The World is Flat-ter

The World is Flat-ter

2020 has been a heck of a ride so far and we are only halfway through the year. From the brink of WWIII to Australia on fire to a global pandemic, to name a few, we are seeing potential lasting impact. The world is not only flat, it is flat-ter  than ever. Don’t worry, I’m not a flat-earther, I’m only referring to Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, in which he highlights major events that have leveled the economic playing field around the world. Friedman may have to write an entire sequel dedicated to the events of 2020. I am going to attempt to highlight these events and what the new normal may look like in the Silicon Valley. 

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures 

cannot remember the last time Google and Apple (Gapple) said anything nice about each other let alone partnered on a project. With the Covid-19 outbreak, these two Goliaths joined forces to try to help slow down the transmission of the disease with their Exposure Notification project. Faith in humanity restored. Having the market share of the mobile phone industry, Android and iOS split 72.6/26.72, they realized that they could leverage their phones to track the spread of Covid-19. They do this by passively using the Bluetooth on your phone. As you come in contact with others, your phones exchange a handshake creating a ledger of who you have been in contact with. This happens unnoticed until someone confirms they have Covid-19. This creates a chain reaction of notifying all parties that have been in proximity to the person. Given this information, users should get tested and quarantine themselves. Gapple has created the foundation for something like this to work and are offering it to health authorities to implement in a mobile app. The necessary software is already on your phone dormant waiting for an application to use it. You will be able to see it in your settings like… 
Now I know what you are thinking, “what about my privacy?”. You are in complete control of how you use this. It is up to the user to download an application and opt-in to use the system. Even then, your identity is not shared with anyone, even Gapple. The first adopters of this technology are a group from EPFL in Switzerland who created SwissCovidUnfortunately, the rest of the world has been slower to adopt this technology with only 4 out of 50 states in the US and 22 countries considering it. I hope to see more collaboration like this going forward. 

Tinder Networking 

Here in the Silicon Valley, we have adapted pretty well to the new normal given the pandemic. Most things are going virtual and are working out great. One benefit that is lackingdespite being in the Valley, is the networking. From the moment I set foot in the tech industry, I was told to attend meetups and expand my network because it is not what you know, it is who you know. And besides, who doesn’t want free pizza and beer. Although meetups have moved online, they have become less interactive between the attendees. Frustrated by this, I was forced to become creative in how to network. Scheduled to attend a startup pitch showcase, I directed my attention to the other attendees and dropped a handful of them a message requesting an exchange. I was not expecting many of these to be accepted, but to my surprise, I did not have a single person decline. This was made possible by an online event networking platform called BrellaAfter using Brella, I discovered that it might actually be the preferred way of attending events and meetups for an extroverted introvert like myself. Being able to metaphorically swipe left/right on attendees’ profiles and set up meetings on your own time makes it efficient and convenient. The exchanges, however, reminded me of what makes the Valley so great. The openness and willingness to share ideas here is still a priority given the situation. Faith in humanity restored… again. 

Outsourcing

When deciding to become a software engineer, I was met with naysayers asking why I would want to become a software engineer when my job is going to get outsourced overseas for half the price. Seven years later, companies in the Valley are still expanding and salaries are still growing. Now, in 2020, I hear that given the new normal, companies are going to realize that they do not need everyone in the office to be productive so the talent is going to leave the Valley. I agree that the majority of people are making the most of this situation. I for one have been very productive being able to work from home. Reflecting on this situation, I began to wonder what the best work structure would look like going forward. So far, we have tested out the extremes, the first being the goto the office every day and the second being the work from home every day. I cannot help but imagine a situation in between where we go to the office 2/3 days a week would be the bestcase scenario. This allows for the impromptu discussions, brainstorm sessions, and collaboration with colleagues. A space to host in-person meetings. As well as home office days without distractions and can’t forget to mention less exposure to the virus and trafficBeing a true local, a dying breed, I am hopeful for a vaccine or herd immunity to Covid-19 so that the Silicon Valley can still be where talent, ambition, and dreams intersect. 

Given what the new normal may look like, the world is flat-ter than ever. It is easier than ever to take advantage of what the Silicon Valley has to offer from anywhere in the world. So, what is the new normal going to look like? Are we going to be working from home permanently? Will people move out of the overpriced Silicon Valley? Are we going to rely on Tinder for networking? Is the Silicon Valley losing its prowess? I would not bet against it but tune in next time, or in five years, to find out. 

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.
Zohaib “Zee” Khan, Cloud Services Engineer @ Swisscom Outpost, Palo Alto, California, US, zohaib.khan@swisscom.com

June 30, 2020

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IoT Trends during the Coronavirus

IoT Trends during the Coronavirus

Many companies are pivoting their products to help fight the Coronavirus”. An interview with Swisscom Outpost’s IoT expert Jeffrey Gantner. 

Social distancing measures are having a significant impact on people’s lives everywhere in the world. With people confined to their homes, their daily habits have been affected in both their professional and private lives 

To find out about how startups in Silicon Valley are adapting to the changewe asked Jeffrey Gantner, IoT expert at the Swisscom Outpost in Silicon Valley, to share his perspectives with us. 

Jeffrey, you are located in the Silicon Valley focusing on research and developments in the IoT space. For you personally, how have your daily activities at work been affected by the measurements induced by the recent social distancing measures? 

First of all, I am grateful that we are affected as little as we are. Many people are having much harder timesVideo conferencing in itself isn’t new to us, and we had it well established especially with the teams in Switzerland that we work with. What’s new is that all the meetings with local people also happen online now, including some social coffee catch ups. This is also small thing that I miss personallyThe water cooler conversations”, when you spontaneously exchange ideas. As far as I can tell, technology cannot replicate this yet. Maybe we need a Zoom feature that decides at random times to suddenly start a call between two team members twice a day (laughs). 

Elderly people are considered a risk group. I assume that IoT systems such as remote health monitoring for elderly adults are experiencing a remarkable increase in demand. 

Yes, and unfortunately elderly care homes have even been among the first sources of virus outbreaks a few months ago. But from an IoT perspective, the elderly aren’t exactly known to be early adopters when it comes to new technologySome mainstream wearables come out of the box with features like fall detection, but there are many more specialized products on the market, too. 

Can you share some examples of such specialized products or technologies? 

CarePredict is a wearable that measures how often a person goes to the bathroom at night, can detect whether a person is eating and taking their medicine, and even how long the wearer is exposed to the sun. Then they predict risks of a person falling or being depressed before it happens, and someone, for example a family member, can check in with them.
Another companyTytocare, is more aimed at children but can just as well be used with elderly people. They offer a Bluetooth-enabled device with a stethoscope, thermometer and other sensors that connects to a telemedicine app on your smartphone. The doctor can then conduct a real-time exam remotely with live data. There are many such remote-monitoring and telehealth apps with different angles. Gyant also alleviates the burden on doctors by asking the most asked questions via chatbot before the patient is connected to a doctor.
For many health consultations, even non-medical-specific solutions such as Zoom are used. 

What strategic adaption or rise of startups in the IoT space have you observed over the last few months? 

What’s interesting to see is how many companies are pivoting their products to help fight the Coronavirus. Sometimes companies have to adapt more, other times less: Delivery startups such as Kiwi offer last-mile delivery. They were already contactless before, but now this feature has just become that much more relevant. Another example is Alchera, an AR visual anomaly detection company that used to analyze gas leakages with infrared cameras. They are now detecting fevers in people to find potentially infected people in airports. Then there’s Kwant.ai in the construction industry. Their IoT trackers learn workers’ habits and workflows to then optimize a worksite’s layout. Now however, they also detect the position of workers to improve social distancing. 

What are some other developments in IoT, maybe not related to the Coronavirus? 

Companies realized that installing a sensor doesn’t yet provide a lot of value. Rather, large amounts of data need to be collected and analyzed. Then you start entering the promised value of IoT with e.g. predictive analytics. The fact remains that the relatively high CAPEX is a high barrier to entry for an SME if the long-term value is unclearThat’s why startups like Moeco turn towards a service model, making it easy to try out use-cases. It is one of our Outposts objectives to help Swiss SMEs by bringing such new and enterprise-ready solutions to them, enabling them to make use of the IoT as soon as they are ready. So, if you are a Swiss startup in IoT or a Swiss SME with a new idea using IoT, please absolutely get in touch with us! 

Do you have any last words for Swiss startups? 

Regarding Swiss startups raising money in – or expanding to – Silicon Valley, I assume that it will become easier again once you can do it in person. But don’t risk anyone’s health by hurrying over here just yet; even though Switzerland might be lifting some restrictions, Silicon Valley is still on lockdown. But once things start to normalize, the mantra “you don’t invest in an idea, but in the founder” will probably still standand it’s easier to get to know a person, well, in person. Additionally, it’s important not to forget that you make your own luck, meaning that your proactiveness in literally going the extra mile will show. And when you do, in all likelihood you will meet interesting people you hadn’t planned to meet and who can in turn introduce you to other relevant people. After all, networking is what defines Silicon Valley. 

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the topics above or if you want more information about the startups we are looking at.
Jeffrey Gantner, Innovation Manager IoT @ Swisscom Outpost, Palo Alto, California, US, jeffrey.gantner@swisscom.com (LinkedIn)
Interviewed by Tina Werro, Head of Outpost Innovation Programs, Zurich, CH, tina.werro@swisscom.com  (LinkedIn)

May 20, 2020

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Competing in the Digital Economy

Competing in the Digital Economy

We know how the world of business will look tomorrow. It will be more dynamic, more customer-driven, and even more global. What capabilities will accelerate your journey and make you successful in the Digital Economy?

Think of the economy after the current lock down. Hopefully we will soon be back to normal, but this normal will be different from before. The current situation showed how fragile the business ecosystem is, and how much more we can do with the available technologies.
We found that a lot of work can be done online – meeting, negotiations, education, grocery shopping, parties and even movie nights with friends.

And if the change affected you, it has also affected your customers. They will expect customized, real-time experience with every interaction with your company. And your internal processes will have to enable it.

The current situation will blow many of the internal barriers and we will see further digitization of company processes. This, in turn, will make the business much more data-driven. For example, customer demand will be assessed using predictive algorithms that consider all the available information inside and outside of the company.
Every transaction and communication will be recorded and analyzed to assess customer satisfaction and guide future interactions. The connected sensors will generate data to bring real-time awareness for each subsystem, providing ongoing quality control, delivered by self-managing automated production lines.

The companies that successfully digitized their internal operations will be able to connect to each other and form a real-time Digital Ecosystem. This in turn will enable seamless, flexible and scalable supply chains. So, when a customer pushes the “Buy” button of an online store, the whole supply chain will light up as the neurons in the brain. Inventory updates, shipping labels, delivery service request, restocking from the vendors – all of these steps will happen in a fraction of the second, and will go like a digital ripple through the whole ecosystem.
All these connected companies will be exchanging value in a Digital Economy. And integrating a new vendor will be as simple as connecting a new API.

The following diagram shows our perspective of how the adoption of one technology will accelerate the development of the next one, and together will bring us closer to the Digital Economy.
We put them in perspective of time horizons, where Horizon 1 is the current time. Horizon 2 is between 6 months and 2 years in the future, and Horizon 3 is beyond 2 years ahead.

Let’s start with Horizon 1. Most companies today are using some form of IoT devices or other sensors for collecting viable operational information. They provide accurate data about the important business inputs from inside or outside of the company.

The connectivity to these sensors is a mesh of licensed and unlicensed wireless and wireline technologies. Swisscom is one of the first telecom providers deploying 5G – the fifth generation of mobile connectivity. It will offer a much faster network connection and very low latency (or delay) for the messages between connected devices. Using 5G the companies will collect more real-time data and respond faster to changes in their environment. Swisscom demonstrated this in a joint project with a pharmaceutical company called Ypsomed, where a full 5G network was deployed on the factory floor. It provided operational data for real-time automated decisions.

Cloud – The Cloud today provides reliable and cheap resources for computation and storage.  Having more data from different sources and different locations will push the need for the heavy computation from the centralized cloud to the decentralized edge. What we call the Edge will depend on the type of the business and the type of connectivity.

Edge analytics – The current development of Machine Learning algorithms is focused not only on new capabilities but also on making the algorithms smaller and able to learn from fewer data. Smaller algorithms plus better edge infrastructure will enable analytics at the edge of the networks. Which will allow the workforce to perform corrective measures or predictive maintenance earlier before the issue escalates and impacts the production line. Smart edges will also benefit the different types of transportation. It will help to optimize the truck routes and will improve traffic safety for self-driving cars, where a delay of few milliseconds can have a significant impact on the reaction of self-driving vehicles.
It can even help the navigation of industrial-grade drones like Swisscom already demonstrated with our partner Involi.
In the manufacturing industry, the Edge Analytics will provide instant quality control and will make the industrial robots smarter, so they can take decisions on the factory floor.

Smart Cities – Having smarter infrastructure will help the development of the Smart Cities. Optimized traffic, safer streets, autonomous transportation, and decreased pollution are some of the features we expect in the connected cities of the future. Places like Boston, Las Vegas, Kansas City, and Chicago are already taking advantage of smart solutions to address transportation, sanitation, connectivity, and safety issues in their communities.

Data Exchanges – Companies will accumulate vast amounts of operational data, but they will also need to exchange it with their partners. The role of the Cloud will change from siloed computation farm to intercompany data exchange where the data is stores and securely shared. The information will travel with the speed of light allowing the business partners to coordinate complex business decisions. The Digital Economy is a digitally connected economy.

As the data accumulates, it creates its own gravity – it brings new use cases and new customers. For that reason, the providers of the Data Exchanges will become the center of the digital ecosystems. They should be the reliable partner and trusted guardian of the Information, the most important asset of the Digital Economy.

Companies like Bdex, Dawex, and even Amazon already provide data exchange services. At the moment there are more than 7000 companies offering anonymized operational data on Dawex. This data covers many business sectors, including Healthcare, Banking and Insurance Services.

Having enough data does not automatically bring the benefits of Machine Learning and AI. There need to be experts in the company who can prepare the data sets and train the algorithms. Having the data available in the Data Exchanges will allow third part companies to take on some of the routine tasks and provide AI as a Service. Google already has several AI and machine learning products, like AI Hub – a hosted repository of plug-and-play AI components, and AI building blocks – with image and language understanding, and conversation capabilities.

Enterprise Blockchain – It is a ledger shared between business partners that shows all the transactions and events, in the same order and with the same status. This way each participant has the same understanding of the status of the system.

In some implementations, the future business transactions could be codified as programmable contracts, that can be executed when a specific predefined event happens. For example, a sensor detects a predefined insurance event, which will trigger automatic payment from the insurer.

Such a system will simplify the relationship between business partners, and speedup the business transactions. One of the most successful examples so far is the blockchain collaboration between Walmart and IBM. Walmart is requiring all of its suppliers of fresh leafy greens (like salad and spinach) to trace their products using the system.

We will have a challenging, but exciting journey ahead of us. The good news is that Swisscom is already providing these technologies or developing them together with our partners.

The core ingredients of the digital economy are key pillars of the Swisscom strategy:

  • Connectivity
  • Cloud
  • AI and Data Services
  • Security
  • Blockchain

Swisscom can help you connect the dots and deliver integrated services that can help you be competitive in the digital economy of the next decade.

The Swisscom’s Outpost in the Silicon Valley partners with Startups and established vendors to identify and develop new solutions for our internal and external customers in Switzerland.

Stefan Petzov, VP Technology & Innovation, Outpost Silicon Valley, April 13, 2020

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A Swiss Perspective on the RSA Conference

A Swiss Perspective on the RSA Conference

Impressions from RSA, February 24-28, 2020, and Marcus Dahlén presenting at the residence of the Consul General of Switzerland in San Francisco

The cyber security world is complex. On the one hand, cyber-crime actors are increasing in numbers as well as skills. On the other hand, the IT landscape grows more complicated partly because sensitive business information resides on multiple cloud providers and must be accessed from devices all over the world. Add to this billions of “smart”, but “hackable”, devices being connected to the Internet, such as toasters, and an increase in regulatory requirements to protect sensitive information. These are all very challenging tasks to corporate security teams worldwide. Over the last years, these teams have invested billions of dollars in security products to prevent, detect and respond to risks related to these challenges. The result is a complex landscape of security products that may not always play well together or provide the promised return on investment. Add the lack of cyber security experts in the global market and you have a good picture of where we stand in today’s cyber security world. Having a comprehensive view of these challenges and how to tackle them is crucial to all security startups.

Some observations from the RSA Conference

Some weeks ago, I visited the RSA conference (RSAC) in San Francisco with some of the most successful cyber security companies in the world. The conference had about 36 000 attendees, 700 speakers and 650 exhibitors on the expo floors. The week was filled with security startups trying, but quite often failing, to explain their unique selling points. Many startups are struggling to explain the problem that they solve for their customers. One reason for this might be the limited number of words which can be used to describe the value of a security product. Startups should consider using standard security frameworks (e.g. NIST) to explain to their customers where they provide added value. Or even better, the security framework from the customer, as Microsoft’s CISO explained it during a session at RSAC.

I also talked to major security vendors and multinational corporations providing a one-stop-shop for security needs in a certain area but often missing innovative approaches. This gives startups a “sweet spot” to introduce their product on the market.

Due to the Coronavirus it was also a week filled with hand sanitizers, “elbow greetings” and keeping a constant look at the development of the virus in San Francisco.

The RSAC startup pitch stage is always a highlight: This is where startups compete against each other to win the prize as the “most innovative startup” of the year. Securiti.ai, which gives you a global view of all personal data across your systems, won the title. Another of my favorites was Vulcan, which had a very interesting product for automation of vulnerability remediation. I enjoy looking at startups providing products supporting “cyber hygiene” (i.e. best practice such as correct configuration, patching vulnerabilities, etc.). Attacks exploiting these kinds of vulnerabilities are still prevalent and an area where many companies are still struggling. Hence, I also did a deep-dive on mature and enterprise grade startups like Cycognito, which helps you understand your company’s external attack surface, and XMCyber, which continuously analyzes your internal infrastructure for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations.

Further, the conference is filled with network opportunities to discuss approaches to new concepts such as SASE. And I also discussed the opportunity of doing Zero Trust workshops in Switzerland with John Kindervag, the “inventor” of the Zero Trust model.

Of course, I also talked to a lot of Israeli startups. It’s impossible to write about startups in the cyber security space without mentioning Israel. After all, Israel has, per capita, the most startups in the world and their ecosystem is somewhat unique when it comes to cyber security startups. One of the reasons for this is that the best people in the country are being hand-picked for the cyber security military force, where they receive the best possible technical training on the job. One example being Cycognito above.

A Swiss presence would make sense

The ecosystem in Silicon Valley attracts Israeli startups and we see them opening offices all over the Bay Area, but usually they keep the product development in Israel. Of course, Israel also had their own pavilion at the RSA conference expo floor. Other countries such as Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands also had their own country pavilions introducing their security startups to the 36 000 attendees but also profiting from social networking across the industry. With Switzerland being one of the most innovative countries in the world, the country should showcase their government organizations, startups and other companies on this cyber security stage.

During RSA, Swisscom together with the Cyber Defense Campus and the Swiss Business Hub hosted a networking event in the residence of the Consul General of Switzerland in San Francisco. This was a great opportunity to bring Swiss, US and Israeli security experts from large enterprises, venture capitalist and startups together. We are looking forward to organizing a similar event next year.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the topics above or if you want more information about the startups we are looking at.

Marcus Dahlén, VP Cyber Security @ Swisscom Outpost, Palo Alto, California, US (LinkedIn)

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Clément Nussbaumer

Clément Nussbaumer

Welcome on board!

Clément Nussbaumer joined Swisscom’s Outpost in Palo Alto in February as the 2020 trainee. He will support the activities in the telecommunication domain and help to set up new infrastructure in the Swisscom Cloud Lab. He works closely with a North American startup which has specialized in programmable switch fabric for data-center applications. This technology is especially important to allow 5G, IoT, Big Data and AI application at scale.

He joined Swisscom Switzerland in 2019, firstly evaluating the quality of Swisscom’s cellular network at altitudes used for drone operations. Then he worked on an identification service for drones, that will permit drone operators and the public sector to know if a drone is operating in a given area.

Clément wrote his master thesis on homomorphic encryption. This type of encryption permits to securely evaluate mathematical operations on encrypted data without having access to the decryption key. This permits offloading heavy computation tasks to the cloud without compromising the privacy of a customer.

Clément has not just a background in Software Defined Networking (SDN), drone operation and cyber security, but also in rocket science! In 2018 he participated in an international student rocketry competition in the US and was responsible for the software that sent real time telemetry of the rocket during its ascension to the 10’000 feet target. Clément’s team won the technical excellence award.

We wish Clément all the best for his 2020 assignment in the US!

More on Clément Nussbaumer: https://www.linkedin.com/in/clement-j-m-nussbaumer

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