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Corporate SA not in love with 4IR

Major technologies of the fourth industrial revolution have not yet been adopted with enthusiasm by SA enterprises, according to the latest research by World Wide Worx

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The technologies that make up the so-called fourth industrial revolution (4IR) have yet to be adopted with any enthusiasm by South African enterprises.

This is a core finding of a new research study entitled “Fourth Industrial Revolution in South Africa 2019: Enterprise uptake and expectations for emerging technologies,” conducted by World Wide Worx in partnership with SYSPRO.

The research delved into current and planned uptake of emerging business technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, virtual and augmented reality, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.

“The most surprising finding was the lack of enthusiasm for artificial intelligence, despite the marketing hype that suggests every large business is embracing it,” says Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx and principal analyst on the 4IR research project. “Only 13% of corporate South Africa is currently using AI and, of the rest, 21% plan to adopt it in the next 12 to 24 months.”

A significant obstacle to adoption, the research reveals, is the cost of skills for implementing AI. Of those not using it, 43% cited cost as the key reason. Ironically, as awareness of AI grows in South Africa, enthusiasm seems to diminish.

“Traditionally, intended uptake of new technologies shot up once education, awareness and knowledge increased,” says Goldstuck. “Now, however, we are seeing the flip side of the coin. A year ago, 63% of those not using AI said they planned to use it in the future, and not a single company cited cost as a reason not to do so. A year and much hype later, the market seems to have woken up to the realities of obstacles like skills and cost, and the proportion of those planning to use it has plunged.”

By contrast, robotics – in both hardware and software – has moved to the forefront of corporate strategy. A technology called Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which automates business processes through software “bots”, has become readily and cheaply available from numerous service providers, resulting in a robotics boom.

“We were astonished when we sifted through the data,” says Goldstuck. “A year ago, only 6% of South African enterprises were using robotics. Then came the RPA explosion. Now the figure stands at 37%.”

The industry sectors that have adopted robotics most enthusiastically also reveal the contrast in use cases between hardware-and software-based automation. The sector with the highest uptake, Legal services – at a high 67% – is able to reap massive benefits from automating standard, routine and dull processes like searches for legal precedents. On the other hand, the next most active sector in robotics, Mining, is focused on hardware automation of both dangerous and routine processes, like drilling and sorting.

“We’ve predicted for some time that the legal profession would be among the first to use AI and bots to take over and speed up routine tasks,” says Goldstuck. “This poses a  challenge to the profession to allocate new roles to recent graduates that are the lifeblood of the industry. While this transition is under way, fewer positions will be available, and we will see a significant shift in skills requirements for entry-level positions. This, of course, is the fundamental challenge of the fourth industrial revolution.”

The uptake of emerging technologies varies dramatically across technology categories and industry sectors. Virtual and augmented reality is used by a little more than a third of enterprises, but intended usage among the rest falls to below 10%. Blockchain, the technology for distributed ledgers that validate every step in a transaction process, is currently used by fewer than 10% of respondents.

The one stand-out sector, in which South Africa leads the world, is the Internet of Things (IoT). The study revealed near-unanimous usage, with 92% of enterprises having adopted IoT. However, this is largely a factor of the ubiquity of vehicle tracking and fleet management technology, which began as telematics, and has evolved into a sub-category of IoT.

“The combination of high usage and a strong increase in current and planned usage of IoT technology shows corporates are getting returns from existing IoT implementations,” says Goldstuck. “As the technology becomes cheaper to obtain and operate, smaller companies will have the ability to compete in productivity with much larger corporates.”

This is one of the key benefits of such emerging technologies, the study suggests: once the skills requirements are addressed, they become a commodity that any organisation of any size, from start-up to giant corporation, can leverage equally. For now, however, companies are having to make cautious choices. This is revealed in the finding that a mere 3.1% of enterprises use a combination of robotics and AI. Of the rest, only 3.6% plan to do so.

“The report reveals quite dramatically the extent to which corporate South Africa seems to have a clear sense of what it needs and doesn’t need from the emerging technologies,” says Goldstuck. “The fourth industrial revolution will be cherry-picked, based on what will differentiate a business, rather than representing wholesale take-up of technologies for their own sake.”

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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