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Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

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GreenBiz came up with these six tips for deploying data-driven energy management to drive meaningful emission reductions through reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics. So here is a much down to earth way to a certain decarbonisation strategy.

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

By David Solsky

February 25, 2021

This article is sponsored by Envizi.

After a low-carbon target has been setGHG accounting baselines have been calculated and financial-grade GHG reporting has been established, the next chapter of decarbonization comes to the fore. What emission reduction strategies will be needed to reach your company’s target, and how should your team prioritize its efforts to plot the fastest, most cost-effective pathway for your business? 

Nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions come from the built environment — with 28 percent resulting from buildings in operation. Whether your organization owns, operates or occupies a building, data-driven energy management is key to reducing its GHG footprint and Scope 1 and 2 emissions.  

In the past, organizations have struggled to scale building operational energy improvement efforts for a variety of reasons. The most-cited reasons include organizational structures that fracture ownership of energy performance across disparate stakeholders, a lack of goal alignment and collaboration between landlords and occupiers, and the preponderance of legacy systems that make interoperability and data consolidation challenging.  

According to United Nations projections, carbon emissions from buildings are expected to double by 2050 if action at scale doesn’t occur. With more companies pledging to decarbonize their business, and investors increasingly scrutinizing ESG data, scalable energy management will be a critical step in the transition to a low-carbon economy.  

Today, we share six tips for deploying data-driven energy management at scale to drive meaningful emission reductions from your business. 

Portfolio energy management software. Source: Envizi.

Collect meter-level energy consumption data where possible  

Identifying GHG reduction opportunities should be a data-driven, systematic process. Start by examining building-level energy meter profiles and understanding how usage patterns relate to changing occupancy and weather conditions. Meters, which typically generate one datapoint every 15 to 30 minutes, as opposed to one datapoint every month or quarter on a utility bill, provide rich data to better inform your organization’s decarbonization strategy. 

Tip: Leverage meter data, which provides real-time transparency of when and where energy is being used, to identify unexpected usage patterns and unlock higher-resolution benchmarking and analysis opportunities.  

Benchmark the energy intensity of your building portfolio 

Building-level energy management is powerful, but it never pays to operate in a vacuum. Understanding how a building performs compared to others provides context and can help your organization identify where to focus first. The approach to benchmarking depends on the type of buildings in your portfolio. 

For example, typical portfolios of small to medium buildings (buildings of 4,000 to 20,000 square feet or so) often include many buildings dispersed across a geography (such as convenience stores, bank branches and fast-food stores), while large shopping centers, hospitals and universities manage larger, but fewer, centralized complex buildings. 

Portfolios with larger commercial buildings can leverage third-party frameworks, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Energy Star and NABERS, which compare energy intensity against an industry benchmark.

For portfolios of small to medium buildings that are dispersed, external benchmarks are harder to find. In this case, Envizi recommends internal benchmarking using meter data to make meaningful performance comparisons. Advanced normalization techniques can be applied to identify the poorest performers in the portfolio, which helps to inform a highly targeted strategy for improving efficiency and reducing emissions.  

Tip: Undertake energy benchmarking before making investment decisions — don’t make the mistake of focusing on areas where there are no material savings. Envizi’s software can combine meter data with other contextual data (floor area, weather, operating schedules, and production units) to enable performance comparisons on a normalized basis. 

Tune operational and behavioral efficiency 

Buildings can be complex, but not as complex as building operations: the interaction between a building, its operators and occupants, and flow-on effects to energy performance. 

Building services such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), which often account for almost 30 percent of annual emissions, are subject to continuous change and are often responsible for considerable “energy drift” over time due to poor operational practices. For this reason, technology that proactively informs and educates building operators is necessary to support time-poor operations teams to maintain optimum performance. 

Tip: Systems go out of tune when people manipulate equipment for comfort, which typically worsens over time. Sophisticated technology continuously automates and monitors the HVAC performance to flag human adjustment that renders systems wasteful and inefficient. 

Often, manual audits will not detect the inefficiencies, but Envizi’s software uses a combination of continuous equipment monitoring, building management systems data, equipment nameplate data, weather data and other metrics to provide transparency to HVAC system performance and uncover operational issues that are otherwise difficult to detect.  

Consider plant and equipment upgrades 

Investing in equipment to deliver emissions reductions is dependent on an organization’s scale, scope and asset type and may be relevant only to building owners. 

The appetite for plant and equipment upgrades may depend on how long the asset owner intends to hold the asset, the age of the building and the age of the equipment. Envizi recommends that building owners and operators engage their engineering consultants and specialist contractors to determine the feasibility of plant and equipment upgrades. 

Tip: Technology can assist in the pre- and post-analysis of reduction projects to measure effectiveness and return on investment (ROI). Envizi’s software uses the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol to ensure calculations will withstand audit and validation. 

Consider on-site and off-site renewables 

After implementing solutions for operational, behavioral and system efficiencies, many organizations seek renewable energy as a proactive solution to get ahead on the decarbonization journey. Decisions on whether to procure on-site or off-site renewables are complex, and Envizi recommends coordinating with your organization’s engineering consultant or specialist contractor to assess its options. 

Tip: Software platforms such as the one offered by Envizi can assist with monitoring the performance of solar assets, comparing the actual performance to promised performance and integrating the accounting of the renewable energy certificates to facilitate the most traceable reporting and auditing process.  

Engage stakeholders

Energy management is rarely the remit of one team, but rather involves multiple stakeholders across an organization. The success of any emissions-reduction effort will be affected by the organization’s ability to effectively engage a cross-collaborative stakeholder group.   

Typically, organizations with a strong culture of governance and executive ownership of the energy agenda can make the most impactful positive change. Often, inspirational leaders can make the difference with robust internal communication, empowerment through clear roles and responsibilities, and incentives for employees to take ownership of the energy reduction goals.  

Tip: Find a senior executive-level champion to shepherd the decarbonization journey while supporting the pursuit of their business goals, whether ROI, risk mitigation or otherwise. Leverage a single system of record to track emissions and energy management opportunities to better enable cross-functional collaboration between stakeholder groups.  

Conclusion

The transition to a low-carbon economy will require organizations to drastically increase the energy efficiency of buildings in operation. The following data-driven tactics can help your organization identify and achieve meaningful emission reductions: 

  • Collect meter data where possible to understand granular energy consumption.
  • Benchmark the energy performance of the buildings by size/cohort in your organization’s portfolio to identify poor performers. 
  • Use technology to monitor how HVAC systems are configured, to detect energy waste and optimization opportunities. 
  • Before implementing equipment retrofits, solar photovoltaics or energy projects, engage a specialist to understand your organization’s options, and use data to establish a baseline against which to measure improvements.
  • Nominate a senior executive to champion your organization’s emissions-reduction program. A single system of record for emissions and energy can help enable cross-functional collaboration. 

If you’d like to learn more about using data and technology to streamline and accelerate decarbonization, read “Pathway to Low-Carbon Guide.”

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability

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Rich Miller writes in DATACENTERFrontier that Beyond Green Power: New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability can easily be envisioned as these are increasingly populating planet earth.

Above picture is of Large pipes sporting Google’s logo colors move water throughout the cooling plant at the Google’ data center in Douglas County, Georgia. (Photo: Google)

February 3, 2021

Get the full report.

Sustainable Construction Strategies

More data center projects will integrate sustainability into design and construction, with early collaboration between teams to minimize the environmental impact of the construction process and create a building with low operational carbon impact, enabling more effective and cost-efficient offset strategies. Design collaboration is essential in seeking to integrate cleaner technologies into the power chain and cooling systems.

Several data center providers are working with CarbonCure, which makes a low-carbon “greener” concrete material for the tile-up walls that frame data centers. Concrete’s durability and strength are ideal for industrial construction, but the production of cement requires the use of massive kilns, which require large amounts of energy, and the actual chemical process emits staggeringly high levels of CO2. CarbonCure takes CO2 produced by large emitters like refineries and chemically mineralizes it during the concrete manufacturing process to make greener and stronger concrete. The process reduces the volume of cement required in the mixing of concrete, while also permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Waste Stream Accountability and the ‘Circular Economy’

A key priority is tracking the environmental impact of construction components, including a “reverse logistics” process to track the waste stream and disposition of debris. Asset recovery and recycling specialists will become key partners, and the most successful projects will communicate goals and best practices across the contractors and trades participating in each project. The goal is a “circular economy” that reuses and repurposes materials.

Managing packaging for equipment that is shipped to a data center facility is an important and often underlooked facet of waste stream accountability. There are also opportunities in reuse of components and equipment that that can still be productive (although this must be closely managed in a mission-critical environment).

The ability to document a net-zero waste stream impact has the potential to emerge as an additional metric for data center service providers, as customers consider the entirety of their supplier’s sustainability programs.

Green Certifications

As customers ask tougher questions about a providers’ environmental practices and corporate social responsibility policies, certifications may emerge as another avenue for service providers to differentiate themselves.

Several ISO certifications, including ISO 50001 and ISO 14001, which Iron Mountain is certified for across its global data center portfolio, focus on energy management and provide frameworks that can assure stakeholders that the provider is considering energy impact and environmental goals in audits, communications, labeling and equipment life cycle analysis.

Water Conservation and Management

Amid changing weather patterns, many areas of the world are facing drought conditions and water is becoming a scarcer and more valuable resource. Data center operators are stepping up their efforts to reduce their reliance on potable water supplies.

Sustainable water strategies include both sourcing and design. On the sourcing front, several Google facilities include water treatment plants that allow it to cool its servers using local bodies of water or waste water from municipal water systems. Data center districts in Ashburn (Va.), Quincy (Washington) and San Antonio offer “grey water” feeds that provide recycled waste water to industrial customers.

On the design front, more providers are choosing cooling systems with minimal need for water, while others are incorporating rainwater recovery strategies that capture rain from huge roofs or parking lots and store it on site, reducing potential burden on local water systems.

Matching Workloads to Renewable Energy

Google has been a leader in the use of artificial intelligence and sophisticated energy provisioning to match its operations to carbon-free energy sources. The company recently said it will power its entire global information empire entirely with carbon-free energy by 2030, matching every hour of its data center operations to carbon-free energy sources. This marks an ambitious step forward in using technology to create exceptional sustainability.

Google can currently account for all its operations with energy purchases. But the intermittent nature of renewable energy creates challenges in matching green power to IT operations around the clock. Solar power is only available during daylight hours. Wind energy can be used at night, but not when the wind dies down. Google created a “carbon-intelligent computing platform” that optimizes for green energy by rescheduling workloads that are not time-sensitive, matching workloads to solar power during the day, and wind energy in the evening, for example. The company also hopes to move workloads between data centers to boost its use of renewables, a strategy that offers even greater potential gains by shifting data center capacity to locations where green energy is more plentiful, routing around utilities that are slow to adopt renewables.

Google has pledged to share its advances with the broader data center industry, providing others with the tools to reduce carbon impact. Continued instrumentation of older data centers is a key step in this direction.

Eliminating Diesel Generators

A backup generator at a Microsoft data center in Virginia. (Photo: Rich Miller)

Microsoft recently announced plans to eliminate its reliance on diesel fuel by the year 2030, which has major implications for the company’s data centers, many of which use diesel-powered generators for emergency backup power. With its new deadline, Microsoft sets in motion a push to either replace its generators with cleaner technologies, or perhaps eliminate them altogether by managing resiliency through software.

Eliminating expensive generators and UPS systems has been a goal for some hyperscale providers. Facebook chose Lulea, Sweden for a data center because the robust local power grid allowed it to operate with fewer generators. In the U.S., providers have experimented with “data stations” that operate with no generators on highly-reliable locations on the power grid.

There are four primary options companies have pursued as alternatives to generators — fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries, shifting capacity to smaller edge data centers that can more easily run on batteries, and shifting to cloud-based resiliency.

Fuel Cells and On-Site Power

Microsoft has successfully tested the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power its data center servers. The company called the test “a worldwide first that could jump-start a long-forecast clean energy economy built around the most abundant element in the universe.”

Microsoft said it recently ran a row of 10 racks of Microsoft Azure cloud servers for 48 hours using a 250-kilowatt hydrogen-powered fuel cell system at a facility near Salt Lake City, Utah. Since most data center power outages last less than 48 hours, the test offered a strong case that fuel cells could be used in place of diesel generators to keep a data center operating through a utility outage.

Some companies, like Equinix and eBay, have deployed Bloom Energy fuel cells to improve reliability and cut energy costs, but have powered them with natural gas. The use of biofuels looms as another potential avenue to pair fuel cells with renewable sourcing.

Energy Storage

An illustration of the Tesla Megapack, which provides 3 megawatts of energy storage capacity. (Image: Tesla)

Utility-scale energy storage has long been the missing link in the data center industry’s effort to power the cloud with renewable energy. Energy storage could overcome the intermittent generation patterns of leading renewable sources. Solar panels only generate power when the sun is shining, and wind turbines are idle in calm weather. Energy storage could address that gap, allowing renewable power to be stored for use overnight and on windless days.

A new project in Nevada will showcase a potential solution from Tesla, the electric car company led by tech visionary Elon Musk. Data center technology company Switch will use new large-scale energy storage technology from Tesla to boost its use of solar energy for its massive data center campuses in Las Vegas and Reno. It is a promising project in pioneering a holistic integration of renewable power, energy storage and Internet-scale data centers.

Talking Sustainability With Experts

Don’t miss the last installment of this series that features a conversation on the future of sustainable data centers. Data Center Frontier Editor Rich Miller discusses the topic with Kevin Hagen, Director, Corporate Responsibility at Iron Mountain, and Alex Sharp, Global Head of Design & Construction — Data Centers at Iron Mountain.

It’s a preview of the upcoming webinar  where these experts will discuss sustainability strategies for greener data centers.

And catch up on the first entry here, followed by an exploration of the power of the “negawatt.” 

Download the full report, Green Data Centers and The Sustainability Imperative, courtesy of Iron Mountain, to explore how climate change and a greening of data centers is changing the industry.

Digital Democracy vs Techno-Authoritarianism

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DemDigest of October 7, 2020, posted Digital democracy vs techno-authoritarianism as an ‘Existential crisis’ for Chinese firms

The spread of China’s “techno-authoritarianism,” its pursuit of the “innovation advantage,” and its incompatibility with the liberal democratic model is the focus of a new report. The underlying dynamics and tensions between markets, non-state actors and governments are compelling governments to pursue strategic alliances and partnerships, and the inherent ideological differences between the Chinese system and those of open market, liberal democracies will influence outcomes, argues analyst Alex Capri.

The linkage of technology to fundamental ideological values has become a defining issue in the global technology landscape. The authoritarian use of data and artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct censorship, surveillance and mass monitoring of populations is in direct conflict with democratic standards regarding privacy and freedom of expression, he writes for the Hinrich Foundation: 

Beijing’s imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong, as well as its internment of ethnic Muslim minorities in China’s western Xinjiang autonomous region, were just several of the latest provocations causing European policymakers to rethink relations with China. Thus, for Beijing, it has become increasingly difficult to find sympathy in Europe regarding Washington’s 
campaign to crush Huawei….New partnerships, including the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence* (GPAI) and the G7 AI Initiative, that are designed to guide the liberal and transparent development of AI, stand in contrast to China’s export of techno-authoritarianism.

Coalition of the willing?

The Clean Networks program, that seeks to expunge Chinese technology from carrier networks, data storage, mobile apps, cloud networks and undersea cables, has created an existential crisis for Chinese companies, which  are increasingly viewed as de facto proxies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Capri adds. In the broader context of a US-China technology cold war, Chinese companies’ linkage to Beijing has relegated them to the status of malign actors.

A question that has begun to circulate in trade policy circles is: could a coalition of willing nations form a new global trade institution with standards that require open market principles and democratic ideals? RTWT

*The subject of a recent report from the NED’s International Forum.

In “Artificial Intelligence and Democratic Norms,” the fourth in the  “Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience” series from the International Forum for Democratic Studies, Nicholas Wright explores how to establish democratically accountable rules and norms that harness the benefits of artificial intelligence-related technologies, without infringing on fundamental rights and creating technological affordances that could facilitate authoritarian concentration of power.

Tech can empower refugee communities

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Tech can empower refugee communities – if they’re allowed to design how it works.

By Reem Talhouk, Newcastle University; Andy Garbett, Newcastle University, and Kyle Montague, Newcastle University.

In Lebanon, around 350,000 Syrian refugees don’t have access to enough safe and nutritious food. To stem the crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations introduced an electronic voucher system to distribute food aid. People are given debit cards loaded with “e-vouchers” that they can use in certain shops to buy food.

But we found that Syrian refugees living in rural Lebanon often have to make difficult choices when buying essential items at the expense of food. Their e-vouchers can only be used in exchange for food, not other essentials like nappies.

Refugees have to engage in “grey-area transactions” that work around the e-voucher system, by asking shop owners to sell them the nappies and instead record on the system that they bought food. This places refugees in a vulnerable position – shop owners often charge higher prices for scanning non-food items as food, but refugees have no choice but to depend on shop owners to cooperate.

Using dialogue cards, Syrian refugees mapped out their experiences of food insecurity and their interactions with shop owners. Reem Talhouk, Author provided

Collective purchasing allows refugees to pool their cash and e-vouchers so that one person can buy non-food items for another and be repaid with food. This allows people a degree of autonomy – they don’t have to rely on shop owners to allow them to buy non-food items using their vouchers. Instead, the community can manage their resources and needs among themselves.

Unfortunately, the e-voucher system prevents refugees from buying goods in bulk. Shop owners are advised by the WFP that purchases by refugees should be typical of buying food for a family. If refugees want to buy enough rice for their community and benefit from a wholesale discount, then the shop owner can refuse the transaction. This makes collective purchasing – something refugees often prefer to do when they have cash available – more difficult.

The WFP is currently piloting blockchain technology to replace this e-voucher system in Jordan and Pakistan. This is an exciting opportunity to alleviate these problems and help to empower both refugees and the shop owners, but only if the refugees themselves are involved.


Food aid designed by refugees

Rather than using a debit card, under this new system refugees would have a digital wallet that is similar to a bank account that you can access online. And instead of it being hosted by a bank, it’s part of the blockchain.

A blockchain is a shared log of transactions, with each user being able to track how much money and goods have been exchanged. This is constantly updated as transactions of food aid and money transfers are agreed between the customer and the shop owner. Each transaction forms a block of new information. The digital ledger is an expanding chain of interconnected blocks of information – hence the name, blockchain.

The WFP is using blockchain technology to cut costs on currency exchange and bank transfers. But the blockchain still allows transactions between refugees and shop owners in the same manner as the e-voucher system. If this new and innovative technology mimics the model that came before, the restrictions on what refugees can do will continue and blockchain will mimic paternalistic aid models that focus on efficiently distributing aid, rather than empowering refugees to leverage their own ways of coping with food insecurity. But if aid is designed with input from refugee communities, the technology could give Syrian people in Lebanon more agency when buying the essentials they need to live.

A Syrian woman’s depiction of her community’s food insecurity. Reem Talhouk, Author provided

Blockchain can write smart contracts, which would allow people to buy items together. These are agreements whose terms are automatically enforced by an algorithm. Smart contracts act like a lock box with two keys that can be used to open it, one key is given for each party involved in the contract.

When the smart contract is created, both parties set the conditions that need to be met for them to be able to use the keys to open the lock box. Both keys need to be used for the lock box to open and for the money to transfer to complete the transaction. Before this can happen, both parties must agree that the conditions of the contract have been met. With this, refugee communities can negotiate collective purchases with shop owners and hold them accountable to the agreements they make.

Negotiating the terms of the smart contract means that refugees have more of a say over what they consider to be a fair deal. Once the smart contract is in place, the agreed sum of money for the purchase will be placed in a digital wallet – the lock box – that is bound by the terms of the smart contract. The value of items purchased by refugees is deducted once they’ve verified their identity with a retina scan, but the money will only be released to the shop owner if the refugees verify that they received the items.

We saw how these smart contracts could rebalance the power disparity between refugees and shop owners. Including refugees in the design process of humanitarian technologies and aid models can ensure they incorporate the values and practices of the people they’re supposed to help. Future innovations must be rooted in the daily lives of refugee communities. These technologies can empower people and make a real difference to their lives, but only if they’re allowed to design how they work.

Reem Talhouk, Researcher in Human Computer Interaction and Design, Newcastle University; Andy Garbett, Research Associate in Computing Science, Newcastle University, and Kyle Montague, Lecturer in Digital Civics, Newcastle University


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Read more: Beyond Bitcoin: how blockchains can empower communities to control their own energy supply

“Scientific future shaped by ICT”: Dubai Science Park Director

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“Scientific future shaped by ICT”: Dubai Science Park Director in a TahawulTech‘s article by James Dartnell is about how and why Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, the Dubai Science Park’s executive director made such a statement at a time of non-negligible uncertainty not only for that country but for the whole region’s main contribution to the world economy, i.e. hydrocarbons. The highly mediatised UAE’s growing ambitions in Space for notably building a new city on Mars does perhaps come handy in helping to do away with some degree of that uncertainty as well as other things, but what about its ambitions with respect to developing an industry. What about holding on to its present and possibly foreseeable future’s success story in local and regional retail and trade centre? Here is TahawulTech’s article.

“Scientific future shaped by ICT”: Dubai Science Park Director

The executive director of Dubai Science Park has said that the future of the Middle East’s scientific industry will be significantly affected by swift technological advancements.
Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, who has been confirmed as a judge for tahawultech.com’s inaugural Future Enterprise Awards on 14th October at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel in Dubai, said that IT was now not only saving lives, but also advancing the pace of scientific research.
Dubai Science Park’s work focuses around four main areas of science: human science, plant science, energy and environmental science, and Janahi believes that all are now being inextricably linked with and transformed by technology. “Across all of these areas, technology is an important component,” he says. “There is more and more of an overlap between ICT and these sectors. The essence of managing green buildings is a building management system, which is founded on ICT. Using data to predict human conditions is another prime example of where technology is needed.”
[Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi is part of the judging panel of TahawulTech.com Future Enterprise Awards on 14th October 2018 at Emirates Towers, Dubai.| Learn more about TahawulTech.com Future Enterprise Awards.]
While Janahi believes that “all” industries are being disrupted by technology, he says that the healthcare industry in particular sets to benefit citizens through its transformation. “The changes we’re seeing in digital health are particularly impressive,” he says. “Data that sits within servers can now be mined and used for forecasting, while telemedicine gives allows people who don’t have easy access to medical facilities a chance to be looked after. Even regular GP checkups can be done remotely.”
He also believes healthcare transformation will have a significant knock-on effect on other verticals. “There will be a huge disruption in the insurance industry, and managing the journey of patient, which today is all done offline,” he says. “Wearables will be huge, while technologies for things like blood sugar monitoring that connect to smartphones will have a huge impact. The human and environmental sciences will see the biggest disruption in the scientific field.”
Janahi is a chairing member of the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment Task force of the Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, which was announced in 2016. The strategy focuses on five other key areas – aerospace, maritime, aluminum and fabricated metals, food and beverages and machinery and equipment – and aims to transform Dubai from being a service-based economy, to one that creates “25%” of its GDP from industrial activity.
“The bulk of Dubai’s GDP comes from logistics, finance and tourism,” Janahi says. “Manufacturing currently creates around 9-10% of it, and we want to increase that number substantially. We want these kinds of enablers to make Dubai more successful, with opportunities for the short, medium and long-term.”
Janahi is keen to broaden his technological knowledge by participating as a judge in tahawultech.com’s Future Enterprise Awards. “I’m really excited to be a judge,” he says. “I’ve seen more and more technology adopted by the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, but for me it’s interesting to see how technology can be deployed, and how we can learn from other industries.”
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