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How to turn disruption into advantage

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Previously manufacturing and operations were linear processes, however advancements in the cloud allows manufacturers to recast their processes and produce smart, continually connected products, says CLIFFORD DE WIT, chief innovation officer at Microsoft SA.

Technological development is outpacing the evolution of business processes. In the past, manufacturing and operations were linear processes and companies focused on the customer at the end of the sales cycle only. They lacked the ability to centre the entire manufacturing process around the customer and support an ongoing relationship. Now, the proliferation of the cloud and big data has freed manufacturers to recast their processes and produce smart, continually connected products that deliver real value and strengthen customer engagement.

Across Africa, however, the benefits of this transformation is not reaching every business in every sector. Market research company IDC’s recent study, called State of Digital Transformation in South Africa, looks at how local companies and other African companies from Nigeria and Kenya are leveraging new business, technology, and operating models to disrupt their competitors, customers, and markets in pursuit of business performance and growth.

According to the research, only 48% of South African businesses are engaged in the digital transformation process, compared to 44% in Nigeria and 39% in Kenya. Moreover, only around 44% of local companies are planning or evaluating digital transformation initiatives, while 8% are not engaging, as a result of the lack of funding to do so.

The companies around the globe that are turning digital disruption into their competitive advantage, are doing so because of their measured approach. They are not using technology for its own sake or as a knee jerk reaction to an initiative by a competitor, but instead, they tap into the power of new technology to gain actionable insights from big data and use these as the foundation of better business decisions.

These decisions have a real and significant impact on their business, helping them transform their products and services, enhance and personalise their customer service, streamline their operations, and empower staff to become more productive in every aspect of their job.

Not doing so means leaving the business exposed to competitor and market disruption and the business unable to respond quickly to these forces or changes in customer demands.

Driving the business to transform

There are four market needs that are driving organisations to transform themselves digitally, namely increasing innovation, moving faster, staying connected and getting personal.

Chief amongst these is the need to increase innovation, as companies like Kodak can attest to the cost of not doing so, while digital disruption brands like AirBnB and Uber continue to irrevocably disrupt their respective markets. Traditional businesses must increase the quantity and quality of innovation or risk being crushed by the next digital transformation in their industry.

Next up is the need to move faster, because the pace of change is accelerating at previously unfathomable rates. From sales to operations to customer service, cycle times are ever shorter.  Now more than ever, leaders need speedy access to reliable business intelligence to improve their decision-making. They need actionable insight at the right place at the right time and to the right people.

In addition, there is the need to get personal because one size now fits none. Even as our use of technology soars, customers and employees are expecting companies to tailor offerings (and career paths) to their unique needs and to deliver those experiences in a more intimate, personalised one-on-one manner. The true goal is to “co-create” relationships with customers or employees.

Furthermore, there is the need to stay connected with customers, colleagues, suppliers and partners. Collaboration and communication anytime, anywhere, using any platform or device is paramount in the “Peer Economy,” which is characterised by the need to partner with other expert service providers in order to co-create value as well as the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT). The latter means that we are now interconnecting as much around common resources as we are around relationships.

In fact, data analytics firm Gartner forecasts that there will be around 8.4 billion connected things in use globally this year and about 20.4 billion by 2020. The latest development in IoT is the fact that these devices are starting to run cloud intelligence locally, in which case they are referred to as “IoT edge” devices.

Turning data on the Edge into Intelligent insight fuel for your business

Advancements in data analytics and intelligence have enhanced our ability to draw value from the data – transforming information into insight that can be acted upon, even pre-emptively and at the point of business processes to maximise impact.

For example, a factory needs immediate response times to stop operations in the event that an equipment failure is predicted by local intelligence, or to protect worker safety following an accident.

Moreover, the ubiquity of cloud computing puts this disruptive power in the hands of organisations of all sizes, increasing the pace of innovation and competition. Businesses such as hospitals, construction sites and manufacturing plants, where safety and security are paramount can utilise existing commodity cameras together with Azure IoT Edge.

Doing so will enable these devices to recognise people and make sure that staff do not gain access to unauthorised sections or equipment for example, ultimately turning these areas into AI-driven safety zones.

Cost should not be a barrier to digital transformation

For the majority of businesses, it would appear that the associated cost of digital transformation is too high. In fact, IDC’s research show that the biggest barrier to digital transformation is lack of funding to invest in the transformation needed (80% of respondents), while 20% have more pressing business matters. Moreover, 20% view digital transformation as not relevant for their businesses.

Remember that no business or industry will be immune to disruption from more innovative competitors. Every product and service— indeed every aspect of every business—will be affected. And the time to act is now.

Additionally, digital transformation is not something that happens overnight, nor is it a traditional large-scale, one-off transformation process. Rather, it is pivoting to a mind-set of ongoing innovation, iterative updates, and continual growth. To better manage that cost, companies can adopt the approach of ‘rapid incrementalism’, which involves looking at what defines success and changing existing structures to make the most of what they have.

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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