All Aboard the TrAIn to Westworld

See what I did there? TrAIn? AI or to give it its Sunday name Artificial Intelligence is everywhere just now. Or rather, it is everywhere in the technology press, but we’re just at the cusp of it coming into and affecting our lives. No longer do we need to worry about Cloud or Big Data as our hype trends, now we have AI and her close friend IoT.  (You forgot Machine Learning – Ed)

However, we are several years away from seeing the true impact of AI. The growth in the number of connected devices allows businesses to transform (you nearly got Digital Transformation in as well for those playing buzzword bingo – Ed) based on the more and varied sources of data. As the number of connected devices grows so our Data Scientists can interpret and turn this deluge of data into business Information.

IOT Infographic

(Image Source; The Connectivist)

At present, this is simply Machine Learning, not true Artificial Intelligence. Current decision making technologies and outcomes are programmed by humans, there is no interpretation with all outcomes driven by complex algorithms. We now have infrastructure solutions more capable than ever of processing information in real time. As an example, Suduko; a typical person would take over two hours to complete a 4×4 puzzle, Google Image Recognition Software can complete the same puzzle in 9 seconds.

Therefore we know advantages can be gained by systems completing tasks faster than humans can possibly consider. We have high precision robots, we can translate signs simply by pointing our phones at them using image recognition and we almost have driverless cars, however the car doesn’t quite understand yet why I want to go via Dominos to collect a pizza on the way home.

The gap to true AI is logic and reasoning; whilst robots can do a significant amount of human tasks they will not know why, they are following a set of instructions. Whilst we can possibly program logic into a robotic operation can we get the same robot to comprehend moral issues? What if a self-driving car is out of control? Does it drive into a wall risking its passengers or hit a bus stop of people? The moral issue has relevance in these situations, and has to be involved in the decision making process.

So whilst we are still somewhat away from holidaying at Westworld[i] the current rate of technological advancement will see it arrive in the next several years. It will have a material impact on all our lives and we will see autonomous vehicles, enhanced customer services and a myriad of options we simply have not considered yet. The data we are generating today is already impacting development of future products and services, from healthcare to transport and everything in between.

The obvious concern is the terminator scenario where computers think for themselves and take over, as per the well-publicised exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk recently there are differing opinions on this. Whilst unlikely, the potential for computers to adopt human traits of emotion, aggression and protection exist and it’s important that humans retain the ultimate off switch.

I’m not planning to work for Cyberdyne Systems or develop my own Skynet just yet, and I fully intend that any robot will work for me and not the other way about.

 

[i] Westworld, for those living in a bubble, is an American science fiction western thriller television series. The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced Wild West–themed amusement park populated by android hosts. Westworld caters to high-paying guests, who may indulge in whatever they wish within the park, without fear of retaliation from the hosts, or so they thought.

 

An update from the 2017 graduates

Hello All,

Welcome to the first edition of the 2017 Projects Practice Graduate Blog. My name is Alex and I’ll be the first of eight to be updating everyone on the graduate scheme and what we’ve been getting up to over the coming months.

To first give a background of myself; I graduated from the University of Exeter back in 2016 having studied a bachelors in Mining Engineering – yes mining, nothing at all to do with computers! Having completed my degree, my first proper job was as a graduate civil engineer working in Cornwall before switching tact entirely and opting for a career in project management. So, not your usual route into IT! I must say however, having worked in a different industry and in the public sector gives to some very useful perspective!

Civil engineering is a very busy and prosperous industry within the UK and a fantastic thing to get into. However, as with many industries, the higher up you go, the less technical you become and the more people management begins to dominate your day-to-day working life. So if the end goal was to be a project manager, why not start now? And why not dip my toes into a different industry while I’m at it? Well here I am!

What is becoming increasingly apparent to me, is the wealth of tools and support that Computacenter makes available in order for you to reach your potential. Having briefly worked in the public sector, I was in a much more stagnant environment operating on a very much ‘dead man’s shoes’ principal. Now, maybe that was because I was working in Cornwall and I must say the pace of life is a lot more laid back there, but it’s certainly not what a lot of young people want in their early careers and this inevitably added to the reasons why I decided to move.

In our brief 9 weeks with Computacenter, the grads have had dinner with the Group Professional Services Director- Andy Moffitt, we’ve met the Head of Projects Practice- Zameer Kaderkutty and the Head of Consultancy- Martin Provoost to name but a few. All these hugely important and influential people in the company and they are able to spare the time to meet us and welcome us. I am overwhelmingly impressed; the only time I ever spoke to and shook the hand of the office manager in my previous job was to say “Cheerio, I’m leaving for London!” That was after six months in the job which you’d think is enough time to rub shoulders with your office manager; it wasn’t even a big office! What I’m trying to say is that I did not expect such important people to be concerned with or interested in graduates because my previous superiors certainly weren’t! I’m delighted to have been proved wrong in this assumption.

Aside from socialising with ‘big wigs’ of the Computacenter society, we have started our rotations where we delve into some of the core divisions of Computacenter. We have spent two weeks with the Central Projects Office which appears to be a very successful and rapidly growing section of Computacenter. It’s probably easier for me to tell you what they don’t do rather than what they actually do as it seems to me as nearly everything. This epiphany led to the development of our new graduate strategy going forward: “If you don’t know where to go, contact CPO!”

After the Central Projects Office, we spent a week with scheduling followed by a week with BECS. Scheduling provided a very useful insight and it’s great to know where all those iRequests that project coordinators raise actually go!  The following week with BECS provided us with a grounding in the pre-sales process and all the work required to win a bid. We were also given a task of developing a background study and a tailored sales campaign for several potential clients entering the market in the future. So who knows? Our background studies may contribute in some small way to a few future bids!

That brings us nearly up to the present. I just want to reiterate how impressed I am with CC- and how well I’ve been received into the company. The guys on Glassdoor weren’t kidding about the level of praise the company deserves! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I’ve added a photo of us all on our first day, all trying to look as professional as possible! From the left: Tom D, myself, James, Issie, Laura, Rollie, Tom W and Nick (who seems to have lost interest in looking at the camera!).

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The next entry will be by Laura Springall in the upcoming weeks.

The New Digital Workplace (Series Post)

Digitisalisation is having a profound effect on us all.  Across both our professional and our home lives, the maturity of technology and the rapid rate of change are having staggering impacts.  In the business world, no industries are immune from these effects.  New products are emerging, whilst older more established products or suppliers are leaving the marketplace.  Disruption is becoming the new normal, and it’s uncomfortable for many of us.

Across our broad range of customers, and the market as a whole, we are seeing common themes; threats and opportunities that need to be addressed to harness the potential of “the digital age”.  To do this, we need to “re-imagine” our businesses, and look at change at every level.  Now “Digital” is a very broad subject, and so I need to focus this conversation around Workplace IT.  In order to achieve the “Digital Workplace”  working approaches, processes, tools and culture need to change radically.   To help explain this we have developed a blueprint for the Digital Workplace, as shown in the diagram below:

Future Digital Workplace - Intro - Business

We haven’t exposed the whole picture… yet.  There are a number of key topics, each of which warrant explanation in turn, which I will provide  through a series of blogs over the coming weeks. Eventually we’ll have the full “big picture” view to draw it all together.

To start off, let’s look at the demands and drivers for a Digital Workplace environment. This will be  followed by posts addressing the shifting role of IT, the user implications, , and the ways in which you need to run and operate these environments in order to continue to achieve the promise of the Digital Workplace vision.

Demands and Drivers of the Digital Workplace

We continue to see, and are often inadvertently led by, technical innovations and opportunities, and seek to call this assembly of technology a “Digital Workplace”.  But a real Digital Workplace is so much more than just a technology solution.  We are often quick to launch a Pilot or a Proof of Concept, without clear understanding of the business challenge or opportunity that it may help to address.  The current “hot” technologies are IOT, Cognitive services and Analytics… it’s tempting to look at spinning up that Proof of Concept isn’t it!?

Looking top down from the business level, we need to continually respond to the demands and expectations of our customers, and to the competitive threats we face, many of which are exploiting “Digital” to accelerate their progress and growth.  So we must look at how we can exploit new technologies and our methods of delivery in order to compete, differentiate and optimise our businesses.

We need to shift towards digital touch points with the “agents” that interact with us (consumers, suppliers, employees) in order to provide a modern and fluid experience that meets both their needs and expectations.  User familiarity with modern technology has already achieved one outcome, a dramatic fall in tolerance of poor or substandard performance and service (check social media of some of your favoured brands for brutal examples of this!) – so we need to continue to innovate and change in order to continue to delight our customers and users.

To succeed, this requires change in businesses at every level.  From the line of business functions all the way through to the IT department, significant change and disruption needs to happen in order to re-calibrate for the modern world.  This will involve looking inwardly at our processes, tools and resources, and disrupting ourselves, before it is done unto us.  However we cannot shy away from these difficult decisions and activities, as need for change is absolute and clear.

In the next blog, we’ll cover the shifting role of the IT department in this context, and how the IT department is and must change to become an enabler of the digital business…..

Whose Data is it Anyway?

Before reading this article I just need you to tick this box agreeing to my privacy policyImage result for ticked box

Good, we can proceed. However, did you actually know what you were agreeing to when you accepted any website or documents terms and conditions or privacy policy, did you know how they were going to use whatever data you were going to provide?

As individuals we create increasing amounts of personal data, this data can be hugely valuable to businesses allowing them to turn your raw data into valuable business information. Businesses use information you provide to target both you and people from similar backgrounds with whatever product they happen to be marketing.

Whose Data

The interesting question is who actually owns the data we provide. Who is responsible for the data we supply? In general, people naturally assume that businesses own this data and will protect it and use it responsibly. However as we’ve seen recently this is not always the case.

Recent data breaches, with Experian in the USA being a recent example, have shown that our personal information is not always as safe as we would like to hope. We get no visibility of how our data is being used, protected or what is done with it after we willingly supply it. With constant and increasing numbers of data breaches our data becomes more vulnerable.  Remember data is more valuable than oil.

There are many example of data misuse, ranging from nuisance phone calls, spam mails and unsolicited post. However, this may all be about to change. Under the forthcoming GDPR regulations businesses will become simply custodians of my data.

It’s important for organisations to realise that IT departments do not own the data, they simply provide the infrastructure to allow access to data through a series of applications. The business is responsible for the data held, and to continue to get value from it they will have to treat it differently going forward.

Businesses will need to become more transparent in their dealing with external customers, through showing what data is held, and even why it remains held, either through showing agreement to allow data to be held verbally or through the dreaded tick box.

Inevitably this will lead to a change in business processes, which is why at Computacenter we have seen a rise in demand for data masking and Anonymisation. This allows organisations to translate their data held into valuable information without the risk of items being personally identifiable.

Possibly the most important thing for businesses to do over the coming months is to start to understand what data they have, what is valuable to them and can be translated to Information, what new or existing sources of data they have and how they treat it to ensure regulatory compliance.

My data belongs to me now, I may let organisations use it in return for a service I deem of value but ultimately it is personal and belongs to me.

There’s a new sheriff in town…..

Help! My Smart Office is Spying on Me

The smart office has become more common in workplaces across the country. The Digital workplace has evolved to make our workplaces more efficient and adaptable to the changing needs of users.smart office

By incorporating smart devices such as motion sensors, thermostats, smart switches and cameras organisations can reduce energy consumption, improve staff morale and improve productivity. Since commercial buildings account for around 40% of global energy consumption embedding sensors in walls and ceilings can have significant impact on the only using resources such as lighting, heating or cooling only when staff are present.

These sensors can be connected to the company network and using visualisation techniques can provide a view of working patterns. In turn, this can lead to energy savings of between 20-40%. Whilst the cost of creating the smart office is not insignificant potential benefits for businesses can be realised in relatively short periods.

The rise and growth of these IoT devices continues exponentially and helps create efficiencies in floor space usage and space planning. These devices can improve the experience for workers and allow the creation of personalised workspaces where individual lighting and cooling can be controlled either by an App or by your smart desk.

However, this does not come without its privacy challenges. If your smart desk recognises you through RFID tagging as you approach, and creates your personalised settings you are immediately engaged and hopefully more efficient.

The challenge comes with how much your desk then knows about you. Heat and motion sensors, RFID tags and proximity sensors mean that workers are potentially under constant surveillance. Sensors can track when people are at desks, moving around, present or not present, whether individual workers are happy with this level of surveillance remains to be seen.

Concerns are starting to be raised around what data may be being collected by sensors. We come back to the privacy paradox around what people are willing to sacrifice in terms of their privacy for convenience. Most data will be collected anonymously bit that does not preclude future use for other purposes. There is a fine line between efficiency and surveillance as some organisations have found out to their cost.

We may be entering the age of the Smart Building, but it may find itself in competition with the smart human. Will the last person to leave switch off the lights? no need for that the building will do that itself. It may not be Big Brother that is watching you; it may be Big Building.

It’s Not My Face – Its 83 Data Points

I unlock my phone by looking at it in a meaningful way; it trusts me and unlocks. Despite the rumours I’ve yet to be able to unlock with a photo.

Both my face and yours has 83 data points that technology can recognise to ensure we are actually who we say we are. So if I can unlock my phone what else can I do with my face? Over the past few years computers are becoming increasingly good at recognising faces by using these data points and by measuring the distance between them.

We’re seeing solutions come to market to provide enhanced convenience to users, and also to provide surveillance capabilities to authorities. We’re already seeing developments in China around extensive use of facial recognition; walk up to the barrier at a train station and the gate opens for you, assuming your face resembles your national identity card. No worries if you’re feeling rough or having a bad hair day, there are sufficient data points to allow you through the barrier.

This negates the need for the widespread use of contactless cards that we currently see used extensively in the UK. This then has an impact on our banking regimes, as the technology advances we may see reduced demands for passwords and PIN numbers as we may just simply look at the ATM and ask for cash; ‘Alexa, can I have £60 please?’

It’s already possible to transfer money using an app and your face to authorise. Again in China 120 million people have access to a mobile payment app using their face as credentials. It’s possible to both transfer money and also get a loan simply by using your face as identification.

Ticket touts are the current scourge of getting into concerts (something close to my heart), but if your ticket is matched to your face then there is no unauthorised secondary ticket market. Getting access to sporting events could be made easier for the fan, whilst saving costs for the club.

In addition, whilst surveillance is still considered a delicate subject, tracking of movement through a venue allows for efficiencies in access areas and the targeting of relevant services to individuals.  It could also allow tracking of movement through public transport systems for improved customer experiences.

We’ve heard a lot about body-worn police cameras recently. Ultimately these could be linked to central resources for the identification of known criminals making our streets a safer place.

Cars could be enabled to recognise an authorised driver, meaning no stolen cars and no lost keys. The list goes on.

Obviously this relies on a few things, one of the reasons that China is a large market for this is the large national database for identification purposes, and whilst some may not be comfortable with this in the Western world, there is a decision as to whether the benefits outweigh the use of your personal data – The Privacy Paradox applies.

It would also rely on suitably responsive infrastructure to support the use cases, but with the technology evolution you’ll soon be able to use public transport, buy goods and when you walk into Starbucks they will no longer need to ask your name, you’ll be recognised as you walk in, and this time the cup will have your correct name on it.

Now where is that false beard?

A Final Update From The 2016 Projects Graduates

Hi All,

It looks like I’m last up to write the final projects practice gradate blog. Best to last I guess! Thank you to all my graduate colleagues for their previous blogs and hearing how we have all progressed and settled into the company so well. This is my first EVER blog because I don’t really do writing, I’m a talker. However before I begin here is a little about me: I studied Information Technology Management for Business at the University of Hertfordshire and graduated last year with a First Class honours. I have 3 family businesses and I like food. Anyone who wants to win me over, food is your answer! I used to Box and reached a National level, however food took over my life. After 12 months at O2 as UK audio manager and my final academic year at University, I find myself within a growing company with endless opportunities, CC.

So believe it or not, it’s been a year since we started. I think it’s fair to say, it has not felt like it. It means another 8 months of the Graduate programme remain before we “graduate”. It’s crazy thinking this time last year I was at University doing what most University students do. I’ll leave that to your imagination but I was studying!

So before I get carried away, it’s right to begin by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has sponsored and supported the programme and a farewell to Martin Jones who without, the projects grads would not be here. Furthermore a huge welcome to Zameer Kaderkutty (Zam) and the new 2017 intake of Projects Practice graduates. I wish you all the best within CC.

So this week I had the opportunity to meet the new intake of grads and ease them into the world of CC. However it was odd knowing this time last year, I was sat there all ‘suited and booted’ thinking I don’t understand any of these acronyms. And there I was bellowing, “GIO, TRG, ISP” and so on… it’s now just second nature. The best advice I suggested was that it takes time to understand a complex organisation and how everything amalgamates therefore if it takes time to grasp, it really does not matter. Everyone in CC is welcoming and is willing to help so never be shy to ask questions or for any support/advice.

As my colleagues have previously mentioned, “Rotations” are up and we are now knee deep into project work. Customer sites, the travelling, the underground and dealing with customers is all part of the job and I am relishing every moment of it. I have learnt tremendous amounts by working on fluctuating accounts and projects which vary in size, risk and category but one key aspect I’ve learnt is that projects do not always go to plan but the transparency and commitment we deliver to keep customers as happy as possible is second to none. This is one of many reasons why I love working for Computacenter.

Other than my day to day job, I have been fortunate enough to be a Brand ambassador for the University of Hertfordshire. Attending many careers fairs has been a wonderful experience and there is nothing better to share how successful the programme and company has been especially to students my age. This has recently been certified as Computacenter has been ranked in the Top 100 Graduate Employers for second year running. This is a huge achievement!!!

For me there has been so many memories throughout the first 12 months but the one which comes to mind first is the Practice Wide Meeting held on the 5th May in Leicester. It was an insightful day hearing presentations from Chris Webb, Andy Moffitt and Martin Jones around key aspects of the company and how current and future progress looks. Other than being forced to dance to Mamma Mia in the competition in which Hatfield came third so well done all who participated (clearly thanks to my dance moves), it was a lovely evening to network and enjoy ‘down time’ with colleagues you spend a lot of time with day to day in a “working” environment. However, there was nothing better than seeing Martin Jones and all my colleagues on the dance door “attempting” Bhangra to Punjabi MC. I will leave it on that note.

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The main attraction, at the Projects Practice Day 2017!

Thank you for reading my first ever blog. It has been an amazing 12 months at the start of my career and I look forward to all the opportunities and challenges my role brings. It’s now onto the completion of the programme and hopefully promotion. For now, it’s been a pleasure!

Gaurav Saroye

Oh and here is me in fighting action (I’m in the black vest):

Gos' Picture

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