How Cisco and Amazon Grocery accelerated digital transformation efforts in response to COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated digital transformations in organizations globally as they are quickly adapting to serving customers in new ways, said Jacqui Guichelaar, CIO and senior vice president at Cisco, during a session at Wednesday’s Lesbians Who Tech Summit.

“Cloud, utility pricing, zero trust—those are all buzzwords,” said Guichelaar, who was the speaker in a session on how COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation. “I like to think about things in a simple way. I’m data driven,” and transformation means changing to serve new customers who want to buy in different ways.



SEE:
Diversity and Inclusion policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Cisco is also transforming internally, she said, and IT believes in using “commodity software” when it’s not necessary to build their own. This can save the company “hundreds of millions of dollars and free up people to work on things that matter: The customer and employee experience,” she said.

For example, when people visit the Cisco website, it will recognize if they are an existing customer, what industry they are in, and what country they are from. This way, Cisco can point them to relevant products, Guichelaar said.

If they want to purchase WebEx, people can buy it with a credit card on the spot, download it, and instantly begin to use it, she said. “That’s a new digital experience. More companies are moving to that self-service digital experience where people can get to what they want with as few clicks as possible.”

Guichelaar also noted that Cisco’s IT moved from 20,000 remote workers to 140,000 in 10 days, but they were able to because a business continuity plan was in place. “We focused on connectivity obviously,” and Cisco’s internal VPN, tunneling software, and intranet. IT also added functionality to WebEx and said everyone collaborated to get these initiatives in place. Collaboration is key, she said. “All the CIOs I speak to say the same thing: In times of crisis people come together to get it done.”

The pandemic has highlighted the need for much faster processes, but Guichelaar said this was a mandate before. “When we set out on our transformation journey at Cisco a year or so ago, we talked about how to plan for failure. And what if business models change?”



SEE:
Lesbians Who Tech Summit addressing issues beyond technology (TechRepublic)

IT has to build technology that allows you to move to different revenue lines, she said. “I have to accelerate transformation to build a future state architecture … so no matter what Cisco wants to invest in I’m enabling them to do it as quickly as possible and customers can use

as fast as possible.”

It is critical that IT organizations become smarter and faster, Guichelaar said. “So spend less time on things you don’t need to,” she advised, “and free up investments and resources on what customers want to build in the future–which may have changed from yesterday.”

Summit attendees also heard from Stephanie Landry, vice president of Amazon Grocery, who spoke on how to adapt during rapid change. Landry said the company went from having grocery pickup in 60 Whole Food stores to 500.

Like Guichelaar, Landry said there have been significant changes in consumer buying behavior and over the long term, “we’re moving to make access to groceries and convenience to…as many people as possible.”



SEE:
Inclusive AI: Are AI hiring tools hurting corporate diversity? (TechRepublic)

Amazon Grocery has also accelerated its food assistance through the SNAP program, she said, starting a pilot with a few states at the beginning of the year, and now in 37 states.

Also, “online is going to get much better and let you do things you couldn’t do before” such as search for keto food items or certain products to purchase if a person has food  allergies, she said. “We’ll be able to…complement all the great things about shopping in a store.”

The Lesbians Who Tech Summit runs through Friday.

Amazon Honeycode aims to help you build apps without writing code

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Users can create data-driven mobile and web apps to handle event scheduling, customer relationships, surveys, to-do lists, and inventory tracking, among other tasks.

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Image: Amazon Web Services

Organizations that need to manage ongoing data-driven tasks and projects often turn to one of two options: Either they create and share spreadsheets with the required data or they hire or wait for a developer to create the right type of app. But, spreadsheets are limited and not designed to work as fully functional apps. Unless you have a team of in-house developers, hiring an external programmer for every app you need can be expensive.

SEE: 10 ways to prevent developer burnout (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

A new solution from Amazon is aimed at organizations and individuals who want to create data-driven apps but don’t have the coding expertise to do so. Now available in beta through Amazon Web Services, Amazon Honeycode is a cloud-based interface through which people can visually design interactive apps, purportedly without any background or training in programming.

Honeycode is geared toward people who need web or mobile apps to track such tasks as process approvals, event scheduling, customer relationship management, user or customer surveys, to-do lists, reporting on employee activities or task progress, and content or inventory tracking. The apps can vary in complexity from those that track tasks for a small business to ones that manage large projects for multiple teams or departments. For easy access, the backend data is stored in AWS.

“This new fully-managed AWS service gives you the power to build powerful mobile and web applications without writing any code,” Amazon said in a blog published on Wednesday. “It uses the familiar spreadsheet model and lets you get started in minutes. If you or your teammates are already familiar with spreadsheets and formulas, you’ll be happy to hear that just about everything you know about sheets, tables, values, and formulas still applies.”

To attract customers, Amazon has adopted a freemium model for Honeycode. People can build apps with up to 20 users for free. Those who create apps that require more users or greater storage pay only for what they need.

To get started with Honeycode, sign up for free at the beta site. Sign in to your account. Your first step is to create a workbook, which houses your apps and data. You can then import data from a CSV file or start from scratch to enter the necessary data. If you have a specific task in mind, you can more easily choose from one of the built-in templates, including ones for to-do lists, customer tracking, surveys, inventory management, task management, or PO approvals.

A template comes with a spreadsheet already populated with data, which you can then modify based on the type of task. Beyond changing the actual values in the sheet, you can play with the formatting, column order, and other attributes. When your data is set, it’s time to create the app (Figure A).

Figure A

Building an app is a process of adding the data, designing the app screens, and arranging the layout. You can either try to maneuver your way through these steps on your own or get help from Honeycode’s built-in wizards. If you’re brand new to visual programming, you may stumble through these steps before you get the hang of it. Amazon conveniently offers Honeycode help at the bottom right of the screen where you can learn how to use the app builder, how to customize your apps, and how to personalize your data and displays.

After you’ve finished your app, you can share it with other people on your team or throughout your organization. Simply select the other members to send them an email with a link to your app. The web version of your app is easy enough to access online. For people who prefer a mobile flavor, a Honeycode Player is available to use your custom apps on iPhones or Android phones.

Creating software programs was once considered a job that could be handled only by programmers. But a greater need has arisen for customized, internal apps that people can create without the requisite programming skills or training. That move has led to a niche for
low-code or no-code services

. AWS is also an enticing platform to host these data-driven apps as it’s one of the leading cloud computing platforms among businesses worldwide.

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Amazon partners with Formula 1 for new 2020 racing performance stats

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The season begins July 3 and AWS will help the league roll out six new sets of real-time data.

How the data will look on TV. 

Image: Formula 1

Amazon Web Services is joining forces with Formula 1 for the 2020 season to provide the league with new on-screen racing performance statistics and machine learning capabilities to analyze the data. 

The Formula 1 season begins on July 3 in Spielberg, Austria and Amazon Web Services will help the league roll out six new, real-time racing statistics that will be shown as the races are held. 

The new data will include “Car Performance Scores,” which will come with the tag “F1 Insights powered by AWS” during the season opening race at the Formula 1 Rolex Grosser Preis von Österreich Grand Prix 2020. In a news release, both companies said the statistics will give “fans more visibility into the split-second decision-making and action on the track, as well as behind the pit wall where the team strategists operate” through the five-month season.

“Over the past two years, Formula 1 has embraced AWS’s services to perform intense and dynamic data analysis. The F1 Insights we’re delivering together are bringing fans closer to the track than ever before, and unlocking previously untold stories and insights from behind the pit wall,” said Rob Smedley, chief engineer of Formula 1, said in a statement. 

“We’re excited to be expanding this successful relationship to bring even more insights to life, allowing fans to go deeper into the many ways that drivers and racing teams work together to affect success.”

SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

In addition to the car performance scores, which will offer fans detailed information on a car’s performance in comparison to other racers, Amazon Web Services’ suite of tools will provide the league with “Ultimate Driver Speed Comparisons.”

These stats will put a driver’s statistics in the context of racing history, identifying record-breaking performances like “fastest driver of all time.” The “Driver Skills Rating” data will help fans decide who is the best driver based on scores of a driver’s overall skills like starts, race pace, tire management, and overtaking/defending styles. 

Amazon will also produce “High-Speed/Low-Speed Corner Performance” statistics on how well drivers deal with track bends and corners. Later in the season after multiple races, the software from Amazon Web Services will generate “Car/Team Development & Overall Season Performance” to show how drivers have fared from race to race.

Using information gathered from qualifying laps and practice rounds, the system will produce “Qualifying and Race Pace Predictions” for the second half of the season. 

“We are at the advent of using profound levels of data analysis in order to shape the future of the sport. In partnership with AWS we are innovating just to this effect and have utilised data analytics to shape the 2021 regulations via HPC cloud computing and leading-edge technology in computational fluid dynamics,” Smedley wrote in a blog post. 

“Last year, we also launched ‘F1 Insights powered by AWS’, a series of graphics that are bringing data analytics to the live feed of the TV production. In 2019, these three graphics gave key, and previously unseen, insights into the inner workings of Formula 1 and brought them out into full public view for the enjoyment and education of our fans.”

Every Formula 1 car has about 300 sensors on it and can generate more than 1.1 million data points per second transmitted from the cars to the pit, according to a statement from the league. 

The league will lean on Amazon Web Services to “stream, process, and analyze that flood of data in real time, and then present it in a meaningful way for F1 global TV viewers.” Formula 1 plans to combine the live data with its 70 years of racing statistics kept with the Amazon Simple Storage Service. 

Amazon Kinesis will be used to collect, process, and analyze the real-time data that Formula 1 scientists and engineers will examine. Amazon SageMaker and AWS Lambda will also be used by Formula 1 for a variety of tasks related to races. 

“Formula 1 racing mixes physics and human performance, yielding powerful, but complex data that AWS is helping them to harness. Our existing relationship with F1 has already produced statistics that have brought fans into the race paddocks, and our study of race car aerodynamics is influencing vehicle designs for the 2022 season,” said Mike Clayville, vice president, worldwide commercial sales at AWS. 

“This year, we’re thrilled to extend the power of F1 data in the cloud and unlock new insights that help fans understand more of F1’s rich complexity.”

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Amazon, Apple, Wells Fargo fueling tech hiring resurgence after coronavirus economic damage

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Tech career platform Dice highlighted how data engineers and cybersecurity experts are in high demand.

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Image: iStockphoto/zakokor

The US economy is slowly being building its way back up to where it once was earlier this year, according to technology career site Dice

John Sudekum, content strategist at Dice’s parent company DHI Group, held a webinar on hiring trends in the technology industry and showed that while there were steep drops in hiring across the country in April and May, things have begun to rebound.

“We’ve been digging into job posting data to understand the hiring trends amidst COVID-19. When we look through January 2019 through March 2020, we can see that there was a consistent increase in the number of job postings with very large increases in Q3, Q4 of 2019, and Q4 of 2020,” Sudekum said.

“When we compared Q1 of 2019 and 2020, there was a 23% increase. For April and May of 2020, we can see that there was a decline. While April was still pretty consistent with earlier months, May dipped further. Yet, there were still 200,000 job postings that month. There was a steady decrease from April till May, yet amidst COVID-19, there were still more than 40,000 technology job postings per week, which is still pretty impressive. Job postings jumped dramatically in the first week of June.”

SEE: Virtual hiring tips for job seekers and recruiters (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Sudekum went through data they pulled from their site about national and more localized hiring trends, showing which jobs were in the highest demand, where they were hiring, and what companies were interested. 

The most widely sought-after positions revolved around cybersecurity and data management, two fields that are becoming extraordinarily important for almost every company. 

Due to the quarantines around the world, the increased usage of digital platforms has created a tsunami of additional data that companies now have to manage and protect, Sudekum added.

Tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Wells Fargo, Salesforce, and IBM have continued to hire in cities across the country despite the economic downturn.

Sudekum said Dice has been tracking job postings each week and has seen a steady decrease in April and May but still saw about 40,000 technology positions posted weekly. 

The first week of June saw a huge increase in postings due to more states beginning the reopening process, he noted, adding that the numbers have started to reach where they were at the beginning of April. 

When breaking the data down by city, Q1 of this year saw increases in job postings in every major tech hub outside of San Francisco and Seattle. Cities like Austin and Charlotte saw huge growth in the first three months of 2020 before the virus changed everything. 

In New York, job posting figures fell by 23% in April and 42% in May, yet the city had still had more tech job postings than any other US city. Systems architect, cybersecurity consultant, and software architect positions were the most in demand for New York City. 

One key trend Sudekum saw was that more businesses are prioritizing hiring outside contractors instead of bringing on in-house talent. Amazon, Deloitte, Bloomberg, and Wells Fargo were all hiring widely for tech positions in New York city. 

San Fransisco saw similarly steep drops in April and May of 26% and 51% respectively. Computer scientists, systems architects and vulnerability analysts are the most in-demand positions available in the city, with companies like Twitter and Salesforce “hiring considerably” according to Sudekum. 

Raleigh was another hot spot for tech job postings, showing a 45% increase in postings for the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019. Raleigh was one of the only cities in the study that stayed flat or saw increases in job postings in April and May. 

Companies like Wells Fargo, IBM, and Deloitte have been hiring at high levels in the city, with positions like DevOps engineer, computer programmer, and database administrator seeing the most interest. 

Austin was another one of the few cities that never saw decreases in tech job posting numbers in April and May. Developers, security analysts, and Python developers are in high demand in the city at companies like Apple, Google, and eBay. 

Charlotte also saw high growth numbers and relatively flat figures for April and May, with companies like Wells Fargo, Microsoft, and Lowes looking for candidates for jobs like data engineer, developers, and UX designers. 

Atlanta is another major tech hub that saw decreases during the height of the pandemic, yet still had more than 3,000 tech job postings in May. Amazon is a huge employer in the city, with available roles ranging from network engineer to systems engineer. 

Chicago and Seattle both saw steep decreases in job posting numbers, with Seattle being one of the few cities that had negative numbers in the first quarter of 2020. 

Sudekum said iOS developers, DevOps engineers, and data engineers are highly sought after across the country, and even companies outside of the tech industry like Boeing, Starbucks, Lowes, the US Navy, and Wells Fargo. Many companies outside of the tech space have also been forced to hire cybersecurity teams to deal with the growth in attacks. 

“Cybercriminals are taking advantage of people working from home. Businesses have had to up their cybersecurity strategy and therefore their hiring. With this in mind, we can see that this occupation was at a 7% increase in Q1 and then showed a 19% increase in April which could suggest immediate demand,” Sudekum said. 

“Jobs postings for systems engineers rose 8% in Q1, showing increased focus on maintaining work and computer infrastructure. Companies big and small are figuring out how to keep their operations running smoothly and their services delivering without a hitch even when nearly all of their employees are working from home.”

Other companies that are hiring widely for tech positions are Accenture, Capital One, Facebook, and Northrop Grumman. 

The report also delves into how people applying for these jobs feel about their roles and work in general. According to Sudekum, many technologists have told Dice that their workload has increased as more companies use this time to beef up their e-commerce or digital offerings.

At least 30% are currently looking for jobs, or will in the next few weeks, with many looking particularly closely at how a company has managed their COVID-19 response and whether they are allowing employees to work from home. 

“A company’s COVID-19 response is important to technologists. Technologists believe remote work is more important now. For years, technologists looked for remote work and now COVID-19 forced it on companies. Technologists overwhelmingly enjoyed working from home,” he said.

“Technologists don’t think it is a detriment to company culture and find it easier to work from home. Saving time on commutes is beneficial to technologists and being able to have control of schedules is important to work-life balance.”

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