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Gadgets not big in 2018

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Africans should not be fooled that technology innovation in 2018 is just about connected cars and robots. The real revolution is happening in new forms of software engineering, writes PIETER BENSCH Executive Vice President, Africa & Middle East: Sage

Here are four software trends to watch out for this year.

1.    The Rise of the Application Cloud

Cloud computing has been a game-changer for businesses of all sizes over the past decade. This year, we will see the market for cloud platforms compete on customer benefits rather than technology capability. Few cloud platforms are pure technology platforms and could be more accurately described as application ecosystems delivering app-centric user experiences.

The Apple iPhone pioneered this concept of an application cloud with the App Store, and Salesforce adopted it for business with its Lightning com platform (aka Force.com) and AppExchange. Microsoft is taking Office 365 and elements of Azure in a similar direction, while Facebook and Google remain customer experience platform providers to watch.

The implication of this shift in 2018 is that enterprises in Africa should not only consider the technical merits of their cloud providers and applications – they should also evaluate how their platform choices will give them access to customers, markets and ecosystems of value-added apps and services.

2.    De-productisation through microservices and ‘API-fication’

Mass migration towards application programming interfaces (APIs) and microservices is shifting the software world to move away from the monolithic architectures of the past.

API-fication is an architectural approach that enables the creation of interfaces between two software products to allow users to access additional features or data. Microservices is an architectural approach that revolves around breaking an application down into a set of independent services that are developed, deployed, and maintained separately.

This is the vision and long-term strategy behind Sage Business Cloud, a business platform and service ecosystem for companies of all sizes, across a range of verticals. In the long-run, technology will abandon the notion of a product completely and switch to an architecture that is made up entirely of microservices, similar to how Amazon originally envisaged reassembling its Amazon.com e-commerce application with Amazon Web Services building blocks.

3.    Infrastructure shifts to ‘serverless’ event-driven programming models

Microservices require infrastructure to operate in a layer typically referred to as ‘platform as a service’ (PaaS). 2018 will see a shift in PaaS to ‘serverless’ environments, a technology in which the cloud provider dynamically manages the allocation of machine resources. These serverless, event-driven programming models are set to revolutionise software architecture.

Serverless applications do not require the provisioning, scaling, and management of any servers, and pricing is based on the processing consumed rather than on capacity provisioned. Amazon Lambda and Microsoft Azure Functions are two leading examples of this technology.

4.    Rules of software distribution being rewritten

In the past, computer distributors played a vital role in pushing discrete technology building blocks like operating systems and productivity software into the market. In the future, the seams between customer solution and platform will be less recognisable, and the independent software vendor will assume a greater share of the value chain. For example, Office 365 is now fully embedded in some Sage Business Cloud solutions.

Trends making life easier for businesses

These four trends are making technology smarter, more connected and of greater value to the end-user. At Sage, that helps us fulfil our mission to make life easier for our customers, whether you are a small business starting-out or you are going global and exporting across the world. And when we talk about invisible accounting, taking advantage of artificial intelligence, machine learning and neuro-linguistic programming – it is the innovation in software architecture and application programming that is making it all possible.

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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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