Space Exploration, Biofuels, Big Data and Digitization

Space Exploration, Biofuels, Big Data and Digitization

AN ECONOMIC ENGINE THAT drives innovation and profitability, new technologies are the building blocks of new businesses and industries. Investing in these ventures is a process of discovery found in academic settings, government research facilities and company R&D programs. Here are some active and exciting areas of exploration.

Exploring the Final Frontier

A Monmouth University Poll finds that most Americans feel the nation’s 1960s space program gave us long-lasting benefits, and many say increased spending on the space program today would be a good investment. However, less than half the public supports spending billions of dollars specifically to send astronauts back to the moon or to other planets—a program that is currently in the works at NASA.

A majority (56 percent) of Americans feel that the money and effort spent on the country’s quest to land an astronaut on the moon in the 1960s left society with long-lasting benefits. Another 34 percent feel those benefits were short-lived. Young adults age 18 to 34 (60 percent) are somewhat more likely than older Americans age 55 and over (51 percent)—i.e. those old enough to remember NASA’s early space flights— to feel that the program had long-lasting benefits. Fifty-five percent of those age 35 to 54 feel the same.

Advances in Algae Biofuels

ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI) have worked together to turn algae into a low-emission transportation fuel for many years. It’s an ambitious project that’s inspired scientists and engineers in labs coast to coast— including ExxonMobil’s Research and Engineering facility in Clinton, New Jersey—and triggered important breakthroughs.

The research will now also involve a farm in California. There, over the next couple of years, researchers will farm algae at a much larger scale than the sample-size quantities used in labs so far. The combination of the ongoing work in the lab and upcoming studies in the field, together could lead to the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel per day by 2025. On the farm, researchers will work on understanding fundamental engineering parameters, including viscosity and flow, which cannot be easily replicated in the lab. This work will lead to understanding how to scale the technology.

Using algae to produce next-generation biofuels holds some obvious benefits. Algae require carbon dioxide to grow. A 2012 study by ExxonMobil, SGI and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that commercial grade diesel refined from algae oils produces half as much greenhouse gas emissions over its lifecycle compared to petroleum products. As well as having lower emissions, algae don’t stress global food or freshwater supplies. Algae can be grown using only saltwater.

Traditional ethanol, by comparison, diverts food crops, such as corn, to energy production, and requires large volumes of fresh water. Finally, and most critically, the oils produced from algae can potentially be processed in conventional refineries, producing fuels no different from the gasoline or diesel consumers fill up with at the pump.

Big Data and GDPR Compliance

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will affect any company that processes the personal data of EU residents, explains Justhy Deva Prasad, MBA, chief data partner at Claritysquare and author of The Billion Dollar Byte. Prasad offers these five ways to prepare for GDPR compliance.

  • Understand that data is a trail of your business processes, and now this data must be managed with increased recordkeeping. This is not new to most companies; however, the most undisciplined companies are going to be penalized for any negligence.
  • Get good at performing data protection impact assessments (DPIAs). Ensure that DPIAs are an integral part of your existing business and technology processes. The GDPR requires organizations to conduct data protection impact assessments for any new processing or changes to processing deemed to represent a high risk to the privacy and protection of EU resident personal data. This calls for a high level of transparency of both the process as well as data landscape.
  • Incorporate privacy by design into your culture and DNA. The GDPR requires privacy and data protection controls to be incorporated by design into any new or existing systems or processes that involve EU resident personal data. Ensure that communications and training programs address this as a part of your culture initiatives.
  • Know and treat data sensitively while considering data portability and erasure. Under the GDPR, organizations must provide EU residents with the ability to access, correct and erase their data, as well as allow them to move it to another service provider, if they so choose.
  • Step up to a culture of managing data risk in your business. Get control over third-party risk management. Remember, that person-centric data is most valuable to your business anyway. It is the billion-dollar byte. GDPR is now an opportunity to get your act together, even when third parties are managing your data.

Diversity and Digitization

According to a new study from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), management teams with above-average diversity reported earning nearly half of their revenue from innovative products and services—nearly 20 percentage points more than companies with below-average diversity on their management teams.

In addition, the findings revealed that organizations with diverse management teams report better overall financial performance. Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margins for those companies are nearly 10 percentage points higher than for companies with below-average diversity on their management teams.

Aiming to gauge the level of diversity on leadership teams, BCG studied more than 1,700 companies across eight countries. Looking specifically at factors such as age, gender, career path and nationality, BCG also reviewed companies’ revenue from products and services launched in the past three years. The study also found that implementing small changes in the makeup of the management team—just a couple of dozen people—can make a lasting impact.

Looking at the effect of digitization on overall innovation, BCG found that companies that invest heavily in digital technology show an even stronger relationship between diversity and innovation. Those companies thus reported even higher percentages of revenue from new products and services. The study indicates that companies that strongly invest in digital technology show the biggest benefits from diverse leadership teams, as they can capitalize on the wealth of new ideas those teams can generate.

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