Challenges Enable Change and Success

Vijayalakshmi Rajesh

In this hyper-connected digital age, one may misconceive a ‘challenge’ to be a deadlock and associate it with negativity. To me a challenge always implies an opportunity. Opportunity to explore newer ways of reaching success. I strongly believe that without challenges life would be mundane. The rapid improvements and progress we see today were challenges overcome by someone.

To solve any problem, we need to accept its existence and understand its dynamics. Only then can we come up with solutions. When I started my career as a marketing professional, I was the only lady in my team and a fresher too. I had to overcome many challenges. I always had the attitude to keep fighting. At times, I had no support as I was the only one swimming against the tide. But I never gave up!

I salute my mother for raising me to never shy away from challenges. I would like to share my memories of the wonderful days I spent with her. My mother had a charming personality. I admired her patience. She was a multitasker. To me, no one could match her skills at embroidery and knitting. Her zeal and enthusiasm towards life inspire me even today. I remember during my school days, I often found her immersed in her handiwork, which she also taught many women who subsequently started their businesses. After school, I would look at the work she had done that day. While she was busy in the kitchen, I would hold the cloth in my hand and closely examine the artwork. While the front side was beautiful, the backside attracted me more because it would reveal the effort put in to create the masterpiece. For my wedding, my mother gifted me a beautifully embroidered handkerchief. I immediately flipped it to look at the techniques used to keep the backside neat. My mother said something beautiful then. She said, “I noticed how you always check the work behind before looking at the actual finished product on the front. This goes on to show that you are a person who will view challenges first and learn through them. Never give up your attitude to fight and your eye for detail.”

My mother’s values have led me onto a successful path in CSR. I get immense satisfaction whenever I complete projects. I remember a child, about 6 years old, from the school where I built a library. She came to me with a flower in her hand which she had picked on her way to school and told me, “Ma’am we are grateful for all these books. I am going to read all the books and become a doctor one day.” I could feel my mother patting me on my back and my eyes welling up because only I knew the challenges I had to face in delivering the project. But these little things mean a lot to me.

I have recently noticed an interesting paradigm, especially among the younger generation. Some are not only fighting their own problems, but they are also trying to resolve the problems faced by others.

To quote an example. I read about Jayalakshmi from Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu, India, in a leading daily. She was selected to visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in the US after winning a competition. Through her plea for financial support, she secured excess funding. She then channelized the surplus funds to build public toilets in her village. She also convinced her fellow villagers who were hesitant about the idea to build toilets. To me, this is extraordinary because she has challenged the status quo and won the battle for many!

To everyone out there I would say – Challenges are just as difficult as we perceive them to be. We can overcome them if we view them as opportunities. Explore the world of endless possibilities with a fighting spirit. Today we have a vaccine for COVID, created in the shortest span of time by scientists. No vaccine has been readied from scratch in less than a year. The days of “It has always been done this way” are long gone!

About the Author –

Vijayalakshmi comes with 20 years of Marketing and Academic experience. She is the Founder and Managing Trustee at ZRII TRUST. ZRII was formed as a platform to deliver high-impact social projects through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds.

Her work includes raising awareness about modern-day issues that women and children face. She is actively involved in ensuring safer and improved workspaces for women. Some of her trophy programs are under women empowerment which includes a year-long training program for women of southern Tamil Nadu, a driver training program for women to drive app-based cabs, and placement of women in factories.

Vijayalakshmi is an ombudsperson at GAVS and guides GAVS in our endeavor to be a gender-balanced and respectful workplace.

Blockchain-based Platform for COVID-19 Vaccine Traceability

Srinivasan Sundararajan

Over the last few weeks, several pharma companies across world have announced vaccines for COVID. The respective governments are going through rigorous testing and approval processes to roll out vaccines soon.

The massive exercise of administering vaccines to billions of people across different geographies poses various challenges. Add to this the fact that different vaccines have strict conditions for storage and handling. Also, the entire history of traceability of the vaccine should be available.

While tracking the supply chain of any commodity in general and pharmaceutical products, in particular, is always complex, the COVID-19 vaccine poses tougher challenges. The following are the current temperature sensitivity needs of various vaccine manufacturers.  

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The information is from publicly available sites and should not be treated as a guideline for vaccine storage.

Blockchain to the Rescue

Even before the pandemic, Blockchain with its built-in ability to provide transparency across stakeholders has been a major platform for pharmaceutical traceability. The criticality for providing COVID-19 vaccine traceability has only strengthened the cause of utilizing blockchain for the supply chain in the pharma industry.

Blockchain networks with its base attributes like de-centralized ownership of data, single version of truth across stakeholders, the ability to ensure the data ownership based on cryptography-based security, and the ability to implement and manage business rules, will be a default platform handling the traceability of COVID-19 vaccines across multiple stakeholders.

Going beyond, Blockchain will also play a major role in the Identity and Credentialing of healthcare professionals involved, as well as the Consent Management of the patients who will be administered the vaccine. With futuristic technology needs like Health Passport, Digital Twin of a Person, Blockchain goes a long way in solving the current challenges in healthcare beyond streamlining the supply chain.

GAVS Blockchain Based Prototype for COVID-19 vaccine Traceability

GAVS has created a prototype of Blockchain-based network platform for vaccine traceability to demonstrate its usability. This solution has a much larger scope for extending to various healthcare use cases.

The below is the high-level process flow of the COVID-19 vaccine trial and various stakeholders involved.

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Image Source – www.counterpointresearch.com

Based on the use case and the stakeholders involved. GAVS prototype first creates a consortium using a private blockchain network. For the sake of simplicity, Distributors are not mentioned, but in real life, every stakeholder will be present. Individuals who receive the vaccine from hospitals are not part of the Network at this stage. But in future, their consent can be tracked using Blockchain.

Using Azure Blockchain Service, we can create private consortium blockchain networks where each blockchain network can be limited to specific participants in the network. Only participants in the private consortium blockchain network can view and interact with the blockchain. This ensures that sensitive information about vaccines are not exposed or misused.

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The following smart contracts are created as part of the solution with assigned ownership to the individual stake holders.

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A glimpse of few of the smart contracts are listed for illustration purposes.

pragma solidity ^0.5.3;

pragma experimental ABIEncoderV2; 

contract Batch {

    string  public BatchId;

    string  public ProductName;

    string  public ProductType;

    string  public TempratureMaintained;

    string  public Efficacy;

    string  public Cost;

    address public CurrentOwner;

    address public ManufacturerAddr;

    address public AirLogAddr;

    address public LandLogAddr;

    address public HospAdminAddr;

    address public HospStaffAddr;

    string[] public AirTemp = new string[](10);

    string[] public LandTemp = new string[](10);

    string[] public HospTemp = new string[](20);

    string  public receiptNoteaddr;

    constructor  (string memory _batchId, string memory _productName,  string memory _productType,  string memory _TemperatureMaintained,  string memory _Efficacy,  string memory _Cost) public {

        ManufacturerAddr = msg.sender;

        BatchId = _batchId;

        ProductName = _productName ;

        ProductType = _productType;

        TemperatureMaintained = _TemperatureMaintained;

        Efficacy = _Efficacy;

        Cost = _Cost;

    }   

    modifier onlyOwner()    {

        require (msg.sender == CurrentOwner, “Only Current Owner Can Initiate This Action”);

        _;

    }      

    function updateOwner(address _addr) onlyOwner public{

       CurrentOwner = _addr;

    }        

    function retrieveBatchDetails() view  public returns (string memory, string memory, string memory, string memory, string memory, address, address, address, address, address, string[] memory, string[] memory, string[] memory, string memory) {

        return (BatchId,ProductName,TemperatureMaintained,Efficacy,Cost,ManufacturerAddr,AirLogAddr,LandLogAddr,HospAdminAddr,HospStaffAddr,AirTemp,LandTemp,HospTemp,receiptNoteaddr);  

    }

}  

The front end (Dapp) through which the traceability of the COVID-19 vaccine can be monitored is also developed and the following screenshots show certain important data flows.

Vaccine Traceability System Login Screen

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Traceability view for a particular batch of Vaccine

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Details of vaccinated patients entered by hospital

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Advantages of The Solution

  • With every vaccine monitored over the blockchain, each link along the chain could keep track of the entire process, and health departments could monitor the chain as a whole and intervene, if required, to ensure proper functioning.
  • Manufacturers could track whether shipments are delivered on time to their destinations.
  • Hospitals and clinics could better manage their stocks, mitigating supply and demand constraints. Furthermore, they would get guarantees concerning vaccine authenticity and proper storage conditions.
  • Individuals would have an identical guarantee for the specific vaccine they receive.
  • Overall this technology-driven approach will help to save the lives in this critical juncture.

 Extensibility to Future Needs

Gartner’s latest hypercycle for emerging technologies highlight several new technologies and notably Health Passport. As the travelers used to travel with a physical passport pandemic has created the need for a health passport, which is more like a digital health record that passengers can carry on their phones. Ideally, it should show the passengers past exposure to diseases and the vaccine records. By properly deploying health passports, several industries can revive themselves by allowing free-flowing movement of passengers across the globe.

The above blockchain solution though meant for COVID-19 traceability can potentially extended to a health passport once the patient also becomes part of it by a wallet based authentication mechanism, at GAVS we plan to explore the health passports on Blockchain in the coming months.

About the Author –

Srini is the Technology Advisor for GAVS. He is currently focused on Healthcare Data Management Solutions for the post-pandemic Healthcare era, using the combination of Multi Modal databases, Blockchain and Data Mining. The solutions aim at Patient data sharing within Hospitals as well as across Hospitals (Healthcare Interoperability) while bringing more trust and transparency into the healthcare process using patient consent management, credentialing, and zero knowledge proofs.

From Good to Great – DNA of a Successful Leader (PART II)

Rajeswari S

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others” – Jack Welch

In my previous article, I wrote about a few qualities that make for a good leader. In this article, I discuss a few ways in which a leader can become great from good.

  1. Seek to understand and be understood: Seeking feedback and taking criticisms is not an easy task for anyone. When you are holding a leadership position and people look up to you, it is even more difficult. But a true leader does exactly that and does it HONESTLY. A good leader focuses on the needs of others. When you are open to feedback and constructive criticism, you have the right to give the same to others. Make genuine efforts to listen when your team speaks. Great leaders listen first, speak second.
  1. Be there: Being there is just not about being the center of attention. You need to be there for your people during critical times and help members across your organization find solutions to roadblocks. Mentorship is an art. Your people should accept you as their mentor and gaining that space is not as easy.
  1. Demonstrate empathy and compassion: This quality is an extension of the previous point. When you are laser-focused on your goals, it can be difficult to focus on the needs of others around. You need to know not only how your actions affect people, but what you need to do to show understanding and sympathy for others.
  1. Get curious: Leaders are often driven with an insatiable desire to learn; they push the limits of what’s possible and explore opportunities as a continuous process. Expanding your mind can often be as simple as reading and asking ‘why’ more often. Curiosity can help you to get to the root of a problem and promote better ideas and thoughts. Leaders think and embrace others’ ideas. A correctly asked question with the right intention could lead to many opportunities and achievements.
  1. Be in the know: Leaders go out of their way to stay educated and up-to-date. Intentional learning is a continuous process of acquiring, understanding information with the goal of making yourself more intelligent and prepared on a specific subject. People cannot always see your work, it is how you talk that creates the first impression. When you make an informed or up-to-date speech, you get the edge over others.
  1. Enjoy the ride: Smart leaders know that their journey is often more rewarding than their destination. Which is why they take the time to enjoy life and what they have already achieved because they know nothing can last forever. When you can enjoy the journey, you’ll be amazed by what you can learn. A great leader embraces each day as an experience. They grow every day!
  1. Celebrate and Connect: Leaders working toward a brighter future share their success with the people they care about – business partners and customers, family and friends, employees, and their families, etc. Great leaders celebrate other’s victory as their own; this creates a high-performing team and culture. A true captain takes time to know about the people around her and their lives. It goes a long way in running not only a successful business but a happy one too!
  1. Pursue new experiences: Mountains are interesting to watch and hike. Why? Because of its rugged terrain and unpredictable nature. Straight roads are boring, that is why we sleep on a highway drive! An intelligent leader is never complacent and constantly pushes himself out of his comfort zone. To stay prepared for any bumps along the road, leaders actively pursue new experiences that allow them to learn and grow. From starting a new venture to coaching a little league to diversifying the business.

Unique brands of Leadership

A quick look at successful CEOs, new-age entrepreneurs, and their unique leadership mantras:

Ø  Sundar Pichai, CEO, Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google LLC

Leadership mantra:

  1. Never forget your roots
  2. Focus more on others’ success than your own
  3. Empower the youth
  4. Stay humble and keep learning

Ø  Bill Gates, Founder, Microsoft

Leadership mantra: 

  1. Knowledge is different from wisdom
  2. Take a step-by-step approach to make progress towards your vision
  3. Empower people to create new opportunities to explore ideas; Embrace creativity
  4. Be caring and passionate

Ø  Suchi Mukherjee, CEO, Limeroad, an Indian online marketplace
Leadership mantra: True leadership is about enabling the voice of the youngest team member.

Ø  Amit Agarwal, CEO, NoBroker, a real estate search portal
Leadership mantra: Leaders provide employees the opportunity to be leaders themselves.

References   

About the Author –

Rajeswari is part of the IP team at GAVS. She is involved in technical and creative content development for the past 13 years. She is passionate about music and writing and spends her free time watching movies or going for a highway drive.

 

Tuning Agile Delivery for Customer and Employee Success

Ashish Joseph

What is Agile?

Agile has been very popular in the software development industry for empowering delivery to be more efficient and effective. It is a common misconception for Agile to be thought of as a framework or a process that follows a methodology for software development. But Agile is a set of values and principles. It is a collection of beliefs that teams can use for decision making and optimizing project deliveries. It is customer-centric and flexible, helping teams adapt accordingly. It doesn’t make the decision for the team. Instead, it gives a foundation for teams to make decisions that can result in a stellar execution of the project.

According to the Agile Manifesto, teams can deliver better by prioritizing the following over the other.

  • Individuals and Interactions over process and tools
  • Working Model over Comprehensive Documentation
  • Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
  • Responding to Changes over following a Plan

With respect to Software Development, Agile is an iterative approach to project management which help teams deliver results with measurable customer value. The approach is designed to be faster and ensures the quality of delivery that is aided with periodic customer feedbacks. Agile aims to break down the requirement into smaller portions, results of which can be continuously evaluated with a natural mechanism to respond to changes quickly.

AIOps Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations

Why Agile?

The world is changing, and businesses must be ready to adapt to how the market demands change over time. When we look at the Fortune 500 companies from 1955, 88% of them perished. Nearly half of the S&P 500 companies is forecasted to be replaced every ten years. The only way for organizations to survive is to innovate continuously and understand the pulse of the market every step of the way. An innovative mindset helps organizations react to changes and discover new opportunities the market can offer them from time to time.

Agile helps organizations execute projects in an everchanging environment. The approach helps break down modules for continuous customer evaluation and implement changes swiftly.

The traditional approach to software project management uses the waterfall model, where we Plan, Build, Test, Review and Deploy. But this existing approach would result in iterations in the plan phase whenever there are deviations in the requirement with respect to the market. When teams choose agile, it helps them respond to changes in the marketplace and implement customer feedback without going off the plan. Agile plans are designed in such a manner to include continuous feedback and its corresponding changes. Organizations should imbibe the ability to adapt and respond fast to new and changing market demands. This foundation is imperative for modern software development and delivery.

Is Agile a right fit for my Customer? People who advocate Agile development claim that Agile projects succeed more often than waterfall delivery models. But this claim has not been validated by statistics. A paper titled “How Agile your Project should be?” by Dr. Kevin Thompson from Kevin Thompson Consulting, provides a perspective from a mathematical point of view for both Agile and Waterfall project management. Here both approaches were followed for the same requirements and were also affected by the same unanticipated variables. The paper focused on the statistical evidence to support the validity of both the options to evaluate the fit.

While assessing the right approach, the following questions need to be asked

  • Are the customer requirements for the project complete, clear and stable?
  • Can the project effort estimation be easily predicted?
  • Has a project with similar requirements been executed before?

If the answer to all the above questions are Yes, then Agile is not the approach to be followed.

The Agile approach provides a better return on investment and risk reduction when there is high uncertainty of different variables in the project. When the uncertainty is low, waterfall projects tend to be more cost effective than agile projects.

Optimizing Agile Customer Centricity

Customer centricity should be the foundation of all project deliveries. This help businesses align themselves to the customer’s mission and vision with respect to the project at hand. While we consider an Agile approach to a project in a dynamic and changing environment, the following are some principles that can help organizations align themselves better with their customer goals.

  • Prioritizing Customer Satisfaction through timely and continuous delivery of requirements.
  • Openness to changing requirements, regardless of the development phase, to enable customers to harness the change for their competitive advantage in the market.
  • Frequent delivery of modules with a preference towards shorter timelines.
  • Continuous collaboration between management and developers to understand the functional and non-functional requirements better.
  • Measuring progress through the number of working modules delivered.
  • Improving velocity and agility in delivery by concentrating on technical excellence and good design.
  • Periodic retrospection at the end of each sprint to improve delivery effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Trusting and supporting motivated individuals to lead projects on their own and allowing them to experiment.

Since Agile is a collection of principles and values, its real utility lies in giving teams a common foundation to make good decisions with actionable intelligence to deliver measurable value to their customers.

Agile Empowered Employee Success

A truly Agile team makes their decisions based on Agile values and principles. The values and principles have enough flexibility to allow teams to develop software in the ways that work best for their market situation while providing enough direction to help them to continually move towards their full potential. The team and employee empowerment through these values and principles aid in the overall performance.

Agile not only improves the team but also the environment around which it is established by helping employees to be compliant with respect to audit and governance.  It reduces the overall project cost for dynamic requirements and focuses on technical excellence along with an optimized process for its delivery. The 14th Annual State of Agile Report 2020 published by StateofAgile.com surveyed 40,000 Agile executives to get insights into the application of Agile across different areas of enterprises. The report surveyed different Agile techniques that contributed most towards the employee success of the organization. The following are some of the most preferred Agile techniques that helped enhance the employee and team performances.

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All the above Agile techniques help teams and individuals to introspect their actions and understand areas of improvement in real time with periodic qualitative and quantitative feedback. Each deliverable from multiple cross functional teams can be monitored, tracked and assessed under a single roof. All these techniques collectively bring together an enhanced form of delivery and empower each team to realize their full potential.
Above all, Agile techniques help teams to feel the pulse of the customer every step of the way. The openness to change regardless of the phase, helps them to map all the requirements leading to an overall customer satisfaction coupled with employee success.

Top 5 Agile Approaches

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A Truly Agile Organization

Majority of the Agile approach has been concentrated towards development, IT, and Operations. However, organizations should strive towards effective alignment and coordination across all departments. Organizations today are aiming for greater expansion of agility into areas beyond building, deploying, and maintaining software. At the end of the day, Agile is not about the framework. It is all about the Agile values and principles the organizations believe in for achieving their mission and vision in the long run.

About the Author –

Ashish Joseph is a Lead Consultant at GAVS working for a healthcare client in the Product Management space. His areas of expertise lie in branding and outbound product management. He runs a series called #BizPective on LinkedIn and Instagram focusing on contemporary business trends from a different perspective. Outside work, he is very passionate about basketball, music, and food.

Happy Birthday MLK – My ode to the Free Thinkers, Disruptors, and Iconoclasts

Sumit Ganguli

CEO, GAVS Technologies

While we were gearing up for the weekend, I noticed that Monday, January 18, is Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth anniversary. This coupled with the overcast sky and cool winter day all conspired to make me sit back and reminisce about the events of the past few months.

Working from home, I have become accustomed to keeping my TV on mute, alternating between CNN and Fox News while I go through my emails, video conferences and other work routines. And that is when I saw the traumatic video of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the massive demonstrations that ensued across the US and in other parts of the world. The Black Lives Matter movement rightfully gained immense momentum and soon #BlackLivesMatter became one of the most trending of all hashtags.

An avid tennis fan, I got to watch the US Open on TV this year, being played without any spectators.  But I was most inspired by the young Japanese tennis player, Naomi Osaka who went on to win the US Open and decided to draw attention to the #BLM by wearing the names of seven black victims who were being memorialized by the BLM movement. She succeeded in persuading me to read more about the movement and many of the victims.    

Cut to the present, we now have our first Black Vice President elect Kamala Harris who is of Jamaican and Indian heritage. Just the other day, my 90-year-old mother who is in Bangalore and is quite a political junkie, challenged me to name the Indian lady who was announced to be a member of Mr. Joe Biden’s economic committee. Convinced that my Mother was mistaken, I told her that Janet Yellen was not Indian. But she insisted and then I recalled that Ms. Neera Tanden has been nominated to head the Office of Management and Budget.

The Indian diaspora has been deservedly proud of the achievements of the Indian leaders in America – Satya Nadella, Microsoft; Arvind Krishna, IBM; Ajay Banga, Mastercard; Nandita Bakshi, Bank of the West & Federal Reserve Bank; Sanat Chattopadhyay, Merck; Niren Chaudhury, Panera Bread – and with Reverend Martin Luther King’s birth anniversary round the corner, I think it is  opportune for us to celebrate the avantgarde Free thinkers, Disruptors, and Iconoclasts, who made this possible for some of this happen.  

In the morning, I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta, since whose composition years of the Gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial…The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges” (Thoreau, Walden).

In 1854’s Boston, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, derived a lot of their concept of Transcendentalism, Non-Violence, and Civil Disobedience from the concepts of Ahimsa and Dharma from the ancient Indian scriptures, the Upanishads and the Gita. They read this at the Harvard Library and wrote extensively about it.

In 1893, a man got thrown out of a train in South Africa, which led him to take on the mighty British and launch his Satyagraha movement to fight for India’s independence. His movement in turn was highly influenced by Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. That man, of course is known around the world as Mahatma Gandhi. 

From 1954 to 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists launched the Civil Rights Movement in America. He drew inspiration from Gandhi’s philosophy who has been immortalized as the Father of the Nation in India. This is truly a circle of ideas that traversed oceans and continents.

Today, we are all beneficiaries of largesse of the thoughts and visions of these great luminaries. On MLK’s birthday, Monday, January 18, I believe we will be well served to pay our ode to the Reverend and his fellow free thinkers John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and many others for their audacious vision, temerity, and currency of ideas and ideals –  for these disruptors, iconoclasts made it possible for us to live the life of our dreams in America, a country that we have come to love and cherish.  

Why is AIOps an Industrial Benchmark for Organizations to Scale in this Economy?

Ashish Joseph

Business Environment Overview

In this pandemic economy, the topmost priorities for most companies are to make sure the operations costs and business processes are optimized and streamlined. Organizations must be more proactive than ever and identify gaps that need to be acted upon at the earliest.

The industry has been striving towards efficiency and effectivity in its operations day in and day out. As a reliability check to ensure operational standards, many organizations consider the following levers:

  1. High Application Availability & Reliability
  2. Optimized Performance Tuning & Monitoring
  3. Operational gains & Cost Optimization
  4. Generation of Actionable Insights for Efficiency
  5. Workforce Productivity Improvement

Organizations that have prioritized the above levers in their daily operations require dedicated teams to analyze different silos and implement solutions that provide the result. Running projects of this complexity affects the scalability and monitoring of these systems. This is where AIOps platforms come in to provide customized solutions for the growing needs of all organizations, regardless of the size.

Deep Dive into AIOps

Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations (AIOps) is a platform that provides multilayers of functionalities that leverage machine learning and analytics.  Gartner defines AIOps as a combination of big data and machine learning functionalities that empower IT functions, enabling scalability and robustness of its entire ecosystem.

These systems transform the existing landscape to analyze and correlate historical and real-time data to provide actionable intelligence in an automated fashion.

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AIOps platforms are designed to handle large volumes of data. The tools offer various data collection methods, integration of multiple data sources, and generate visual analytical intelligence. These tools are centralized and flexible across directly and indirectly coupled IT operations for data insights.

The platform aims to bring an organization’s infrastructure monitoring, application performance monitoring, and IT systems management process under a single roof to enable big data analytics that give correlation and causality insights across all domains. These functionalities open different avenues for system engineers to proactively determine how to optimize application performance, quickly find the potential root causes, and design preventive steps to avoid issues from ever happening.

AIOps has transformed the culture of IT war rooms from reactive to proactive firefighting.

Industrial Inclination to Transformation

The pandemic economy has challenged the traditional way companies choose their transformational strategies. Machine learning-powered automations for creating an autonomous IT environment is no longer a luxury. The usage of mathematical and logical algorithms to derive solutions and forecasts for issues have a direct correlation with the overall customer experience. In this pandemic economy, customer attrition has a serious impact on the annual recurring revenue. Hence, organizations must reposition their strategies to be more customer-centric in everything they do. Thus, providing customers with the best-in-class service coupled with continuous availability and enhanced reliability has become an industry standard.

As reliability and scalability are crucial factors for any company’s growth, cloud technologies have seen a growing demand. This shift of demand for cloud premises for core businesses has made AIOps platforms more accessible and easier to integrate. With the handshake between analytics and automation, AIOps has become a transformative technology investment that any organization can make.

As organizations scale in size, so does the workforce and the complexity of the processes. The increase in size often burdens organizations with time-pressed teams having high pressure on delivery and reactive housekeeping strategies. An organization must be ready to meet the present and future demands with systems and processes that scale seamlessly. This why AIOps platforms serve as a multilayered functional solution that integrates the existing systems to manage and automate tasks with efficiency and effectivity. When scaling results in process complexity, AIOps platforms convert the complexity to effort savings and productivity enhancements.

Across the industry, many organizations have implemented AIOps platforms as transformative solutions to help them embrace their present and future demand. Various studies have been conducted by different research groups that have quantified the effort savings and productivity improvements.

The AIOps Organizational Vision

As the digital transformation race has been in full throttle during the pandemic, AIOps platforms have also evolved. The industry did venture upon traditional event correlation and operations analytical tools that helped organizations reduce incidents and the overall MTTR. AIOps has been relatively new in the market as Gartner had coined the phrase in 2016.  Today, AIOps has attracted a lot of attention from multiple industries to analyze its feasibility of implementation and the return of investment from the overall transformation. Google trends show a significant increase in user search results for AIOps during the last couple of years.

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While taking a well-informed decision to include AIOps into the organization’s vision of growth, we must analyze the following:

  1. Understanding the feasibility and concerns for its future adoption
  2. Classification of business processes and use cases for AIOps intervention
  3. Quantification of operational gains from incident management using the functional AIOps tools

AIOps is truly visioned to provide tools that transform system engineers to reliability engineers to bring a system that trends towards zero incidents.

Because above all, Zero is the New Normal.

About the Author –

Ashish Joseph is a Lead Consultant at GAVS working for a healthcare client in the Product Management space. His areas of expertise lie in branding and outbound product management. He runs a series called #BizPective on LinkedIn and Instagram focusing on contemporary business trends from a different perspective. Outside work, he is very passionate about basketball, music, and food.

Patient Segmentation Using Data Mining Techniques

Srinivasan Sundararajan

Srinivasan Sundararajan

Patient Segmentation & Quality Patient Care

As the need for quality and cost-effective patient care increases, healthcare providers are increasingly focusing on data-driven diagnostics while continuing to utilize their hard-earned human intelligence. Simply put, data-driven healthcare is augmenting the human intelligence based on experience and knowledge.

Segmentation is the standard technique used in Retail, Banking, Manufacturing, and other industries that needs to understand their customers to provide better customer service. Customer segmentation defines the behavioral and descriptive profiles of customers. These profiles are then used to provide personalized marketing programs and strategies for each group.

In a way, patients are like customers to healthcare providers. Though the element of quality of care takes precedence than profit-making intention, a similar segmentation of patients will immensely benefit the healthcare providers, mainly for the following reasons:

  • Customizing the patient care based on their behavior profiles
  • Enabling a stronger patient engagement
  • Providing the backbone for data-driven decisions on patient profile
  • Performing advanced medical research like launching a new vaccine or trial

The benefits are obvious and individual hospitals may add more points to the above list; the rest of the article is about how to perform the patient segmentation using data mining techniques.

Data Mining for Patient Segmentation

In Data Mining a, segmentation or clustering algorithm will iterate over cases in a dataset to group them into clusters that contain similar characteristics. These groupings are useful for exploring data, identifying anomalies in the data, and creating predictions. Clustering is an unsupervised data mining (machine learning) technique used for grouping the data elements without advance knowledge of the group definitions.

K-means clustering is a well-known method of assigning cluster membership by minimizing the differences among items in a cluster while maximizing the distance between clusters. Clustering algorithm first identifies relationships in a dataset and generates a series of clusters based on those relationships. A scatter plot is a useful way to visually represent how the algorithm groups data, as shown in the following diagram. The scatter plot represents all the cases in the dataset, and each case is a point on the graph. The cluster points on the graph illustrate the relationships that the algorithm identifies.

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One of the important parameters for a K-Means algorithm is the number of clusters or the cluster count. We need to set this to a value that is meaningful to the business problem that needs to be solved. However, there is good support in the algorithm to find the optimal number of clusters for a given data set, as explained next.

To determine the number of clusters for the algorithm to use, we can use a plot of the within cluster’s sum of squares, by the number of clusters extracted. The appropriate number of clusters to use is at the bend or ‘elbow’ of the plot. The Elbow Method is one of the most popular methods to determine this optimal value of k i.e. the number of clusters. The following code creates a curve.

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In this example, based on the graph, it looks like k = 4 would be a good value to try.

Reference Patient Segmentation Using K-Means Algorithm in GAVS Rhodium Platform

In GAVS Rhodium Platform, which helps healthcare providers with Patient Data Management and Patient Data Sharing, there is a reference implementation of Patient Segmentation using K-Means algorithm. The following are the attributes that are used based on a publicly available Patient admit data (no personal information used in this data set). Again in the reference implementation sample attributes are used and in a real scenario consulting with healthcare practitioners will help to identify the correct attributes that is used for clustering.

 To prepare the data for clustering patients, patients must be separated along the following dimensions:

  • HbA1c: Measuring the glycated form of hemoglobin to obtain the three-month average of blood sugar.
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are the main constituents of natural fats and oils. This test indicates the amount of fat or lipid found in the blood.
  • FBG: Fasting Plasma Glucose test measures the amount of glucose levels present in the blood.
  • Systolic: Blood Pressure is the pressure of circulating blood against the walls of Blood Vessels. This test relates to the phase of the heartbeat when the heart muscle contracts and pumps blood from the chambers into the arteries.
  • Diastolic: The diastolic reading is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.
  • Insulin: Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar, known as glucose, from your bloodstream into your cells. This test measures the amount of insulin in your blood.
  • HDL-C: Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that the body uses as a building block to produce hormones. HDL-C or good cholesterol consists primarily of protein with a small amount of cholesterol. It is considered to be beneficial because it removes excess cholesterol from tissues and carries it to the liver for disposal. The test for HDL cholesterol measures the amount of HDL-C in blood.
  • LDL-C: LDL-C or bad cholesterol present in the blood as low-density lipoprotein, a relatively high proportion of which is associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease. This test measures the LDL-C present in the blood.
  • Weight: This test indicates the heaviness of the patient.

The above tests are taken for the patients during the admission process.

The following is the code snippet behind the scenes which create the patient clustering.

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The below is the output cluster created from the above algorithm.

Just from this sample, healthcare providers can infer the patient behavior and patterns based on their creatinine and glucose levels, in real-life situations other different attributes can be used.

AI will play a major role in future healthcare data management and decision making and data mining algorithms like K-Means provide an option to segment the patients based on the attributes which will improve the quality of patient care.

About the Author –

Srini is the Technology Advisor for GAVS. He is currently focused on Healthcare Data Management Solutions for the post-pandemic Healthcare era, using the combination of Multi Modal databases, Blockchain and Data Mining. The solutions aim at Patient data sharing within Hospitals as well as across Hospitals (Healthcare Interoprability), while bringing more trust and transparency into the healthcare process using patient consent management, credentialing and zero knowledge proofs.

Palo Alto Firewall – DNS Sinkhole

Ganesh Kumar J

Starting with PAN-OS 6.0, DNS sinkhole is an action that can be enabled in Anti-Spyware profiles. A DNS sinkhole can be used to identify infected hosts on a protected network using DNS traffic in environments where the firewall can see the DNS query to a malicious URL.

The DNS sinkhole enables the Palo Alto Networks device to forge a response to a DNS query for a known malicious domain/URL and causes the malicious domain name to resolve to a definable IP address (fake IP) that is given to the client. If the client attempts to access the fake IP address and there is a security rule in place that blocks traffic to this IP, the information is recorded in the logs.

Sample Flow

We need to keep the following in mind before assigning an IP address to DNS sinkhole configuration.

When choosing a “fake IP”, make sure that the IP address is a fictitious IP address that does not exist anywhere inside the network. DNS and HTTP traffic must pass through the Palo Alto Networks firewall for the malicious URL to be detected and for the access to the fake IP to be stopped. If the fake IP is routed to a different location, and not through the firewall, this will not work properly.

Steps:

  1. Make sure the latest Antivirus updates are installed on the Palo Alto Networks device. From the WebUI, go to Device > Dynamic Updates on the left. Click “Check Now” in the lower left, and make sure that the Anti-Virus updates are current. If they are not, please do that before proceeding. The Automatic Updates can be configured if they are not setup.

Fig1.1

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Note: A paid Threat Prevention subscription for the DNS sinkhole is required to function properly.

  1. Configure the DNS Sinkhole Protection inside an Anti-Spyware profile. Click on the Objects > Anti-Spyware under Security Profiles on the left.
    Use either an existing profile or create a new profile. In the example below the “alert-all” is being used:

Fig1.2:

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Click the name of the profile – alert-all, click on the DNS Signatures tab.

Fig1.3:

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Change the “Action on DNS queries” to ‘sinkhole’ if it is not already set to sinkhole.
Click on the Sinkhole IPv4 field, either select the default Palo Alto Networks Sinkhole IP (72.5.65.111) or a different IP of your choosing. If you opt to use your own IP, ensure the IP is not used inside your network and preferably not routable over the internet (RFC1918).
Click on Sinkhole IPv6 and enter a fake IPv6 IP. Even if IPv6 is not used, something still needs to be entered. The example shows ::1. Click OK. 

Note: If nothing is entered for the Sinkhole IPv6 field, OK will remain grayed out.

  1. Apply the Anti-Spyware profile on the security policy that allows DNS traffic from the internal network (or internal DNS server) to the internet. Click on Policies> Security on the left side. Inside the rules, locate the rule that allows DNS traffic outbound, click on the name, go to the Actions tab, and make sure that the proper Anti-Spyware profile is selected. Click OK..

Fig1.4:

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  1. The last thing needed is to have a security rule that will block all web-browsing and SSL access to the fake IP 72.5.65.111 and also :1 if using IPv6. This will ensure to deny traffic to the fake IP from any infected machines.

Fig1.5:

Security Iam Management Tools

  1. Commit the configuration

Fig1.6:

Rpa in Infrastructure Management

(To be continued…)

References:

About the Author –

Ganesh is currently managing Network, Security and engineering team for a large US based customer. He has been associated with the Network & Security domain for more than 15 years.

Container Security

Anandharaj V

We live in a world of innovation and are beneficiaries of new advancements. New advancements in software technology also comes with potential security vulnerabilities.

‘Containers’ are no exception. Let us first understand what a container is and then the vulnerabilities associated with it and how to mitigate them.

What is a Container?

You might have seen containers in the shipyard. It is used to isolate different cargos which is transported via ships. In the same way, software technologies use a containerization approach.

Containers are different from Virtual Machines (VM) where VMs need a guest operating system which runs on a host operating system (OS). Containers uses OS virtualization, in which required processes, CPU, Memory, and disk are virtualized so that containers can run without a separate operating system.

In containers, software and its dependencies are packaged so that it can run anywhere whether on-premises desktop or in the cloud.

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Source: https://cloud.google.com/containers

As stated by Google, “From Gmail to YouTube to Search, everything at Google runs in containers”.

Container Vulnerabilities and Countermeasures

Containers Image Vulnerabilities

While creating a container, an image may be patched without any known vulnerabilities. But a vulnerability might have been discovered later, while the container image is no longer patched. For traditional systems, it can be patched when there is a fix for the vulnerability without making any changes but for containers, updates should be upstreamed in the images, and then redeployed. So, containers have vulnerabilities because of the older image version which is deployed.

Also, if the container image is misconfigured or unwanted services are running, it will lead to vulnerabilities.

Countermeasures

If you use traditional vulnerability assessment tools to assess containers, it will lead to false positives. You need to consider a tool that has been designed to assess containers so that you can get actionable and reliable results.

To avoid container image misconfiguration, you need to validate the image configuration before deploying.

Embedded Malware and Clear Text Secrets

Container images are collections of files packaged together. Hence, there are chances of malicious files getting added unintentionally or intentionally. That malicious software will have the same effect as of the traditional systems.

If secrets are embedded in clear text, it may lead to security risks if someone unauthorized gets access.

Countermeasures

Continuous monitoring of all images for embedded malware with signature and behavioral detection can mitigate embedded malware risks.

 Secrets should never be stored inside of containers image and when required, it should be provided dynamically at runtime.

Use of Untrusted Images

Containers have the advantages of ease of use and portability. This capability may lead teams to run container images from a third party without validating it and thus can introducing data leakage, malware, or components with known vulnerabilities.

Countermeasures

Your team should maintain and use only trusted images, to avoid the risk of untrusted or malicious components being deployed.

Registry Risks

Registry is nothing but a repository for storing container images.

  1. Insecure connections to registries

Images can have sensitive information. If connections to registries are performed over insecure channels, it can lead to man-in-the-middle attacks that could intercept network traffic to steal programmer or admin credentials to provide outdated or fraudulent images.

You should configure development tools and containers while running, to connect only over the encrypted medium to overcome the unsecured connection issue.

  1. Insufficient authentication and authorization restrictions

As we have already seen that registries store container images with sensitive information. Insufficient authentication and authorization will result in exposure of technical details of an app and loss of intellectual property. It also can lead to compromise of containers.

Access to registries should authenticated and only trusted entities should be able to add images and all write access should be periodically audited and read access should be logged. Proper authorization controls should be enabled to avoid the authentication and authorization related risks.

Orchestrator Risks

  1. Unbounded administrative access

There are many orchestrators designed with an assumption that all the users are administrators but, a single orchestrator may run different apps with different access levels. If you treat all users as administrators, it will affect the operation of containers managed by the orchestrator.

Orchestrators should be given the required access with proper role-based authorization to avoid the risk of unbounded administrative access.

  1. Poorly separated inter-container network traffic

In containers, traffic between the host is routed through virtual overlay networks. This is managed by the orchestrator. This traffic will not be visible to existing network security and management tools since network filters only see the encrypted packets traveling between the hosts and will lead to security blindness. It will be ineffective in monitoring the traffic.

To overcome this risk, orchestrators need to configure separate network traffic as per the sensitivity levels in the virtual networks.

  1. Orchestrator node trust

You need to give special attention while maintaining the trust between the hosts, especially the orchestrator node. Weakness in orchestrator configuration will lead to increased risk. For example, communication can be unencrypted and unauthenticated between the orchestrator, DevOps personnel, and administrators.

To mitigate this, orchestration should be configured securely for nodes and apps. If any node is compromised, it should be isolated and removed without disturbing other nodes.

Container Risks

  1. App vulnerabilities

It is always good to have a defense. Even after going through the recommendations, we have seen above; containers may still be compromised if the apps are vulnerable.

As we have already seen that traditional security tools may not be effective when you use it for containers. So, you need a container aware tool which will detect behavior and anomalies in the app at run time to find and mitigate it.

  1. Rogue containers

It is possible to have rogue containers. Developers may have launched them to test their code and left it there. It may lead to exploits as those containers might not have been thoroughly checked for security loopholes.

You can overcome this by a separate environment for development, test, production, and with a role-based access control.

Host OS Risks

  1. Large attack surface

Every operating system has its attack surface and the larger the attack surface, the easier it will be for the attacker to find it and exploit the vulnerability and compromise the host operating system and the container which run on it.

You can follow the NIST SP 800-123 guide to server security if you cannot use container specific operating system to minimize the attack surface.

  1. Shared kernel

If you only run containers on a host OS you will have a smaller attack surface than the normal host machine where you will need libraries and packages when you run a web server or a database and other software.

You should not mix containers and non-containers workload on the same host machine.

If you wish to further explore this topic, I suggest you read NIST.SP.800-190.


References

About the Author –

Anandharaj is a lead DevSecOps at GAVS and has over 13 years of experience in Cybersecurity across different verticals which include Network Security, application Security, computer forensics and cloud security.

IAST: A New Approach to Finding Security Vulnerabilities

Roberto Velasco
CEO, Hdiv Security

One of the most prevalent misconceptions about cybersecurity, especially in the mainstream media and also among our clients, is that to conduct a successful attack against an IT system it is necessary to ‘investigate’ and find a new defect in the target’s system.

However, for most security incidents involving internet applications, it is enough to simply exploit existing and known programming errors.

For instance, the dramatic Equifax breach could have been prevented by following basic software security best-practices, such as patching the system to prevent known vulnerabilities. That was, in fact, one of the main takeaways from the forensic investigation led by the US federal government.

One of the most important ways to reduce security risks is to ensure that all known programming errors are corrected before the system is exposed to internet traffic. Research bodies such as the US NIST found that correcting security bugs early on is orders of magnitude cheaper than doing so when the development has been completed.

When composing a text in a text editor, the spelling and grammar corrector highlights the mistakes in the text. Similarly, there are security tools known as AST (Application Security Testing) that find programming errors that introduce security weaknesses. ASTs report the file and line where the vulnerability is located, in the same way, that a text editor reports the page and the line that contains a typo.

In other words, these tools allow developers to build software that is largely free of security-related programming errors, resulting in more secure applications.

Just like it is almost impossible to catch all errors in a long piece of text, most software contains many serious security vulnerabilities. The fact that some teams do not use any automated help at all, makes these security weaknesses all the most prevalent and easy to exploit.

Let’s take a look at the different types of security issue detection tools also known as ASTs, or vulnerability assessment tools, available in the market.

The Traditional Approach

Two mature technologies capture most of the market: static code analysis (SAST) and web scanners (dynamic analysis or DAST). Each of these two families of tools is focused on a different execution environment.

The SAST static analysis, also known as white-box analysis because the tool has access to the source code of the application, scans the source code looking for known patterns that indicate insecure programming that could lead to a vulnerability.

The DAST dynamic analysis replicates the view of an attacker. At this point, the tool executes hundreds or thousands of queries against the application designed to replicate the activity of an attacker to find security vulnerabilities. This is a black-box analysis because the point of view is purely external, with no knowledge of the application’s internal architecture.

The level of detail provided by the two types of tools is different. SAST tools provide file and line where the vulnerability is located, but no URL, while DAST tools provide the external URL, but no details on the location of the problem within the code base of the application. Some teams use both tools to improve visibility, but this requires long and complex triaging to manage the vulnerabilities.

The Interactive AST Approach

The Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) tools combine the static approach and the dynamic approach. They have access to the internal structure of the application, and to the way it behaves with actual traffic. This privileged point of view is ideal to conduct security analysis.

From an architecture point of view, the IAST tools become part of the infrastructure that hosts the web applications, because an IAST runs together with the application server. This approach is called instrumentation, and it is implemented by a component known as an agent. Other platforms such as Application Performance Monitoring tools (APMs) share this proven approach.

Once the agent has been installed, it incorporates automatic security sensors in the critical execution points of the application. These sensors monitor the dataflow between requests and responses, the external components that the application includes, and data operations such as database access. This broad-spectrum coverage is much better than the visibility that SAST and DAST rely on.

In terms of specific results, we can look at two important metrics – how many types of vulnerabilities the tool finds, and how many of the identified vulnerabilities are false positives. Well, the best DAST is able to find only 18% of the existing vulnerabilities on a test application. And even worse, around 50% of the vulnerabilities reported by the best SAST static analysis tool are not true problems!

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Source: Hdiv Security via OWASP Benchmark public result data

The IAST approach provides these tangible benefits:

  1. Complete coverage, because the entire application is reviewed, both the custom code and the external code, such as open-source components and legacy dependencies.
  2. Flexibility, because it can be used in all environments; development, quality assurance (QA), and production.
  3. High accuracy, because the combination of static and dynamic point of views allow us to find more vulnerabilities with no false positives.
  4. Complete vulnerability information, including the static aspects (source code details) and dynamic aspects (execution details).
  5. Reduction of the duration of the security verification phase, so that the time-to-market of the secure applications is shorter.
  6. Compatible with agile development methodologies, such as DevSecOps, because it can be easily automated, and reduces the manual verification activities

IAST tool can add tons of value to the security tooling of any organization concerned with the security of the software.

In the same way that everyone uses an automated spell checker to find typos in a document, we believe that any team would benefit from an automated validation of the security of an application.

However, the AST does not represent a security utopia, since they can only detect security problems that follow a common pattern.

About the Author –

Roberto Velasco is the CEO of Hdiv Security. He has been involved with the IT and security industry for the past 16 years and is experienced in software development, software architecture and application security across different sectors such as banking, government and energy. Prior to founding Hdiv Security, Roberto worked for 8 years as a software architect and co-founded ARIMA, a company specialized in software architecture. He regularly speaks at Software Architecture and cybersecurity conferences such as Spring I/O and APWG.eu.