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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

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Technology for Good – episode twenty three with Theo Priestley

Welcome to episode twenty three of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had  Software AG‘s Chief Technology Evangelist Theo Priestley as our guest on the show. Theo is one of those guys who I have come across online, but this was the first time we had ever talked, so I wasn’t sure how the hangout would go. As it was, I needn’t have been concerned, it went really well. Last week was July 4th, Independence Day in the US, so there was less Tech news to discuss, but despite that, we had plenty to talk about, especially in the Wearables and Comms categories.

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

Climate

Internet of Things

Apps

Comms

Wearables

Transport

Sustainability

Misc

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Ubiquitous computing, the Internet of Things, and the discovery of sound

Sounds of East Lansing photo

I had a really interesting, wide-ranging, conversation with SalesForce’s VP for Strategic Research, Peter Coffee the other day.

A lot of our conversation revolved around how recent changes in the Internet of Things space, in ubiquitous computing, and in Big Data and analytics area are enabling profound effects on how we interact with the world.

Peter had a superb analogy – that of sound travelling through air. When sound is generated, it is transmitted from the source to the surrounding air particles, which vibrate or collide and pass the sound energy along to our ears. Without any air particles to vibrate, we wouldn’t hear the sound (hence there is no sound in space).

As you enter our planet’s atmosphere from space you start to encounter molecules of air. The more molecules there are, the better they can interact and the more likely they are to transmit sound.

If you hadn’t experienced air before, you might not be aware of the existence of sound. It is unlikely you would even predict that there would be such a thing as sound.

In a similar way, in the late eighties, when very few people had mobile phones, it would have been nigh on impossible to predict the emergence of the mobile computing platforms we’re seeing now, and the advances they’ve brought to things like health, education and access to markets (and cat videos!).

And, we are just at the beginning of another period when massive change will be enabled. This time by pervasive connectivity. And not just the universal connectivity of people which mobile phones has enabled, but the connectivity of literally everything that is being created by low cost sensors and the Internet of Things.

We are already seeing massive data streams now coming from expensive pieces of equipment such as commercial jets, trains, and even wind turbines.

But with the drastic fall in the price of the technologies, devices such as cars, light bulbs, even toothbrushes that were never previously, are now being instrumented and connected to the Internet.

This proliferation of (typically cloud) connected devices will allow for massive shifts in our ability to generate, analyse, and act on, data sets that we just didn’t have before now.

When we look at the concept of the connected home, for example. Back in 2009 when we in GreenMonk were espousing the Electricity 2.0 vision, many of the technologies to make it happen, hadn’t even been invented. Now, however, not only are our devices at home increasingly becoming connected, but technology providers like Apple, Google, and Samsung are creating platforms to allow us better manage all our connected devices. The GreenMonk Electricity 2.0 vision is now a lot closer to becoming reality.

We are also starting to see the beginnings of what will be seismic upheavals in the areas of health, education, and transportation.

No-one knows for sure what the next few years will bring, but it is sure going to be an exciting ride as we metaphorically discover sound, again and again, and again.

Photo credit Matt Katzenberger

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Technology for Good – episode twenty two with David Terrar

Welcome to episode twenty two of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had CEO of D2C, co-founder of AgileElephant, and fellow Enterprise Irregular, David Terrar as guest on the show. As well as being a fellow Enterprise Irregular, David is an old friend, so we had a lot of fun discussing this week’s crop of stories. Last week Google held its I/O developer conference so there were plenty of Google stories breaking, but we also found time to fit in topics such as renewables, communications, and health.

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

Climate

Renewables

Communications

Mobile

Google (!)

Wearables

Transportation

Health