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Veterans prepare for high-tech to move into high-gear

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If we thought the technology revolution was slowing down, fasten those seat-belts. You ain’t seen nothing yet, industry veterans tell ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The dizzying speed of technology advance over the past 30 years, driven first by the advent of the personal computer, followed by the Internet and then by smartphones, was merely the curtain-raiser for the coming decade.

This view was expressed by one industry executive after another in interviews at last week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. And these were no start-up upstarts. These were industry veterans who had been instrumental in some of the landmark products and services that built the information technology industry we know today.

Pat Gelsinger, CEO of cloud computing giants VMware, was the first chief technology officer at Intel and architect of the original Intel 486 processor. As one-time head of Intel Labs, he led many of the research projects in the 1980s and 1980s that would help speed up the pace of high-tech change.

“We are at the dawn of a re-acceleration of the technology industry overall,” he said in an exclusive interview at MWC. “The next decade will see more change and new technology than in the last 20 or 30 years.

“An accelerating crescendo of technologies is coming together: cloud, mobile, big data, robotics, analytics, 3D printing, and more. It will bring together a reinforcing set of innovative activities.

“In the next decade, 75 per cent of the world’s population will have a persistent connection to the Internet with some smart device. Today it’s already 40 per cent. Soon, you’ll be able to touch half the world’s population.”

These devices, he said, will come into their own once intelligence is added.

“I can put intelligence into everything for almost zero cost, so while there are more people than machines connected today, in the next few years there will be twice as many machine-connected intelligent devices as human-connected intelligent devices. It will transform supply chains and our quality of life.”

Emerging markets, including South Africa, may well have “some of the greatest opportunities we have collectively over next decade,” he says. “Would someone in Ethiopia or Zambia be able to buy a $700 iPhone and $100 service? Of course not. But in markets where the price of phone is $20 and a service less than $10, we see rapid innovation around affordable access to core technologies, basic financial services, crop information, trading information.”

Gelsinger offered a fascinating vision of a future that is already possible.

“Tomorrow morning your smart device will wake you, and tell you: ‘last night you had a heart irregularity, so I’m waking you early and uploading your biometrics to the medical cloud, I’m running comparisons of your pattern with everyone in your DNA group. I’ve made a doctor’s appointment and loaded the directions into your self-driving car. I’ve moved your regular coffee order to a different Starbucks on your revised route, and made it decaffeinated because you’re seeing the heart doctor.’

“None of that is unreasonable to implement, but the results are life-changing.”

These sentiments were echoed by Frank Kern, chief executive officer of Aricent, a global technology services company with more than 12 000 staff focused on software and hardware innovation. He spent 30 years with IBM, including heading up its core consulting division, Global Business Services. He came out of retirement to take up the challenge of the future.

“This is the most exciting time yet,” he says. “Before, I was just in the boring old computer industry.

“I was around when IBM did a lot of interesting stuff. We created a services business, I ran the consulting business, and in 2009 I created an analytics practise with 9 000 people, worth $25-billion.

“But today is the most exciting time of all. It’s a time when you have a combination of an explosion of sensors, accelerating of communications, combined with the software capabilities of AI, and now we are designing the user interface of the future, the customer experience of the future.”

Aricent owns a renowned strategy and design company, frog, which was responsible for the design of several Apple computers, along with hardware for numerous global organisations. The parent company has also been in research and development of software for 25 years, with a strong focus on telecommunications, and taking a leading position in 5G, AI and autonomous vehicle software.

“We are able to see and participate in multiple trends going on, and all are accelerating at same time. It’s not only one thing right now; it’s all these things that, together, are creating this exciteme.”

Gelsinger puts it neatly into perspective.

“All of this gives me an almost child-like enthusiasm. I’ve been in the technology industry for 37 years. If you ever used a microprocessor or a USB drive, I helped do all of them. But, in many cases, the next decade is as exciting as the last three decades. Because so many of these things will become life-changing and business-changing.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee
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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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