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BT bases new £28m research hub in Belfast.

The new Belfast hub will focus on areas including the internet of things, artificial intelligence and data analytics. Photograph: iStock

BT is to base a research and development programme which could be worth up tp £28.6 million (€32.4 million) to the North over the next five years in a new multi-million pound facility in Belfast. The telecoms giant officially launched its new BT Ireland Innovation Centre on Wednesday and said the centre will focus on advanced research that will play a “crucial role” in its future.

In addition to its own in-house R&D programme BT is teaming up with the Ulster University to undertake £7 million of research projects that will support the creation of 25 new university research posts and an additional 50 graduate jobs in BT. Howard Watson, BT Technology, Service and Operations chief executive said the latest investment boost for Northern Ireland was both “exciting and significant”.

Technology scouts
“Our new Innovation Centre will operate alongside our existing Belfast Global Development Centre, the BT Labs in Suffolk, and our global network of technology scouts to further strengthen our research and innovation capability, bringing together industrial engineers and university

“The areas of expertise in the new hub will include the internet of things, artificial intelligence and data analytics for customer experience and cyber security. We hope the opening of this world-class facility will help attract and retain Northern Ireland’s considerable IT talent.”

Invest NI is supporting BT’s latest R&D programmes with £9 million of financial support, some of which has been accessed from the EU Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme.

Comtrade survey: 56% of Irish IT experts expect intelligent robots in the workplace in the next five years.

viktor kovacevic

The survey reveals that over half of Irish IT decision-makers expect intelligent robots in the workplace in the next half decade. The Comtrade Digital Services survey took in 133 Irish IT leaders and their opinions on how digital transformation is taking hold of Irish business and society. Other aspects such as ‘The Internet of Things’ is seeing a vote of approval where 74% of respondents believe technology such as smart fridges will come in in the next five years.

Half of the respondents from the independent survey also expect driverless cars to make their way to Ireland by 2022.

Drone deliveries (66%), intelligent robots in the home (63%) and 3D-printed food (16%) were also foreseen to make an impact in Ireland by 2022. Even though artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics are on everyone’s lips these days, the survey indicated people still want humans to make critical decisions. However, 76% of Irish organisations now use AI and/or data analytics to inform their key decisions in some way or another. Saying this, only 10% surveyed revealed that AI is more effective than humans when making business decisions at this stage.

Vice-President and General Manager of Comtrade Digital Services Viktor Kovacevic said: “In order to succeed in today’s business environment, Irish enterprises need to embrace transformative technologies and innovate quickly. These predictions come from the people leading Irish businesses’ IT operations and show that there is clearly a lot of change occurring, which can benefit both consumers and the overall business landscape.

“Intelligent robots and other transformative technologies will soon be at the forefront of innovation and increasingly, they will be available in the home and in the workplace. Forward-thinking Irish businesses have the opportunity to embrace this change and in turn reap the many benefits they afford.

“The use of data analytics and artificial intelligence by most Irish organisations is great to see. Decisions are factually based and can be made in real time – something that is vital for business success today. Most people still favour human intelligence over artificial intelligence, however I expect we will see a shift in mindsets as AI becomes more widespread and trusted.”

Big Data is talking. Is anyone Listening?

Everyone is talking about ‘big data’ and how tech behemoths like Google are going to use it to change the world. But what does it mean for the rest of us – companies and organisations who do not have ninja-coders sitting on beanbags developing artificial intelligence apps during their company-subsidised gourmet lunch breaks? In this article, David Kelly from Atkins looks at how non-tech organisations are overcoming technical challenges to make the most of their data.

In May of this year, The Economist declared that the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. And with some saying that 90% of the world’s data was created in the past few years alone but that less than 1% of it is actually being used or analysed, it would appear that people are only just beginning to appreciate its worth.

For most organisations, the efficient management of data has the potential to reduce costs, control risks and improve whole life performance. However, in many cases, the challenge is in identifying what data to collect and how to collect it.

Almost all organisations have data which can be exploited to deliver valuable information to aid decision-making. However, the decision about what data to collect is often made without any reference to the strategic needs of the organisation. Many organisations tend to collect data which is easy to capture rather than that which is valuable to have.

In parallel with improvements in connectivity, the cost of storing data has dropped dramatically leading to a step change in attitudes to data storage. The traditional approach where only the most critical of data was stored for the minimum time necessary has been almost universally supplanted. Now data storage is more a matter of storing everything almost indefinitely just in case it might be needed it at some point in the future.

Here in Atkins, we’re combining our engineering knowledge of infrastructure and asset management with leading technologies in different domains to help clients make sense of the data that their assets produce through an approach that we call Digital Asset Management (DAM).

One such project is with Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), where Atkins is providing technical and contract administration services to support the operation of 14 various PPP and road maintenance contracts on the Irish motorway network.

The scale and complexity of this commission is such that we must process an enormous amount of information which is received in a variety of forms and formats. All projects like this require extensive resources and even then, it is always possible to overlook an important detail and retrieval of specific information can be difficult. Moreover, anything but the most rudimentary of analysis is very time-consuming.

“We recognised early in the commission that a data-focused approach would ensure improved information flow and in turn better performance management” says Sean McDonnell, Associate Director, Atkins. In collaboration with TII, we set about building a system for the management of data related to one aspect of the commission on a trial basis – incident response. This is the service provided by each of the contractors to attend to unplanned events which cause traffic disruption such as collisions, breakdowns and debris on the national road network.

We examined every stage in the data process – defining what data was needed, how we would collect it, ways to validate its accuracy, and how to analyse and distribute the data in order that end-users within the client organisation could interpret it easily.

In this instance, we opted to provide an interactive reporting dashboard which allows end-users to answer the majority of queries for themselves without any need for bespoke analysis. This approach reduces workload, improves accuracy and satisfies the information needs of a wider audience.

Since implementing this solution, we have expanded our work in this area to include data analytics of traffic flow and journey time data, and we’re currently looking at other areas where a structured approach to managing data will bring benefits.

At present, we are reviewing the requirements for three motorway maintenance contracts which fall under our commission and for which the contract period is coming to an end. This is a very broad review of a wide variety of contract requirements and we are delighted that TII have requested that we include comprehensive provisions for data management under these future contracts.

The aim is that lengthy reports submitted by email will be replaced by data files to a prescribed format uploaded to a central cloud-based data repository. These will be validated automatically to uncover any inconsistencies and to highlight areas which merit closer attention.

These files will then comprise a data repository which will serve as a ‘single source of truth’. They will be the origin from which we will automatically update dashboards, reports and other tools which will be used to deliver consistent and accurate information to the right people as soon as it is available.

Following our success with TII in this area, we are speaking to a variety other clients who also recognise the benefit of actively managing this valuable asset. And the types of organisations that can benefit from this approach really is very diverse. For example, we have just completed a project with Fáilte Ireland; we have recently secured a commission via our Denver Office with the Colorado Department of Transportation; and we are currently preparing a proposal for one of the UK water companies.

Our experience has been that changing the way we think about data can bring big benefits to many of the projects that we do. We still don’t have any beanbags in the canteen like some of our new competitors in this space do, but someday…maybe…

David Kelly is a Senior Project Manager with Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group, and is currently working on the Motorway Contacts Audit and Administration Commission for their client Transport Infrastructure Ireland. To find out more about their data management work with TII and others, contact [email protected]

Fact box:
What is ‘big data’?

Big data is a loosely defined term which refers to the rapid growth in the collection, storage and use of data. The word ‘big’ refers not just to the volume but also to the level of complexity and the potential value of information that is produced by everything from mobile phones, computers and wearable technology, to smart connected devices like security and energy management systems, buildings and even cars. Almost anything that is powered by electricity has the potential to be connected to form an enormous data collection and exchange network which is called the Internet of Things.
How big is ‘Big’?

Some estimates are that by 2020, there will be 50 billion smart connected devices in the world and that about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created by every person every second. And about a third of all that data will pass through the cloud making more data available to more people.
And is bigger better?

In some cases, the sheer amount of data available is part of the problem. Finding the needle in the haystack of irrelevant data is often really challenging, but this is changing with improved analytics. Better tools which can transform complex data into useful information are more widely available and these allow users to interrogate their data interactively. This results in a positive feedback loop of improved accessibility, driving demand for more data.

Few Marketers Capitalize on Data Analytics to Optimize CX

For all the talk of data analytics, organizations are still struggling to use it effectively.

That’s the picture painted by two recent studies, which confirm data alone doesn’t create a data-driven organization. Organizations today remain data rich and insight poor.

More Data Than Insights
The studies — one by Forbes Insights and Dun & Bradstreet and a second by Experian Data Quality — show wide gaps between the promise and use of data analytics.

Marketers can develop highly targeted campaigns and promotions from data generated by websites, apps and the Internet of Things.

But few are aggressively using such insights, studies show. In fact, organizations have long ways to go to optimize the use of the data their teams are consuming and analyzing.

What’s more, many organizations still don’t trust data enough to use it to make decisions. Rather, they need to engineer wholesale cultural changes to drive adoption and use of advanced analytics.

Data analytics are tools that measure and interpret collected information and work in sync with, or as part of, other platforms in the digital marketing ecosystem.

For marketers, data analytics provide insight into the effectiveness of their campaigns, guide their management and operations decisions, and empower them to scale a personalized, real-time marketing experience to millions of people.

Marketers can harness the power of data analytics to deliver measurable, value-added results.

Guesses, Gut Feelings Trump Data

According to the Experian Data Quality report, 97 percent of organizations use data to power business opportunities. But only 44 percent trust that data enough to use it to make important business decisions.

More than half —52 percent — rely on educated guesses or gut feelings to make decisions based on that data.

“Businesses today recognize the importance of the data they hold, but a general lack of trust in the quality of their data prevents them from achieving strategic business objectives,” the report concluded.

Experian Data Quality, a subsidiary of Experian, surveyed more than 1,400 data management professionals to understand how data is being used within organizations and assess how data quality impacts business priorities. The findings are summarized in its 2017 global data management benchmark report.

Data Management, Governance Needed

Most organizations want to use data to increase revenue and better serve customers.

But first, they need to establish a foundational level of trust in the data they use.

“How do you build confidence in your data? With a strong focus on good governance and data quality,” the report notes.

High quality data will enable organizations to power more opportunities for themselves and their customers.

But organizations should think carefully about their needs before they invest in technologies such as Master Data Management (MDM), which the report calls “a huge buzzword in boardrooms around the world.”

Roger Yeh, a senior technical consultant at Experian Data Quality, said many see MDM as “this magical solution.” He continued:

“And they’re right. But that’s like saying you would hire Shaquille O’Neal just so he can help you replace light bulbs in high ceilings or clean the gutters. What many don’t consider is that MDM is often overkill for what the organization actually wants to accomplish.”
Before embarking on your data projects, Yeh said organizations should “really think” about their end goals.

At ARKE, we could not agree more. We believe the best strategy starts with the identification of the goals you want to meet — and that you need to articulate strategy before you invest in any technology.

A ‘Critical Need’ for Analytics

The Dun & Bradstreet/Forbes Insights 2017 Enterprise Analytics Study focuses on the increasingly important role analytics play in driving core enterprise business activities, from strategy to operations.

It further suggests organizations have critical needs for investment, prioritization, and implementation of analytics. In addition, corporate leadership needs to invest in the people, processes, and technologies that empower decision support and decision automation.

More than 300 senior executives in North America, Britain, and Ireland were surveyed for the study. The authors described data analytics as a “competitive differentiator,” adding more focus and investment is critical.

“Those that haven’t yet begun to prioritize implementation of advanced analytics within their organizations will be playing catch-up for a long while, and may never fully recover,” said Nipa Basu, chief analytics officer, Dun & Bradstreet.

More Data, Bigger Data Challenges

The Dun & Bradstreet/Forbes Insights draws some important conclusions, notably that “today’s data-driven enterprise has a never-ending appetite for more data.”

But it also notes data analytics skills gaps persist across the enterprise. That shows a need for better tools and best practices, the report noted.

There is surprisingly little sophistication in the ways companies analyze data. About 23 percent of those surveyed still use spreadsheets for data work. Only 41 percent use predictive models and/or advanced analytical and forecasting techniques. Only 19 percent of respondents use no analytical tools beyond basic data models and regressions.

In addition:

  • 24 percent cited data quality and accuracy as major obstacles to the success of their analytics efforts. Only 42 percent said they are confident in the quality of their data.
  • 27 percent said lack of knowledge hampers their data and analytics efforts. More than half (52 percent) use third-party data vendors to help them make better use of big data.

Business leaders need to do more with all the data their teams are consuming and analyzing. The C-Suite and senior leadership should do more to drive the cultural change needed for better use of analytics.

But data and analytics remain promising areas of opportunity, the study found. Survey respondents said these areas of analytics insights will be most valuable in the next 12 months.

Irish Digital skills are less well developed than Global Peers.

Nearly half of Irish digital initiatives for business are not delivering, according to findings in PwC's 2017 Irish Digital IQ survey published today.

The survey finds that less than two-thirds (64%) of Irish organisations have the digital skills required for an evolving digital economy and is similar to global peers (65%). At the same time, almost one out of two (46%) Irish respondents admitted that the lack of properly skilled teams is a barrier when it comes to achieving expected results from digital technology initiatives.

Nearly half (48%) of Irish executives reported that their strategic digital initiatives failed to deliver to their planned scope and is similar to global levels (45%). Furthermore, Ireland scores poorly (44%) when it comes to measuring outcomes from digital investments and has deteriorated from 60% in 2015.

The survey highlights that just over half (58%) of Irish respondents felt that their organisation embraces rapid change and disruption and lags global counterparts (69%).

Irish respondents rated their organisations' digital skills behind that of global peers for all key capabilities. For example, only around half of Irish respondents rated their skills' competencies as 'strong' or 'very strong' in the areas of cybersecurity (Ireland: 58%; Global: 64%), data analytics (Ireland: 54%; Global: 59%) and evaluating emerging technologies (46%; Global: 55%).

The survey suggests that a step-up in investment is needed in key areas of emerging technologies in order to keep pace with global levels. For example, in Ireland, 58% of executives plan to invest substantially in the internet of things over the next three years compared to 63% globally; for artificial intelligence this is 54% compared to 63% globally.

Just 6% of Irish executives plan to invest heavily in Blockchain over the next three years compared to 11% globally. One in five (20%) Irish respondents plan to invest substantially in drones by 2020, but these skills are virtually non-existent at present in Ireland.

Speaking at the survey launch, PwC Ireland Digital Leader, Ronan Fitzpatrick said, "Now, more than ever, upskilling is needed. The findings of the survey highlight that Irish businesses are trailing its global peers in terms of the adequacy of its digital skill sets. This training includes teaching employees the skills to harness technology, whether that's a new customer platform or a new breed of collaborative robot."

He added, "It also means cross-training workers to be comfortable and conversant in disciplines outside their own, as well as in skills that can support innovation and collaboration, such as agile approaches or design thinking. With increases in automation, robotics and AI, the workforce is changing and skills need to move with those changes."

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38/39 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin 2, Ireland

38/39 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin 2, Ireland