Category Archives: IT News

Ghost Ships on the Starboard Side!

Mary Celeste style ships may become more common place if European researchers and the Rolls Royce engineering group have their way. Much of the tonnage currently afloat on the high seas could be replaced with crewless drone ships.

The main driver of this development is cost. According to Oskar Levander, head of marine innovation at Rolls Royce, crew expenses can range from between 10-30% of operating costs. With no need to facilitate humans for weeks on end the provision of  food, accommodation, galley, sewage treatment system, etc. would no longer be a requirement.

Shore based teams of qualified captains could operate dozens of ships at the same time. According to MUNIN (Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks), an EU sponsored research project, 75% of maritime accidents can be attributed to human error and “a significant proportion of these are attributed to fatigue and attention deficit”. The technology is already here and tested in day to day use. Global communication satellites have the power to provide enough bandwidth to navigate the vessels remotely using feed from onboard radar and cameras. Currently GPS technology is used to automatically navigate ships. Onboard cameras are used to enhance human vision in poor visibility and to spot objects far beyond the range of the human eye.

Mr Levander also claims the threat of piracy could be diminished. The crew with their ransom value are often the most valuable commodity on a ship. Once they are removed from the equation the value of any piracy is diminished. Could pirates hack into the ships computer system and take control? Extra security measures such as flooding the ships with incapacitating gas to fell would be pirates would be possible with no crew.

A ccording to a report in the FT more circumspect voices are heard from the International Chamber of Shipping’s secretary general, Peter Hinchliffe. He concedes that it is becoming harder to find young people to go to sea today, so making the idea of crewless ships interesting. Months away from friends and family year after year does not appeal to a lot of people, coupled with the fact that they can visit faraway places for a reasonable air fare, means the romance of going to sea has possibly lost its lustre.

But he thinks the complexities of a ship mean that you cannot remove the crew. Highly complex collision avoidance rules would have to be rewritten to account for manned and crewless ships operating in the same area, with an implementation period of decades. The amount of bandwidth needed for radar and video feeds alone would be immense so the costs could make it prohibitive. Mr Hinchliffe also argues that extra redundancy and backup systems would be needed in case something fails at sea, raising questions about the promised weight savings.

There are a host of other issues to consider. With no seafarer on board who will lower the life boat and come to the rescue of fellow seamen in distress? Would the unscrupulous boss on land lean on the captain in a nearby office, to steam on by? Will every ship on the seas no matter how small require radar identification systems? This could have hefty cost implications. Also with the possibility of something breaking down on a ship it is hard to visualise a ship without at least one engineer on board.

Ahoy to the future.

While we await…

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Grand Theft Auto V

Fans queued throughout the night just to be in line to buy the computer game Grand Theft Auto V this morning. Some of them took time of work just so they could get their hands on the most expensive game ever made. It was developed by Rockstar North in Edinburgh, Scotland cost £170 million to produce and is expected to have retail sales of £1bn in the first year. The last release was five years ago and the GTA franchise has sold 135 million copies since it was first released in 1997. The figures stack up well when compared to the release of big budget films and the distinction between games and films is increasingly blurred.

Successful big budget console games are still made in the UK by Rockstar and Rocksteady. The UK games industry has had a difficult few years due to competition from Canada and the increase in the use of smart phones by games consumers. There was a modest growth of 4% in 2012 as studios moved away from developing for traditional platforms and embraced web-based digital gaming. It is estimated that over 35 million Britons are regular gamers and that with 30,000 people employed in the industry nationally. Gaming contributes £1bn to the UK GDP

British mobile and social gaming development is rapidly expanding. This opens up the possibility of developing games on smaller budgets and more developers are making games and self publishing and small studios are developing their own projects as well as doing the usual work for the bigger studios on a work for hire basis. Investors are interested once again. There are opportunities in gaming for artists, animators and audio designers, script writers, project managers, distributors, games media, PR, studio management and of course programmers. A variety of programming languages are used with Windows commonly written in C#, Android in Java, and iOS developers using Objective-C.

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You may also be interested in our article on Why investors favour London’s Silicon Roundabout.

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Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa | London Visa

Last Sunday evening the FT reported on the London mayor, Boris Johnson’s idea for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa /“London Visa”. If adopted would make it easier for talented technologists from around the world to get jobs in tech start ups and fashion studios. The plan to provide City Hall with a yearly allocation of 100 of the government’s existing exceptional talent visas has already been submitted to the Home Office. If granted the mayor’s office in collaboration with Tech City, the Fashion Council and London Design Festival would pick the best applicants, officially endorse them and speed their entry.

Mr Johnson said “It is a clear message to the elite of Silicon Valley or the fashionistas of Beijing that London is the place they should come to in order to develop ideas, build new businnnesses and be part of an epicentre for global talent.”

Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor for business and enterprise thought the 100 visas a year was fairly modest and stated that in the fields of technology and design, individual talent really matters. He said ” We only need to find one Steve Jobs and we have an Apple on our hands.”

Fledgling businesses cannot cope with the complications and expense of sponsoring foreign workers. According to an article in Computer Weekly Eric van der Kleij, previously CEO of Tech City, suggested the government could invest money into creating experts to teach young companies how to hire people from outside the UK. He said “You can’t change the robustness of the system or it will be abused, but you should spend the money on helping younger companies use the system.”

A report in today’s Daily Telegraph highlights that the Development Economics study estimated that the technology industry, which employs two million people, needs an extra 750,000 workers by 2017 to ubnlock a £12bn windfall. Britain, especially London, is poised on the brink of becoming one of the power houses of the global dogital economy and a genuine rival to Silicon Valley. According to Jonas Almgren, a Silicon Valley veteran, Britain needs more talent to fuel the latest dotcom boom and that means looking further afield. Like football’s Premier league we need to employ the best the world has to offer if we want to be a global player.

We need Boris Johnson’s idea for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent “London Visa” and more. The scheme has been designed in a way that would not antagonise the government and as a Conservative politician he is under pressure to toe the party line to stem the flow of immigrants. While walking the tightrope he works hard to keep people focused on the fact that we need to keep the door open for business people and students in the long term interests of the economy.

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The SwiftKey to £11.3m

The award-winning Londond based, language technology company, SwiftKey, this week confirmed a $17.5M (£11.3m) series B investment round. This was led by Index Ventures and supported by previous investors Octopus Investments and a number of angel investors. Doctoral research from Cambridge University into artifical intelligence led to the development of this company by Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock.

The SwiftKey virtual smartphone keyboard app was the top-selling paid app on Android’s Google Play store in 2012.The application corrects your spelling, suggests words based on your past vocabulary, detects what language you are typing and snaps to it, and picks up on your typing quirks. This is a cut above the usual predictive text. There have been 15 million downloads since 2010 and it has topped the donwload charts in 57 countries in the past year. This was their SwiftKey to £11.3m. The app is blocked on Apple iPhones, Blackberries and Windows phones but they do sell technology directly to Samsung and Blackberry for handsets.

The inspiration for the comapany came through Jon Reynolds, while working in the Civil Service in 2008, noticing a lawyer awkwardly typing into a Blackberry using its tiny buttons. He got in touch with Medlock an old friend from his Cambridge days. They attended the Mobile World Congress in 2010 with a prototype and got a contract from Inq Mobile in the UK which enabled them to hire their first employees. They now have 100 employees and are opening offices is San Francisco and Seoul.

According to an ACT Venture Capital report it is estimated that 529,000 people in the EU are directly employed in the design and marketing of smartphone and tablet apps, as online start-ups and blue chip companies are in a hurry to increase their presence on mobile devices. ACT invests in teams and entrepeneurs who can create and scale innovative companies.

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Big Data and Classifying the UK’s Digital Economy

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) published a report last month which was funded by Google and one of its key findings was that the digital economy is poorly served by conventional definitions and datasets. Big data methods can provide richer, more informative and more up to date analysis.

According to NIESR the UK has between 270,000 and 471,000 digital companies while the government only records 187,600 in their statistics. The disparity in the figures arises due to the fact that the government still uses the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) of Economic Activities system which was designed in 1948. NIESR claims this system is outdated and businesses are inaccurately defined by traditional sectors and the fact that they have moved to digital ways of working is overlooked.Their report uses data from independent research body, Growth Intelligence, a company that tracks the activity of firms on the internet using real-time databases and sells the information to clients.

According to the foreword in the report the myth pervades that the internet economy consists largely of tiny dot com and bio-tech start ups in a few technology clusters that quickly bubble up and go bust. It identified that what is actually happening is that the spread of the digital economy into other sectors is driving growth and jobs throughout the UK. Although London still dominates the digital economy there are strong concentrations of technology focused groups in regional areas such as Aberdeen, Middlesborough and Basingstoke. It also identified that that digital companies are working in traditional sectors such as publishing, architecture and engineering. To illustrate their point they give the example of the Scottish company, Kelton Engineering, which sells hi-tech equipment to the oil industry but is wrongly classified under the SIC system as “Business support”.

The Government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that they are confident that their statistics reliably measure the jobs throughout the UK. NIESR says that companies that are wrongly classified could be missing out on investment because investors use classifications to identify potential investment targets. Speaking at the report’s launch, Business Secretary Vince Cable said the report adds to the very strong case for the Government to develop a “world class digital infrastructure”.

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Opportunities for Ireland Post G8

The G8 Summit held on the shores of Lough Erne in Northern Ireland, just a few miles from Enniskillen, is expected to give a boost to the economy on both sides of the border. This summit was hosted by David Cameron representing the UK and attended by the heads of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and United States. Enda Kenny, Ireland’s Taoiseach (PM), attended in his capacity as President of the EU.

Enda Kenny was most likely pleased to have the opportunity to be at the summit but with the crafting of the “Lough Erne Declaration” on taxes there may have been some uncomfortable moments for him as well as long term implications for his country. Politicians both sides of the border will have been delighted to have the opportunity to promote tourism in Ireland. The pictures of these world leaders in such a beautiful setting sans umbrellas was a gift.

Northern Ireland is a prime European location for software development and IT support services. According to the FT, specialisation in IT security and financial services technology has attracted investment from places such as the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Universities are expanding IT courses to keep pace with demand and there is a plan to increase the number of IT employees in the province from 28,000 to 50,000 by 2018.

Across the border things are looking up on the IT front with companies in Dublin such as Google, Facebook, Linkedin and Microsoft based there. A lot of the jobs will not be in IT development but in sales, marketing, customer support, management and administration. The arrival of Facebook will also have resulted in an influx of multi-lingual people to support their operations in places like Spain, Italy and the Nordic Countries. Microsoft will have more IT development work taking place at their Dublin campus as will the IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre.

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IBM Smarter Cities

” On a smarter planet, we want to change the paradigm from react to anticipate” is the slogan of the IBM Smarter Planet global initiative which was started five years ago. IBM Smarter Cities is part of the smarter planet programme. The video Smarter Planet – a UK Introduction gives an idea of how it may impact on our lives.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A127XSYwzqY
With the arrival of Big Data, through the use of analytics, mobile technology, social business and the cloud it is now becoming possible to transform how enterprises and institutions operate. The embedding of sensors in cars, roads, cameras, roads, pipelines, appliances is happening and systems are beginning to ‘speak’ to each other which results in the capture of masses of data in backend systems. This data can be mined and analysed and if the queries are structured intelligently should produce information on better ways of doing or organising things.

The IBM Research – Ireland lab is IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre and conducts research in water, energy, transportation, city fabric, risk, exascale computing, and marine environments in collaboration with top universities, cities, and industry partners. The leading academic institutions involved are Cambridge University, the Australian National University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Trinity College Dublin.

Researchers at NUI Maynooth have received €2.3m of funding for a major five-year project which will analyse how software and technology can influence life in a city. The focus will be on two cities: Dublin and Boston in the US. Boston is ranked number one on a global index of ‘smart’ cities while Dublin is a key technology hub in Europe. The research is  funded by a five-year ERC (European Reaserch Council) grant.

Some Findings on Dublin as a Smart City

  • A 2007 study of traffic congestion revealed that even though small if taken as a percentage of gross domestic product then Dublin was the world leader in this sphere over cities such as Manila, Dakar and Mexico City. The challenge was and still is to maintain the historic fabric of the city and  improve the transport network without any major re-development. Dublin City Council has been collecting and analysing data, in partnership with IBM and journey time information is now released and updated every minute.Residents can go online and find the quickest route to their destination. This is just the beginning and eventually people will be updated on problems via their mobiles while on route to their destinations and advice on alternative means of completing their journeys will be given which may be bicycle, tram, taxi or even on foot.
  • IBM’s vision for water is stated as

    Our vision is an intelligent, integrated, and instrumented water system for our cities of the future, where both the quantity and quality of our water resources is constantly being monitored, predicted, and optimized, from rain to drain and back again.

    The citizens of Dublin could vouch for the fact that even when there is a strong bond between rain and drain, over a prolonged period of time, that they still have water shortages. A Dublin City report states that 29 percent of the water produced never reaches the consumer due to water leaking from the city’s distribution system. This is due to the age of the network and many of the pipes are in such poor condition that they are prone to bursts, leaks and low water pressure. Replacing the infrastructure is a costly, time-consuming and disruptive especially when streets need to be dug up.

    To reduce the amount of water lost Dublin City Council in collaboration with IBM is combining analytics, sensor data, and optimization models to find the best places in the network to install pressure reducing valves. Once installed, the models recommend the best settings to minimize leakage while meeting the requirements of the city. Dublin’s Chapelizod area showed potential to reduce leakage up to 44 percent, allowing water providers to serve 15 percent more households without investment in more production capacity or adversely affecting consumers.

‘Garbage in garbage out’ still holds true so human intelligence is a requirement for digital smartness. There are and will be no shortage of jobs for big data scientists, big data analysts and others but there will be a shortage of suitably qualified people to fill the posts.

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Can SAP Dance in the Cloud?

There is an unspoken rule that startups do not combine open source technology with commercial technology according to Dan Woods, writing for Forbes. He explains that for startups dependent on Big Data this rule may have to be broken as suitable open source applications are not yet available to work with MapReduce and Hadoop.

So what does MapReduce do?

A simple  example of how it is used is given by Jen Cohen Crompton in a SAP blog:

A consumer retail brand is looking to identify the most frequently purchased products (the top three) from a cross-section of customers as part of a market research initiative focused on merchandising. Let’s say they are looking for data on women within a specific geographic area, which is information provided in each customer profile stored in their CRM database. There might be 2,000 women meeting the identified qualifications and therefore, this big data set needs to be sorted.

The input data for this query would be the profiles of the individual customers within the specifications. After the query is created and sent, the mapping function would sort through the profiles, then identify and send the most frequently purchased products to the reducer. The reducer would compare and aggregate the data generated from each map task and return an output file featuring the top three most frequently purchased products from the cross-section.

The MapReduce process is key in sorting through the big data that might be available when submitting a query. The goal is to create the most accurate output in the shortest amount of time.

 

Rafael Coss of IBM gives a similar explanation in his YouTube video:

And what does Hadoop do?

The official explanation is available here.

A good explanation is given by Jen Cohen Crompton here

Overall, Hadoop enables applications to work with huge amounts of data stored on various servers. Hadoop’s functions allow the existing data to be pulled from various places (since now, data is not centralized, but distributed in places using cloud technology) and use the MapReduce technology to push the query code and run a proper analysis, therefore returning the desired results.

As for the more specific functions, Hadoop has a large-scale file system (Hadoop Distributed File System or HDFS), it can write programs, it manages the distribution of programs, then accepts the results, and generates a data result set.

Hadoop’s main shortcoming is that it is a batch type system and not useful for real time processing which is necessary for real time analytics if business value is to be extracted from Big Data. Hadoop development requires advanced expertise and MapReduce is a complex form of programming. There are projects underway that will in the fullness of time provide open source applications to deal with these problems. In the meantime SAP HANA is available to startups where time to market is crucial but it is a licensed solution. According to SAP their solution will

Run your business in real real time. SAP and partner solutions powered by SAP HANA can help you dramatically accelerate analytics, business processes, predictive analysis, and sentiment data processing – all on a single in-memory computing platform.

 

SAP is doing its best to answer the challenges presented to it by the arrival of the cloud and Big Data. Most of the big companies with whom they have long established relationships want their data kept safely in SAP’s data storage centres and some have more data than a few of the biggest cloud users. SAP has started running existing corporate applications on HANA for these customers in its own data centres. This is giving their staff direct contact with office workers for the first time which should improve usability and their profile.

New cloud application companies appeal directly to office workers by giving them free applications and charging further down the line for enhanced developments. Young companies have no ties to old IT and are free to build on new computing architecture and thereby depriving companies like SAP of future customers. The company has launched a $155 million fund partially to encourage use of SAP HANA by startups. For it to be adopted by this fraternity it needs to become easy for them to download and experiment with to see where Hadoop and SAP HANA can work together and have a reasonable pricing model.

Can SAP Dance in the Cloud?

Last month for the first time SAP broke down their sales figures for their cloud business from their other sales and this showed that revenue from HANA had tripled year-on-year to £86 million. When Bill McDermott, co-chief executive was asked to comment by the FT he responded with “We said that we would focus on the cloud, mobile and big data. We can grow as fast as them and gain share against them, so why not break it out and show SAP can dance – and that’s what we’re doing, we’re dancing,”

Click How Hadoop and SAP HANA can Accelerate Big Data Startups to read the full article by Dan Woods.

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Big Data Scientist | Big Data Specialist is the Hot New Career in IT

Big Data Scientist / Data Specialist is the hot new career in IT. Big Data could add £216bn to the UK economy by 2017, as well as create 58,000 new jobs according to a report released in April 2012 by The Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) claimed that .

Big data is a broad term for data sets that are too large and complex to manage with conventional database tools. Not long ago computer programmers wrote their code with the cost of memory firmly at the forefront of their minds and data storage was expensive. Now we have the Cloud which gives affordable and easily available data storage and processing power online.

Having this data presents opportunities for business if they can identify growth or savings opportunities. They can even sell their data. According to IBM big data spans four dimensions: Volume, Velocity, Variety, and Veracity. The last one is the most challenging. 1 in 3 business leaders don’t trust the information they use to make decisions. Establishing trust in big data presents a huge challenge as the variety and number of sources grows.

Here are some examples of how big data is used:
(Source: New Scientist Magazine 27th April 2013)

  • There was a 35 minute power outage at this years Superbowl which is the climax of the US footabll season. It has an audience of 100 million and advertisers pay $4 million for a 30 second airtime advertising slot. A big data company called Datashift was giving feedback to the advertisers in real time on how the ads were perceived by extracting information from twitter feeds. The biscuit maker Oreo put an new ad together on the hoof which simply said “Power Outage? No Problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” Oreo’s quick action was actually more successful thant their carefully planned advert. The message was retweeted 14,000 times and increased their Twitter following by 14%.
  • Through store loyalty cards companies can send tailored offers to people depending on what the data says is happening in their lives. In the US a man complained to a company called Target because they sent his teenage daughter vouchers for baby related products and he felt this was inappropriate. It transpired that his daughter was pregnant.
  • A casino thought that the best revenue generators were the ‘hig-rollers’ but data analysis showed that elderly slot players contributed more to their bottom line.

Big Data Employment Opportunities
Data scientist jobs will mention requirements such as experience in working with large data sets and working with distributed computing tools, such as Map/Reduce, Hadoop, Hive, Mahout, Pig, R, Matlab, NumPy SAS Sql and NoSQL. Most big data systems have to be built on top of Hadoop or some distributed environment.  There are very few packaged applications that run on top of Hadoop. Right now the technical jobs outnumber the analysis jobs.

IQWorkforce, a US analytics company, has this to say about employing big data specialists “There are lots of foreign nationals working in big data. If you want to recruit a data scientist, an engineer or a distributed system architect you should be prepared to sponsor a work visa.” Furthermore they say ” If you want a 2-3 year data scientist or a 2-3 year statistical modeler you can either catch lightening in a bottle or sponsor a visa.” It is a similar situation here in the UK. Demand for UK big data specialists will increase by 92% over the next five years and we are already experiencing a skills shortage axccording to SAS, a leading company in analytics software and services.

You might like to read about IT Consulting on Tier 2 General.

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Arjun runs with Olympic Torch

Arjun Fasje of IT consultancy Dynamic Futures will run through Kensington with the Olympic torch this afternoon.  Its good to see the IT sector represented in this way.

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