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Businesses are taking IT out of the IT dept

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Research from VMware has revealed that 57% of South African business leaders believe the management of technology is shifting away from IT to other departments, as lines of business take charge of technology-led innovation in organisations.

The research, among 2,000 IT decision makers and 2,000 heads of lines of business globally, including 100 in South Africa, finds that this decentralisation of IT is delivering real business benefits: the ability to launch new products and services to market with greater speed (61%), giving the business more freedom to drive innovation (59%) and increasing responsiveness to market conditions (59%). There are also positives from a skills perspective, with the shift in technology ownership beyond IT to the broader business seen to increase employee satisfaction (63%) and help attract better talent (52%).

This move, however, is not without its challenges. Leaders from across the business believe the shift is causing a duplication of spend on IT services (51%), a lack of clear ownership and responsibility for IT (58%) and the purchasing of unsecure solutions (68%). Furthermore, this decentralisation movement is happening against the wishes of IT teams, the majority of which (58%) want IT to become more centralised. In particular, IT leaders feel that core functions like network security and compliance (50%), private cloud-based services (28%) and storage (24%) should remain in their control.

“It’s ‘transform or die’ for many businesses, with a tumultuous economic environment and a radically evolved competitive landscape upturning the way they operate,” says Matthew Kibby, Regional Director at VMware Sub-Saharan Africa. “Managing this change is the great organisational challenge companies face. The rise of the cloud has democratised IT, with its ease of access and attractive costing models, so it’s no surprise that lines of business have jumped on this opportunity. Too often, however, we’re seeing this trend left unchecked and without adequate IT governance, meaning that organisations across EMEA are driving up costs, compromising security and muddying the waters as to who does what, as they look to evolve.”

The ownership for driving innovation within South African organisations is not disputed among business leaders.  The majority (80%) believe that IT should enable the lines of business to drive innovation, but must set the strategic direction and be accountable for security. This highlights the balance to be struck between the central IT function retaining control while also allowing innovation to foster in other, separate areas of the business.

The move to Cross-Cloud as a Solution

“Discovery innovates at a rapid pace and we require agility to respond to ever changing business demands. Innovation and expansion are part of the Discovery DNA and, as a result, having visibility across our data centre operations is important for the organisation,” says Johan Marais, Virtualisation Manager at Discovery. “Cross-Cloud will enable this, as well as give our business the freedom of choice in data centre location, while ensuring operations deliver a top-class service irrespective of whether the service is delivered on a private, hybrid or public cloud.”

“This isn’t ‘Shadow IT’ anymore, that’s yesterday’s story – this is now ‘Mainstream IT’,” continues Kibby. “The decentralisation movement is happening, driven by the need for speed in today’s business world: we’ve never seen such a desire for new, immediately available applications, services and ways of working. By recognising these changes are happening, and adapting to them, IT can still be an integral part of leading this charge of change. The latest technology or application will only truly drive digital transformation when it’s able to cross any cloud, is available at speed and with ease, within a secure environment.”

Supporting Quote:

“By introducing its Cross-Cloud Architecture, VMware has taken cloud services to the next level, providing improved flexibility for customers to access services from different cloud providers and still be assured that they are in control and that their cloud environment is secure, no matter where it resides,” states Rohan de Deer, General Manager at iSanity.

Decentralisation definition

*The decentralisation of IT is when any employee within any business department of an organisation, other than the IT department, is making IT purchases or installing or maintaining software. It can also include employees using non-IT approved software, such as Dropbox, without the involvement of the centralised IT department.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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