What’s in our MSP crystal ball for 2019?

Amicus ITS has just completed its annual Technology Strategy Review to look at the trends and demands we have seen from our customers in 2018.  We have also taken the opportunity to look at the wider development of technology solutions affecting our public sector customers and those which we believe are likely to have a significant impact in our industry in 2019.

A recent CRN survey of a group of VARS captured interesting views on where they are spotting trends around datacentre technologies they believe are tipped for take off in 2019. The key results included:

• AI (Automation) – driven by monitoring and decision making
• Hyperconverged Infrastructures (HCI) – single platform flexibility
• Intelligent Edge (IoT)
• Network Automation (underpinned by software defined networking (SDN) – Cisco and VMWare
• Data archive + data backup – hyperconverged backup (vendors like Rubrik and Cohesity)
• Cyber security

So what’s our view?

After 30 years, Amicus ITS recognises that our success centres on our core strengths offering 24×365 IT Managed Services.  This gathers together service desk and other disparate services and software management for each customer.  Customers can buy umpteen individual technology solutions, but it’s helping run the whole service, understanding the customer and being able to spot what adds value that makes an MSP’s role special.  Some customers are in an advanced state of cloud enablement, others undergoing the journey to cloud through us. Others are preparing to embark.  With so much technology out there, we are transparent enough to acknowledge we cannot do everything ourselves inhouse.  So strategy for us, is around consultancy, with regular health checks and the nurturing of our technology partner ecosystem to match what is best in breed and need, so we can tailor what’s right our customers.

Looking at the drivers for our customers and based around conversations that are resonating most strongly, we would identify Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI), cyber security and smart working around people-centric technologies as the key go to strategies for the public sector.

Whatever the dictats may be from Government, the price of an entire shift to cloud is beyond the reach of most councils (and is also too complicated and expensive for many), so HCI continues to form a happy medium.  Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops Service on Citrix Cloud delivers secure, virtual applications and desktops from on-premises resources or from major public cloud providers such as Microsoft Azure.  HCI really lends itself well to this strategy, offering the ability to adopt a cloud-first architecture but maintaining complete control over your application and desktop resources.

Added to this, the protection and compliance offerings around cyber security rightly command attention (though better on the front foot than reactive), as organisations not only want to protect data, but interrogate it to analyse behaviours and manage systems better.  Ultimately, whilst local authorities continue to battle with legacy systems, true end-to-end integration will be challenge to achieving true digital outcomes, but the journey has begun, so the consultancy around the best routes through cloud and most effective spend will continue to foster development and progress for us.

What do you think is going to be a focal point for the industry in 2019?  Let us know?

Artificial Intelligence in the NHS – transformative benefits requiring open mindedness and a well-considered plan

In June’s budget announcement, new healthcare minister Matt Hancock announced the NHS funding headlines:  real-terms funding growth for the NHS of 3.4% per year over the next five years, amounting to an extra £20.5 billion by 2023/24.   The Government’s intention is to marginally ‘frontload’ the extra money, meaning 3.6% in each of the first two years. The NHS budget for the year 2018/19 is set at £113.8 billion.   Nonetheless, whatever these headlines, for NHS organisations to calibrate themselves correctly to be able to transform their IT services in 2020 and beyond – they must be IT fit.

Examples where healthcare AI is starting to make a difference
• Precision AI – AI is revolutionising healthcare tech using graphics software in areas like radiology.  Here radiologists can use AI-based video analytics to find brain bleeds or tumours in MRIs and another creates 3D colour representations of organs from a chest x-ray.
• Predictive AI – using muscle:fat ratio from CT scans, AI analytics is being developed to create predictive clinical outcomes for illness or disease.
• Natural Language Processing (NLP) – layering this onto data could enable AI algorithms to have access to all patient information vs a small part ie. making sense of badly written disparate medical notes.

Artificial intelligence impact on business
By deploying the right AI technology, organisations can gain the ability to:
• Save time and money by automating routine processes and tasks
• Increase productivity and operational efficiencies
• Make faster business decisions and greater strategic direction, based on outputs from cognitive technologies.
• Avoid mistakes and ‘human error’, provided that smart systems are set up properly
• Use insight to predict customer preferences and offer them better, personalised experience
• Achieve cost savings, by optimising your business, your workforce or your products
• Mine vast amounts of data to generate quality leads in Sales and grow an organisation’s customer base in business.
• Increase revenue by identifying and maximising sales opportunities
• Grow expertise by enabling analysis and offering intelligent advice and support

Some of the challenges around AI
With so much rapid innovation taking place in technology there are enormous digital capabilities on offer especially around AI.  One challenge for healthcare ICT leaders may rest with how they prioritise their spend to evidence best return on improvement and experience for both staff and patients in future years.   On top of this, AI needs access to good quality data.  Not something commonly associated with the NHS.   There is a lack of data standardisation and centralisation which continues to hamper progress (despite healthcare attracting plenty of AI start-ups fostering innovation in the marketplace).

Could personal ‘health clouds’ be the answer?
One answer leading to digital transformation could be ‘personal health clouds’?  Currently data is often stored in separate silos on local hospital servers.  There are no data standards nor centralisation.  The physical dislocation of NHS data is coupled with the many governance issues around Personal Health Information (PHI) which create an inhibiting mix.  If patient records, test results etc. could be stored centrally, with the patient confirming who has access to the info, AI could view all data versus only a part of the data.  It could be transformational for the efficiency of the overburdened hospitals – as well as the patients.  A main barrier to conversion is the necessity of patient buy-in, agreeing to the use of their data and trusting that all healthcare trust compliance measures are met and protecting their data 24×7.

Clearly, the opportunities for the NHS to seize are massive.  But just how hospitals and healthcare organisations go about seizing AI opportunity to transform the sector and how we might receive very different treatment in future may largely centre on the following elements:
• All public sector organisations having an ICT digital lead and visionary who is connected strategically to the Board – and fully conversant of the complexities of the public sector environment.
• Preparedness of the project teams to spend the right length of time at discovery to understand and map out the needs and most desirable outcomes for all stakeholders to ensure the touch of digital feels like a light wand not a heavy fist for implementation or users.
• Starting with getting one project right rather than seeking to fix the whole system in one go.
• Working closely with innovative software companies focused on the sector.
• A highly skilled IT team or partner (internal or outsourced) to safely walk the journey together from infrastructure transformation to a better digital future.

Rome was not built in a day, but those straight roads from 2000 years ago are still much admired today.  The transformative opportunities facing the NHS through AI are immense – and since IBM Watson beat Ken Jennings in 2011 the progress of AI has marched on into our consciousness.   AI requires an open-minded attitude and a willingness to embrace new opportunities when they arise.  It’s baby steps to bring about large scale progressive change, but having advanced technological understanding, drive and support to champion and deliver change and connect is a true game changer.    Let us know what you think to add to this article?

Hospital and Council start to test AI in undertaking tasks, as ‘virtual workers’

Ipswich Hospital, part of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) has engaged three robots over the past three months to mimic keyboard and mouse clicks, to assist with routine admin referrals, using ‘virtual workers’.  Handling 2,000 referrals on average per week, this has saved the Trust considerable costs and increased efficiency amongst frontline staff.

• Tasks have included sending scan and blood test results from Primary Care GPs to Secondary Care hospital consultants, with intelligent automation supplied by British software company Thoughtonomy. This works over the existing applications and systems as part of the GP Electronic Referral Service (where patient data is collected and sent to the relevant consultant).

• Initial results claim the new system is eight times more productive than using humans, releasing 500 hours of medical secretaries’ time, working 24×7 and anticipated to save £220,000 over the next nine months. The referral process has been seen to successfully reduce down the referral process from 15-20 minutes, to 5 minutes.

Darren Atkins Deputy Director of ICT, commented, “At the Trust we have a philosophy of making time matter”.   Mr Atkins continued: “Done to scale, intelligent automation has the capacity to massively drive transformation on a huge scale within the NHS.”

Neurology department medical secretary, Christine Harvey added:  “We used to extract information from (patient records) from one bit of software and put it into another bit of software. This was time consuming and carried the risk of mistakes from the patient notes system”.

The technology has been received positively at the hospital, offering flexibility from ‘virtual buddies’, maximising the benefit of automation and enabling frontline staff to spend more quality time with patients and on workload, be more productive and enabled the Trust to cut down on short term agency use.  Technically, the queues and productivity can also be monitored very easily on the move through smart devices.  The scheme has the capability to be extended to using AI ‘staff’ to make appointments and do accounting and patient queries.

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) states that automation could save the NHS up to £12.5bn a year, or 10 per cent of its annual budget.  The Department for Health identified that the NHS’ infrastructure was “not currently fit for purpose for AI” and would require standardising to fully harness the technology’s potential.  A move in this direction however is clearly signalled as a route to improvement and cost savings for the NHS.

Dr. Bernhard Kainz at the Department of Computing at Imperial College London said: “At the moment the NHS has still an IT problem rather than a data science or AI opportunity.. and rather, it marks an important step towards clinical decision making supported by AI because it makes sparse, unstructured data accessible for automated data processing”.

Meanwhile, in a bid to improve transformation of social care through technology, Bradford Council is in the process of developing a proof of concept for an AI tool in adult social care, funded by NHS Digital and the Local Government Association.  Bradford, working with Rescon Technologies has designed the relevant service requirements which take on board matters as diverse as dental care, financial matters and watching football.  The findings of the project will be known in December and decisions on how to take matters further determined at that time with stakeholders.

For an understanding of the core distinctions between IT transformation and Digital Transformation and routes of developmental interest for the public sector, read Amicus ITS’ latest White Paper here.

If you would like to discuss this with a member of the Sales department, please contact Amicus ITS on 02380 429429

Bots – Amicus ITS dips its toes in the art of conversation with our baby bot ‘Ami’

  

At Amicus ITS, with Spring looming at last, we are considering taking our first baby steps to explore the world of smart bot technology.  Developing a bot as a new route of engagement and communication is an experiment, demanding fresh thinking, analysis, reflection and nurture from us all.  We are up for the challenge.  However, just because Amicus ITS is a tech firm and IT solution provider, there’s no assumption that the route to adoption is a given.  It needs to be a positive compliment alongside our existing customer service.  Our baby bot, affectionately christened Amicus ‘Ami‘ by one of our Sales team, will have to prove herself, not just by being a smart technology, but by developing a good working vocabulary.  Her first words we hope will focus on helping customers with general sales enquiries before she has any chance of graduating to anything grander.

Why develop a bot?

The potential for AI in customer service is twofold. With machine learning and Neural Linguistic Programming it can seamlessly give customers the right information they need at the right time by offering self-service options and eliminating the need for a call to a service centre. Secondly, AI has the potential to give customer service representatives more information to help them handle the complicated issues that self-service cannot resolve.

Our instincts to start this journey now in our business lifecycle are borne out by the latest statistics.  At this week’s #MarketingExpo at London’s Excel, chatbots were trending as a key topic of conversation.  34% of call centres in the UK are stated as using AI now, with the expectation that this will rise to 68% by the end of 2018.

The human bit

How we as people communicate and our responses to different types of engagement, is fundamental to the art of good conversation and we have to seek to provide a great customer experience with Ami.  Yielding positive results in a customer’s interactions with a business through a bot has commercial potential in the long term.  But for now, it’s all about getting it right.   We know that a bot should not pretend to be a person.  If we can ensure Ami provides provide relevant information, answers and signposts for you, some of you will enjoy trying this route of enquiry.  But there will always be our people too, alongside and behind Ami, always on hand 24×365 to help support you in every way we can.

B2B

Having a bot in a B2B environment is perhaps less straightforward than if we were in the retail trade. However, there is as much opportunity to make a difference if we do this well.  Amy will need to become customer savvy if she’s to make a difference and be welcomed as part of our service family.  We are keen for our bot not to be a turn off and we would love to include you in helping raise this tech child!  There will be a feedback option built in to the platform when it’s launched in a few months time.  If you do choose to comment, you will help in our education too!  So, watch this space for news as we look forward to becoming a digital parent to this disruptive technology child.   What do you think of bots?   Let’s start the conversation!

 

This week’s technology news – 30th January 2015

Will the race for the smartest AI expose a huge security risk? 

Artificial Intelligence used to be restricted to science fiction, but today it is being using by millions, even if you don’t realise. When you buy a smart phone today, chances are it will come with its own AI-driven digital assistant. By typing or speaking, you can ask the device natural questions and receive natural sounding answers to your queries. Some of these assistants also learn things about you during their use. You have the option of letting them know more about yourself, so they can offer you a more personalised service. A lot of their actual usage falls under novelty currently but these assistants have proved that for some tasks, asking a machine to do a specific task is quicker than tapping through apps and comparing data by yourself.

With Google, Apple and Microsoft fighting for advancement and innovation in this area and with millions of active people using these services, AI is in rapid development.

Microsoft are big players in AI, recently making waves with its virtual assistant Cortana being built into all Windows 10 PCs, tablets and phones, which if the OS is a success will make Cortana the most widely available virtual assistant ever.  Microsoft also provides machine learning with its own branch of AI and drives a lot of their advanced Azure services including the platform that runs Cortana. Machine Learning allows scientists and developers to integrate predictive analytics data into their own apps.  Microsoft research chief Eric Horvitz’s recently revealed that over a quarter of all attention and resource at his research unit is focused on AI activities.

One of the most vital questions around the evolution of AI has been:   if artificial intelligence achieves consciousness, could it be a threat to human life? Last December Stephen Hawking predicted that such machines could “spell the end of the human race”.  Eric Horvitz has begged to differ, “I fundamentally don’t think that’s going to happen. I think that we will be very proactive in terms of how we field AI systems, and that in the end we’ll be able to get incredible benefits from machine intelligence in all realms of life, from science to education to economics to daily life.”   Of course Microsoft has a deeply vested interest in the advancements of AI so you wouldn’t expect the same concern from a party profiting from its rapid development. Eric Horvitz also commented on the competitions involvement in the technology.  “We have Cortana and Siri and Google Now setting up a competitive tournament for where the best intelligent assistant is going to come from… and that kind of competition is going to heat up the research and investment, and bring it more into the spotlight.”

The main area of concern remains around privacy. AI systems will continually be able to make deeper inferences about users by weaving together the mass of data generated not only by information obtained via responding to a user’s queries, activities and life style preferences, but also from the access these systems have to a user’s emails, contacts, calendars and more.

Some services do let you choose what can and can’t be used via your AI assistant but this of course directly affects their usefulness. Going forwards collected information and the means to grant or prevent access needs to be even more transparent and the relevant legislation in place with sovereign governments to reasonably safeguard citizens whilst ensuring criminal exploitation is minimised.   Secondly, where information is stored (whether encrypted on device or on a server) is also hugely important. The amount of data an AI could gather about you would be incredibly valuable to ad providers for example or security intelligence agencies.

As the technology moves forwards and AI evolves, so must both our application and cyber security. Exposure of this data would enable identity theft at a whole new level and unauthorised use of an advance AI service could be detrimental, allowing a hacker to query anything from calendar appointments to email details from any participating user. The likelihood of either scenario is minute with numerous safeguards already in place, but time has shown again and again, that if someone can build something, someone else will work out how to break it down.

 

cortana

 

 

 

 

 

Microsoft Windows 10 –  surprise hardware announcements

Microsoft’s Windows 10 event last week was not just about showcasing new software.  Instead the technology giant woo’d its audience with some truly great commercial tech offerings.

Microsoft biggest surprise was its announcement of a long developed and never leaked new device called HoloLens.  HoloLens is a wearable holographic computer with high definition see-through lenses that promises to take virtual reality technology to a new level.

Worn like goggles, it doesn’t require cables or other devices to operate and runs Windows 10. Unlike other virtual reality headsets in development HoloLens doesn’t block off your view of the world but instead places virtual holograms on top of the real world without the requirement for markers or external cameras.

Demo’d during the event, Microsoft showed off specialised applications such as one being developed with NASA for its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to help control the Curiosity Mars Rover and offer scientists a more interactive way to view Mars.  An onstage demo then showed someone wearing the device to create a 3D quad-copter in 3D-space by pointing their finger, using hand gestures and voice control using an application called HoloStudio.  Once created virtually, Microsoft revealed one they had 3D printed earlier. One of the biggest issues with 3D printing is content creation and HoloLens may just have solved that.

One application of HoloLens to quickly get into people’s homes will come through Minecraft, following Microsoft’s recent $2.5 billion acquisition of the hugely popular game from Mojang in 2014.  A HoloLens version of the game was shown on video where the device wearer can see the ‘blocked’ virtual world across their real-world interior furnishings. The player can walk around their creation and even virtually destroy real world objects that will have direct implications in-game.

Select members of the press were impressed that Microsoft delivered as advertised. With Windows 10 launching later in 2015, we will hear much more about HoloLens once Microsoft have figured out the pricing and its likely roll out will be in 3D modelling, engineering and robotics.microsoft-hololens

 

 

 

 

 

 

Microsoft – Surface Hub
A much larger new technology has been shown off by Microsoft.   Called Surface Hub, the device is built for smart team collaboration.   The huge 84 inch tablet is designed to be installed on a meeting room wall. Once again, this collaborating device also runs Windows 10, and can be controlled by pen, touch or even voice.

You can invite external workers into the panoramic discussion using Skype For Business, who are then face-to-face with you, using the Hubs built in cameras and microphones. The conversation doesn’t have to be full screen either and can be snapped to one side while the rest of the screen is freed up for note taking, annotations or even reviewing advance 3D modelling.

The cameras and microphones are based on Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox. These cameras can detect who has attended the meeting and the microphones can pick up natural speech commands from across the room.   Setup is simple, needing just one power cable to operate. The rest is done wirelessly.  Users can beam content from their phones to the Surface Hub to share.   Then, once a meeting has finished, the ‘whiteboard’ contents are sent down to peoples’ devices, including any meeting minutes solving both problem of taking a photo of a traditional whiteboard and having a dedicated resource taking minutes in situ.

Being a full-fledged Windows 10 PC, the Surface Hub can also run additional apps. The new store will have a dedicated section for apps, giving developers a new market to target for business.

Both Microsoft hardware announcements were genuine surprises, which makes a pleasant change to the usual pattern of leaks.

One area Microsoft has been quiet on so far is new phones to take advantage of the upcoming operation system and with their Surface line now pulling in over $1 billion in revenue it would not be surprising to see a Surface 4 Pro running Windows 10 on launch.  Although it was a slow start, Microsoft seems to be sticking true to its modern branding of a ‘devices and services’ company and more announcements will be expected in the run up to the big Windows 10 launch later this year.

Surface_Hub

 

 

 

 

 

Heartfelt 3D printing

Since the first 3D printed gun was fired in May 2013, 3D printing (or ‘additive manufacturing’) has come a long way commercially.  This has varied from creating ‘bump’ keys for locksmiths, repairing worn out parts ‘live’ in space in the International Space Station and Oslo University’s creation of self-healing bots – all of which we wrote about in 2014.

The amazing applications for healthcare have now taken 3D printing to new heights.  From facial reconstruction of 3D printed bone and human tissue being printed to make arteries, we now have a heart warming story where 3D printing has recently saved a 2 year old girl’s life.  Born with a serious heart defect, the girl who had spent most of her life poorly and fed through tubes, underwent vital surgery to repair a hole between the two chambers of her heart.  Doctors created imaging using a CT scan and a 1:1 3D image of her heart was made in plastic using specialist software.  From this, surgeons were able to successfully plan the operation, giving vital and accurate information to assist in the delicate procedure.

The potential is seemingly limitless and the opportunities for servicing industries substantial.  For businesses, being able to send an engineer to a customer who can 3D print an exact part on site, might advertise guaranteed satisfaction.  However, the original manufacturer is then threatened with lost business from lack of replacement orders and a reasonable concern over copyright for a copied part.  This might be one for the courts to rule on as the technology progresses, or if one were to be cynical, perhaps manufacturers will purposefully drive towards shorter shelf life and price changes to keep out the competition and force whole replacements in the market.

3D heart