Digitally Speaking

Richard Simmons
April 26, 2019

If you work in IT like myself, you’ll know what a struggle it can be to explain to your family and friends exactly what you do for a living. More specifically, that your job is probably so much more than fixing a laptop – although this is something that I must admit people still ask me to do now and then…

Not being able to easily explain to people what I do and the value of it was frustrating, but now this is changing along with the nature of my job. In the past two years I have been heavily involved in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Now the solutions that I’m developing and the projects that I’m working with are having a direct impact on people, communities, and even potentially broader societies. From flood prevention to waste optimisation and robotic process automation, the application of technology is changing the way people live and work. So now, when I give examples of my work, people can relate to or even be amazed by how far technology has come.

Moving past repetitive tasks…

The impact of technology, and particularly the development of AI on businesses and society, is something that I spend a lot of time discussing with customers and partners. The advent of Cloud computing has enabled us to analyse vast quantities of data with ever more powerful computers, which is extending the possibilities of what we can do. Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around AI programs that have excelled at a particular task, predominantly a type of game. The AI could be trained to execute a specific task to a level beyond human capabilities. We see this approach being applied within manufacturing, where robots can be programmed to repeat a particular task to a precision and speed that a human would struggle to match, and can learn from their experience to develop more efficient ways of working.

The focus now for companies like Deepmind is to develop a general AI that can be good at more than one task. For Deepmind, this was initially also focused on games and the ability for machines to learn independently, until they are at a level to outperform humans. The hope is that these general AI programs will be able to apply this approach to multiple real-world problems, reducing the time they need to become effective. The concern though is that we will reach a point, sometimes called the Singularity, when we will develop an AI that has the ability to learn and apply itself to any problem, without needing input from human programmers. It is easy to see that this could have huge benefits, but for me, it is also a cause for concern.

Autonomous cars are  a good example of this dilemma. We know that leveraging autonomous cars could have a huge impact on society. For the elderly or disabled it could open up much greater freedom and mobility than is currently possible. For governments and councils, it would allow them to get greater efficiency out of the infrastructure that is in place and manage the increased demands from a growing population. But they will never be entirely safe and they also raise a fundamental problem; how do we program an AI with the rules and ethics that we as humans live by?

The most widely known example of this is the runaway car. A car is travelling down a hill, it cannot be stopped but can be directed to move. On one side is a cliff, on the other side is a child, in the middle of the road are two adults. What should the AI in the car do? Swerve over the cliff and kill you, as you are in the car, but save the child and adults? Swerve and kill the child but save you and the adults? Or not move at all and kill the two adults but save you and the child? What if there were two children not one, or what if the two adults were pregnant women, or perhaps there are children in the car? All of these situations would need to be defined in a set of rules, and even then you may need to agree to have a setting in the car, which would allow you as the occupant, to decide whether the car should put more value on your life or on others, as not everyone’s values are the same.

So what’s next?

This for me highlights one of the key points around the development of technology in the next few years. Technology will not suddenly take over, nor will AI dominate and compete directly with humans, unless we let it. Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned theoretical physicist, expressed his fear that AI might replace humans altogether. He believed that we should still move forward on Artificial Intelligence development, but we also need to be mindful of its very real dangers.

It is up to each business to decide if AI should replace a human and if they do, whether the employees can be given more rewarding work or be made redundant. It is up to society and governments to decide if AI should be applied to urban mobility and how they mitigate the impact on those that work in those sectors currently. What we can do with technology will have a direct impact on all of us, but I strongly believe that it is humans that will determine how that develops and how it is applied. Perhaps in trying to replicate how humans behave in AI solutions, we will actually learn a lot more about what makes us human in the first place.

Students working together at university

Richard Simmons
March 20, 2019

If you’re attending next week’s UCISA Leadership Conference, make sure to visit the Logicalis stand 83-90 to meet our higher education experts and see first hand how technology can create a connected campus to improve student safety, reduce costs and transform experiences.

The UCISA19 Leadership Conference takes place between 27 and 29 March at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. The highlight of our presence at the event will be a live demonstration of a connected campus, which aims to show how investment in foundation services can help to bring previously siloed technologies and datasets together. By making the network the enabler, we’ll show how campus furniture – in this case a lamppost – can be used to securely collect actionable sensor data, which when analysed can enable, for example, student safety measures.

UCISA logo
As Cisco’s UK & Irelands first IoT authorised partner we will be demonstrating the latest in digital network automation to show how this can improve the IT team’s ability to design, provision and manage network services, creating seamless secure experiences across any network or device.

Register for a demonstration

Logicalis UK’s strong track record within higher education (we work with over 40 universities), is evidenced by our work with the University of Wolverhampton on an IT transformation project that enabled it not only to meet current needs, but also to provide a platform for future digital innovation. This partnership has, so far, resulted in a number of benefits for the University’s community. Savings of £33,000 have been made by retiring unused applications and transitioning from legacy systems and an 83% reduction in the cost of creating and operating a virtualised server has been achieved. Speak to our on-stand experts to learn how we can achieve similar for other academic institutions.

To keep up to date with all our activities make sure you follow us on social media:

Category: News

Richard Simmons
February 18, 2019

Peel away the shiny facade of any great business and you’ll no doubt see the same things. Data. People. Process. This combination, when correctly tuned, is the critical factor in the success of businesses today. So I’m always surprised when I work with clients who haven’t yet discovered this ‘secret sauce’ and who aren’t yet driving value from their data.

Reassuringly, up to 75 percent of CIOs are now harnessing their data effectively, according to Logicalis’ recent global survey of CIOs. In today’s challenging trading conditions, organisations that combine business intelligence (BI) and analytics to enhance customer service, delivery and supply are the ones that will thrive. Never has there been more pressure on CIOs to put data in the driving seat for real competitive advantage. In fact, if CIOs are not driving value from their business intelligence, they may struggle to stay in business.

Quality in, quality out

Successful use of BI and analytics starts with knowing what makes good data. You can provide the most stunning visualisation for a business but the output will only ever be as good as the data going in.

From the perspective of the customer, good data, or rather, correct data is critical. From personalised emails that label you the wrong gender, to clumsy sales calls for services you don’t need, we’ve all been at the receiving end of misplaced marketing messages where the data held on you doesn’t quite match up. If customer data is wrong then, undoubtedly, the customer experience is not going to be a good one.

But changes are afoot, driven in part by data governance. GDPR has been a contributory factor in improving the way many businesses handle data. It now costs resource and money to store and secure customer data, so if it’s not adding value then there’s no point keeping it.

From a business perspective, data must be linked to business objectives. Our survey has revealed 25% of CIOs simply don’t know whether benefits are being derived from BI and analytics, suggesting that some CIOs are involved in delivering data projects without fully understanding how they will be used. Similarly, 41% of CIOs stressed that having no clear business brief is a barrier to moving forward with BI and analytics projects.

Manage what you mine

Next to quality, management is the next critical factor. I have worked with clients whose marketing teams spend as much as 80% of their time creating data sets and 20% of their time on analysing it. With all their time tied up at the front end of the machine, they have no time to analyse and action the insights they’re getting. If you can’t make your data work for you, what’s the point in mining it?

In the last two years, 90% of the world’s data has been created. Knowing what to do with it is far from straightforward. I often go into businesses that have so much data they get overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. That’s where curation comes in.

A key challenge in maximising data is knowing which of it to use, and when. When you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you effectively explore the data you produce? Data curation is a relatively new function that, by combining the skills of data scientists and data analysts, allows businesses to determine what information is worth saving and for how long.

It’s the difference between looking for a book on Amazon or going into a Waterstones store. The former will present you with a million options. The latter uses expert sales staff to find out what you’re looking for and guide you to a range of options.

Businesses looking to enable self-service analytics will utilise data curation to give internal teams quicker access to the data they need to make commercial decisions. This could be in the form of an in-house data curator or support from an external team. But the outcome is what’s important.

Make your data project pay from the start

Getting tangible benefits from BI and analytics requires resource, but it also requires ongoing investment. And where there is investment, there must be strategy. Joined-up thinking across the business and a laser focus on the return on investment can help businesses avoid common stumbling blocks when starting BI and analytics programmes for the first time.

It’s sadly quite common for organisations to jump into data projects without ensuring the ground-work is in place, with the digital wing of the business introducing new BI and analytics process only to be tripped up by old business practises in other areas.

There can be a tendency to overlook the ROI of BI and analytics projects, which can be a huge risk to the business. My advice is to break the project down to start driving outputs and getting results you can use quickly. I have seen many organisations stall because they embark on huge, monolithic projects that take years to complete and can become outdated during the time of implementation. This can be easily avoided by adopting agile working practices – going through cycles and iterations that produce results you can start using immediately.

Is respect for data a cultural thing?

BI and analytics are essential for innovation; the pace of which is defined by the pace of valuable insight coming into the business. So developing a data-driven culture is a critical component.

We need to change the way we interact with data, from the customer data we store to the intelligence we mine and use to make better decisions. With a clearer focus on business outcomes, organisations can harvest their data more effectively or even decide whether or not to invest in large BI and analytics projects. I still go into businesses that want to introduce BI and analytics without truly understanding the business challenge. If your business is running effectively then why implement it?

So how do we build a data-driven culture? It must start from the top down. BI and analytics advancement can improve business practices and help make better decisions, but they must be part of, and driven by, strategy.

The cultural shift is already happening. Our understanding and use of data is changing as new blood enters the market. Today’s entrants have grown up with data, at home with functions like Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa, which allow us to get answers really easily. This is truly a data-driven generation.

We’re almost at a cusp where for every CIO used to the old world, there is a new data-savvy millennial joining the industry. It’s no longer just about the technology, it’s the people and processes behind the tech that are driving change and changing company culture.

Where we see BI and analytics really pulling their weight is where CIOs aren’t afraid to experiment with their data, using agile working to go through cycles and iterations rather than attempting large scale, monolithic BI. Getting results you can use straight away to improve the business is the secret to bringing the rest of the C-suite on-board for the journey.

Category: Analytics

Richard Simmons
January 25, 2019

If you’re heading to Cisco Live, make sure you visit the Logicalis booth (S6) to meet our Cisco, security and IoT experts and find out how we can help you enhance business agility through digital transformation.

Cisco Live EMEA takes place between 28 January and 1 February at the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona, and we’re exhibiting in the ‘World of Solutions’ as well as presenting during the Cybersecurity Partner Day. This annual customer conference aims to inspire IT leaders and champions of digital transformation.  It presents a unique opportunity to acquire cutting-edge knowledge and skills on the technology that is already in use, and those that we’ll rely on in the future through meetings with, and presentations by Cisco experts and partners and unparalleled networking opportunities.  And that’s where we come in

Logicalis has a long history and strong relationship with Cisco. We’re one of only six Global Gold Partners and in November last year we scooped 14 Partner Summit awards across multiple territories and categories.

Meet us in Barcelona

We’ll be on stand S6 in the ‘World of Solutions’ for the whole week, so feel free to pop by for a chat with one of the team, or to view one of two demonstrations.

  • Digital Network Architecture – a roadmap to digitisation
    Find out how we integrate Cisco software defined access with industrial networking and IoT solution
  • Predictive threat analytics – automated detection and response
    Discover how we integrate Cisco Stealthwatch with IBM QRadar to provide full context and rich visibility into security information and event management (SIEM) applications.

David Angulo, Security BDM Consultant from our team in Spain will also be discussing integrating Cisco’s Behavioural Analytics Technology Stealthwatch with IBM’s SIEM QRadar during the Cybersecurity Partner Day on January 28 at our booth at 4pm.

Plenty of ways to keep in touch if you can’t make it to Barcelona!

To keep up to date with all our activities make sure you follow us on social media.

Cisco will be live steaming a lot of the show, so if you want to feel like you’re there and watch in real time visit CiscoLive.com/emea or YouTube.

Category: News

Richard Simmons
November 5, 2018

Nowadays, when it comes to digital, employee expectations are at an all time high and, with the industry-wide skills gap proving a difficult problem to solve, often the greatest challenge faced by organisations is not only sourcing the right people, but keeping them.

If your employees are motivated and committed, then individual targets are more likely to be met and business objectives are more likely to be achieved. If not, then your workforce, and available skill pool, is likely to dwindle. In the current climate, attracting and subsequently retaining talent is one of the biggest dilemmas faced by businesses of all sizes.

This is why user experience should be the driving force behind any changes to your digital landscape.

‘The Workplace’- A new definition

There’s no getting away from the fact that things are changing. ‘The Workplace’ used to be similar to an engine room where any and all work was completed. Employees came in at 9am and left at 5pm each day, completing all their assigned tasks whilst staring at the same four walls.

Then along came agile technologies, empowering employees to leave the office and enabling them to work with a level of flexibility that had never been achieved before. They can work at any time and from anywhere. ‘The Workplace’ is no longer a desk in an office. It can be anything an individual would like it to be; whether that is a cafe, the family living room or a park bench. And what’s more, time constraints are a thing of the past. Of course, the dreaded deadlines are still unavoidable but working hours are no longer dictated by a lack of efficient technology.

All in all, the ability to offer some form of flexible working has become an important part of attracting your workforce. In fact, a recent report conducted by global recruitment expert Hydrogen discovered that 81% of people look for flexible working options before joining a new company. The same report also found that 88% of technology professionals consider flexible working to be more important than other benefits and 60% of those questioned would chose it over a 5% salary increase. It’s no longer optional for businesses – if you don’t invest in the technologies to support flexible working initiatives then potential, talented candidates will look elsewhere.

And flexible working doesn’t just play a role in the hiring process, agile technologies and the new workplace can also help businesses to retain talent.

If employees can work flexibly, they can better manage their work/life balance. They can choose to work longer – and at a more flexible rate – if they wish meaning that more experienced generations will be able to educate and pass on specialised skill sets to the younger, up and coming workforce. And, thanks to agile technologies, they will no longer have to be there physically to do so.

In fact, with flexible working initiatives, if employees are coming into the office it will often be because they’ve chosen to or because they would like to meet others there. As a result, ‘The Workplace’ is transformed into a social hub, where relationships are formed and maintained, rather than a space where deadlines have to be met. Better relationships with co-workers leads to happier employees who are more invested in the company culture and so less likely to leave.

Listening to the data

There are the obvious benefits associated with flexible working initiatives for employees but installing agile working technologies also enables businesses to capture informative data.

You see, in our online world, every single action generates data. Every website visited, every message sent, every document created has a record somewhere. For businesses, this data can be used to measure employee activity and ensure that any facilities and services are meeting the standards of today’s workforce.

After all, at the heart of this new digital workplace is user experience. By monitoring the data that they are able to collect via agile technologies, businesses can essentially listen to their employees needs and ensure that they’re supporting them.

And, if you can work out which environments produce the best results in your workforce then you can look to emulate this elsewhere. For example, if there is a room in the building where people prefer to meet or are able to work more productively, data will reveal this. This intel can then be used to influence and optimise the whole office space so that your business can make the most out of its environment. So agile technologies are not only changing the ‘workplace’ as a concept, they can also be used to change it physically.

The re-definition of ‘the workplace’ has opened up a whole host of opportunities for businesses and for employees alike. Empowering your workforce and granting your people an element of choice by enabling them to work how they would like to is important for both attracting and retaining talent. As is also updating physical spaces to improve employee satisfaction and – as a direct result – productivity. After all, your workforce is your most valuable asset and if you invest in them then your entire business will reap the rewards.

Category: Analytics

Richard Simmons
June 20, 2017

I have a confession to make, I love to read. Not just an occasional book on holiday or a few minutes on the brief, or often the not so brief, train journey into and out of London but all the time. Right now has never been a better time for those with a love of reading! The rise of digital media means that not only can you consume it pretty much anywhere at any time but more importantly it is making it easier for more people to share their ideas and experience.

Recently I came across a book called “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations” by Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman., which I not only found fascinating to read but has also helped to shape and change the way I view many of the challenges we are facing both in business but also in our personal lives. The premise of the book is that often he would arrange to meet people for breakfast early in the morning, to do interviews or research stories but occasionally these people would be delayed. These moments, rather than being a source of frustration, became time he actually looked forward to as it allowed him to simply sit and think. And looking at the world, he believed we are living through an age of acceleration due to constant technology evolution, globalisation and climate change. He argues that these combined are the cause for much of the challenges we currently face.

The key point about this acceleration is that it is now reaching a level in which society and people are struggling to adapt. Within the technology world we talk about disruption a lot, a new business or technology arrives that can disrupt a sector or market, the competition struggles to adapt and eventually a status quo is resumed. For example Uber has undoubtedly caused a huge disruption in the world of transport, and governments are currently working through how they can better legislate for this new way of operating. The challenge will be that new legislation can take 5-10 years to agree and implement in which time Uber may well have been replaced by autonomous cars.

So what we are experiencing now is not just disruption but a sense of dislocation, the feeling that no matter how fast we try and change it is never enough. In this environment it will be the people, businesses and societies that are able to learn and adapt the fastest which will be most successful . For business we are constantly shown how being more agile in this digital world can drive efficiency, generate new business models and allow us to succeed but I feel often what is lacking is the guidance on how to get there. We have a wealth of different technology which can support a business but what is right for me? What should I invest in first? And how do I make sure that I maximise the value of that investment?

My experience with many of our customers is that they understand the challenges and also the opportunity, but simply do not have the time to think and plan. When they do have time the amount of choice can be overwhelming and actually daunting. In a small way this is the same challenge I face when looking for new books to read, I can go online but with so much to choose from how will I know what I will enjoy? The opportunity that digital media provides with more authors and contents can actually make finding and choosing something that you think is valuable much harder.

In Logicalis, we understand the business challenges that you face and discuss with you the different technology options that could support you, recommending those that can deliver the biggest value in the shortest time frame. Contact us to find out how we can help you keep up to speed with emerging technology and use it to your benefit.

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