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Digital disruption demands leap of faith into cloud

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Many large companies have built up a vast IT systems over the years and are now threatened to drown if they do not evolve and step into the cloud, writes COLLIN GOVENDER, VP Systems Integration at T-Systems South Africa.

Many large organisations are constrained with vast and complex IT systems, steadily built up over the years, that now threaten to drown the company as it desperately tries to compete with more agile disruptors.

Technology was supposed to make our lives, and our businesses, simpler. But it seems that over the past couple of decades, exactly the opposite has happened.

Gartner’s research indicates that of the trillions of dollars spent annually on enterprise IT around the world, a staggering 80% is spent on system maintenance.

It says IT backlogs are compounding annually at 10-20% – meaning that more and more of your organisation’s IT budget is devoted to simply maintaining legacy systems.

Complex IT landscapes are proving to be increasingly unstable and inflexible in the modern digital economy. The common tension in many large organisations is that business is demanding rapid transformation, while IT is expected to respond – with just 20% of resources that are left over after the ‘keeping the lights on’ tasks are completed.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to all of this. Fittingly, this glimmering chink of light is to be found in the Cloud.

Cloud services promise to dramatically simplify the world of enterprise technology. By handing over large chunks of the ‘run the business’ (aka Mode 1) systems to managed Cloud providers, the theory is that your organisation can devote increasing resources to Mode 2 – innovating, exploring and transforming your users’ digital experiences.

But to truly leverage the power of Cloud Computing, we need to go beyond simply migrating legacy systems to hosted Cloud environments. In order to truly disrupt your business, you need to capitalise on those new opportunities presented by Mobility, the Internet of Things, and Big Data.

Mobility

Our love-affair with mobile technology is certainly not waning. The Cloud becomes pivotal in extending enterprise services to customers via easy-to-use mobile apps. In the same vein, staff need to be given a set of digital tools that enable teams to collaborate easily and work flexibly and remotely – increasing productivity.

Internet of Things

Embedded sensors and actuators are starting to appear in everything from forklifts on production plants, to the T-Shirts in our wardrobes. Every business sector is finding new ways to magically transform simple objects into ‘smart devices’. With data being continually streamed from these devices, the Cloud is the only way of collecting and analysing these data streams.

Big Data

As we make the transition to digital business, detailed insights from our customers and users can be captured and fed into advanced modelling tools in the Cloud. Business leaders are empowered with rich insights into the organisation’s operations, and into its customers’ experiences.

While it all sounds great on paper, taking advantage of Cloud Computing is certainly not simple.

CIOs have to navigate through a maze of challenges – not just in the technology itself, but also in shifting the culture, raising the ‘digital quotient’ of staff, and completely rethinking everything including policies around IT security, compliance and governance.

Taking the leap of faith into the Cloud requires deep consultation with an experienced IT partner, beginning with a series of assessments. From there, you can start plotting your Cloud roadmap to migrate existing services and design new ones.

Look for an IT partner that has a strong-track record with Cloud-based digital transformations, deep knowledge about your business sector, as well as a commitment to cost-transparency.

And, perhaps most importantly, your partner needs to be driven by the desire to deliver true business value and transformation. It’s only by demonstrating the results of your Cloud journey that you’ll be able to justify continued investments in the Cloud.

Ideally, the business value becomes starkly obvious to your organisation’s leadership – creating a virtuous effect where Cloud migration efforts are intensified and transformation picks up increasing momentum.

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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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