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How to turn disruption into advantage

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Previously manufacturing and operations were linear processes, however advancements in the cloud allows manufacturers to recast their processes and produce smart, continually connected products, says CLIFFORD DE WIT, chief innovation officer at Microsoft SA.

Technological development is outpacing the evolution of business processes. In the past, manufacturing and operations were linear processes and companies focused on the customer at the end of the sales cycle only. They lacked the ability to centre the entire manufacturing process around the customer and support an ongoing relationship. Now, the proliferation of the cloud and big data has freed manufacturers to recast their processes and produce smart, continually connected products that deliver real value and strengthen customer engagement.

Across Africa, however, the benefits of this transformation is not reaching every business in every sector. Market research company IDC’s recent study, called State of Digital Transformation in South Africa, looks at how local companies and other African companies from Nigeria and Kenya are leveraging new business, technology, and operating models to disrupt their competitors, customers, and markets in pursuit of business performance and growth.

According to the research, only 48% of South African businesses are engaged in the digital transformation process, compared to 44% in Nigeria and 39% in Kenya. Moreover, only around 44% of local companies are planning or evaluating digital transformation initiatives, while 8% are not engaging, as a result of the lack of funding to do so.

The companies around the globe that are turning digital disruption into their competitive advantage, are doing so because of their measured approach. They are not using technology for its own sake or as a knee jerk reaction to an initiative by a competitor, but instead, they tap into the power of new technology to gain actionable insights from big data and use these as the foundation of better business decisions.

These decisions have a real and significant impact on their business, helping them transform their products and services, enhance and personalise their customer service, streamline their operations, and empower staff to become more productive in every aspect of their job.

Not doing so means leaving the business exposed to competitor and market disruption and the business unable to respond quickly to these forces or changes in customer demands.

Driving the business to transform

There are four market needs that are driving organisations to transform themselves digitally, namely increasing innovation, moving faster, staying connected and getting personal.

Chief amongst these is the need to increase innovation, as companies like Kodak can attest to the cost of not doing so, while digital disruption brands like AirBnB and Uber continue to irrevocably disrupt their respective markets. Traditional businesses must increase the quantity and quality of innovation or risk being crushed by the next digital transformation in their industry.

Next up is the need to move faster, because the pace of change is accelerating at previously unfathomable rates. From sales to operations to customer service, cycle times are ever shorter.  Now more than ever, leaders need speedy access to reliable business intelligence to improve their decision-making. They need actionable insight at the right place at the right time and to the right people.

In addition, there is the need to get personal because one size now fits none. Even as our use of technology soars, customers and employees are expecting companies to tailor offerings (and career paths) to their unique needs and to deliver those experiences in a more intimate, personalised one-on-one manner. The true goal is to “co-create” relationships with customers or employees.

Furthermore, there is the need to stay connected with customers, colleagues, suppliers and partners. Collaboration and communication anytime, anywhere, using any platform or device is paramount in the “Peer Economy,” which is characterised by the need to partner with other expert service providers in order to co-create value as well as the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT). The latter means that we are now interconnecting as much around common resources as we are around relationships.

In fact, data analytics firm Gartner forecasts that there will be around 8.4 billion connected things in use globally this year and about 20.4 billion by 2020. The latest development in IoT is the fact that these devices are starting to run cloud intelligence locally, in which case they are referred to as “IoT edge” devices.

Turning data on the Edge into Intelligent insight fuel for your business

Advancements in data analytics and intelligence have enhanced our ability to draw value from the data – transforming information into insight that can be acted upon, even pre-emptively and at the point of business processes to maximise impact.

For example, a factory needs immediate response times to stop operations in the event that an equipment failure is predicted by local intelligence, or to protect worker safety following an accident.

Moreover, the ubiquity of cloud computing puts this disruptive power in the hands of organisations of all sizes, increasing the pace of innovation and competition. Businesses such as hospitals, construction sites and manufacturing plants, where safety and security are paramount can utilise existing commodity cameras together with Azure IoT Edge.

Doing so will enable these devices to recognise people and make sure that staff do not gain access to unauthorised sections or equipment for example, ultimately turning these areas into AI-driven safety zones.

Cost should not be a barrier to digital transformation

For the majority of businesses, it would appear that the associated cost of digital transformation is too high. In fact, IDC’s research show that the biggest barrier to digital transformation is lack of funding to invest in the transformation needed (80% of respondents), while 20% have more pressing business matters. Moreover, 20% view digital transformation as not relevant for their businesses.

Remember that no business or industry will be immune to disruption from more innovative competitors. Every product and service— indeed every aspect of every business—will be affected. And the time to act is now.

Additionally, digital transformation is not something that happens overnight, nor is it a traditional large-scale, one-off transformation process. Rather, it is pivoting to a mind-set of ongoing innovation, iterative updates, and continual growth. To better manage that cost, companies can adopt the approach of ‘rapid incrementalism’, which involves looking at what defines success and changing existing structures to make the most of what they have.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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