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Machines shape ‘golden ratio’

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In his third blog post, NIRAL PATEL, Oracle South Africa MD, discusses the relationships businesses need to aim for a ‘golden ratio’ of people, data and machines, where each is adding value and complementing the value of the other in harmony.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, had this to say in 2007 about how data should flow in a modern business:

Any enterprise CEO really ought to be able to ask a question that involves connecting data across the organisation, be able to run a company effectively, and especially to be able to respond to unexpected events. Most organisations are missing this ability to connect all the data together.”

Berners-Lee’s point was that the value of data is not being fully realised if it is sitting in silos and people are making decisions based only on a partial view of all the data that could be available to them. If businesses lack the people and the technology to bring data together for a more comprehensive view of their business and their opportunities, then its’ worth is a fraction of its potential value. This is why businesses need to aim for a ‘golden ratio’ of people, data and machines, where each is adding value and complementing the value of the other in harmony.

Technology’s role in this balancing act certainly cannot be underestimated. The ability to collect, collate and connect that data at scale simply did not exist until the onset of cloud computing which is breaking down the silos Berners-Lee was alluding to.

The connectivity that cloud provides across businesses, supply chains, customers, platforms, applications and databases means organisations can gain a single view of their operation. The power and flexibility of cloud means they can process unprecedented volumes of data at speed through cloud applications, platforms and infrastructure. Cloud is also enabling machines to work more autonomously and to communicate with one another as we are seeing with the rise of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Such technologies are bringing speed and scale to areas of the business that otherwise would be labour intensive and time-consuming processes.

For instance, retailers looking to improve customer experience and satisfaction are turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) and interconnected sensors spread through the supply chain to uncover new ways of increasing efficiency, reducing cost, improving product availability and providing more accurate product information.

In the back office, companies are experimenting with technology powered by AI and machine learning, such as self-service chatbots to improve the HR experience for employees. Rather than having to wait on HR to answer routine questions, workers can simply interact with a chatbot linked directly to the organisation’s HR systems that can answer many questions automatically. There is a clear business benefit here in addition to improved employee satisfaction – HR teams who spend less time on these admin tasks can focus on more projects that require their unique expertise.

But automation is certainly not about replacing employees with machines. Rather, it’s about speeding up tasks that take more time than businesses can afford to give to them as they seek to innovate at pace and achieve greater profitability through efficiency and by enabling people to focus on more valuable tasks. It is about improving the decision-making capabilities of people by arming them with a richness of highly relevant, topical and timely data that otherwise would not be possible to collect.

This is why it comes back to this idea of a ‘golden ratio’ of the right people, using the right data and machines in perfect balance. No business wants too many, or an unprofitable amount of either, but will always need all three in pursuit of data-driven success.

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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