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Data beyond boundaries

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Although disruptive technologies like cloud and mobile are driving transformation, they are putting CIOs under pressure to deliver a good combination of business value and competitive edge in the ever changing IT environment, says ANURAG AREN.

The latest disruptive technologies such as the cloud, social media, mobility and more are driving digital transformation, creating new and innovative ways of doing business. However, this prevailing trend, while it has the potential to be enormously beneficial, is putting increasing pressure on CIOs to deliver the right combination of business value and competitive edge in an ever-changing technology environment. In addition, customers increasingly expect a seamless, intuitive IT experience, which CIOs must then deliver. The data centre, as the heart of the modern organisation, needs to adapt in order to enable the delivery of agile, flexible services required for a customer-centric enterprise. The Boundary-less Data Centre (BLDC) has thus emerged as the catalyst for this change, driving a new model of ‘workload centric’ IT services that empowers the customer to sense and respond as per value and cost effective services to the business.

Current IT and data centre challenges

One of the most significant challenges today is that the data centre is not optimised, nor is it aligned with business strategy, requirements and outcomes. Organisations are constrained by legacy IT environments, operational issues, lack of appropriate IT compute resources, obsolete technology and more. The current IT landscape is not agile enough to enable faster time to market of new products and expedite release of applications, which reduces competitive advantage. Turnaround time on new releases is slow and the cost is prohibitive if the same hardware and software is used as it has been utilised in the past. Organisations are challenged with the need to reduce costs and cycle times while focusing on the end user experience, becoming predictive in their approach to business, and learning to become workload-centric.

The BLDC is the solution to these challenges, offering a software-defined data centre architecture that is responsive to business outcomes. It serves as underlying enabling technology to allow organisations to become more agile and cater to customer requirements. IT resources including networking, storage and compute can be commissioned in an instant through a self-service portal. Importantly, these resources can be decommissioned as necessary, allowing the organisation to only pay for what they use, when they use it. Utilising a BLDC, organisations are able to seamlessly deliver workloads using a combination of resources from a hybrid cloud-based environment. In addition, the BLDC is hyper-resilient for maximum uptime, and as a software-defined approach is at the core of the offering, it creates a cloud-ready architecture that enables organisations to embrace next-generation technologies such as social, mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The advantages of the BLDC

Since a BLDC can be delivered in a variety of different models, including outsourced, in-house or a hybrid Data centres, a key advantage of a BLDC is that the business is not locked into a particular technology or vendor platform. In addition, organisations can leverage significant performance improvements and cost savings. Organisations can be competitive with hardware costs decreased between 30 to 70%, and software licences can be reduced by between 20 to 50%).

In addition, the BLDC facilitates improved alignment between business and IT, as well as pooling of resources for the seamless consumption of IT as well as reduced total cost of ownership. The end user experience is optimised, and the resources consumed by IT can be scaled up and down according to requirements. In addition, agility is improved for faster go to market as well as enhanced automation and automatic scaling of infrastructure to meet demand. This BLDC approach is coupled with role based security and Policy based governance.

These benefits enable organisations to become more flexible, more agile and ultimately more competitive. Costs are automatically reduced by virtue of ensuring optimal technology utilisation, and IT infrastructure is future-proofed. In addition, organisations can quickly launch applications, enhance the end user experience, and expand vertically and horizontally into existing markets with delta incremental cost compared to doing so utilising legacy infrastructure.

The journey toward BLDC

Many organisations have already begun to work towards embracing digitisation and cloud-based technologies, however, this often proves to be a ‘hit and miss’ learning curve as they work towards the desired outcome. Every CIO knows that cloud is successful but is worried about how to get there with minimal risk and assured outcomes. Partnering with an expert service provider can help organisations to reduce the time this process takes, assisting organisations to become more agile sooner, remain competitive and meet changing customer demand.

* Anurag Aren, Head of Global Infrastructure Services at Wipro.

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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