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Back to the Future of Networking

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Back to the Future of Networking

By Sasha Emmerling, Senior Director of Marketing, VMware

Sasha Emmerling, Senior Director of Marketing, VMware

Sasha Emmerling, Senior Director of Marketing, VMware

Outcome-Driven Networking empowers network managers to determine desired business outcomes and rely on the infrastructure intelligence to automatically execute the required configurations and policies network-wide to achieve that outcome. This is best enabled by Cloud-Delivered SD-WAN, according to Sasha Emmerling, Senior Director of Marketing, VMware

As a consumer, our behaviours are based on desired outcomes and businesses that cater to consumers have long created an outcome-driven environment for us. For instance, you need to bake a particular-sized cake, but know you can’t find the appropriate-sized pan locally unless you decide to embark on a multi-store shopping venture. Instead, you open your Amazon application, enter in a few keywords, find the pan, and swipe right to “buy now” with one-click. Wait a day or two, and that cake pan arrives at your door. You didn’t have to call the company, talk to someone about what size you needed, find out if it’s in stock, give them your address, provide your credit card, and decide on shipping options. The entire process is automated for you. You can also check the order status at any time in their intuitive GUI, or get automatic alerts through the whole process.

The concept is not new in the consumer world, but it’s much more complex to implement in the networking world. However, Outcome-Driven Networking now makes it possible and this can dramatically simplify and streamline network behaviour that would traditionally require network managers to manually configure each and every action on every node in the network to execute policies and achieve desired results.

Let’s look specifically at a corporate wide area network (WAN).Using Outcome-Driven Networking, businesses can now shape specific outcomes – such as “prioritise voice traffic between all branches” or “securely isolate financial data traffic from office and guest traffic.” All processes can now be simplified and executed via a central interface, with single-click commands.This eliminates the need to spend weeks sending out technicians to build and test those capabilities manually across every company site.

           Steps toward Outcome-Driven Networking

Technology evolves in many small steps. The creators of the first Ethernet network may have harboured some grand vision of universal networking, but what mattered at the time was they wanted a simple outcome: to link all the computers in a building to a central laser printer. From there it was a step-by-step development from coaxial cable to twisted pair, to wireless and ever increasing speeds, to the Ethernet as we know it today.

Network design and implementation has learned to follow that evolutionary sequence. The company begins with a network as “state of the art” as is needed, and then upgrades as useful capabilities or developments come onto the market. Among the most recent developments is the Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) that separates the control plane from the data plane to create a far more flexible and responsive network – an essential step towards Outcome-Driven Networking.

Outcome-Driven Networking provides a different mind-set, a new approach to WAN connectivity. Instead of planning any process or network change by thinking about each step that needs to be taken for it to happen and configure policies and nodes to ensure it happens, organizations need only to start with the desired outcome and allow the SD-WAN model to implement the necessary network modifications.This is what is called “outcome-driven networking.” The key tenet is that all the changes to the network and its control are dictated by the desired business outcome and the inherent intelligence, network behaviour analysis, and automation in SD-WAN propagates throughout the entire network.

Sophisticated SD-WAN solutions are available today that enable Outcome-Driven Networking, based on a set of key pillars: Abstraction and Automation, Ubiquity, Awareness and Self-Learning.

Abstraction requires being able to translate a desired outcome into the discrete actions that the network and any adjacent functional areas need to take. For example, understanding the context of an application-centric policy to determine the appropriate prioritization, network links, gateways, and security functions to be allocated. This abstraction layer is critical to aligning business outcomes to the underlying infrastructure, but it is not a simple task. It requires new levels of intelligence and comprehension.

Automation takes us way beyond replacing a standard Command Line Interface(CLI) with an intuitive Graphical User Interface (GUI) in order to accelerate the time to provision network and security functions. This is the way to migrate from manual device-by-device processes and maintenance windows that take weeks to complete, to policy-based automation that cuts network-wide deployment from weeks to minutes. As DevOps and cloud computing continue to force networks to be more agile, organizations are going to have to rely more on automated solutions leveraging application-centric policies to meet the needs of the business.

Ubiquity means that configurations and application-centric policies need to extend across the entire environment. Because organizations operate with globally dispersed data centres and branch offices – and most already use cloud computing – pervasive WAN connectivity is vital. So too is the ability to ensure that the desired outcomes and underlying configurations are intelligently deployed and maintained throughout. This means that systems need to maintain context, so that different configurations can be applied to different devices as long as the outcome criteria are met. To ensure appropriate outcomes, any new policies and attendant WAN configurations must be quick and easy to create and deploy across any complex global network in real-time.

Self-awareness and self-learning are needed to accelerate the prior decisions that will be accomplished by automated roll-out.Once the required business outcomes have been assessed by the network team, suitable policy and performance levels are carried out by Outcome-Driven Networking, which continues to monitor itself, learn and take corrective action in real-time rather than simply transmit a warning and wait for human intervention. This will reduce dependence on error-prone manual interactions.

The potential impact of Outcome-Driven Networking migration

There are so many potential benefits from Outcome-Driven Networking: the planning, analysis and decision-making saved by a self-learning system, the huge reduction in manual processes made possible by automation, the reduction in on-site technicians and truck rolls thanks to a central interface with ubiquitous reach, and not to mention the reduced downtime loss from a self monitoring and correcting network.

Let’s use an example from ESG’s recent white paper on Outcome-Driven Networking to illustrate this concept. Take a global enterprise with 75 remote sites as an example. Assume the original corporate network included legacy WAN solutions that back-hauled traffic to the data centre over dedicated MPLS circuits. Unless the company had spent a considerable amount on dedicated firewalls at each remote location as well as having sufficient IT staff with the skills to configure and operate those devices, we can assume that there was originally no network segmentation.

Using Cloud-Delivered SD-WAN, Outcome-Driven Networking allows segmentation of network traffic to mitigate risk by separating sensitive customer payment card or personal data from guest and corporate traffic – across the network. Depending on the size of the remote office, removing a firewall from each site could result in a savings of several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars per location..

Outcome-Driven Networking’s intelligent routing and service integration would also allow direct access to the cloud from remote offices, reducing the amount of traffic back-hauled to the data centre by as much as 20%, while eliminating the need for a router at each remote location.

Whereas rolling out services in the legacy environment was limited to deploying two to four sites per week. With Outcome-Driven Networking, once global policies have been defined, any devices rolled out to remote or cloud locations should not require manual configuration or reconfiguration of the network. Single-click secure provisioning means that deployment and time required for on-going operations are dramatically reduced. Instead of needing four to nine months to deploy to all 75 sites the same task could be completed in less than a week. As well as almost 95% time saving, this could accelerate the rollout of new revenue-producing applications, while freeing IT staff to focus on other strategic priorities.

Perhaps one of the hardest areas to quantify, but one that could yield the highest return, is the improvement in customer experience achieved by establishing priorities on an application-by-application basis (including SaaS or cloud-based applications) – such as ensuring that customer-facing voice and video applications are assured performance, even in the event of an outage. Given how impatient modern consumers are, ensuring consistently high performance will help to reduce churn.

Combining these benefits from the outcome-driven SD-WAN solution, an enterprise with 75 remote locations could save a lot of money, at least eight months deployment time, plus additional on-going savings from efficiencies (global policies, zero-touch, AI, and ML) and most importantly, improved customer experience.

The bigger picture

As the pace of business accelerates, organizations need innovative solutions to stay ahead. Digital transformation, cloud-based computing, and DevOps are all driving more agile and responsive IT services for business.

Beyond agile and responsive networking, business will need an intelligent solution that can actually address and maintain a desired business outcome. The WAN’s critical role makes it a strategic asset and IT teams must increasingly focus on the outcomes that impact business, rather than configuring and managing network devices in isolation.

Outcome-Driven Networking tightly aligns IT and the WAN with business goals. To make this transition, organizations need innovative technology capable of redirecting IT teams’ efforts from tedious, manual tasks for configuring and maintaining a reliable and secure WAN, to driving positive business outcomes. Outcome-Driven Networking marks the transition from complex, costly, and time-consuming manually operated WANs to fully automated, self-aware, and application-centric policy-driven SD-WAN environments.

The ultimate business outcome must be the continuing success in a highly competitive environment. Outcome-Driven Networking can power this initiative: Start with the business outcome and allow the network to handle the rest.

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How robotic technology will disrupt the manufacturing industry

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How robotic technology will disrupt the manufacturing industry 1

By Marga Hoek, author of The Trillion Dollar Shift

Robotics technology has the potential to disrupt industries across all sectors – but its impact on the manufacturing industry will be transformative. Not only can robots increase productivity, efficiency and profit margins but adopting this tech for good will be a key way for the manufacturing industry to transition to a more sustainable future.

Driving productivity & efficiency

Manufacturing processes are faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective when humans and robots work together. Studies show that idle time is reduced by 85% when people work collaboratively with a human-aware robot, rather than in an all-human team.[1] Modern robotic automation is key to reshaping production processes to become more efficient and reliable. They deliver significant benefits for companies and investment is often recouped within just 18 months.[2]

Robots in manufacturing can allow businesses to monitor the production lines from anywhere and pinpoint issues quickly, allowing for production to continue smoothly and efficiently, ensuring companies surpass consumers’ expectations of supply chain speed and reliability. Intelligent industrial service robots are an upcoming industrial tool that will amplify manufacturing capabilities and allow businesses to safely operate faster, in places humans could never go, and with cognitive and physical capabilities not yet imagined.

Transitioning to a sustainable future

Robots are a vital way to reduce pollution and emissions from manufacturing operations. For starters, they reduce our reliance on larger vehicles and machines that are harmful to the planet. Robots’ ability to be extremely accurate and minimize errors is also hugely important in sustainability efforts to reduce waste. Robots also aid businesses in their energy-saving process because they do not require as much energy to operate as humans do. Where humans need facilities with sufficient lighting and heat, robots can work under cold and dark conditions. This drastically reduces the amount of energy used in the manufacturing production process. It is estimated that for every 1C reduced in factory heat levels, there is a potential saving of up to 8%.[3] In addition, up to 20% of energy savings can be reached if the plant turns off any unnecessary lighting.

Case Study: GE

Tech giant GE is a brilliant example of how robotics technology can both boost the bottom line and sustainability.

GE is at the forefront of robotics manufacturing technology. Their value proposition is tightly tied to productivity in field service and manufacturing and offers potential cost savings within operations. While delivering industrial-grade service robotic systems that enable automation, productivity and safety for GE and its customers, the company works closely with GE business units, GE customers and strategic partners across the globe to envision, shape and build intelligent robotic technologies from idea to commercialization.

Marga Hoek

Marga Hoek

GE’s recent $125 million investment project at its Decatur refrigerator plant boosted production capacity, added new “smart” technology and increased the site’s workforce.  This includes auto guided vehicles, or AGVs, that move materials through the assembly process and more than 50 robots that perform heavy lifting operations and repetitive tasks.

The expansion project, announced in June 2018, allowed GE Appliances to increase production to meet growing demand for its freezer-refrigerators, which are top-rated in the industry for both quality and reliability. The expansion created 255 jobs, bringing total employment at the plant to 1,300. The project boosts production capacity by 25 % and ensures early compliance with 2022 refrigerant changes, making the Alabama plant a super site for GE. GE Appliances said Industry 4.0 technology additions at the Decatur facility include data visualization, 3-D scanning, rapid prototyping and other smart automation that provides the operations team with real-time data to make better and faster decisions.

Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Utilizing robotics technology within the manufacturing industry can help to meet the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for a healthier planet, to be met by 2030:

SDG 3 – Good Health & Wellbeing: Collaborating with people, service robots work with shoulder-to-shoulder and over long distances, to fulfil dull, dirty and dangerous work.

SDG 8 – Decent Work & Economic Growth: Presenting new growth opportunities for businesses and creating new jobs at manufacturing plants

SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure:  Manufacturing value proposition of robotics ties tightly to productivity and brings potential cost savings into those operations.

SDG 12 – Responsible Production & Consumption: Providing a new and rich data source for companies to produce products responsibly

Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business, international speaker and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, a new book revealing the business opportunities provided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Trillion Dollar Shift is published by Routledge, in hardback and e-book. For more information go to www.margahoek.com

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/08/here-s-how-robots-can-help-us-confront-covid/

[2] https://www.industrialtechnology.co.uk/products–transforming-your-sustainability-with-robotic-automation.html

[3] https://greencleanguide.com/how-robotics-is-revolutionizing-sustainability/

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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about.

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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about. 2

By Rory Gray, Vice President of Sales at leading software automation firm, UiPath, explains what role Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can play in improving the efficiency of finance and banking departments.

Pre-coronavirus, the finance and banking industries were already facing a myriad of challenges. Now, this myriad is quickly becoming ever more complicated. There is increasing pressure to react to declining business health, be flexible to changing customer behaviour and to adapt to evolving workforce dynamics.

Unfortunately, for these teams, improving agility is easier said than done. Many processes involve legacy systems, paper-based documents and unstructured data. These processes are time-consuming and mundane, leaving finance and banking professionals hard-pressed to fit in client-centric and strategic work.

Take processing invoices. The way it’s done hasn’t changed for years in many organisations. It often involves a member or members of the finance team receiving the invoice by mail or email, approving it manually, printing, signing and submitting it to Accounts Payable. An AP Clerk then has to pick it up, read it, verify the approvals, extract the data and input it into to the accounting package. This all takes time and costs money. What’s more, it’s dull and prone to errors. People don’t want to spend their days doing it.

Imagine if processes such as invoicing, but also loan processing, credit card disputes and many more, could be automated. Finance and banking teams would spend much less time copying, pasting and printing and could refocus on business health and transformation.

RPA is the key to finding more time in the day  

Robotic Process Automation or RPA, is software that can work just like a human. It can use AI capabilities to read and interpret data from both physical and digital documents. It can extract the necessary information and it can transfer this to multiple IT applications. It’s a software robot – or digital assistant.

For finance and banking professionals, RPA could help them break free from the time constraints caused by inefficient and complex legacy operations by passing rule-based repetitive tasks to software robots. This saves time and money – and allows people to focus on the tasks that can make a difference to the business.

RPA can help carry the burden of compliance

Rory Gray

Rory Gray

With data extracted, processed and formatted by software robots, employees will also no longer have to carry the full and heavy burden of compliance.

However accurate we aim to be, the reality is that processing data is always open to mistakes. This is exacerbated by ever shifting market regulations. Software robots, however, are programmed by finance and banking professionals to strictly follow the same steps every time and thus do not fall victim to the same blunders as all humans inevitably do.

Of course, many regulatory compliance functions will often need to involve some human validation or decision making. While the robots work around the clock without fatigue to complete tasks, professionals can still intervene if there is an inaccuracy that requires the personal touch or a loop in the workflow where a decision is needed. Therefore, time-consuming compliance tasks can be passed to software robots, but humans ultimately remain in control.

This in turn provides better risk management and compliance, higher accuracy, better cycle times and improved throughput.

RPA in practice

This may all sound very futuristic, but in practice, many firms are already using RPA to free up employee time, improve compliance and save money.

For example, a leading smart infrastructure solutions firm we work with has created a software robot affectionately named Archie, which has taken over the responsibility for processing all invoices.

Pre-Covid, the 400,000 invoices received by the firm each year were dealt with manually. With Archie this is now fully automated freeing up on average 11 minutes per invoice of time which employees can now use to focus on value-adding activities. It also means that no employee needs to come into the office to process the invoice, nor does any paper need to be passed around the team. Thus helping to keep the workforce safe.

With all this extra time, finance and banking departments can focus on adapting to and thriving in the current crisis. Moving away from data processing and towards advisory roles where they can best use their strategic skills.

Consequently, businesses will benefit during the pandemic and beyond and employees could see their roles shifting away from the mundane and towards tasks that keep them on their toes. A rare win-win in a difficult time.

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WeWALK joins Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility Programme Using artificial intelligence to change the lives of the visually impaired 

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WeWALK joins Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility Programme Using artificial intelligence to change the lives of the visually impaired  3

WeWALK, the smart cane designed for people who are blind or with low vision which is now in use across 37 markets, has joined Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility programme to accelerate WeWALK’s capability by developing and validating a human behaviour model for visually impaired users and creating a Voice Assistant designed for the visually impaired, providing the right mobility information when needed and allowing for even greater control of the WeWALK mobility experience.

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility $25 million 5-year programme is aimed at harnessing the power of AI to amplify human capability for the more than one billion people around the world with disabilities. Through grants, technology, and AI expertise, the program aims to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions and build on recent advancements in Microsoft Cognitive Services to help developers create intelligent apps that can see, hear, speak, understand and interpret people’s needs.

WeWALK’s new Voice Assistant will be released later in 2020 and will have immediate usability benefits, improving the user’s confidence as they mobilise. The assistant will be built on clearly derived requirements and natural usage patterns and the challenge that WeWALK is seeking to overcome is to make the assistant truly ‘smart’ and dynamic, where it will effectively categorize and deliver on the user’s commands in a host of different environments.

WeWALK’s human behaviour model is due for release in 2021 and is of significant importance as currently there are no accurate models for how a person who is blind moves and how their mobility holistically evolves, especially after receiving orientation and mobility training. As a result, healthcare, government, and mobility trainers cannot effectively track how a person who is blind mobilizes and whether or not intervention has had benefit. By using WeWALK’s built-in IMU (inertial measurement unit) sensors, including the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass, as well as data collected from a connected smartphone, the model can be implemented and expanded organically through daily usage. The first stage will be rigorous data collection and user testing, followed by data manipulation and classification to ensure that optimum reliability and system usability can be achieved.

Commenting upon WeWALK’s entry into the program Jean Marc Feghali, R&D Lead at WeWALK. “By working on these two objectives, WeWALK can set the standard for visually impaired mobility for both the individual user and the organisations that support them. We are now rigorously collecting mobility data with novel experimentation, validating our work by continuously engaging our users to ensure an exceptional product powered by Microsoft’s best. Being a part of the Microsoft family truly excites us, bringing us closer to mobility trainers, researchers, and the global visually impaired community.”

Mary Bellard, principal innovation architect lead at Microsoft adds “At Microsoft, we believe AI solutions built thoughtfully by and with the disability community have incredible potential to offer meaningful independence in people’s daily lives.  That’s why we’re thrilled to support WeWALK on this important assistive tool that stands to empower the millions of people around the world who use a white cane.”

With the power of Microsoft AI, WeWALK’s impact will be wide-reaching explains Kürşat Ceylan, WeWALK’s co-founder & CPO  “As a blind person from birth, I know that it is very important to get the right habits of using a cane from a young age. It is amazing to see how WeWALK can enhance this aspect of our lives with high tech, making training and orientation more effective. I believe that the smart cane will be a symbol for the fully independent journey people who are blind or with low vision.”

Selected as one of the best inventions of 2019 by TIME Magazine, WeWALK is a member of YGA Ventures, which is an ecosystem of impact entrepreneurs.  The team envisions WeWALK as a platform for continuous and collaborative development, putting it at the forefront of cutting-edge assistive technologies. This is exemplified through WeWALK’s collaboration with Microsoft, where WeWALK participated in Microsoft’s 2019 AI for Good in the UK.

The WeWALK smart cane is currently available on the market and can be purchased on the company website www.wewalk.io. The free WeWALK mobile app which provides various features such as VIP friendly navigation and public transport tracking capabilities is also available for immediate download on both iOS and Android devices.

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