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CIOs fear they aren’t ready

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New research announced this week by EMC reveals a concern among CIOs that their current IT infrastructure and the skills of their IT professionals may not be enough to meet long-term needs as technology becomes embedded across the business.

The findings indicate that three-quarters of CIOs believe that five years from now they will need to be able to launch new products, services and applications in half the time it takes them today. 41 percent say that extracting value from ever greater volumes of data is the top IT challenge facing the business, with 37 percent expecting this to still be the top challenge in 2019.  Ranked second in 2016 is the need to accommodate business unpredictability and the associated demands for rapid scaling.  By 2019 this is expected to be replaced by the challenge – and opportunity – of enabling real-time business operations.

However, the study reveals that many CIOs are concerned that their company will struggle to overcome these challenges and harness these opportunities. Two-thirds (69 percent) worry that business growth will reveal weaknesses in traditional IT operations and infrastructure and could lead to IT inhibiting rather than enabling innovation in the organisation if they do not have the right infrastructure or tools.

This point is not lost on CIOs and their business colleagues and many are taking active steps to address the situation. For example, 80 percent of the leaders surveyed feel that implementing a more advanced and agile IT infrastructure would reduce risk and complexity and provide a solid platform for future growth. Further, nearly half are already training IT professionals in skills including converged infrastructure, cloud computing and business skills.

The research, which surveyed over 2700 business and IT professionals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, suggests that in many organisations CIOs are at risk of isolation. They can find it hard to manage the challenges of steadily rising expectations for IT, interference from colleagues in other roles and a lack of common ground with the rest of the C-suite.

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Recognition of the value and potential of IT increases measurably with company size: companies with 1,000 or more employees demonstrate few of these concerns, and are also far more likely to have introduced a modern IT infrastructure and invested in skills.

The study also reveals that in many smaller organisations the power over technology decision-making is left in the hands of other parts of the business. According to 39 percent of the professionals surveyed, in their company the IT agenda is set by functions other than IT and business, for example marketing (11 percent) and sales (10 percent).  This disconnect is seen in the boardroom, with 58 percent of CIOs convinced they have overall control over IT, while just 14 percent of business CxOs agree with them.

Nigel Moulton, EMEA CTO at VCE, the Converged Platforms Division of EMC commented: “The research casts new light on current attitudes towards IT within businesses of all sizes. To reclaim full control, CIOs and their IT teams need to stop spending so much time building and managing different infrastructure components.  Instead they need to transform IT into an efficient business-focused engine that can scale rapidly in response to changing business needs. This demands a modern data center.  One way of achieving is by implementing a robust, software-defined, converged infrastructure.  Convergence can power more agile development and increased speed to market, addressing directly some of the top IT challenges identified.”

Barry Cashman, Vice President, EMEA, VCE, the Converged Platform Division of EMC, adds: “A powerful infrastructure will deliver the high performance, scalability and agility the business needs. Too much effort is still spent simply keeping the operational lights on, when the business needs to focus on developing and releasing new, value-added products and services.   IT needs to be free to focus on meeting business goals. A converged infrastructure will enable it to do so.”

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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