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CIO must think like VC

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Forrester recently outlined its key predictions for this year and says CIOs will need to look beyond just technology if they hope to turn their tech management departments into the digital transformation office.

A report, CIOs Make the Chief Digital Officer Obsolete, points out that CEOs will be putting pressure on their CIOs to deliver on platform-based business models and new partnership ecosystems.

“Experimentation, minimum viable products, and labs are so 2017. In 2018, digital business transformation will be played out at scale, sparking shifts in organisational structure, operating models, and technology platforms,” writes Pascal Matzke, Forrester VP research director serving CIOs in the report. “In 2018, CEOs will expect their CIOs to lead digital efforts by orchestrating the enabling technologies, closing the digital skills gap, and linking arms with CMOs and other executive peers better positioned to address the transformational issues across business silos.”

According to Forrester, by the end of 2018, around 40% of the revenues of global industrial firms (like GE or Siemens) will be based on asset usage or other software-enabled service schemes. In addition, more aggressive companies will shift their traditional business models into business platforms, reaching customers directly or through intermediaries and partners.

Matzke points out that while some companies may build their own platforms, most will have to learn to deliver over one, regardless of the ownership. He also says CIOs will need to gear up their underlying technologies and supplier relationships in order to meet the new business model.

In 2018, CEOs will find ways to replicate the agility of smaller, non-listed companies, going so far as to spin off or divest parts of their business to allow unencumbered focus on their digital ambitions. According to the report, change will be the constant companion for the CIO in 2018 and they will need to make use of concepts like Agile, DevOps, and design thinking to enable faster delivery of capabilities across the enterprise.

Forrester’s report notes that key to effective change in 2018 will be CIOs being able to find and retain the necessary talent as well as upgrading both culture and structure of their organisation to meet customer expectations. This, suggests Matzke, will present CIOs with the unique opportunity to position themselves as leaders of transformation and even the enterprise.

Co-developing skills with partners; cross training tech staff in business skills; tapping into the gig economy; and automating where appropriate will allow CIOs to address their skills issues.

On the plus side, Forrester points out that the growth in cloud will result in a shift in operations to third-parties. At the same time, Agile, DevOps, automation, and low/no code will become the norm in more mature technology shops and quality technology will be delivered faster, and at a more cost effective price point.

The report goes on to advise CIOs to collaborate throughout the organisation, starting with marketing to help bring a more Agile and flexible approach to serving the customer.

Technology forms a cornerstone of digital transformation and the report points out that turning to new technologies and developing predictive analysis capabilities will allow organisations to continuously stay ahead of changing customer desires.

Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things will remain a focus for CIOs into 2018, although Forrester has cautioned that those expecting major upheavals from blockchain-based networks will be disappointed. The company does, however, believe that quantum computing will continue to attract both interest and investment throughout 2018.

Finally, the report outlines how CIOs should think like venture capitalists to ensure success. By adopting a portfolio management approach to tracking, testing, and implementing new technologies, CIOs can back the best performing products and solutions, ensuring success. In fact, Matzke goes so far as to say that the evolved positioning of the CIO will ultimately make the role of the chief digital officer (CDO) obsolete.

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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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