PSC Labs was founded in 2015 to provide unbiased, vendor-agnostic technology insights. Our mission is to ensure client
delivery excellence and new solution offerings through the adoption of emerging technologies.
For more information check us out at https://labs.psclistens.com
PSC Labs undertook a wide-variety of projects in 2018. From Robot Process Automation to Event Driven Architecture seven projects were undertaken to improve our understanding of these technologies/capabilities.
The team looked into how Blockchain worked and then on a more practical level looked specifically into Ethereum and the ability to incorporate Smart Contracts into the chain. We looked at the services provided by various cloud vendors and found that at the time, the examples for implementations were on a very large scale.
Blockchain is not difficult to understand technically, but the broad questions about scalability, long term viability and adoption though are still quite open ended.
Custom Vision API
The team looked at the newly released Azure Cognitive Services Image process capabilities and built a custom app capable of recognizing every day images. The application built on top of a Xamarin iOS mobile app provides a user with the ability to take a number of pictures of an object, from different angles, and store them within the application.
The Azure Cognitive Services are used to generate a Machine Learning model which can then be downloaded back to the device. The application is then capable of using the camera to identify objects with a predicted level of accuracy.
||Training The Model
The investigation team successfully demonstrated the ability to build a real-world application around the Azure Cognitive Service.
The team investigated the IoT services available in Azure and AWS. To build on the previous work the Labs had done with GE’s Predix platform, these investigation teams were focused on using the available abstraction services from the cloud vendors and not on the low level device/data interaction.
We discovered that both platforms were very good at easily setting up the ability to handle data ingestion from devices. The ease of setup on the device to allow for secure authenticated transmission of data was simple and easy to understand in both cases.
The Azure platform service stood out however with their Azure IoT Suite and Remote Monitoring. Once the data ingestion was set up, the IoT Suite enabled us to create a monitoring dashboard and set controls for performance monitoring. The ability to configure limits for data and automate notifications based on those limits promise considerable potential.
The Azure IoT Suite highlighted how far IoT as a service has come in a short period of time and is a viable solution to any company seeking to set up and start to take advantage of the burgeoning IoT landscape.
The investigation team looked at the intriguing concept of a programmable CDN and the promise of being able to enhance website performance without having to change any of the code on the site directly. An example of this capability would be the adding of a watermark to an image. The Fly.io server would proxy in between the image server and programmatically add the watermark. The watermarked version of the image would then be cached for the next user, at the CDN closer to the user than the original image on the server.
The team found that the implementation of Fly.io as a developer was not complex and the examples provided were easy to set up and run. But overall the team found that this capability feels more like a solution waiting for a problem.
Event Driven Architecture
At the start of 2018, as part of their 10 technologies to watch Gartner declared “Event Driven Architectures” as something to pay attention to. The Labs team looked into Kafka specifically although there are others (Azure Event Hub being one) with this in mind. Kafka was originally a project created by LinkedIn to handle their massive data volume and was subsequently open sourced through the Apache foundation.
The team created a demo application which ingested data from an HR application managing people and their records. From the input of the data multiple complex processes were initiated and executed by the event driven architecture. The response of the application, even running locally was very impressive.
Robot Process Automation
While Robot Process Automation (RPA) is not a new technology, it’s coming to the forefront of business rapidly. With VC funding for major RPA vendors more prevalent (AutomationAnywhere, UIPath), it demonstrates the capacity for the market to absorb this new technology quickly.
RPA as an industry is all about the automation of repetitive mundane tasks, such as manual data entry into multiple systems. Many companies have long established manual business processes, mainly due to the cost to automate the process. RPA can help address this problem by accurately and repeatedly following the same steps a person would.
We looked at UIPath as a vendor for RPA and looked into the more advanced capabilities of the platform. We created an ability for a code check-in process within AzureDevOps, to trigger a build process chain and instruct the RPA robot to automate a UI test through a browser. If the robot found a failure it created a bug within AzureDevOps related to the failing test.
RPA is mature and already being used across many industries, there is significant opportunity for cost effective savings for companies to use RPA.
GraphQL is a technology created by Facebook in response to a problem they found themselves when facing a growth model based on a service-based architecture. As Facebook pages grew in complexity and functionality, the number of services being called increased and caused various performance issues. The PSC labs team set up to investigate whether or not GraphQL would be applicable to the projects we were planning to work on in the future.
The investigation team took an existing mobile application where the load time was in excess of 10 seconds and was able, using GraphQL, to reduce the load time of the page by over 50%. In a case where the user was on a mobile network with high latency the loading speed was increased by over 65%.
GraphQL has many advantages for a developer and project team when considering a services architecture, from the creation of a standard endpoint, to the reduction in network calls and speed of time to page load, it proved itself very valuable.
PSC Labs had another successful year investigating many broad technology innovations. As in previous years, some of the projects show great promise and we will be working on new iterations of them in 2019.
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