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How technology makes project management more agile

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As traditional ways of doing business are constantly changing due to new technologies, businesses that embrace these changes stand to benefit significantly, while those that fail to respond could be left at a disadvantage, writes ALASTAIR SORBIE, CEO of IFS.

As traditional ways of doing business are turned on their head, a tidal wave of change is sweeping the field of project management.

Disruptive technologies, which encompass everything from artificial intelligence and robotics to machine-learning and the internet of things, are having a profound impact on business operations and processes.

While no industry can consider itself immune to the technology revolution, some sectors – manufacturing, construction and energy, for example – are being affected more than others.

And as the pace of disruption looks set to accelerate, organisations within these sectors need to embrace technological advancement, understand the implications for project management, and respond in a flexible and agile manner. By doing so, they stand to benefit significantly, while those that fail to respond could be left at a competitive disadvantage.

Beyond the impact of change on the project management function, in an increasingly tech-driven age, a chief executive needs to know how these changes will impact the boardroom. They need to be aware of the challenges, recognise the opportunities and understand the commercial realities.

Global enterprise applications firm IFS, a pioneer of agile business technology solutions, is seeing how the business world is responding, first hand.

Project management is becoming much more dynamic and multi-faceted, as a myriad of new devices and data streams continue to emerge, with companies increasingly implementing internet of things or IoT solutions. Rather than expecting project managers to simply tune into

this, businesses must communicate what is happening, clearly, from the top down, and weave innovation into their company culture and DNA.

Working with clients from a range of industries, IFS provides them with a range of tools designed to deliver visual insight, understand enterprise performance and enable better decision-making in an integrated way.

It is industries such as manufacturing and oil and gas, arguably the sectors most exposed to economic challenges and fluctuations, where an integrated project management solution can potentially deliver the biggest benefits.

However, organisations in these sectors need to adopt a management ethos that is both forward looking and efficiency driven, because for all the advantages that disruptive technologies such as IoT can bring to project management, as it becomes more widely adopted, it can create challenges.

A mismatch exists between the flexibility of these new disruptive technologies and the inflexibility of fixed mindsets that many companies bring to project management.

For example, project lifecycles tend to be complex in nature, and managers will often use different software products to manage various stages of the project from tendering through to commissioning and servicing. This fragmented approach is problematic as disparate

project areas are unable to ‘talk’ to each other. This leads to managers spending more time and energy mapping and monitoring their relationships and connections, which in turn leads to a lack of efficiency.

The IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence solution enables an enterprise-wide, top-down perspective of processes and performance aligned with the business strategy.

There is also the issue of a technology mismatch, with many organisations relying on outdated, cumbersome legacy business systems that are unable to support modern IoT platforms. In a changing technology landscape, companies must ensure they have the right tools to adjust and take stock.

Resolving this type of challenge requires a change of mindset and culture. Sectors with ageing workforces will have to engage the more conservative project managers by educating them about these new technologies and how project management tools should evolve accordingly.

The benefits of an integrated project management solution, one that offers enhanced control and visibility, and real-time control over cost, cash, time, resources and risk, are being realised by a growing number of global companies.

The IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) solution enables an enterprise-wide, top-down perspective of processes and performance aligned with the business strategy, and was recently adopted by a well-known North American service provider.

Project success rates could be further increased if companies avoided off-the-shelf solutions and opted instead for solutions that can be configured to the needs of their industry and scopes of their budgets.

Organisations cannot afford to ignore the technological changes that are already taking place and will undoubtedly increase over time. It is imperative that they abandon traditional, fixed, process-driven approaches to project management in favour of one built around principles, and based on flexibility and agility.

Companies should now be focusing on an integrated project management suite, one that captures the true spirit of IoT, and enables them to adapt to constant change and disruption, and most importantly, to maintain their competitive edge for today – and for what’s next.

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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