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Most global companies feel threat of start-ups

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78% of businesses believe digital start-ups will pose a threat to their organisation, either now or in the future, according to new research that Dell Technologies.

This phenomenon is propelling innovative companies forward and accelerating the demise of others. Almost half (45%) of global businesses surveyed fear they may become obsolete in the next three to five years due to competition from digital-born start-ups.

Some companies are feeling badly bruised by the pace of change. More than half (52%) of business leaders have experienced significant disruption in their industries over the past three years as a result of digital technologies and the Internet of Everything, and 48% of global businesses don’t know what their industry will look like in three years’ time.

The findings result from an independent survey by Vanson Bourne of 4,000 business leaders — from mid-size to large enterprises — across 16 countries and 12 industries.

“So far the fourth industrial revolution has proved as ruthless as its predecessors. If companies can’t keep up, they will fall behind … or worse. The ‘delay until another day’ approach simply won’t work,” explains Jeremy Burton, chief marketing officer for Dell Technologies.

Patchy Progress or Digital Crisis looming?

Progress has been patchy to say the least. Some companies have barely started their digital transformation. Many have taken a piecemeal approach. Only a small minority have almost completed their digital transformation. Just one in three businesses surveyed are performing critical digital business attributes* well. While only parts of many businesses are thinking and acting digitally, the vast majority (73%) admits digital transformation could be more widespread throughout their organisation.

Around six in ten companies are unable to meet customers’ top demands, such as better security and 24/7 faster access to services and information. Nearly two-thirds (64%) confess to not acting on intelligence in real-time.

“These are imperatives for success in a digital age. Failing to deliver in such a highly contested marketplace could trigger the beginning of a digital crisis,” added Burton.

Dell Technologies’ Digital Transformation Index supplements the research and rates companies based on respondents’ perceived performance about their firms’ digital transformation. According to the benchmark, only 5% of businesses have catapulted themselves into the Digital Leaders group; almost half are lagging behind.

  1. Digital Leaders: 5% – digital transformation, in its various forms, is ingrained in the DNA of the business
  2. Digital Adopters: 14% – have a mature digital plan, investments and innovations in place
  3. Digital Evaluators: 34% – cautiously and gradually embracing digital transformation, planning and investing for the future
  4. Digital Followers: 32% – very few digital investments; tentatively starting to plan for the future
  5. Digital Laggards: 15% – do not have a digital plan, limited initiatives and investments in place

Digital Rescue Plan

Given the acute threat of disruption, businesses are starting to escalate a remedy. To advance their digital transformation:

  • 73% agree they need to prioritise a centralised technology strategy for their business
  • 66% are planning to invest in IT infrastructure and digital skills leadership
  • 72% are expanding their software development capabilities

In order of priority according to respondents, the top planned IT investments over the next three years are:

1.   Converged infrastructure

2.   Ultra-high performance technologies (Example: Flash)

3.   Analytics, big data and data processing (Example: Data Lakes)

4.   Internet of Things technologies

Additionally, between a quarter to a third of businesses have created a full digital P&L (36%); are partnering with start-ups to adopt an open innovation model (35%); have spun-off a separate part of the organisation or intend to acquire the skills and innovation they need through M&A (28%). Just 17% measure success according to the number of patents they file and nearly half (46%) are integrating digital goals into all department and staff objectives.

“In the near future, almost every business will have software development expertise at its core. Many of these companies will be brand new, others – having not written a line of code in 20 years – will have been on a momentous journey. New digital products and services will drive the transformation of IT infrastructure as businesses struggle to manage 1000x more users and 1000x more data” says Burton.

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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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