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Ericsson CTO – keep an eye out for the tech spark

Erik Ekudden

With the world changing so quickly all the time, keeping an eye on trends is a tricky one. Fortunately we had the chance to chat with Ericsson Group CTO Erik Ekudden to get the inside track.

After being appointed to the top technology job in May, Ekudden has been tasked with setting the tone for Ericsson in its annual technology review, and of course this begins with the network. For the digital economy to be a success, the network needs to be adaptable, flexible, powerful and agile, relying on new ideas at the architectural level to increase performance as well as lower latency and energy consumption.

Developments here will fuel the rest of the digital economy, but is this the year where real progress is going to be made?

“The important thing which we are looking at is that it’s a timing issue,” said Ekudden. “It’s when the technology and the business storylines match up and a spark is created. That’s how we feel about these trends now.”

In truth, Ekudden is probably right. We’ve been talking about all these wonderful technologies and use cases for years, but in reality we haven’t been ready. This is certainly the case for data analytics, a buzzword which has faced more false dawns than an arctic winter.

Although it has calmed down recently, the land grab for information was fast and furious in yesteryear. Data is the new oil, was a phrase which echoed down the halls, but what to do with it? Firstly, we probably didn’t have enough to generate any real insight, or the processing power to build the deep learning models.

Secondly, from the business side of things, the operational models were not in place to make best use of such insight even if the technology was there to generate. Digital transformation is a tired phrase, but it is an important and valid one here.

“The last 18 months have developed and we are at a point where we are seeing the benefits every day,” said Ekudden.

“Operational gains is an area we are seeing benefits at the moment. There is still a way to go on the automation side, but we are making some real progress. In many cases, the efficiencies being created, meaning cash and resource can be redeployed. It is changing the whole way customers are managing their businesses.”

Machine intelligence is the next step on the technological evolution. It the constant steps towards automation which are allowing businesses to adapt to the digital economy. As Ekudden has put it, machine intelligence will help us understand and accomplish things we never would have discovered by ourselves. It establishes a whole new foundation and potential for innovation, with the ability to be much more influential than industrialization.

With this in mind, automation is just around the corner. It allows companies to remove the mundane tasks away from employees and focus on areas which are adding value to the organization. There will be pain along the way, but the big picture is to create more managers. In theory, everyone could be a manager, with the machines being the drones in the beehive. It creates the illusive proactive business model.

Perhaps one of the more important developments, and also an area where machine intelligence will be critical, is IoT. More specifically, Ekudden is excited about the acceleration toward a distributed and connected IoT platform, one which will be made up from decentralized devices that are connected and communicating through a distributed cloud with a horizontal application and management platform.

But all of the wonderful business models which are created in the IoT world are only going to be useful if we can get better at security.

“Network infrastructure needs to be secured by hardware security at the bottom,” said Ekudden. “We need to get away from the idea of bolting on security, we need to build security into the architecture and the basic foundations of the technology. This is the only way customers can be completely secure.”

This is not a new entry into Ericsson’s technology review, but it is still an important one. This might be the reason for continuous entries, but perhaps it is also down to the fact the challenge has not been met by the industry. Security is constantly used in PR rhetoric, but that is only when it’s convenient. The rest of the time it is swept aside.

There is a lot of promise for the IoT world, but for every device which is put into the real world, another potential gateway into an organizations sensitive data is created. For Ekudden, a much more stringent approach to security and privacy is required, ranging from devices and gateways with connectivity to the cloud, IoT platforms and applications; chips to services; and development to operations.

Intelligence and automation play another role here, as security policies need to move towards end-to-end management of security and privacy that provides predictive security insights and automated adjustments based on policies. Considering the size and complexities of the network, which will only be compounded in the coming years, analytics, machine learning and automation will be critical here.

But for Ekudden, one of the most important factors will be industry collaboration. There needs to an element of trust in the technology which companies are deploying. They need to know security has been built in from the foundations and enforced at every layer of the supply chain. Transparency in the supply chain will create trust in the technologies and only further accelerate the evolution into the digital economy.

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