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Foundations rise for Industry 4.0

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As organisations begin to embrace the cloud, deploying new apps and services on-the-fly – as well as get new sites up and running quickly – are essential to ensuring the level of agility digital transformation demands, writes TAJ ELKHAYAT of Riverbed Technology.

The first industrial revolution was based on the use of steam to power machines. The second centred on the use of electricity to supply energy to assembly lines. The third came about with the use of electronics and IT to further automate production. But all of that is in the past. We are now in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, known as Industry 4.0, in which the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to overhaul not only business, but also every aspect of modern life. From cars, washing machines, and even clothing, to heart monitors and dams, anything and everything will soon be connected.

As a result, the Industry 4.0 phenomenon is expected to revolutionise all areas within the manufacturing space, connecting all the elements that take part in the production process within the industrial environment: machines, products, systems, and people. The IoT will make today’s organisations more competitive by enabling them to further automate manufacturing processes, and collect and analyse data which they can then use to tailor their products to specific client needs.

In order to get the most out of this agile transformation, today’s companies will not only need to embrace the cloud. They will need to invest in a robust data security environment, and analyse their existing IT infrastructure to ensure it meets their IoT needs. Ensuring their network, branch and remote sites have a strong foundation and that they have in place a solid visibility strategy is the best place to start.

Taking a good look at network architectures

Organisations can only implement digital technologies successfully if their network is flexible and agile. This might be easier said than done, as smart factories – where there is an increasing number of connected objects creating billions of new end points, and transmitting information and interacting with applications – are already struggling to stay in control of inflexible, complex networks.

Many are storing information in the cloud as well as on local systems – generating what are known as hybrid environments – putting an incredible strain on the network, which traditional networking technologies are not designed to handle.

In response, many organisations are taking a new approach and are opting for the use of Software-Defined-WAN, or SD-WAN networks, which offer them the ability to make on-the-fly adjustments to their network’s performance and application delivery, and meet the business’ ever-changing needs. SD-WAN also enables organisations to direct traffic and deploy network services across a WAN from a centralised location. Ultimately, this translates into reduced costs and operational complexity; and increased optimisation to deliver superior-performing apps and experiences to users.

Addressing issues in the branch

At the core of any manufacturing business are branch offices and manufacturing sites.  Often operating as independent data centres which are difficult to support and protect, these sites often fall victim to services outages and data loss which lead to a range of productivity issues including assembly-line stoppage, missed sales opportunities, customer churn, and ultimately, lost revenues.

Getting these remote sites up and running requires significant IT investments. In fact, Riverbed found that branch offices represent 50 per cent of an average company’s total IT budget. However, with half of today’s IT organisations using outdated methods of operation, businesses are finding it difficult to address pain points that impact overall business agility and performance. New IT services take longer to provision. Data loss is a greater threat when it’s stored outside the secure data centre. And, when something goes wrong, it’s difficult to recover data and restore business operations.

As an alternative, implementing technologies designed specifically for the management of branch IT allows organisations’ IT teams to virtualise and consolidate 100 per cent of data and servers from remote sites into data centres, centralising data security and IT management without losing the benefits of running branch services locally. Additionally, new tools offer instant provisioning and recovery, providing complete security and visibility into the network, improving data security, business continuity, agility, and operational efficiency – the foundations of a solid transformation.

Paving the way for optimal performance

Industry 4.0 is set to change the way industries produce and consume products, boosting manufacturers’ productivity worldwide. However, with apps, devices, and data anywhere and everywhere, it will also bring increased complexity across networks. There will necessarily be an increasing number of blind spots in the application delivery chain which could ultimately affect product delivery processes and companies’ bottom lines.

As organisations begin to embrace the cloud, establishing the ability to deploy new apps and services on-the-fly – as well as get new sites up and running quickly – are essential to ensuring the level of agility and performance digital transformation demands. Delivering great app and network performance is one of the keys to doing this, as well as to succeeding in an increasingly competitive and changing marketplace.

* Taj ElKhayat, Regional Vice President, Middle East and Africa at Riverbed Technology

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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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