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Prepare now for jobs that don’t exist today

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New IT technologies are transforming the job market, making some positions redundant, but at the same time creating positions that never existed before. GARY DE MENEZES, NetApp Country Manager South Africa takes a look at the future job market.

With the development of IT technologies, the job market is being transformed, across all industry sectors. Automation of manual tasks is the most obvious change, but big data, blockchains and crowd funding may be the real game changers, enabling established and new players to bypass existing infrastructures… and even replacing jobs. Start-ups and newcomers seem to be the winners, but big companies can face the challenge raised by these technological disruptions with different strategies: either behave as startup themselves, collaborate with startups and use them as value pools, or develop tools of their own that they can then integrate into their own business models… What implications do these changes have on the job market? Which jobs and skills will become outdated, and which ones will become more wanted and valued? Will the changes impact up to the very executive committees?

New IT technologies open new doors: newcomers are now able to compete with big players

Big data is leading us to a period of great restructuring in which robots will take over human jobs. The computerization of processes will make each work unit more productive. Jobs will disappear, others will be created in this transformative process: the World Economic Forum estimates that “current trends could lead to a net employment impact of more than 5.1 million jobs lost to disruptive labor market changes over the period 2015–2020” and 2 million jobs will be created in computer sciences, mathematics, engineering and related fields.

Crowdfunding and blockchains are also set to transform the market. Essentially, a blockchain is a ledger of data blocks, which is supposedly incorruptible and can record anything. They allow for safe and encrypted data or money exchanges without centralization. Similarly, crowdfunding enables to fund new projects bypassing banks and other established institutions. Put together, the two technologies create new opportunities for new, emerging companies that are not backed by big players. Incidentally, big companies will need to scrutinize their small competitors more closely, and tightly collaborate with them.

For example, the startup Colony gathers experts from around the world around specific projects, and they are remunerated according to their contribution to the project. Human resources firms are set aside from the process. Ultimately, e-commerce and social networks programs based on the technology could follow suit and overtake eBay or other internet giants, with comparable, or even higher security standards.

This is not just the future: Coin Based, operating in the Bitcoin network, is available in over thirty countries, and has exchanged 3 billion dollars’ worth of bitcoins. Crowdfunding has a great impact on the market: it has already injected 65 billion dollars in the economics and created 270,000 jobs. How can other companies face up to the challenge?

How can already existing companies adapt their business models to the transition?

The first way big companies can face the challenge lain by startups is to collaborate with them. Different collaboration programs will deliver different benefits, among which: the rejuvenation of corporate culture, the innovation within big brands that may otherwise be too bureaucratic, the solving of business problems and the expansion to new markets. To reap the benefits, medium and big companies can offer tools or co-working places to startups, set up incubator programs or co-develop products with them. These ecosystems, based on open innovation, shorten project delivery time, enhance performance and financial benefits. Companies from Cisco and GE to Coca-Cola and Shell have already developed such value pools with great effectiveness.

Another strategy is to harness the source of the economic disruption and to embrace a disruptive new technology. NASDAQ-listed companies have invested 30 million dollars in Chain, a company that wants to generalize the use of blockchains for all sorts of transactions. Telco operator Orange believes that they will ease data transfer between operators, enhancing end-user experience. Intel, IBM, JPMorgan and Barclays are among the companies investing in this technology.

The second facet of this strategy is to invest in Big Data. In the midst of a crisis induced by the arrival of Uber in France, the French Government created an application enabling users to find easily a taxi driver. This application, a platform based on Big Data, makes the process faster but does not change the business model of taxis. Virtually any sector can benefit from the application of Big Data. The oil & gas industry, for example, can monitor its production and delivery, fixing any eventual leak in record times. Banks can approve loans in seconds leveraging market data in real time. Health professionals can access more data about their patients, and compare them with other similar profiles to determine the best treatment. Enterprises now have to choose between changing with the help of new technologies and disappearing.

Managerial and organizational challenges that lie ahead for companies are huge, as they need to adapt to the changing economic environment. At the heart of addressing these challenges, there is the question of how to use, store, protect data in a fast, efficient, cost-effective manner.

Some jobs will disappear, others will emerge: the law of creative destruction

The increasing use of Big Data and blockchains will literally force companies to reinvent themselves, and to adapt their business models to emerging needs and new tools at their disposal. In the process, some jobs will become irrelevant.

Let’s take an example. The government of Honduras will use a blockchain-based software conceived by Factom to build a record of land-titles – thus making the processes more secure, less subject to corruption and faster. By doing so, notaries and other public officials will be replaced by… IT professionals. In the banking sector, the wind of change is blowing: NASDAQ operators are already testing the use of blockchains on their private market. Ultimately, brokers will no longer be needed. The 21 year-old Russian-Canadian founder of the Ethereum blockchain has an even cheekier viewpoint: he believes that job losses will mainly concern “people who earn too much money for what they do”!

That said, the World Economic Forum estimated that data analysts will become “critically important to their industry by the year 2020”, based on responses from all industries. In other words, this change will be seen across all economic sectors, public and private alike.

The increase of sheer data mass will result in companies needing to know where their data is (especially in a hybrid cloud), secure them and ensure that they are always available. Data management functions will become increasingly critical to the very way we do business. Ultimately, data managers will have their rightful seat at C-Suite level.

According to a 2016 study by Deloitte on Data Analytics, 60% of companies understand the benefits that they can earn by leveraging Big Data. 43% think that data analysis should be conducted by a dedicated entity reporting directly to the CEO. 70% also believe that it is important to consolidate internal data and data generated via SoMe. Data resulting from connectivity leads to increased customer knowledge and, in turn, to the development of new services, the ability to introduce tailored loyalty programs and to recruit new partners. Beyond customer knowledge data helps to optimize products and solutions management. Data analysts will no longer just manage activities, but will also yield information that will bring unprecedented value. Two new roles will emerge: the Chief Data Officer (CDO), in charge of the overall data strategy and the Data Scientist, who creates intelligence and value from data, helping to bridge the gap with other roles within the business. According to Glassdoor, Data Scientist is the “best job” in 2016 which means more job openings, better salaries and career opportunities. This is confirmed in Deloitte’s survey, which shows that over 70% of businesses consider it important to reinforce the role of both the Data Scientist and the CDO even if their activities are not completely mapped out and standardized yet; which opens fascinating perspectives from an overall managerial standpoint.

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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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