Lesly Goh: How I got into IoT

Lesly Goh: How I got into IoT

The managing architect for Microsoft’s Azures COE quotes the American statistician and management consultant W. Edwards Deming: “In God we trust; all others must bring data.”

For companies that have exhausted all possible ways of squeezing costs down and pushing revenues up, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a new way to get ahead of the curve, says Lesly Goh, managing architect for Microsoft Azure COE.

“IoT is a very disruptive approach to business, in many ways, as it empowers you to become more predictive with your business goals, rather than simply being reactionary,” says Goh.

Goh, who was recently in New Zealand, says when she talks with CIOs and other business leaders on the IoT, she starts with the business impact of the technology.

“IoT is about connectivity, data and analytics. So we start from there, and work with the business leader on how they can use those tools to reach their particular business outcomes.”

An example she uses, and to which New Zealand businesses can relate to, is the one on ‘Connected Cows’.

In this case, she explains, a cattle farmer was interested in predicting the sex of the cows he was breeding. To do this, he needed to know when the female cows went into heat (called ‘Estrus’). Among cows, Estrus lasts only 12 to 18 hours every 21 days, between 10 pm to 8am.

Their behaviour changes in the hours leading up to that period; that is, they tend to walk around more. So by fitting cows with pedometers as a sensor to send data to Microsoft Azure Stream Analytics, the farmer was able to get a notification when a cow is going to go into Estrus, because of how much the cow was walking.

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From this data, the farmer can also influence the gender of calves by gaining insight about the best times to do artificial insemination.

It is known that in the first three hours of Estrus, there is a 75 per cent chance of the cow having a male calf, and in the second three hours there is a 75 per cent chance of getting a female calf.

IoT is a very disruptive approach to business, in many ways, as it empowers you to become more predictive with your business goals, rather than simply being reactionary

Lesly Goh, Microsoft

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With all this data, processed via the Microsoft Azure (cloud-based) platform, the dairy farmer was able to gain a lot more control over his business than he had before.

“Using advanced analytics to improve the accuracy for inception by 70 per cent is a disruption to the farming industry,” she says.

“It all started with the farmer asking the right question on how technology could improve a better business outcome and willing to explore the possibility of trying new solutions.”

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Common questions

She says the most common question CIOs ask her is this: “How long does it typically take to establish a project of this nature?”

Business leaders basically want to know how to make this happen quickly, she says.

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“The good news is that it’s actually pretty easy. Once you have taken some time to define what success looks like to you, you can get started. IoT is naturally a very iterative process.”

Security is another question she gets asked regularly. CIOs want to know whether they can trust the cloud to securely manage data in real time, and then protect it, she says.

“The important thing to remember is that if you look at the news headlines related to data breaches, you’ll notice that most of them actually occur on premise, not in the cloud. This is because the weakest links in security are most often found in places that you just don’t think about on a daily basis.

“For example, patching is one area that is frequently forgotten or neglected in IT operations. We find many of our customers still do not patch regularly, and are still using outdated systems like Windows XP or Windows Server 2003, for which Microsoft no longer provides support. This issue creates exposures in your business’ IT infrastructure that are like a back door for hackers.”

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I have actively sought a career where I find new ways to use data to solve problems.

Lesly Goh, Microsoft

She says Microsoft has invested heavily in creating a robust and trustworthy cloud, and puts a serious level of rigour into maintaining it.

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She cites Microsoft’s recent efforts towards becoming the first cloud provider in New Zealand, by showing how the Azure platform meets the requirements set out in the NZ Government CIO’s due-diligence framework.

She says Microsoft has also established a Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) to address the security concerns and challenges that the IoT presents.

“Unfortunately, many organisations are using cybersecurity as an excuse, even though many governments are already leading the way and embracing IoT as a solution,” she says.

“The truth is you can focus on the negative, or the fear, rather than harnessing the opportunity and addressing those concerns along the way.”

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A common pitfall for organisations looking into IoT is thinking that they need to hire an external ‘data scientist’, she explains.

“True, you need someone who will understand your data and the correlations between your data and outcomes, but no one knows your data better than you.

“Many business people say, ‘I don’t have a data scientist, therefore I can’t work on machine learning or IoT.’ You’re shooting yourself in the foot if that’s how you think about it,” she says.

Another problem, she says, is “analysis paralysis”, where the abundance of data can overwhelm and impair progress.

Across the region, she sees at least two applications of IoT that are creating new business opportunities.

One of these is the concept of ‘smart homes’, she says. “IoT gives residents the ability to understand the aspects of the home that affect health and wellbeing.”

The other is elderly care. Motion sensors in the home of an elderly person living alone can be programmed to notify a nominated smartphone when an abnormal movement is detected, such as in the middle of the night, she says. This way the adult children or a caregiver can react in real time even if they do not live in the same house.

Data-driven career

A degree in engineering led Goh to the IoT arena.

“I am very analytical and enjoy problem solving. My degree was in computer engineering and mathematics,” she explains. “Since then, I have actively sought a career where I find new ways to use data to solve problems – from my first internship with IBM, to a later role where I focused on data in the healthcare and life sciences industry.”

For many years now, medical devices and sensors have been collecting patient data and talking to other machines, she says. “The biometric data could be used to save lives or provide preventive care. We just did not call it IoT back then.”

She says one of her favourite quotes is from American statistician and management consultant W. Edwards Deming: “In God we trust; all others must bring data.”

“My desire is to encourage more women to focus on technology, to study STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics),” she says.

She is thus inspired by Ada Lovelace, who lived in the 19th century. Lovelace is often considered to be the first computer programmer, as she was a pioneer of computational thinking, says Goh. “She possessed an imagination that was advanced for her time and brought together things, facts, ideas, concepts into new patterns and appreciation of their beauty."

She shares a quote from Walter Isaacson, who wrote in The Innovators:

“…Innovation will come from people who are able to link beauty to engineering, humanity to technology, and poetry to processors. In other words, it will come from the spiritual heirs of Ada Lovelace, creators who can flourish where the arts intersect with the sciences, and who have a rebellious sense of wonder that opens them to the beauty of both.”

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