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Catherine Gardiner is CIO of Viridian Group where she leads various ongoing organisation-wide business transformation projects across group, specialising in solving complex business, technology and people issues.
With a background in information management and business administration, Gardiner has worked in the energy and technology sector for almost 20 years.
‘We expect to receive 6bn points of data over the next few years’
– CATHERINE GARDINER
The Viridian Group consists of the Energia Group and Power NI. Energia Group, an independent retail arm, supplies conventional and renewable electricity to the business energy markets across Ireland and the domestic energy market in the Republic of Ireland. Power NI supplies electricity to around 500,000 homes and businesses in Northern Ireland.
Tell me about your own role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy?
As CIO, my responsibilities have evolved since I was appointed in 2011. Initially I primarily acted as a service provider to the business, managing availability and the reliability of our systems. Like many CIOs my role has broadened where today I work to educate at board level on the technology requirements of the business, guiding the business generally with regard to digital disruption and how the big technology trends will impact us, and our customers.
The energy industry is disaggregating with expectation driving our innovations in the area of digital, so my role is to look at learnings from across other sectors and areas, championing innovation within our business. As my role has evolved, the importance of culture has come increasingly to the fore, particularly in the area of innovation and client solutions. That includes discovering and nurturing new ideas across our business and in the work we do with external partners. As we move from a service provider positon to that of a business partner, we are working to bring entrepreneurial and agile thinking to the fore to benefit our customers.
Are you spearheading any major product/IT initiatives you can tell us about?
Smart meters will be introduced in the Republic of Ireland next year, which is an important initiative for us. In my role, I need to work with the team to ensure our systems can handle the additional information and data so that it can be utilised effectively. Smart meters are another example of a connected device, so this is an extension of the capabilities we already offer with regard to the Netatmo smart thermostat and other smart technologies.
This is underpinned by one unified digital Microsoft cloud based digital platform to ensure the entire process is seamless and yields better insights. We are also developing innovative digital devices and channels, utilising not only apps but also in-home assistance technology as well as processing technology that utilises chatbots and emerging technologies such as AI.
For example, one interesting area is peer-to-peer trading whereby if a customer has solar panels, then they can sell back their excess power to the grid or their neighbours via a digital platform. This will require a shift change in how energy is regulated but we are positioning ourselves to be ready when the market rules allow. Fundamentally, it is about ensuring our digital transformation meets the current and future needs of both our business and our customers.
How big is your team? Do you outsource where possible?
Our team consists of approximately 100 people, which is a mixture of permanent staff from across the business and on-site contractors. Our team is primarily made up of technical analysts, business analysts, project managers and developers. We currently outsource all our hosting and desktop services, and procure a variety of software development services.
What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it?
Within the energy industry, we see a number of disruptors that are enabled by digital transformation. The first being decarbonisation, so for example the electrification of vehicles and general overall move away from non-renewable energy sources. Technology is also enabling the evolution of consumers to become prosumers, being producers and consumers of electricity. As a business we are expanding from traditional only partnerships to develop digital ecosystems consisting of tech-entrepreneurs right through to established suppliers. Our internal processes have been developed to be agile, and data driven.
We expect to receive 6bn points of data over the next few years, so we need to ensure our systems are scalable, responsive and secure. With regard to security we are keenly aware of the challenges posed by emerging technologies and internet of things (IoT) devices in the home, given our role we have a responsibility to our customers and broader communities that we serve. We are investing heavily in cybersecurity in line with our broader digital transformation. Finally, as part of our overall development as an organisation, we are seeking active collaborations with organisations such as universities, funders, venture capitalists etc. to ensure we have a strong pipeline of new products and growth opportunities.
What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?
I believe IoT is changing the world around us on a daily basis, and will continue to do so in the future. We see it in the home, and it is having a real impact in the energy industry. IoT is transforming the way customers manage their energy needs and interact with us directly as their provider. This sort of behavioural shift will require us as a provider, regulators and Governments in the broader sense to evolve.
In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?
Security is naturally very important across all our internal and external operations. We supply approximately 25pc of Ireland’s total energy, 21pc of the country’s total wind power and one in three Irish SMEs so when you consider how connected we are to communities across the island of Ireland, any threat to our business or infrastructure could have broad consequences. We have a centralised structure with regard to our own and customer data, and are continuously training and scenario testing our systems to ensure they are secure. Based on my experience and the work we undertake, I believe education is the key to better protecting data.
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Drawing upon his own experience as an autistic person, Adam Harris founded AsIAm, an organisation that is now the largest autism charity in Ireland. We found out more about the work he does in advance of his appearance at Inspirefest 2019.
Imagine being able to project a 3D hologram of a friend from your smartphone right in front of you, just like you’re having a face-to-face conversation? That’s a real possibility in the years ahead following a breakthrough achieved by a team of researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
In a paper published to Nature Communications, the team said it has designed an ultrathin display that can project dynamic, multi-coloured 3D holographic images.
The system’s key component is a thin film of titanium filled with tiny holes that precisely correspond with each pixel in a LCD panel. Acting like a ‘photon sieve’, each pinhole diffracts light emerging from them widely, resulting in a high definition 3D image observable from a wide angle.
“Our approach suggests that holographic displays could be projected from thin devices, like a cell phone,” said Prof YongKeun Park who led the research. The team demonstrated its approach by producing a hologram of a moving, tri-coloured cube.
US presidential candidate to tour via hologram
Staying on the subject of holograms, Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 US elections, Andrew Yang, will be using 3D holograms to tour remotely across the country.
Aside from using the technology to get himself to more locations faster than physically travelling there, he hopes to use it as a way of showing some of the latest technologies he is hoping to embrace if he were elected president.
Speaking to the Carroll Times Herald, Yang said the hologram tour is “tied into the message of the campaign around the fact that it is 2019, and soon it will be 2020, and things are changing, and we can’t just keep doing the same things over and over again and expect it to achieve the results we need”.
This isn’t the first instance of a major political figure using holograms to campaign, with the current Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan projecting himself as a 10ft-hologram to an audience during his previous role as prime minister in 2014.
Pepsi denies wanting to launch a giant space billboard
In a strange case of PR gone awry, Futurism reported that Pepsi was to partner with a Russian company called StartRocket to launch a huge billboard into space to advertise the former’s Adrenaline Rush energy drink.
A spokesperson for Russian PepsiCo confirmed StartRocket’s announcement at the time. However, not long after a loud backlash on social media from space advocates and the general public, another US-based PepsiCo spokesperson said to Gizmodo that it had no more plans to launch billboards into space after its original stratospheric test.
Even more strange was the fact that a StartRocket spokesperson said after this revelation that this was news to them. “Unfortunately, I can’t prove or disprove it because of lack of information,” the spokesperson said.
China building test site for autonomous cars on a motorway
Bloomberg has reported that a state-backed Chinese company called Qilu Transportation Development Group is building a test route for autonomous cars on an existing motorway in the country’s Shandong province. This track will stretch a distance of 26km with construction having started earlier this month and is expected to be completed in September.
The test route will have a number of different common road features including three tunnels, one bridge, three toll booths and a number of challenging slopes. Also, the company plans to install a series of LiDAR systems sensors, weather-monitoring equipment and intelligent traffic signs for data exchange between test vehicles, the road and users.
As for those who regularly use this piece of motorway, the company said that will just have to find an alternate route.
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Software engineering is one of the most lucrative pockets of the tech industry and as such, the role of the software engineer is a coveted one. These professionals are highly in-demand and rewarded handsomely for their work and can often find opportunities in some of the most well-respected tech firms in the world.
Yet that doesn’t mean a software engineer can phone in the application process. There’s still stiff competition to rise to the top, and you can seriously increase your chances of success with a killer CV.
People know this, and it’s probably why there was such a level of enthusiasm for this amazing guide to crafting a CV for landing the software engineering role of your dreams.
Stephen Killilea and Birgitta Swanberg, both members of the talent acquisition team at Liberty IT, gave a comprehensive run-down of how you should structure your CV, what you should highlight, and how you should prepare for interview in the event that your now expertly composed CV gets you to the interview stage.
We also caught up with Jaguar Land Rover’s Damien Dooley this week to hear about his work in the emerging field of autonomous vehicles. The road is a complicated place and there are so many unpredictable variables consider – so as you can imagine, Dooley’s work is rigorous. That’s part of its appeal though.
This week we also mediated on the subject of company culture. Fostering a positive environment is somewhat of a holy grail for employers. When executed well, a good company culture will be the glue that holds an organisation together, leading to more productive employees and better staff retention.
We headed down to Dropbox and spoke to some of the people there about two vital elements that every company needs to create this enriching atmosphere.
In jobs news, cloud platform LogMeIn made waves with the news that it is to set up and international headquarters in Grand Canal Dock, creating 200 jobs. The new centre, which is supported with an IDA investment, will serve as the company’s management decision-making centre in Europe.
The company is hiring in areas such as customer success management, marketing, IT, legal, HR and sales.
Also hiring this week is Waterford-based virtual reality firm VR Education is set to generate between nine and 10 new jobs over the next year or two. Currently, the company is looking for web developers, game developers and 3D artists.
For more on any of these stories, check out the links above.
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Guardian journalist George Monbiot wrote a damning critique of the BBC and David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries in late 2018, arguing that they do little to illustrate the huge environmental issues faced by the natural world.
Since then, Attenborough has adopted a much stronger position. He spoke at both the UN Climate Summit and the World Economic Forum in Davos, and used his platform to highlight the threats of climate change.
Embarking on a new collaboration, Attenborough and the BBC confirmed their position in a one-off documentary entitled Climate Change: The Facts, which aired last night (18 April). The hour-long film explained the effects that climate change has already had and the disasters it might cause in future.
Although it’s crucial to raise awareness among the public about the impacts and threats of climate change, it’s equally important to explain how to fight it. That’s something the BBC has been more quiet about.
‘We need to revise our economic system and its dependence on growth to prevent the unnecessary consumption of the world’s resources’
The recent series Blue Planet Live featured a segment on the Great Barrier Reef in which it stated that coral bleaching is the result of climate change. That places the BBC in line with the scientific consensus. The same episode later described the “heroic” research effort that is needed to save the world’s reefs from coral bleaching, and covered the capture and transfer of coral spawn to a new location.
‘Insights into the natural world can present a sense of environmental optimism that promotes action’
In an era when schoolchildren are striking for climate action and radical proposals for climate action are entering the political mainstream, the BBC’s timidity towards even discussing solutions seems odd.
Covering these arguments is political but goes way beyond party politics and certainly wouldn’t breach impartiality guidelines. Audiences might understand that this isn’t as interesting as coral spawning being captured during a lightning storm, as was shown on Blue Planet Live, but if the BBC doesn’t address the solutions to climate change, then how can there be an educated public that understands that saving the planet requires more than individual gestures like carrying a reusable coffee cup?
There’s no doubt that Attenborough’s BBC documentaries have inspired millions of people around the world to take environmental issues seriously. His programmes have encouraged many of our students to undertake degrees in environmental sciences.
Their insights into the natural world can present a sense of environmental optimism that promotes action. Whereas failing to address the political and economic solutions necessary to stop climate change means the BBC could fail to respect its own values in education and citizenship.
With their new documentary, Attenborough and the BBC can challenge our current economic system – only then can they fulfil their duty to inform the public with accuracy and impartiality.
Rick Stafford is professor of marine biology and conservation at Bournemouth University. His research is currently focussed on understanding and protecting the marine environment in a holistic manner. Dr Peter Jones is a reader in environmental governance at University College London. He has spent more than 20 years undertaking interdisciplinary research on the governance of human uses of marine resources.
Archaeologists who travelled to Peru believe one of the region’s great historical powers – the Wari empire – was fuelled by a steady supply of beer. And rather than this being a major societal problem, it helped the powerful state last for 500 years between 600AD to 1100AD.
That’s among the findings of a new study published to Sustainability by a team from the Field Museum that has been researching an ancient Wari brewery first discovered 20 years ago in Cerro Baúl in the mountains of southern Peru. Much like a modern microbrewery, the site acted as both a brewery and a tavern, serving a light, sour beer called chicha.
Because it was only drinkable for a week and it wasn’t shipped off site, people had to come to festivals at Cerro Baúl to drink it. These festivals were important to Wari society with as many as 200 local political elites turning up to drink chicha from 3ft-tall ceramic vessels decorated to look like Wari gods and leaders.
To understand more about the beer jugs, the team fired a laser at samples of the ceramic to recover a tiny bit of material, heat it to the temperature of the sun and then analyse it at a molecular level.
This discovered two important findings. The first being that the vessels were made nearby the site where it was discovered, and second that the beer was made from pepper berries that can grow during a drought. Both of these elements meant the Wari locals could maintain a steady beer supply and even if changes in trade made it hard to get clay from far away, vessels of pepper berry chicha would still be readily available.
This, the authors of the study argue, could have helped Wari society remain stable over the course of 500 years, despite its size and it being made up of different groups of people from all over Peru.
“We think these institutions of brewing and then serving the beer really formed a unity among these populations, it kept people together,” said Ryan Williams, lead author of the study.
He added that the implications about how shared identity and cultural practices help to stabilise societies are increasingly relevant today.
“This research is important because it helps us understand how institutions create the binds that tie together people from very diverse constituencies and very different backgrounds,” Williams said.
“Without them, large political entities begin to fragment and break up into much smaller things. Brexit is an example of this fragmentation in the EU today. We need to understand the social constructs that underpin these unifying features if we want to be able to maintain political unity in society.”
Business expenditure on research and development (R&D) in Ireland in 2017 and 2018 increased 24pc to €2.8bn, according to new figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
Current expenditure, which comprises labour costs and other current costs, accounted for 90pc of all expenditure in 2017, with capital expenditure accounting for the remaining 10pc or €278m of total expenditure.
According to the CSO Irish-owned enterprises reported an increase in R&D spend of 6pc or €49m, up from €810m in 2015 to €859m in 2017.
Bigger businesses spend more on R&D
Source: Central Statistics Office
The figures revealed that large enterprises’ – those with more than 250 employees – share of R&D accounted for 63pc of spending in 2017, or €1.8bn of the total spend.
This was an increase of 43pc on their 2015 spend.
Small enterprises with less than 50 people engaged spent almost €425m on R&D in 2017 which accounted for over 15pc of the spend.
Medium-sized enterprises employing between 50 and 249 people spent just under €595m in the same period which represented 22pc of total spend.
In 2017, enterprises reported that almost €1.7bn was spent on labour costs, which accounted for 60pc of all R&D expenditure. Other current costs, which include materials, supplies, equipment and overheads associated with R&D, had a spend of nearly €841m which accounted for 30pc of total expenditure.
Foreign-owned enterprises accounted for 69pc of all R&D expenditure, with just over €1.7bn being spent on current expenditure, which represented 90pc of all their R&D expenditure. The remaining 10pc or €183m was spent on capital expenditure.
Irish-owned enterprises in comparison spent almost €859m on R&D, with current expenditure at €764m accounting for nearly 89pc of this expenditure.
Ireland below EU R&D spend average
According to the CSO, Ireland ranked 13th in EU28 in terms of R&D intensity in 2015.
The Business Expenditure on Research and Development survey is carried out in all EU28 member states. The most recent data available from Eurostat is taken from the 2015-2016 survey and allows comparisons across the EU. R&D intensity for a country is defined as the R&D expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.
In 2015 the R&D intensity for Ireland, at 0.9pc, was below the EU28 average of 1.3pc. This ranked Ireland 13th in the EU28, a fall from 9th in 2013 and 10th in 2011.
Sweden had the highest 2015 R&D intensity in the EU with a figure of 2.3pc, while Cyprus had the lowest R&D intensity at 0.1pc.
You would think that as I write more on the topic of productivity and as my scholarship deepens, I’d morph into some paragon of professional virtue. Surely after you reach a certain threshold, you have absorbed enough knowledge for it to seep into your bones and become a natural part of your working rhythm. I should be as incorruptible as Robespierre, as unflappable and focused as a wizened monk mid-meditation.
But alas I haven’t transcended the mortal plane and achieved some godly level of focus. Quite the opposite in fact.
I’m not alone, either. Productivity at work is a common and elusive problem. Whatever your intentions may be, you will likely find yourself occasionally lacking in focus for myriad complicated reasons both physical and psychological. Everything ranging from the lunch you eat to the anxiety you’re feeling about your personal life could be clouding your focus. Viewed that way, it may seem a losing battle to even try and correct it.
Fear not, though, as you aren’t totally powerless. There are a few things you can do to make it easier to be productive at work and, if anything, they may actually make your working life less strenuous.
The overarching themes of many of the most effective productivity tips is that you actually aren’t a machine and if you want to work to your highest capacity, you need to take care of yourself.
Don’t do overtime. There are so many reasons you shouldn’t be doing overtime – despite how commonplace it is, research suggests – but if you won’t clock out on time for your own wellbeing, do it for your productivity. If you’re overworked, you’ll eventually burn out, meaning you’ll be less effective in a professional setting and may even have to take some time out to recover. You may think burning the midnight oil will help your productivity, but you stand to suffer a net loss.
Take on less. Boundaries are so important in all facets of life, including your professional one. In a healthy working environment you’re not going to be fired for saying no, and a good manager will appreciate you having the wherewithal to understand your capacity enough to know when you can take on more and when you can’t. If you have too much on your plate, you’ll likely flame out when it’s finished resulting in, again, a net loss.
Even when you do have to keep multiple plates spinning you shouldn’t be spinning those plates simultaneously. Multi-tasking doesn’t magically generate a greater well of focus within you. In fact, it just spreads you capacity to focus too thin for it to make any sense, leaving you with – you guessed it – net loss.
Considering some of these points, and the other points made in this infographic brought to you by Office Vibe, may go a long way to improving your productivity.
Is the brain really ‘dead’ when starved of oxygen for a prolonged period of time? That was the focus of a study whose results have been published in Nature and reveal a groundbreaking discovery that could upend our thinking on life and death itself.
As part of the experiment, the researchers created an artificial circulation system and connected it with the brains of pigs that had died just four hours prior. In doing so, the neuroscientists discovered that this successfully restored some key functions and structures within the donated brains.
While there was no evidence of restored consciousness in the pigs, the result challenges the notion that mammalian brains are fully and irreversibly damaged by a lack of oxygen.
“The assumptions have always been that after a couple minutes of anoxia, or no oxygen, the brain is ‘dead’,” said Stuart Youngner who co-authored a commentary piece about the study with Insoo Hyun, both of Case Western Reserve University in the US. “The system used by the researchers begs the question: How long should we try to save people?”
In the experiment, the researchers used a type of cell-free ‘artificial blood’ – known as artificial perfusate – that helped brain cells maintain their structure and some functions. Resuscitative efforts in humans, such as CPR, are also designed to get oxygen to the brain and stave off brain damage.
If such efforts fail, the medical responders will declare the patient dead, but the amount of time given to such resuscitative efforts varies quite a lot, depending on the country, hospital or even emergency team. In Europe, for example, responders that have declared a patient dead will restart resuscitation to keep blood circulating in organs that would later be taken for transplantation.
Serious ethical questions
However, this latest pig experiment shows that it might be possible to keep the brain alive in humans if the right technology is developed. While admitting that this possibility is a long way off yet, Youngner said that it means people declared legally dead after a catastrophic loss of oxygen could become candidates for brain resuscitation, instead of organ donation.
“As we get better at resuscitating the brain, we need to decide when are we going to save a patient, and when are we going to declare them dead – and save five or more who might benefit from an organ,” Youngner said.
In the meantime, given that brain resuscitation strategies are in their infancy, this study will likely trigger a series of scientific and ethical discussions and, according to Hyun, he and Youngner wrote their commentary in a bid to “get ahead of the hype and offer an early, reasoned response to this scientific advance”.
“We urge policymakers to think proactively about what this line of research might mean for ongoing debates around organ donation and end of life care,” Hyun said.
In an age when reporting on science is mired by threats from vested interests and some of the world’s most powerful (and well-funded) people, those keeping the torch lit can sometimes struggle to get the message across.
However, in the past few years, the stale image of a scientist in a lab coat closed off from the world has been replaced by a whole army of science communicators. These scientists – at the coalface of leading research – are not only reporting on important breakthroughs, but doing so in ways that are incredibly engaging.
Deep dive into the brain
One such researcher is Dr Caitlin Vander Weele, who recently arrived in Ireland to deliver a keynote at Trinity College Dublin on the blending of art and science. A neuroscientist and science communicator, Vander Weele now works at the PR firm Russo Partners in the biotech and medtech space.
A self-confessed “people watcher”, Vander Weele spoke with Siliconrepublic.com about how her fascination with why people do what they do started in the study of psychology. However, she quickly realised that if she was going to understand why people develop addictions, for example, she’d need to get to the root of the problem.
“I got really frustrated with theories and not really being able to dive deep into the brain and establish cause and effect relationships,” she said. “I really wanted to be able to manipulate specific brain regions and cells within those brain regions and figure out what happens.”
This pursuit would see her remote-control rodents with lasers to activate specific cells to see how it motivated their behaviours.
Image: Caitlin Vander Weele
During this time as a researcher – which included receiving her PhD from MIT – she said that being able to discover something that no one knows was a “really magical moment”.
So what was the spark that led her to make the move into science communication?
As is so often the case with life, a happy coincidence connected Vander Weele with a whole new world of thought, particularly online.
In her undergraduate days, she recalled being told to get on Twitter, despite not knowing what it was. “I realised that there was actually a really healthy and thriving academic and science community on Twitter and a lot of people that I looked up to, like professors, were actually having conversations on there.”
‘Sometimes when I was at MIT, I felt like I had no voice’
Seeing the thoughts of her peers and mentors made a serious, positive impact on Vander Weele’s mental health.
“It was particularly important at that time because when I was in MIT, I was with this cohort of graduate students who are absolutely incredible, super smart and knew exactly what they were doing. I kind of felt out of place because I thought: ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’.
“And so I started tweeting about what it was like and everyone had this kind of collective response that was: ‘Oh yeah, me too, like, this is normal’.”
She also said that, as a young woman in STEM, Twitter in particular offers something that many women researchers could only envy in days gone by: an “ongoing conference that you can pop into and out of whenever you want”.
“Sometimes when I was at MIT, I felt like I had no voice. No one was listening to what I was saying,” said Vander Weele. “But in this whole other realm, I learned who I was and who would listen to what I have to say. Now with #MeTooSTEM, people are finally talking about sexual harassment and discrimination of women in science. That’s been such a powerful platform to move those conversations along and I think that that’s such an incredible thing.”
Deep-rooted drivers of behaviour (DRDs) observed in the human brain, represented by various colours. Image: Caitlin Vander Weele/Tye Lab/MIT, Interstellate Volume 1
Hard drives full of art
Another facet of Vander Weele’s career so far was also spawned on social media; a way for her work in neuroscience to leap from scientific journals and into what amounts to works of art. Never one for believing art and science were on two opposite ends of the spectrum, she began a project called Interstellate.
“I was sharing these images and I realised how good they were … for communicating science, because my parents had no idea what I was doing as a scientist,” she said, recounting the project’s origin.
“We have hard drives and hard drives of images from either failed experiments or things that didn’t quite go right or were unpublishable. So many of them are incredible pieces of art and they grab your attention. The coolest thing is to say someone who doesn’t know: ‘That’s in your brain.’”
While Interstellate is on hiatus (“I graduated and moved to New York with an exciting new job, so you can only do so many things”), Vander Weele wants to expand it to become a science communication training programme that can spin out to become its own thing. This means it could explore different fields outside of neuroscience, or be more focused on the scientists behind the works of natural art.
“I can just help with negotiating printing costs and really guiding them through the science communication process, that is my ultimate goal,” she said.