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Re-purpose IT for innovation

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Businesses that move towards hyperconverged solutions are most likely to close the skills gap, release big data and drive innovation, according to a new research report by VCE, the converged platforms division of EMC.

Hyperconverged solutions represent the significant shift from companies laboriously buying and building servers to purchasing deployment-ready end-to-end systems that include all the aspects of a datacentre-ready server: connectivity, security, management, storage and virtualisation.

The move to converged infrastructure will help traditional IT departments to be re-purposed into business-savvy units that drive customer satisfaction, says Barry Cashman, EMEA VP for VCE.

VCE surveyed more than 2,700 business and IT professionals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and came up with an extensive report detailing the current IT landscape. The report is entitled “Endangered IT: IT needs to reclaim technology or lose its voice forever.”

Cashman says the research clearly revealed what IT teams are worried about; what they are prioritising this year and where the opportunities are. It generally paints a picture of organisations where IT departments and the rest of the business are often not on the same page on a range of issues.

“The message of the report is simple: In a rapidly shifting IT landscape, businesses that manage to build cohesive digital systems that pull together all departments into rendering a single, customer-focused service, stand to benefit greatly. That is, if they stop building infrastructure as they always have, and instead invest in buying hyperconverged solutions that will ease their transition.”

Cashman says the fact that most businesses are increasingly focused on their ability to manage and extract value from the data generated in the process of selling products, rather than the products themselves, is a good thing.

“For example, 80% of those surveyed feel that implementing a more advanced and agile IT infrastructure would reduce risk and complexity and provide a solid platform for future growth.  Nearly half are already training IT professionals in skills, including converged infrastructure, cloud computing and business skills.”

Cashman adds that IT needs to learn the language of business just as the rest of the business needs to learn the language of technology.

VCE suggests – and 80% of respondents agree – a scaleable, flexible, converged infrastructure would reduce risk by providing a solid foundation for business growth and innovation. “Of course, to maintain full control over the transition, CIOs need to stop spending so much time building and managing different infrastructure components.

“It’s no longer enough to just keep the lights on. Instead, they need to transform IT into an efficient, business-focused engine that can scale rapidly in response to changing business needs. This demands a modern datacentre, one that revolves around robust, software-defined, converged infrastructure. Convergence can power more agile development and increased speed to market, addressing directly some of the top IT challenges identified.”

To remain competitive in the future, the business needs to focus on developing and releasing new, value-added products and services. This means that IT needs to be free to focus on meeting business goals, and a converged infrastructure is what will enable it to do so.

The growing need for new tech

However, according to the report 68% of CIOs currently see IT in the traditional sense as a barrier to innovation. Almost two-thirds of CIOs felt that the IT team was losing its grip on the technology that is held and used across the business. The more technology is embedded, the more traditional IT becomes marginalised, a phenomenon the report calls ‘invisible IT’, not shadow IT. Cashman says power is shifting away from IT, in that ideas are being implemented there, rather than germinating there.

“They fear that this could lead to IT inhibiting, rather than enabling innovation if they do not have the right infrastructure or tools. This lack of preparation for current technological shifts could result in their businesses losing all relevance within the next three years, as their likely future competitors will be agile organisations that do not even exist yet. After all, it’s not surprising to feel out of your depth when you’re working against invisible competitors.”

In addition, many CIOs and business leaders voiced concern that they felt ill-prepared for the technological shifts taking place in the economy. Many are worried that business growth may expose their IT teams as under-prepared (68%) and may put excessive pressure on existing IT operations, damaging customer satisfaction and brand reputation (69%).

They agreed that a new infrastructure and a fresh skills set in their IT departments are needed to meet long-term needs, as technology becomes embedded across the business. But most felt they were not progressing sufficiently. This could be because all these divisions often don’t speak to each other, says Cashman.

“Even when they do, they talk in a completely different set of languages. The storage individual doesn’t understand the network perspective, and the network person doesn’t understand the server person’s problem. The languages they use are embedded in the technologies they have ownership of. CIOs are isolated both from their C-suite colleagues and from their own IT teams, sometimes lacking faith in the ability of IT professionals and infrastructure to meet emerging business needs.”

As challenging as it might be, businesses have to evolve their traditional IT infrastructure and culture to meet the challenges of big data, operational complexity and real-time business.

“Business leaders can help the IT function adapt, professionally and culturally, to the concept of IT infrastructure as an advanced, on-demand utility it can use rather than manage; something to buy rather than build. IT also needs to adapt to becoming a multi-disciplinary function, able to quickly respond to the challenges of releasing value from big data,” says Cashman.

“The time that a converged solution will save, will release IT professionals to share their expertise across the business; listening, understanding and enabling. This is the key to reclaiming IT relevance.” Cashman says IT tends to have a “build it yourself” mentality whereas business leaders “are more comfortable acquiring the building blocks for IT.”

Businesses need “cloud people”

Cashman says converged infrastructure would facilitate the re-positioning of staff in IT departments. “Before, you had a server team, a network team and a storage team. Ultimately, actually, instead of three people you need one cloud architect who is trained across all three. So there’s two jobs released.

“There are two ways of looking at this. You lay the two jobs off, or you retrain say the server administrator as the cloud administrator across the whole piece and the other two people you repurpose above the infrastructure line, up to the application line, to interact with the businesses, understand what they want and then move forward with the businesses. You need cloud people rather than siloed experts. At VCE we are increasingly asking our people to sit across various roles. For example, storage guys broadening around converged infrastructure and also software. We recognise the economics of retraining and we think our customers will too.”

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Now for hardware-as-a-service

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Integrated ICT and Infrastructure provider Vox has entered into an exclusive partnership with Go Rentals to introduce a Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) offering, which is aimed at providing local small and medium businesses (SMEs) with quick, affordable, and scalable access to a wide variety of IT infrastructure – as well as the management thereof.

“Despite an increasingly competitive business environment where every rand counts, many business owners are still buying technology-based equipment outright rather than renting it,” says Barry Kemp, Head of Managed IT at Vox. “The problem with this is that the modern device arena has grown in variety and complexity, making it more difficult to manage, and to reduce the overheads of controlling these devices.”

According to Kemp, there is a global trend being observed in businesses moving away from owning and managing IT infrastructure. This started with the move away from servers and toward cloud-based subscription services, and now organisations are looking to do the same with the remaining on-premise hardware – employees’ desktop systems.

The availability of HaaS changes the way in which local businesses consume IT, by allowing them to direct valuable capital expenditure toward the more efficient and competitive operation of their organisation, rather than spending on hardware products. 

“The rental costs are up to 50% lower than if they buy these products through traditional asset financing methods. Furthermore, using HaaS gives businesses the ability to scale up and down depending on their infrastructure requirements. Customers on a 12 month contract can return up to 10% of the devices rented, while those customers on 24 and 36 month contracts can return up to 20% of the devices – at any time during the contract,” adds Kemp.

More than just a rental

HaaS gives business access to repurposed Tier 1 hardware from vendors such as Dell, HP and Lenovo, equipped with the required specifications (processor, memory, and storage), and come installed with the latest Microsoft Windows operating system, unless an older version is specifically requested by the customer.

Kemp says: “Where HaaS is different from simply renting IT hardware is that businesses get full asset lifecycle management, such as having all company software pre-installed, flexible refresh cycles and upgrades, support and warranty management and transparent and predictable per user monthly fees.”

The ability to upgrade during the contract period means that businesses can keep pace with the latest in technology without needing to invest on depreciating equipment, while ensuring maximum productivity and efficiency for employees. Returned devices are put through a decommissioning process that ensures anonymity, certified data protection, and environmental compliance. 

Businesses further stand to benefit from Vox Care, which incorporates asset management and logistical services for customers. This includes initial delivery and setup in major centres, asset tagging of all rented items, creation, and the repair and/or replacement of faulty machines within three business days – again in the main metropolitan areas. 

Vox Care also assists in the design, testing and deployment of custom images, whereby HaaS clients can have the additional programmes they need (security, productivity tools, business software, etc) easily pre-installed along with the Windows operating system, on all their machines.

Kemp says HaaS customers can get further peace of mind by outsourcing the day to day management of their desktop environment to Vox Managed Services, as well as leverage the company’s knowledge and expertise to manage and host workstation backups to ensure business continuity.

Says Kemp: “Hardware-as-a-Service allows businesses to reduce the total cost of ownership of their hardware and ensure they only pay for what they use. Making the switch to a service model helps them take advantage of the global move in this direction, and to turn their business into a highly functional, flexible, low cost, change your mind whenever you want workplace.”

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Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.

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The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here: http://seedsta.rs/doen

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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