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If you’re looking to ‘do’ digital transformation, read this first

By Jon Collins

Barely a day goes past in the tech press without some mention of the importance of digital transformation to businesses; each accompanied by a caveat that nobody really knows what it is. Without engaging further in this debate, what are the absolutes and what really matters?

1. That it’s all about the data. Everything.

How ever we phrase things, the singular, most significant change that technology has brought over the past 100 years is the ability to generate, store, process and transmit inordinate quantities of data. Whatever ‘revolution’ or ‘wave’ we might want to say we are in right now, be it digital, industrial or whatever, there is only really one — the information revolution.

Despite exponential appearances (and resulting perceived impetus for dramatic change), this trend continues with a certain linearity: even as we double the number of pixels on a sensor for example, or transistors on a processor, our abilities increase at a more steady pace. In business terms, the challenges of integration, capacity planning or service level management are the much the same now as they were a decade ago; we are simply working at a higher level of resolution.

2. That technology is enabling us to do new things

This still leaves room for breakthroughs, when technology passes certain thresholds. We saw, for example, the quite sudden demise of the cathode-ray television in favour of LCD screens, or indeed that of film versus digital cameras. What we see as waves are quite often technologies passing these thresholds — so, for example, the Internet of Things is a consequence of having sufficient connectivity, with low-cost sensors and ‘edge’ processing. We may be seeing another approaching with machine learning and AI.

It’s useful to compare these moments of “release of innovation” with the previous point, that many consequences are subject to evolutionary, not revolutionary impact. This dichotomy drives much technology-related marketing: a new advance can have significant specific impacts even if it does not change the world; however it will be presented as enabling the latter, even if it will only really achieve the former. Case in point — digital cameras have not made us better photographers, and nor has CRM made organisations better at customer service.

3. That we tend to do the easy or cheap stuff, as consumers and businesses

Many innovations happen through ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’. We can spend our lives putting together complex business cases that demonstrate clear ROI, but even as we do we know they are really lip service to due diligence. In work as at home, a great deal of technology adoption happens because it makes our lives easier — those explaining the extraordinary rise of Amazon, Facebook and so on emphasise ecosystems, platforms and networks and treat our own laziness and desire for a simple life as an afterthought. In business meanwhile, money saving is a far greater enabler to technology adoption than the potential for business growth.

The CBA factor is of inordinate importance, and yet gets little mention: it’s like we are embarrassed to admit our own weaknesses. Interestingly, its corollary (that of “Resistance to Change”) does get a mention when looking to explain large project failures. But here’s the fact: many of the great technology advances occur because they are easier, and they stumble when they are not. The fact people still like books or printed reports can be explained as much through ease of use, as through the need to hold something physical. The perceived need for ‘transformation’ comes from the idea that against such inertia, some big, aspirational change is necessary.

4. That nobody knows what the next big thing will be

As my old boss and mentor once said however, innovations are like route markers — it’s important to see them as points on a journey rather than a destination. However, doing so goes against two major schools of thought. The first comes from technology vendors who want (you) to believe that their latest box of tricks will indeed bring nirvana. And the second, from consulting firms, whose thought leadership role diminishes significantly if their advice is framed in terms of observational mentoring (a good thing) as opposed to somehow holding the keys to the kingdom.

There is no promised land, and neither is there a crevasse we will all fall into, but we still persist in looking through the wrong end of the telescope, framing business needs in terms of solutions rather than putting the former first. Sometimes this is done so subtly by marketers it can be difficult to spot: back in the days of “service oriented architecture” for example, it took me a while to realise that its main proponents happened to have a specific product in mind (an “enterprise service bus”). Doing so isn’t necessarily wrong, but it’s worth following the money.

5. That we are not yet “there”, nor will we ever be

As a species, particularly in times of great change, we need a level of certainty at a very deep, psychological level. And it is messing with our ability to act. It’s too easy to pander to the need for a clear answer, buying into current rhetoric with a hope that the latest advance might really work this time. All sides are at fault — those purveying solutions, those buying them and those acting as trusted third parties — but who wants to hear anyone say “it’s not going to work”?Each time round the cycle, we come up with new terms and subtly change their definitions — industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing might mean the same, or very different things depending on who you ask, a symptom of our desperation to understand, and adapt to what is going on (after all, haven’t we been told to ‘adapt or die’?).

Interestingly, the companies that we applaud, or fear the most, may well be those who care the least. Amazon, Uber, Tesla, the rest of them don’t know what’s around the corner, and what is more they don’t see this as a priority — they simply want to still be in the game this time next year. Rightly so, as they are were born into uncertainly, forged through some indecipherable and unrepeatable combination of factors. Why did Facebook succeed when Myspace, Bebo or any other high-valuation predecessor did not, for example? Above all, these organisations have an attitude to change, a mindset that sees uncertainty and therefore responsiveness, as a norm. Jeff Bezos’ articulation of Amazon’s “Day One” approach to business strategy offers a fantastically simple, yet utterly profound illustration.

6. Responsiveness is the answer, however you package it

Where does this leave us? The bottom line is that “digital transformation” is the latest attempt to provide a solid response to uncertain times, and as such remains empty words for many. It isn’t actually relevant what it is, other than a touchstone term which will soon be replaced (you can thank the marketers for that). So debate it by all means, just as you might once have debated business process management, or social networking, or hybrid cloud, or whatever tickles your fancy. As you do so however, recognise such procrastination for what it is.

And then, once you are done, take action, over and over again. Transformation doesn’t matter, unless we are talking about the transformation of mindsets and attitudes, from build-to-last to do-it-fast. That’s why agile methodologies such as DevOps are so important, not in themselves (yes, that would be putting the cart before the horse again) but because they give businesses an approach to innovate at high speed. As we continue on this data-driven journey, as complexity becomes the norm, traditional attitudes to change at the top of business, or indeed our institutions, become less and less tenable. The bets we make on the future become less and less important; what matters more is our ability to make new ones.

Terminology matters not a jot. But are you and your colleagues, at whatever level in your organisation, prepared to change? If the answer is anything other than yes, you have a bigger challenge on your hands than understanding the latest set of buzzwords.

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NEC highlights 5G deployment for creating a future beyond imagination at MWC 2018

By Zenobia Hegde

NEC Corporation announced the presentation of technologies and solutions for working together with telecom carriers in the co-creation of new business models and the implementation of 5G solutions at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 at the Fira Gran Via, Barcelona, from February 26 to March 1, in Hall 3, stand #3M30.

In today’s business and social climate, telecom carriers are constantly being required to process greater volumes of data at increasingly faster speeds, while also ensuring that transmissions are secure. At the same time, the rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are placing even greater demand on carrier resources.

At MWC 2018, NEC is demonstrating solutions and technologies that help address the needs of both telecom carriers and businesses alike through its “5G. A Future Beyond Imagination,” concept, which positions NEC and telecom carriers as service enablers for the co-creation of new business models for a wide variety of vertical industries, including the security, agriculture and transportation fields, that maximise resources and reinforce earnings.

At the NEC booth, the company’s cutting-edge portfolio of AI technologies, “NEC the WISE,” will be introduced, as well as NEC’s series of biometric authentication solutions, “Bio-IDiom,” which includes some of the world’s fastest and most accurate facial and fingerprint authentication technologies. This is in addition to highlighting NEC’s participation in the FIDO Alliance, which aims to standardise Fast IDentity Online (FIDO).

Moreover, NEC will demonstrate its advanced solutions for being a leader in mobile backhaul, network optimisation through traffic management solutions (TMS) and edge computing, as well as software-defined networking (SDN) / network functions virtualisation (NFV) that contribute to the growth of telecom carriers.

For more detail on NEC’s participation in Mobile World Congress 2018, please click here.

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High luminance, small format-capable microLED tech from Plessey expected to enable AR and VR Head-Up Displays

By Zenobia Hegde

Plessey Semiconductors, a developer of optoelectronic technology solutions, has successfully demonstrated how its monolithic microLED technology can be used to deliver the next-generation of Head-Up Displays (HUDs), enabling new augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) applications.

MicroLEDs are emerging as the only technology that can provide high luminance in a small format. Makers of wearable technologies are currently pursuing manufacturers that can deliver an ideal microLED solution. With this demonstrator, Plessey has confirmed it is ready to enable its partners to move into production of a monolithic display based on microLEDs using the company’s proprietary GaN-on-Silicon approach.

Speaking at CES 2018, Dr Keith Strickland, CTO at Plessey said: “Monolithic microLED technology is the only viable solution that can enable products that are not only compact enough to be worn without restricting the overall experience for AR and VR applications and in HUDs, but also provide the size, weight, power and luminance needed.”

The demonstrator, which has been produced in collaboration with Artemis Optical, combines Plessey’s monolithic display, based on an array of microLEDs integrated alongside an active matrix backplane, with the patented film technology and a single lens arrangement from Artemis.

The combination of technologies removes ambient light in the wavelength matching the microLED display output, resulting in a HUD that delivers very high display brightness with low power consumption, in a format that is considerably smaller than existing HUD designs, yet still offers significant cost savings.

During CES 2018, Plessey Semiconductor and Artemis Optical presented the demonstrator to many companies developing VR and AR electronics. Headsets and eyewear outfitted for AR and VR applications are set for record sales this year of US$1.2 billion (€0.98 billion) in the US market alone, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

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Sensors in the security & surveillance market expected to reach US$12bn by 2023, Frost & Sullivan believes

By Zenobia Hegde

The Internet of Things (IoT) is bringing about a new era of connectivity in the digital age, say analysts Frost & Sullivan. It is connecting critical business sectors through a network of secure data flow, analytics, and management. It is also bringing numerous opportunities for sensor participants through security technologies required for remote services and enhanced accessibility of devices.

The total sensors market in security and surveillance applications was worth $6,267.9 million (€5112.16 million) in 2016, with image sensors holding the largest market share at 23%. The market is expected to reach $12,012.1 million (€9797.19 million) by 2023.

North America and EMEA dominate the market, driven by aging infrastructures, but APAC is the fastest growing due to rapid infrastructure development, strong economic growth, and favourable government regulations. However, challenges for sensor manufacturers and suppliers include increased competition, leading to pricing pressures, lack of product differentiation, and lack of common global standards.

The growth of IoT is contributing to rapidly evolving security requirements, with the areas of robotics and biometric and RFID sensors offering the greatest opportunities. Robotics is expected to be the future of security and surveillance, with considerable investments in research and development in this space. In addition, the demand for drones and AGVs remains strong, especially in defense, commercial, and institutional spaces.

Frost & Sullivan’s recent analysis report, Sensors in Security & Surveillance, Global Forecast to 2023, covers global trends for sensors used in security and surveillance applications across industries such as industrial, commercial, institutional, building automation, infrastructure, and security and defence. The analysis also explores the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) on security and surveillance.

“In commercial and residential applications, biometric recognition used in access control systems is also witnessing a gradual increase in interest,” said Ram Ravi. “In addition, cloud networking, a revolutionary two-way interactive service delivery platform, is expected to create a technological explosion in the homes and buildings services market, particularly in commercial and residential security applications. This will enable homes and buildings participants to adopt new business models to provide attractive cloud-based services through a secured network.”

Three big predictions for sensors in the global security and surveillance market:

Internet of Things (IoT) is paving the way for industry convergence and enabling machine-to-machine (M2M) communications for better business decisions. Sensors form the physical layer of the IoT architecture;
Development of new communication protocols will ensure interoperability and provide standardisation, particularly in applications for perimeter security, intrusion detection, and access control systems; and
Retail, healthcare, and finance are all expected to offer considerable growth opportunities for sensors in biometrics.

Sensors in Security & Surveillance, Global Forecast to 2023, is a part of Frost & Sullivan’s Measurement & Instrumentation Growth Partnership Service programme.

For more information on this analysis, please click here.

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Why is the connection piece so hard?

By IoT Now Magazine

Increased usage of digital technologies by the manufacturing industry is inevitable but, while the shift is gradual, the pressure to go faster is greatWhen Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) and the Industry of Things World Conference conducted a survey to find out how successful industrial IoT (IIoT) projects have been in the last 12 months, the responses uncovered that only 53% of respondents thought their IIoT projects had met or exceeded goals. The remaining 47% said their goals had not been reached.

IIoT isn’t about companies buying a technology and suddenly they’re digital. It’s an entire architecture which encompasses an ecosystem with careful communication across various touchpoints within an organisation, all of which requires common standards as well as new technology architectures to create convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT).

One critical and common chokepoint is a lack of understanding about device connection. Even if devices are connected, there are often no simple tools to manage the devices in order to extract and transmit the data out of one language into another; for example the transmission and translation of programmable logic controller (PLC) data into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

Let’s look at the top five things to consider about the connection puzzle and how to weave them into your overall plan.

1. Getting things connected is easier said than done

During the discovery phase, many IIoT vendors gloss over this. Once manufacturers decide to take the plunge, they suddenly realise that connecting to all these different devices – legacy and modern, proprietary and open source – is really difficult, and results in significant delays which blow up the original projected timeframe.

If you’ve ever engineered systems on the plant floor, you know there are those things down on the plant floor that are a nightmare to connect to and integrate with a variety of other applications. A simple data collection task can end up taking weeks of custom coding.

2. Embrace complexity

There is no single standard way of connecting everything together. Over time, the industrial plant floor has evolved as technology has changed. For better or for worse, this advancement also means more complexity and it is not going away; in fact, it will increase.

As a result, plant floors have a mixture of device brands, different protocols, and different proprietary data sets. Embracing complexity means we accept there are a lot of moving parts in IIoT solutions that we need to link together for success and that requires a level of expertise which is better addressed as a holistic solution versus a complicated system of patch work.

3. Prepare for latency

One piece that addresses complexity is open platform communications (OPC). OPC was designed to provide industrial automation with a standard networking protocol that requires polling to receive data from devices. Polling is where the system must ask the device for data at a preset rate, such as once every second or once every half hour.

OPC requires multiple steps to send data; it is not point A to point B. A typical path looks like this: PLC […]

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