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Decoding tech buzzwords

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Every day, we are bombarded with jargon and buzzwords. Each industry has its fair share of jargon, but none so much as the IT industry, writes DOUG CRAWFORD, Manager of Service Delivery at Entelect.

Sometimes a buzzword emerges out of necessity – there simply is no other way to describe a new phenomenon or trend. In many cases, however, it is a shift in thinking or a reincarnation of an old concept that provides the marketing fraternity with a fresh opportunity to create a ‘buzz’.

Instead of fostering a real understanding, the use of buzzwords and jargon can create misconceptions that ultimately slow down the decision-making process. At best, people waste time trying to understand what is essentially something very simple. At worst, they miss an opportunity. Either way, new terms can be confusing so I have decoded some of the IT industry’s up and coming jargon and buzzwords.

1. Big Data: Big Data refers to the large amounts of data that are typically collected from events triggered by particular actions or devices monitoring some phenomena, often stored in a loosely structured format. Traditional techniques for processing these large data sets are ineffective and new approaches are necessary to collect, retrieve, summarise and visualise – turning the data into something more meaningful.

The generally accepted defining properties of Big Data are known as the Three Vs, which Gartner analyst Doug Laney originally coined:

·         Volume – the amount of data stored

·         Velocity – the rate at which data is generated and processed

·         Variety – the type and source of the data.

If each of these properties is increasing significantly, the information can be considered to be Big Data.

Aside from the fact that companies are collecting vast amounts of information on customers’ movements, behaviours and buying habits, why is Big Data important from a business perspective?

The old adage of ‘knowledge is power’ holds true. The more equipped people are to make decisions, the better the outcome for their business. What is relevant in the case of Big Data however, is making sense of the information (separating the noise from the meaningful), the timing of the information, and how to use the information effectively to improve a product or service.

The current movement in Big Data aims to address these issues and is reshaping our understanding of how to process information on a much larger scale.

2. Prescriptive Analytics: Making sense of the information leads us to the field of data analytics – the tools and techniques that are used to extract meaning from huge volumes of data. Analytics efforts can be broadly classified into one of three main categories – descriptive, predictive and prescriptive.

Descriptive analytics, tells us what has happened and possibly why it has happened. It usually involves reporting on historical data to provide insights into various business metrics. Predictive analytics attempts to tell us what may happen in the future, taking historical data into account and applying algorithms and various statistical models to predict the future.

Prescriptive analytics, the third and most recent focus area of data analytics, takes it to the next level by recommending a course of action and presenting the likely outcomes of choosing such action, incorporating any constraints of the current environment (financial or regulatory, for example). An actual person still has to make the decisions but prescriptive analytics can provide valuable input into scenario planning and optimisation exercises, by combining business rules, statistical models and machine learning to quantify the impact of future decisions.

There is a variety of organisations that have invested significant effort in descriptive analytics and reporting solutions to provide insight into historical data, and many are starting to explore the opportunities that predictive analytics has to offer. Both are necessary precursors to prescriptive analytics, which requires, at a minimum, the capability to capture and summarise large data sets efficiently. The data can then be used as input to prescriptive analytic engines.

3. Software-defined infrastructure (SDI): Software-defined infrastructure builds on the capabilities of virtualisation and cloud-based services to define IT infrastructure requirements. These requirements include computing power, as well as network and storage capacity, at the software level. SDI allows application developers to describe their expectations of infrastructure in a standard and systematic way, turning computing resources into logical components that can be provisioned on the fly without human intervention.

Take today’s scenario of having to configure each element of infrastructure to support an application – machines and images, storage and mount points, firewalls and load balancers to name a few – and replace it with the simple action of identifying an SDI-enabled data centre and clicking ‘deploy’. Each resource is automatically configured as required and, more importantly, can reconfigure itself as the application and usage changes.

Defining these requirements based on policies and expected usage patterns at the software level, and incorporating them into the deployable artefacts, means that IT organisations can respond more quickly to peaks and troughs in throughput, and achieve repeatable and reliable application deployments by automating many infrastructure related activities.

Furthermore, SDI-enabled data centres can optimise resource usage, which will drive down the cost of infrastructure. Specialists can focus on optimising specific elements of the infrastructure, such as network or storage, rather than reactively wiring and rewiring configurations to support evolving application requirements.

As was the case with Java and the standardised API’s (Application Programming Interfaces) that make up the Java Enterprise Edition framework, SDI will require a concerted effort to ensure inter-operability between the tools, platforms and processes that make up the virtual data centres of the future. As with cloud services, there is a vendor battle brewing to capture the lion’s share of what is likely to be a significant market for SDI-capable services. Those vendors who actively drive and support open interfaces and API’s will have the advantage in the long term.

4. DevOps: The term DevOps has been around for some time now, and the concept even longer. However, only in recent years has it started gaining widespread acceptance as standard practice in the development communities.

DevOps is to development and operations teams as Agile is to development teams and business. Where the Agile movement promotes increased collaboration between development teams and business users, DevOps looks at integrating operations activities much earlier and more tightly into the software-development life cycle. Both have the same goal of enabling software projects to respond more effectively to change.

In reality, DevOps is an extension of Agile as we know it today. However, it includes operations and support functions. The authors of the Agile Manifesto certainly never explicitly excluded operations and support from their widely accepted list of values and principles but in the experience of many, the focus on Agile projects has always been biased towards improving the collaboration between business users and the development team, rather than the development team and the operations team.

Yes, it is true that the operations team is implicitly included in the concept of cross-functional development teams (see below), but, in reality, IT operations in many organisations are still very much an isolated function, which is exactly the barrier that DevOps is trying to eliminate.

5. Cross-functional teams: The concept of a cross-functional team is simple. The development team has all the skills necessary to deliver a piece of working software into production, which may include activities such as user experience design, database design, server configuration and, of course, writing code. Where product development teams are concerned, businesses adopting Agile practices should be assembling cross-functional teams.

This is not an excuse for hiring fewer individuals and expecting them to be Jacks of all trades: specialisation is important and a necessity when solving complex problems that require focus and experience. By having a single, co-located team that can take something from concept to reality eliminates external dependencies that plague many software development teams of today, especially in large organisations.

Aside from efficiency and knowledge sharing, the argument for isolated teams defined by skill or technology is the degree of control of standards and governance within a particular domain. This argument is valid, but only for operational and ‘commoditised’ services such as desktop support and hardware infrastructure. As soon as product development enters the mix, the effectiveness of the team becomes more important than the efficiency of the team. Assuming differentiation is one of the main objectives, product development teams should be optimised for effectiveness rather than efficiency, since development in this scenario is a creative process, one that should not be constrained by red tape and corporate IT governance.

If companies want to increase their chances of creating a product that delights their customers, they should include specialists and designers in the team as full-time members until their services are no longer deemed critical, which will probably only be after several production releases. If you want to minimise your IT costs at the expense of rapid innovation, create a dedicated team that out-sources its services to several internal development teams.

While the occurrence of new ‘buzzwords’ in the ICT space is on-going, it is crucial that decision makers ensure a practical and simplified understanding before making any kind of investment on behalf of their organisation. Often designed to excite and compel, these buzzwords often do not describe the actual function or benefits of a particular concept.

We encourage business leaders to screen potential IT suppliers not by the terminology and complicated jargon they offer, but rather by how simply and understandably, they are able to communicate their solutions.

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AppDate: DStv jumps on music bandwagon

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights DStv’s JOOX, Cisco’s Security Connector, Diski Skills, Namola and Exhibid.

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DStv JOOX

DStv is now offering JOOX, a music streaming service owned by China’s Tencent, to DStv Premium, Compact Plus and Compact customers.

In addition to streaming local and international artists, JOOX allows one to switch to karaoke mode and learn the lyrics as well as create and share playlists. Users can add up to four friends or family to the service free of charge.

DStv Family, Access and EasyView customers can also log in to the free JOOX service directly through JOOX App, but will be unable to add additional friends and won’t be able to listen to add-free music.

Platform: Access the JOOX service directly from the services menu on DStv or download the JOOX app for an iOS or Android phone.

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Cisco Security Connector

With all the malware, viruses and trojans doing the rounds, it is difficult for users and enterprises to ensure that they don’t become targets. Cisco, in collaboration with Apple, has brought out its Cisco Security Connector to protect users. The app is designed to give enterprises and users overall visibility and control over their network activity on iOS devices. It does this by ensuring compliance of mobile users and their enterprise-owned iOS devices during incident investigations, by identifying what happened, who it affected, and the risk of the exposure. It also protects iPhone and iPad users from accessing malicious sites on the Internet, whether on the corporate network, public Wi-Fi, or cellular networks. In turn, it prevents any viruses from entering a company’s network.

Platform: iPhones and iPads running iOS 11.3 or later

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the Apple App Store for downloading instructions.

 

Diski Skills

The Goethe-Institut, in co-operation with augmented reality specialists Something Else Design Agency, has created a new card game which celebrates South African freestyle football culture, and brings it alive through augmented reality. Diski Skills is quick card game, set in a South African street football scenario, showing popular tricks such as the Shibobo, Tsamaya or Scara Turn. Each trick is rated in categories of attack, defence and swag – one wins the game by challenging an opponent strategically with the trick at hand. Through augmented reality, the cards come alive. Move a smartphone over a card and watch as the trick appears on the screen in a slow motion video. An educational value is added as players can study the tricks and learn more about the idea behind it.

 

The game will be launched on 27 October 2018 at the Goethe-Institut.

For more information visit: www.goethe.de

 

Namola

With  recent news of kidnappings on the rise, a lot more thought is going into keeping children safe. Would your child know what to do in an emergency? Have you actually asked them?

Namola, supported by Dialdirect Insurance, is a free mobile safety app. Namola’s simple interface makes it an ideal way for children to learn how to get help in an emergency. All they need to do is activate the app and push a button to get help that they need, even when their parents are not around.

Parents need to install the app on their child’s phone, hold down the request assistance button, program emergency numbers that will automatically be dialled when the emergency button is pushed, and teach their children how and when to use the app.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Exhibid

Exhibid could be thought of as Tinder, but for for art lovers. The interface looks very similar to the popular mobile dating app, in that users swipe left for a painting that doesn’t appeal to them, or swipe right for something they like. Once an art piece is liked by swiping right, one can start bidding or make an offer on it. The bid is automatically sent to the artist. Should he or she accept the offer, the buyer makes a payment through the app’s secure payment gateway and the two are put in contact to make arrangements for delivery.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

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New kind of business school

At a recent meeting, ALLON RAIZ, founder and CEO of Raizcorp, realised that in order for today’s youth to become entrepreneurs, teachers, the curriculum and the parents need continually expose them to entrepreneurial thinking from a young age.

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Several years ago, I found myself in a meeting with my business partner and two of my staff members. In front of us was a client who was sharing some of the frustrations in his business. At the end of the meeting, my partner and I were extremely excited about the prospect of two massive opportunities we had both independently identified while listening to the client. My two staff members, on the other hand, completely missed them. This led me to wonder what it was in my own and my partner’s backgrounds that allowed us to so easily spot opportunities while my two staff members remained oblivious … I realised that the difference was that my partner and I both had an early exposure to entrepreneurship while they didn’t.

Not long afterwards, I was delivering a lecture about how Raizcorp grows and develops small businesses at Oxford University’s Said Business School in my role as their Entrepreneur-in-Residence. I mentioned the above incident and spoke about my intention of going into children’s education with a view to providing an entrepreneurial perspective.

One of the professors in attendance asked me if I’d ever heard of a piece of research by Henrich R Greve called Who wants to be an entrepreneur? The deviant roots of entrepreneurship. It’s a pretty unfortunate title but a fascinating piece of research nonetheless. It highlights how certain contexts in childhood result in a much a higher probability of becoming an entrepreneur. For example, kids who participate in solo sports such as tennis or athletics are more likely to become entrepreneurs than children who play team sports like soccer and cricket. Conversely, your mother’s participation in the parent-teacher association has a negative correlation to you becoming an entrepreneur. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the professor’s office discussing other research papers that unequivocally proved that context during your childhood has a massive influence on whether or not you will follow the entrepreneurial route.

Another member of the lecture audience was a double-PhD from the USA who was completing her MBA at Oxford. After the lecture, she approached me and volunteered to help build a framework to incorporate entrepreneurship in the school curriculum without interfering with the formal requirements of the CAPS curriculum.

She spent nine months in South Africa working with me to build out a practical framework. The next phase of the plan was to find the right school at which to embark upon this journey. In December 2015, Raizcorp purchased Radley Private School and we began our entrepreneurial education adventure in earnest in 2016.

At the centre of the Radley philosophy is that the school (the physical building), the teachers, the curriculum and the parents are the “marinade” in which the kids need to soak in order to be continuously exposed to entrepreneurial thinking from a young age. The aim was that if, in future, the kids found themselves sitting in a boardroom with me and my partner, they too would be able to identify the opportunities that we did.

A big shift this year has been the launch of our Entrepreneurial Educator Guide (EEG) programme where we have been training our Radley teachers (whom we call guides) to understand entrepreneurship, business language, business concepts, financial documents and the like. (The EEG training makes use of Raizcorp’s internationally accredited entrepreneurial learning and guiding methodologies.) We have also employed a full-time staff member to ensure that these concepts are imbedded into all lesson plans and classroom activities.

Through my network at Raizcorp, I have been pleasantly surprised by the massive support we’re receiving from prominent entrepreneurs and businesses who want to participate in our Radley Exposure programme, where we take our kids of all ages on visits to different types of businesses so they can understand the difference between retail, wholesale, manufacturing, logistics and so on. Prominent businesspeople have put up their hands to come to the school and tell their stories of hard work, resilience and perseverance. This ties in beautifully with the 17 entrepreneurial concepts that we are instilling into our Radley learners (such as opposite eyes, lateral thinking and opposable mind), while never compromising on our quality academic offering.

As parents, we’ve all heard the terrible statistics about the probability of our kids finding jobs in the future. At Radley, we’re working hard to ensure that our kids have a legitimate and lucrative alternative to finding traditional employment and that is to become an entrepreneur. Radley is all about producing job creators and not job seekers!

To enrol your child or find out more about the school, please visit www.radley.co.za.

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