How AI, IoT and cloud allow companies to do more with less
Efficiency is prized by every organisation. Long before agile methodologies such as became commonplace, humans have strived to eke out more from what they put in, whether that’s James Watt’s improvements to the steam engine or the innovation of the assembly line by Henry Ford and others before him.
In the modern age, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and the cloud are at the bleeding edge of cost optimisation.
Take robotic process automation (RPA), for instance, a technology which blurs the line between the human and the purely automated by allowing robots to interact directly with the kinds of graphical user interfaces used by people. Robots may be trained by watching and recreating a human teacher’s inputs, and then improve themselves in terms of speed and reliability. The RPA market is duly in the ascendancy - , it grew by 63.1% in 2018 (the latest year for which figures were available), reaching around US$846mn in revenue.
We previously spoke to one of the leaders in the RPA space in the form of UiPath, which this July closed a $225mn . Gavin Jackson, Senior Vice President and Managing Director EMEA told us about why the technology was getting such attention: “Most large enterprises are looking at a digital transformation journey and looking to build a set of attributes that are very specific - the attributes of what you might consider to be a digital native, or startup, tech company. Startups loathe waste. They loathe any kind of time spent on anything but building their products, serving their customers, and reinventing the world. These are the attributes that are so attractive for companies that have been around for a long period of time.”
While naive RPA has traditionally been the focus, increasingly companies are turning to versions of this technology upgraded through the use of machine learning and AI. These solutions go by a number of names such as Intelligent Automation or Intelligent Process Automation. Take offering, for example, which identifies automation potential in tasks across the business operation thanks to machine learning-augmented RPA. Cognizant offers so-called ‘Robotics-as-a-Service’ systems which can free human workers up to pursue less menial tasks. By 2025, automation technologies, of which IPA forms a part, could have a gargantuan financial impact of around $6.7trn.
Cloud is another avenue for cutting costs while simultaneously adding capability. It is a well-worn adage that cloud computing enables companies to trade capital expenditure (capex) for operational expenditure (opex). Instead of owning the hardware and operating the hardware themselves, ever more companies are relying on paying for the use of remote servers which either run proprietary software, in the private cloud model, or give access to third-party software in the case of public cloud. Often a approach is taken, which can mean the jump from legacy systems is less traumatic.
According to from consultants Accenture, the benefits of utilising the cloud include not just cost savings from lower infrastructure and storage costs, but better utilisation of data and the easier introduction of complementary technologies such as big data, machine learning and IoT.
On that last point, it is not only software which can achieve greater efficiencies. While the kinds of connected hardware sensors that make up the internet of things are often considered only in a manufacturing setting, they can also have a huge impact on the spaces in which we live and work - to the benefit of both the comfort of workers and the bottom line of companies.
We previously spoke to Ahmad Farrakh Manzoor, then Head of Siemens Smart Infrastructure, who addressed exactly this point: “When we put AI in buildings, we no longer need to tell them we’re feeling too hot. The building can sense your comfort. It can sense the outside temperature, it can sense whether there is a sand storm, if there is rain coming, if the humidity is too high or too low and then, using those analytics and those sensors, it can adjust the environment in the building. Similarly, we have solutions for power resilience. Now every building could be a power plant.”
Of course, such measures have taken on an even greater importance thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Smart office solutions involve, for instance, filtration systems that can kill contaminants, IoT sensors that can establish density and occupancy, and even AI-enabled thermal cameras to detect elevated skin temperatures. Such technologies are set to become must-haves rather than optional extras as places of work try to attract employees back.
It’s clear, then, that efficiency and cost reduction has taken on a whole new relevancy owing to the strange times in which we live. The much touted ‘new normal’ will require learner businesses that can do more with less, and it is only with the assistance of emerging technologies that this can be achieved.
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”