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Remote offices up IT challenges

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As the number of branch offices increase with most businesses, so too does the amount of data stored off-site. This creates a problem for IT, but according to TAJ ELKHAYAT at Riverbed Technology, there a few solution to make things easier.

The central office has traditionally been the centre of gravity for most organisations. That is where the data centre is located, and where most of the IT staff works. However, remote offices and branch offices (ROBOs) are becoming increasingly relevant because they are often where business happens. In fact, according to the 2016 Riverbed Remote Office/Branch Office IT Survey almost 50 per cent of all employees work in remote sites; 50 per cent of companies’ data is stored outside the data centre; and branch offices represent roughly 50 per cent of the IT budget. These findings should come as little surprise when considering that the average corporate data centre serves 55 ROBO locations.

As the number of employees who work in ROBOs rises, so do the amounts of business-critical information stored in these locations, and the IT budget devoted to managing related systems. The figure that is not increasing is that of IT personnel available to staff ROBOs, forcing IT to remotely perform monitoring, maintenance and troubleshooting. This makes deploying and maintaining systems and applications for each ROBO complex, expensive and time-consuming, particularly with today’s hybrid IT architectures.

The solution is not to try to modernise the branch office IT infrastructure by purchasing and installing expensive new equipment and resources, but to implement a “Zero Branch IT” model consolidating ROBO IT operations to central data centres. Removing physical servers, storage, data and backup from ROBO locations enhances security, reduces operational costs, and ensures reliable data backups. It also increases overall business productivity by providing all users with the high levels of systems and applications performance that they expect and demand, when they require it.

ROBO IT is a tough nut to crack

As organisations become more distributed, the challenges they need to address in the data centre are evolving. Like employees working in central offices, people located at ROBOs must have quick and easy access to systems and applications via a multitude of devices in order to get their work done on a daily basis. Performance slowdowns or outages are unacceptable.

However, IT professionals are finding that sustaining remote users’ demands for anytime, anywhere support is growing too costly, demands resources they cannot spare, and increases the security risk of critical company data. In simple terms, IT teams are struggling to manage the needs of branch offices. As a result, according to the 2016 Riverbed Remote Office/Branch Office IT Survey, 54 per cent of organisations cite delays when recovering from ROBO outages as their top issue. These delays hurt the business’ ability to generate revenue, expose the ROBO to risk from data loss and can tarnish the business’ reputation.

What’s more, 46 per cent of organisations struggle to supply adequate IT staff at ROBOs. In fact, they often have no IT staff onsite, making it difficult to supervise and ensure backups. Additionally, 45 per cent reported the time it takes them to provision ROBO infrastructure, applications and services hurt their organisations’ ability to increase revenue.

Implementing Zero Branch IT

IT can reduce the costs and complexities of managing a highly distributed environment without increasing security risks by implementing a “Zero Branch IT” model to centralise all systems, operations and services. By consolidating ROBO data back to the data centre, or in the cloud, IT can manage everything inside a secure, centralised environment, improving the user experience for all employees, while reducing the costs and complexities of managing a highly distributed environment.

The key benefits include:

·         Hardened security posture: 100 per cent of data is secured in the data centre instead of in far-away ROBO locations. In addition, all data is encrypted at-rest and in-motion for true end-to-end encryption, so that IT is in complete control of organisational data.

·         Improved user productivity: Organisations can generate up to a 100x increase in remote application performance. As a result, employees will encounter far fewer instances of downtime due to system outages or poor performance, enabling users to get their work done using any device they choose.

·         Ensure business continuity: 100x faster recovery times minimise the business damage done by outages. It teams can perform backup and recovery operations from a central location, in mere seconds instead of days or weeks.

·         Improved operational agility: IT can deploy new branch services and sites in under 15 minutes, and manage everything via a central dashboard. All heavy ROBO IT operations, such as provisioning new services and sites, and recovery of sites in the case of outages, take seconds or minutes instead of days or weeks.  The result is a more agile IT team that is better able to support the always changing needs of the business.

Modernise edge IT

In today’s data rich, application-driven, and distributed world, organisations need to consider a new approach to remote IT. Combining storage delivery, server virtualisation and network optimisation technologies enables organisations to eliminate the need for physical servers, storage and backup infrastructure at ROBO locations.

Realising this vision requires implementing an effective Zero Branch IT model, where IT is readily available at all times, and can make better-informed decisions about which applications and services to provide to workers at various ROBOs worldwide. This will enable organisations to maintain the highest productivity levels, meet changing business requirements, and remain as competitive as they possibly can be.

* Taj ElKhayat, Regional Vice President, Middle East and Africa at Riverbed Technology

Africa News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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