Implementing Artificial Intelligence tech

Blue Machine Look Mechanical Eye Lens Bionics

Here is an article in which Alison DeNisco (@alisondenisco) reveals that only a third of tech leaders are implementing AI tech, published on April 10, 2017 in TechRepublic’s CXO Section

My position?

“We are planning to take advantage of the benefits brought by machine learning, AI and advanced analytics”, said Florentin Albu, CIO of Ofgem E-Serve. “We are at the stage of active exploration through proof of concepts, to educate the business in what is possible, and to gain a better understanding of potential challenges.”

As you begin implementing AI and machine learning, it’s also a good time to review your company’s data monetization strategy and data architecture, Albu said, as they are critical factors for delivering benefits.

Read the full article here:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/cio-jury-only-one-third-of-tech-leaders-are-implementing-ai/

On digital transformation

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Here is an opinion poll among tech leaders, on the interest that businesses might have in digital transfromation, by Alison DeNisco (@alisondenisco), published on February 17, 2017 in TechRepublic’s CXO Section

My position?

For Florentin Albu, CIO of Ofgem E-Serve, “the digital transformation in our case is closely linked to the improvement of customer journeys, and to an optimization of business processes that will lead to operational excellence,” he said. “New technologies and the younger demographic are key factors considered in this transformation.”

Read the full article here:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/cio-jury-more-than-half-of-cios-have-no-formal-digital-transformation-plan/

Blockchain – what is it and why should the energy sector care?

image1Having already taken the finance industry by storm, the Blockchain technology has started to attract a lot of interest from other sectors. While being on the panel for one of the debates at the excellent Blockchain Expo in London this January, I realised that more and more business executives want to join these discussions, and would benefit from a relatively non-tech introduction to it. So here are the basic concepts, with some the added thoughts on why it should be relevant to my current industry – the energy sector.

What on earth is a blockchain?

In a nutshell, a blockchain is a distributed database that facilitates secure online transactions.

The entries in this database (records, or more precisely, blocks) are designed to be secure. They have specific mechanisms through which they link to each other in a way that makes alteration of their data virtually impossible.

From this point of view, a blockchain can be considered a secure ledger that does not require a trusted administrator, and which is suitable to recording sensitive information and demonstrating chronology of ownership.

A blockchain can be also understood as largely an append-only ledger for recording the history of transactions. The ledger exists in multiple copies across the participants to that blockchain (which are synchronised all the time), and uses a system of decentralised consensus, whenever a change is required for the historical data stored in the ledger. This means that participants in the blockchain can record new transactions in the ledger, however if one needs to alter transactions that were recorded previously, this can be done only with the consensus of the other participants.

All information that is present on a blockchain, as well as the operations executed within the context of the blockchain, are called “on-chain” – everything else is off-chain. This has relevance when one tries to bridge the digital world (on-chain, secure) with reality (off-chain, insecure).

Evolution of the blockchain

The first generation of blockchain is considered the one supporting digital currencies, such as bitcoin.

As the security of the blockchain proved itself, additional features were added to this technology in a second generation, and this was done as the blockchain platforms diversified (e.g. Ethereum, Hyperledger, etc.).

The most important new feature was that of a smart contract. This is in effect a piece of computer code that runs on a blockchain. This code defines the rules and consequences in the same way that a traditional legal document would, stating the obligations, benefits and penalties which may be due to either party in different circumstances.

The purpose of a smart contract is to enable two anonymous parties to do business with each other, without the need of a middleman.

A smart contract can be automatically executed by a blockchain. Because the blockchain is a secure platform by design, it allows for the smart contract to be trusted by the blockchain participants.

The challenge comes from the interaction with the real world– for example the smart contract needs information such as price points in order to trigger its execution. Who can be trusted to inject this information into the blockchain?

The revolution: blockchain 3.0

Enter the “oracles”.

An oracle is an entity trusted by the blockchain and its participants, and which can securely present the blockchain with claims about the real world. These can be soft (e.g. an oracle that introduces official kwh prices into the blockchain) or hard (e.g. an energy meter that introduces energy consumption or production data into the blockchain). The keyword here is “trusted”, which would mean a cryptographically attestable and tamper-proof way of providing the real data, thus allowing for off-chain interaction.

The details behind blockchain 3.0 are still crystallising, and while they do so, industry touts this technology as the next revolution of the Internet. While blockchain 1.0 and 2.0 have been largely applied to the financial sector, blockchain 3.0 will have particular relevance to industries, government and education. It is worth noticing that the technology gradually becomes available more broadly, and one of the leading efforts in this regard comes from Microsoft, with its Bletchley initiative – Azure support for blockchain infrastructure “in the cloud”, since November 2016.

This sounds familiar…

How is this different from regular (complex) computing systems?

The key difference is that a blockchain is a distributed, secure-by-design platform with the capability to execute autonomous smart contracts which include financial operations, without the need for a trusted central authority.

Enough with the theory – how is this relevant to the Energy sector?

In April 2016 a first blockchain-managed energy trading transaction took place in New York. A small solar micro-grid venture enabled residents to sell each other solar energy, without the involvement of national utility companies. The historical transaction was made by the owner of a solar roof panel who sold a few kWh to a neighbour, using a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain.

In November 2016, a mWh energy trade took place between two European energy companies (Yuso and Priogen Trading). This was done on a specific blockchain platform developed for the energy sector, Enerchain, and which showed the possibility of creating a peer-to-peer energy marketplace that does not require a centralised platform or authority.

Clearly, the above are proof of concept examples, however the industry develops quickly. Take the Bitcoin for example. At the end of 2008 it was presented as an idea. 8 years later it has about 16 million bitcoin in circulation. 1 btc is valued at over $1000 as of Jan 2017, and companies such as Ernst and Young, Microsoft, Dell, Expedia and PayPal are accepting it for payments.

While in its infancy, the technology has potential advantages to the energy sector. It could lower the barriers to entry for the energy marketplace. With its secure and distributed ledger it can offer a trusted and transparent way of recording transactions, both for the energy generation as well as for its consumption. Its trusted nature means that peer-to-peer transactions can be accomplished without intermediaries, and this could streamline the energy distribution.

The blockchain platform could ease the process of verification for green energy, and also allow for the direct trade of renewable obligation certificates.

Last and not least, blockchain 3.0 could open up new possibilities, when coupled with other developments in technology and in the energy sector. One could envisage the scenario of a “smart” house, where the smart meter is a participant in a blockchain 3.0 energy trading platform. The smart meter acts as an economically independent machine with its own digital wallet. Smart contracts that are associated with the meter will allow it to autonomously trade excess energy that is produced by the household (solar/biomass/etc), or purchase at the most advantageous rate based on the market offer – perhaps even securing a low rate for an extended period.

Conclusion

Considering the potential of the blockchain technologies, their application to various sectors (in addition to finance) should be closely followed, in order to understand what opportunities develop and how they could transform the market.

Some further info:

1st Blockchain:

The Bitcoin was the first application of blockchain technology. Bitcoin is a form of digital currency that was designed and implemented in 2008/2009 by an unidentified person that goes by the name Satoshi Nakamoto. The bitcoin blockchain is the public ledger of all transactions ever carried out with bitcoin and it has resolved the double spending problem which inherently affects digital cash. As of Jan 2017, there are more than 16M Bitcoin in circulation. Microsoft, Ernst and Young, Dell, Expedia and others accept bitcoin.

A note about encryption:

Blockchains use established security technologies such as public/private key encryption. This type of encryption uses 2 sets of characters called keys. One key can be used only for encryption and it can be safely made public by its owner, so that anyone can encrypt information addressed to the owner. The other key is only used for decryption, and the owner keeps it private. Public key encryption is considered secure as there is no need to exchange decryption keys. This encryption is also used for digital signatures.

Digital currencies that use encryption technologies are also called cryptocurrencies.

 

Beauty vs. Commodity in the Enterprise

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Here is an article on the new 2016 Apple MacBook Pro, and the interest that businesses might have in it, by  Alison DeNisco (@alisondenisco), published on November 18, 2016 in TechRepublic’s CXO Section

My position?

 

“Considering how mature cloud digital workspaces such as Office 365 have become, the desktop/laptop hardware has lost its relevance,” said Florentin Albu, CIO of Ofgem E-Serve.” With such devices being a commodity, price plays an essential role in their selection. Beauty comes at a price, and in this case the business case for using MacBook Pros in the enterprise would be difficult to articulate.”[…]

Albu said that, for his business needs, a user environment centered around Office 365 and Surface tablets makes more sense. “As such, we don’t plan to actively support other portables for now,” he said.

 

Read the full article here:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/cio-jury-two-thirds-of-it-leaders-say-their-company-wont-support-the-2016-macbook-pro/

US elections and their impact on IT

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How will the Clinton or Trump presidency affect IT – in a CIO Jury article by Alison DeNisco (@alisondenisco), published on November 07, 2016 in TechRepublic’s CXO Section.

My position?

The two candidates have taken very different positions on technology and innovation, said Florentin Albu, CIO of Ofgem E-Serve. “Based on the information in the public domain, it appears that Clinton intends to increase the technology skills available in the country and is open to measures such as high-skill immigration,” Albu said. “This should have fairly immediate effects in terms of giving US companies continuous access to qualified tech workforce.”

Clinton’s focus on cybersecurity means that security companies will be encouraged to innovate and compete, especially in the area of encryption algorithms, Albu said. And her support for net-neutrality should ensure there is no corporate-tiered internet.

Meanwhile, “Trump appears to have a different stance on net-neutrality, with potential negative implications in terms of wider accessibility to the net,” Albu said. “A strong focus on homeland security could result in weaker encryption for US IT exports. The unclear position on highly-skilled immigration might result in a shortage of specialist workforce.”

Read the full article here:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/cio-jury-more-than-50-of-cios-say-new-us-president-will-impact-the-future-of-tech/

An increase in Internet security threats

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IT leaders perceive an increase in cybersecurity threats, as revealed by Alison DeNisco (@alisondenisco), in an article published on September 16, 2016 in TechRepublic’s CXO Section.

My position?

Florentin Albu, CIO of Ofgem E-Serve, said he believes internet security threats have increased on two dimensions, following a constant rate of growth year-on-year. First, “they have become more sophisticated, with new tools and exploits coming to life,” Albu said. Second, “ransomware has continued to expand into becoming something of a commodity of the malware world.”

It’s also worth noting that some of these tools appear to be associated with past initiatives carried out by state actors, Albu added.

Read the full article here:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/cybersecurity-two-thirds-of-cios-say-threats-increasing-cite-growth-of-ransomware/

Using the cloud for democratizing data analytics in the enterprise

Here is a diagram of my end-to-end vision for a data platform, which I have presented at the Bioinformatics Strategy Meeting Europe (London, 12/07/2016).

data-platform-vision

Data feeders, such as data capture devices, field sensors, IoT, genomic sequencers, etc., generate data which goes into a Working Data Store.

The Working Data Store (on premises) could use technologies such as Hadoop. Ideally data sets should be identified through a DOI-like system. Data owners/authors should be identified through ORCID. The Working Data Store would  feed a Reference Data Store.

Electronic Lab Notebook systems, and Lab Information Management Systems would also generate data. They would also feed the Working Data Store and potentially the Reference Data Store.

The Reference Data Store (on premises) has all the characteristics associated with the management of active data sets.

Other significant data source are the systems of reference in the organisation (ECM, ERP, CRM, etc). as well as cloud-based data sources

A federated data repository interface is the mechanism through which the access to data across the different repositories would be gained (Working and Reference Data Stores, Systems of Reference and Cloud-based data sources).

The interface would also offer access to the on-site Compute facilities, as well as to cloud-based compute facilities (Amazon, Azure etc).

Through a set of Web APIs, the interface would expose the data as needed to a web platform for publication.

On-site analytics and visualisation tools (e.g. R, Matlab, Galaxy, etc) would access the data through the same interface.

Cloud based analytics and visualisation tools (such as semantic/knowledge based languages with rich,, predefined functions and models for analysis across different domains) would also interact with this data through the federated interface. In addition these would link to cloud-based knowledge repositories directly. This category also includes simpler tools that are available more readily across the enterprise – e.g. PowerBI.

Some of the challenges re data analytics are:

  • Availability of tools across the organisation
    • skills needed, and learning curve;
    • costs;
    • scale-ability and performance.
  • Data availability across the organisation
    • How fit for purpose is the data, and whether it is granular enough;
    • Compliance requirements;
    • Data quality.
  • Interfacing the tools with the data (particularly relevant as some of the cloud tools are in their infancy).

Further reading:

Creative Commons Licence
This article and the diagrams/images included, by Florentin Albu, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.