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Gates foundation opens mobile payments software

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has released new open-source software for creating payment platforms that will help unbanked people around the world access digital financial services.

The software is designed to provide a reference model for payment interoperability between banks and other providers across a country’s economy. It is available now, free-of-cost, for software developers to adapt and banks, financial service providers and companies to implement. Information on the code can be found at mojaloop.io.

Current data from the World Bank shows that nearly two billion people in developing economies lack bank accounts and miss out on the benefits and security that basic financial services provide. Digital financial services, such as mobile money on cell phones, have rapidly expanded over the last two decades because they are convenient for users and cost-effective for companies aiming to serve new markets. In Kenya, an estimated 194,000 households have moved out of extreme poverty due in part to their access to M-Pesa, a mobile money platform, and users’ ability to save money more effectively. Digital financial services are now available in nearly 100 countries according to GSMA, an organization representing mobile network operators. However, global expansion of these services—especially to the world’s poor—has been hampered, in large part, by a lack of interoperability between digital financial services and payment platforms.

The new software, called Mojaloop, establishes a blueprint for connecting today’s financial services sector, and can be used as a solution to barriers that banks and providers seeking interoperability have traditionally faced. Delivering financial services to the poor is prohibitively challenging for many businesses because they struggle to invest adequately in complex technology while maintaining a commitment to low-cost, inclusive services. This has led to a prevalence of consumer payment options that are out of reach for many people in developing economies, or which limit customers’ ability to transact across products, banks and borders. These and similar challenges have dissuaded many companies from expanding into developing markets altogether.

Mojaloop can be used by financial institutions and commercial providers, to simplify and reduce the cost of developing inclusive payment platforms. It was designed to serve ultimately as a model for national payment switching systems that, for example, enable an individual’s digital wallet to connect with her employer’s bank account and her children’s school account to complete monthly transactions. The code can also be applied to adapt and improve existing services.

“Interoperability of digital payments has been the toughest hurdle for the financial services industry to overcome. With Mojaloop, our technology partners have finally achieved a solution that can apply to any service, and we invite banks and the payments industry to explore and test this tool,” said Kosta Peric, Deputy Director, Financial Services for the Poor, at the Gates Foundation. “Just as the internet revolutionized digital communication, open-source solutions like Mojaloop can spark innovation and democratize access to digital payments, empowering billions of new customers and driving massive economic growth in developing markets.”

Mojaloop (building off the Swahili word “moja,” which means “one”) was created in partnership with fintech developers Ripple, Dwolla, ModusBox, Crosslake Technologies and Software Group, using cutting-edge technology such as the Interledger Protocol, a solution for settling funds among multiple providers across their individual systems. It joins other promising digital financial software, but is the first model that can help extend interoperability from mobile money providers to any bank, merchant or government institution in a customer’s economy in a way that specifically meets the needs of the poor.

“Interoperability is necessary both for financial inclusion and market maturity, but it is a complex thing to achieve,” said Benno Ndulu, Governor of the Bank of Tanzania, the country’s national bank. “We are excited to explore implementation of this because of how it can simplify that capability for businesses and governments, and speed up access to financial services.”

“As we modernize and develop national and cross-border payments infrastructure in Africa, the only way to sustainably reach and serve the world’s unbanked communities is through new technologies,” said Chris Hamilton, CEO of BankservAfrica. “Our aim as an organization is to offer national payments platforms for the next generation of financial innovators and Mojaloop gives us some tantalizing new options for doing that in a way that integrates with the entire national economy.”

Developers can access the new software on GitHub, the world’s leading open-source development platform. It includes four components: an interoperability layer, which connects bank accounts, mobile money wallets, and merchants in an open loop; a directory service layer, which navigates the different methods that providers use to identify accounts on each side of a transaction; a transactions settlement layer, which makes payments instant and irrevocable; and, components which protect against fraud. The software will not be owned or implemented by the Gates Foundation. It will be used in the foundation’s ongoing work to promote the development of pro-poor, digital payment platforms.

Mojaloop was created by the Gates Foundation’s Level One Project, which is aimed at leveling the economic playing field by crowding in expertise and resources to build inclusive payment models to benefit the world’s poor. Alongside Mojaloop’s development, the project also brought together four mobile systems companies—Ericsson, Huawei, Telepin, and Mahindra Comviva—to develop an Open API for mobile money interoperability. These APIs will allow mobile money providers to integrate seamlessly with Mojaloop and products built from it.

“In order to achieve the full potential of mobile money, we must evolve today’s complex and often fragmented digital payments ecosystem,” said Mr. Shi Yaohong, President of Software Product Line at Huawei. “I look forward to exploring opportunities to leverage Mojaloop to help us achieve our goal of bringing digital financial services to all poor and low-income customers.”

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Now IBM’s Watson joins IoT revolution in agriculture

Global expansion of the Watson Decision Platform taps into AI, weather and IoT data to boost production

IBM has announced the global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, with AI technology tailored for new crops and specific regions to help feed a growing population. For the first time, IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and IoT data to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting.

By 2050, the world will need to feed two billion more people without an increase in arable land [1]. IBM is combining power weather data – including historical, current and forecast data and weather prediction models from The Weather Company – with crop models to help improve yield forecast accuracy, generate value, and increase both farm production and profitability.

Roric Paulman, owner/operator of Paulman Farms in Southwest Nebraska, said: “As a farmer, the wild card is always weather. IBM overlays weather details with my own data and historical information to help me apply, verify, and make decisions. For example, our farm is in a highly restricted water basin, so the ability to better anticipate rain not only saves me money but also helps me save precious natural resources.”

New crop models include corn, wheat, soy, cotton, sorghum, barley, sugar cane and potato, with more coming soon. These models will now be available in the Africa, U.S. Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as new markets across Europe and Australia.

Kristen Lauria, general manager of Watson Media and Weather Solutions at IBM, said: “These days farmers don’t just farm food, they also cultivate data – from drones flying over fields to smart irrigation systems, and IoT sensors affixed to combines, seeders, sprayers and other equipment. Most of the time, this data is left on the vine — never analysed or used to derive insights. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture aims to change that by offering tools and solutions to help growers make more informed decisions about their crops.” 

The average farm generates an estimated 500,000 data points per day, which will grow to 4 million data points by 2036 [2]. Applying AI and analysis to aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. The platform assesses data in an electronic field record to identify and communicate crop management patterns and insights. Enterprise businesses such as food companies, grain processors, or produce distributors can then work with farmers to leverage those insights. It helps track crop yield as well as the environmental, weather and plant biologic conditions that go into a good or bad yield, such as irrigation management, pest and disease risk analysis and cohort analysis for comparing similar subsets of fields.

The result isn’t just more productive farmers. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture could help a livestock company eliminate a certain mold or fungus from feed supply grains or help identify the best crop irrigation practices for farmers to use in drought-stricken areas like California. It could help deliver the perfect French fry for a fast food chain that needs longer – not fatter – potatoes from its network of growers. Or it could help a beer distributor produce a more affordable premium beer by growing higher quality barley that meets the standard required to become malting barley.

Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is built on IBM PAIRS Geoscope from IBM Research, which quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models. It crunches large, complex data and creates insights quickly and easily so farmers and food companies can focus on growing crops for global communities.

IBM and The Weather Company help the agriculture industry find value in weather insights. IBM Research collaborates with start up Hello Tractor to integrate The Weather Company data, remote sensing data (e.g., satellite), and IoT data from tractors. IBM also works with crop nutrition leader Yara to include hyperlocal weather forecasts in its digital platform for real-time recommendations, tailored to specific fields or crops. IBM acquired The Weather Company in 2016 and has since been helping clients better understand and mitigate the cost of weather on their businesses. The global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is the latest innovation in IBM’s efforts to make weather a more predictable business consideration. Also just announced, Weather Signals is a new AI-based tool that merges The Weather Company data with a company’s own operations data to reveal how minor fluctuations in weather affects business.

The combination of rich weather forecast data from The Weather Company and IBM’s AI and Cloud technologies is designed to provide a unique capability, which is being leveraged by agriculture, energy and utility companies, airlines, retailers and many others to make informed business decisions.

[1] The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”

[2] Business Insider Intelligence, 2016 report: https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10


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What if Amazon used AI to take on factories?

By ANTONY BOURNE, IFS Global Industry Director for Manufacturing

Amazon recently announced record profits of $3.03bn, breaking its own record for the third consecutive time. However, Amazon appears to be at a crossroads as to where it heads next. Beyond pouring additional energy into Amazon Prime, many have wondered whether the company may decide to enter an entirely new sector such as manufacturing to drive future growth, after all, it seems a logical step for the company with its finger in so many pies.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon would truly ‘get its hands dirty’ by manufacturing its own products on a grand scale. But what if it did? It’s worth exploring this reality. What if Amazon did decide to move into manufacturing, a sector dominated by traditional firms and one that is yet to see an explosive tech rival enter? After all, many similarly positioned tech giants have stuck to providing data analytics services or consulting to these firms rather than genuinely engaging with and analysing manufacturing techniques directly.

If Amazon did factories

If Amazon decided to take a step into manufacturing, it is likely that they could use the Echo range as a template of what AI can achieve. In recent years,Amazon gained expertise on the way to designing its Echo home speaker range that features Alexa, an artificial intelligence and IoT-based digital assistant.Amazon could replicate a similar form with the deployment of AI and Industrial IoT (IIoT) to create an autonomously-run smart manufacturing plant. Such a plant could feature IIoT sensors to enable the machinery to be run remotely and self-aware; managing external inputs and outputs such as supply deliveries and the shipping of finished goods. Just-in-time logistics would remove the need for warehousing while other machines could be placed in charge of maintenance using AI and remote access. Through this, Amazon could radically reduce the need for human labour and interaction in manufacturing as the use of AI, IIoT and data analytics will leave only the human role for monitoring and strategic evaluation. Amazon has been using autonomous robots in their logistics and distribution centres since 2017. As demonstrated with the Echo range, this technology is available now, with the full capabilities of Blockchain and 5G soon to be realised and allowing an exponentially-increased amount of data to be received, processed and communicated.

Manufacturing with knowledge

Theorising what Amazon’s manufacturing debut would look like provides a stark learning opportunity for traditional manufacturers. After all, wheneverAmazon has entered the fray in other traditional industries such as retail and logistics, the sector has never remained the same again. The key takeaway for manufacturers is that now is the time to start leveraging the sort of technologies and approaches to data management that Amazon is already doing in its current operations. When thinking about how to implement AI and new technologies in existing environments, specific end-business goals and targets must be considered, or else the end result will fail to live up to the most optimistic of expectations. As with any target and goal, the more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results. Once specific targets and deliverables have been considered, the resources and methods of implementation must also be considered. As Amazon did with early automation of their distribution and logistics centres, manufacturers need to implement change gradually and be focused on achieving small and incremental results that will generate wider momentum and the appetite to lead more expansive changes.

In implementing newer technologies, manufacturers need to bear in mind two fundamental aspects of implementation: software and hardware solutions. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which is increasingly bolstered by AI, will enable manufacturers to leverage the data from connected IoT devices, sensors, and automated systems from the factory floor and the wider business. ERP software will be the key to making strategic decisions and executing routine operational tasks more efficiently. This will allow manufacturers to keep on top of trends and deliver real-time forecasting and spot any potential problems before they impact the wider business.

As for the hardware, stock management drones and sensor-embedded hardware will be the eyes through which manufacturers view the impact emerging technologies bring to their operations. Unlike manual stock audits and counting, drones with AI capabilities can monitor stock intelligently around production so that operations are not disrupted or halted. Manufacturers will be able to see what is working, what is going wrong, and where there is potential for further improvement and change.

Knowledge for manufacturing

For many traditional manufacturers, they may see Amazon as a looming threat, and smart-factory technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a far off utopia. However, 2019 presents a perfect opportunity for manufacturers themselves to really determine how the tech giants and emerging technologies will affect the industry. Technologies such as AI and IoT are available today; and the full benefits of these technologies will only deepen as they are implemented alongside the maturing of other emerging technologies such as 5G and Blockchain in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers need to analyse the needs which these technologies can address and produce a proper plan on how to gradually implement these technologies to address specific targets and deliverables. AI-based software and hardware solutions will fundamentally revolutionise manufacturing, yet for 2019, manufacturers just have to be willing to make the first steps in modernisation.

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