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Are we drowning in data?

We live on a planet almost three-quarters covered by oceans, but says ADRIANA MARAIS, Head of Innovation at SAP Africa, better data-enabled management can prevent a global water crisis.

Life as we know it requires water to survive. While simple in composition, the H2O molecule in bulk liquid form enables the complex chemistry required for organisms from bacteria to humans to function. However, as the pace of change of our technological development accelerates and shifting weather patterns and a growing population place increasing pressure on our fresh water resources, a deeper appreciation and better management of this most vital resource to our existence needs to become a priority.

Water is more abundant in the solar system than we thought

Life is arguably one of the most mysterious phenomena we have ever come across. Philosophically, it could be argued that a full understanding of the topic may be impossible from the vantage point of being living organisms ourselves. Nonetheless, this has not prevented us from trying to figure it out.  Among the most interesting discoveries that we have made is that all living things on Earth contain DNA, and that significant portions of the genetic code are shared in organisms from amoeba to elephants. This is a beautiful discovery in terms of unity- we are all part of one living system on this planet. On the flipside, this implies that terrestrial life provides us with just a single data point in terms of our understanding of life itself. In light of the observation that all terrestrial life requires water, a reasonable place to begin in our search for a second data point representing a living system, is in places in our solar system where liquid water is present.

Much of Earth’s water is older than the Sun. This remarkable observation is based on the Sun not having radiated enough during its lifetime to have produced the observed isotope ratios of existing H2O. Furthermore, liquid water in our solar system appears to be far less rare than previously imagined. For example, Jupiter’s moon Europa is thought to have an ocean beneath its icy crust, kept warm by the tidal friction of expansion and contraction induced by its elliptic orbit in the gravitational field of the massive planet. Recently, the detection of an underground lake on Mars was announced, its liquid state thought to be maintained even at temperatures significantly below zero due to dissolved salts as well as the pressure of the ice sheet above it, similar to lakes detected under Antarctica.

At the recent OzWater 2018 conference held in Brisbane, Australia, the opening speakers addressed the role of big data, both in increased precision of astronomical observations including detections of water in our solar system, as well as in managing our diminishing fresh water supplies on Earth. The Mars One Project and other endeavours to design and implement human settlement of Mars are driving a fundamental rethink of how we use and think about natural resources, in particular water. Capabilities in efficient solar-powered desalination, which we should be moving towards faster on Earth, are crucial prerequisites for the design of systems on Mars to extract ice crystals from the sand, liquefy and purify for safe usage, all powered by thin-film photovoltaics.

The extraction of resources like metals and water from asteroids may seem futuristic in terms of our requirements on this planet, but in fact, for example, we are predicted to run out the rare metal indium required for touch screen functionality in the next decade. For crewed space travel on the other hand, the capability to rendezvous with asteroids to collect water and other resources is essential as we explore beyond Mars. A crew of four people requires three tons of drinking water for the seven-month journey to Mars- a figure which quickly becomes a limiting factor for longer journeys.

Back on Earth, water scarcity is an increasing problem

Around the world, water scarcity is gaining ground as one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. The recent global headlines around Cape Town’s impending Day Zero- the day the taps run dry- sent shockwaves around the world. A major city running out of drinkable water may have been unthinkable only a few decades ago, but according to the World Wildlife Fund, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. Already, some 1.1 billion people around the world lack access to water, with a total of 2.7 billion finding water scarce for at least one month of the year.

At the recently-held WISA 2017 conference in Cape Town, deputy Cape Town mayor Ian Nielsen admitted that water scarcity may become Cape Town’s defining feature, and that “we need to accept the days of plentiful water supply in Cape Town may well be over.”

Dams and (Big Data) lakes

Space exploration continues to push the envelope in terms of our technological capability. We first landed remotely controlled equipment on Mars in the 1970’s. The Mars Rover is the 7th successful landing on Mars, and has traversed the surface of the Red Planet since 2012, gathering and sharing volumes of data that are instrumental in our understanding of the planet and its capability to support life, both in the past, present and future. Recent data generated by the Rover revealed that the watery lake that once filled Gale Crater, around 3.5 billion years ago, contained complex organic molecules that may constitute a food source or the remnants of life there. In 2014, the Rover detected methane- the simplest organic molecule, periodically being released in Mars’ atmosphere.

In isolation, neither of these discoveries provide proof of life on Mars. However, while the data itself is inconclusive, increased sophistication of hardware sent to explore Mars, use of capabilities like machine learning for increased automation of this hardware, and by applying powerful data analytics tools, researchers can start piecing together parts of the problem. As more pieces of the puzzle are revealed, the possibility of uncovering ground-breaking findings increases exponentially.

The accelerating use of IoT sensors and accompanying computing platforms that mine sensor data to reveal insights and trends is equipping policymakers and governments with unprecedented insight into how to best manage available resources based on real-time, accurate information.

Cape Town City has begun to take steps to securing its 3 million-odd residents’ water supply. These include plans for desalination plants, groundwater abstraction projects, improved municipal water management, and other supply diversification programmes. And much of this is built on or enabled by technology.

Data has been used to develop a range of interventions that have seen water consumption reduced by 30% over the past 15 years in the Cape Town, despite its population growing by 30% during the same period. The City’s use of technology to automate asset management and field service processes has enabled mobile field workers to access, complete and manage their assigned work orders and service requests via their mobile devices. To date, the meter reading teams have captured over 3.7 million meter readings using its mobile application at an average speed of 45-70 seconds per meter. This has enabled the City to better manage its water resources and install, inspect, maintain and repair water and sanitation assets while giving managers access to near real-time information that is analysed to improve future decision making.

In spite of all the data, a lot remains to be done in the City from a management perspective. Damage to agriculture in the region due to the water crisis has already been estimated at several fold the cost of a desalinator with capacity for the entire City’s consumption. This is coupled with last week’s report of underspending by the City’s water department of a whopping R1.6 billion on its capital budget in the midst of the ongoing crisis.

As climate change and growing populations place increasing pressure on our limited natural resources, all countries and cities will need to drastically rethink their approach to the preservation, management and use of scarce natural resources. I always come back to the thought that intelligent aliens would laugh at a water scarcity crisis on a planet 71 percent covered by oceans. Instead of accepting that the days of plentiful water supply may well be over, we need to accelerate our use of technology and data towards better management of our precious resources on this planet, most vitally, water.

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Cybercrooks eye smart buildings

In countries like the United States, the growth of smart buildings is estimated to reach 16.6% by 2020 compared to 2014, although this expansion is not limited to the US but rather is taking place on a global scale.  This growth is largely due to the fact we live in a world increasingly permeated by technology, in which process automation and the search for energy efficiency contribute not only to sustainability, but also to cost reduction – a goal pursued in all industries, public and private alike. Naturally, the construction industry is no exception, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET South Africa.

Smart buildings use technology to control a wide range of variables within their respective environments with the aim of providing more comfort and contributing to the health and productivity of the people inside them. To do so, they use so-called Building Automation Systems (BAS).  With the arrival of the Internet of Things (IoT), smart buildings have redefined themselves. With the information they obtain from smart sensors, their technological equipment is used to analyse, predict, diagnose and maintain the various environments within them, as well as to automate processes and monitor numerous operational variables in real time. Ambient temperature, lighting, security cameras, elevators, parking and water management are just some of the automatable services currently supported by the technology.

To put the possibilities of this smart infrastructure into perspective, is the example of a smart building in Las Vegas where, two years ago, they decided to install a sophisticated automation system to control the use of the air conditioning (keeping in mind Las Vegas has a hot desert climate and very little rain), so it is turned on only when there are people present. This decision led to a saving of US$2 million during the first year after the smart system was installed, due to the reduction in energy consumption achieved by automating the process. Marriott Hotels implemented a similar system across the entire chain that is expected to generate an estimated US$9.9 million in energy savings.

Another example of automation through smart devices is that of a supermarket in the United Kingdom. The store installed a smart system in its parking lot that generates a kinetic energy from the movement of cars passing through it, and then uses that energy to power the checkouts.

At first glance, we may not see any security risk in these smart buildings.  It is likely, however, that at some point the entire smart network is connected to a single database, and that is where the risk is. Particularly if we consider that many IoT devices are manufactured by different suppliers, who may not have paid due attention to security considerations during their design and manufacturing process.

Possibility of a smart building being attacked

The risk of a security incident taking place in an intelligent building is linked to the motivations of cybercriminals, who mainly seek to achieve economic gain through their actions, as well as to impact and spread fear.

There are already some tools such as Shodan that allow anybody to discover vulnerable and/or unsecured IoT devices connected publicly to the internet. If you run a search using the tool, you can find thousands of building automation systems in its lists, complete with information that could be used by an attacker to compromise a device. In February 2019, around 35,000 building automation systems worldwide appeared in Shodan within public reach via the internet.

This means that someone could take control of a BAS after finding it through a search.  If, for example, a criminal used Shodan for building automation systems to attack, they will find IP addresses. If they copy those IP addresses into the address bar of a web browser, in many cases this will bring up an interface for gaining access, where they need to enter a username and password. If the password is a default password of if it can be cracked easily through a brute force attack, the attacker will gain access to the system monitoring panel, which contains information similar to the companies located in the smart building.

Once the attackers have access to this public information and can monitor, for example, how the air conditioning works, they could make a phone call pretending to be from the maintenance company and say they are going to send a technician. At the same time, the attackers could request remote access, which would give them access to the server and allow them to control the building. Once they have control, they could alter the building’s heating or air conditioning or adjust the way any of the other automated systems operate and then demand payment of a ransom in using a system that allow them to remain anonymous, such as cryptocurrency, in exchange for not shutting the building down.

Siegeware: a very real threat

Cybercriminals are already carrying out such attacks when they have the opportunity. This kind of attack is siegeware, or “the code-enabled ability to make a credible extortion demand based on digitally impaired building functionality”

In conclusion, the low cost of IoT devices for buildings and the advances of technology for building automation systems is leading to changes with an impact on security. This drive toward automation and the use of smart devices to gather data – in order to give a building’s users more comfort and to make more efficient use of resources such as energy – is also leading to increased security risks. As a result, the possibility of a cybercriminal launching a ransomware attack on asmart building is already a reality.

Considerations to keep in mind

There are a number of security considerations and requirements to keep in mind:

  • Review the devices’ security specifications and work on the basis of the ‘security by design’ concept
  • Set a suitable budget for security
  • Choose partners that have knowledge of security issues
  • Install software for managing vulnerabilities
  • Ensure cooperation between the different areas and/or departments

For operational issues:

  • Update the devices regularly
  • Implement a replacement plan for when devices’ support life cycles end
  • Exercise a precaution in respect of connected devices
  • Monitor connected devices

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How we can break out of the productivity/technology trap

The tyre industry is a microcosm of the dilemma in which South African manufacturers find themselves, writes JACQUES RIKHOTSO, MD at Bridgestone

Many of South Africa’s industries have been built on the back of abundant cheap labour. Mining is the obvious example, but the manufacturing sector has also been shaped by thefact of cheap labour. For many years, cheap labour was arguably a huge advantage, enabling us to become a world-leading mining country and also to create significant agricultural and manufacturing capabilities. But, in the end, it has had the unintended consequence stifling investment in equipment and masking a skills deficit that will be very hard to overcome.

To understand the dynamics, it’s as well to begin by reminding ourselves that productivity is, at the crudest level, the relationship between output and input. Humans are still the most important input contributors, and so labour costs are a significant factor in the productivityequation.

In South Africa and other developing economies, labour costs are low whereas in thedeveloped world, they are high. South African manufacturers (and miners and farmers) have thus typically used more people to produce the same amount of units than a European or American manufacturer would do, while still managing to compete on price and often on quality. However, the much more expensive labour costs in the developed world, while causing short-term pain, have always meant that the business case for investing in the latest technology to make those expensive humans even more productive has always been strong.

By contrast, the business case for investing in up-to-date equipment has been weak in South Africa. If more output was required, more people was typically a cheaper answer than better equipment. We have therefore remained a fairly labour-intensive market, which is good given our unemployment issues, but raises two specific and daunting challenges:

We need to make major investments in equipment. In my industry, I would venture to say we are 15-20 years behind developed countries when it comes to the deployment ofequipment. This was not too much of a problem for a long while because the old equipment was still cost-effective and could turn out the products needed at the right quality and price. However, tyre technology has now moved on to such an extent that the old machines simply are not capable of producing the new generation of products. Radiallised Agricultural/Underground Mining Sector Tyres and light weighted tyres for electric cars, for example, represent significant advances in tyre design. Current machinery cannot be adapted to produce either them; a substantial investment in new equipment will be necessary.

Another factor is that the industry dynamics have changed over the past few years. Theadvent of cheap, mass-produced tyres from the Far East means that in many instances, fleet owners are not retreading existing tyres but rather purchasing these cheap ones new. To compete, local tyre manufacturers need to move upwards on the Technology Cost Curve by investing in technology is less electricity-intensive, deploys minimum labour and requires maintenance in order to compete with high-volume producers.

The other consequence of competing with lower cost producers is the need to write down older retreading capacity and invest in more modern equipment.

Because our investment in equipment has been so low for so long, we are not talking about incremental investment but something much more significant in many areas at once.

This massive new wave of investment will not be restricted to manufacturing equipment. High-tech data-driven modern equipment associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution will also require factory layouts to be revamped in order to accommodate new IT infrastructure and robotic capacity, as is already being used in the developed world.

This is essential if we are able to compete in the longer term.

We need to make major investments in skills, both at the corporate and national levels. Investments in new technology will create a need for a new generation of skilled operators. The new machines require totally different skills—hard-won dexterity with gears and levers is making way for skills on touchscreens, the ability to type and, crucially, to read and action screen-based instructions quickly. Sadly, many of the cadre of experienced operators will not be able to reskill and companies will need to give serious thought to their future.

However, in Bridgestone’s experience, the younger generation of operators often has thepotential for reskilling on modern machines, and we are already busy with that process.

Being part of a global group is a massive advantage, because our regions are all at different stages of industrial development, and some have undertaken a similar journey into the modern era. Our Japanese factories, in particular are industry leaders in tyre manufacture. We can therefore rely on previous experience and, most important of all, cansend key employees to acquire the necessary training and experience at one of our sister facilities. Such a person can then be used as a champion within the company, to train colleagues and promote new ways of working. In our experience, such an approach does work, but it takes time and effort.

South Africa’s status as a manufacturing country has been in the balance for some years thanks to our lack of investment in new technology, but there is no doubt that a strong manufacturing sector is critical in rebuilding in the economy. To re-ignite our manufacturing, we have to escape the technology/ production trap.

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