In an exclusive interview with Internet of Business, Maher Chebbo of General Electric discusses the company’s take on how digital transformation is shaking up the energy industry.
As one of 20 executives selected by the European Commission in 2005 to establish the European Technology Platform for Smart Grids, Maher Chebbo is well-placed to shine a light on how the energy sector is adapting to the opportunities and challenges of the digital world. This, after all, is the initiative that claims to have coined the term ‘smart grids’.
Chebbo spent 21 years honing his IT and software expertise at global digital providers SAP, before taking on the role of chief commercial officer for power digital solutions at General Electric (GE), last April. As of this year, his position covers the entire energy value chain, meaning that he oversees the company’s digital solutions as innovation officer, as well as its work in power generation.
“One of the things I’m doing in my role is shaping the vision for GE Power Digital Solutions for 2030 and beyond. We’re laying out where we want to take our customers and where we want to take our society using GE digital solutions. We’re also working on bringing this innovation focus to the employees.”
The company is introducing a process whereby if an employee has an innovative idea, they can submit it, and it will undergo a process of due diligence to determine whether it’s worth pursuing. The hope is that this will allow GE to bring an innovation to market every three to six months.
What digital transformation means for energy
I asked Chebbo whether this meant that successful digital transformation is as much about undergoing a cultural shift as it is making technical changes.
“Absolutely. Alongside the move from an industrial to a digital industrial company, there’s another shift as well, where everybody goes from believing that all our solutions are created in factories then pushed to market, to it being the responsibility of all of GE’s 300,000 employees to think innovatively – drawing on their experience from the years they have spent at the company, or elsewhere.”
If an employee thinks something is worth prototyping, whether it’s a digital or engineering innovation, GE are eager to tap into it. Chebbo gives the example of using drones to make inspections more efficient. With a €1.4 billion a year market, there’s huge opportunity for organically grown innovations to make a big difference to customers and offer them something new year-on-year.
Since the European Technology Platform for Smart Grids was formed in 2005, digital transformation has taken off in the energy sector.
“It was about changing the way we collect data on everything from power generation, to buildings, to lighting, and particularly making changes that meant customer energy usage data would be collected not once or twice a year but every 15 minutes.”
By opening these data streams to providers, you can optimise the overall value chain, providing customers with the nearest, cleanest and cheapest energy. From there, around €3 billion has been invested in smart grid transformation in Europe, with around 600 projects currently taking place in this area.
Chebbo was in Brussels the day before our conversation, working with the European Commission to get a better understanding of the overall energy landscape, including topics such as heating, cooling and electric vehicles. Europe’s reliance on imported energy, which current stands at 53 percent, is a pressing issue. The powers that be are eager to strive towards future energy independence.
When asked about his plans for March, at our Internet of Energy event in Berlin, Chebbo emphasised the potential of IoT in the energy industry.
“I’m going to speak about the great opportunity we have as one of the sectors where the internet of things can bring a lot of value. This is a small community where we know each other very well. I have been working with a lot of the attendees for years and this is a chance to learn about their new projects and where they are today.”
Chebbo will also be chairing a panel discussion at the event on how challengers are disrupting the industry, so I wanted to get his take on the impact start-ups are having.
“I believe that start-ups are absolutely part of the game. They have minimal bureaucracy, so that most of their time is spent on their products and innovation. Sometimes, when you get bigger and bigger, you have lots of things to juggle internally. The associations are opening themselves up more and more to start-ups.”
Chebbo has backed this up by creating favourable conditions at ESMIG (the European smart energy organisation of which he is President) for challengers to join. GE has also introduced competitions where they identify customer needs and ask SMEs to present their best-in-class solutions, based on the Predix platform.
Slow off the mark?
While larger, older industries, such as banking and construction, can be slow to adopted digital transformation, Chebbo feels the energy industry has done quite well in Europe.
“It really depends on the region. When I was in Brussels talking with the European Commission, we were saying that in Europe the energy sector is doing well. The networks are good, we don’t see a lot of blackouts. Therefore, most of our time is spent anticipating the future and how to make sure that we get more and more energy efficiency.”
Where the industry has been slow, is in its emphasis on the business case – why investors should take interest, whether it’s the European Investment Bank or the private sector.
“Where you have a lot of engineers they focus the engineering aspects, so perhaps the business side lacks attention. Between 2005 and 2015 we didn’t involve a lot of financial people to develop this side but now things are really moving. A lot of innovation projects that used to be research-led are now becoming innovation-led, which means at the end you get things done and go to market.”
The future of IoT in energy
Therefore, the challenge for the sector’s major players is to combine their influence and engineering might with the flexibility and creative thinking of emerging challengers, all while ensuring the business cases for their projects are clearly articulated.
Chebbo is confident the industry will deliver, which is unsurprising given what energy providers stand to gain from the efficiency gains of digitisation. GE was able to reduce EDP’s asset and maintenance costs by €7 million per year, funds that are now being reinjected into building their renewable capacity.
“Yesterday I had a meeting where we talked about the changing focus on electrical vehicles. They no longer care purely about research, they care about innovation and how to get electrical to market. In the next 10 years, you will see things moving really quickly, as quickly as the telecoms industry has been moving – I’m confident about that.”
Coming soon: Our Internet of Energy event will be taking place in Berlin, Germany on 6 & 7 March 2018. Attendees will hear how companies in this sector are harnessing the power of IoT to transform distributed energy resources.
The post GE’s Maher Chebbo on the journey to a digitally transformed energy sector appeared first on Internet of Business.
Ask a lawyer to describe their daily work, and you’ll probably hear the words ‘document-intensive’ in response. It’s an apt description. The legal profession is overburdened with paperwork. Legal rulings, past cases, contracts and myriad other papers contribute to a data proliferation that is hard to keep on top of.
Unfortunately, failing to keep on top of it is not an option. The thankless task of sifting, reviewing and summarizing often falls to the lot of new associates, who spend between 31 and 35 percent of their time conducting research, according to ‘New Attorney Research Methods Survey’, a study from the Research Intelligence Group.
It’s costly, time-consuming, and (probably) extremely dull. But this way of working is beginning to change. A new sector is emerging in response to the ever-growing burden of data and the resulting high price points for clients. ‘Lawtech’ is bridging the gap between this most traditional of professions and a hitherto untapped source of help: cognitive computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
The convergence point: human expertise meets AI
Over the course of this blog, we’ll look at two broad use cases for cognitive computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence in the legal profession:
- Technology-aided review
- Smart document creation
Let’s be clear: the idea is not to replace human lawyers with search bots, but to set them free to do more interesting and high-level work by eliminating the miserable grind. Artificial intelligence is not good at writing briefs, appearing in court, or negotiating with clients. This work remains the proviso of highly skilled human beings, and rightly so. However, it is good at document review and data extraction, and has the potential to realize enormous benefits for the legal sector.
Let’s look at some use cases.
Technology-aided review (TAR)
Cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning are three pillars of something known as TAR – or technology-aided review. This is the process of extracting relevant data points from unstructured data sets, like legal documents or contracts.
It’s in the ability to work with unstructured data sets that AI and cognitive-powered tools come into their own. While it is relatively simple to mine a nice, orderly spreadsheet for information, it’s much more difficult to extract it from more convoluted or scattered sources. TAR tools are capable of ingesting vast data sets of any specification – including data from the Internet of Things. Even more significant, perhaps, is their capacity to learn. These tools go far beyond just programming – instead, they refine their skills and knowledge with each interaction or query, developing and learning as they go.
One such tool is ROSS Intelligence, built on the Watson cognitive computing platform. Its natural language understanding capabilities mean it can understand and interpret nuanced questions more accurately than a simple keyword search. To answer a question, ROSS sifts through multiple text documents until it comes up with the relevant information. The volume of data it can handle is staggering: up to a billion text documents per second. The sheer speed means huge benefits in terms of reduced labor and costs.
TAR tools like ROSS have multiple use cases. They could be invaluable for consultancy work – extracting data such as contract start and end points, or payment dates, from large numbers of documents. The tool then presents these findings in a handy dashboard form, where it provides the base point for human analysis, theorizing or negotiation.
It could also be used to analyze target companies in mergers and acquisitions deals. Machine learning can perform searches on particular companies and identify wording that differs from the norm in global sales contracts, to spotlight potential new deals.
Smart contracts and document creation
While research and review is the obvious use case, automation through machine learning has the potential to perform more complex tasks, too. One of these is document generation.
Contract generation software enables contracts to be automatically produced by asking a series of questions, such as: ‘when does the agreement begin?’ or ‘is the tenant undertaking work on the property?’ The questions generate a decision tree that determines the form the contract will take, ensuring all bases are covered. It’s a little like setting up formulae in an excel spreadsheet, to determine the rules by which the content therein will be governed.
Specialized document software of this kind can also enhance document organization by ensuring that all internal cross-references apply language consistently – even if multiple people have been involved in drafting them. This means consistent terminology across the document and minimized risk of misinterpretation. Document comparison tools can also check for undefined terms and identify missing conditions or clauses, to ensure a water-tight result.
Interestingly, the demand for solutions like these is creating a brand new ‘Lawtech’ sector, and new jobs with it. ‘Legal technicians’, or ‘legal engineers’, many of them ex lawyers themselves, have the job of designing automation solutions and helping law firms to implement them, without the need for a centralized IT system.
Software operating on a cloud-based platform is agile enough to grow and adapt to firms’ growing needs. Cognitive computing and artificial intelligence means the platform is ever-learning, self-improving and immune to the threat of becoming obsolete, because it is always updating its knowledge.
The future of ‘Lawtech’
The emergence of ‘Lawtech’ and its accompanying job opportunities marks an interesting convergence point between mankind and machine. Large organizations that have invested in automation software are already seeing significant returns, in the shape of reduced operating costs, swift, accurate data extraction and better opportunities for their staff to take on high level work.
Attorneys have more time to engage in the creative side of legal representation – keeping clients better informed throughout the legal process, and exploring strategies and outcomes fully with the benefit of trustworthy data. The value of cognitive computing in the legal sector is already apparent – and it’s not going anywhere.
The post Spotlight on ‘Lawtech’: how machine learning is disrupting the legal sector appeared first on Internet of Things blog.
In an exclusive interview, Brewster Barclay of Zuhlke tells Internet of Business that insurance companies need both imagination and technical know-how to drive business model change.
The IoT represents a huge opportunity for business-to-business (B2B) insurance providers to really differentiate themselves from their competitors – but they’ll need to apply a great deal of imagination and a hefty dose of technical know-how if they are to emerge as winners in the race to innovate.
That’s the view of Brewster Barclay, business development director at Zuhlke Engineering, a company that is helping many insurance providers place their IoT bets wisely. With around 1,000 staff across 12 locations worldwide, Zuhlke provides the software and hardware engineering services that clients across a wide range of industry sectors need to take potentially promising ideas and turn them into a commercial realities.
Zuhlke, for example, provided some of the engineering expertise behind the [BB1] design of the Nespresso coffee machines. In insurance, it helped Zurich develop a risk management platform, MyZurich, for business clients with international operations.
As Barclay explains: “We’ll listen to the CEO, to the board of directors, to understand what they’re seeing in their particular sector and the challenges they face. They will usually have the germ of an idea around a new way to deliver value to their customers, and we will [BB2] help them take that forwards. Our engineers will run small-scale proof of concepts, using proven Lean Startup development methods, then test and iterate to make sure they work. Eventually, that idea will become a new, full-scale service or offering.”
Managing risk better
In the insurance market, he says, these fledgling ideas increasingly focus on the potential of IoT to help providers manage risk better. In other words, machinery, vehicles and buildings equipped with sensors are able to convey a great deal of information about their status, performance and condition. When an insurance provider is given access to that data, they can better understand the risks these assets face. And that, in turn, can enable it to work with the owners of machinery, vehicles or buildings to mitigate those risks.
In this way, the business of insurance providers looks likely to move away from simply shouldering risk in return for payment of premiums, towards a risk-prevention model based on a deep understanding of how an insured asset is used and maintained.
The advantages for both sides are clear, says Barclay. The insurance provider is able to diversify, providing new kinds of services to clients, and where these services mitigate risks by, say, 30 percent, a client’s insurance rates might fall by 25 percent. Win-win.
That also opens the door for insurance companies to start specializing in certain areas. “The market for B2B insurance services are pretty diverse so there’s lots of room for providers to quickly build up expertise in particular areas: factories, office blocks, ships at sea, cargo in transit,” says Barclay.
Partnerships in place
In fact, he adds, the foundations for this kind of partnership are already very much in place, since companies typically have a much closer relationship with their insurance provider or broker than a consumer might have with their car or home insurance provider. For example, an insured factory will probably be subject to regular visits, risk assessments and equipment inspections, and as such, there’s already a personalized service aspect associated with the provision of insurance. The idea of new risk mitigation services, fuelled by IoT data, could help companies build on this business model and take it in new directions.
“This is a topic that comes up in almost every conversation we have with major insurance providers,” Barclay says. But, he acknowledges, the industry is a notoriously conservative one and while many leaders in this business are attracted to the idea of digital transformation and diversification, caution can sometimes deter them from acting on their hunches about new ways of doing business.
That’s where the kind of iterative approach that a company like Zuhlke can offer comes into play, he claims. “It’s about understanding a company’s business goal and then working with it to test out various hypotheses as to what might deliver that goal. We don’t start with a technical specification – that’s not the way to approach this at all. You take an idea and you test its value with customers. Anything else is hubris.”
For many insurance companies, taking advantage of IoT to deliver new business models will require a big mindshift, he says. “It’s about fundamentally changing interactions with customers and the ways that data is collected, integrated and analyzed – but on the basis of these changes, there’s an opportunity here to transform services, enlarge your customer base, and adopt new pricing models to attract new customer groups. That’s not a proposition that any insurance company can afford to ignore, but each provider needs to consider how it gets there and how it can change itself in order to take advantage of IoT. Our mission at Zuhlke is to help them do that.”
The post Zuhlke: Insurance sector can’t afford to ignore the IoT opportunity appeared first on Internet of Business.
At a time when public sector authorities globally are facing challenges to make smarter infrastructure, Pitney Bowes and Arrow Electronics have teamed up to help them in the task with the help of Internet of Things (IoT).
As part of an agreement signed by the two companies, they will help public authorities in gathering, processing and analysing data collected through IoT devices to enhance physical infrastructure efficiencies.
The collaboration will introduce to the market a new solution that will help Pitney’s Confirm Intelligent Infrastructure Management solution and the Arrow Connect platform to promptly, efficiently and securely process and analyse IoT-generated data collected via Arrow’s broad spectrum of infrastructure sensors. In addition, the collaboration will help organisations in connecting their traffic-flow monitoring systems into the Arrow Connect platform to expose issues or abnormalities related to traffic speed.
Mark Taylor, SVP of software channels at Pitney Bowes, said: “Arrow’s IoT capability spans design, build and device management across purpose-built IoT solutions and employs some of the best engineers in the world for connected technologies. This collaboration with Arrow allows Pitney Bowes to offer a more robust, IoT-ready infrastructure management solution on a global scale.”
Aiden Mitchell, VP of global IoT solutions at Arrow Electronics, said: “The Pitney Bowes Confirm Intelligent Infrastructure Management solution already services 45% of the UK road network and 140 million citizens worldwide. Pitney Bowes has a proven track record in Infrastructure Management and our partnership will bring scale to their ability to collect and process IoT data and turn it into real insight. Our alliance will create a pathway for our clients to create a truly smarter world to live in.”