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How your CIO holds you back

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The pressure for business to focus on digital transformation is rising and as such the role of the CEO and CMO in the digital journey are becoming more critical, writes CRAIG TERBLANCHE, Regional Director, Outsystems

The role of the CIO has never been under more scrutiny than in this digital age.

It may be a generalisation, but many South African CIOs started in large enterprise and corporate-sized organisations as IT managers, and have worked their way up over a 20 year period.  They have been instrumental in building the systems that have been at the core of the company, and are reluctant to undo the time, money and effort invested.  But in today’s digital economy, these systems are clunky, impractical and typically organisational process rather than customer-centric.

CIOs have inadvertently become the inhibitors of innovation, citing that digital transformation is a complex,  costly and lengthy undertaking.

So what will it take to drive digital transformation?  Progressive and forward thinking CEOs, along with empowered CMOs are essential to driving the digital transformation discussion at board level. A clear view of whether the CIO and the IT department are an enabler or an inhibitor for customer driven digital transformation is essential.

An app is not a digital strategy

“Let’s build an app for our customers.” It is a complete misnomer that an app alone provides  digital transformation.  An app is just one tool that can be used to digitally transform a business.

And, if an app doesn’t leverage core systems then it will not deliver what it promises. Clients who are attracted by the app will soon get frustrated and leave dissatisfied. The potential brand or reputational damage could be irreparable.

For CEOs to truly embrace digital transformation, they need to take advantage of the fact that it is possible to be in the customer’s pocket, at a moment in time, not only offering additional products and services, but also reducing operating costs with customer touch points that make the business more efficient.

How true digital transformation is possible

It’s not about technology. It’s about engaging customers on their terms. Legacy systems and  core applications were developed to serve the organisation’s objectives on selfish terms.  Modern systems  expose functions and data as micro-services that can be provided to serve customers via their engagement channel of choice. Building a micro-service architecture to leverage the legacy systems and integrate a digital platform is imperative.

This is neither a lengthy nor financially prohibitive process. It should rather be viewed as a way in which the value of the current systems can be unlocked to provide a seamless and pleasant customer journey for existing clientele, and to attract new business, by offering services that customers actually want and not what the business thinks they want.

The adoption of a digital platform also assists enterprises to meet new  governance and compliance obligations.

No you don’t need to fire your entire IT department

The IT department that has been supporting the legacy systems provides value that can be instrumental in the success of a digital transformation strategy. Their in-depth knowledge of the current system can be invaluable in leveraging the core systems to enable an organisation to unlock its existing data. Furthermore, the IT department can leverage its existing skills to build new applications and facilitate new processes and interactions across new channels.

By ignoring the naysayers and embracing the new tools available in the market, businesses are able to digitally transform, without costing a fortune, taking months to implement or compromising the value of existing systems and data.

If a business wants to implement a holistic digital transformation strategy, it may be time for the CIO to facilitate new digital skills – or his position really is threatened.

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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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