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Data is the key asset for dot.com success

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There isn’t a silver bullet to make your business “the next Uber”, but one vital aspect of the Uber culture these businesses have instilled in their employees, customer service and operations, is understanding and using data, writes SEKETE PATRICK MAPHOPHA of NetApp Africa.

Nowadays, if you watch Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice, the majority of the proposed business ideas – not necessarily those that receive investment – are online-based businesses or apps. At the very least, budding entrepreneurs are advised to ditch the traditional retail store. Therefore, it’s no wonder that companies like Amazon.com, Uber and AirBnB, the fastest-growing companies in their respective fields, are both the inspiration and envy of SME owners.

There isn’t a silver bullet to make your business “the next Uber” as so many claim, but one vital aspect of the Uber culture these businesses have instilled in their employees, customer service and operations, is understanding and using data.

Mantras like “Data is the new currency”, “Data = profit” and “Data holds the key to our future” are bandied about, and it can hardly be denied that for a company that does not produce any products of its own, data is arguably its most valuable asset. Central to this mantra needs to be a cloud storage solution like NetApp, aimed at simplifying data control and mobility across on-premises, hybrid cloud, and public cloud infrastructures.

Fostering a ‘sharing economy’

The ubiquity of technology in our daily lives and the growing digitisation of services means that our lives are becoming more and more “connected”, in terms of being connected to the internet and to data from multiple sources which are linked together and used to make another service relevant. Now it’s time for SMEs with an appetite for growth, or that want to increase their value proposition to existing customers, to make data a key part of their business culture.

The proof of the success of data for driving business growth can be seen in the “Sharing Economy” trend, which began in the early 2000s. As consumers, we’re constantly connecting intelligent cars, speakers, watches, lightbulbs and more to the Internet. Experts are therefore predicting a 4300% increase in data production in 2020 compared to 2012. In order to address the data overload, SMEs need to rather invest in a hybrid cloud solution, such as one built on a Data Fabric, to place the control in their hands. With that solution they can:

  • Synchronize data between on-premise and cloud storage for data analytics purposes;
  • Back up data securely to on-premises, hosted, or public clouds by using cloud-integrated storage;
  • Gain insights into their cloud workloads across on-premises and cloud environments with.

By having full control over data workloads, connecting to consumers can be made easier than ever before.

Building out the necessary infrastructure to take data to definitive success

By utilising the data at a company’s disposal from any and every relevant channel, SMEs stand to gain in two key ways.

Firstly, they can use the data for their own strategy, improving competitiveness and operational efficiency, while being able to create new products and services with real, actionable insight into the target customer. This is crucial for SMEs who have much smaller budgets than their enterprise rivals with which to develop and research new offerings, and can be a key driver in allowing SMEs to compete on a larger scale.

In order to fulfil this, SMEs will have to consider their IT infrastructure and look into storage and analytics solutions that can support both the volume of data required, and the processing capability necessary to transform huge amounts of raw actionable data into useable insights. The NetApp ONTAP storage operating system is one such example, and can be used across cloud and on-premises infrastructure to create a Data Fabric that acts as a single system, meaning that data is more easily managed and controlled.

Secondly, for SMEs who either can’t or don’t want to use data directly, there is also a financial opportunity presented by the growth in data. Data sets can be sold on to third parties who may be able to transform it into exciting new innovations and services.

We are living in a data-powered world, where data, devices and systems are unifying to produce the best products and services for customers, and the best ROI opportunities for businesses – SMEs and enterprises alike. As more devices become connected, we are moving towards a future powered entirely by data – and SMEs can’t afford to miss out.

* Sekete Patrick Maphopha, NetApp Africa CTO and Technology Evangelist

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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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