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Time to prioritise apps

App complexity has become even more confusing as businesses move to a multi-cloud world. But there are practical ways to tackle it, writes IAN JANSEN VAN RENSBURG, Senior Manager: Systems Engineering at VMware Southern Africa

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When discussing the impact of technology on the organisation, we’ve typically done so in terms of platforms and infrastructure:  on-premise, off-premise, cloud, data centers, networks, Edge. And you might measure value and effectiveness in terms of the value of cost optimization, agility, speed to market, security, compliance, control and choice. What this focus overlooks is what’s actually driving business decisions today – something that, until a few years ago, most people outside of the IT department didn’t really think about – applications. 

Everything changed when we, ‘the consumer’, got our hands on the iPhone and its App Store. Now, in only a handful of years, and with Application Marketplaces for every operating system, enterprises are thinking ‘app first’. But not all applications were created equal, and each app’s value must be measured in terms of how core it is to the business. 

So, what’s mission critical, what’s business critical and what’s customer facing? It’s this prioritisation of applications that is ultimately informing IT decisions, whether it’s a mission critical app that must deliver complete security without compromising its performance, or a consumer-facing service that needs to have the scalability to manage major spikes in use without constantly consuming vast amounts of resource, such as a retailer’s mobile commerce offering. The type of application is also a major factor – if you have a bespoke app that has sat at the core of your business for many years, like an automated pricing tool for a logistics company, simply lifting and shifting to the cloud will not work. With access to its data so critical, the decision may be made to keep it in its existing environment for the time being. 

These are all factors that influence the criteria for choosing the right platform. The challenge is that with each application requiring different operating systems and platforms, and no one platform yet being able to offer all benefits without being prohibitively expensive, many organizations find themselves with a multitude of infrastructures and platforms with a complex application estate hosted in all sorts of places. Unfortunately, many of these applications are unable to move easily across platforms and different clouds to where they would be best located and used. Respondents to a recent VMware survey highlighted significant challenges to this situation; with integrating legacy systems (57%) and understanding new technologies (54%) two of the biggest obstacles organisations needed to overcome in order to get the best performance out of this mix of infrastructures. But is there a way of managing this ‘complex’ landscape with more ease? 

Delivering a better experience across multiple platforms

Having a clear strategy and defined approach is key. Take a retail bank for example. With physical branches as well as mobile applications and online banking services, its infrastructure will mostly be a mix of on-premise or private cloud.  With security, regulatory compliance and governance so critical, the unwieldly nature of these systems means that going with tried and trusted approaches is usually more straight forward. However, with new entrants and digital-native disruptors using public cloud providers, unencumbered by legacy systems, established players need to find a way of being able to respond quickly. Banks such as Capital One and the World Bank are deploying public cloud computing for development and testing. In this way, they enjoy the benefits of flexibility, scalability and agility without significant investment, whilst experimenting or using applications that do not draw on legacy data. 

For instance, trailing the use of blockchain to streamline letters of credit could require significant resource. As it is a pilot, however, the bank may be less keen to commit to the investment of a fully private cloud environment. Deploying a public cloud becomes attractive; it provides the necessary infrastructure, the pilot can be run, and if it is deemed a success the decision can be made to move the application over to a private cloud environment. In doing so, the bank has been able to develop, deploy and test quickly, turning around results that allow a decision to be made and, potentially, a new product to be released to the market. If it has not been a success, investment in permanent resource has not been lost. 

Another opportunity for a clearly defined approach and strategy is the opening up of banking. Driven by the likes of the Open Banking initiative in the UK and the EU’s Directive on Payment Services (PSD2), more financial institutions are giving API access to third party developers to build applications and services that consumers or businesses can use to manage their finances across multiple providers. The aim is to provide greater transparency and flexibility to customers, ultimately delivering a better experience. What it means for banks and other financial service providers is having the infrastructure in place to easily share relevant data securely – again, a mix of private and public cloud environments can support the development of third party apps without exposing core data or mission critical services to security risks or non-compliance. 

Managing talent and avoiding silos

But what does this mean for the bank’s technology team? For starters, it raises the possibility of requiring teams with multiple skillsets or, more likely, separate teams focused on separate platforms. That public cloud might be from AWS, for example, which requires a different type of skillset to the one needed to operate the private cloud, which again might not be relevant for the team managing the legacy infrastructure. IT has long been plagued by silos of teams working on individual, proprietary technology, and left unchecked, this issue will be exacerbated further by the demands of multi-platform infrastructure. The whole point of having a multi-cloud environment, of being able to securely move applications from one environment to another depending on requirements at that time, becomes much more complicated if siloed teams struggle to work together.

And these demands are only going to increase. As more and more enterprises accelerate their digital transformation agendas, they are faced with the challenge of repurposing their sprawling application estates to meet their digital requirements without compromising security. Many are already harnessing multi-cloud environments to enable transformation. The same VMware survey mentioned earlier found that 80% of respondents believed that one of the benefits of multi-cloud was improving innovation – and it makes sense; being able to get the best across multiple types of environment sounds exactly what most enterprises need to do to unlock the opportunities of digitization. 

Understanding what you need to achieve 

For a multi-cloud deployment to work, enterprises need to understand what they fundamentally require and have the hybrid cloud infrastructure to run and manage those requirements across all environments and devices. The environments used are ultimately the support, the enabler, not the objective itself; that lies with the applications. 

Yet this should also be in a constant state of evolution. As enterprises continue to digitally transform, they need to be continually reviewing and reforming their application estate. It is the ongoing process of choosing which applications are redundant, which need to be retrofitted, which can be completely transformed into cloud-native apps, and which need to be kept in legacy environments for a bit longer, all whilst being able to manage and move workloads as required. By following this approach, and by working with partners with the experience and skills required to deliver infrastructure that can efficiently run different platforms, enterprises can deliver an effective app-first approach, across any number of environments, to drive their digital business goals forward. 

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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