Monthly Archives: December 2020

Updates from ITU

Banking for all: Can AI improve financial inclusion?
ITU – In a world where an estimated 1.7 billion people do not have a bank account, can artificial intelligence help make financial inclusion a reality for everyone?

This was the topic under discussion at a webinar during the year-round AI for Good Global Summit 2020.

Inclusive financial access directly helps enable seven of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It requires people and businesses in underserved areas to have affordable and easy access to secure financial services and products.

This means being able to build credit, receive funds, deposit money, buy insurance, invest in education and health and withstand economic shocks.

With the rise of mobile phone use and information and communication technologies (ICTs) penetration in developing countries, financial service providers are now turning to artificial intelligence to make financial inclusion happen.

‘Superpowers’ for digital services

Typically, to lend money, providers use documents to verify the identity of a person, evaluate their credit score and offer a collateral loan. But AI tries to fix this for people who cannot meet these requirements, said panelist Rory Macmillan, Founding Partner at Macmillan Keck, Attorneys & Solicitors. more>

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The rule of law: a simple phrase with exacting demands

If the finger is to be pointed—rightly—at Hungary and Poland, then the EU must insist on compliance by all with universal norms.
By Albena Azmanova and Kalypso Nicolaidis – That the European Union, in its moment of public healthcare emergency and acute economic plight, should find itself paralysed over such a seemingly abstract matter as the rule of law is one of the great paradoxes of our times. And yet this is exactly the conundrum plaguing approval of the EU’s seven-year budget and recovery fund, totaling €1.81 trillion, which Poland and Hungary have been blocking over rule-of-law conditionality for the funds’ disbursement.

Respect for the rule of law is one of those self-evident truths—the absolute minimum requirement of decent political rule—which should be unproblematic in the family of liberal democracies that is the EU. It is equally beyond doubt that the prompt approval of the pandemic recovery fund is in everyone’s interest.

Many commentators assert that the EU should stand up to the defiant governments, in the name of its fundamental values. We do too. But our hope is that we, in Europe, can use this moment as an opportunity to question ourselves further.

Most of us may believe that the arguments put forward to resist rule-of-law conditionality are disingenuous. And they are. But we must still take them seriously when they are presented in line with … the rule of law.

Hungary and Poland are claiming that, by being poorly defined, the rule-of-law principle opens the door to discretionary decisions and thus to the abuse of power.

The rule of law as a political principle and legal norm was indeed born of the ambition to constrain the arbitrary power of central authority. This was why the English barons forced King John to adopt the royal charter of rights, the Magna Carta, on June 15th 1215. The specification of basic freedoms, codified not as privileges for a handful of aristocrats but as abstract and unconditional rights, was meant to ensure that no authority could place itself above these rights in pursuit of its political ends

It is true that the EU should make no compromises with the very foundation of the liberal political order. But the EU itself has complied with these principles erratically and selectively, thus violating the spirit of the rule of law.

This has been evident in several instances—from lack of concern with the Silvio Berlusconi media monopoly in Italy to France’s semi-permanent state of emergency, Malta’s and Slovakia’s complacency with political murder and the Spanish government’s response to the 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia. Often, the EU is content with narrowly reducing the remit of the rule of law to a simple matter of legality—ignoring routine violations of core values, such as the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech or even the right to liberty and life itself.

Has the EU not thereby set itself up for the current crisis, supplying the ammunition for autocrats to try to absolve themselves from compliance with the rule of law? more>

2021 Global Economic Outlook: The Next Phase of the V

Morgan Stanley projects strong global GDP growth of 6.4% for 2021—led first by emerging markets, followed by reopening economies in the U.S. and Europe—in a macro outlook that diverges from the consensus.
Morgan Stanley – Rising COVID-19 case numbers in the U.S. and Europe make it difficult right now to envision a return to normal. Yet, even as the pandemic drags on, the global economy has proven remarkably resilient.

Following a steep decline in early 2020, the world economy rode a rebound that began in May and remains on track to surpass prepandemic GDP levels by the end of this year—setting the stage for strong post-recovery growth in 2021.

In their 2021 outlook, the economics team at Morgan Stanley Research says the V-shaped recovery that the team forecast in their 2020 midyear outlook is now entering a new self-sustaining phase and is on track to deliver 6.4% GDP growth in the coming year.

“This projection stands in stark contrast to the consensus, which forecasts 5.4% global growth and worries that the pandemic will have a bigger impact on private-sector risk appetite and, hence, global growth,” says Chetan Ahya, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Economist. “We maintain that consumers have driven the recovery, and investment growth—a reflection of the private corporate sector’s risk tolerance and a key feature of any self-sustaining recovery—is bouncing back as well.”

Three key factors will characterize the next stage of the V-shaped recovery, says Ahya: synchronized global growth, an emerging-market rebound and the return of inflation. Against this macro outlook, Morgan Stanley strategists urge investors to trust the recovery and overweight equities and credit vs. government bonds and cash (see the 2021 Strategy Outlook for more). more>

How to Build Better Sidewalk Connectivity

TI is working to improve near the sidewalk edge connectivity for household wireless devices.
By John Blyler – Late last year, Amazon announced their “Sidewalk,” a neighborhood network designed to help customer devices work better both at home and beyond the front door. A little less than a year later, the company announced additional details on the Amazon Sidewalk, which highlighted the low-power, long-range connectivity benefits for IoT devices. For anyone who has attempted to install a smart security camera or a connected doorbell at the edge of their Wi-Fi connectivity range, this announcement came as a welcome respite from the difficulties in getting IoT devices to connect and stay connected.

Texas Instruments (TI) is among the chipmakers working with Amazon to make Sidewalk a reality. When TI announced its support for Amazon Sidewalk, it highlighted several low-power, multi-band devices that enabled developers to build applications that leveraged the Sidewalk protocol as well as Bluetooth Low Energy.

To learn more about these multi-band wireless devices and how they support the Sidewalk, Design News talked with Casey O’Grady, marketing manager at Texas Instruments. She focuses on removing barriers for the global deployment of Sub-1 GHz connectivity to achieve greater distances with ultra-low power.

O’Grady: Amazon Sidewalk can extend the range of low-bandwidth devices and make it simpler and more convenient for consumers to connect. Ultimately, it will bring more connected devices together into an ecosystem where products such as lights and locks can all communicate on the same network. Sidewalk can enable devices connected inside the home to effortlessly expand throughout the neighborhood. more>

The EU’s credibility is at stake

By Otmar Lahodynsky – In July, after a four-day marathon summit in Brussels, there was agreement on the EU budget for 2021-2027 and a recovery fund for the EU’s 27 members following the COVID-19 crisis.

Together, almost €2 trillion have been reserved for this purpose. The €750 billion corona aid package is intended to help those countries that have been the most affected by the disease, including as Italy, Spain and France, but also the other Member States as they will need to rebuild their economies.

At the EU summit, a typical Brussels-style compromise was reached – each head of government presented themself as a winner at home if they will receive a lot of money for economic recovery. It was then that the so-called “frugal four” – Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden (plus Finland) – forced a reduction in the number of grants in exchange for an increase in the share of loans and a cut in their membership fees. The heads of Poland and Hungary also celebrated at home after the successfully de-linked their access to EU funding from their records on the rule of law.

Subsequently, however, the other EU states introduced this clause by a clear majority.

The Poles and Hungarians felt pressured and they vetoed the seven-year EU budget, which requires unanimity despite the fact that they were not bothered that they had previously approved it.

In his explanatory statement, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki railed against an “attack on Polish sovereignty” and adding that the EU was no longer the same as when Poland had joined the bloc in 2004, a generation after the end of Communism. Morawiecki said the Polish economy was so strong that it no longer needed any subsidies from Brussels (more than €12 billion each year). Morawiecki said that Poles were even considering an EU withdrawal along the lines of Brexit.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Brussels’ bête noire, went even further. In his view, the EU is acting like the Soviet Union once did. It wants to blackmail Hungary and force it to accept Middle Eastern refugees. In the future, Orban added, the European Commission would have the power to meddle in the internal politics of all of the Member States, as it sees fit. Orban also emphasized that the EU’s previous accusations against Hungary were all unfounded and that the concept of the rule of law was not precisely or universally defined.

The reality is that these core concepts of the bloc were long-ago enshrined in the EU treaties and in Europe’s charter of fundamental rights. Conditions for EU accession were already laid down in the 1993 Copenhagen criteria and include the stability of institutions, democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and respect and protection of minorities.

The Commission has, for too long, turned a blind eye to the transgressions of the nationalistic populists in Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European countries. The isolated attempts to bring about punitive proceedings under Article 7 of the EU Treaty did not act as a deterrent, because sanctions were not imposed. For this reason, the governments of Hungary and Poland mutually helped each other.

But now the basic principles of the EU, above all the rule of law, are being put to the test. more>

Updates from McKinsey

E-commerce: How consumer brands can get it right
Consumer brands need to make direct-to-consumer economics feasible and the customer experience seamless.
By Arun Arora, Hamza Khan, Sajal Kohli, and Caroline Tufft – Consumer brands have been seeking to establish direct relations with end customers for a range of reasons: to generate deeper insights about consumer needs, to maintain control over their brand experience, and to differentiate their proposition to consumers. Increasingly, they also do it to drive sales (see sidebar, “Why go direct?”).

For any brands that have considered establishing a direct-to-consumer (DTC) channel in the past and decided against it, now is the time to reconsider. COVID-19 has accelerated profound business trends, including the massive consumer shift to digital channels. In the United States, for example, the increase in e-commerce penetration observed in the first half of 2020 was equivalent to that of the last decade. In Europe, overall digital adoption has jumped from 81 percent to 95 percent during the COVID-19 crisis.

Many companies have been active in launching new DTC programs during the pandemic. For example, PepsiCo and Kraft Heinz have both launched new DTC propositions in recent months. Nike’s digital sales grew by 36 percent in the first quarter of 2020, and Nike is aiming to grow the share of its DTC sales from 30 percent today to 50 percent in the near future. “The accelerated consumer shift toward digital is here to stay,” said John Donahoe, a Silicon Valley veteran who became Nike president and CEO in January. 1 Our consumer sentiment research shows that two-thirds of consumers plan to continue to shop online after the pandemic.

The vast majority of consumer brands are used to selling through intermediaries, including retailers, online marketplaces, and specialized distributors. Their experience with direct consumer relationships and e-commerce is limited. As a result, they often hesitate to launch an e-commerce channel despite the obvious opportunity it offers. Just 60 percent of consumer-goods companies, at best, feel even moderately prepared to capture e-commerce growth opportunities. more>

Updates from Adobe

Build dynamic cityscapes with Brian Yap
The Adobe creative director and illustrator demonstrates how to make a complex metropolis using very simple shapes and lines.
By Jordon Kushins – Two rectangles and a triangle. Those are the basic building blocks Brian Yap uses to form the foundation of one of myriad structures in a dynamic cityscape he brought to life with Adobe Illustrator on the iPad.

As a creative director and illustrator here at Adobe, Yap knows his way around Creative Cloud, and his portfolio is a testament to the capabilities of a variety of apps and programs. “I’m almost entirely mobile now,” he says. “I’ll sometimes scribble in a notebook, or finish something off on desktop, but the tablet is my main tool.”

Downsizing from desktop to tablet hasn’t made him any less meticulous. “I’d describe my work as over-detailed,” he says with a laugh. “Or maybe ‘complex’ is a better word. I like to work in a variety of different digital styles — everything from what feels like classic ink drawings to music posters to very graphic and sometimes even sculptural works — as well as experiment with different materials.” more>

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Updates from Ciena

Can utilities have their multi-layered cake and eat it too?
Utilities are facing increasing bandwidth demands on their communications networks. Ciena’s Mitch Simcoe explains how modernizing networks to a private packet-optical fiber architecture can help utilities scale to support new smart grid applications.
By Mitch Simcoe – Utilities are increasingly in the eye of the storm these days. Whether it’s having to deal with hurricanes in the Gulf Coast over the last few months or wildfires on the West Coast, utilities have had to put more sensors out in the field to keep abreast of changing weather conditions and potential risks to their power grids. The increasing demands for utilities to show that they are carbon-free is also changing the way they generate and distribute energy. The one common denominator that utilities have is more data to collect and backhaul from their power grids, which is driving increasing demand on their communications networks.

Many utilities may not realize it, but recent advancements have resulted in several bandwidth-intensive applications and processes driving up demand on their networks:

  1. Video Surveillance
    Security continues to be top of mind for utilities and security surveillance in the past has been more “after the fact”; where video surveillance is stored locally at the substation and only accessed after a security breach. Today’s approach is to backhaul all security video footage to a centralized data center and apply artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to proactively determine if a security breach is in the process of occurring. In those cases, security personnel can be dispatched on site in near-real time. Each video camera at a substation can generate 9 Gigabytes of data per day and a typical substation could have a dozen video cameras to surveil.
  2. Synchrophasors
    Prior to the big power outage of 2003 in the Northeast United States (where 50 million households lost power for two days), sensors on the power grid using SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) would sample the state of the grid about once every four seconds. This significant outage could have been avoided had the grid been sampling data more frequently. To address this, a device called a synchrophasor (not the Star Trek type!) was introduced, which would sample the state of the grid 30 to 60 times per second. This has allowed the grid to be more reliable but produces significantly more data to backhaul and process. Each synchrophasor PMU (Performance Measurement Unit) can generate 15 Gigabytes of data per day and all of that must be backhauled to a central data center for analysis.
  3. Smart Meters
    In the US, over 50% of households are now serviced by a smart meter that measures your household’s power consumption every 15 minutes. Beyond their billing function, they help utilities track power consumption hotspots during peak usage. For a utility of 1 million households, which would be the middle range for most US Investor-owned Utilities (IOUs), this can generate 1 terabyte of data per day that needs to be backhauled to a central data center for processing.
  4. Internet of Things (IoT) devices
    These include what we mentioned earlier: weather sensors and sensors on power equipment to proactively identify issues. Smart thermostats in homes is another growing trend which utilities are using to offer smart “on-demand” billing plans where you allow the utility to raise your thermostat during periods of peak usage during the hot summer months in exchange for a lower cents per kWh price.

For the first three categories we mentioned above, a utility of 1 million households would result in a daily requirement for data backhaul of 6 to 8 terabytes. With this amount of data to backhaul and process, it is no wonder utilities are exhausting the available capacity of their legacy communications networks.

The Information Technology (IT) group in a utility is tasked with managing many of these new applications associated with a smarter grid. Some utilities have been leasing copper-based TDM services for many years from service providers for smart grid, IT and substation traffic. The cost of this approach has been onerous and only gets more expensive as service providers are migrating their networks away from copper to fiber and wireless options. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

This one ubiquitous job actually has four distinct roles
The avatars of the strategist
By Ram Shivakumar – Among the occupational titles that have become ubiquitous in the 21st century, “strategist” remains something of a mystery. What does the strategist do? What skills and mindset distinguish the strategist from others?

Is the strategist a visionary whose mandate is to look into the future and set a course of direction? A planner whose charter is to develop and implement the company’s strategic plan? An organization builder whose mission is to inspire a vibrant and energetic culture? Or is it all of the above?

Academic scholarship does not settle this question. Over the past 50 years, many competing schools of thought on strategy have emerged. The two most prominent are the positioning school and the people school. The positioning school, closely associated with ideas developed by Harvard’s Michael Porter, argues that strategy is all about distinctiveness and not operational efficiency. In this view, the acquisition of a valuable position depends on the unique combination of activities that an organization performs (or controls). The people school, closely associated with the ideas of Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer, posits that the principal difference between high-performance organizations and others lies in how each group manages its most important resource—people. In this view, high-performance organizations foster a culture that reward teamwork, integrity, and commitment.

Because these two schools differ in their doctrines (assumptions and beliefs) and principles (ideas and insights), each envisions a distinct role for the strategist. more>

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