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4 posts from August 2015

26 August 2015

Top Breakthrough Technologies

Over the past few decades technology has evolved at a rapid pace; in particular over the past decade this speed has phenomenally increased. Who would have thought ten years ago that today we would be developing technology such as driverless cars, 3D printing or wearable technology to help improve the quality of lives? At this rate I’ve got my fingers crossed that teleportation will be invented very soon, although wishful thinking has always been a forte of mine. I’ve devised my top technological breakthroughs from 2015, and the reasoning behind why I think they’re so important for society.

Driverless Cars

I’m sure you’re all aware from the media hype currently surrounding this - that driverless cars are a very near thing of the future. An autonomous vehicle designed to get passengers from A to B without the need for a driver to be present.

These vehicles could revolutionise areas such as elderly care and safety as they claim to reduce the risk of accidents on the road. With more than a million deaths every year due to driver collisions the impact of this technology could be huge as it could dramatically reduce the number of fatalities. Not only this, but commuting would be a lot less stressful - particularly in organisations where employees spend a lot of time travelling as they could be ideal for speaking to colleagues or getting any urgent work completed. However, there are still a lot of tests and trials that need to be conducted in order for these to be ingrained into day-to-day lives.

But what are the other implications of this? As designed by humans, ultimately there will surely always be that element of human error. This is smart, extremely advanced technology, but isn’t this also going to be driving a lazy culture, and even worse, increasing the risk of hacking into vehicles resulting in more fatalities? There could potentially no longer be a need for a driving licence, with the possibility of owning a vehicle that you don’t need to learn to drive won’t this only assist in the adoption of such a culture? There would be more vehicles on the road and less need for people to walk places or do regular exercise. As a driver myself and with a background in technology it’s safe to say that although I am very impressed with the technology behind this, I personally love to drive and I can’t imagine ever owning such a vehicle (it would be handy for nights out though!)

Can you envisage yourself owning one of these vehicles?

3D Printing

I felt that this 100% had to make the top technology breakthrough list, and here are the reasons why. This technology is growing and advancing exponentially which I cannot see slowing down any time soon. There’s been talk, (especially in a lot of films recently – Age of Ultron I’m looking at you), of 3D printing human body parts, and there are cases where advancements have already been made in this area. They have even been using 3D printing of real life human skin in the cosmetics industry for testing. Recently a plane was made using parts printed from a 3D machine. If something like that doesn’t impress you then I’m honestly not sure what will. The impact this could have on society is incredible.

However, as with anything, there are considerations and challenges that need to be addressed when doing such things. How viable is it to create 3D printed organs? How long will these last and what are the risks to the patient? Creating planes that carry passengers across the world need to be of optimum safety, and with this being a new technology we still have a long way to go to ensure these materials are durable. Although we are potentially eliminating current problems, we don't want to be creating new ones, which is why there is still a long way to go before something like this becomes feasible to replace things such as the need for organ donations.

One things for sure, I will definitely be keeping my eye on advancements in this area, as it will truly be one of the biggest breakthroughs of technology if we are successfully able to create 3D printed working human organs.

Is there any aspect of 3D printing that you find more fascinating or just as interesting as this?

Internet of DNA

Over the past few years I’ve gained an increasing interest into the world of healthcare and how technology can have a huge impact in advancing and aiding the quality of lives for people across the globe. The introduction of the internet of DNA is something that really peaked my interest and something I felt had to make this list. The internet of DNA will be a revolutionary tool that can be used by doctors to identify links to particular cases where previously the medical illness would remain unknown. It will enable the linking of DNA information and cases between healthcare professionals across the world, to identify and better cure or treat medical cases by linking biomedical data and genomes - identifying DNA patterns and structures, which is something I find really fascinating. To demonstrate this point, there is quite a useful example I found which emphasises the profound impact this could have on patient care:

Noah is a six-year-old suffering from a disorder without a name. This year, his physicians will begin sending his genetic information across the Internet to see if there’s anyone, anywhere, in the world like him. A match could make a difference. Noah is developmentally delayed, uses a walker, speaks only a few words. And he’s getting sicker. MRIs show that his cerebellum is shrinking. His DNA was analyzed by medical geneticists at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Somewhere in the millions of As, Gs, Cs, and Ts is a misspelling, and maybe the clue to a treatment. But unless they find a second child with the same symptoms, and a similar DNA error, his doctors can’t zero in on which mistake in Noah’s genes is the crucial one."

Source: Internet of DNA, MIT Technology Review

Unfortunately, there are many ethical considerations and risks that need to be fully addressed before something like this can effectively be put in place and introduced across the industry - the biggest of which is having this information accessible across the internet. How feasible is it to have such crucial personal patient data accessible on the internet? What would happen if criminals were able to steal this information? Still, imagine the potential that this could have for the healthcare industry once these areas are fully addressed. There are many children and people like Noah across the world with untreated and unidentifiable conditions, the internet of DNA could be about to change that.

There are many technologies that would have been worthy of this list, but one thing is extremely clear, with anything there is always going to be a battle of positives and negatives, but we live in a world full of intelligent, innovative and creative individuals who are making this technology happen - which is a wonderful thing to be a part of.

What top technological breakthroughs would you have on your list?

If you would like to discuss these issues, or the impact of emerging technology on your industry, then please get in touch with Euan Cameron.

17 August 2015

Is Visualisation A Dying Art?

I was scrolling through my LinkedIn timeline recently, casually stalking people that I used to work with, when I saw an interesting looking article pop up. “What Killed the Infographic?” was the hook, and being a Data Visualisation nerd, it drew me in immediately.

The article claims that Infographics in the public domain are a dying breed, showing an ironically basic looking line chart to emphasise the point. The assertion is that the visualisation of data has moved away from being the preserve of the extroverted hobbyist, towards being an introverted, secretive part of business and that new, innovative Infographics have become a ‘thing of the past’ as business has taken precedence.

I don’t completely agree with the writer’s assertions here. Back in 2007, when Infographics were beginning to crop up all over the internet, they were something new, fascinating and exciting. They weren’t quite mainstream, because you needed to have quite a unique skill set to produce one and you needed some pretty niche tools too. This meant that more often than not, the quality was high, and therefore captured the imagination of the average viewer.

Like everything on the edges of the mainstream that gathers momentum though, Infographics quickly became much more accessible. New softwares were coded to make production much simpler, and people even began to realise you could knock up a pretty basic one in, dare I say it, PowerPoint. Social Media was awash with fascinating new Infographics, some of them static, others with moving bits and others still where you could move the bits yourself.

Meanwhile, the more forward thinking businesses were already beginning to think about how they could use these kinds of simple, snappy visuals to enhance decision making processes within their own organisations. Infographics were truly a part of the mainstream now. And again, like everything within the mainstream, more and more people were hopping aboard that bandwagon, producing visuals of varying degrees of quality.

To the visualisation connoisseurs, this was something akin to Dante’s visions of hell. They were now having to sift and scroll through dozens and dozens of horrific visuals with poor production values in order to find those diamonds in the rough. Whilst tools like Tableau, QlikView and (through gritted teeth) PowerPoint have made it easier to produce visual representations of your data, there is still a significant element of skill, artistry and innovation required to produce a good one.

The writer’s point that “some of the best data visualization work is going unseen” is certainly something that bears thinking about. At first, I tended to agree. Given Tableau and QlikView’s exponential growth, not even mentioning all of the other visualisation tools on the market, there must be millions of data artists out there, building some pretty awesome looking visuals within these big corporate machines. It does sadden me a little that some or even most of their work will never see the light of day.

Many of the major players in the visualisation tool space now have free public versions, so there’s no excuse for Data Artists not to share their expertise, their skill and their creativity with the rest of the Internet! Looking through publically available galleries you can see that experimental Infographics are most certainly not dying, they are being used by business more and more, and there will be some amazing work we simply cannot see, but the most exciting and experimental visualisations will most probably be on public view, because business just isn’t quite ready for them yet.

If you would like to discuss these issues, or the impact of emerging technology or data and analytics on your industry, then contact our Data & Analytics team.

12 August 2015

The $130 Smartphone

by Triin Sober Manager

Smartphone maker sets world record for selling most mobile phones in a 24 hour period – and it’s not Apple

Hands up if you’ve ever heard of Xiaomi? Neither had I until very recently. Since its foundation in 2010, the company has rapidly risen to become the world’s 5th largest smartphone maker. The reason why you probably haven’t heard of it is that 97% of its sales are in China. All that is about to change - Xiaomi has hired a former Google executive Hugo Barra to lead its international expansion and has its sights set on getting into Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Thailand and Turkey before the end of the year.

So what is Xiaomi? The company has been hailed as the ‘Apple of China’ with its CEO occasionally adopting Steve Jobs’ style black turtlenecks and blue jeans for public events, its phones looking similar to iPhones (but they run on a customised Android OS) and the stores (Mi Homes) similar to Apple stores. The firm produces a wide range of products such as tablets, fitness trackers, smart TV's and phone accessories but the key product is its low-priced smartphone. 

How low exactly? The company actually makes no money off its phones which it sells at cost, with prices starting at around $130. The profit comes from apps and add-ons that are marketed to the increasingly large customer base. The devices themselves, maybe somewhat surprisingly given the low price mark, are of good quality and design. The firm has also shown a knack for inventive advertising campaigns which have helped create a loyal group of followers. Some ‘Mi Fans’ get together to sing songs about the company and others have even shaved the firm’s logo into their hair.

The aggressive pricing strategy, which is supported by focus on online sales to keep the costs low, would certainly be attractive outside China but without any brand recognition internationally they’ve certainly got their work cut out for them. It also remains to be seen whether Xiaomi can replicate its successful ad campaigns outside the Chinese market.

Even if the company finds success in their initial list of target countries, USA and Europe – the tier one markets - will be a tougher nut to crack. The US customers for example are quite brand conscious and other smartphone makers such as Nokia, LG and Sony, which do very well internationally, have had little to no success in the States where the market is dominated by Samsung and Apple.

Personally, I wouldn’t say no to a smartphone that cheap or a fitness tracker costing $13 but then I’m also not a devoted Apple or Samsung customer. If the price alone isn’t enough to sway you, maybe the firm’s adorable mascot – Mi Bunny – will help.

Have you had any experience with Xiaomi products and what would persuade or deter you from buying one if it became available in the UK?

If you would like to discuss these issues, or the impact of emerging technology on your industry, then please get in touch with Euan Cameron.

by Triin Sober Manager

04 August 2015

The Chief Data Officer: How to win friends and influence people

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with a number of UK based chief data officers to discuss and debate challenges of this new and important role.

I was blown away by the enthusiasm and excitement each of them had for what they were doing. It ranged from trying to keep the “data” house in order to enable consistency across the organisation and better reporting.  Through to maximising the value that can be derived from their customer base, whilst still maintaining the right levels of trust.

In every case there was a clear business benefit to having a person focussing their time on the data that a business uses, but with a fast track to the board when things get tough. 

Sometimes the need for a chief data officer was purely operational…”we need to get this right”. 

Sometimes it was much more commercial…”if we don’t understand our customers better, we will not be the best”.

Sometimes it was based deeply in compliance…”we can’t afford to get these things wrong”.

But in every case the challenges were very similar. For this role to be successful it requires that you have influence in the business.  If the quality and availability of data is going to meet the business need, then things will inevitably need to be changed.

The mantra “ask anything you need to ask and make the necessary changes” was a very exciting thing to hear and demonstrates the importance that some companies are attaching to this role.

Controls may need to be implemented or improved.  Processes may need to be changed.  Training may need to take place.  Money might need to be spent. For any of these to be dealt with, the chief data officer needs the power and the influence to make the necessary change.

As we talked there were a couple of surprises for me.  Everyone talks about the need to make better use of the data that is being gathered electronically every day. But here we were discussing the merits of gathering lost data. Data that is available, but for whatever reason, it has been decided that it is not required.

A good example of this is insurance claim data.  The submitted forms contain a vast amount of useful information, but much of this is filed and stored as a paper record or a scanned image.  A little research revealed that by capturing a little more of the claim detail, then the customer could enjoy a much better experience.  Again…this requires a change in the business operations and systems…so influence is paramount to a successful chief data officer.

Another surprise was the recognition that well over 70% of time is spent “fighting” the data, rather than using it. Some people reckoned it was nearer 90%, but either way, there are huge benefits to putting an organisation in a place where the fighting time can be put to better use.

As I left the meeting, I pondered on what I had just witnessed.  For me this is the birth of a new and exciting “C suite” role. Something that the forward thinking business has recognised as important.  Something that other businesses should seriously consider.

So as a data assurance practitioner, I am excited about this change and looking forward to more meetings with this new area of management.

Maybe you are a business manager or board member. Do you have someone worrying about your data?

If you would like to discuss these issues, or the impact of emerging technology or data and analytics on your industry, then contact our Data & Analytics team.