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Companies can be digital magnets

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There is a huge disconnect between the rise of digital business models and the necessary skills to carry those jobs out, writes WERNER VOGELS, CTO at Amazon.com.

Digitalization offers almost endless possibilities to communicate faster, work more efficiently, and be more creative – in real-time. But groundbreaking digital business models need pioneers: creators, forward-looking thinkers and inventors who don’t hesitate to leave the beaten path, embody ownership, and who understand how to translate customers’ wishes into superb new products, services and solutions that evolve with speed. It is a no-brainer, that getting the right talent on board can decisively accelerate a company’s digital transformation. At the same time, if your daily corporate practice doesn’t fulfill their expectations regarding a vibrant and flexible working culture and a social media-minded environment, digital natives will simply turn their back on you and go elsewhere.

Finding those kind of people is not easy. There are probably only a few companies that can say, they already have a sufficient number of such employees among their staff. Job openings for machine learning scientists, data analytics experts, IT security experts or developers are already difficult to fill, and the demand for this knowledge will increase significantly in the next few years as customers show their demand for digital engagements. The market for digital skills is “hot”, in the U.S. as well as in Germany. And these talents are by no means coveted only by companies that always had a digital business model to begin with; suppliers to the automotive industry, financial services companies, and retailers also, urgently need product managers, and technical staff who can quickly make their organizations digitally attractive to their customers. Recruiting and selection in the digital age therefore needs to be tackled in a more strategic way than in the past. So how do you position your company as an attractive employer for digital talent?

Preparing the organization for a new beginning

One way is to eliminate rigid structures, previously the enemy to digital thinking. Digitalization involves, among others, suddenly converging areas that used to be siloed. Take industrial companies. In the past, their sales departments defined specifications according to the customer’s wishes, which were then transferred step by step into the manufacturing process. These days, it’s expected that everything should happen almost simultaneously. Previously, the top priorities for IT departments were equipping data centers with hardware, purchasing software, and further developing proprietary software. Today, companies take their server capacity and software from the cloud. These changes have to be taken into account when scanning the market for talent. At Düsseldorf-based fashion retailer Peek&Cloppenburg, for example, the business, development and IT functions are increasingly cooperating with each other because they realize that isolated departments and rigid hierarchies can slow down the organization’s innovative strength and speed. That is also why employees have more and more room to make decisions themselves. P&C’s digital transformation is supported by an in-house consulting team that helps the specialized departments analyze and digitize those processes that strengthen the customer touchpoints.

The freedom to create

Another way to make your company attractive for digital talent is to give them as much creative freedom as possible AutoScout24, a Munich-based online marketplace for car, motorcycle and utility vehicle sales is a digital native company. Recognizing that it needed faster decision making, AutoScout24 started to empower employees who are close to their customers. The company created small and agile cross-functional teams with profit and loss responsibility for their market segments. These measures eliminated dependencies amongst business units, increased self-responsibility, eased communication processes and improved overall organizational alignment.

Showcase your best talent – and give them what they need

It’s important to encourage the employees you already have, provide them with resources and let them decide things themselves. They should be able to follow their ideas and feel accountable for them. Offering regular development opportunities can also help you make the most of your talent. In most cases, you won’t select a learning offer from a general training catalog, as in the pre-digital era. Development will have to be customized for each individual. That might be a course, the opportunity to lead a project, or gaining new insights by working in another part of the company.

Some companies have created cross-business-unit roles such as the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) in order to connect everything that needs to be thought of in a unified way in the digital world. Their responsibilities include defining future growth areas, spearheading change processes and allocating resources in a new way so that the company is ready to face the digital era and address the ever-changing customer expectation. They need to find allies who possess enough digital know-how to ensure the company can take advantage of the opportunities that stem from new technologies.

Wanted: Employees with a mixed skill set

Another way to attract the best digital talent is to keep an eye out for applicants who bring a diverse mix of skills. We hear again and again, and not only in Germany, how scarce IT experts and engineers are. At the same time, you need to discuss what role a person who designs cars for example, will play in the value chain in a future world in which the car manufacturer will probably earn most of its money with data and mobility services. How this affects the required skills mix needs to be defined and assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Two things are crucial here. First, you need talented individuals who want to be customer-centric and who are able to cross the traditional (internal) customer and IT organizational boundaries in order to truly feel what customers want. In some cases, it could be helpful to even ’embed’ your employees at the customerfor a period of time. Secondly, it’s clear, that digital business models require experts who view data as an essential element of future value creation — regardless of the specific expertise they bring to the company.

Create room for adventure

Finally, be aware of the impact of your culture. Today’s digital talent seeks adventure and a job that gives them meaning. The more comfortable they feel in the workplace, the more willing they will be to work harder for your company’s success. And they want to be surrounded by similarly minded colleagues. Companies must ensure their culture can meet these expectations. A company can differentiate itself on culture also by taking a strong stand on issues that are of concern to their employees, and by having a leadership principles that are not just on paper, but reflected within the employees every day. At Amazon, we stand for a culture where failure is explicitly allowed — and even desired — because in our experience the path to transformational innovations can never be straight and failure is a sign of progressive thinking. That’s why we need candidates who love to experiment, who are prepared to take other paths, and who are energetic enough to quickly find a way out of a dead-end. Our leadership principles also play a critical role; they describe in detail what is important to us. Everyone can find these values on our website, and they apply to everyone. We expect our employees to focus constantly on the customers’ needs and to continuously improve themselves. That can be inconvenient. But to thrive, innovations need a certain tension.

Digitalization is happening fast. That shouldn’t be an excuse for taking shortcuts in recruiting. Jeff Bezos once said: ” I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person .” In the end, only a carefully planned and executed HR strategy will allow a company to achieve the digital transformation and develop it in such a way that it fulfills the company’s long-term goals .

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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