ Driving revenue growth with increased effectiveness of campaigns
◈ Reducing the cost of marketing operation and optimizing program spend

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IBM’s Managed Marketing Services consists of:

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IBM Managed Marketing Services helped a client to improve website conversion rates by USD 1.3 million in revenue within five months. Through analytics, content optimization and improved campaign execution, their purchase information page conversion rate increased from 1.4% to 23.3%

Through marketing mix optimization analytics, another client significantly increased total projected margins. IBM also helped the client streamline and standardize their analysis framework across units and brand teams to increase sales and improve ROI of marketing programs.

IBM Managed Marketing Services provides IT and analytics services so Retail CMOs can focus on their customers and strategy and they handle the technical execution.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Can Blockchain and Cognitive Analytics yield higher demand forecasting accuracy?

In the electronics industry nowadays, the average gross value of inventory (all types) as a percentage of revenue is 9,58 % (*), a pretty high ratio and proves that the cost of inventory is a matter of concern within the industry. High levels of inventory can be tackled in multiple ways, and it is widely agreed within the industry that a strong demand forecasting capability is cornerstone to healthy inventory levels.

On this post I want to share some ideas around demand forecasting framed in the context of the challenges the electronics industry is facing and some technologies that could have a positive impact in the demand forecasting.

Two Industry Shifts

◈ The shift in the buyer’s behavior. The users and consumers of electronics are everyday more informed, and they are more empowered too. With the spread use of social tools and increasing connectivity, they can now take better purchasing decisions, they can influence product development and they can radically affect product demand and brand image based on their perception posted on social networks.

◈ The shift in the industry marketplace.  Convergence is blurring boundaries between industries, new disruptive competition and technology advancement are re-shaping the industry and profit margins are shrinking. It is therefore important that companies look after cost and prevent inventory imbalances.

A closer look to demand forecasting

Electronic companies have been constantly looking for ways to improve demand forecasting, better manage supply in order to trim inventory levels. As opposed to what many people think, technology should have helped with better predictions, however many organizations are hitting the lowest demand forecast accuracy in years, and they are taking higher inventory carrying costs.

Throughout this year I’ve been thinking on how cognitive analytics and blockchain could help demand forecasting and the entire supply & demand loop. I certainly see a lot of potential on these 2 technologies as game-changers within the discipline and I would like to share some thoughts and ideas:

Cognitive Demand Forecasting

I have no doubt that a good cognitive analytic engine can help improve demand forecasting, by finding out new patterns and data insights in almost any time-series or causal-series methodology applied.  But the real value of cognitive analytics will come from its application into any of the demand forecasting qualitative methods.

Cognitive analytics has the ability to distill the social sentiment from social & collaborative networks. It also provides relevant insights from news feeds or analyst reports and get key information from unstructured data sources, like for instance, previous planning cycles files, sales ops. inputs or any other corpus of data coming from mails, text messages, chat messages, audio, video and other. Any source of data is valid input for cognitive demand forecasting and the best out of it is that it can be used repeatedly, in near real time and with unprecedented speed.

Some interesting use cases could be:

1. Generation of demand signals. Cognitive analytics could enrich the quality of near real-time inputs to demand sensing techniques, thus improving demand forecasting accuracy.

2. Enhanced Delphi Method, Why not helping experts be more experts? Cognitive analytics could enhance this method providing a well structured, near real-time insights on what the buyer is commenting about the product and brand.

3. Cognitive monitoring of macro-economics. The ability to analyze chunks of text, unstructured data of any sorts (image, video, audio, etc.) delivers a rounded flavor to macro economic analysis.

4. Risk-weighed demand models. Adding new cognitive analytics around risk insights to perform trade-off analytics, next best action in demand models.

These are realizable ideas that will improve demand forecasting accuracy. Moreover, the cognitive analytical layer can be applied in other areas like demand planning, supply planning, demand management, S&OP’s, Sales quota planning, etc.

Blockchain in Supply & Demand

As long as the supply chain becomes more intricate with globalization, the number of input sources and players participating on demand forecasting grows. Multiple tiered suppliers, several manufacturing sites, warehouses and other distribution centers scattered across the globe and managed by 3PL’s and EMS. The marketing, sales and distribution organizations also are becoming more complex and with more business partners and distributors in the game.  Last but definitely not the least, the consumers / users are empowered as I mentioned previously. This leads to multiple record keeping efforts and lots of inefficiency in reconciling files and information.

A permissioned blockchain – as one type of distributed ledger system –  is the other technology I believe can bring lots of value to demand forecasting as a mean to keep one shared record of information around the supply and demand triad:

1. Demand forecasting.
2. Supply planning & commit.
3. (actual) demand management.

Having the outputs of these three elements shared in one distributed ledger ledger would eliminate a lot of unproductive reconciliation work and it would allow organizations to focus on what matters the most: to react to unexpected demand swings, and to run forecasting cycles with higher accuracy.

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Supply and demand gains accuracy with cognitive analytics and permissioned blockchain

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Building a community around machine learning and AI

Let’s be honest. Machine learning is a complicated space! Two minutes on Google looking into the topic is guaranteed to leave you more confused than when you started. So where can you find help from others who are working in this space?

If you’ve ever thought “AI sounds pretty cool; we should probably be doing that,” you’ve no doubt also asked yourself:

◈ Where to get started
◈ Which framework to choose (there are probably millions)
◈ Whether to use a cloud or physical infrastructure
◈ Where to deploy your model
◈ How to collate or model your data

There are numerous questions to ask and design choices to make before you even start doing machine learning, and most don’t have one right answer. But there are also numerous resources online to help inform your decisions.

In every corner of the globe, people are researching new machine learning techniques, new ways to model data and derive better insights or find new routes to market. In the time it’s taken me to write this blog post, someone will have written an article on a new, better way of defining neural networks.

At first glance, this wealth of information may seem daunting, but it’s nothing to be afraid of; it’s a jewel in the crown of the AI/machine learning space. The fact that there are so many people building tutorials, creating demos and writing articles and blogs is awesome.

This community of collaborators, who often don’t even realize they’re collaborating, is the reason machine learning and AI are being adopted so quickly and the technology is improving at the rate it is. We wouldn’t be where we are today without that community.

Open source frameworks and the OpenPOWER Foundation

Take TensorFlow, for example. Google decided to make its machine learning framework and tooling open source because sharing these amazing technologies with a wider community helps them grow and helps mature the platform to solve issues for other organizations.

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There are 1,325 contributors to the TensorFlow project working together to build the best software tooling for machine learning. Without this community, we wouldn’t be using machine learning as readily as we can, and we certainly wouldn’t have the tutorials and articles that make this space accessible.

And it’s not just TensorFlow. There are hundreds of frameworks striving to make machine learning accessible through better tooling and better documentation.

In fact, it’s not just software!

Machine learning brings a unique set of infrastructure challenges. It’s a hugely complex technical compute challenge that puts a massive strain on physical systems. The OpenPOWER Foundation is doing the “open source” thing for hardware — applying the principles of open collaboration and innovation to the servers themselves.

We’re now designing and building systems specifically engineered to tackle these workloads as quickly as possible, meaning that we can train our models faster and build bigger things!

Meetups and real people

Everything I’ve mentioned so far involves digital interactions between collaborators, but finding a community around machine learning doesn’t have to happen digitally. You can get off the internet (once you’ve finished reading and sharing my blog post of course) and go meet people in your area who are coming together to share their passion, knowledge and challenges with AI and machine learning.

IBM Systems Lab Services has several PowerAI meetups specifically focused on accelerated frameworks and IBM Power Systems for you to get involved in across the world.

There’s a whole wealth of machine learning Meetup communities too. Through these events you can meet people to discuss the technology and how you can use it in your business. In my experience, everyone in these groups comes with the same open, altruistic mind-set that infuses the digital communities. It’s about sharing ideas and learning from each other. It’s about meeting face to face, getting to know people who are willing to help each other and share expertise.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Conquer the data deluge: Modernize & transform your storage

Is your organization analyzing increasing volumes of data to provide customized solutions for your clients and consumers?

If data analysis has become a key part of your business, you need a storage infrastructure that supports the increasing volume of data, but growing your storage infrastructure can increase both storage costs and storage management complexity. Consequently, many IT organizations are facing a number of difficult challenges:

◈ Aligning IT and business strategies
◈ Reducing IT complexity in light of explosive data growth
◈ Managing resource constraints — budgets, staffing, skills
◈ Leveraging existing technologies while integrating new ones

Solving these issues is a balancing act of supporting traditional and new workloads.

◈ Traditional workloads typically utilize storage area network (SAN) or block storage. The data in traditional workloads is mostly structured in nature, and data growth is typically predictable and steady. Some examples include: databases, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), email, virtual desktops and virtual machines.

◈ New workloads are next-generation applications utilizing file, object and cloud storage. The data is mostly unstructured in nature, and data growth is typically less predictable, more volatile. Examples include: big data, analytics, cognitive, cloud, high-performance computing (HPC), the Internet of Things (IoT), social media and mobile.

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To succeed in this balancing act, organizations need to start by improving the efficiency of their traditional workload environments, while continuing to deliver high levels of service. Next, they need to utilize the savings derived from efficiency gains and invest in new application infrastructure to support these new, agile, elastic workloads.

Storage Infrastructure Optimization can help

Innovative technologies and solutions are available to help organizations support both traditional and new workloads and successfully balance the two. However, selecting the right solutions and developing a roadmap for implementation, while maintaining your existing systems and service levels, can be a daunting task.

To address these needs, IBM Systems Lab Services has developed a set of offerings to help companies corral their growing storage infrastructure, called Storage Infrastructure Optimization (SIO). The Storage Infrastructure Optimization – Modernize & Transform module is one of five modules in the SIO offering.  If you need to evaluate and optimize your storage infrastructure, your assessment may consist of one or more modules, depending on your priorities and goals.

The SIO – Modernize & Transform module

The SIO – Modernize & Transform module identifies your requirements as well as gaps in your existing storage environment and provides a transformation path to help you gain maximum efficiency while enabling new workloads and innovation. The module focuses on the modernization of traditional storage systems needed to lower costs so that you can invest in storage infrastructure for next-generation applications.

Here are some of its benefits:

◈ Align your storage objectives and priorities with those of the overall organization.
◈ Reduce costs, improve performance, decrease complexity and increase the flexibility of your storage infrastructure.
◈ Establish a strategic storage plan with a roadmap reflecting tactical and medium- to long-term actions to transform your storage environment.
◈ Minimize your effort through a focused and rapid environment analysis producing insightful and actionable

If it feels like your storage infrastructure is struggling against a deluge of data, now is the time to look for ways to modernize and transform it to prepare for new workloads.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Instant Checkout: Transforming Customer Experience with Shell

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Self-checkouts are supposed to save us time, but crumpled barcodes in unpredictable packaging locations requiring individual scanning, and the dreaded ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ warning message can quickly turn a trip to the shop into an extreme test of one’s patience. The longer and more arduous the process to check out, the more likely it is the shopper will abandon the basket, a worst-case scenario for the retailer.

Fortunately for shoppers and retailers alike, IBM iX has partnered with a series of specialist companies to develop a breakthrough invention for ‘instant checkout and connected store’ that is set to revolutionize shopping. The first step is to give customers the fastest and most secure way to check out. The long-term vision, however, is to transform the store and its supply chain, reduce waste globally, and empower more ethical consumerism worldwide.

Phase 1: Fastest, easiest, most secure way to check out in stores

To refine the customer experience and technology, the program was trialed over six weeks at a Shell store in the UK with roughly 140 customers.

Customers were universally delighted by the instant checkout’s ease of use and ultra fast speeds. It takes only five seconds for the instant checkout to complete a transaction for any number of items – unlike traditional self-checkouts and cashier checkouts that take longer the more items you buy, due to the need for scanning individual barcodes. When limited to only 10 items, the difference in speed is still staggering with the instant checkout generally performing 15 times faster than a self-checkout, and seven times faster than a cashier.

IBM iX has partnered with a series of specialist companies to develop a breakthrough invention for ‘instant checkout and connected store’ that is set to revolutionize shopping.

Beyond the instant checkout’s speed and ease of use though, consumers in the Shell trial also greatly valued the extra security provided by the invention. This is because it utilizes a new patent-pending payment process to facilitate payments via a BlueTooth enabled reader. The reader, unlike traditional card and NFC readers, doesn’t collect or send any customer or payment data. Instead, it sends a unique code to the customer’s app to be matched and routed via a Cloud platform. No identifying information about customers or their payment details is ever transmitted in, or to the store. When the payment details are matched, customers receive their receipt on the app. This makes the instant checkout more secure than NFC (‘Contactless’) or Chip & Pin.

The Universal Tag: Breaking the Barriers of RFID 

The instant checkout capability uses brand new ‘universal tags’ that employ RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology. Unlike RFID tags of the past, these are small, discreet and can work on any product type regardless of materials like metal or liquid.

Once available, the universal tags allow the instant checkout to also deliver retailers a solution for the truly ‘connected store.’ By equipping shelves with ultra-discrete RFID antennas, it’s possible to know exactly what stock is in any store in real-time. This is accomplished without any costly changes to the existing shelving or infrastructure, or the need to install infrared cameras and sensors throughout the store. The only other way to gain this level of real-time inventory data would be through manual stock counts – a costly and potentially inaccurate process that most store staff only get a chance to do during slow periods or after hours.

Because customers use the app to pay, retailers are also provided with anonymized data to gain insight into what customers are buying and when. The platform also analyses IBM data about weather, local events, and trends, which means retailers get insights driven by Artificial Intelligence to be able to predict what stock they’ll need, thereby reducing waste and improving profitability for each store individually at a very local level.

Phase Two: Doing Well by Doing Good 

During the first phase, the ‘universal tags’ will be physically attached to each item via specially designed tagging guns. Initially, this enables tags to be placed and encoded in an instant. Once adoption of the instant checkout has achieved sufficient volume, the RFID technology can then be embedded directly into all product packaging and garment labels. This will eliminate the need for applying separate tags and will allow product manufacturers to store more information about each product via its unique ID number and the solution’s Cloud platform.

This is critical because fast checkout is just the beginning of IBM’s vision for this solution. By first providing customers with a fast and secure way to pay, the invention will ultimately drive five major changes for retailers and consumers alike.

1. Transform shopping

Imagine an app that can tell you precisely where everything is in every local store in real-time, without even stepping foot inside. It can also navigate you to exactly where a specific product is – even when items are put back in the wrong place. As you shop, the app can also send you discounts for the products you actually buy – instead of its best guess of what you might like.  With accurate insights combined with external data feeds, the offers coming through will be relevant and personal to you, rather than misinformed or untimely offers.

2. Empower consumers

The RFID technology means information about whether a product is truly sustainable, ethical or organic will be stored in an unalterable record that customers can access in stores and on their smart devices via the app. Once the invention is adopted by product manufacturers, the RFID technology can be used to link any individual product to its points of origin, sources of raw ingredients, factory conditions, farm classifications, nutritional information, expiry dates and more. This information is stored on a Blockchain, which is an encrypted shared ledger that every company along a retailer’s supply chain can add to, but not erase or alter.

3. Evolve the role of the shop assistant

Unlike other futurist concept stores, this invention wants to use the data and AI insights gained by having a fully connected store to evolve, not replace, the role of shop staff. For example, when equipped with the right data, training and technology, the staff in a grocery store could become trusted advisors on cooking, nutrition and food pairings – providing much-needed differentiation for a grocery retail brand that’s struggling to compete with discount rivals and online merchants.

4. Reward recycling

Once universal RFID tags are integrated into product packaging, they’ll survive the journey from the store to the customer, all the way to the recycling plant. There, scanners can be used to detect products and reward customers for recycling.

5. Reduce product packaging overall

A lot of product packaging is decided based on needing to fit a lot of product information onto the package or label in a way that’s clear, visually attractive and inexpensive. As such, product manufacturers often turn to plastic. With this RFID technology and its cloud platform, unlimited information in any format can be stored against each individual product. This information could be shared via interactive displays on shelves, and the products themselves can be wrapped in plainer, smaller and more eco-friendly packaging.

Innovation through Collaboration

When fully realized, the goal for instant checkout and the connected store will be to transform not only the way we shop as customers but also the way we behave and consume as humans. To achieve this vision in an accelerated time frame, IBM iX is collaborating with retailers, product manufacturers, wholesale distributors and many other partners from across the globe to expand, perfect and scale this invention.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Social Media Insights: Classroom of the Future

In 1907, The Journal of Education solemnly condemned “our modern family gathering, silent around the fire, each individual with his head buried in his favorite magazine, is the somewhat natural outcome of the banishment of colloquy from the school…” Now imagine replacing “favorite magazine” with “smartphone” or “app” and you get the kind of remark often made today. So, before analyzing “kids these days” along with their new learning technologies, take a moment to think that maybe each generation is inclined to an exaggerated fear about the latest trends influencing the young, from newspapers to social media.

That said, let’s dive into a discussion about the future of education as reflected by different social media trends. What you’ll be reading next is based on social metrics that reveal insights about new developments in two major areas: online education and personalized learning.

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Massive Open Online Courses

Or MOOCs: an acronym filled with great expectations – particularly in 2013, a year proclaimed by The New York Times “The Year of the MOOC”. Since then, the concept has been commercialised to the extent that #moocs (along with #edtech) became some of the most popular education-centric hashtags on Twitter. But what do social media users believe about MOOCs now – more than 3 years after this declaration was made?

Worldwide social data shows that MOOCs continue to be a hotly debated topic. Most English language social media conversations happen, unsurprisingly, in the US. The non-English speaking country that showed most interest in this topic is India, where there is a strong online community that discusses digitization in the education sector.

Generally, MOOCs are still considered an opportunity to bridge the skills gap. However, some users seem undecided if MOOCs are effective on their own and prefer blended education in an attempt to get the best from both worlds, online and offline. Though the level of euphoria seems to have decreased, there is little negativity associated with MOOCs. In many cases this negativity is centered on research that claims online courses are mostly designed and used by graduate students and is therefore failing to impact other (unprivileged) groups as much as initially expected. The latest primary research also confirms this catch-22 scenario: while many low-income and low-education Americans would benefit from e-learning, they don’t access it far as much as their educated, high-income peers. Additionally social listening reveals that certain negative sentiment affiliation is triggered by concerns in regards to students’ privacy, as more and more data is gathered about their learning patterns, behaviours, attendance and results.

But with 87% of college students reporting that having access to data analytics regarding their academic performance has a positive impact on their learning experience, the role of analytics and therefore technology looks set to play a central role in the future of education. If tracking progress helps scholars learn better, efforts to improve and standardize data collection and drive better integration across different learning platforms/phases seems justified.

Getting back to our main point of discussion – has the NYT rushed its celebration of MOOCs? Google Trends shows a slow decrease in the level of searches which might indicate the hype is, indeed, fading.

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 However, social media listening shows it continues to be a trending topic on Twitter, even if part of the initial enthusiasm has been dulled by a number of legitimate concerns.

With so many of us used to interactive content nowadays, it seems likely that videos will become the new textbooks. Already, video is expected to make up for about 80% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2019 (up from 64% in 2014) so it is hard to believe MOOCs were just a trend of the past. More likely instead, it’s something which is shifting from a phase of early hype into a more mature element of mainstream education.

Personalised learning

The Jetsons cartoon view of daily life in the future painted a utopian vision filled with the elaborate robotic contraptions, holograms, and whimsical inventions that could come to transform transportation, lifestyle or… schooling. In one episode, Elroy (the little boy of that futuristic family) is taught by a robot teacher who leads the class. Was futuristic pop-culture of 1960s anticipating the way kids will learn soon?

Perhaps we are not anticipating robotic teachers at the head of the class just yet but most commenters tend to agree that we have reached the end of “one size fits all” education. This marks the beginning of a new era. The era of personalized education – tuned to the preferences, needs and performance of the individual. However, social data indicates that opinion is pretty divided on what that means in practical reality.
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On Twitter, “personalized learning” means different things to different people. By using text analytics and reading through statistically representative samples of tweets, we were able to identify two main trends that have emerged and defined the past year. For some, it means more time for teachers to engage with students on a personal level, to give courses that personal touch while creating a powerful bond with the students. For others it means innovative learning technology able to identify learning patterns, to tailor coursework and to alert others when students show signs of being at risk of dropping out. I believe that the two trends don’t actually oppose one another.

Of course we need teachers to teach to individual students as much as they can; at the same time, we need non-judgmental personalisation that feeds into student’s interests and aspirations. This does not lead to an opposition of the type relationship vs. algorithms, but might point instead to a fruitful collaboration between human teachers and intelligent, data driven assistants.

By applying analytics to data about each student’s way of learning, a caring teacher gains fast, powerful insight that allows him/her to act quickly in helping students achieve their potential or prevent them from dropping out. Technology isn’t the focal point here, it’s just a way to connect one teacher with thirty students’ interests, hopes and dreams.

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So though the Jetsons might have not entirely got it right when putting a robot in front of a class, they were still very insightful about the way the students of today might leverage learning technology.

Bottom line

By analyzing 1-year of online chatter about education coming from teachers, students, parents or digital natives alike, I have observed a deep concern about what the future of education should look like. Instead of a clash of visions, there is a common desire to transform education into a more personalized learning process that provides meaning and motivation. Maybe in an ideal classroom of the future, teachers will indulge more in existing technologies and analytics, identifying the problematic areas in students’ ways of learning and designing courses that address them head on. Maybe, giving students access to their learning records (from kindergarten to high school) will lead to making better career and life choices. After all, as one tweet was pointing out: “The problem with ed data is not a technical one, it’s an actionable one”.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

IBM and Skytap ensure smooth tool migration for Veritas

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It’s hard to say who has more trepidation about an IT infrastructure change: those who are responsible for making it happen or users. Change, though often inevitable, is not usually without some anxiety.

Two years ago, Veritas Technologies, a leader in multicloud data management, was spun off as an independent entity from Symantec. At that time, Veritas had a large lab environment running on an internal Symantec cloud with more than 10,000 virtual machines (VMs) defined in that cloud and 1,200 templates in active use.

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Because of the divestiture from Symantec, Veritas needed to move off the Symantec cloud by a deadline, otherwise it would incur financial penalties. The timeframe was short.

Searching for a solution

The challenge was that users were happy with the tool set they had. It was a homegrown tool that, with customizations, offered breadth and usability.

Veritas issued a formal request for proposals (RFP) for the migration, and reviewed all sorts of different solutions from major providers. Additionally, it considered creating another homegrown solution. Ultimately, the company engaged IBM Cloud Professional Services and IBM Business Partner Skytap to migrate its complex enterprise application to an IBM Cloud data center with IBM Cloud for Skytap Solutions.

This solution offered a pre-built user interface. Having the front-end orchestration layer taken care of would mean faster time to market.

Making the move

The migration involved moving the infrastructure that was located in Tucson, Arizona to Dallas, Texas, which included relocating more than three petabytes of data. How to most effectively move that amount of data was one of the key technical challenges that Veritas faced. The company built a network that could sustain two gigabits per second throughput from Tucson to the IBM Cloud platform that hosts the Skytap environment.

The other challenge the company overcame was converting the VMs, because when VMs change, there are subtle differences, such as DNS, host names and network configurations that have to be changed for each.

IBM and Skytap wrote scripts to ensure that the VMs would run in the new environment. It would possibly be the largest migration that the Veritas team had ever undertaken.

IBM Cloud Professional Services and Skytap were able to meet these challenges and provide a custom solution for Veritas in the IBM Cloud data center. Users were able to use the old system while the migration was in progress.

The “six-month migration” was completed in just four months.

Transitioning smoothly

The Veritas team marveled that this was “one of the biggest non-events” that they had ever been a part of.

At the beginning, it was slow going because of the technical challenges faced, as well as the planning, testing, and initial work. Things sped up as the project progressed. There were some blips here and there, but given the scope and breadth of this migration, the cutover was great. According to the team, every cutover should be this smooth.

From a user perspective, one of the really attractive things, aside from the overwhelming number of features, is the usability of the tool. Skytap monitors the environment proactively to manage any little hiccup effectively and quickly.

The tool has always been internal-facing only, but now Veritas is looking whether to expand externally.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

IAmI prevents cyberattacks in real time with IBM Cloud

IBM Security, IBM Tutorials and Materials, IBM CertificationsWith ever-advancing cyberattacks, hackers are gaining unauthorized access to networks and secure data at alarmingly high and unprecedented rates. Many organizations don’t even know their network security has been compromised until it’s much too late. Once stolen, their private data is impossible to protect.

Hackers typically begin by acquiring a set of login credentials — the easiest part of the attack — to gain initial access to the network. Once in, they will do surveillance, gathering more information on how to make their way further inside the network until they reach and gain access to the central databases and servers. Then comes the data breach.

Preventing cyberattacks in real-time

IAmI Authentications, an IBM Business and Technology Partner, is a business-to-business cybersecurity solution that protects all enterprise networks and sensitive data from intrusion attacks and breaches in real-time. The solution empowers users to protect their own login credentials from hackers who would otherwise try to exploit them to gain unauthorized access. Organizations and users can know their login credentials and secure data are shielded from being nefariously exploited or breached.

Each time a user’s login credentials are used to access the network or any privileged access area(s) across the network, they received an authentication request from the IAmI smartphone application prompting them to confirm or deny the authenticity of the login.

Authentication requests are sent through two-factor authentication protocols using push technology, and users are required to respond with one simple touch to the app. The IAmI solution advances all current authentication and identity service methods, as this becomes the new way for “trusted people” to gain access to “trusted networks.”

If it’s an attack, users will immediately identify the intrusion and prevent the hacker from gaining unauthorized access. Just by touching the “deny” button on the app, the attack is thwarted.

Zero-minute detection rates

Today, the average detection time surpasses 205 days, after the attack has taken place. That’s simply too late. IAmI drastically brings the detection rates from many days to zero minutes, as clients benefit from having real-time network intrusion monitoring and detection systems as well as a real-time intrusion prevention solution.

IAmI not only has advanced where other authentication providers have not, but the solution also prevents data breaches from occurring by implementing it all the way through to mainframe environments, sensitive databases and servers.

The IAmI solution is reinforced with the power of IBM Cloud, and also includes a lightweight API and proprietary smartphone apps running on Apple Watch, iOS and Android. The entire solution operates strictly on tokens, with no user Personal Identifiable Information (PII) ever being exposed or requested.

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Partnering with IBM

Creating a much required solution for a global epidemic meant IAmI needed the support and reliability of a global leader in emerging cloud technology. That’s IBM Cloud.

IBM has been instrumental to the success and growth of the company. Since coming through the IBM Innovation Space in early 2016, IAmI immediately benefited from the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program and continues today to work with IBM to reach clients, while getting advice and guidance from world class executives.

Being an IBM Business and Technology Partner means that IAmI is able to offer its solution to clients from all parts of the world and also deliver it on the reliability of IBM Cloud.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

How IBM Cloud supports innovative IoT

What is the Internet of Things (IoT), exactly? What are the “things”?

They could be any internet-connected objects that collect and share data using embedded sensors. For example, many of us are familiar with fitness trackers or smart appliances that are controlled by cell phones.

Business Insider predicts that there will be there will be more than 24 billion IoT devices on Earth by 2020. That’s approximately four devices for every human being on the planet.

Here are some innovative uses of IoT you might not have imagined.

IBM Cloud Functions powers the “Internet of Garbage”

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The “Internet of Garbage” doesn’t refer to all the ridiculous and inane things one might find on social media. It’s literally about garbage trucks with sensors.

GreenQ has installed sensors on trucks to gather real-time data to optimize the waste collection process. When a waste bin is picked up, the sensors on the truck measure the amount of garbage inside the container and monitor the time and location of the pickup.

There’s a cloud-based system that collects, analyzes and displays the real-time data and analytics. GreenQ calls it the Internet of Garbage.

GreenQ migrated to the scalable IBM Cloud infrastructure, the heart of which is IBM Cloud Functions, an on-demand, serverless platform.

GreenQ helps its customers do the same job for less cost or use the same budget to provide a better quality of service. It might be a matter of different routing, different scheduling, different waste bin mapping or what trucks are used.

Free-floating, cloud-based car sharing app car2go takes the keys

For many city dwellers around the world, owning a car is more of a hassle than it’s worth.

IBM Tutorials and Materials, IBM Certifications, IBM Guides, IBM Learning, IBM CloudFirst of all, where do you park it? In New York City, for instance, the cost of a parking spot starts at $100 per month on the low end up to $1 million USD for an underground spot in Soho. In fact, the average cost to buy a parking spot is over $100,000 in The Big Apple. With prices like that, who can even afford a car, never mind insurance, maintenance and gas?
With car2go, car ownership isn’t a necessity.

With its new business model, car2go is a new way of renting cars.

When car2go started as a Daimler company internal pilot project in 2008, there was no established car-sharing business model. The car sharing program embodied IoT before it was a buzzword by integrating vehicles, electronics, software and an app on a smartphone to offer getting from point A to point B in a smart and elegant way for customers. Thus was born free-floating car sharing.

Drivers can rent a car directly on the street using a smartphone. There’s no rental office involved. There’s no handling of keys. It’s a completely online business.

Intelligent services for elevators and escalators built with IBM Watson

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If elevators and escalators do not work properly, it has a significant impact on the way cities function. People may not get to work in their office buildings. They may even end up with having difficulty getting home.

KONE helps people move in and between buildings as smoothly and safely as possible. Globally, the company services more than 1.1 million elevators and escalators and move more than 1 billion people every day.

That’s why KONE launched “24/7 Connected Services,” which uses the IBM Watson IoT platform to bring intelligent services to elevators and escalators. For example, it helps predict the condition of the elevator or escalator, thereby helping customers manage their equipment over its life cycle.

For people who use elevators and escalators, it means less waiting time, fewer delays, and the potential for new, personalized experiences.

In a first for the industry, KONE is revealing real-time machine conversations between elevators and the IoT cloud. Teams at IBM and KONE worked together to introduce a popular marketing campaign that brings a human touch to intelligent services and demystify a complex topic.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

IBM Connections 6.0 Delivers a New Level of Collaboration

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Announcing the next release of IBM Connections!

IBM Connections 6.0 brings a range of new capabilities to the end-user, creating a richer, more focused and more effective experience. With IBM Connections 6.0 we added new functionality across the board from Communities to Files, Search, Onboarding as well as the brand-new IBM Connections Homepage – Orient Me.

To highlight the main updates, here is a quick summary:


Advanced Community customization capabilities provide Community owners additional options for designing their custom Community. Community owners can:

◈ Create Community experiences with enhanced rich text content editing (HTML), so that Community members can enjoy an engaging experience.
◈ Choose from new modern layouts with a horizontal navigation bar to better use space on Community pages and match the Community’s purpose more effectively.
◈ Create new Communities faster by choosing from existing layouts, which can help to save time and establish guidelines for Community design.
◈ Reduce clutter on Community pages by hiding a widget while retaining its link in the navigation menu.


◈ Files users can select a top-level folder in their Files and mark it for sync. This permits the users to take the content of entire folders offline to their desktop and keep them synchronized with the files on the server.
◈ For IBM Connections environments with large numbers of documents stored in IBM Connections Files, administrators can now leverage IBM Cloud Object Storage, the hybrid cloud object storage that adapts to your workload needs.

Orient Me

Relevant updates are brought front and center – IBM Connections Orient Me can be used with Connections V6.0 to provide new home page capabilities that apply advanced analytics to surface information and people that are most relevant to an individual. Individuals can take advantage of new capabilities provided by Connections Orient Me:

◈ See, at a glance, the updates and information most relevant to users, displayed in a new visual layout and prioritized based on their interaction with content and people.
◈ Apply new content and people filters to better control what users see.
◈ More easily view updates grouped by a person, a Community, or content.
◈ Receive suggestions about the people most likely to be important and relevant to their work.
◈ See a snapshot of their day in the Action Center, accessible throughout Connections

Monday, 12 February 2018

Blockchain for the EMS (Electronics Manufacturing Services) Supply Chain

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When you’re first exposed to blockchain technology, one question that comes up is where and how to apply it. The answer is often a variation of this phrase: “Blockchain excels at solving issues with ‘high-friction[1],’ multi-party processes where there is a lack of trust.”

The Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) industry would appear to check all of those boxes. EMS providers are inserted in their customers’ supply chains (between their parts suppliers and their distribution system), which means their processes are often multi-party (supplier, EMS, and customer plus logistics companies). That often upsets existing relationships, creating a lack of trust and causing friction in the business processes between those parties.

Blockchain technology would appear to be a perfect fit for the EMS industry, and experience seems to confirm this: In 2017 we began to see a high level of interest in blockchain, both from EMS providers themselves and from their customers. We also began to see the first proofs of concept and pilot applications developed. In 2018 I expect the number of new applications to grow, and we should begin to see some of those initial PoCs and pilots turn into production blockchain networks.

So how can blockchain be used to solve problems within the EMS industry? And who (the EMS or the OEM) should sponsor blockchain projects? The answer to those questions depends on who benefits the most, but the obvious answer isn’t necessarily the only option. To be sure, some opportunities may primarily benefit one company (which would normally make them the sponsor of the project). But some issues that are mainly experienced by OEMs may be better solved by the EMS on behalf of multiple customers, instead of just one. In those cases, the EMS may find that their OEM customers may even be willing to pay for a well-considered solution.

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The nature of the relationship can have an impact as well. Our mental image of EMS providers may be high-volume manufacturing lines churning out millions of consumer electronic products, but some OEMs utilize external manufacturing to build low-volume/ high value products; others ask their EMS partners to configure or even design to order; and some EMS providers provide extended supply chain services, going as far as to handle their OEM customers’ own customer fulfillment operations.

An EMS may sponsor internal blockchain projects to take cost out of their own operations or improve performance in some way. Some potential examples include:

◈ Using blockchain with less sophisticated component suppliers (or with suppliers in less developed regions) as a secure mechanism to manage the entire purchase order & response/ shipment, invoice & payment process – including not only the suppliers but also their financial institutions.[2]

◈ Using blockchain to build a trade finance process with its financial partners. EMS providers often operate with limited working capital. They may use innovative ways to maximize their access to cash – but those innovative ways almost always are (currently) built on manual, time-consuming and expensive processes. Blockchain can automate those processes and make it easier (and cheaper) to access critical working capital.

◈ Using blockchain to monitor and manage the inbound (and outbound) flow of materials and finished goods. This is truly mission-critical to EMS companies. Knowing when a crucial shipment of components will arrive at a manufacturing site is essential, as is being able to provide valid delivery dates for customers’ finished products. For inbound use, it’s even possible to build a time-stamped electronic Kanban process.

On the other hand, an EMS’s OEM customer may be motivated to solve different problems using blockchain technology:

◈ Blockchain can be used to provide critical data on the quality of an inbound shipment from the EMS to the OEM, so that the OEM can assess and pre-approve the shipment before it arrives. That can help to improve quality (by giving the quality department enough time to do a full review of the data), as well as reduce cycle time when the product arrives on site. This is especially important during the initial weeks of production. A tool like this can even be used to improve processes when the product is handled by another third party (for instance, a 3PL-managed distribution center) instead of directly by the OEM.

◈ Although EMS providers purchase many components in higher volumes than their OEM customers (and therefore often have stronger relationships with the component suppliers), there are often some suppliers which would rather work with the OEM than the EMS. Those suppliers may offer lower prices, and may be more willing to accommodate scheduling changes, when they deal direct with the OEM. Using blockchain technology to implement a virtual buy/sell process permits the physical supply chain (from component supplier to EMS facility to OEM) to be separated from the financial flow (from component supplier to OEM, potentially to the EMS and back again). This can be a win-win-win: the component supplier and the OEM preserve their strong relationship, while the physical flow is streamlined and efficient.

◈ Blockchain can be used as a secure delivery mechanism for sensitive data – data that may need to be incorporated into products manufactured at an EMS. (Examples may include proprietary software, private ‘keys,’ etc.) Not only does blockchain offer advanced security, but it time-stamps each transaction and its smart contract feature can be configured to optimize both security aspects and manufacturing flow.

Finally, farsighted EMS companies may find that they can offer “blockchain applications as a service” to multiple customers, if they build applications designed to solve common problems among companies that utilize external manufacturing. Some ideas here include:

◈ Providing “Transparency” – extensive and up-to-the minute visibility of exactly what quantities of finished products are available, and where, from the EMS facility through the transportation and logistics process, all the way to the OEM’s distribution network or even to the OEM’s own customers. This can provide real value to OEMs. An OEM can’t “sell what they have” if they don’t know what they have.

◈ Providing detailed provenance of the components that go into an OEM’s product, so that the OEM can (a) ensure compliance with laws and regulations (ROHS, for example); and (b) minimize the cost of any recalls, if it turns out that a particular lot code of a component, from a specific supplier, had a problem of some kind.

◈ Providing greatly improved coordination on such aspects as engineering change notices (ECNs) and Demand Forecasts. Using blockchain processes (possibly in combination with existing EDI or RosettaNet processes), including the smart contract feature, can ensure that the OEM and the EMS stay ‘in sync’ with each other, while still permitting the EMS facility to operate as efficiently as possible.

◈ Going beyond coordination on ECNs, blockchain can also provide a mechanism to coordinate design-to-order and configure-to-order processes between OEM and EMS. Increasingly, EMS providers are supporting their OEM customers with processes to build custom products, down to single-unit lot sizes. This requires a much higher level of coordination (and a sort of ongoing synchronization), which blockchain excels at.

Not only does Blockchain technology offer a good conceptual fit to the EMS industry, but it also is a good match to this industry’s frequently risk-averse approach to investment. A new blockchain project doesn’t require a big up-front commitment. A proof of concept or even a small pilot project can be executed quickly (a matter of a few months) and at minimal cost, providing the sponsoring company with the opportunity to get hands-on experience with the application before every step of the process has been finalized, and before the User Interface has been fully designed. This agile methodology lets companies quickly take a good idea to execution, then refine and iterate it until it is finally ready for full production.

[1] High-friction is used as a way to summarize all the ways that business processes may be unsatisfactory – too time-consuming, resource-intense, expensive, slow, frustrating, etc. – often because they rely too much on manual process steps, require numerous inspections, have to be redone because of varying information standards, or due to other issues.

[2] There’s generally no need to use Blockchain to replace a well-functioning, existing EDI or RosettaNet-based process; but if none exists, Blockchain can provide a cost-effective way to automate the entire PO to Invoice process with suppliers.