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USING ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO ACHIEVE CIRCULAR ECONOMY

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By Professor Terence Tse, ESCP Business School

 

It is really only a matter of time before the two main trends, artificial intelligence (AI) and circular economy, would come together. A milestone of this convergence was the white paper “Artificial intelligence and the circular economy”: AI as a tool to accelerate the transition, jointly published by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Google earlier this year. It has kick-started the discussion on how AI can be used as a tool to help accelerate and scale our transition to a circular economy. This can be achieved by unlocking new opportunities through improving product and material design, enhancing circularity-based business models, and optimising circular infrastructure. The paper draws on the food and consumer electronics industries to illustrate the circular benefits driven by AI. The forecasted value that can emerge from these is encouraging: up to $127 billion and $90 billion a year in 2030, respectively.

 

The pace will be slow

No doubt these are very good news. It also shows how innovative technologies can take circular economy to the next level. Yet, I believe the path leading there will be full of challenges, not least because, contrary to what general media would like to get us to believe, the development of AI is, in reality, really slow.

 

There are several reasons attributable to this sluggish pace

First, there is a general shortage of AI-proficient graduates. Training up AI researchers takes time. Universities are not churning out data scientists fast enough to meet the job market demand. For those who are graduating, they will most likely be snapped up by the technology giants. Indeed, it has been estimated that some 60% of AI talent are in the employment of technology and financial services companies, leading to a ‘brain drain’ in academia, which in turn, slows down the production of qualified graduates. Small circular economy-based companies (as well as AI start-ups) will struggle to have the same hiring power, as they often lack the ability to match the levels of salaries and prestige offered by large organisations.

Another reason why circular economy-aimed companies, large or small, will struggle to deploy AI is that the technology remains a very expensive investment. AI is, at the moment, far from a plug-and-play technology. Arguably, there are off-the-shelf AI applications available in the market. But what this one size fits-all technology solutions can really do is often very limited and their effectiveness low. Inevitably, for AI to work at an acceptable, value-creating level, it is necessary to integrate it into the existing wider IT system. Customising AI applications to be embedded in the system architecture is very complex and hence very costly.

To make matters worse, the market is seemingly inundated with self-proclaimed AI companies. A recent report has suggested that 40 percent of start-ups in Europe that are classified as AI companies do not actually use artificial intelligence technologies in a way that is “material” to their businesses. As someone who researches and works in the business of AI, I can readily observe this phenomenon has already eroded the trust of many companies, making them increasingly cautious when proceeding with investment and deployment of AI.

 

Gradual developments, not quantum jump

For these reasons above, the adoption of AI, and by extension, in the area of circular economy, will be slow. This, however, does not mean there will be no advancement. Instead of “big bang” new business model creations, AI will most likely produce circular advantages through baby steps in operational enhancement gradually. For instance, one of the important elements in achieving circular economy is better asset management. In a recent research project for the European Defence Agency, my colleagues and I have discovered that there is a wide spectrum of operations for ministries of defence to save money and practise circular economy, from refurbishing and repurposing small military equipment items to reduce waste and minimise the use of virgin materials to extending the service years of capital assets. Unquestionably, the same may be applied to civilian activities. For example, combining the power of AI and drones can extend the longevity of major infrastructure such as reactors and bridges.

Advancements in drone technologies have allowed them to be deployed to take pictures at heights that are dangerous for inspectors to reach. The contributions of AI come from its ability to analyse and identify cracks as well as defects on assets that are not always visible to human eyes from captured images. Consequently, problems are detected before the assets become irreparable, thereby lengthening their lifetime.

A seemingly insignificant but potentially huge possibility of waste reduction would be saving on paper use. In the insurance industry, for instance, there is still a huge reliance on actual paper, with the communications between various stakeholders, including the underwriters, brokers and insured, passing on a large number of physical documents. AI techniques, in particular natural language processing, can help speed up the digitalisation of documents as they can go beyond the point of just reading and processing text to recognising and recording signatures and rubber stamp marks. Little by little, it will be possible to lower paper consumption.

 

The future is now

Both AI and circular economy are by themselves breakthrough ideas that are set to change the world dramatically. Combined, it can be a very powerful force of good. But this can only be achieved if we can synthesise them. For AI and circular economy to work together, it is necessary to educate AI developers to be more familiar with the idea of circular economy as well as making circularity practitioners and researchers more AI-savvy. Holding just half of the equation, we risk missing out on most of the intelligence. After all, no matter how smart machines can be, ultimately, it is the human intelligence – or stupidity – that determines the kind of future that we will be having.

 

Extract of “The AI Republic: Building the Nexus Between Humans and Intelligent Automation”

 

Business

TAKE THE NO-CODE LEAP TO DIGITAL INNOVATION WITH A FUSION TEAM

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Chris Obdam, CEO, Betty Blocks

 

In the last couple of years, a new sector has emerged alongside enterprise financial organisations—an ecosystem of fast-growing Fintech startups that develop innovative solutions for the banking sector. These small, flexible startups and scale-ups began filling a gap the ‘big boys’ left quite some time ago. Then, they gained even more ground during the pandemic. According to KPMG, Fintech investments worldwide amounted to $98 billion USD in the first half of 2021, compared to $121.5 billion over the whole of 2020[1].

 

The massive surge has financial regulatory bodies scrambling to balance the benefits of modernising the industry with the necessity of strong oversight. But, what if traditional financial enterprises could combine their durability, reliability and years of experience with the flexibility of a startup? They can! More and more enterprise organisations are becoming agile, empowering digital-savvy colleagues and improving competitive value.

 

Fusion teams

Their approach? They break through patterns and almost literally through walls in their organisation. The most successful organisations team up with genuine problem solvers. It’s a solution-oriented approach, which can be really successful if governed the right way. We like to call it a fusion team, a team that empowers digitally-skilled and solution-oriented employees to work side-by-side with the IT department while using a low-code and no-code development platform.

 

Citizen development

A fusion team brings together people with diverse professional backgrounds who use data and technology to achieve shared business outcomes. Ideally, a fusion team combines pro-developers with citizen developers. A citizen developer is a business person without coding experience that builds apps using a no-code or low-code platform.

The purpose of the professional developer, in a fusion team, is not to train the citizen developer to become a pro-developer but to bring guidance and governance to the project. Before building successful software, a fusion team will require knowledge and guidance through the software development life cycle (SDLC) phases. IT feedback is crucial to helping a fusion team understand what makes good software and how new platforms can (or cannot) integrate into an existing system. Citizen developers should receive coaching to make decisions that lead to architecturally sound, value-adding applications.

 

What are the challenges that a fusion team can tackle?

  • Modernisation of legacy systems. Many banks have been around for years, expanded their software, but regularly have to deal with legacy systems or even a vendor lock-in.
  • Regulations can change fast; that’s why financial organisations need to increase flexibility and improve adaptability. A flexible layer on top of core systems or legacy systems can profit the whole organisation.
  • Counter shadow IT. Thousands of employees means that a lot of solutions are single handedly-built. All these solutions can be beneficial for the employees and even for your customers, but the thing is that they are not checked and governed by IT. For example, you run the risk that they are not meeting all your security requirements.
  • Digitisation of processes, like the onboarding process for customers, is still a long paper process within financials. What if this could be 100% digital and automated? This could save you a lot of repetitive work, energy and money.

 

Create an environment for innovation

Banks tend to have difficulties setting up the right conditions to empower the workforce to innovate towards the future. Our first reaction to possible security risks is to impose more rules and restrictions, while the solution lies in a coaching attitude, independent of strict regulations. You can empower digital transformation by using a no-code or low-code platform.

A fusion approach encourages better software governance, allowing IT to help mitigate the risks of shadow IT projects. With a no-code or low-code platform, you can combine existing secure systems, extract data more efficiently, effectively communicate and convey between systems and thus better manage qualitative information. Governance is not a simple process or a task to check off and forget about; the essential governance feature for low-code or no-code development is a platform provider with the flexibility to adapt to specific needs of an enterprise. The provider should be a partner in expanding the role of citizen developers within the organisation.

Taking the leap into no-code software development with a fusion team will empower the entire organisation in digital transformation. It’s a strategic move that helps enterprises become more resilient against unexpected challenges – such as a pandemic or new consumer demands. Furthermore, you create a modern and innovative working environment with digitally-capable and engaged employees.

 

[1] Source: KPMG:

https://home.kpmg/nl/en/home/media/press-releases/2021/09/record-fintech-investeringen-in-eerste-helft-2021.html

 

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Business

IDENTITY SECURITY IN THE ERA OF SOX

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By Steve Bradford, Senior Vice President, EMEA, SailPoint

 

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) is a federal law that mandates practices in auditing and financial regulations for public companies. Its original intent being to restore trust in a corporate and financial system that had been rocked by major accounting scandals such as Enron, WorldCon and Tyco. Legislators believed if there was no trust in the major corporate institutions of America, then the whole fabric of capitalism could be brought into question.

Initially only applying to American companies, every major institution that dealt with America had to comply with SOX. It was a huge a success with the number of financial scandals emanating from the US dropping dramatically since compliance. But can The UK follow suit?

 

Preparing for “SOX UK”

The UK has had its own high profile business collapses – notably BHS and Carillion. So, the government has launched a consultation programme that mimics the US SOX rules. The consultation on reforms aims to ‘restore trust in audit and corporate governance’ and applies to auditors, companies, directors, audit committees, investors, other stakeholders, and the regulator.

A focus is on companies with a significant public interest, otherwise known as Public Interest Entities (PIEs). These include financial institutions, banks, insurance companies, underwriters, and alike – many of which are already familiar with a high degree of financial scrutiny. A noteworthy difference is the stated preference to expand the UK SOX controls beyond public interest companies, which could include large companies in retail, manufacturing, logistics and automotive.

UK SOX may seem like a massive undertaking if unfamiliar, but with the right technologies in place manual tasks can become automated, reducing time which can be then redirected to greater priorities or risks, and everyday operations will be guided by a strong set of well-defined controls.

 

A growing threat

The Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance 9-Step checklist provides a series of recommendations to protect the validity of all reported information and help businesses to ensure they are following the rules. This includes the need to establish controls to prevent data tampering, track data access, test the effectiveness of safeguards and detect security breaches – any of which need to be reported to SOX auditors on time.

As both physical and digital information are affected, accurate management is an integral part of compliance. Remote working, blockchain integration, and the emergence of cloud-based banking (Banking as a Service) have led to growing cyber threats, privacy concerns and compliance requirements through the complexities of connectivity.  For example,  multiple devices now connect to networks from different locations, accessing the vast amount of information in the cloud. There is now critical need to close security gaps outside the perimeter.

Some of the greatest threats lie within an organisation – either human error or more likely, the rise in risk facing the access today’s workforce has to technology. Complex corporate structures and departmental silos hinder management’s visibility into workforce roles, responsibilities, and data access. Traditional reliance on spreadsheets and manual processes for tracking data access and user identities leads to inaccuracies and inconsistencies.

Apart from being an auditing and reporting nightmare, the situation creates system gaps that are ripe for exploitation by threat actors.

 

Maintaining security through identity

To meet security and compliance regulations, companies and organisations must act smarter in how they protect their “perimeter”, which is centred on its people – the new threat vector of choice. Companies must prepare to automate business processes and embrace new security practices that fully protect the workforce and the tools they need to  do their job.

Staying in compliance with regulation is important for the safety of the company, but it is crucial that the right safety measures are in place. Identity access management can reduce the risk of insider threat, data breaches and human error for financial reporting – enabling automated logging and report generation for companies to make smart decisions whilst uncovering and remediating hidden or unknown issues that pose inherent risk.

 

The countdown to SOX

One commodity companies don’t have is an abundance of time. With less than 18 months to go until the SOX recommendations deadline, any form of automated access system is an essential first step in ensuring companies are prepared. Starting early is critical – given an implementation programme can take 18-24 months for a company that is used to stringent financial regulations. It’s time to get identity and access compliance right – automation can save a significant amount of effort and money, whilst improving the accuracy of identity management processes.

As seen in the US, UK companies not used to financial compliance procedures will have to catch up or ask for help – learning from the financial sector – and scale up their auditing and control to comply with more stringent regulations. The rules are there to help provide the security that regulators need for a secure commercial environment. Now is the time to act in order to reduce the risk.

 

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