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From the Vault – The Computing of Business, October 2014

EarthquakeDid you know that in the wide world of open source software there is an application for analyzing seismic data? If I had only known that a few weeks ago I could have thrown a portable seismograph into my carryon for a recent trip to California.

Since I was rudely awakened during my stay by what FEMA now calls a major earthquake, I could easily have done a quick data reduction and submitted the results to the open source Global Quake Model. But alas, during the event I was thinking more about what might happen to the roof than contributing to science. At 40 miles from the epicenter it was certainly a unique experience and the building held together nicely—check that one off the bucket list.

So open source is everywhere. Good developers are developing good, creative software and distributing for all to use within the confines of a number of different license platforms.

In a recent IT-related university classroom experience Phil McCullough, a fellow COMMON Director, noted that the entire curriculum centered on open source. Open source operating systems, open source databases, open source development tools, open source applications; the entire gamut. The message was loud and clear: open source will be a big part of our computing future.

But software, by its very nature, contains defects. In many cases those defects do not consist of what we traditionally consider a problem. For example, as the programmable point of sale system industry was developing a couple of decades ago, I cannot imagine that leaving a credit card number unencrypted in ram memory would ever be considered a problem. Turns out it was.

Recently my employer sold some software we had developed to a very large company. Parts of that software contain open source components like frameworks and other mechanisms that helped develop a very complex set of code. Before the deal could close the buyer required substantial documentation of every open source component, and the version of that component. Additionally, the entire base of object code was scanned for any known vulnerabilities. All went well and the deal was completed.

Open source operating systems like Linux, and large open source applications like Sugar CRM, have the benefit of having substantial support organizations. Dedicated people watching for problems are an advantage many small applications do not, and cannot, possibly have. The likelihood is very real that the bad guys—and there are an awful lot of them—will stumble on to something they can exploit in almost any open source project. If you run some or all of a smaller targeted code base, it then becomes simply a matter of a bad guy (they are voracious sharers of exploit information) finding your system and deploying one of the myriad ways of injecting malware on to it.

Of course there needs to be something worthwhile to steal. Credit card numbers are the currency de jour though certain kinds of pictures bring a bigger bang. Regardless, any information about your company or your customers has value to someone.

A number of scanning solutions like OpenLogic and OpenVAS  can attempt to locate problematic software. But using such tools seems to me to be a bit reactive. The veritable cat may have already left its bag.

A more proactive approach is to know where in your software, and on your systems, the open Ground Crackssource stuff (and anything else with known vulnerabilities) is. Trust me, the stuff is there. Complete, accurate application inventories are more important than ever. An inventory, coupled with appropriate monitoring of the threat landscape, will keep you ahead of the bad guys. Yes, this is something more to do with your constantly shrinking resource base. But staying ahead of the bad guy sure beats the alternative.

For many the 2014 South Napa earthquake was a disaster. For me it was an interesting experience.

For some the open source landscape will be a disaster. Reading about those problems should be the only experience you want.

About the Author: Randy Dufault, CCBCP

Randy DufaultRandy is the Director of Solution Development for Genus Technologies, a Midwestern consultancy dealing primarily with enterprise content management systems. His experience with content management dates back 25 years, where he helped develop what ultimately became IBM‘s Content Manager for iSeries. He has also developed and integrated a number of advanced technologies including document creation, character recognition, records management, and work flow management. Randy is a member of the COMMON North America Board of Directors and was active in the development of COMMON‘s Certification program.

Read Randy’s Computing of Business column in COMMON.CONNECT.

IBM’s Watson is Becoming a Crime Fighter

Sherlock Holmes and WatsonIn Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Dr. Watson was the great detective’s trusted sidekick in fighting crime. Now, with IBM’s help, Watson has become a crime-fighting detective in his (actually its) own right.

IBM’s newest cognitive computing offering is Financial Crimes Insight with Watson, which is designed to help banks spot financial crimes such as money laundering. The mission of this latest incarnation of Watson, the brainchild of the company’s newly formed Watson Financial Services division, is to “[help] organizations efficiently manage financial investigation efforts through streamlined research and analysis of unstructured and structured data.”

This new suite of Watson products is aimed at helping financial institutions manage their regulatory and fiduciary obligations. It’s estimated that by 2020 the world-wide financial services industry will be faced with more 300 million pages of regulations, with the list growing by thousands of additional pages every day. That is, of course, far too much information for any team of human beings to stay on top of. But Watson, with its advanced artificial intelligence, cognitive computing and machine learning capabilities, was designed for exactly that kind of big data analytics.

The system was trained, using 60,000 US regulatory citations, by experts from Promontory Financial Group, a regulatory compliance consulting firm that IBM bought in 2016. The training also incorporates an ongoing review of transactions and cases that involve possible financial crimes. As Gene Ludwig, founder and CEO of Promontory Financial Group explains, “we’re embedding our deep regulatory experience into Watson so that a broader group of professionals can benefit from this knowledge and help their organizations operate more effectively and efficiently.”

These new Watson products are not narrowly focused just on crime, however. The broader aim is to help clients in the financial services industry address a wide range of risk assessment and regulatory compliance responsibilities. For example, in addition to the Financial Crimes Insight with Watson product, IBM is also offering Watson Regulatory Compliance, which focuses on assisting financial institutions in understanding and addressing constantly changing regulatory requirements.

Attend Watson and IBM i at the 2017 Fall Conference and Expo.

The Role of IT in the Retail Industry – Adapting to Trends

IT has a substantial role to play in the modern retail industry. This has been the case for a long time. However, the world of information technology changes quickly enough that individuals working in retail have had to adapt to various trends.

Mobile Apps for Retail Stores

Many experts today are now urging all retailers to create apps that specifically pertain to their products and even their store locations themselves. This is one of the biggest trends with regards to IT in the retail industry. All of these apps are incredibly different, however.

RetailSome makeup stores will offer apps that enable users to test products in advance in a whole new way. Some of the apps will offer customers convenient discounts right at their fingertips.

People can use apps in order to get a sense of where different items are located and whether or not they’re currently available. As such, there are apps that will truly help people overcome some of the most frustrating parts of shopping in the first place.

Cloud Computing in Retail

Thanks to cloud computing, it is much easier for retailers to consistently monitor their inventory. They can quickly get a sense of what they have in stock and what’s going on with orders. Losing large amounts of data is much less likely in the era of cloud computing. While this makes the technical side of the equation easier, it also means that retail workers can place more emphasis on customer service.

IT helps improve efficiency in the retail industry. The retail industry may also be able to fulfill more of its primary objectives thanks to modern information technology trends.

Certification in an IT Discipline Can Advance Your Career

The IT world is an ever-evolving landscape. What is hot today, is passé tomorrow. The skills required in 2017 and beyond are a world apart from what they were several years ago. A Bachelor’s degree is often an entry level requirement for a job in IT. Five years after you’ve earned it much of what you learned is no longer cutting edge. Certifications help to keep your skills fresh and documented.

Demonstrate Your Skills

Certification in a needed skill area is a great way to show current and prospective employers that you are dedicated to continuous improvement. It demonstrates that you are keeping aware of current trends and future trends. Certification indicates that you have proven yourself knowledgeable to a trade association, user group, or vendor and have the skills and techniques to approach and execute the projects and tasks that employers need.

Vendor Certificates

Most major IT vendors provide their own certification tracks. CiscoMicrosoftIBMApple and AWS all offer certification tracks around their hardware and software programs and equipment. These certifications are all valuable to the IT professional looking to make a career of their products.

Other Certificates

Non-vendor/product certificates can also be advantageous. ITILPMP and CISSP, in conjunction with the previously mentioned certifications, display a well-rounded approach to IT integration to other disciplines. The application of the knowledge gained in acquiring these certifications to the technical knowledge gained through the other certifications improves the specialized knowledge of the specific help to prepare you for management-level positions.

COMMON Certificates

If you use IBM Power Systems and IBM i, you should investigate COMMON’s certification options. There are six different options, some for new professionals, some for those more experienced. Topics range from Business Computing to RPG, IBM i and AIX. Certification exams can be taken at locations throughout the United States or at COMMON events.

The Ruby Programming Language

RubyRuby is an open source language that is available for the IBM i operating system. While its syntax is very similar to other open source languages commonly used for the web, such as Python and Perl, Ruby has many unique characteristics that make it a great choice for your project.

 Ruby’s Purpose

Like many modern languages, Ruby is dynamically typed and supports both object-oriented programming and other programming paradigms. While most commonly used in web development, Ruby is a general-purpose language used for different types of applications.

Object Based

According to this article on pocoo.org, Ruby differs from Python in that it is a pure object-oriented language where everything is an object. Tricks in using the objects allow the use of other programming paradigms. Python, on the other hand, has both functions and objects and is thus a hybrid language.

Design Philosophy

Ruby is a language that has a special philosophy behind it about design and usage. While designed as a fun and simple language for programmers to write in, Ruby also allows great complexity in the programs that it can create. Furthermore, Ruby is a very flexible language that allows developers a great amount of creativity in the implementation process.

Popularity

Ruby is quite a popular language and is very much in demand in the industry. Ruby on Rails is a framework that is commonly used in web development and greatly extends Ruby’s capabilities. Distributed under the MIT License, Ruby on Rails is a Model-View-Controller framework that integrates well with common web technologies such as JavaScript. This framework allows for the fast development of secure and scalable web applications.

Learn Ruby for IBM i – along with Node.js and Python – with COMMON’s Open Source Video Tutorials. Learn more.

Want more Open Source for IBM i? Check out these 2017 Fall Conference & Expo sessions.

Demand for Cloud Technologies

Those who have skills and experience with cloud technologies are going to be much in demand in the next few years. According to Tech.Co, the use of cloud computing technologies is expected to quadruple in the near future. Estimates are that cloud data centers will manage a whopping 92 percent of all workloads.

So who are the biggest contributors to this massive progression to the cloud? The biggest players are the IoT (internet of things) and big data centers. Most of the growth will occur in public cloud data centers, with the use of private clouds beginning to decline. Interestingly, predictions are that infrastructure as a service (IaaS) will decline somewhat, due to many organizations focusing on improving their own corporate infrastructures, including both data storage for sensitive information and acquisition of their own high-speed connections.

In addition, a recent study, “2017 Cloud Computing and Business Intelligence Market Study” conducted by Dresner Advisory Services, notes that as organizations are turning to public clouds, they are also looking for cloud-based business intelligence tools such as dashboards, advanced visualization tools, ad hoc queries, data integration and data quality, end-user self-service and reporting features. The study goes on to note the trend for increasing demand for cloud-based BI services, is largely driven by smaller organizations. However, not included in their across the board “must have” list for BI services, is social media or streaming analytics, although these are still important in certain industries.

Trust in the cloud is not just increasing for businesses. Consumers are also expected to demand more from the cloud. Estimates are that personal cloud storage will increase from 47 to 59 percent. That may not sound like a huge percentage increase, but globally the increase represents about a billion more users.

The future looks bright in the cloud, supported by both business and consumer demand. Anyone interested in applying their technology skills to this trend will most likely have a bright future as well.

IT Personnel Management Tips

IT personnel management is not easy. Even some of the most seasoned professionals in this field will struggle. However, if IT personnel managers keep a few things in mind, they can expect much better results from their team members.

Learn Flexibility

Many people are promoted into IT personnel management positions after they’ve excelled by working independently. When working with other people, it’s important to make sure that they have some control over the process. Working with subordinates means adapting to their needs, ideas, abilities, and suggestions. Managers who can be more flexible will be more successful in general.

Develop Conflict Resolution Skills

IT personnel managers will run into emotional and disordered conflicts no matter what they do, regardless of the intelligence and maturity of their subordinates. They cannot respond by avoiding the conflict or escalating the conflict by ridiculing the people involved. IT personnel managers must become experts at diffusing the conflict and trying to find a way to satisfy as many people as possible by keeping their concerns and abilities in mind.

Create Professional Relationships

Being a manager of any kind requires high-level social skills and the ability to develop solid working relationships. Managers who are able to do this will often find that everything else will fall into place as a result. Managers do have to avoid being too involved with what their subordinates are doing, of course. However, they also can’t be too distant. Striking a balance and caring about the needs of employees helps lead to good relationships between employees.

It isn’t easy to get promoted into IT personnel management. However, many people will learn the requisite skills in time.

Wanting to improve your management and people skills? Take a look at the 2017 Fall Conference & Expo Focused Education Roadmap – Developing Business Skills.

IBM Watson Taking the Fight to Cancer

CancerIBM Watson is taking the fight to cancer as more hospitals and medical research firms around the world use the resource in their ongoing war to treat the dreaded disease.

The Jeopardy champion has been consistently improving when it comes to designing treatment plans for cancer victims, Engadget reported.

New data presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology showed suggested treatment plans from Watson were often exactly what physicians would recommend.

Recent research from India showed Watson’s suggested treatments for colon cancer matched physicians recommendations 81 percent of the time, 93 percent of the time for rectal cancer, and 96 percent of the time for lung cancer.

A study from Thailand showed comparable rates of agreements for lung, breast, colorectal and gastric cancer treatments.

Healthcare researchers are increasingly using Watson for Oncology, a cognitive computing system trained by doctors from Memorial Sloan Kettering. The system takes a patient’s medical history, extracts information from the records, and is able to design a personalized treatment plan.

Watson for Oncology just made its debut in Australia, with Queensland-based Icon Group signing up with IBM and helping oncologists across the country, the Australian Business Review reported.

Icon Group will implement an “augmented intelligence platform” to help clinicians stay on top of ever increasing amounts of cancer research.

“Traditionally they rely on a series of conferences and journals and have to soak up every bit of the new research, but Watson gives them easier access to this information,” said Cathie Reid, one of Icon’s co-founders.

The Georgia Cancer Center is also making use of IBM Watson to quickly assess genetic markers in tumors, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

With so many taking advantage of IBM Watson as a powerful resource, the system continues to prove itself as a desired ally in the fight against cancer.

IT in Manufacturing: Industry 4.0

Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology have grown up side by side. Modern manufacturing equipment has been on a collision course with standard IT for decades as more computerization is added to the machine tools used in manufacturing. With the emergence of convergence between the technologies, the manufacturing sector is beginning to become more reliant on the same skills that have traditionally been used in IT. Along with the skill set of hardware technological support and programming support, IT leaders going forward will need to understand the operational mindset of the managers they interact with.

Metrics

Industry 4.0, an initiative that began in Germany in 2011, sometimes called Manufacturing 4.0, represents the convergence of activities. Manufacturing activities have always been metric centric. How many widgets can be made by a piece of equipment in a given time with what rate for rejected pieces is used to calculate the effective throughput of a given device. This calculation is added to the BOM (Bill of Material) and employed in planning calculations within MRP.

In the past, this information was manually determined and entered into the BOM. The Internet of Things (IOT) has created the means to provide this information electronically, allowing for better measurements and quicker reactions to variations than ever before.

Quality metrics based on the throughput and yield are also impacted by the ability to communicate this data in real-time. Sensors being built into systems that perform the SPC (Statistical Process Control) activity provide up to the minute data for analysis.

Production Line

Reporting

Still, this is only the beginning of the ways in which the data can be used. Data from these two areas can be used to create analytical studies for finance departments to better understand the depreciation and efficient use of capital investments. Engineers can design better more efficient processes and sales, forecasting and customer service departments can get more insightful information to provide customers better delivery dates, and inventory level information.

Operational leaders who are looking into or actively implementing robotic manufacturing depend heavily on interconnected systems with automated reporting to reduce cost and improve throughput in the manufacturing environment. Smart factories that practice Lean Manufacturing take advantage of the analytical reporting generated by the interconnected operations technology to shift labor and operational staff to areas to maximize their production staff and increase capacity.

Security

The adoption of IOT has resulted in more wired and wireless factory shopfloor connected devices, remote access, programming, and set-up operations. Manufacturing machines with embedded operating systems, usually have a “lite” version of the operating system with a limited capacity to configure and execute sophisticated commands. This lower technological threshold has resulted in security breaches which, if part of a fully connected network, lead major systems to be compromised. While it is IT Security’s responsibility to address these vulnerabilities, IT must also ensure that manufacturing can still continue to run on a 24X7 basis. This applies in particular as robotic devices replace manually administered equipment.

Production Support

As the manufacturing moves into the digital world, IT will increasingly be called upon to support production equipment at the same level that it supports end users. The data from this equipment will make its way to senior managers who make decisions on customer pricing, continuing existing relationships with suppliers and customers, the fate of manufacturing facilities and product lines. Our service delivery for software and infrastructure support as well as user education and assistance will need to encompass all levels within the organization from shop floor and assembly line staff to the C-suite.

IT Education – Preparing for a Career in Data Science

Data Science

Do you love mathematics? Do phrases like “data warehousing” and “v-lookups” bring out the inner nerd in you? If any of this sounds familiar, you might want to steer your direction toward a career in Data Science.

According to Patrick Circelli, a senior recruiter for the IT recruiting firm Mondo, “Data Science is all about mathematics, so having that type of degree — mathematics, information science, computer science, etc. — is especially key for these roles. Hiring managers really love that.” Circelli goes on to describe the must-haves for anyone preparing a resume for a career as a data scientist. His list includes:

  1. A degree in Information Science, Computer Science or Mathematics
  2. Microsoft Excel, specifically the use of pivot tables and v-lookups, and knowledge of SQL queries and stored procedures
  3. Programming skills in any of the following languages: C++, Java, Python, R, or SAS
  4. Concepts such as predictive analysis, visualization and pattern recognition, i.e. understanding how data operates, and skills that could come from data visualization tools like Tableau
  5. NoSQL database environments like MongoDB, CouchDB or HBase
  6. Data warehousing

Although there are many areas in IT that require data science skills, thanks to relentless cyber attacks, the growth rate in security data science specifically, is booming at 26%, with the security analytics market set to reach $8 billion by the year 2023. Anyone who can create a resume listing Circelli’s recommendations, along with a desire to focus pointedly on data security to combat hackers and cyber attacks, can probably write their own ticket in the tech world for decades to come.