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Digital: threat or opportunity?

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Digitisation and digital transformation have been floated in endless conversations about the future of commerce. However, while we tend to refer to these concepts in abstract terms, the hard realities of digital disruption are starting to hit businesses, writes KIM ANDERSEN.

ndustries are being up-ended almost overnight by the new business models made possible by the convergence of new realms of technology.

Those enterprises that are investing heavily in areas like automation, analytics, digitised processes, mobile customer channels, social marketing, are finding themselves in the position to attack slower-moving incumbents in other verticals. Take the financial services sector in South Africa for example. This vertical was traditionally protected by very high barriers to entry such as regulation, governance, licensing costs, scale economies and an oligopolistic structure.

But over the past few years the leading banks have seen the emergence of financial services products from retailers, cellular operators, medical aid providers, emerging payments or “FinTech” start-ups, and global tech giants like Apple and Facebook. These new competitors are arriving in the financial sector with fresh thinking, less legacy infrastructure and strong consumer brand perceptions. Cast in this light, digital transformation poses a startling risk for industry incumbent such as a large banking institution.

Dealing with disruption

Ironically, the only solution to combat the threat of digital transformation is for the organisation to embrace that very concept itself. One of the most apt phrases – ‘disrupt yourself before someone else does’ – rings true for almost any traditionally-oriented organisation.

In other words, transforming towards a digital organisation is the only way of remaining relevant with customers and increasing the value one provides to the customer. The good news is that the tools to start doing this are largely available to most organisations. We find that those still holding back and remaining rooted to their analogue ways, are generally suffering from cultural inertia or a myopic understanding of their evolving industry.

To demonstrate the possibilities of digitisation, let’s look at retailers for example. It is now possible to connect things like video surveillance, inventory management systems, customer loyalty programmes, digital storefronts, financial data, and analytics platforms. Therefore a sensor could record a box that has been turned upside down which, for instance, could potentially indicate stock theft or damage, and send an alert to supervisors. In this way, the retailer could integrate sensors into the supply chain and warehousing processes, to improve efficiencies and provide better services to its customers, while limiting the theft in transit.

Putting it into practice

Organisations can get a jump on their competition, and remain one step ahead of new challengers, by taking an ‘outside-in’ approach to their businesses. This means considering the needs of the customer as the foremost priority, and re-imagining one’s operations and innovation capabilities to fit around those needs. Often we find that existing processes and systems are no longer relevant to achieving success in the new economy.

It becomes essential to measure the levels of digitisation within the organisation, and track this progress against a defined digital strategy. It also requires new ways of thinking and new ways of leveraging existing relationships. If, for instance, a petrol forecourt already has an established partnership with a consumer goods retailer, then it could look at delivering fuel alongside a home-delivery shopping order, for example.

So, as the nature of the retail industry changes to incorporate things like home delivery, the petrol forecourt can look at new ways to add convenience to its customers’ lives. The organisations that start thinking in this way will ultimately be the ones that succeed in the rapidly-changing landscape of digital transformation. For innovative business models like this to become possible, a number of fundamentals need to fall into place: digitally focused culture, organizational rewards and incentive structures, new processes, flexible technologies, innovative strategies, and an incessant focus on data analytics of the new digital journey.

At T-Systems we believe that this thinking has the potential to culminate in what we term the ‘digital nation of South Africa’. This ideal would see organisations form ecosystems – borne from new technologies – to create efficiencies and customer value that accelerate our country’s position in the global economy.

* Kim Andersen, Account CTO at T-Systems South Africa

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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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