“Observability” has become a key trend in Service Reliability Engineering practice. One of the recommendations from Gartner’s latest Market Guide for IT Infrastructure Monitoring Tools released in January 2020 says, “Contextualize data that ITIM tools collect from highly modular IT architectures by using AIOps to manage other sources, such as observability metrics from cloud-native monitoring tools.”
Like so many other terms in software engineering, ‘observability’ is a term borrowed from an older physical discipline: in this case, control systems engineering. Let me use the definition of observability from control theory in Wikipedia: “observability is a measure of how well internal states of a system can be inferred from knowledge of its external outputs.”
Observability is gaining attention in the software world because of its effectiveness at enabling engineers to deliver excellent customer experiences with software despite the complexity of the modern digital enterprise.
When we blew up the monolith into many services, we lost the ability to step through our code with a debugger: it now hops the network. Monitoring tools are still coming to grips with this seismic shift.
How is observability different than monitoring?
Monitoring requires you to know what you care about before you know you care about it. Observability allows you to understand your entire system and how it fits together, and then use that information to discover what specifically you should care about when it’s most important.
Monitoring requires you to already know what normal is. Observability allows discovery of different types of ‘normal’ by looking at how the system behaves, over time, in different circumstances.
Monitoring asks the same questions over and over again. Is the CPU usage under 80%? Is memory usage under 75% percent? Or, is the latency under 500ms? This is valuable information, but monitoring is useful for known problems.
Observability, on the other side, is about asking different questions almost all the time. You discover new things.
Observability allows the discovery of different types of ‘normal’ by looking at behavior, over time, in different circumstances.
Metrics do not equal observability.
What Questions Can Observability Answer?
Below are sample questions that can be addressed by an effective observability solution:
Why is x broken?
What services does my service depend on — and what services are dependent on my service?
Why has performance degraded over the past quarter?
What changed? Why?
What logs should we look at right now?
What is system performance like for our most important customers?”
What SLO should we set?
Are we out of SLO?
What did my service look like at time point x?
What was the relationship between my service and x at time point y?
What was the relationship of attributed across the system before we deployed? What’s it like now?
What is most likely contributing to latency right now? What is most likely not?
Are these performance optimizations on the critical path?
About the Author –
Sri is a Serial Entrepreneur with over 30 years’ experience delivering creative, client-centric, value-driven solutions for bootstrapped and venture-backed startups.
things (AuT), or the Internet of autonomous things (IoAT), is an emerging term
for the technological developments that are expected to bring computers into
the physical environment as autonomous entities without human direction, freely
moving and interacting with humans and other objects…”
To put it simply, Autonomous Things use AI and work unsupervised to complete specific tasks without humans. Devices are enhanced with AI, sensors and analytical capabilities to be able to make informed and appropriate decisions. They (these devices) work collaboratively between humans and the environment and provide superior performance. Today AuT work across several environments with various levels of intelligence and capabilities. Some popular examples of these devices are drones, vehicles, smart home devices among others. The components of Autonomous things – software and AI hardware are getting increasingly efficient. With improved technologies (and significantly reducing sensor costs), the variety of tasks and processes that can be automated are increasing, with the advantage of bringing in more data and feedback that can efficiently improve and enhance the benefits of autonomous things.
The technology is used in a wide variety of scenarios – as data collectors from a variety of terrains and environments, as delivery systems (by Amazon, pizza deliveries, etc.), medical supplies to remote areas, etc. Robotics used in the supply chain has proven it reduces/elevates the danger out of the hitherto human tasks in warehouses. And they probably have the most economic potential currently, followed by autonomous vehicles. Drones are used to collect data across a wide variety of functions – for surveillance, security, stock management, weather forecasting, obtaining air data, oceanic data, agricultural planning, etc.
fascinating use cases:
Drones are proving to be more and more effective in several ways – they are currently used extensively for surveillance of disaster sites that have biological hazards. There is no better relevance than the current times when they can actually be used in epidemiology to track disease spread, and of course for further research and studies. Drones are facilitating on-demand healthcare by providing medicines to terrains that are difficult to access. Swoop Aero is one such company that provides medicines via drones. Drones have brought healthcare into the most remote areas with diagnosis and treatment made available. Remote areas of Africa have their regular medical supplies, vaccine supplies, lab samples collected, emergency medical equipment made available through Drones. They are also used in telementoring, for perioperative evaluation and so on. Drones have been very efficient in accessing areas and providing necessary support where ground transport is not reliable or safe or impossible. Today, most governments have Drones on their national agenda under various sectors. The Delft University of Technology is developing an ambulance drone technology that can be used at disaster sites to increase rescue rates..
world where we have virtual assistants do grocery shopping, replenish stocks,
and cooking machines making food, when there is a need to go out shopping,
shoppers want to have an easy, fast and frictionless process. Today,
customers do not want to wait in queues and go through conventional checkouts,
and Retailers know that they might be losing customers due to their checkout
process. And autonomous shops like Amazon Go are giving that experience
to customers where they can purchase without the inconvenience of checkout
Providers of checkout-free shopping technology like ‘Grabango’, use sensor vision and ML to actually hold a virtual shopping basket for every person in the store. The technology is reputed to process a multitude simultaneous checkout transactions. “Grabango’s system uses high-quality sensor hardware and high-precision computer algorithms to acquire the location of every item in the store. This results in a real-time planogram covering the entire retail environment.” They say it results in increased sales and loyalty, streamlined operations and inventory management and out of stock alerts.
Companies like Chicago based, Komatsu American Corp., have autonomous haulage stems that have optimized safety in the mining industry like never before. They “help you continue to meet your bottom line while achieving zero-harm” while their focus has been on developing autonomous mining solutions, they have been doing it for more than three decades now! Their FrontRunner AHS has moved more than two billion tons of surface material so far in driverless operations. Catepillar would be deploying their fleet of autonomous trucks and blast drills for the iron mine in Western Australia – Rio Tinto Koodaideri. The industry is thriving with autonomous and semi autonomous equipment, and it is evident that it has brought improvements to productivity, and increased profitability. At the Australian mine “autonomous vehicles operated on average 700 hours longer and with 15 per cent lower unit costs”… Similarly, there are other companies like Intsite, a heavy machinery company; their autonomous crane ÁutoSite 100’ does autonomous operation of heavy machinery.
of us think Tesla when we think autonomous vehicles. Elon Musk’s dream of
providing autonomous ride-sharing has Tesla working on getting out one million
robotaxis on the road this year. We will have to wait and see how that is going
to pan out. Though autonomous vehicles are the most popular, I suppose it might
take a little more time before it finds answers to the regulatory challenges,
definitely not an easy task. It gets quite overwhelming when we think of what we
are expecting from autonomous vehicles – it assumes correct performance no
matter the uncertainties on the roads and the environment, as well as the
ability to face any sort of system failures on its own, and AI is a very critical
technology when we are talking real-time decision making. Those sort of
scenarios call for a strong computing platform in order to do the analysis at
the edge for faster decision making. The new V2X, which is the 5G
vehicle-to-everything is expected to make autonomous vehicles mainstream
because the vital information would get transmitted as structured data to the
vehicle. V2X is expected to have vehicles interfacing with anything, be it
pedestrians, roadside infrastructure, cyclists, etc.
Today, technology is also looking at ‘vehicle platooning’ – “Platoons decrease the distances between cars or trucks using electronic, and possibly mechanical, coupling. This capability would allow many cars or trucks to accelerate or brake simultaneously. This system also allows for a closer headway between vehicles by eliminating reacting distance needed for human reaction.” It has a group of self driving vehicles moving at high speed but safely, as the trucks are in constant communication with each other and use this intelligence to make informed decisions like braking, speeds, etc. And autonomous trucks and cars can automatically join these platoons or leave, this has the advantages of reduced congestion, fewer traffic collisions, better fuel economy, and shorter commutes during peak hours.
Studies show that Autonomous things are fast moving to ‘swarm’ or a bunch of intelligent devices, where multiple devices will function together collaboratively, as against the previously isolated intelligent components/ things. They are going to be intelligently networked among themselves and with the environment, and the wider that becomes within every industry, they are going to show phenomenal capabilities. But let’s not forget there is a whole other side to AI, given how unpredictable things are in life, AI would sooner or later have to respond to things that it never saw in training… we still are the smarter ones…
The current pandemic has exposed yawning gaps in the systems of the best of developed countries to be able to respond to virulent pathogens. The world has seen SARS and Ebola in fairly recent times, and with the COVID 19 pandemic, it is becoming clear that technology can help combat and overcome future epidemics if we plan and strategize with these technologies. They bring efficiency to our response times, and we are currently learning the importance of using these technologies for prevention as well. A small example – Canadian AI health monitoring platform BlueDot’s outbreak risk software is said to have predicted the outbreak of the pandemic a whole week before America (who announced on Jan 8), and the WHO (on Jan 9) did. BlueDot predicted the spread of COVID 19 from Wuhan to other countries like Bangkok and Seoul by parsing through huge volumes of international news (in local languages). It further was able to predict where the infection would spread by accessing global airline data to trace and track where the infected people were headed.
Contrary to earlier times, today it only takes a few hours to sequence a virus, thanks of course, to technology. The scientists don’t have to cultivate a sufficient batch of viruses any longer in order to examine them, today, its DNA can be got from an infected person’s blood sample or saliva. India’s National Institute of Animal Biotechnology (NIAB), Hyderabad, has developed a biosensor that can detect the novel coronavirus in saliva samples. The new portable device called ‘eCovSens’, can detect coronavirus antigens in human saliva within 30 seconds using just 20 microlitres of sample. Startups like Canadian GenMarkDx, US-based Aperiomics & XCR Diagnostics, Singapore based MiRXES, and Polish company’s SensDx have introduced top notch diagnostic solutions. Identifying infected people to provide strict medical care will be made a lot faster with these diagnostic kits.
Genome sequencing is also vital to fight the pandemic. The genome of this virus was completely sequenced by the Chinese scientists in under a month from detection of the first case, and then on the biotech companies created synthetic copies of the virus for research. Today creating a synthetic copy of a single nucleotide costs under 10 cents (in comparison to the earlier $ 10), so these days it is far quicker and cheaper, which means the chances of finding appropriate / adequate medication are much faster which will help save more lives.
Healthcare workers are having to pay a huge price, they run the risk of getting infected, there is often paucity of PPE, and in some countries, they even have to face assault from crowds that are angry and confused at the situation. Medical workers are targetted by mobs, there are instances where communities don’t allow them to come back to their homes after duty, shops don’t sell them necessities, etc. Medical robots can be the real game-changers in such situations. Deploying robots in such scenarios to do the rescue is becoming a much sought after option, wherever possible. Robots become the answer to such difficult situations as they are impervious to infections. They allow physicians to treat/communicate through a screen. The patient’s vitals are also recorded by the robot. Patients can be very efficiently monitored this way.
Drones for deliveries, especially medical deliveries can also be used to reach isolation zones or quarantined zones. Italy made a big success out of this. Italy’s coronavirus epicenter, Bergamo, in Lombardy region, had to resort to people’s temperature being read by drones. ‘The Star’ reported that “once a person’s temperature is read by the drone, you must still stop that person and measure their temperature with a normal thermometer,” said Matteo Copia, a police commander in Treviolo, near Bergamo. Drones are being used for surveillance – In areas where people were not complying with social distancing and lockdown restrictions, authorities are using drones to monitor people’s movement and break up social gatherings that could be a potential risk to the society. Drones are also being used for Disinfectant spraying, broadcasting messages, medicine and grocery deliveries and so on.
Interactive maps give us the data on the pandemic on real time, and monitoring a pandemic this wide and dangerous is very crucial to stopping/controlling its spread. These maps are made available to everybody, and the truth and transparency in the situation of such epic proportion is necessary in order to avoid panic within communities. We now have apps for tracking the virus spread, fatalities and recovery rates, and apps would be developed for the future that will warn us about impending outbreaks, the geographies and flight routes that we must avoid
Implementing these technologies will enable us to manage and conquer situations like the current pandemic we are going through. As Bernardo Mariano Junior, Director of WHO’s Department of Digital Health and Innovation, rightly said “The world needs to be well prepared and united in the spirit of shared responsibility, to digitally detect, protect, respond, and prepare the recovery for COVID 19. No single entity or single country initiative will be sufficient. We need everyone.”
The modern workforce is constantly evolving. Flexible
work hours, remote working, anytime, anywhere access to corporate data,
applications & resources from any device, are fast becoming baseline
employee expectations. Organizations are also adapting and exploring better
ways to work and collaborate, to boost employee productivity. While providing
secure employee mobility is one goal, ensuring 24*7 support for always-on
businesses, business continuity with minimal disruption in the event of natural
calamities, or pandemics like Covid-19, are other
drivers that are escalating the need for secure remote access for
While providing employees with laptops or mobile
devices is one option to enable remote working, it can incur heavy capital
expenditure and more importantly, it can quickly spiral into a management and
security nightmare for the IT team. With thousands of endpoint devices,
disparate applications and data, and sophistication of cyber attacks, supporting
secure and compliant workplace mobility can become overwhelming, if even
effectively doable. With this said, let’s look at Desktop Virtualization as a
Desktop Virtualization is a technology that completely untethers a physical device from the desktop environment. Desktop components such as the hardware, operating system, applications, data, and user persona are moved into the data center, where they are centrally managed as individual components. When a user accesses his desktop from a remote device through the network, a dynamically assembled set of these components is presented to the user as a personalized view of his desktop, called a virtual desktop. The decoupling of the user’s device from his desktop environment enables desktop access from any of his computing devices.
Benefits of Desktop Virtualization
Simplified IT Management: Centrally located & managed computing and data environment simplifies IT management, and enables tighter control over endpoint devices, easier enforcement of security and regulatory compliance, and hence a lesser number of IT incidents. This process efficiency reduces operational overheads and drastically reduces costs.
Cost-Effective: Desktop Virtualization shifts organizational expenditure from CapEx to
OpEx. When virtual desktops are hosted in the cloud as in Desktop as a Service
(DaaS), costs are based on usage, making it very cost-effective.
Enhanced Employee Productivity: Employee mobility through secure
access to the desktop, applications, and other corporate resources anytime
& anywhere, fuels productivity.
Faster Disaster Recovery: This is achievable with minimal downtime since recovery does not involve rebuilding the physical infrastructure environment.
Rapidly Deployable and Highly Scalable: Virtual Desktops are provisioned based on role-specific preconfigured templates, and so can be spun up quickly depending on the demand curve. They can also be destroyed just as fast when not required, saving a lot of time, effort, and costs in anticipatory provisioning. Similarly, applications can also be quickly served, since they are centrally installed and controlled, lending agility to IT operations.
The abstraction and isolation of the desktop computing layers open new possibilities of workspace delivery. Different desktop virtualization technologies address different layers of the computing environment. Some of them over the years have been:
Application Virtualization, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
(VDI), Service-Based Computing (SBC), Client-Hosted Virtual Desktops (CHVDs),
User Personalization Management (UPM), Workspace Aggregators, Remote Desktop
Services (RDS) and many more. Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is a cloud-based
service offering powered by one or more of
VDI & DaaS have had the most innovation in recent times. VDI is a preferred choice since it remotely delivers the image of the desktop environment that users are comfortable with. VDI provides the highest levels of abstraction & security, among the technologies.In VDI, each user gets a dedicated thick client user environment run as a virtual machine (VM), and hosted on a server in the data center. The user works on the desktop image that is sent over the network and can then interact with the files, applications, and the OS, as he would in a physical desktop. The flip side to VDI is that the implementation and management need specialized technical expertise, so it would help to use a VDI vendor who offers end-to-end service as well.
In DaaS, the virtual machines
are hosted on the cloud, and so it automatically comes with all the cloud
computing benefits like flexibility, faster deployment, scalability, and
affordable cost structure due to usage-based pricing, & the shift towards
zDesk, is our end-to-end integrated solution for a fully functional VDI. zDesk combines the benefits of VDI and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) and can be hosted either on-premise or on the cloud. The simplicity of the single-vendor solution enabled by hyper-converged and software-defined infrastructure technologies defies the rapid deployability, scalability and robust security of the virtual desktops. For more information on our VDI solution, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will never forget these times, most of us, the regular, morning-news addicts, switch on our TVs, hoping to see declining numbers in the coronavirus infected list. Country to country, we go feverishly through the good news that we are finally seeing, with the curve flattening. There is a lot of fear and trepidation as to how we will pick up and reintroduce our ways of living and working. Even as we are experiencing just how effective it is to be working from home, it is but natural that companies will resume regular ways of working – back to the office (do we really need to continue paying the real-estate gods as much?), resume travel (do we need to, when virtual meetings were working so perfect?) as soon as the travel embargoes are lifted, it would soon be back to business, all of us more determined than ever, the whole world is raring to go.
Clear communication, as often as it takes, would be the backbone of the new disruptive work practices as these practices will leave employees with some degree of confusion/unrest, particularly in the threat of the current recession. Our lives have been disrupted in every way under the COVID 19 threat, and it is very important that employee morale is high. It is important for Managers to address employee concerns with sensitivity, everyone is going to have questions on the future of the company, the business, and if their roles are going to be seeing changes. Employees must be told about the changes that are going to be affected, the precautions that are being taken, and also taught/ guided how to function best under these circumstances. If someone has recovered from COVID 19, support him/her without stigma and discrimination. Maintaining employee morale through various activities during these times will bring the much-required boost – plan on virtual awards and recognitions, do as much online as possibly can. And let the communication and interaction be two way – find out the office sentiment, how employees are feeling and make adjustments and improvements accordingly, and communicate constantly.
Going back to our offices after this crisis requires renewed vigilance, given the nature of the coronavirus. Resuming work at the office premises would mean having the whole bunch of employees back, which in itself is a very tricky situation – from social distancing back to human density – it is very important that workplaces are maintained in high levels of hygiene. COVID 19 established the fact that there is definite risk in crowds, and for companies to plan to have employees back at their premises imply a deeper than ever responsibility to workplace hygiene and health. Managing the numbers at our workplace is going to be critical if we are to keep safe from the threat of another attack by COVID 19. Hygiene and cleaning processes need to be increased to its maximum capacity across the workplaces and common areas. Surfaces (e.g. desks and tables) and objects need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly. Alcohol based hand rub dispensers should be maintained at prominent places across the facility. Keep promoting hand-washing through posters and monitors across the facility so that it is a constant reminder for employees to take precautions.
Having to be careful with numbers would require companies to
redesign workplaces to have employees coming back. Even though it might not be
entirely viable, it can be a mix of having employees continue work from home in
rotation, perhaps every week, or whatever works best for the functions, while
others work out of the office in redesigned (read larger, increased physical
distances) workspaces. Allocating more space to employees can be achieved
only through rotation shifts in order to support social distancing for the rest
of the required period as per WHO / local health authority guidelines.
Plan work schedule charts for the various functions to work out of their
offices, and maintaining strict schedules will not only decrease the risk of
infection but also help employees to plan better, as well as ease anxieties and
To make the best out of the situation, let’s take the opportunity to accept this as a huge learning time – rethink on travel, travel only if it is really necessary and save money, it can be diverted into more important areas. Promote collaboration across geos, virtual meetings have been a big success during this time, and lets continue to collaborate not just for work and meetings but also to have online employee events across geos. If anything, using more online meetings due to the situation has only brought about an increased sense of camaraderie. We have seen our colleagues in New York city working at the BronxCare, helping patients in ICU, working alongside the medical staff, and it has been a proud moment for every GAVSian across the world to celebrate them, GAVS’ heroes.
And lastly, as we leave this traumatic time behind us, let’s be careful to ensure that we don’t have to go through the situation again. Follow WHO guidelines to take control measures that focus on prevention and on active surveillance for early detection and treatment. The opportunities that this pandemic has shown us are multitude – Newspapers report “our planet is detoxing as humans stay lockdown” – Lower carbon emissions are reported. Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Standford University says that carbon output could fall by more than 5% this year, the first dip since a 1.4% reduction after the 2008 financial crisis. The air is cleaner and it is quieter too. Decibel readings at a busy intersection in India were 90 pre-pandemic but it recently measured at just 68, reports Boston University. Water quality is reported to have improved across the globe – from Venice, famous for its canals, its waterways are benefiting from the lack of usual boat traffic brought on by thousands of visitors. The wildlife that usually shies away from humans is seen in abundance, be it the Ridley turtles in the beaches of Orissa, India, to the otters in Singapore, to the whales and deer in Japan, to the orcas in North America. There is so much of the natural world that is suddenly thriving when we gave it a little space….
This has been a time of unprecedented learning opportunities even as our lives got turned upside down. But true as human spirits go, here is something remarkable I read on Linkedin; it reflects hope, positivity, and genuine empathy – here is an excerpt from a post by Dr. Joerg Storm “Next year, I don’t want to hear about the Oscars, Grammys, Tonys or Golden Globes….. I want to see nurses, doctors, ambulance crews, firefighters, healthcare support workers, delivery guys, shop workers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, and all other essential workers get free red carpet parties with awards and expensive goodie bags. “
For its versatility in supporting mobile workforces, to security, to energy efficiency, virtual desktops have been on a meteoric rise in recent times. The technology brings benefits that makes it near mandatory, given the way businesses are having to function with the raging pandemic gripping the world.
Wikipedia defines VDI as “Desktop virtualization is a software technology that separates the desktop environment and associated application software from the physical client device that is used to access it….In this mode, all the components of the desktop are virtualized, which allows for a highly flexible and much more secure desktop delivery model.”
Financial impact – With VDI, you have the freedom to reallocate huge CAPEX IT investments into other areas according to your business demands. The technology helps you save on those high cost capital expenditures like expensive servers. It is a viable and sound proposition as hardware issues and related problems are dealt with on the main server vs several individual machines. It takes time to provision new desktops and laptops, and VDI takes the headache out with simplified management. The money invested in server hardware becomes an onetime cost as against investing in several desktops. It also reduces the admin and support costs. There are no expensive installations in spite of remote working and the maintenance / software upgrades and so on that usually takes up lots of time when done on several individual machines can now be brought down to a minimum with it being centralized. It helps save manhours. With VDI using the storage capability and computing power of the data center, individual devices require less RAM and less storage space, and that points towards less expensive machines with high performance. It helps to budget hardware investments more appropriately and reallocate to other areas.
Security – Today, security has become a serious concern for businesses. With VDI, tracking external devices becomes much more manageable. Using a central database with centralised storage makes it more secure. No individual device holds / stores data and thus the company data is more secure and under central supervision. You don’t risk having files in various devices, and there is the added advantage of not losing data if anything happens to individual devices or desktops. Right from individual files to the various applications that are installed, it is easier to manage them centrally and thus avoid all the time engineers usually take to locate individual problems. This sort of centralized troubleshooting helps maintain lean IT operations.
With centralizing the updating process for an organization
with different people using different types of devices, right from desktops to
laptops to tabs and high tech phones, the chances are that they are going to be
on different operating systems, and VDI centralizes the process. And given the
unprecedented scenario we are in, disaster recovery is crucial. When data
is stored centrally, it can be accessed anywhere with minimal downtime.
Energy efficient – VDI also comes with the advantage of being energy efficient. It uses much less electricity than individual desktop computers. Becoming energy efficient is not something that is aspirational any longer – businesses commit to reducing their carbon footprints to do their bit to saving our planet.
To sum up, the efficiency and the versatility of VDI makes it possible for employees to work from anywhere subject to internet connectivity, regardless of their location, type of device, situation, time of the day, etc. Employees are happier when they feel they have the flexibility to work anywhere, anytime, a fact that is especially true with the millennial workforce. It is the current day need and the answer to businesses with most of the world having to work from home to battle the pandemic. It means employees have the flexibility to work from anywhere without compromising security, with complete control over budgets as there is no need for purchasing additional devices. It increases productivity, with the IT department taking care of the deploying applications etc., while the users are left relatively free to manage and focus on their work. Plus all the heavy lifting that is usually associated with computing gets done by the remote servers where data and programs are centralized, which has applications perform with the speed and efficiency. This reduced lag time coupled with increased computing powers sums up to huge productivity gains.
zDesk combines the benefits of VDI and Desktop as a Service (DaaS), and can be hosted either on-premise or on the cloud service of your choice. The zDesk stack is a complete, holistic solution that sits on top of brownfield” customer infrastructure. The zDesk Enterprise Service Bus collects and distributes logs, security threats, user profiles, guests, hardware inventory and KPIs. zDesk provides storage optimization, including compression and deduplication, which reduces storage costs and upkeep. Persistent storage is in the form of local disks and replicated databases. Additional services such as brokering and monitoring, help ease the process of delivering the desktop to the end-user, and reduce incidents.
world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most
popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer,
has no inventory. Netflix, the world’s largest movie house, own no cinemas. And
Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.
Something interesting is happening.”
– Tom Goodwin, an executive at the French media group Havas.
This new breed
of companies is the fastest growing in history because they own the customer
interface layer. It is the platform where all the value and profit is. “Platform
business” is a more wholesome term for this model for which data is the fuel;
Big Data & AI/ML technologies are the harbinger of new waves of
productivity growth and innovation.
With Big data and AI/ML is making a big difference in the area of public health, let’s see how it is helping us tackle the global emergency of coronavirus formally known as COVID-19.
Chinese technology giant Alibaba has
developed an AI system for detecting the COVID-19 in CT scans of patients’ chests with
96% accuracy against viral pneumonia cases. It only takes 20 seconds for the AI
to decide, whereas humans generally take about 15 minutes to diagnose the
illness as there can be upwards of 300 images to evaluate. The system was trained on images and data
from 5,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and has been tested in hospitals
throughout China. Per a report, at least 100 healthcare facilities are
currently employing Alibaba’s AI to detect COVID-19.
Ping An Insurance (Group) Company of China, Ltd (Ping An) aims to address the issue of lack of radiologists by introducing the COVID-19 smart image-reading system. This image-reading system can read the huge volumes of CT scans in epidemic areas.
Ping An Smart Healthcare uses clinical
data to train the AI model of the COVID-19 smart image-reading system. The AI
analysis engine conducts a comparative analysis of multiple CT scan images of
the same patient and measures the changes in lesions. It helps in tracking the
development of the disease, evaluation of the treatment and in prognosis of
patients. Ultimately it assists doctors to diagnose, triage and evaluate
COVID-19 patients swiftly and effectively.
Ping An Smart Healthcare’s COVID-19 smart
image-reading system also supports AI image-reading remotely by medical
professionals outside the epidemic areas. Since its launch, the smart
image-reading system has provided services to more than 1,500 medical
institutions. More than 5,000 patients have received smart image-reading
services for free.
The more solutions the better. At least
when it comes to helping overwhelmed doctors provide better diagnoses and,
thus, better outcomes.
AI based Temperature monitoring & scanning
In Beijing, China, subway passengers are being screened for
symptoms of coronavirus, but not by health authorities. Instead, artificial
intelligence is in-charge.
Two Chinese AI giants, Megvii and Baidu, have introduced
temperature-scanning. They have implemented scanners to detect body temperature
and send alerts to company workers if a person’s body temperature is high
enough to constitute a fever.
Megvii’s AI system detects body temperatures for up to 15 people per second and up to 16 feet. It monitors as many as 16 checkpoints in a single station. The system integrates body detection, face detection, and dual sensing via infrared cameras and visible light. The system can accurately detect and flag high body temperature even when people are wearing masks, hats, or covering their faces with other items. Megvii’s system also sends alerts to an on-site staff member.
Baidu, one of the largest search-engine companies in China,
screens subway passengers at the Qinghe station with infrared scanners. It also
uses a facial-recognition system, taking photographs of passengers’ faces. If
the Baidu system detects a body temperature of at least 99-degrees Fahrenheit,
it sends an alert to the staff member for another screening. The technology can
scan the temperatures of more than 200 people per minute.
AI based Social Media Monitoring
An international team is using machine
learning to scour through social media posts, news reports, data from official
public health channels, and information supplied by doctors for warning signs of
the virus across geographies. The program is looking for social media posts
that mention specific symptoms, like respiratory problems and fever, from a
geographic area where doctors have reported potential cases. Natural language
processing is used to parse the text posted on social media, for example, to
distinguish between someone discussing the news and someone complaining about
how they feel.
The approach has proven capable of spotting
a coronavirus needle in a haystack of big data. This technique could help
experts learn how the virus behaves. It may be possible to determine the age,
gender, and location of those most at risk quicker than using official medical
Data from hospitals, airports, and other
public locations are being used to predict disease spread and risk. Hospitals
can also use the data to plan for the impact of an outbreak on their
Kalman filter was pioneered by Rudolf Emil
Kalman in 1960, originally designed and developed to solve the navigation
problem in the Apollo Project. Since then, it has been applied to numerous
cases such as guidance, navigation, and control of vehicles, computer vision’s
object tracking, trajectory optimization, time series analysis in signal
processing, econometrics and more.
Kalman filter is a recursive algorithm which uses time-series measurement over time, containing statistical noise and produce estimations of unknown variables.
For the one-day prediction Kalman filter can
be used, while for the long-term forecast a linear model is used where its main
features are Kalman predictors, infected rate relative to population,
time-depended features, and weather history and forecasting.
The one-day Kalman prediction is very accurate
and powerful while a longer period prediction is more challenging but provides
a future trend. Long term prediction does not guarantee full accuracy but
provides a fair estimation following the recent trend. The model should re-run daily
to gain better results.
The Center for
Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University has developed an
interactive, web-based dashboard that tracks the status of COVID-19 around the
world. The resource provides a visualization of the location and number of
confirmed COVID-19 cases, deaths and recoveries for all affected countries.
data source for the tool is DXY, a Chinese platform that aggregates local media
and government reports to provide COVID-19 cumulative case totals in near
real-time at the province level in China and country level otherwise.
Additional data comes from Twitter feeds, online news services and direct
communication sent through the dashboard. Johns Hopkins then confirms the case
numbers with regional and local health departments. This kind of Data analytics
platform plays a pivotal role in addressing the coronavirus outbreak.
All data from
the dashboard is also freely available in the following GitHub repository.
One of AI’s core strengths when working on identifying and limiting the effects of virus outbreaks is its incredibly insistent nature. AI systems never tire, can sift through enormous amounts of data, and identify possible correlations and causations that humans can’t.
However, there are
limits to AI’s ability to both identify virus outbreaks and predict how
they will spread. Perhaps the best-known example comes from the neighboring
field of big data analytics. At its launch, Google Flu Trends was heralded
as a great leap forward in relation to identifying and estimating the spread of
the flu—until it underestimated the 2013 flu season by a whopping 140 percent
and was quietly put to rest. Poor data quality was identified as one of the
main reasons Google Flu Trends failed. Unreliable or faulty
data can wreak havoc on the prediction power of AI.
Bargunan is a Big Data Engineer and a programming enthusiast. His passion is to share his knowledge by writing his experiences about them. He believes “Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom and sharing it is the first step to humanity.”
Data is a crucial component for any organization to generate revenue and provide the best-in-class experience for their customers. Various studies have shown that 60% of the organizations fail to implement UI tools, which are heavily dependent on data-driven technologies because organizations spend millions on buying these tools but not investing in the right talent to achieve them. Understanding of data is the first stepping stone for any organization to be data-driven. I implemented various data solutions from inception to implementation, which helped organizations to derive data-driven decisions. After fifteen years of extensive experience across multiple data technologies and platform, I have developed numerous critical data frameworks which have benefited organizations to be data-driven. The first essential pillar is to build a cohesive and robust enterprise data team.
Data is a driver for any business intelligence, analytics, insights, marketing campaigns, UI applications, tools, and technologies. It’s crucial to understand why and what the business needs before deciding to invest in any data technologies. Today, organizations are leveraging data for executing campaigns and defining customer 360-degree views to provide personalized and OMNI-channel experience using data KPIs. There are unlimited data tools available, and it became difficult to pick the right one, which fits all the requirements for the business and delivers a perfect solution. It all goes back to find the right leader who has deep experience on both sides of the coin (Business and Technology). It’s hard to find such talent but not impossible, and this decides the success or failure of any data implementation projects.
About the Author:
Sankul is the Vice President of the Enterprise Data Team at PSCU. is a value-driven and business-oriented data and IT technology leader with a proven track record for building enterprise applications and data-driven platforms. He believes the current generation and future leaders should be focused and good listeners, as it helps to perceive and deliver solutions.
Apart from the tremendous number of lives lost and the huge
impact on several industries and jobs, COVID-19 has caused a lot of pain and
distress. However, it has also shined light on a few areas that we can hope
will see a positive impact, short-term or long-term.
Mother Earth – Less people commuting, less aircraft’s in the air and less cars on the road
means cleaner air, at least in the short-term.
Healthcare Policies – Could the delays in tests, lack of enough infrastructure to screen and poor
emergency management procedures hopefully drive a debate in changing our
healthcare policies for the better?
Focusing on the
family – People are spending more time with family. This could be good or
bad, I guess, but the shutdown has afforded many families time to be around
each more than ever.
Better hygiene and
better eating habits – Will this experience, at least temporarily help
teach our generation to have better hygiene and help build better eating
E-Learning – Could this experience provide the experience needed to make e-learning more
acceptable and potentially make University education cheaper in the long-term?
infrastructure – Teleworking and e-learning will stretch the internet
bandwidth in homes and neighborhoods; Will this prompt the industry to speed up
their investment in better hi-speed infrastructure?
in poorer countries – The awareness that borders don’t quite stop viruses
or the associated economic meltdowns in an increasingly connected world,
hopefully changes the way developed countries treat poorer countries.
Growth in specific industries – Should we expect a growth spurt for cashless transactions, online grocery shopping/delivery, tele-medicine, and community based organic farming?
About the author:
Saji is a father to 2 kids, Executive, and ﬁguring out how to make more time to do things he wants to do; in that order. He has 20 years of experience leading successful teams in various industry domains and holds a Masters in Business Administration from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.