AI, IoT, Big Data and Blockchain are just a handful of buzzwords floating around the industry but why should the Channel adopt?
Being in such a fast-paced industry, naturally it’s crucial to keep up with the latest innovations around the market.
In an ever-evolving industry, Moore’s Law, the idea that every year and a half IT gets twice as powerful, half the price or half the size, could be seen as a blessing as well as a curse; although explaining that to the IT manager currently clearing out his office kit may be a slightly harder sell.
Fast forward to 2019 and Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and Blockchain demand attention without, on the face of it at least, much reason to warrant it.
“When we think about Emerging technology now, we see all the things that we’ve been dreaming of beginning to come to market” explains InnovationScouts Chief Technology and Innovation Officer Scott Stonham.
“There are lots of different pieces that we look at but ultimately we view it as technology that is going to disrupt someone, some business somewhere, change the way things are done, changing the customer expectation and, through that, creating an opportunity.”
In recent conferences the likes of Ribbon Communications and NetApps (see page 34) have made a point of talking about the use of artificial intelligence in relation to data analytics, giving credence to the noise around the industry. Speaking at the AWS Summit in London, Faculty cofounder Angie Ma said that, despite being in its infancy, AI applications are still being found.
“We have applied and scaled artificial intelligence for many different organisations such as the home office to tackle terrorism by stopping videos being uploaded online or the London fire brigade to understand fire risks better to help make buildings and homes safer.
“Increasingly, car insurers use algorithms to help determine whether to accept or reject a claim or how much insurance premium someone would pay. Using AI, they are able to give reasons for an increase in premiums which provides transparency and many organisations, especially those in regulated industries want to give more transparency when they are using AI algorithms in their business.”
“You don’t have to use blockchain to create a decentralised system, you don’t have to use blockchain to create a trust-based environment, you don’t have to use blockchain to get closer to your customers to track what’s going on.”Scott Stonham, chief technology and innovation officer, InnovationScouts
“The main reason for companies adopting AI comes from the availability of a lot of data” said Fincons Group head of international business development Oliver Botti.
“From manufacturing, the integration of IoT has created a lot of new data available.“
“During the lifetime and the life cycle of products there is plenty of data acquired and now collected in time to be analysed. The human ability to analyse this data is not sufficient it will need AI to support and analyse data and help make effective and conscious decisions by humans in addition to automatic decisions.
“We are using it with manufacturing but also in the media sector. The Associated Press in the UK use artificial intelligence to verify stories and find fake news. The possibility for a big player like the AP to integrate usage and related content into professional content is a must, it’s a must to be able to break news but the con is the actual ability to verify this news. Artificial intelligence is put in place to try and denounce these stories and consolidated best practice that the AP may also have.
“But these best practices are mainly human based. What we are trying to do is mainly automate the process and to introduce the help of artificial intelligence to make automatic checks and suggestions to the end user, to the journalist or the editor, to select this piece of news.”
Cutting through the noise
Despite it’s advantages and uses in businesses today, according to a report by CompTIA, less than a third of UK businesses are currently making use of AI.
The report said that when it came to potential uses for AI, companies focused on improving work-flows (52 per cent), analysing large datasets (51 per cent), enhancing the customer experience (48 per cent) and in security monitoring and detection (47 per cent).
Such views were branded “short sighted” by CompTIA senior director, technology analysis Seth Robinson but Botti said that AI is not the only area in which the expectation of the business use case is not aligned to what the technology may be able to do.
“So often we are engaged at the start of a project as a consulting activity, understanding the new business case and looking for the new enabling technologies. Some technologies are not mature but when we start implementation businesses need to be agile because the technologies change, so the business needs to change, to test, drive, validate and refine their approach along the way.
“Very often when we introduce a new technology not everything is clear, the applicability is not proven and the result that we can obtain is not yet clear. Particularly in the scouting phase we typically are in a situation where we need to discover what we can actually obtain.”
HeleCloud CEO and Chief Cloud Officer Dob Todorov agreed, adding that its important for channel partners to educate their customers on this new technology. “These technologies are set to have a major impact and customers are keen to adopt them, but progress isn’t happening fast enough.
“There are two major barriers preventing UK businesses from taking advantage of all three of these emerging technologies: cloud adoption and scarcity of skills. Digital transformation is now a matter of existence for UK businesses big and small. As a key pillar of digital transformation, cloud adoption continues to be a priority and challenge for businesses as they know the cloud is enabling many to innovate, but at the same time lack the skills and experience internally to take advantage.
“Channel partners have a huge role to play in removing these barriers for UK businesses through expertise and training. The skills gap is creating a huge new business opportunity for specialist “born in the cloud” players within the channel who are helping to guide, advise and deliver compelling Cloud solutions and training programmes to UK businesses.”
One technology that has not evaded the hype is Blockchain. The secure data logging technology has been closely associated with crypto currencies such as Bitcoin however presentations this year are becoming more and more focused on it.
Use cases are coming to the fore now with industries such as banking, law and distribution keeping an eye on how they could make the most of what, on the face of it, is a much more efficient form of capturing and logging information.
Speaking at the London Summit in May, AWS VP of compute services Matt Garman talked through the progress and products that the cloud provider has gone through over the past 12 months and have been able to categorise the uses adding “Blockchain is a topic that many people wonder about, are interested in, and want to know how to think about that.
“We spent a good chunk of time last year, really getting in deep with customers and understanding what they want to use blockchain for. We asked ‘what are you hoping to solve with this technology?’
“We came out with customers wanting two main use cases. The first thing is a significant number of customers, effectively wanted a ledger, they wanted it owned by a single trusted entity, but they wanted a ledger that acts as a transparent, immutable, cryptographically verifiably transaction log.
“Then there is a second set of customers that really wanted to execute contracts. They wanted to share data with one another without a single trusted authority.”
Alacatel Lucent’s cloud business development manager for europe north Matteo Kotch said “Blockchain is a great vehicle to provide a common and trusted view of information, which is one reason why it is estimated that by 2025 it will be used in most areas of the global supply chain.
“Despite organisations in the UK leading the way with at-scale Blockchain proofs-of-concept, the main challenge for the channel will be in terms of accommodating legacy systems.
“The most obvious area where Blockchain will have the biggest impact is in banking where it presents a more affordable, safer and efficient way of transferring money between parties. Another industry where we could start noticing an impact is in healthcare as medical practitioners could have a more secure way of accessing patient records.”
Stonham agreed but added that there are still hurdles for the technology itself to overcome. He said “A good use case is from the shipping industry who are trying to use Blockchain and IoT to manage their supply chain. Traditionally it has been a shipping containers and shipping services business but they are trying to get to a ‘shipping as a service’ model and blockchain, IoT and other technologies they are pulling together.
“We hear lots about what Blockchain can do and these wonderful use cases but actually when you strip lots of them back, when you consider the additional cost of a blockchain solution – typically implementation, training, integration but also energy is a massive cost – it doesn’t provide additional benefit alongside solving the problem with solutions that already exist in the market.
“You don’t have to use blockchain to create a decentralised system, you don’t have to use blockchain to create a trust-based environment, you don’t have to use blockchain to get closer to your customers to track what’s going on. But if you could solve some of those fundamental problems and make Blockchain faster, cheaper and more scalable that is where it will get more interesting.”
As more use cases are found adoption of technologies such as AI, machine learning, IoT and Blockchain will naturally increase. However, adoption is dependant on perceptions which is another potential hurdle when opening conversations about such new tech.
VMware VP and CTO for EMEA Joe Baguley said: “We have this traditional view that the robots are going to take over and we’re all going to lose our jobs to AI.
“I don’t think that’s true and what we’ve seen in the past is traditionally technology has always replaced humans and the jobs we do have evolved as a result of technology and AI is no different in that respect.
“I think people suddenly think that there is going to be this mass taking over of AI but we are already losing jobs on a daily basis. You just have to look at automatic self-service tills, they are a start, but they are not brilliant, there still needs to be a human there. That’s where technology has replaced humanity, usually for good, usually it’s replacing not very great jobs with technology.”
Kotch added that the approach is often key “When it comes to passing on new technology to the end customers and making them aware of it, we’ve encouraged our partners to re-think the way that they sell.
“Rather than simply opting for a purely transactional sales approach, we now help them adopt a more consultative approach where they liaise with the customer to develop solutions to specific pain points. This is an ongoing engagement from our side with mentoring and workshops to help up-skill our partners and sales support with any new project.”
Collaboration is key
In terms of the success of the future, according to Stonham, one technology won’t necessarily win out.
“It’s not about the one technology, it’s taking that example as well and looking at what it is. It’s Blockchain, AI and IoT or is it connectivity and VR because VR and immersive reality technologies, are also a bit nascent right now, there’s a lot going on in those areas but the real valuable use cases are still being played with.”