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New workforce, new strategy

By CHARLES BARRATT, principal business solutions architect, EMEA EUC strategic accounts, VMware

Companies are increasingly more aware of how valuable their employees are, as digital disruption rips through all industries in today’s competitive market. Understanding how empowering your workforce can have a positive impact on business growth will be key to survival. In fact, according to Forbes, 78% say they are seeing more sales and revenue as a result of their digital empowerment efforts for employees.

So how can we create the ultimate workforce? The rule or power of three suggests that things that come in threes are funnier, more satisfying and/or more powerful. Take for example, the three little pigs in fairytales, the Holy Trinity or scoring a hat trick in football. What if we applied this concept to how we approach empowering our employees?

In a new report from IDC ‘Becoming “Future of Work” Ready: Follow the Leaders’, there are three pillars that underpin the foundation of digital success. These are culture, workspace and workforce. Only the organisations that adopt this business mantra and are agile enough to innovate against a challenging market landscape will disrupt and survive. The rest, those that cannot adapt to global changing working practices, will eventually wither.

Each pillar on its own will drive incremental change but only together will organisations truly achieve the desired impact of transforming the business to compete in the era of digital.

Culture

An organisation’s culture can often be its biggest asset – would Netflix have emerged as a poster child of digital disruption had it not turned the traditional view of corporate culture on its head by empowering employees and asking people to take on the responsibility of policing themselves?

But conversely, when unattended to, an organisation’s culture takes on a life of its own, often deviating further and further from its intended goal. Not only do unhealthy cultures demoralise employees; they alienate customers, ruin reputations, and destroy value.

Businesses that fail to create a culture of trust and openness, whereby employees have access to the right tools to be agile and productive, will result in a workforce with little to no motivation to change the way things are done, directed by a “command and control” approach to working life. By instilling a culture of fairness all the way from the board to front line staff, you’ll see a positive impact in turnover, output and employee satisfaction. In our own research, empowered employees are defined as those who are granted greater access to the applications they prefer and need to do their job, and are almost five times more likely to report gains in their productivity.

By empowering employees, companies will see a shift to businesses powered by employee initiative and management trust.

This rebalancing gives frontline employees the tools and the mindset freedom they need to innovate and execute. It’s a cultural change that ultimately becomes a decisive competitive differentiator.

Workspace

Work is increasingly seen as an activity rather than a location. The concept of a ‘9 to 5’ job is perhaps no longer the norm with employees not wanting to feel chained to their desks for seven hours a day. Instead, they want the flexibility of being able to work when and where they feel most productive.

In doing so, organisations need to recognise the power technology can have to transform their digital workspace – where ‘collaborative hubs’ emerge alongside flexible working policies in the corporate world, and voice-enabled apps and Artificial Intelligence-driven tools help workers collaborate wherever they may be.

However, with these innovations come increase security risks. As more traditional working hours and policies become obsolete, ‘borderless organisations’ start to emerge which can cause concern for IT security teams.

Past designs of security infrastructure are no longer relevant as new working environments result in back and forth data flows between multiple devices across the world. So, it’s no surprise that in IDC’s report, digital security is the #1 initiative businesses are looking at when considering their approach to a new working strategy. Securing the digital workspace requires security capabilities to be built in at every level – users, apps, endpoints and the network, which is all achievable through software.

Workforce

The final pillar that makes up the foundation of digital success is your workforce. The makeup and nature of the workforce are radically evolving. On the one hand, demographic shifts are impacting the size, age and diversity of the workforce; on the other hand, intelligent technologies are augmenting and automating work while creating new opportunities for value creation within organisations.

Intelligent technologies will provide new levels of productivity, accuracy and business intelligence. This allows employees to learn and improve from mistakes – where the workforce has the ability to fail, recover, and try again – a key component of successful organisations.

Creating a truly effective digital workspace requires a relentless focus on employee experience that ensures greater freedom of choice.

Putting the three pillars into practice

Bringing together these three pillars into the foundation of your business will give you the platform architecture, management and security capabilities, and experience-centric approach that are needed for the new world of work.

Changing working practices, and the strategy required to do that is not a simple process. It requires time and investment and there will be hurdles and setbacks along the way. Businesses who persevere with this approach will reap the rewards of a more user-centric experience across its customers, employees and business.

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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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