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Opportunity lurks in digital transformation

By LORI MACVITTIE, principal technical evangelist, Office of the CTO at F5 Networks

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Every definition of transformation includes the notion of change. The most common examples are found in nature, in the process of change from caterpillar to butterfly and tadpole to frog. Ultimately transformation is the process of moving from one state to another.

Processes are often expressed in terms of phases of varying lengths during which critical events occur. Digital transformation is no exception.

It begins with an initiative. A decision to move from a mostly manual, human-driven business to one that relies heavily on technology. Applications. Automation. Artificial intelligence. From beginning to end, digital transformation is about moving technology from business interactions to processes to new models.

 At first, it’s about apps. But as app portfolios expand, it turns to focus on automation and orchestration. With the increase in data generation, transformation becomes the pivot point for new business opportunities.

Just about every organization is the process of transformation today as they forge a new, digital path to future success.

This transformation is not just about technology. It is rooted in a fundamental shift in the way business operates. Not unlike the shift from CapExto OpEx induced by the rapid ascent of cloud computing, this transformation is forcing organizations to reshape its business models.

The result is pushing technology (IT) out of the role of supporting the business into a lead role as a business. Software—which includes apps—directly contributed $845 billion to the US GDP in 2018 according to the BSA Foundation. In the EU, software contributed €304 billion. Total value added to global GDP is much higher and counts both indirect revenue as well as job creation. Every sector, every industry now relies on applications in one form or another. 

That includes businesses that produce consumable goods. Consider the impact on a restaurant of not integrating with OpenTable. Or the reliance on IoT and the applications powering ‘smart farms’ that optimize agriculture so they can feed the people of the world. Even these industries increasingly rely on applications to operate their businesses. 

The App Economy

Preliminary data from our forthcoming State of Application Services 2020 indicates most businesses rely on applications. 31% tell us they need apps and downtime is disruptive to their business. Another 29% indicate applications are their business and they can’t operate without them.

Early adopters of digital transformation are already entering a period of digital expansion, marked by rapid adoption of automation and expansion of their app portfolios. For these organizations, streamlining the operational aspects of application delivery is critical. The ability to rapidly develop a new application or digital workflow must be matched during delivery to market. The speed and scale of this operational lifecycle increase with every application developed. The ability of IT to meet demand can only be realized through the adoption of automation, which enables organizations to develop and deploy even more applications. 

The Data Economy

Each iteration of this cycle generates more data. Business unification provider Domo reports that over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every single day and that by 2020 “1.7MB of data will be created ever second for every person on earth.” That is a mind-boggling amount of data that is ushering in the data economy as applications collect and aggregate every minute detail of digital activity—from operations to business transactions to consumer interactions.

Traditional data analysis techniques will be unable to keep up. Systems and the people who rely on data to make operational and business decisions daily will be overwhelmed. 

A new breed of analytics will rise as a result and take on the burden of analyzing the massive rate and high volume of data being produced. Only machines and advanced machine learning technologies will be capable of ingesting and processing the amount of data that will be created.

The AI Economy

Ultimately, the insights produced by analytics will be as overwhelming as that of the data from which they were produced. Operators will not be able act fast enough to take advantage of the insights produced. This will lead to the AI Economy, in which AI-assisted business and operations will take on responsibility for operating the applications on which business runs. This economic shift will not be trivial. According to McKinsey, “AI has the potential to deliver additional global economic activity of around $13 trillion by 2030, or about 16 percent higher cumulative GDP compared with today.” It’s no surprise then to find that as early as 2018, 71% of C-level executives were already eyeing AI as a path for economic growth and competitiveness (2018 Views from the C-Suite: Rising to the Challenge).

This view of AI is not merely aspirational. 74% of IT decision makers in Spiceworks’ 2020 State of IT expected to adopt AI as early as 2021. The same survey found that AI is second (32%) only to IT automation (42%) as the technology expected to have the biggest impact on business.

The Role of Application Services

There is virtually no business today that is not on this transformational journey. Some are just starting. Others are further along. Regardless of where you are, applications are key to moving forward—whether slow and steady or full steam ahead. Delivering those applications is the purview of application services. From code to customer, applications services scale, secure, and serve the applications that power business today.

They will still be filling that role in five years.

But just as application architectures and operating models are transforming to meet the needs of applications and business, so must application services. That’s why we believe digital transformation will also breed a new generation of application services that are more aware, more automated, and more capable of acting on insights produced by advanced analytics.

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Nokia 7.2: The sweet-spot for mid-range

Nokia has hit one of the best quality-to-price ratios with the Nokia 7.2. BRYAN TURNER tested the device.

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Cameras are often the main factor in selecting a smartphone today. Nokia is no stranger to the high-end camera smartphone market, and its legacy shows with the latest Nokia 7.2.

In many aspects, the device looks and feels like an expensive flagship, yet it carries a mid-range R6000 price tag. From its vivid PureDisplay technology to an ultra-wide camera lens, it’s quite something to experience this device – especially knowing the price.

Before powering it on, one notices the sleek design. The front features a large, 6.3” screen, with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Like many phones nowadays, it features a notch, but it is smaller than the usual earpiece-and-camera notch. Instead, it features a small notch for the front camera only. It hides the front earpiece away in a slim cutout, just under the outer frame. While it’s not the highest screen-to-body (STB) ratio, it has a pretty slim bezel with an 83.34% STB ratio. It loses some of this to an elegant chin on the bottom that shows the Nokia logo. This is all protected by a Gorilla glass certification, which makes it a little more difficult to shatter on an impact.

It’s encased by a Polycarbonate composite outer frame, which seems metal-like but will withstand more knocks than an aluminium frame. On the right side, it features a volume rocker and a power button and, on the left side, a Google Assistant button, which starts listening for commands when pressed. Above the button is the SIM and SD card tray. On the top, it houses a very welcome 3.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom, it has a speaker grille and a USB Type-C port. Overall, the positioning of the buttons takes some getting used to because the Assistant button and power button are similarly sized, and many smartphones place the lock button on the opposite side of the volume rocker.

The back features a frosted Gorilla glass panel, like the front. The frosted design is quite understated and yet another elegant design feature of the device. A fingerprint sensor sits in the middle and, towards the top, the device has a circular camera bump, not too different from the Huawei Mate 30 series. The bump features two lenses, a depth sensor, and a flash. The camera system has been made in partnership with Zeiss optics to produce high-quality photography.

The back of the Nokia 7.2, showing off the 3 camera array

When powering on the device, one is greeted with the Android One logo, which is Nokia’s promise that its users will always be among the first to get the latest Android security and feature updates. This is one of the defining purchase points for users looking to get this device, as it features the purest, unedited version of Android available.

This, in turn, allows the device to run the latest software by Google that enables the device to get better over time. This is done by using Google’s Artificial Intelligence engine, which learns how one uses the device and optimises apps and services accordingly. That translates to the phone’s battery life actually extending over time, instead of deteriorating like other smartphones that are weighed down by battery hungry apps. The concept was pioneered by Huawei in the Mate 9.

The rear camera is excellent for snapping pictures and features a 48MP Sony sensor for accurate colour reproduction. This puts the device in the league of the Google Pixel and Apple iPhone devices, which also use Sony sensors. By default, the device is set to take pictures at 12MP, which is what makes the photos look great, as it blends 4 pixels into one for a high level of sharpness and colour accuracy, but users can bump up the resolution to the full 48MP if they want to zoom in a bit more.

The 8MP wide-angle lens spans 118-degrees, and proves extremely useful for getting everyone in the shot. It also features some great colour accuracy. The 5MP depth-sensing lens is purely for the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo. It features a 20MP selfie camera, which also provides excellent sharpness and a portrait mode.

Picture taken with the Nokia 7.2 in Pro mode

The most impressive part of this system is the Pro camera setting, which can help take photos from excellent to extraordinary. We managed to get some excellent low light photography by adjusting the shutter speed, ISO, and exposure. The setting is pretty easy to use and it’s worth it for users to learn how it works.

The PureDisplay also helps make photos and video look great. The 7.2’s PureDisplay has a 2160 x 1080 resolution, at 401 pixels per inch (ppi). It also makes use of HDR10 and covers 96% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, which makes the colours very vibrant. Some of these display features are not even found in some high-end phones on the market, so it’s very surprising that this tech is in a mid-range device.

At this price, there is one drawback: the processor. It houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, which is neither bad nor good. It performs well in many situations, but begins to stutter on heavier graphical applications like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile. That said, all other applications of the device work perfectly, and multi-tasking is very fluid between regular apps.

At a recommended selling price of R6,000, the Nokia 7.2 is one of the most feature rich and aesthetically pleasing devices available in this price range.

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Voice interface move digital wars to ‘first mile’

By RICHARD MULLINS, Managing Director for EMEA at Acceleration

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Anyone who often travels on the London tube will notice people around them – usually students and young professionals – speaking into their smartphones even in sections of the underground without Wi-Fi or cellular coverage. They’re not sweet-talking their mobile devices, but cueing up a series of WhatsApp voice messages to be sent to their friends and colleagues as soon as they walk back into an area with an Internet connection.

This shift away from text-based and visual communication to multi-sensory (voice and visual) is one of the most significant trends to emerge from the next wave of artificial intelligence technologies. Many members of Generations X and Y abandoned voice calls for instant messaging once they got smartphones; now, the next generation are becoming more vocal in how they interact with – and through – machines.

We’re already seeing rising adoption of conversational voice interfaces, as young and imperfect as the technology still is. Research from comScore predicts that half of all searches will be performed via voice by 2020, while a study by Voicebot.ai indicates that nearly one in five US adults own a smart speaker or have access to one in their homes.

This trend is one reason that we are seeing the battle for the digital customer move away from the ‘last mile’ to the ‘first mile’ at a rapid speed. Now that the giants of ecommerce have largely solved the ‘last mile’ challenge of reliable logistics and rapid delivery, they are looking at ways they can tighten their grip on the first digital mile, where customers engage with and discover content, product and services.

Raising the stakes

This race to own the customer interface is not new, but the stakes are rising. We already live in a world with two major smartphone platforms (Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android), and now a handful of companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon) are seeking to own the voice interface with smart devices like speakers, kitchen appliances and home security systems.

Most consumers are today using voice conversation interfaces for simple content requests – Alexa, give me the news headlines; Siri, play my party mix – and the experience can be somewhat clunky. However, technology is improving exponentially, as we saw earlier this year when Google demoed its assistant phoning a hairdresser to make an appointment on behalf of a user.

Such interfaces are likely to become the place where a high proportion of customers are converted and complete transactions in the next few years. In other words, the likes of Apple and Google will have even more power over what consumers see, hear and interact with than they do today. Brands should be thinking about how they will prepare themselves for this future.

One of the first considerations is how they can use voice to engage with customers in an increasingly natural and simple nature. Today, it is usually easy to tell when you are speaking to a virtual assistant or chatbot, but in future, these interfaces will become harder to tell humans and machines apart, unless you are told.

This is an opportunity to offer personalised service in an automated manner—the human touch at machine scale. Brands that offer the best experiences through their conversational interfaces will have a competitive advantage. This will not just be about the AI driving the interaction, but also about how brands use data to personalise interactions and make them more relevant to customers.

How will you reach your customers?

Brands also need to decide how they will reach their customers in the first place – will they create services for platforms like Alexa and focus on mobile apps? Or will they try to take control of more of the digital first mile themselves? This will be a daunting challenge, but the rewards may be significant since the companies in the digital first mile will control the data and own the customer.

For this reason, we can expect to see those companies with the resources to do so focus on owning more of the customer interface and becoming the gateways to service and commerce for their client base. They will partner with other big brands to create platforms, experiences and digital destinations where customers can purchase a variety of goods and services.

Consider examples such as how Discovery’s Vitality weaves together healthcare, lifestyle brands and financial services, then think about how they might evolve in a digital world. Brands have long cooperated through strategies such as white label products, sponsorship agreements and distribution deals, but the next wave of digital change will take it to a new level.

As this shakes out in the years to come, brands will need to focus on building a technical architecture that enables them to rapidly partner with other brands to roll out innovative solutions and services. They will also need to consider how and where they will capture customer data and which touchpoints they can use to own the customer relationship.

The challenges will not be purely technical in nature. There is the human element of blending AI and people into ‘teams’ that deliver the best possible customer experience. Companies will also need to think about their business models and where they fit into the value chain. Those that align AI and data behind a coherent business strategy will be the ones who will win the first digital mile.

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