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30 November 2021: Microsoft recently announced the release of Windows 11 SE in 2022, which is designed to support K-8 students’ blended learning needs in the classroom. The operating system (OS) will only be available on low-cost devices sold exclusively to educational institutions. Windows 11 SE was developed after consulting with teachers and students for 18 months, which resulted in removing the widgets section, adding an automatic backup of files to OneDrive, and launching apps in full screen mode. The new Surface Laptop SE for students as well as upcoming devices from Acer, ASUS, Dell, Dynabook, Fujitsu, HP, JK-IP, Lenovo and Positivo will carry the OS.

Why it’s Important

With the launch of Windows 11 SE, Microsoft hopes to influence educational technology teams to shy away from Chrome OS. Microsoft claims with this product, IT admins can take advantage of the simplified backend as well as bundled Microsoft and non-MS apps such as Minecraft for Education.

IBRS recently conducted a major study of the Australian education sector to explore issues relating to the transition to remote learning during the pandemic. IBRS discovered that it is not the OS, nor the device, that is the primary challenge. Rather, it is the identity, access and administration concerns safeguarding students' privacy that were the single biggest issue.

Microsoft Windows 11 SE markets itself as a student-friendly version to compete against Google Chrome OS. In Australia and New Zealand, it is unlikely to impact the relatively low (in comparison to international market) presence of Chrome OS.

Who’s impacted

  • Educational policymakers
  • CIOs
  • Educational ICT strategy leads 
  • Principals and senior leadership of higher education institutions
  • Digital workspace teams

What’s Next?

Based on IBRS’s series of consultations with the education sector, the group recommends educational institutions decide on robust or streamlined solutions based on their learners’ needs and not on the premise of fear of missing out (FOMO). Developers must continue to collaborate with their target market, allowing students to be exposed to professional tools that provide a headwind in accelerated learning. Likewise, stakeholders must constantly assess their technological devices and platforms and how these impact the learning styles of users.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Dr Sweeney on the Post-COVID Lessons for Education (Video Interview)
  2. Kids, Education and The Future of Work with Dr Joseph Sweeney - Potential Psychology - 25 July 2018
  3. Higher Education Technology Future State Vision
  4. BYOD in Education: A report for Australia and New Zealand

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30 November 2021: Enterprise automation software firm UiPath collaborates with business schools to support student training on robotic process automation (RPA). This is part of their program to develop students’ skills in automation technologies, especially for business and finance majors. The strategy is aimed at growing future demand for RPA among business (as opposed to technical) staff.

Why it’s Important

Microsoft successfully transformed MS Excel into a standard spreadsheet software program in universities and enterprises, and edged out Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro Pro in the ‘80s. Having Excel built into the curriculum of most schools at that time solidified Excel’s adoption.

In a one-on-one executive interview with IBRS, UiPath’s executive revealed that while it is a relatively young vendor, it has donated millions of dollars to business schools as part of the company’s Academic Alliance partnerships. In the ANZ region, this includes:

  • University of Melbourne
  • Deakin University
  • Tower Australian College
  • University of Tasmania
  • Swinburne University of Technology
  • University of Wollongong
  • University of Auckland
  • Auckland University of Technology

UiPath’s goal is to train students early in using personal software robots to support the automation of manual processes, build smarter assistants, and create their startup similar to how Microsoft influenced developing spreadsheet skills in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In other words, the company is developing a new type of use case in the business and finance department where the launch of a non-IT version of the RPA will mean creating a domain for business majors, and not just for the IT department.

IBRS predicts that since RPA is rapidly becoming merged within the low-code everything ecosystem, it will play a vital role in business and finance even if it will take some more time for the technology to provide insights, predict outcomes and exercise self-healing. 

Who’s impacted

  • Educational policymakers
  • CIOs
  • Educational ICT strategy leads 
  • Principals and senior leadership of higher education institutions
  • Digital workspace teams

What’s Next?

IBRS recommends CIOs prepare for RPA to become a standard business staff tool over the next three to 10 years. Its accelerated adoption in universities will expand its scope of automating rule-based digital processes and advanced cognitive automation on unstructured data sources across industries. Furthermore, organisations need to recognise the shift in management approaches and process discovery by adopting more sophisticated solutions that will leverage no-code tools and AI-driven technology to achieve their target ROI.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Dr Sweeney on the Post-COVID Lessons for Education (Video Interview)
  2. Higher Education Technology Future State Vision
  3. Trends for 2021-2026: No new normal and preparing for the fourth-wave of ICT

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23 November 2021: SoftIron is developing an Australian facility to manufacture it’s high-performance data processing appliance. This is the company’s second facility after its California factory and they have plans to develop another centre in Berlin in the coming years. The planned edge manufacturing facility is expected to be the first component level computer manufacturing hub in Australia for several decades.

SoftIron’s New South Wales manufacturing facility is supported by a AU$1.5 million grant from the Department of Defence. The hardware provided by SoftIron will include open-source appliances for high performance data processing.

The vendor will leverage smaller-scale, automated ‘edge manufacturing’ systems and effectively side-step global supply chain bottlenecks.  

SoftIron claims that security-minded clients, such as the Australian Government, are increasingly concerned about the risks of supply chains that include foriegn entities suspected to have inserted spyware. Governments are already applying bans on foreign providers of communications and data processing hardware that power modern data centres. SoftIron claims the ability for clients to verify every aspect of a product - from the open source code to the supply chain of components and manufacturing cycle - is critical for trust in data centre appliance.

Why it’s Important

SoftIron’s entry into Australian tech manufacturing is welcome. Australia’s technology tech manufacturing was decimated by large-scale overseas production capabilities in the mid to late 80s, despite having some extraordinary world-leading products. For example, the world’s first battery-powered laptop, the Dulmont Magnum (aka the Kookaburra) designed and manufactured in Australia in 1984. Hartley Computers developed hardware and software locally in the same decade, before concentrating on supporting imported Wang minicomputers.

The SoftIron announcement raises several important considerations:

Supply Chain Risk

Procuring hardware from an foriegn manufacturing plants (such as POS and telecommunication systems) is now being flagged as a possible point of exposure to business espionage and spying. The complexity of international supply chains combined with the opaqueness of the firmware and code running on tech products, opens up many avenues for criminal and state actors to inject malware into products sold overseas. While China is a target of US suspicions, it should be noted that Australia's allies have engaged in similar activities in the past: in particular the US and Germany with encryption technologies, and the recent use of the ANoM phone app used to ensnare criminals.  

For Australian enterprises, the lack of visibility into the supply chain should be a growing concern. The only way to address this concern is to adopt a risk assessment policy that includes verifiability of the supply chain, and the firmware and code of products.

Support Chain

Edge manufacturing (aka micro-manufacturing) leverages the ever lowering costs of robotic manufacturing systems and (importantly) the lowering cost of programming such robots, to compete against the cost-efficiencies of huge factories in lower labor-cost countries. 

Technology manufacturing firms have traditionally driven costs down through economies of scale and labor savings. However, the global supply chain crunch due to the pandemic and slow-moving trade wars, coupled with rising labor costs globally, is causing a change in the equilibrium of manufacturing. 

Edge manufacturing employs robotic technologies and short-run production automation to deliver specialised products at a faster rate, at costs that are within the realm of those offered by large scale manufacturing, when transport, warehousing and related global supply chain costs are considered.  Edge manufacturing is less susceptible (though not immune) to global supply chain disruptions. 

Most importantly, edge manufacturing is highly agile and their entire manufacturing process is verifiable, making the model attractive for security conscious buyers. Finally, firms that locate their facilities here are covered by Australian laws and are therefore required to be certified to a compliance standard to ensure the level of data security is being met.

Who’s impacted

  • CIO
  • CFO
  • Procurement managers

What’s Next?

IBRS believes that the national economy has a solid potential to benefit from edge manufacturing.  Recent economic modelling by IBRS and Insight Economics noted a 10% increase in organisations buying Australian software (as opposed to US and European solutions) would return close to a $1.5 billion uplift in the economy within a decade. This economic benefit would be significantly magnified if hardware was added.

Organisations can examine the premium put on closer collaboration with suppliers and vendors through this business model by:

  • Running a hypothetical stress tests on their current supply chain to understand how it affects their financial standing
  • Utilising local vendors while considering a third party risk assessment and compliance program that will fit their cyber security strategy
  • Assessing a vendor’s governance framework using the IBRS Vendor Governance Maturity Model

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. How does your organisation manage cyber supply chain risk?
  2. Vendor governance framework (VGF): Evaluate maturity to manage growth and risks
  3. Strategic vendor management in government
  4. Challenges when conducting business impact analysis

Conclusion: Organisations are using chatbots as information assistants, advisors, and digital services channels. Most businesses start with generic chatbots (as virtual agents), but as the demand for customer communication grows, chatbots require integration with an increasing number of backend systems and improved scalability.

The reason why most chatbot ventures fail is the inability to recognise that the chatbot principle is simple, yet complexity of deployment rises sharply over time. In addition, chatbot design must align the business and target audiences, and both will evolve. This subtle shift over time is important as organisations need to learn the role, tone, specific purpose, and personalities of their chatbots based on actual usage and feedback.

Thus, starting small with continuous, incremental development is the best strategy for chatbot development. However, this iterative approach must balance the development of chatbots with business implementation, and must consider the attributes of the existing and future deployments.

Conclusion: To improve call centre resources scheduling, some organisations have implemented software agents to either improve users’ experience and/or reach the right expert at the right time. However, self-service success depends on the quality of information available to the software agent and its analytical ability to provide reliable recommendations. Any deficiency in these resources will leave the software agent with no alternative but to call the live agents, thereby making the investment in agent technology questionable. Organisations should assess the software agent maturity and determine which level should be reached to fulfil the business imperatives. This note provides a self-assessing approach to address software agent shortcomings.