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How 2015 predictions ended – and what to do about it

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At the beginning of 2015 some major predictions where made. DAN MATTHEWS & MARTIN GUNNARSSON of IFS look at these and comment on whether they will still hold water in 2016.

At the beginning of 2015 we saw some attention-grabbing predictions that suggested major changes were afoot in the IT industry. There have been some notable developments over the course of the year, but it will be interesting to see whether all of the predictions still hold water as the days grow shorter and we begin to look at what 2016 and onwards may hold in store.

We took some of the key predictions made at the start of the year and looked at them under the microscope to see whether the developments they suggest are likely to come true.

“Hybrid cloud is the future”

From tools to enable group decision on where to place the coffee machine in an office, all the way up to using Office 365 exchange and enterprise CRM systems, cloud services are being used today in a vast array of ways across different environments.

However, very few organisations have adopted full cloud services. Usually only very small and/or new start-ups that don’t have a legacy setups or the funds to purchase infrastructures will go fully into the cloud. Most will operate using a hybrid cloud model because they already have existing business critical infrastructure in place, and this architecture is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

As cloud continues to play a bit-part role, many predict the hybrid setup will become an ever greater part of the ecosystem. Gartner, for example, believes that hybrid enterprise resource planning (ERP) environments will be the norm within five years, and it looks like this will be the case as businesses look to mix third party solutions with their in-house cloud architectures.

Trust in cloud services is growing as more people begin using it in their personal and professional lives. And this isn’t just happening in the general public cloud, the so-called ‘mega cloud’ environments are becoming more trustworthy too, as the likes of Amazon and IBM have developed services that can match the needs of large enterprises. This is leading to this architectural evolution.

Over time, onsite services require replacement or updating. When this happens it’s time for organisations to consider whether to invest in their own services, and the competence requirements that go with it, or to buy that solution as a service within the cloud. As companies often have hundreds of different solutions used by different people, cloud can be a more effective way of delivering business critical services.

A hybrid infrastructure enables an organisation to try things out in pockets, ring-fencing a particular development to test it first before instigating a full rollout. The ability to test updates and solutions within a small environment before full implementation can make the end result more effective and less susceptible to bugs that may only be spotted within a live environment.

So if you’re planning updates, what should you do? There are three key things to think about:

1)    Maintain a continuous inventory on what cloud services your people are using – try and catch up with people and what they’re doing to try to pre-empt them. For example, if they’re using Google Docs a lot, make it an official service to use, then you can manage it more effectively

2)    As you’re updating, renovating, replacing legacy systems – consider whether to instead use the cloud – carry out a full cost/benefit analysis of every service

3)    Go and use the big public cloud services where possible as they have solutions around the world, and the best communications backbone to support them

“Mobility is the new normal”

The growth of hybrid cloud solutions is also helping to create a new normal for a mobile workforce, where business smartphones are a core part of business implementation and delivery. At the start of the year some predicted mobility would become a much more dominant factor within the business landscape. While it is true that enterprise mobility is on the rise, we should not lose sight of the fact most of what we do and achieve is done at a desk.

The fact is that mobility really means more than just the device that fits in your pocket. Technology development means that bulky laptops are being replaced by powerful tablets. The Microsoft Surface Pro, for example, has the power of a laptop but the mobility of a tablet that enables an interface where the user can work anywhere in the same way that they would in a traditional office environment.

What does this mean for companies? It means that when selecting software, flexibility is key. It simply has to work across a wide range of devices. This is particularly important when you consider that there are three main groups of users; casual, professional and general.

Casual users are driven by what works best for them, and will choose devices to match this wish. This is where you will find the widest array of devices and platforms. Professional users, such as a mobile workforce, are usually more open to being supplied with a certain device to fit with their needs, but remember they also double up as casual users too as they will want to do simple tasks like checking email. General office users are those based in the office with little mobile movement.

When considering an organisation’s mobility policy businesses need to:

1)    Decide whether to try and control the devices and apps people use, or let people choose for themselves? But bear in mind not everyone will agree with your policy (particularly if it impinges on their freedom) and may opt to use their own devices

2)    Be platform agnostic, especially if you choose not to control the devices people choose. Services need to operate across all three major mobile operating systems, because people will choose what works best for them, not necessarily what works best for you.

“Underwhelming wearables”

A major buzzword in mobility is wearables. It’s an area where there has been disappointment in 2015 as it hasn’t come true in the way many had hoped it would – Google Glass was arguably one of the highest profile wearable flops on the consumer market. While it’s still a very interesting avenue the scale simply hasn’t happened in 2015. What’s interesting is that others are now looking at this differently. Sony, for example, is designing smart glasses that will be used by professionals, not consumers as Glass originally was due to be.

So what should the IT department do when considering a wearable policy?

1)    Wait. Watch the market and monitor for interesting innovations but don’t necessarily invest yet, there’s probably still more to come

2)    Don’t think that they will necessarily replace established methods. Using a warehouse as an example, many already have audio instructions delivered by an earpiece and workers use finger-mounted barcode scanners. Make sure you’re thinking through the real difference wearable technology will make, and the value it will add

“Internet of Things will become about software not hardware, platforms not devices”

The Internet of Things (IoT) has spawned a wide variety of quirky ideas, from smart fridges that can tell you when you need more milk to smart homes that ‘know’ you’re home and can control the heating accordingly. In truth though we’re some way from seeing IoT in the mainstream.

Industrial examples of IoT do crop up, though they are hardly commonplace – it’s a slower game. This is largely because examples of IoT in the field tend to be unique solutions to a given challenge, and so standardisation is limited. The benefits and techniques of IoT are not commonly understood and it is a broadly unproven technology, so it takes a far-sighted business to see how it could best use IoT. Then, from a practical standpoint, that business would need to investigate and install the various components required to make a solution work, and it would have to learn how to go about doing business in a way that takes advantage of the technology and either reduces costs or drives revenue growth.

With that in mind it’s important to consider the following when debating whether to roll out IoT:

1)    Do you have the money to invest in it now and will it actually deliver a return on your investment?

2)    Start at the end. Think about what your end goal will be before you think about whether it’s worth that initial investment

“Investment in Software-as-a-Service will grow”

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is now a commonly used phrase, with many predicting a rapid uptake by business. PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), for example, has predicted $78 billion will be invested by 2016.

There are a range of options when purchasing SaaS solutions. The cheaper and potentially easier – at the start – is buying a solution off the shelf that someone else controls. While this may be useful in some situations, in a context where a degree of control is required this can cause pain for the organisation – having an update forced upon your team when they’re in the middle of a big project isn’t going to help the company. In some instances, you will require more control over the solution, and need to be able to make special requests and time updates to fit with the company demands.

This is, of course, in contrast to the growth of a hybrid cloud infrastructure, because the SaaS model often relies on third party architecture. Deploying software platforms into the cloud can be fast, secure and cost-effective, but only if it fits with the company. SaaS won’t work for every business, because every business is different. If, for example, you’re a startup that doesn’t want to or isn’t able to build out its IT team, a SaaS model makes sense. But if your company is security heavy with multiple firewalls and restrictions, it may be that a private cloud infrastructure without SaaS is a better direction – it really depends on the context as to whether this is a good model and will help to decide if this growth really will continue at this level.

There are two alternatives to this model that organisations could implement. Multitenant and single tenant. Multitenant works where you have lots of companies operating within the same database system, for example a large multinational with many brands with the parent company, and this can work for them. However, it does mean you are restricted as to what type customisations and configurations you can make.

The other primary alternative is single tenant, which can be much more effective. Organisations pay on a subscription basis with access to a hybrid cloud solution that incorporates a degree of SaaS and security through the private cloud partition. This enables the individual business to choose what it wants according to its needs, without constraints, and is much more secure.

Choosing a SaaS model to fit your organisation’s needs therefore requires thought and you should consider the following before diving in:

1)    Think about the level of control you need. If you’re running a mail server then you won’t need much, but if you’re developing a business critical solution you need as much control as possible, and this affects the investment decision

2)    Seriously consider the single tenant option, as it can create a more secure environment that is able to adapt to the needs of the business

There’s no doubting we’re on course for more impressive developments within IT, and the next few years will be an exciting time to work in the industry. What will be interesting to see is what the ‘next big thing’ is and if, under scrutiny, predictions around it are actually likely to come true.

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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