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Rise of the sales platform

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A brand is no longer just an identifying mark, but something that customers have a relationship with which is why businesses are considering how to use technology to more effectively manage their brand, writes QUINTON PIENAAR, CEO of Agilitude.

According to Harvard Business Review, a brand is not something you manage over time. It’s something you deliver in the moment and is no longer just an identifying mark. In my view, it is something that customers have a relationship with, and is the reason why businesses are considering how to use technology more effectively to manage their brand and its customer relationships.

IDC forecasts spending on CRM applications will reach $31.7B in 2018, attaining a CAGR of 6.9%. The forecast splits the spending across contact centres, customer service, marketing automation and sales automation.

The development of the brand, its relationships and the central role of the customer has placed a renewed focus on the role and investment into customer-related software. The rise of salesforce automation (SFA) is one area that has grown in importance and relevance, as businesses grapple with its brand and getting to know the customer on a deeper level.

In congruence with this brand shift, IDC has reported that CMOs are starting to redefine the direction of marketing spend based on customer inquiry calls and their analysis of the CRM market. I think that this is exactly what should be happening, as industry should be listening to customers and adapting business strategies accordingly, while at the same time looking at ways to more effectively utilise software to assist in the process.

Understandably then, it is no surprise to learn that over the last ten years, marketing has seen what could be the greatest explosion of technology of any business function in history.

IDC has also correctly predicted the trend and fundamental shift from point solutions to platforms. While it is a significant departure, the rise of the platform is powerful. It creates a single, connected experience for every user. It’s a truly connected platform, built for a connected world.

There is no doubt in my mind that the future of software and technology lies in platforms. According to www.platformthinkinglabs.com business leaders are developing platforms that connect diverse participants with one another and enable them to interact and transact. This means, that on the Internet, anyone can be a producer. Today’s network platforms aid the creation of entirely new markets by connecting producers and consumers with each other.

This makes the job of the brand and its custodians even tougher and the role of platform technology all the more important.

It is the use of this powerful platform that makes salesforce automation so significant moving forward, as it is ensuring it is part of a digital transformation, which is taking place globally. The businesses that embrace platforms and the resulting technology will be drivers of innovation, and will have a very compelling competitive advantage.

  • Quinton Pienaar is the CEO, Agilitude, a Salesforce platinum reseller and customer experience evangelist.

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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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