Just back from a brilliant trip to Microsoft Executive Briefing Center in Redmond, WA. The trip was organised as part of our prize for winning the SME Enviro App competition. The delegation from Scotland included Mike Neilson and Robbie Parish from the Scottish Government, Derrick McCourt, Stevie Grier and Melvyn Ingleson from Microsoft UK, Robyn Worsnop from Rabbies and Ian Marchant CEO of Scottish and Southern Energy along with myself, Steven and Jim.
The presentations over the 2 days covered a range of subjects from Microsoft’s work helping to streamline local and national government services to cyber warfare and crime to smart city developments. So a pretty wide and varied mix. Here’s a quick summary of the highlights:
Microsoft in Government
Barbara Perry, Industry Managing Director for Worldwide Public Sector Government provided examples and case studies around “citizen centric government” incorporating common look and feel for all government services and single-sign-on. Examples included Madrid’s focus on Open Data and providing access and transparency of data to all citizens including everything from bus services to local election results.
Other examples included Mexico that has moved all taxation and import/export services and resources to an online solution.
Microsoft’s home city of Bellevue provides a “one-stop shop” for citizens which includes a common look and feel throughout web and physical services. These services are gradually becoming more integrated with a view to improving efficiency and citizen experience. However, there is an element of big-brother in that, for example if you go in or online to pay a water bill you may also be prompted to pay an outstanding parking fine.
In other countries infrastructure, social and geographic limitations have necessitated the implementation of different solutions. For example, Zimbabwe provides all of the integrated government services outlined above on a mobile platform.
What does “big data” really mean? Microsoft’s Johannes Kebeck, Senior Program Manager in the IPE Geospatial division, believes that it really can be broken down into two parts. The first is concerned with business of gathering and managing multiple, large data sets. The second part concerns utilising, combining and analysing these data sets to discover something new and something of value. Johannes provided an overview of Microsoft’s Integrated Platform Experience (IPE) which is concerned with using data in a way that is more relevant and exposes opportunities as well as additional dimensions and insights.
Johannes provided examples of some work that Microsoft is doing with sentiment mapping with tools like SQL Streamlight that mines Twitter feeds interpreting how consumers are feeling about certain subjects and brands. Companies and market analysts are starting to pay more attention to the social sphere in order to get real time feedback on issues such as product acceptance and brand reputation.
Johannes presented an extremely innovative example of data layering constructed by Shoothill a leading UK partner who have put together an extremely interactive application based around the Battle of Britain. Users can view maps of affected areas using a “Time Scope” that overlays present day maps with historical maps of the areas using Bing maps and Silverlight. Microsoft’s Photosynth is used to overlay images of historical aircraft providing almost panoramic and 3D-like views.
Envisioning center/Future vision
Karla Clark hosted a tour of Microsoft’s Envisioning center which is a future technologies demonstrator providing a view of how our daily lives will evolve over the next few years with the application of new technologies. The demonstrator was split into a number of areas of the office and the home and utilised contactless authentication technology using mobile devices and Microsoft’s Kinect technology linked to large touchscreen displays that can even be used as a physical desk or table top. One demonstration showed how a design engineer could easily create a 3d model of a bionic hand and interactively test the performance of a specific sensor component, propagating it through the entire hand. The same example demonstrated interactive conferencing using avitars and seamlessly exchanging information and files by simply swishing them onto the display.
Technology will also almost certainly change the way that we shop. Microsoft believes that in the future shoppers will place potential purchases on interactive light tables that will provide more detailed information on the item. The tour shows an example based upon Microsoft’s PixelSense technology to detect and display information combined with NFC through your phone to manage all payment and delivery details.
We were also treated to a great demonstration of future technology integration within the home. A large wall mounted display contains diary notices, pictures, post-it notes etc but it can also be used to provide cooking instruction. A chef appears and gives you instructions and demonstrates how to cook your selected dish. Nothing revolutionary about that. However, where it gets interesting is that with a projector and Kinect mounted above the hob the system gives you guidance projected right onto the cooking work surface.
Microsoft is betting that large displays, projected images and non-contact gesturing will be a fundamental part of how we interact with the world at home and in the office of the future.
Dave Aucsmith is a Senior Director of Advertising Technology in Government and is part of a small global group focused on ensuring that Microsoft remains at the forefront of cyber security. Dave provided an incredibly interesting and insightful presentation on Microsoft’s strategy and technology developments that enable it to keep ahead of a growing and increasingly sophisticated army of hackers and cyber criminals.
Some really interesting points in this discussion including the fact that Microsoft, through its outlook email provision and IE browser has one of the largest and widest reaching software sensor networks on the planet. Companies like Cisco also have extensive coverage but via hardware routers and switches. This network combined with highly sophisticated data aggregation and analysis essentially enables Microsoft to “listen” for any threats in the form of malware and DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks.
Dave also provided some examples of Microsoft developed technology that has been applied in the field. One example is Sensecam, a wearable camera originally developed for Alzheimers patients to enable them to record their day and playback at high speed in the evening. The process apparently improves memory retention and slows the advance of Alzheimers. The technology was adapted and combined with GPS, mobile phone and real-time facial recognition and attached to the body armour of police at the London Olympics to provide a very effective method of spotting potential terrorists.
Smart Cities and Environment
A particular area of interest for me personally was understanding what Microsoft is doing in the area of Smart Cities and Sustainability.
Josh Henretig, Director of Environmental Sustainability gave an overview of Microsoft’s strategy in this area. With 2% of global emissions coming from the world’s IT infrastructure Microsoft has implemented an innovative policy of applying a Carbon Fee to its internal organisations. So business unit owners need to account for and pay for organisational emissions. The company wouldn’t disclose the actual rate but it is clearly significant enough to influence behaviour.
The Microsoft campus around the Seattle area is indeed comparable to a small city. In Redmond alone there are some 60,000 Microsoft employees and 30,000 direct contractors traveling to and from work every day. The vast number of buildings makes it a perfect test site for Microsoft’s smart cities initiatives. Indeed this is exactly what they’ve done at the Redmond Operations Centre:
- 88 acres
- 118 buildings
- 15 million square feet
- 35,000 pieces of metered equipment
Microsoft have taken an interesting approach to smart management of this campus. The first steps was to perform a census of the buildings gathering device and location data which could then be combined with maps of the campus and blueprints of the buildings. The next step was to gradually implement smart metering throughout the estate at the device level capturing data including energy use, current, temperature etc. Overlaying these data sets provided the ability to perform predictive fault analysis on the estate via a control centre portal. For example predicting when a particular air conditioning unit is about to fail by monitoring the current draw and the output air temperature. The control centre knows the specific device details including make, model, serial number and a technician can access the required specification information. They can then be dispatched to the exact location of the device with the appropriate tools and maintenance information thus reducing multiple trips. Microsoft refer to this process as Automated Commissioning and Cloud-based fault control. Over the past year the system has saved over $1.5M with an ROI of less than 18 months.
All in all a great trip! Many thanks to Microsoft for hosting the event and to the 2020 Climate Group for sponsoring the competition, in particulat SSE, SEPA and the Scottish Government.
Definitely, picked up some interesting ideas that we’d like to apply in our Waste Note and Care to Compare products.
Check out our Care To CO2mpare app and see how energy efficient your business is compared with your competitors.
Are you managing WasteDataFlow reporting? Let’s talk about how we can help automate the process and give you better insights to improve recycling rates. Click below for more information.
Tags: Smart cities