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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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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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