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Smart Services with AI and Own Data: Insights from the Service Lunch

By Jürg Meierhofer, ZHAW

The recent “Service Lunch: Eating, Learning, Networking” event featured Chris Bochsler from Cando, who shared practical examples of how AI can enable innovative smart services in the field of energy management. By leveraging customer documents and real-time data, Cando successfully linked these resources to an LLM (RAG) framework, resulting in more relevant and valuable outcomes.

Cando’s approach involved integrating the LLM (RAG) framework into various apps. This strategic move also earned them the “Best of Swiss App” Award in Innovation.. By seamlessly incorporating AI capabilities, they enhanced user experiences and delivered valuable services. The LLM (RAG) framework demonstrated versatility by catering to both smaller and larger companies, adapting to different contexts and providing customized services based on specific needs.

One example is Koster Home, a home energy manager, which integrated the LLM (RAG) framework into its home system, including components like heat pumps and photovoltaic (PV) panels. The system helps users determine optimal times for charging their electric cars or suggests solutions for low shower water pressure.

Cando’s energy management system integrates numerous data sources, such as production trends or weather forecasts. For instance, if a steep temperature increase is predicted, the system recommends adjusting heating settings. Or it issues warnings when anomalies occur, translating technical information into a user-specific language (e.g., layperson vs. technical expert).

Learnings included the need to monitor quality, balance data quantity, and stay informed about rapid AI development. The technical approach using the LLM (RAG) framework proved effective. The system combined structured and non-structured data, contextualized information, and utilized vector embeddings. Looking ahead, Cando aims to ensure operational stability through AIOps, maintain quality assurance, or explore ontologies and knowledge graphs. Their innovative use of AI and data integration exemplifies how smart services can evolve and adapt.

Successful Workshop on Technical Risk Mitigation & Insurance

By Jürg Meierhofer, ZHAW

In a half-day workshop organized by the Expert Group Smart Services on March 28, participants from seven different organizations (data science, tech, sensoring systems, insurance, service design) came together to explore effective strategies for managing risks of operating industrial assets. The workshop focused on various aspects of risk mitigation, including preventive measures, impact reduction, and decision-making processes. 

Preventing risks before they occur is crucial for maintaining a secure and efficient business environment of industrial assets. Our discussions highlighted the preventive measures primarily by technical solutions. Leveraging technology, such as sensor-based monitoring systems, enhances risk detection and early intervention. By proactively identifying potential threats, organizations can prevent adverse outcomes.

However, technologies for preventive and reactive measures open the door for prescriptive measures. This can result in optimizing the performance of an asset over its lifecycle. In this manner, risk mitigation expands into a broader context of asset value optimization, while insurance adopts the perspective of investment optimization. Departing from the conclusion of the predecessor workshop in August 2023 (https://databooster.ch/databooster-workshop-managing-financial-risks-of-smart-services/), the discussion moved to the question of the extent to which technical solutions are scalable or have to be developed from scratch for each application case. We concluded that certain verticals can be effectively standardized for scalability, while others remain within the realm of specialized solutions.

Expert Day – FHNW

By Milena Perraudin, data innovation alliance

The Expert Day on March 19, 2024 was held for the first time at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) in Brugg-Windisch. Welcoming over 40 participants, the event enfolded plenty of opportunities for engagement within the three Expert Groups: ‘Smart Maintenance’, ‘AI in Finance & Insurance’,  and ‘Spatial Data’ as well as the Expert Group in planning ‘Governance for Growth with Data & AI’. For those interested in joining the latter group, please contact us at info.office@data-innovation.org.

The event started with two thought-provoking keynotes. The first ‘Eyes on Human-Data Interaction’ by Prof. Dr. Arzu Çöltekin, FHNW, highlighted how eye movement tracking can enhance human-computer interactions, emphasizing the importance of designing data-based products with the end user in mind. The second keynote, ‘Lessons learned on scaling after 1 year of GenAI’, by Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk, co-founder and CEO of Unit8, shed light on the significance of GenAI and its mostly underused potential in realizing value in production at scale. A fact that the data innovation alliance wants to address together with the Innovation Boosters Artificial Intelligence and Databooster, powered by Innosuisse.

Following the keynotes, participants engaged in four breakout sessions, each focusing on a specific topic. The following paragraphs will give you a short insight into the different breakout sessions.

Workshop ‘The Future of Financial Data Analytics’ by Expert Group AI in Finance & Insurance

The Expert Group meeting jointly organized by Marc Vendramet, Andreas Blum from Unit8, and Branka Hadji Misheva from BFH, delved into two primary topics. Firstly, it offered a comprehensive exploration of AI & analytics use cases within the finance sector. Secondly, it involved brainstorming on the group’s focus areas for the upcoming year, including discussions on new event formats and collaborations.

Highlights were talks by Nicole Königstein of Wyden Capital, who shared insights on financial times series prediction in the age of transformers, and Guillaume Raille from Unit8, who presented various examples of LLMs’ use beyond chatbots, along with a detailed discussion on the challenges and opportunities associated with applying advanced LLM technologies to real-world cases.

Workshop Governance for Growth with Data & AI

Participants of this workshop gathered to delve into the full spectrum of Governance and Growth theme, as well as the opportunities with Data & AI. Frank Seifert, from adesso Schweiz AG, introduced a comprehensive management model for Governance, while Dr. Omran Ayob, from SUPSI, delved deep into the critical aspect of explainability in data governance. Participants engaged in lively discussions about the challenge of achieving higher data or model transparency (Explainability) while avoiding privacy issues.

The tension between the desire for a minimum level of governance and the need to work simply and leverage Data & AI opportunities became apparent. On one hand, holistic approaches are necessary, but on the other hand, there is a need for concrete, easily implementable measures. It’s precisely this tension that makes the topic so intriguing.

The group will continue working in this area by examining various layers of the topic, especially legal, technical, and ethical aspects, and developing Governance approaches and impulses for Growth opportunities. Our current vision includes guidelines and processes on one hand, and concrete tips and tools on the other.

Workshop ‘Hybrid approaches to intelligent maintenance’ by Expert Group Smart Maintenance

First, Dr. Kai Hencken from ABB corporate research started with an overview of predictive maintenance strategies at ABB, emphasizing the utility of traditional statistical reliability models in addressing data scarcity challenges.

After, an open discussion among participants followed, exploring potential use cases for AI integration with domain knowledge in their respective companies. Examples included condition monitoring of trains and digital twins for gas turbines. Technical solutions such as few-shot learning and the role of LLMs and generative AI in advancing condition-based and predictive maintenance were also examined.

The day concluded with an Apéro, fostering further discussions about innovative ideas among participants. We are already looking forward to the next event, as we are convinced that together we move faster.

Great interest in AI regulation

By Markus Christen, UZH

The event “AI’ll be back – Consequences of AI regulation for startups”, jointly organized by the Data Ethics expert group and Technopark, generated a great deal of attention. More than 40 persons listened to the speakers and discussed lively on how the emerging regulation of AI may affect innovation.

The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Its purpose is to documentation, auditing, and process requirements for AI providers. What does that mean for AI startups in Switzerland? This question was the focus of an event organized by the Data Ethics expert group of the Data Innovation Alliance. More than 40 persons attended this meeting on Thursday, February 1, at the Technopark Zürich.

First, Livia Walpen, Senior Policy Advisor International Relations at the Federal Office of Communication (OFCOM), outlined the current state of the EU AI act and its possible consequences for Switzerland. The EU AI act will create a harmonized legal framework for the EU’s internal market. It will be relevant both for private and public actors. The core intention is to classify AI systems according to the risk they involve; depending on the risk, different measures will follow – from no obligations if the risk is minimal, up to prohibited practices if the risk is unacceptable. For practical applications, the main relevant difference will be between “limited risk” and “high” risk – as for latter, various obligations will follow: Among others, those involve adequate risk assessment systems, data sets of high quality, and appropriate human oversight measures. High-risk AI systems will require a registration in public EU databases and providers outside the EU need to appoint an authorized representative in the EU. The AI Act will apply two years after its entry into force, i.e. in 2026 (with the exception of certain specific provisions).

For Switzerland, the new EU AI act will have consequences for all Swiss companies and research institutions operating in the EU, as they will have to assess the conformity of their products in accordance with the conditions or procedures laid down. The AI act might also have an influence on the Swiss political debate and the Swiss regulatory approach to AI. In November last year, the Federal Council gave the mandate for the elaboration of an overview of possible regulatory approaches to AI in Switzerland. The OFCOM, in close cooperation with different federal offices, is currently preparing a report that will outline different possible approaches for Switzerland, to be published by the end of this year.

Christoph Heitz, Founder and President of the Data Innovation Alliance, discussed how developers of AI applications in companies need to prepare already today, how the AI Act changes the job of developers, and how startups can obtain support for these new challenges. His main message to the audience consisted in three points: First, know what your AI application is actually doing. Second, AI regulation leads to innovation challenges; i.e., new solutions are required. Third, there is support for helping companies to master the transition. As for the last point, he pointed to the “Innovation Boosters” run by the Data Innovation Alliance: The already estabilshed “databooster” and the new Booster “Artificial Intelligence”. Both booster programs support companies in developing innovative approaches to address the regulatory challenges for their concrete AI products they aim to develop.

Finally, Christoph Bräunlich, Head AI of BSI Software, presented a use case to demonstrate how a “Code of AI conduct” can help to be prepared for compliance for AI regulations. He outlined how BSI has developed a “Code of Conduct AI”, inspired by the “Code of Ethics for Data-Based Value Creation” of the Data Innovation Alliance. A key element of their Code of Conduct is the role of an “Ethics Enabler” – a person within the company that structures discussions on ethical issues of a specific AI innovation within the company. After the three talks – the slides are available as pdf download – a lively discussion emerged in the audience, moderated by Markus Christen, managing director of the Digital Society Initiative of the University of Zurich. Several people pointed to the practical issues that may arise when assessing concrete risks of AI systems – certainly a point where both the regulator and the companies will have to gain experience.

MYBLUEPLANET: An association for climate protection in Switzerland

The Expert Group Smart Services had the chance to listen to the presentation by Noah Gunzinger, Managing Director of MYBLUEPLANET. MYBLUEPLANET is a 16 years old Swiss non-profit with the mission to take individual and collective action against climate change. The initiative encourages people to get actively involved in climate protection. Noah presented one of the programs, the Climate Challenge App which offers personalized experiences, ranking comparisons, self-improvement controls and much more.

Key to the android and iOS App is the ability to build teams and participate as a company or a team in the challenges. By regularly updating the challenges on consumption, diet, habitation and mobility and having a common monthly challenge, participants understand that they are part of a bigger movement towards net zero.

The data show that some topics work better than others, for instance dietary topics are more preferred by the users than mobility topics. As of now, there are about 2500 registered users with little churn. Future developments will focus on improvements increasing user engagement.

The presentation was rounded off by a lively discussion with the numerous participants that revolved around the topics of user engagement, measurability, local activities and B2B embedding.

Inspirierende Innovation: Rückblick auf den Databooster Project Day

Von Milena Perraudin, data innovation alliance

Eintauchen in eine Welt inspirierender Ideen, von den Erfahrungen von Innovationsexperten lernen und die Möglichkeit haben, sich mit gleichgesinnten Enthusiasten zu vernetzen und Ideen auszutauschen – klingt das nicht toll? Dies war unser Project Day, der am 14. Dezember 2023 bei Oracle in Zürich stattfand.

30 Begeisterte nahmen teil, um mehr über verschiedene Innovationsideen zu erfahren, die vom Innovation Booster Databooster unterstützt wurden. Die Projekte reichten von datenbasierter Diagnostik bei Batterien bis hin zu unterschiedlichen Projekten im Gesundheitssektor. Die Teilnehmer*innen erlangten wertvolle Einblicke in elf Innovationsprojekte und konnten von deren Erfahrungen profitieren. Der Nachmittag bot zudem die Gelegenheit, sich mit inspirierenden Experten zu vernetzen, was die Grundlage für zukünftige Kollaborationen bot und neue Ideen generierte.

Um einige Höhepunkte zu nennen: Die Projektpräsentationen begannen mit der brillanten Idee von Schwabe Pharma und OST (Ostschweizer Fachhochschule) darüber, wie die individuellen Erscheinungsmuster von Gesundheitsproblemen wie Tinnitus besser verstanden werden können. Sie wandten BPM (Business Process Mining) -Algorithmen auf Gesundheitsdaten an, um die verschiedenen Faktoren zu analysieren, die Tinnitus auf individueller Ebene beeinflussen, aber auch unser allgemeines Verständnis dieses Phänomens verbessern.

Ein weiterer Höhepunkt war die Präsentation des bewegenden Innovationsprojekts von leg&airy. Sie setzen sich für eine faire Mobilität ein, indem sie die Welt der orthopädischen Hilfsmittel revolutionieren. Leg&airy verfolgt die Idee, mit digitaler Anpassung und datenbasierten Design eine optimale Passform von orthopädischen Hilfsmittel zu erstellen, um schmerzhafte Druckverletzungen zu vermeiden, die Mobilität von Betroffenen zu verbessern und gleichzeitig die Privatsphäre der Patienten durch die Automatisierung des Anpassungsprozesses zu erhöhen.

Fluence Energy und ZHAW stellten ihr Projekt “AI-Based Health Prognostics for Battery Energy Storage Systems” vor und teilten wertvolle Ratschläge, um von einer durch den Databooster unterstützen Idee zu einer weiterführenden Innosuisse Finanzierung zu gelangen.

Die vielfältige Palette von Projekten zeigte die Vorteile gemeinsamer Innovation und das transformative Potenzial datenbasierter Lösungen. Es war ein inspirierender und wertvoller Nachmittag, um von anderen Innovatoren zu lernen, radikale Innovationsideen zu diskutieren und sich für zukünftige Kollaborationen zu vernetzen.

Ein grosses Dankeschön an die elf Innovationsteams, die ihre Projekte und Erfahrungen präsentiert haben und so neue Ideen entfacht haben: bodenproben.ch, BFH und ZHAW, DNext und HESSO Genf, Fluence Energy und ZHAW, leg&airy und ZHAW, modulos und ZHAW, opensource.construction, SUPSI und ZHAW, Carity, ZHAW und Spitäler, Schwabe Pharma und OST, Stadler Rail und ZHAW, sowie zubischuhe und ZHAW.

Und natürlich herzlichen Dank an die Teilnehmer*innen für ihre aktive Beteiligung!

Collecting Ideas for the Innovation Booster on “Responsible AI”

In its end-of-year-meeting, seven members of the Data Ethics Expert Group came together for discussing potential innovation projects in Responsible AI. Both researchers and industry representatives discussed the question: “What do we see as the biggest challenge for research / in our company on the way to Responsible AI?” Below you find a short summary of the discussion points.

The “Innovation Booster” is the current vehicle of the data innovation alliance to push new innovative ideas that have potential for new marked solutions or that solve pressing problems in data-based value creation. Christian Hauser (Fachhochschule Graubünden) presented details on how the Booster works based on the example of an ongoing project. This project intends to support decision-making within companies on various ethical and legal aspects of making business with data.

In a next short presentation, Frank-Peter Schilling (ZHAW) presented activities of the new Center of AI. A focus of ongoing activities concern certification of AI – an issue that will gain relevance due to the upcoming EU regulation of AI. They address the question of how to implement AI systems evaluation at the technical level for high risk AI. This is a pressing topic of various actors such as ISO, IEEE, EASA and the German Fraunhofer Institute. The goal of an ongoing Innosuisse research project carried out at the Center for AI in collaboration with CertX AG is to establish a workflow that should support the certification process.

Another domain where new challenges may emerge is the Metaverse. Eleonora Viganò (Fachhochschule Graubünden) presented the raising trends that companies create own “metaverses” or aim for being present in the larger existing metaverses. Although these developments are still young and diverse, it is foreseeable that the economic relevance of the Metaverse will raise, although many legal and ethical issues remain unsolved. Her research aims to develop guidelines for desirable behavior in the Metaverse such that companies do not risk their reputation in this new domain.

Christoph Hauser (University of Applied Sciences Luzern) presented the topic of how generative AI may affect the generation of cultural assets, a highly relevant topic for the creative industry. Again, many unresolved legal and ethical issues, e.g. related to copyright or liability, may have an impact on the use of this technology. The presentation triggered a lively discussion, pointing to the fact that some industries (such as banks) internally block the use of generative AI completely to avoid any legal risks, although many use cases would exist. The group came to the consensus that any solution that could make the use of generative AI safer in a legal sense would be of great help for such companies.

Anna Broccard, working on data and digital ethics at SBB, presented ongoing activities within the company – also related to a project of Christian Hauser, where SBB is a partner. The current main goal is to establish suitable internal structures and decision-making processes that incorporate different perspectives and teams to address digital ethics issues.

Daniel Blank (ZKB) pointed to a pressing problem of data driven risk rating – a key process of insurances and bank: nondiscrimination in risk rating. The main problem is here that the application of fairness principles does not necessary guarantee that the result is nevertheless seen as unfair in the public domain – and transparency on which fairness principles were used actually increases the problem. Also this topic generated a lively discussion pointing to the problem that for many such decisions a lack of consensus on applicable fairness within the society generates an inherent reputation risk. One possibility may be to factor in the likelihood of reputation risks in the current risk rating models – but whether this may be a feasible approach would need further considerations.

Finally, Markus Christen (University of Zurich) outlined a project that recently has been submitted for funding. The project aims to make an intercultural comparison on the adoption of AI solutions in various industry domains and education between Switzerland and Ukraine. The goal is to assess how existential threats a country in war experiences affects both assessment and actual use of AI technologies, including those considered “high risk” from the EU legislation standpoint.

The Expert Group will meet again on Thursday February 1 in a public event at the Technopark Zürich (https://data-innovation.org/events/expert-group-meeting-data-ethics-and-responsible-ai/). At this event, challenges of the new EU regulation for startups will be discussed.

Open Data Value Creation in the Energy Sector

(by J. Meierhofer, ZHAW and R. Leiterer, data innovation alliance)
On November 23, 2023, ERNI in Zurich hosted this workshop co-organized by the GEOSummit, the data innovation alliance and the SGPF. The event was a success, with 23 participants from industry, academia, and governmental organisations and with different skills and interests joining the workshop. Jürg Meierhofer (ZHAW) was our moderator and guaranteed a result-oriented and structured course of the workshop.

The workshop dealt with the topic of value generation with open data – with an initial focus on developments in the field of decentralized energy supply.

Creating value based on open data is difficult, as topics such as harmonization of data formats, automatic data lineages or the standardization of data linkage processes are technically challenging and also not unproblematic from a regulatory point of view. But even supposedly simpler steps such as contextualized data search and raising awareness of the availability of open data in general have only been implemented to a very limited extent.

Related to the energy topic mentioned above this includes, for example, the analysis of consumption data collected by sensors and smart meters – or, more generally, exploiting the potential of energy management systems due to the increasing electrification. Especially regarding energy savings (e.g. usage-specific lighting scenarios), these so-called IoT recommender systems have the potential to deliver great added value, for the respective households but also for the electricity providers (e.g. regarding dynamic tariffs). in this context, we discussed topics such as data protection, data infrastructure and data management, open platform ideas for data sharing and trading and the smart services that could be built on them.

In the hands-on session the participants worked in teams to solve these real-world problems with open data. Each team was given a predefined problem related to open data, such as smart grid, smart city, or gamification. The teams had to analyse the problem, identify the best opportunities and ideate the most viable solution. They also had to present their ideas, solutions, roadmaps or action plans to the judges and the audience. The workshop followed the double diamond design approach.

In a first round, the participants explored the problem space by mapping the ecosystem and the relevant actors with their jobs and pains. In the second round, they discussed how these actors can be supported by data driven solutions and services, including quantitatively estimating the business potential of the solution approaches.

The event was a great opportunity to network with other data enthusiasts, learn from experts, showcase creativity and innovation skills, and have fun. The event was followed by a networking session, where the participants exchanged feedback, insights, and contacts.

Expert Group Meeting – Natural Language Processing in Action

By Thomas Zaugg, Roche and Manuela Hürlimann, ZHAW

On November 30, 2023, a pivotal event centered on Natural Language Processing (NLP) in Healthcare unfolded, featuring four expert presentations. 

The gathering, attended by around 30 participants both in-person and online, sparked vibrant discussions and received positive feedback.

  • Elif Ozkirimli from Roche illuminated the strategic integration of NLP across the pharma value chain in her presentation, „Adoption of NLP in Healthcare: a Strategic Perspective Across the Pharma Value Chain.“
  • Matteo Manica from IBM delved into the innovative use of language models to expedite material design in his talk titled „Harnessing the Power of Language Models to Accelerate Material Design.“
  • Ahmad Aghaebrahimian from ZHAW presented a work in progress, „Medical Informatics Powered by Large Language Models and the Semantic Web,“ highlighting the cutting-edge amalgamation of LLM and the Semantic Web in medical informatics.
  • Nicolas Löffler-Perez from Swissmedic showcased „Medicrawl,“ a machine learning-based application designed for detecting illegal products in online markets.

The event was a successful exploring the multifaceted applications of NLP in healthcare, demonstrating innovative approaches and fostering collaborative discussions.

Resilience and Sustainability in Smart Service Ecosystems: A Workshop with very relevant outcomes

By Jürg Meierhofer, ZHAW

From October 18 to 20, 2023, we had the opportunity to conduct an exciting workshop on “Resilience and Sustainability in Smart Service Ecosystems” at the Mobiliar Forum in Thun, Switzerland. The workshop was organized by the Databooster program, which supports innovative partnerships and is a hub for data-driven innovation in Switzerland. The workshop brought together three companies from the energy and logistics sectors, as well as researchers and experts from the field of service innovation and digitalization, to discuss how companies can become more resilient and sustainable with their partners and customers through new and existing services.

The workshop was motivated by the high volatility of the business ecosystems in recent years, which was unexpected and caught society and economy unprepared. Both on the human resources side and in the material logistics, there were unforeseen bottlenecks. The market situation was determined by the insufficient availability of resources and not by the demand. As a result, there was a wave of short-term oriented management reactions that were not sustainable in the medium and long term and thus laid the foundation for the next wave of challenges.

Against this background, it became clear that the business ecosystems need to become more resilient, i.e., able to withstand shocks and adapt quickly to dramatically changed situations. Resilience can be achieved by increasing the ability to absorb shocks (e.g., through more redundancy, robustness, or agility) and by developing dynamic capabilities to adjust to changing needs (e.g., through creativity, adaptability, or flexibility).

Smart service systems are closely linked to the ability of dynamic adaptation. By their inherent design of tightly interconnected resources, smart service systems inherently contain the ability to dynamically realign and rewire existing resources to adapt to dynamically changing needs.

The workshop started with a discussion to gain a deeper understanding of resilience and sustainability in smart service systems. Then, the situations of the three participating companies were examined from this perspective in sub-groups and opportunities for new services were identified. Building on this, the moderation very smartly guided the development of common solution approaches that involve all three companies. As a result, joint project ideas are now available, which are to be further elaborated in a follow-up step towards implementation.

The workshop groups had access to various design and prototyping tools and sources provided by the Mobiliar Forum. The groups had to present their results and recommendations repeatedly during the workshop.

The workshop was a great learning experience for all of us as we gained new insights into the topic of resilience and sustainability in smart service systems. We also enjoyed interacting with other participants from different backgrounds and perspectives. It became apparent that such workshops are very valuable for fostering collaboration and innovation among companies, researchers, and experts in Switzerland.

A big thank you goes to Sophie Bürgin for the excellent moderation, to Fabrizio Laneve for providing the beautiful and inspiring Mobiliar Forum infrastructure and to all participating company representatives for their spirited participation and co-creation.

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