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Technology for Good – episode thirty two with SAP’s Sameer Patel

Welcome to episode thirty two of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had SAP‘s Sameer Patel as the guest on our show. Sameer and I are members of the Enterprise Irregulars group – a loose group of analysts and vendors with an interest in enterprise software. Previous Enterprise Irregulars who have guested on the show include David Terrar, Craig Cmehil, and Jon Reed.

There was a problem which wasn’t apparent to us during the show and that was that the video from my side never showed up in the recording. I suspect that’s because I was using a beta version of Chrome, but anyway, the audio, and Sameer’s video feed was recorded, so all’s well.

This week we didn’t get through all the stories we had lined up, ‘cos we had such a good discussion around the ones we did manage to fit in!

Some of the more fascinating stories we looked at on the show, included the growing number of technology companies who are abandoning ALEC, IBM’s new concentrating solar array which can create clean water, as well as solar power, and a new smartphone app which will help visually challenged users to read.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

 

Climate

Renewables

Lighting

Transportation

Data Centres

Connectivity

Drones

Hardware

Apps

Education

 

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Customer service, in-memory computing, and cloud? The utility industry is changing.

SAP For Utilities 2014 Exec Panel

I attended this year’s North American SAP for Utilities event and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the things I found there.

The utilities industry (electricity, gas, and water) are regulated industries which can’t go down (or at least, shouldn’t go down). Because of this, the industry is very slow to change (the old “if it ain’t broke…” mindset). However, with technology relentlessly enabling more and more efficiencies at the infrastructure level, utilities need to learn how to be agile without affecting their service.

This is challenging, sure. But, on the other hand, organisations like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are incredibly nimble, updating their technologies all the time, and yet they have far better uptime figures than most utilities, I suspect (when is the last time Google was down for you, versus when did your electricity last go out?).

Having said all that, at this year’s event I saw glimmers of hope.

There were a number of areas where change is being embraced:

  1. Customer Service – utility companies have traditionally not been very consumer friendly. This is the industry which refers to its customers as rate payers, and end-points. However, that is starting to break down. This breakdown has been hastened in some regions by market liberalisation, and in all areas by the huge adoption of social media by utility customers. SAP for Utilities agenda
    Utility companies are now starting to adopt social media and utilise some of the strategies we have spoken about and written about so often here.
    What was really encouraging though, was to see that one of the four parallel tracks on the first day of the conference was dedicated to usability (which admittedly is more geared to usability of apps for utility employees, but there’s a knock-on for its customers too), and even better, on the second day of the conference, one of the four parallel tracks dedicated to customer engagement!
  2. In-memory computing – SAP has been pushing its SAP HANA in-memory computing platform to all its customers since it was announced in 2010. As mentioned previously, utility companies are slow to change, so it was interesting to listen to Snohomish County PUD CIO Benjamin Beberness, in the conference’s closing keynote, talking about his organisation’s decision to go all-in on SAP’s HANA in-memory platform. I shot an interview with Benjamin which I’ll be publishing here in the next few days where he talks about some of the advantages for Snohomish PUD of in-memory computing.
  3. Cloud computing – and finally, there was some serious talk of the move to Cloud computing by utilities. In the Utility Executive Panel (pictured above), Xcel Energy‘s CIO and VP, David Harkness said that before he retires his organisation will have closed their data center and moved their IT infrastructure entirely to the cloud. And he then added a rider that his retirement is not that far off.
    Given that this was the week after the celebrity photo leaks, there was also, understandably, some discussion about the requirement for cybersecurity, but there was broad acceptance of the inevitability of the move to cloud computing

I have been attending (and occasionally keynoting) this SAP for Utilities event now since 2008 so it has been very interesting to see these changes occurring over time. A year and a half ago I had a conversation with an SAP executive where I said it was too early to discuss cloud computing with utilities. And it was. Then. But now, cloud is seen by utilities as an a logical addition to their IT roadmap. I wouldn’t have predicted that change coming about so soon.

Disclosure – SAP paid my travel and accommodation to attend the event.

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Technology for Good – episode twenty seven with SalesForce’s Peter Coffee

Welcome to episode twenty seven of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had SalesForce‘s Vice President of Strategic Research, Peter Coffee as the guest on our show.

We have met a talked with Peter a couple of times, and have always been impressed by the breadth of his knowledge, as well as his thoughts on things environmental. Also having seen that, when asked to come up with a challenge for the Cap Gemini Super Techies Show, he went with…

Present a technology vision for taking an existing bicycle manufacturer and retailer to the next level as a transportation option

 

… we were very keen to have Peter as a guest on the show.

We covered some fascinating stories on the show, including the White House’s plan to use technology to unleash data to help America’s agriculture sector, how Facebook’s Internet.org is helping people get online in Zambia, and a new initiative to help parents do simple science experiments at home with their kids.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

Climate

 

Transport

Apps/Mobile

Apps/Cloud

Crowdsourcing

Security

Open technologies

Moore’s Law

Diversity

Education

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The Global Reporting Initiative, their new CEO, Social, Mobile and Big Data

Michael Meehan - GRI new Chief Executive

We were delighted to hear this week that friend of GreenMonk’s for many years now, Michael Meehan was recently appointed as CEO of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

The GRI is a non-profit organisation that produces one of the world’s most prevalent framework’s for sustainability reporting. One of the GRI’s main aims is to make sustainability reporting by all organisations as routine as, and comparable to, financial reporting.

Michael takes over the GRI at an interesting time. As we reported here on GreenMonk recently, the interest in sustainability reporting is on the rise globally

carbon scores are now not only showing up at board level, but are also being reported to insurance companies, and are appearing on Bloomberg and Google Finance. He put this down to a shift away from the traditional regulation led reporting, to a situation now where organisations are responding to pressure from investors, as well as a requirement to manage shareholder risk.

In other words the drivers for sustainability reporting now are the insurance companies, and Wall Street. Organisations are realising that buildings collapsing in Bangladesh can have an adverse effect on their brand, and ultimately their bottom line.

On a call to Michael earlier this week to congratulate him on his new role, he mentioned that while around 6,000 organisations currently report to the GRI, his aim is to increase that number to 25,000 organisations.

To do that, at the very least, the GRI needs to embrace social, mobile, and Big Data.

The GRI has traditionally operated below the radar, but in order to grow the GRI, never mind growing it to 25,000 reporting organisations, working quietly is not sustainable. It has to become more aggressive with outbound communications – social in particular. While the GRI has a Twitter account with over 15,000 followers, there’s no mention of the account anywhere on the GRI’s website. Worse again, the organisation’s Facebook page is one automatically generated by Facebook based on Facebook users posts and interests (!), and the organisation’s Youtube channel was similarly generated automatically by YouTube’s video discovery system.

On the mobile front, the organisation’s website is not mobile aware. Nor does it have any mobile apps in the main app stores. In a time when more and more web browsing is going mobile, the GRI urgently needs to formulate a mobile strategy for itself.

And finally, on the Big Data front, in our conversation Michael expressed a definite interest in making the GRI’s terabytes of organisational information available as a platform for developers. The data is a huge repository of information going back over years. The ability to build analytics applications on top of this would yield massive benefits, one has to think.

Fortunately for the GRI, Michael is a serial entrepreneur with a history of successful exits in the sustainability space. If anyone can modernise the GRI, he can. We wish him all the best in his new role.

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Technology for Good – episode twenty six with Open Data Institute’s James Smith

Welcome to episode twenty six of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had The Open Data Institute‘s James Smith as the guest on our show.

I was very keen to have James on the show, especially since he recently announced that he is standing for election to the UK parliament next year. James is running on the principles in the OpenPolitics Manifesto, an open source plan for the UK that anyone can contribute to. This is obviously a an extremely innovative approach to electioneering, as well as being uniquely democratic. Believing as I do in the Geek Manifesto, I think it is vital we elect scientifically literate people to the world’s parliaments, so I definitely wanted James to come onto the show. And if he’s willing, I’ll ask him on again sooner to election time.

We covered a lot of topics in the show, including the US public being in favour of a carbon tax, the new Airbus electric plane, and Google’s new moonshot project, the human body.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

Climate

Energy

Internet of Things

Drones

Health

Mobile

Security

Diversity

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Big Data and analysis tools are facilitating huge advances in healthcare


SAP's Genomic Analyzer

As we noted recently here on GreenMonk, technology is revolutionising the healthcare industry, and the pace of change is astounding with new products and services being announced daily.

We were recently given a demonstration of two products currently being developed by SAP (Genomic Analyzer, and Medical Research Insights), and they are very impressive products.

The Genomic Analyzer (pictured above) can take large numbers of genomes and interrogate them for various traits. This may sound trivial, but this is a serious Big Data problem. In a talk at SAP’s Sapphirenow conference in June, Stanford’s Carlos Bustamante outlined the scale of the issue when he noted that in sample size of 2534 genomes takes up 1.2tb of RAM and consists of over 20bn records.

The industry standard for storing genomic data is in a variant call format (VCF) text file. This is then interrogated using either open source or some specialised commercial software analyse the genomic data. Researchers frequently have to write their own scripts to parse the data, and the parsing takes a considerable amount of time.

SAP's Genomic Analyzer results

On the other hand, SAP’s Genomic Analyzer, because it is based on SAP’s in-memory database technology, can take record sets of 2,500 genomes in its stride returning multi-variant results in seconds. This will allow previously impossible tests to be run on genomic datasets, which opens up the potential for disease biomarker identification, population genetics studies, and personalised medicine.

SAP are actively looking for research partners to work with them on the development of the Genomic Analyzer. Partners would typically be research institutions, and they would receive login access to the analyzer (it is cloud delivered), and the ability to create and run as many query sets as they wish.

SAP’s Medical Research Insights application again takes advantage of SAP’s Hana in-memory database to take in the vast swathes of medical data which would typically be housed in siloed data warehouses (EMR’s, scans, pathology reports, chemo info, radio info, biobank system, and so on). It can be used to quickly identify patients suitable for drug trials, for example or to surface new research when relevant to patients.

The Medical Research Insights solution is currently being developed as part of a co-innovation project with a large cancer institute in Germany, but will ultimately be applicable to any hospital or medical institution with large disparate data banks it needs to consolidate and query.

SAP are far from alone in this field. As well as developing innovative medical applications themselves, many in their Startup Focus program are also furiously innovating in this field, as previously noted.

Outside of the SAP ecosystem, IBM’s Watson cognitive computing engine is also tackling important healthcare issues. And like SAP, IBM have turned Watson onto a platform, opening it up to external developers, crowdsourcing the innovation, to see what they will develop.

The main difference between IBM’s cognitive computing approach, and SAP’s Hana in-memory database is that Watson analyses and interprets the results on behalf of the researchers, whereas Hana delivers just the data, leaving the evaluation in the hands of the doctors.

And news out today shows that Google is launching its Google X project, Baseline Study so as not to be left out of the running in this space.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the advances these technologies are starting to unlock with change the healthcare industry irreversibly for the good.

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Lack of emissions reporting from (some) cloud providers is a supply chain risk

Pollution

We here at GreenMonk spoke to Robert Francisco, President North America of FirstCarbon Solutions, last week. FirstCarbon solutions is an environmental sustainability company and the exclusive scoring partner of CDP‘s (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), supply chain program.

Robert pointed out on the call that there is a seed change happening and that interest in disclosure is on the rise. He noted that carbon scores are now not only showing up at board level, but are also being reported to insurance companies, and are appearing on Bloomberg and Google Finance. He put this down to a shift away from the traditional regulation led reporting, to a situation now where organisations are responding to pressure from investors, as well as a requirement to manage shareholder risk.

In other words the drivers for sustainability reporting now are the insurance companies, and Wall Street. Organisations are realising that buildings collapsing in Bangladesh can have an adverse effect on their brand, and ultimately their bottom line.

So transparency in business is the new black.

Unfortunately, not everyone has received the memo.

We’re written previously about this lack of transparency, even ranking some cloud computing providers, and the supply chain risk as a result of that lack of reporting. Amazon and SoftLayer being two prime examples of cloud computing platforms that fail to report on their emissions.

However, SoftLayer was purchased by IBM in 2013, and IBM has a reasonably good record on corporate reporting (although, as of July 2014, it has yet to publish its 2013 Corporate Responsibility report). Hopefully this means that SoftLayer will soon start publishing its energy and emissions data.

Amazon, on the other hand, has no history of any kind of environmental energy or emissions reporting. That lack of transparency has to be a concern for its investors, a risk for for its shareholders, and a worry for its customers who don’t know what is in their supply chain.

Image credit Roger

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Technology for Good – episode twenty five with SAP Mentor Chris Kernaghan

Welcome to episode twenty five of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had cloud architect and SAP Mentor Chris Kernaghan as the guest on our show. This was not Chris’ first time co-hosting the Technology for Good show, so as an old hand, I knew this was going to be a fun show, and so it was. We covered a lot of topics in the show, including the repeal of carbon tax in Australia, IBM and Apple’s enterprise partnership, and Microsoft’s shedding of 18,000 employees (and a platform!).

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

Climate

Renewables

Big Data

Mobile

Apps

Internet of Things

Comms

Wearables

Cognitive Computing

Misc

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Microsoft powering more of their Cloud from renewables

Wind Turbine

We’ve mentioned the issue of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with cloud computing once or twice in the past, and we’ve even ranked cloud computing companies based on their emissions. Obviously not all cloud companies report on their emissions (shame on you Amazon), and consequently those that don’t are at the bottom of the rankings.

In looking at cloud computing providers Microsoft ranked very highly. According to the EPA, Microsoft is the third highest user of renewable energy in the US (and Google is fifth).

We in GreenMonk, were delighted therefore to see Microsoft continue that commitment when they announced that they will purchase 175 megawatts of wind energy from the Pilot Hill Wind Project in Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago, as part of a 20-year agreement. This is the second wind power purchase agreement Microsoft has signed, and only one of their many emissions reductions projects.

Kudos to Microsoft for the far-sighted investment. As organisations are beginning to realise the risks associated with their cloud supply chain, opaque cloud suppliers like AWS and SoftLayer will be abandoned for more responsible, transparent, risk-free suppliers like Microsoft.

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Technology for Good – episode twenty four with GE CTO Jeremiah Stone

Welcome to episode twenty four of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had GE’s CTO for Digital Energy Jeremiah Stone as the guest on our show. We have recorded videos with Jeremiah previously, and they’ve always gone well, so we were reasonably confident this one would be good too, and it was. Given Jeremiah’s work in Digital Energy, not surprisingly we had several good conversations around Electricity 2.0 and smart grids as well as the regular Cloud, wearables and Internet of Things topics.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate

Renewables

Cloud

Apps

Wearables

Comms

Internet of Things