Businesses that move towards hyperconverged solutions are most likely to close the skills gap, release big data and drive innovation, according to a new research report by VCE, the converged platforms division of EMC.
Hyperconverged solutions represent the significant shift from companies laboriously buying and building servers to purchasing deployment-ready end-to-end systems that include all the aspects of a datacentre-ready server: connectivity, security, management, storage and virtualisation.
The move to converged infrastructure will help traditional IT departments to be re-purposed into business-savvy units that drive customer satisfaction, says Barry Cashman, EMEA VP for VCE.
VCE surveyed more than 2,700 business and IT professionals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and came up with an extensive report detailing the current IT landscape. The report is entitled “Endangered IT: IT needs to reclaim technology or lose its voice forever.”
Cashman says the research clearly revealed what IT teams are worried about; what they are prioritising this year and where the opportunities are. It generally paints a picture of organisations where IT departments and the rest of the business are often not on the same page on a range of issues.
“The message of the report is simple: In a rapidly shifting IT landscape, businesses that manage to build cohesive digital systems that pull together all departments into rendering a single, customer-focused service, stand to benefit greatly. That is, if they stop building infrastructure as they always have, and instead invest in buying hyperconverged solutions that will ease their transition.”
Cashman says the fact that most businesses are increasingly focused on their ability to manage and extract value from the data generated in the process of selling products, rather than the products themselves, is a good thing.
“For example, 80% of those surveyed feel that implementing a more advanced and agile IT infrastructure would reduce risk and complexity and provide a solid platform for future growth. Nearly half are already training IT professionals in skills, including converged infrastructure, cloud computing and business skills.”
Cashman adds that IT needs to learn the language of business just as the rest of the business needs to learn the language of technology.
VCE suggests – and 80% of respondents agree – a scaleable, flexible, converged infrastructure would reduce risk by providing a solid foundation for business growth and innovation. “Of course, to maintain full control over the transition, CIOs need to stop spending so much time building and managing different infrastructure components.
“It’s no longer enough to just keep the lights on. Instead, they need to transform IT into an efficient, business-focused engine that can scale rapidly in response to changing business needs. This demands a modern datacentre, one that revolves around robust, software-defined, converged infrastructure. Convergence can power more agile development and increased speed to market, addressing directly some of the top IT challenges identified.”
To remain competitive in the future, the business needs to focus on developing and releasing new, value-added products and services. This means that IT needs to be free to focus on meeting business goals, and a converged infrastructure is what will enable it to do so.
The growing need for new tech
However, according to the report 68% of CIOs currently see IT in the traditional sense as a barrier to innovation. Almost two-thirds of CIOs felt that the IT team was losing its grip on the technology that is held and used across the business. The more technology is embedded, the more traditional IT becomes marginalised, a phenomenon the report calls ‘invisible IT’, not shadow IT. Cashman says power is shifting away from IT, in that ideas are being implemented there, rather than germinating there.
“They fear that this could lead to IT inhibiting, rather than enabling innovation if they do not have the right infrastructure or tools. This lack of preparation for current technological shifts could result in their businesses losing all relevance within the next three years, as their likely future competitors will be agile organisations that do not even exist yet. After all, it’s not surprising to feel out of your depth when you’re working against invisible competitors.”
In addition, many CIOs and business leaders voiced concern that they felt ill-prepared for the technological shifts taking place in the economy. Many are worried that business growth may expose their IT teams as under-prepared (68%) and may put excessive pressure on existing IT operations, damaging customer satisfaction and brand reputation (69%).
They agreed that a new infrastructure and a fresh skills set in their IT departments are needed to meet long-term needs, as technology becomes embedded across the business. But most felt they were not progressing sufficiently. This could be because all these divisions often don’t speak to each other, says Cashman.
“Even when they do, they talk in a completely different set of languages. The storage individual doesn’t understand the network perspective, and the network person doesn’t understand the server person’s problem. The languages they use are embedded in the technologies they have ownership of. CIOs are isolated both from their C-suite colleagues and from their own IT teams, sometimes lacking faith in the ability of IT professionals and infrastructure to meet emerging business needs.”
As challenging as it might be, businesses have to evolve their traditional IT infrastructure and culture to meet the challenges of big data, operational complexity and real-time business.
“Business leaders can help the IT function adapt, professionally and culturally, to the concept of IT infrastructure as an advanced, on-demand utility it can use rather than manage; something to buy rather than build. IT also needs to adapt to becoming a multi-disciplinary function, able to quickly respond to the challenges of releasing value from big data,” says Cashman.
“The time that a converged solution will save, will release IT professionals to share their expertise across the business; listening, understanding and enabling. This is the key to reclaiming IT relevance.” Cashman says IT tends to have a “build it yourself” mentality whereas business leaders “are more comfortable acquiring the building blocks for IT.”
Businesses need “cloud people”
Cashman says converged infrastructure would facilitate the re-positioning of staff in IT departments. “Before, you had a server team, a network team and a storage team. Ultimately, actually, instead of three people you need one cloud architect who is trained across all three. So there’s two jobs released.
“There are two ways of looking at this. You lay the two jobs off, or you retrain say the server administrator as the cloud administrator across the whole piece and the other two people you repurpose above the infrastructure line, up to the application line, to interact with the businesses, understand what they want and then move forward with the businesses. You need cloud people rather than siloed experts. At VCE we are increasingly asking our people to sit across various roles. For example, storage guys broadening around converged infrastructure and also software. We recognise the economics of retraining and we think our customers will too.”
Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities
Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.
Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.
Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.
Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.
African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.
Embracing mobility to drive ROI
Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.
Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.
Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.
By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:
· Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities
· Access both historical and planned work information when requested
· Permit customers to sign when the job is completed
· Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders
· Create new fault reports on routing
· Facilitate documentation through photo capturing
· Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.
The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.
Brands fall for app vanity
The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.
Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity.
In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis.
While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities.
Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI).
It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind.
Why apps won’t win the internet
The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement.
Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge.
Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance.
Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps.
However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year.
On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.
When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience.
In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development.
So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base?
The logical app alternative
The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are.
Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short.
Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience.
Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.)
Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts.
Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI.