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AI: a reality check

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Forrester has put forward a collection of predictions for CIOs working on data and analytics initiatives, warning that the capabilities of new technologies, like AI, require the redesign of operating models.

In  2017, Forrester’s predictions for data and analytics indicated that AI was going to be the spark that ignited the insights revolution. Surveys showed that firms investing in AI rose from 40% in 2016 to 51% in 2017. However, 55% of firms have not yet achieved any tangible business outcomes from AI, and 43% say it’s too soon to tell.

In its new report, Prediction 2018: The Honeymoon for AI is Over, Forrester principal analyst serving application development and delivery professionals, Boris Evelson, discusses the disconnect between expectation and reality, writing: “AI is not a plug-and-play proposition. Unless firms plan, deploy, and govern it correctly, new AI tech will provide meagre benefits at best or, at worst, result in unexpected and undesired outcomes. If CIOs and chief data officers (CDOs) are serious about becoming insights driven, 2018 is the year they must realise that simplistic lift-and-shift approaches will only scratch the surface of possibilities that new tech offers.”

AI will shift analytics and business innovation

Investment into analytics capabilities and getting more out of big data continues unabated. Technology decision makers are fueling the perception that AI is the pinnacle of analytics. Evelson points out that the result of this will be that better human-to-machine interactions will influence the pursuit of AI in 2018. Machines will work alongside executives and employees to make decisions, creating better customer experience and engagement. Forrester predictions include:

1. Around 25% of organisations will supplement point-and-click analytics with conversational User Interfaces.

Business intelligence (BI) vendors are recognising the need to simply ask a question and immediately get an answer.  The use of Natural language processing (NLP) and natural language generation (NLG) for data querying in real time will continue to grow and organisations will add more natural conversations interfaces.

2. AI will be responsible for decision making and real-time instructions at 20% of organisations

In 2018, one in five firms will trust AI to make business decisions and recommendations for both employees and customers. Systems will even suggest what to offer customers, what terms to offer suppliers, and issue instructions to staff. Data-driven decision making will grow considerably over the next year.

3. Unstructured data will become useful

The number of companies with more than 100 terabytes of unstructured data has doubled since 2016. However, only 32% of companies have successfully analysed text data, and even fewer are analysing other unstructured sources. Deep learning will make data analysis more accurate and scalable.

Big Data environments evolve

Many organisations are struggling to show the results of using big data. Evelson believes 2018 will be the year that big data begins to mature.

1. More than 30% of enterprises will pull funding for their data lakes

Forrester says its client enquiries emphasise the disconnect between expensive big data projects and tangible business outcomes. The company says that 2018 will be the year when these projects either demonstrate their benefits, or face the chop.

2. Cloud-first for data analytics

Forrester says we can expect around 50% of companies to shift to a public-cloud-first policy in 2018 for data, big data, and analytics. This is being driven by firms looking to control costs and have more flexibility than their on-premises software can deliver.

Traditional roles re-invented

1. CDOs shift to offense mode

Forrester believes that companies will push Chief Data Officers (CDOs) to move further up the data value chain in order to fast-track innovation.

According to the report, business-focussed CDOs will look to innovate with data, either through analytics embedded in internal business processes or through data-enabled products and services. Moreover, Forrester predicts that in 2018, more than 50% of CDOs will report to the CEO.

The insight market will become more complex

Evelson points out that as the insight market becomes more complex, data and analytics decision makers should re-assess strategies and begin partnering with vendors and other partners.

“Up to 80% of organisations will rely on insights service providers for at least some portion of their capabilities in 2018, driving business for insights service providers, management consultants, and systems integrators,” Evelson writes. “What’s more, academia will become a key insight partner for enterprises.”

In addition to the predictions, the report includes high-level recommendations for business and IT leaders. However, the key takeout is the need for new roles and processes to take full advantage of new technologies, along with an explicit effort to change organisational culture to reap the potential rewards.

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Building Africa’s Century

The 4th industrial revolution will be on the agenda of this week’s Gartner IT Symposium in Cape Town. Doug Woolley, GM of Dell Technologies South Africa, ponders its meaning for Africa

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Is this Africa’s Century, as President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the recent WEF on Africa gathering? I believe so. The event made solid headway in charting a course forward for African-centric solutions to our challenges. 

Technology featured often in discussions and the 4th Industrial Revolution was a central theme. Many of the outcomes also tied to a more connected digital world. But those are the broad strokes. What happens next?

An important avenue can be found in all the individual investments made inside societies, such as broadband. The spread of connectivity is in part due to telecommunications firms being mandated by the Government to reach rural and under-serviced communities. But the major momentum behind broadband stems from demand. From individuals to enterprises, a hungry broadband market has helped South Africa become much more connected.

This paradigm applies to other technology investments as well. All of them add up to support the ideas and advancements that were discussed at WEF on Africa. The need for better services and performance through technology stokes the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s engine. Every network, every datacentre, every smartphone is a piece of the puzzle that will create Africa’s Century.

We are further along the curve than most people realise. If I can judge a country’s potential based on how digitally mature its organisations are, then South Africa is not in bad shape. Earlier this year, the annual Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index ranked South Africa in the top ten, ahead of most developed nations. The investments made by the Public and Private sectors are taking root. 

It may not make headlines, but all these individual ambitions pointing in the same direction are building the change we all want to see.

This brings me to the Gartner IT Symposium Xpo, the business-technology event taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 16 to 18 September. If WEF on Africa challenged for solutions at a high level, then the Gartner Symposium is where those individual investments come into play.

The nitty-gritty of the 4IR era will be on the Symposium agenda. Research by World Wide Worx on the uptake of 4IR technologies among South African enterprises will be presented tomorrow (Tuesday) by one of the company’s data analysts, Bryan Turner.

I also anticipate discussions about multi-cloud. Cloud has grown tremendously as African organisations saw the progress that came with investing in it, connectivity and data – the core ingredients of the 4IR era. Now they are looking ahead to what can be done next: that multi-cloud is on the agenda shows how Africa’s technology capability is growing.

Unified workspaces will be another good conversation topic. What happens in the office doesn’t stay in the office. Our technology habits follow us home and, more often, our home habits follow us to the office. This makes perfect sense, because 4IR is primarily about people being empowered by technology. Our workplace technology habits are microcosms of our overall use of technology.

Multi-cloud is the ‘infrastructure’ of the 4IR conversation and the workplace is where these technologies deliver some of their value. Considerable buzz is growing around unified workspaces, which make office environments more manageable and secure while reshaping them to fit the needs of modern employees.

Stop by the Dell Technologies stand and see how we’re helping create that momentum with multi-cloud, unified workspaces and through many other channels, including skills development and supporting SMMEs to grow.

How do we create Africa’s Century? Through those individual investments that collectively stoke the engines of our country and continent. It’s not just for the big players: 4IR can provide for every organisation regardless of size. Those investments are investments in the future of Africa.

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PayPal pictures how the future will be won – or lost

By AAYUSH SINGHANIA, director of Commercial Operations for PayPal Cross-Border Trade Markets

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There’s no doubt that technology has already re-shaped the way the world thinks about buying and selling. Who would have thought twenty years ago that people would be shopping on their phones?

Despite the huge changes to the shopping experience in recent years, it’s important to understand that we are only part-way through this journey. We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, and as technologies continue to advance, and we as a society adapt our behaviours, new opportunities and risks will present themselves to merchants of all sizes.

Here is where I see the future of commerce being won and lost, as we continue on this technology journey:

Meeting ever-increasing demand for personalised experiences

We’ve already witnessed the transition of commerce from brick and mortar to the web, and then from the web to mobile. The next phase of internet-connected devices will make commerce even more contextual whereby anything you can interact with can be a platform for commerce. Imagine being able to point your phone at your best friend’s shoes, and almost instantly they are in your shopping cart, ready to be delivered to your home?

Mobile has already made shopping an “all the time” activity and has given us a taste of what it’s like to have hyper-personalised experiences. While a consumer walking into a retail store is limited by physical space, the online world offers an unlimited shelf for merchants to deliver tailored customer experiences. Looking ahead, innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning hold great promise to further deliver on this hyper-personalisation, by being able to learn about who a consumer really is as a person and their individual preferences.

As a result of this evolution, customers have moved from being surprised and delighted by personalised experiences to expect them in every context. Many customers, for example, now get frustrated when they receive advertisements for products that they’ve already bought, or have no interest in. This shift has made it critical for merchants to avoid delivering homogenous experiences to shoppers who demand personalised interactions across all contexts. In doing so, it’s important that merchants find a balance between personalising their offerings and ensuring consumers don’t feel their privacy is being invaded. Shoppers want to feel like a brand understands them, but isn’t stalking them, particularly in the wake of several high-profile data breaches.

Closing the consumer fulfilment gap to deliver seamless experiences

With new advancements in technology comes the ability to create seamless customer experiences that narrow the gap between customer desire and fulfilment. Gone are the days where shoppers decided to purchase an item and they were happy to wait a week to receive it – for many, two-day shipping still isn’t quick enough. The invention of the internet meant people could shop from home, and recently we’ve seen this evolve further where consumers prefer to shop on-the-go via mobile.

The big question is, what’s next? We’re already seeing the growth of commerce through technologies like AI-enabled voice assistants and virtual reality, so it’s critical that merchants keep pace with innovations that enable them to close the gap between desire and purchase in a delightful way.

At the end of the day, businesses need to remember that the act of filling up a cart and the process of checking out is not the fun part of making a purchase – these are points of friction – and technology is the answer to removing these frustrations for customers.

Managing customer reactions to technology disruption

Every tech disruption in its early days delivers excitement, fear, anxiety and doubt – not necessarily in that order. We all go through a phase of tech humanisation, because technology grows as we do – and we help shape the development of new solutions.

Technology has been used for good and bad, and technology that causes eye-raising experiences at the start will generally normalise in time. Remember the first video cameras on phones? As people learned how to use the technology, content got posted that shouldn’t have. Everything from the telephone, to radio and the television all caused concern and were initially criticised when first introduced to the public, but with time they’ve become part of our everyday lives.  As technology evolves, companies learn from it, and the acceptance and humanisation of technology will take place for both consumers and merchants as new innovations are applied to the world of commerce.

Merchants need to have a mindset that’s focused on being a customer champion, while recognising that customers need to adapt to new technologies in their own time. To do this, businesses must leverage technology to build the right features that aren’t intrusive, but geared towards helping people, and respect the customer’s choice to turn technology on or off.

Technology innovation will continue to re-shape commerce in the years ahead, with the potential to deliver new growth opportunities for merchants, and offering customers more choice, convenience, value and instant gratification. In a broader sense, these innovations can also help promote employment by breaking down traditional barriers to buying and selling. For merchants, the opportunities will arise, they just have to know how to take advantage of them in the right way.

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