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How digital can save brands from themselves

The rapid pace of digital change is re-writing the rule book and forcing companies to innovate and exceed customer expectations to stay ahead – and afloat, writes HANS ZACHAR, Managing Director of Technology Strategy at Accenture Africa.

Accenture research finds that only 7% of brands are exceeding customer expectations and, even worse, 25% don’t meet customer expectations at all.

Company leaders need to be awake to the fact that customer expectations are outpacing their brand experiences. The ticket to success is improving their understanding of what consumers actually want – and then exceeding them – while simultaneously identifying opportunities to save and grow.

After all customers are increasingly brand and quality conscious and expectations are being forged by their experiences of leading brands across industries. They seek out the latest trends but watch their budget‚ and look out for personalised as well as unique shopping experience. However, many companies are still failing to deliver on these standard expectations. In the Expectations vs. Experience: The Good, The Bad, The Opportunity, survey, Accenture highlights that brands are more pessimistic, with only about 2/3 believing they have technology, processes and organisations in place to deliver. Furthermore, only 1/3 believe their data and analytics are differentiating.

Prioritising the customer mindset is therefore the key to overcoming the hurdles to expansion and retention in the modern marketplace – and then unlocking opportunities to grow.

Essentially, the ability to harness digital acceleration needs to be inculcated in the corporate mindset. A vista of new savings and growth opportunities awaits for those who enter the journey to the Cloud, the intelligent customer and intelligent enterprises.

What I mean by this is that companies need to be able to adapt to a dynamic state of constant flux and this entails embracing digital at a rate that is about double that of their peers. They need to turn data into insights and action and identify and secure more partnerships to become high performers.

These trends are in play across Africa, where large-scale smart phone adoption, a decline in data costs and increase in internet penetration is totally changing the landscape. African businesses have the unique advantage of leapfrogging legacy architecture which can keep them a step ahead. But for this to happen digital acceleration needs to be seen as a friend rather than an enemy.

The reality is digital is driving convergence across a number of industries, enabling new competitors to enter, and forcing companies to redefine how they compete. At the same time, there is added pressure from active investors in various industries who have a higher expectation for profitability. Speed is the new normal and companies need to become more determined to survive this perpetual state of uncertainty by becoming lean and agile enough to focus on aggressive, sustainable growth.

The task may be great and the stakes high, but the path forward is clear: to grow, companies must proactively identify activities that drive value, take out costs that are not contributing to business goals and reinvest those savings into growth.

In this regard, Cloud is not the future. It’s already here, and more businesses are finding that the sooner they adopt cloud technology, the better positioned they will be to compete in an increasingly brisk, aggressive marketplace. Companies that want to achieve the type of agility they need to succeed in today’s business climate, migrate to cloud while embracing a robust ecosystem of cloud solutions. And they’re teaming with Accenture to make the journey a safe, affordable and profitable one.

The next level of operational excellence will emerge from the latest gains in software intelligence. Business and technology leaders must now view software intelligence not as a pilot or a once-off project, but as an across-the-board functionality – one that will drive new levels of evolution and discovery, propelling innovation throughout the enterprise. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the many great examples.

Accenture strives to be Africa’s true digital accelerator and enabler and we are going to do that through innovation that has been tried and tested in the market.

Being a global entity plugged in to the latest innovation has immense benefits too. For instance, innovation by us in Japan can land here the following day. Equally, when we develop something powerful in Africa it can be exported into the mobile marketplace just as quickly.

At the end of the day customers are becoming more intelligent and demanding and technology around those demands does exist – but is not being harnessed quickly enough. We know that the mall of future, for instance, will be on mobile devices and so we need to be helping clients to figure out what to do with a Sandton City, for instance, when a lot less is happening in a mall.

Sometimes decoupling old technology can quickly enable oganisations to begin moving at pace and with scale. We therefore need to go inside that enterprise in Africa to help clients accelerate digitisation and thereby capture what is happening on the outside. Artificial intelligence, for instance, can be harnessed to weed out fraud and improve trust for entities at a time when there is a trust deficit in many markets.

Essentially digital acceleration means you will need to work in a more agile, nimble and smaller world. This is why we are investing more in our people and in innovation itself. That is our differentiator – being at the centre of true innovation to be an enabler of digital acceleration.

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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as end-of-support looms, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2008.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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