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We have to rethink data

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In today’s era of global digitalization there are many examples that show that IT matters. Developments like cloud computing, the IoT and AI are proving that IT has again become a business driver, says WERNER VOGELS, CTO of Amazon.com.

How companies can use ideas from mass production to create business with data

Strategically, IT doesn’t matter. That was the provocative thesis of a much-talked-about article from 2003 in the Harvard Business Review by the US publicist Nicolas Carr. Back then, companies spent more than half of their entire investment for their IT, in a non-differentiating way. In a world in which tools are equally accessible for every company, they wouldn’t offer any competitive advantage – so went the argument. The author recommended steering investments toward strategically relevant resources instead. In the years that followed, many companies outsourced their IT activities because they no longer regarded them as being part of the core business.

A new age

Nearly 15 years later, the situation has changed. In today’s era of global digitalization there are many examples that show that IT does matter. Developments like cloud computing, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are proving that IT has (again) become a strategic business driver. This is transforming the way companies offer products and services to their customers today. Take the example of industrial manufacturing: in prototyping, drafts for technologically complex products are no longer physically produced; rather, their characteristics can be tested in a purely virtual fashion at every location across the globe by using simulations. The German startup SimScale makes use of this trend. The founders had noticed that in many companies, product designers worked in a very detached manner from the rest of production. The SimScale platform can be accessed through a normal web browser. In this way, designers are part of an ecosystem in which the functionalities of simulations, data and people come together, enabling them to develop better products faster.

Value-added services are also playing an increasingly important role for both companies and their customers. For example, Kärcher, the maker of cleaning technologies, manages its entire fleet through the cloud solution “Kärcher Fleet”. This transmits data from the company’s cleaning devices e.g. about the status of maintenance and loading, when the machines are used, and where the machines are located. The benefit for customers: Authorized users can view this data and therefore manage their inventories across different sites, making the maintenance processes much more efficient.

Kärcher benefits as well: By developing this service, the company gets exact insight into how the machines are actually used by its customers. By knowing this, Kärcher can generate new top-line revenue in the form of subscription models for its analysis portal.

More than mere support

These examples underline that the purpose of software today is not solely to support business processes, but that software solutions have broadly become an essential element in multiple business areas. This starts with integrated platforms that can manage all activities, from market research to production to logistics. Today, IT is the foundation of digital business models, and therefore has a value-added role in and of itself. That can be seen when sales people, for example, interact with their customers in online shops or via mobile apps. Marketers use big data and artificial intelligence to find out more about the future needs of their customers. Breuninger, a fashion department store chain steeped in tradition, has recognized this and relies on a self-developed e-commerce platform in the AWS Cloud. Breuninger uses modern templates for software development, such as Self-Contained Systems (SCS), so that it can increase the speed of software development with agile and autonomous teams and quickly test new features. Each team acts according to the principle: “You build it, you run it”. Hence, the teams are themselves responsible for the productive operation of the software. The advantage of this approach is that when designing new applications, there is already a focus on the operating aspects.

Value creation through data

In a digital economy, data are at the core of value creation, whereas physical assets are losing their significance in business models. Until 1992, the most highly valued companies in the S&P 500 Index were those that made or distributed things (for example the pharmaceutical industry, trade). Today, developers of technology (for example medical technology, software) and platform operators (social media enablers, credit card companies) are at the top. Also, trade with data contributes more to global growth than trade with goods. Therefore, IT has never been more important for strategy than it is now – not only for us, but for every company in the digital age. Anyone who wants to further develop his business digitally can’t do that today without at the same time thinking about which IT infrastructure, which software and which algorithms he needs in order to achieve his plans.

If data take center stage then companies must learn how to create added value out of it – namely by combining the data they own with external data sources and by using modern, automated analytics processes. This is done through software and IT services that are delivered through software APIs.

Companies that want to become successful and innovative digital players need to get better at building software solutions.We should ponder how we can organize the ‘production’ of data in such a way so that we ultimately come out with a competitive advantage. We need mechanisms that enable the mass production of data using software and hardware capabilities. These mechanisms need to be lean, seamless and effective. At the same time, we need to ensure that quality requirements can be met. Those are exactly the challenges that were solved for physical goods through the industrialization of manufacturing processes. A company that wants to industrialize ‘software production’ needs to find ideas on how to achieve the same kind of lean and qualitatively first-class mass production that has already occurred for industrial goods. And inevitably, the first place to look will be lean production approaches such as Kanban and Kaizen, or total quality management. In the 1980s, companies like Toyota revolutionized the production process by reengineering the entire organization and focusing the company on similar principles. Creating those conditions, both from an organizational and IT- standpoint, is one of the biggest challenges that companies face in the digital age.

Learn from lean

Can we transfer this success model to IT as well? The answer is yes. In the digital world, it is decisive to activate data-centric processes and continuously improve them. Thus, any obstacles that stand in the way of experimentation and the further development of new ideas should be removed as fast as possible. Every new IT project should be regarded as an idea that must go through a data factory – a fully equipped production site with common processes that can be easily maintained. The end-product is high-quality services or algorithms that support digital business models. Digital companies differentiate themselves through their ideas, data and customer relationships. Those that find a functioning digital business model the fastest will have a competitive edge. Above all, the barrier between software development and the operating business has to be overcome. The reason is that the success and speed and frequency of these experiments depend on the performance of IT development, and at the same time on the relevance of the solutions for business operations. Autoscout24 has gained an enormous amount of agility through its cloud solution. The company meanwhile has 15 autonomous interdisciplinary teams working constantly to test and explore new services. The main goal in all this is to have the possibility to quickly iterate experiments through the widest range of architectures, combine services with each other, and compare approaches.

In order to become as agile as Autoscout24, companies need a “machine” that produces ideas. Why not transfer the success formulas from industrial manufacturing and the principles of quality management to the creation of software?

German industrial companies in particular possess a manufacturing excellence that has been built up over many decades. Where applicable, they should do their best to transfer this knowledge to their IT, and in particular to their software development.

In many companies, internal IT knowhow has not developed fast enough in the last few years – quite contrary to the technological possibilities. Customers provide feedback online immediately after their purchase. Real-time analyses are possible through big data and software updates are generated daily through the cloud. Often, the IT organization and its associated processes couldn’t keep up. As a consequence, specialist departments with the structures of yesterday are supposed to fulfill customer requirements of tomorrow. Bringing innovative products and services quickly to market is not possible with long-term IT sourcing cycles. It’s no wonder that many of specialist departments try to circumvent their own IT department, for example by shifting activities to the cloud, which offers many powerful IT building blocks through easy-to-use APIs for which companies previously had to operate complicated software and infrastructure. Such a decentralized ‘shadow IT’ delivers no improvements. The end effect is that the complexity of the system increases, which is not efficient. This pattern should be broken. Development and Operations need to work hand in hand instead of working sequentially after each other, as in the old world. And ideally, this should be done in many projects running parallel. Under the heading of DevOps – the combination of “Development and Operations” – IT guru Gene Kim has described the core characteristics of this machinery.

Ensuring the flow

Kim argues that theorganization must be built around the customer benefit and that the flow of projects must be as smooth as possible. Hurdles that block the creation of client benefits should be identified and removed. At Amazon this starts by staffing projects with cross-functional and interdisciplinary teams as a rule. Furthermore, for the sake of agility the teams should not exceed a certain size. We have a rule that teams should be exactly the size that allows everyone to feel full after eating two (large!) pizzas. This approach reduces the number of necessary handovers, increases responsibility, and allows the team to provide customers with software faster.

Incorporating feedback

The earlier client feedback flows back into the “production process”, the better. In addition, companies must ensure that every piece of feedback is applied to future projects. To avoid getting lost in endless feedback loops, this should be organized in a lean way: Obtaining the feedback of internal and external stakeholders must by no means hamper the development process.

Learning to take risks

“Good intentions never work, you need good mechanisms to make anything happen,” says Jeff Bezos. For that, you need a corporate culture that teaches employees to experiment constantly and deliver. With every new experiment, one should risk yet another small step forward behind the previous step. At the same time, from every team we need data based on predefined KPIs about the impact of the experiments. And we need to establish mechanisms that take effect immediately if we go too far or if something goes wrong, for example if the solution never reached the customer.

Anyone who has tried this knows it’s not easy to start your own digital revolution in the company and keep the momentum going. P3 advises cellular operators and offers its customers access to data that provide information about the quality of cellular networks (for example signal strength, broken connection and the data throughput) – worldwide and independent of the network operator and cellular provider. This allows the customers to come up with measures in order to expand their networks or new offerings for a more efficient utilization of their capacity. By introducing DevOps tools, P3 can define an automated process that implements the required compute infrastructure in the AWS Cloud and deploys project-specific software packages with the push of a button. Moreover, the process definition can be revised by developers, the business or data scientists at any time, for example in order to develop new regions, add analytics software or implement new AWS services. Now P3 can focus fully on its core competence, namely developing its proprietary software. Data scientists can use their freed-up resources to analyze in real time data that are collected from around the world and put insights from the analysis at the disposal of their clients

The cloud offers IT limitless possibilities on the technical side, from which new opportunities have been born. But it’s becoming ever clearer what is required in order to make use of these opportunities. Technologies change faster than people. And individuals faster than entire organizations. Tackling these challenges is a strategic necessity. Changing the organization is the next bottleneck on the way to becoming a digital champion.

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News fatigue shifts Google searches in SA

Google search trends in South Africa reveal a startling insight into news appetite, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The big searches of the year no longer track the biggest news stories of the year, suggesting a strong dose of news fatigue among South Africans.

“People ask, why are the Guptas not on the list of Google’s top searches?, says Mich Atagana, head of communications and public affairs at Google South Africa, “The Guptas are not on the list because South Africans are not actually that interested. South Africans are looking for things they don’t know. From a Gupta point of view, we’ve been exhausted by the news and we know exactly what is going on.”

Google South Africa announced the results of its 2018 Year in Search, offering a unique perspective on the year’s major moments.

“Four years ago, there were almost no South Africans on the personalities list,” says Atagana. “Over the years, South Africans have gotten more interested in South Africa, in searching on Google.”

That isn’t to say that international searches – like Meghan Markle – are not heavily searched by South Africans. But  they feature lower down on the lists.

From the World Cup to listeriosis, Zuma and Global Citizen, South Africans use search to find the things they really need to know.

These are the main trends revealed  by Google this week:

Top trending South African searches

  1. World Cup fixtures
  2. Load shedding
  3. Global Citizen
  4. Zuma
  5. Winnie Mandela
  6. HHP
  7. Listeriosis
  8. Black Panther
  9. Meghan Markle
  10. Mac Miller

Trending personalities

  1.    Jacob Zuma
  2. Cyril Ramaphosa
  3. Sbahle Mpisane
  4. Kevin Anderson
  5. Malusi Gigaba
  6. Ashwin Willemse
  7. Patrice Motsepe
  8. Cheryl Zondi
  9. Shamila Batohi
  10. Mlindo the Vocalist

Top Questions

  1. How did Avicii die?
  2. How old is Pharrell Williams?
  3. What is listeriosis?
  4. What is black data?
  5. How old is Prince Harry?
  6. How much are Global Citizen tickets?
  7. How to get pregnant?
  8. What time is the royal wedding?
  9. What happened to HHP?
  10. How old is Meghan Markle?

Top ‘near me’ searches

  1. Jobs near me
  2. Nandos near me
  3. Dischem near me
  4. McDonalds near me
  5. Guest house near me
  6. Postnet near me
  7. Steers near me
  8. Spar near me
  9. Debonairs near me
  10. Spur near me

Top women

  1. Winnie Mandela
  2. Meghan Markle
  3. Sbahle Mpisane
  4. Aretha Franklin
  5. Khloe Kardashian
  6. Sophie Ndaba
  7. Cheryl Zondi
  8. Demi Lovato
  9. Lerato Sengadi
  10. Siam Lee

The Year In Search 2018 minisite can be found here.

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Smartphones dip in 2018

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to decline by 3% in 2018 before returning to low single-digit growth in 2019 and through 2022.

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While the on-going U.S.-China trade war has the industry on edge, IDC still believes that continued developments from emerging markets, mixed with potential around 5G and new product form factors, will bring the smartphone market back to positive growth.

Smartphone shipments are expected to drop to 1.42 billion units in 2018, down from 1.47 billion in 2017. However, IDC expects year-over-year shipment growth of 2.6% in 2019. Over the long-term, smartphone shipments are forecast to reach 1.57 billion units in 2022. From a geographic perspective, the China market, which represented 30% of total smartphone shipments in 2017, is finally showing signs of recovery. While the world’s largest market is still forecast to be down 8.8% in 2018 (worse than the 2017 downturn), IDC anticipates a flat 2019, then back to positive territory through 2022. The U.S. is also forecast to return to positive growth in 2019 (up 2.1% year over year) after experiencing a decline in 2018.

The slow revival of China was one of the reasons for low growth in Q3 2018 and this slowdown will persist into Q1 2019 as the market is expected to drop by 3% in Q4 2018. Furthermore, the recently lifted U.S. ban on ZTE had an impact on shipments in Q3 2018 and created a sizable gap that is yet to be filled heading into 2019.

“With many of the large global companies focusing on high-end product launches, hoping to draw in consumers looking to upgrade based on specifications and premium devices, we can expect head-to-head competition within this segment during the holiday quarter and into 2019 to be exceptionally high,” said Sangeetika Srivastava, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers.

Though 2018 has fallen below expectations so far, the worldwide smartphone market is set to pick up on the shift toward larger screens and ultra-high-end devices. All the big players have further built out their portfolios with bigger screens and higher-end smartphones, including Apple’s new launch in September. In Q3 2018, the 6-inch to less than 7-inch screen size band became the most prominent band for the first time with more than four times year-over-year growth. IDC believes that larger-screen smartphones (5.5 inches and above) will lead the charge with volumes of 947.1 million in 2018, accounting for 66.7% of all smartphones, up from 623.3 million units and 42.5% share in 2017. By 2022, shipments of these larger-screen smartphones will move up to 1.38 billion units or 87.7% of overall shipment volume.

“What we consider a so-called normal size smartphone has shifted dramatically in a few short years and while we are stretching the limits with bezel-less devices, the next big switch to flexible screens will test our imaginations even further,” said Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “While this category of device is still nascent and won’t see major adoption in the year ahead, it’s exciting to see changes to the standard monoblock we are all so used to carrying.”

Platform Highlights

Android: Android’s smartphone share will remain stable at 85% throughout the forecast. Volumes are expected to grow at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.7% with shipments approaching 1.36 billion in 2022. Android is still the choice of the masses with no shift expected. Android average selling prices (ASPs) are estimated to grow by 9.6% in 2018 to US$258, up from US$235 in 2017. IDC expects this upward trajectory to continue through the forecast, but at a softened rate from 2019 and beyond. Not only are market players pushing upgraded specs and materials to offset decreasing replacement rates, but they are also serving the evolving consumer needs for better performance.

iOS: iOS smartphones are forecast to drop by 2.5% in 2018 to 210.4 million. The launch of expensive and bigger screen iOS smartphones in Q3 2018 helped Apple to raise its ASP, simultaneously making it somewhat difficult to increase shipments in the current market slump. IDC is forecasting iPhone shipments to grow at a five-year CAGR of 0.1%, reaching volumes of 217.3 million in 2022. Despite the challenges, there is no ambiguity that Apple will continue to lead the global premium market segment.

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