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How big storage will change business in 2017

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In this day and age, a company’s data is its business. MARK BREGMAN, SVP and CTO at NetApp gives six predictions on what businesses and users can expect from the ever-evolving data space in the coming year.

The explosion of data in today’s digital economy has resulted in a fundamental shift from using data to run the business to recognising that data is the business. In an era where data is king, superior data management and storage in the hybrid cloud become paramount. NetApp gives six predictions on what businesses and users can expect from this ever-evolving space in the coming year.

  • Data is the new currency

These days, poor access to data can impact heavily on a company’s success. With data so valuable to success, it has become the new currency of the digital age and has the potential to reshape every facet of the enterprise, from business models to technology and user expectations. We’ve seen this in the emergence of game-changing digital businesses like Uber and Airbnb, which are built around the control of a network of resources.

To make things even more interesting, we continue to see new types of data that enterprises didn’t previously think about collecting. For example, whereas we used to store and share only critical transactional data, we now store mass amounts of ancillary data surrounding transactions for deep analysis. This can include click stream data and even data about weather and other external factors, which can significantly enhance market insight for businesses.

  • New IT models are taking hold

The focus on data requires a universe of services that can integrate and work together to solve critical problems of all types and simplify delivery. This will require the support of platforms and an ecosystem of providers and developers that enables them. In this context, the platform model carries intrinsic value in its ability to integrate and simplify the delivery of services. A good example of this is Amazon Web Services, which continues to evolve into a richer and richer set of services all the time. Platforms create a virtuous cycle, as does a good flea market: people go there to buy because that’s where people are selling; sellers go there to sell because that’s where the buyers are.

As access to critical skills is becoming more challenging, broad-based platforms allow a more fluid flow of talent as expectations from both employees and employers shift. People with specialised skills are attracted to projects they find interesting and the ubiquity of common platforms and tools makes it easier to engage their interests.

  • The cloud as catalyst and accelerator

More and more organisations have been deploying cloud technologies to support their data requirements. Customers who are focused on optimising performance while reducing costs are finding that usage-based consumption models meet all their needs. The ready availability of cloud-based services provides easy access to the infrastructure needed to support innovation because it has dramatically lowered barriers to entry: with a credit card and an AWS account, new projects can be set up in a day and operate on a pay-as-you-go basis.

An example of this is CloudSync, which was built by six engineers in six months with no capex infrastructure. New usage-based consumption models, based on Platform as a Service combined with new scale, compliance and data protection offerings, are making cloud infrastructure more essential for businesses of all sizes.

  • New technologies are becoming the standard 

All of these business drivers will ultimately lead to the dominance of new technologies, particularly in the form of new application paradigms, which will reduce friction in business change and movement of talent. We’ve seen this emerge in the form of today’s DevOps movement, where compositional programming based on micro services and mashups, open source have taken hold. Currently, these are considered niche solutions, but as the value of data becomes more critical to business and the pace of innovation becomes an even more crucial competitive weapon, they will quickly move into the mainstream. Historic parallels include the emergence of Ethernet as a networking standard and Linux as a standard operating system.

  • A wider, dynamic range of storage and data management technologies evolves

As IT architectures evolve to accommodate new cloud infrastructure and new applications, a wider, dynamic range of storage technologies will also emerge. We’ve witnessed how flash storage has quickly gained in popularity offering incredible efficiency and performance. Likewise, hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is one of the new IT architectures that addresses the critical demand for simplicity and reduces the need for administrative resources to manage storage. While the first wave of HCI solutions have done that well, they have not addressed additional requirements for flexibility and scalability. Building web-scale infrastructure will call for the flexibility to adapt the ratio of compute to storage according to the need, enable the upgrade of compute and storage separately, and scale easily and cost effectively.

Expect the next wave of HCI solutions to leverage what we’ve learned from converged infrastructure to deliver web-scale converged infrastructure that meets these requirements. We also see the build out of higher bandwidth networks to manage the movement of large volumes of data. On the horizon, storage technologies such as archive class storage and massive persistent memory are next in line for adoption. The rapid development of easy and accessible data management services will allow for easier deployment of these emerging technologies.

  • Consumeriation of IT persists

Perhaps most profound is the change in user expectations of iPhone-like simplicity and self-management and the integration of applications and services. These expectations are affecting development across all technologies in storage and data management. User experiences with mobile app simplicity in a wide variety of forms has raised expectations for the usability and simplicity of data management software. From a business standpoint, companies are demanding this simplicity because it will enable them to use less expensive resources to manage their data while giving them greater access and use of their data as a critical business asset.

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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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