Sunday, October 4, 2015

On innovative applications, networking and presenting

I was recently in an R&D event, where representatives from companies, universities, research centers and industries got together and discussed business challenges, emerging technologies and innovative applications to overcome these challenges. It was a very interesting event from many perspectives and I personally got insights on different aspects. I will discuss here about some of them, and specifically, innovative applications of the near future, the art of networking and (things that get in the way of) giving engaging presentations. I have to be abstract about the innovations since I am not allowed to discuss details of the specific use cases and applications.

On innovative applications, a number of good ideas were pitched, in diverse business and societal domains, motivated by various challenges. Many different technologies and applications were proposed for solutions but nearly all of them had (in my opinion) a common underlying workflow and made one thing obvious: data is king.

Some examples of the applications discussed were:
  • Drug testing based on simulations and 3D models of cells
  • Elderly watch and assisted living via ambient intelligence
  • Real-time creation of 3D maps of environment during safe and rescue operations
  • Early detection of deteriorating machines in manufacturing
  • Optimized and collaborative transportation of goods and services
  • Prevention of currently untreatable mental diseases
  • 3D digital pathology using digital replicas of human organs for monitoring and diagnosis
  • Digitalized management and monitoring of electricity production/consumption based on M2M
As I see it, all the above applications aim to facilitate  knowledge based decisions and actions. Almost all of them opt for real-time input-interpretation-action, meaning, they aim to respond to events as soon as they happen or even know how things will be and respond to that. This predictive approach is especially related to the “prevent over fix” of the applications such as elderly care, deteriorating machines and untreatable mental diseases. Building on the knowledge based decisions and actions different projects get more specialized to facilitate increased safety (i.e., development of drugs, elderly care) and situational awareness (i.e. safe and rescue operations) or optimized utilization of resources for decreased costs and waste (i.e., manufacturing, transportation, utilities & power).

 And technically on a (quite) high level, the applications had a similar workflow:
  1. Gather data from multiple sources (volunteered, observed or deduced)
  2. Communicate the data (where semantics and integration are often challenging)
  3. Build models based on the data and vice versa consolidate the data into models
  4. Experiment on them and make sense out of them
  5. Plan and act based on the information
 Again there are many technical and non-technical issues to be overcomed for many of the above applications, such as legislatory framework and standardization, but in general, very interesting stuff!

On networking, I believe things are simple. Be active and interested. Move, greet, smile, introduce yourself and other people. Do not spend a second not talking to someone. But be genuinely interested. These events are very good opportunities. Most people there have things to say. They are people with (more or less) common interests, most are individuals who take action and are ambitious. There are many opportunities to learn from others, don’t waste any opportunities. But it is important to really do listen to them. Sometimes it feels easy to just nod and smile when someone is talking to you. This can happen because your interests are not an exact match, or the other person is more knowledgeable on a subject, gets too deep and is difficult to keep up. It doesn’t matter, be honest. Ask explanations or to ask to “dumb down the level” a bit, but actively listen and try to understand. Any discussion can provide insights, ideas and solutions to matters that are important to you from a perspective you would never have.

Finally, a few points on presenting. The event included short presentations of R&D proposals and I attended more than 15 myself. Based on my observations of other speakers I made a few notes about presenting for myself and I will share them here with you:
  • Never read from your notes, because the listeners will not be engaged. Know what you want to say
  • The presentation is a discussion where you as a presenter, tell a story to the audience. It’s never a lecture, it’s a story where both speaker and audience should feel involved
  • You can talk about the most complex thing in the world, and you may be the smartest person alive. Still, explain it with simple language, and do not abuse domain jargon because many from the audience may not be familiar
  • Talk as clear as possible and with as good pace as possible, try to not lose your breath and keep the volume and rhythm 
  • Limit as much as possible the “eeem”, “hummm” and phrases such as ‘I mean like’ and “you know?” because they make what you say less interesting and more difficult to follow
That’s all for now folks! As I said it was an interesting event which provided me with insights on different aspects and I was happy to share them with you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The emergence of the 'API Driven Economy'

The API economy has drastically changed the way many business interact, model their processes and offer value (anything you see marketed “as a Service”)  in a wide range of domains. I haven’t found a commonly used definition of what is the API economy or a definition that resonates good with me, so my own take on this:

The API economy, is an aggregation of business models, services and applications which are greatly influenced if not focused, on extensive use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The APIs in such economies are not considered the technical means to an end, but a product by itself.

A more elaborate and probably better definition of what is an API economy is given by Steven Willmott and Guillaume Balas from 3scale, where they define it as:

“The emerging economic effects enabled by companies, governments, non-profits and individuals using APIs to provide direct programmable access to their systems and processes. The opening of APIs typically enables organizations to innovate more rapidly and provide uniform data and transaction interfaces to internal and external developers, partners and customers, for improved data access and transactions. Such organizations can also develop software applications to access these APIs to create new functionality and value both for themselves and the wider world. The resulting economy enables many new classes of applications with the potential to transform the way business is done.”

The API driven economy is a big thing, it is comparable with when companies were running to create their web pages. But now the digitalization is to a far greater extend. APIs in their most essential form, make easier the exchange of digitalized information and services.

The API economy is tightly related to the hottest technologies and trends, such as Social Networks, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) applications, the Internet of Things and the “Cloud”. In fact I wouldn’t just say tightly related, but these technologies are dependent on APIs since APIs are the glue that brings their different components together. The biggest leaders/innovators in the API economy are Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook.

However, the API economy also affected other more traditional domains, for example the travel industry. You know these ticket search engine sites? They all use APIs from airlines and similar to retrieve information and provide the price comparisons and ticket booking services most of us use.

There are numerous ways from which API economy generates profits. First directly by services (more than half of’s $2.3 billion in revenue originated from its APIs, not its user interfaces), by mash-up applications (use of one or more APIs to combine content and functions to produce new valuable applications or services) and finally through cost-efficient integration.

For me, APIs at their simplest level, are an integration issue and allow the easy communication between different software systems. Clean and well written/documented APIs can be used as a lighter and cheaper alternative to Enterprise Service Busses or a bunch of developers in the “integration team” for cases that they are simply not necessary.

The API economy is booming, not just in the tech domain and personally I am happy to see business and technological drivers being closely related.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a marketing buzz word used extensively the last few years, but IoT is a vision that has been around for some time now. The term was first coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999. Applications of IoT even if they were to a quite immature level, existed since the use of RFIDs in systems.

I am working on R&D and have participated in various research projects, so I had the chance to see many use cases and applications for the Internet of Things (ranging from mechatronics and car manufacturing to assisted living). Also, I have built prototypes and experienced first-hand the challenges for getting from a research prototype to commercial product.  In this post I would like to provide a brief introduction to the Internet of Things, its enabling technologies and its existing or potential applications.

The Internet of Things (IoT) concerns a world where all physical objects, living beings and in general everything tangible in the natural environment is available for communication through the Internet and uniquely identified. In essence, in IoT sensors, actuators and wireless technologies come together to make physical objects interconnected through information networks. The value of this network of devices exchanging data is in the data itself, or to be more correct, the value is in the applications that are possible with the use of such data.

Entities in the natural environment always produced vast amounts of data, but the data were not captured. Now, physical objects are getting seamlessly integrated and interconnected, so we can capture the generated data, store them, use them and make sense of them. 

This realization of the Internet of Things is enabled by technological changes, with the main of them being:
  • IP addresses, the introduction of IPV6 which uses 128 bit addresses provides 3.4x1038 unique addresses to cover the needs (for now)
  • Network bandwidth has increased dramatically with 4G motivated by the extensive of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets
  • Cloud data storage decreased the costs of storing data
  • Emergence of standardized ultra-low power wireless technologies
  • Integrated precision-analog capabilities
Moreover, another transition is taking place, which concerns the type of information captured. The information captured and considered of interest used to be mainly data generated and entered by humans such as ideas, business processes, advertising, banking and market transactions and later with the explosion of the social media platforms the vast volume of social content. But with the highly increasing number of objects being interconnected and autonomously gathering data, the volume of data generated by devices will be significantly greater and the nature of the captured data will change and will probably require different algorithms and attract other types of interest. With the development of adequate artificial intelligence applications and Machine to Machine (M2M) communication, the objects can collect data autonomously as well as act autonomously based on the inputs they receive.

And where this movement is heading? Soon more things (devices) will be connected to the internet, they will process and analyze incoming data and adjust their behavior automatically based on the input. They will be interoperable enough to create a system of systems. 

This change in my opinion will change the current environment, the way of doing business and many manual labor positions will be replaced by devices. But this change will also offer (and already does) many other business opportunities, such as:
  •  Raise the demand of devices, for example more people will make their homes "smarter" and purchase devices with such capabilities
  • Development of new applications over the devices, since the increased market will provide many new opportunities for profit
  •  New markets, innovations and technology get more and more integrated into our daily life 
  •  Associated technologies will continue being developed for serving this new reality (databases, data analytics, networking, hardware)
However there are still challenges that need to be faced, including:
  • The lack of adoption of common set of standards, which are necessary for the interoperability and creation of system of systems
  • Security, since devices (potentially part of sensitive and critical systems) are connected to the Internet, thus could be tampered with
  • The lack of regulations by international laws, over IoT applications - for example in case of accidents caused by devices and their programmed behavior. This one seems extremely difficult to me
From my experience not many businesses are open to change. Many well known industries and manufacturers use decade old software systems, rely heavily on MS excel sheets and in general are not keen in changing things "that work". And it makes sense, since changes usually present some problems and when we talk about automobile or aircraft building industries for example, some minutes of problem in the operations would mean to lose millions. On the other hand, innovation and more effective ways of doing things are critical for retaining competitive edge. 

Despite the challenges though, the Internet of Things is already present in our lives and it seems that will be more and more integrated in our everyday life in the near future. The areas which it will have the most presence and impact include:
  • Smart cities and environment
  • Smart metering
  • Industrial control
  • Healthcare
  • Home automation
  • Retail
  • Security and emergencies
This concludes my brief introduction to the Internet of Things, the first of my posts about interesting technologies. Comments are welcomed and more stuff are coming up soon!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Hello World!

The title of my first post is far from innovative and neither is my motivation for creating this blog. They say that the best way to really understand something, is to try to explain it to someone else. This is the motivation behind my blog, to better understand things that interest me. And if someone reads it and finds value, awesome!

Future posts will probably concern software engineering, technology, business, management and since as every true Greek I like to philosophize, some random thoughts about life may appear as well.


Hello World!