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SA must embrace innovation

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A recent survey has revealed that although we have the resources to innovate, we are not doing so, and if we do not begin to do so the consequences could be dire, writes WILLIAM MZIMBA, Chief Executive of Accenture SA & Chairman of Accenture Africa.

We are living in an era of abundance – we have all the resources required to solve humanity’s biggest challenges. The activating ingredient is the ability to innovate. However, in South Africa, the results of the Accenture’s 2017 Innovation Index show that we have not yet as a nation embraced innovation. If we don’t turn that around rapidly, the consequences will be dire.

South Africa faces key challenges such as poverty, low levels of education and employment, as well as an urgent need for economic growth. We still have more than seven million people in this country that go to bed without food. We have kids today that are not in the education system. We have adults and youth with no opportunity for employment. The status quo cannot prevail. We know that.

We also know that the rest of the world is not going to solve it for us, nor is the government going to do it for us. We have the resources, power, ability and capability to solve this together. But it is going to require new thinking.

Crowdsourcing solutions to global problems

I recently had the privilege of attending Peter Diamandis’ XPRIZE Visioneers Summit 2017 in Los Angeles – it represents some of the greatest crowdsourcing of innovation the world has ever seen – and a few things struck me:

  • We actually don’t have to think about our problems only within the confines of resources we have;
  • We have all the technology we need today to even mine comets; and
  • Through crowdsourcing we have access to the collective resources on this continent, including financial resources – it’s all we need to begin to solve the greatest challenges that we have.

However, we are collectively challenged: we haven’t yet as a nation understood that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in technologies that enable us to change the course of direction of humanity on this continent. If we don’t embrace these technologies and move at a speed, we are once again going to become the forgotten continent.

I believe that if we can collectively unleash the power of our collective genius – apply our resources and mind power, and leverage the available technologies – we can solve many of the challenges we face. This is the reason why year on year, since 2015, Accenture has run the Innovation Conference to ignite the ingenuity that we have within us and see how we can unleash innovation to solve the challenges we have on this continent.

Where are we falling short?

In a world of exponential potential and ability to grow and take giant leap steps, the Accenture Innovation Index shows that South Africa has moved ahead only a miniscule two points in its ability to innovate. We all talk about it, we all believe it’s important, we read the literature, we see what’s happening elsewhere in the world … but we fail to execute.

Our research shows that businesses agree that strategy is important, that there is a need for us to collectively and collaboratively go into an ideation process, that it is important for us to use data-driven innovation and open innovation for us to bring together a lot of ideas. But when it comes to prioritising those ideas and putting a budget behind them to get them to the execution space, we fail.

The biggest unicorns today – Airbnb, Alibaba, Google – are showing the way. These digitally-driven platform businesses have grown substantially in a very short time. Yet, as a nation, we still haven’t embraced the platform economy. We haven’t yet seen the need to disrupt our own businesses and to start operating on the basis of the value that can be derived from platform economics. Using open innovation in a collaborative way seeking to build businesses of scale requires us to adopt the key principles of platform dynamics.

Advantage of the platform

Platform businesses reflect a few fundamental characteristics. Key among them is that they adopt a differentiated value proposition, led by personalisation, analytics, big data, and market responsive pricing. I believe that this is the area of innovation for us.

When we think about the things that we need to innovate around, we should have at the centre of our thinking how we could begin to create platforms, because platforms, through their ability to scale, are going to allow us the opportunity to get to the growth trajectory that we need so desperately. They will also provide the ability to embrace ecosystems.

A great proposition, mass personalisation, responsive pricing, effective cyber protection, scaling their ecosystem and allowing the network effect to come together can, from today, help South African enterprises to start to migrate to a platform world. However, we are far from ready.

Ideas are worth nothing unless you are able to execute

Compared to G20 countries, South Africa ranks low in terms of platform readiness on the Innovation Index. This ranking was determined by the country’s digital user size and savviness, the entrepreneurship in our environment, our preparedness in terms of the technologies that will allow us to innovate, how open innovation is embraced in our environment and how the policy makers and regulators are enabling platform dynamics.

We need to take note. Innovation is fundamental within a platform economy but, to this world, ideas are worth nothing unless you are able to execute. We need to build that capability. How?

Accenture’s Innovation Architecture is built to take ideas to execution rapidly. It combines Research; a Venture component where we co-operate and coordinate a lot of initiatives with fintechs, insuretechs and startups; and our Accenture Labs where we prototype – we get ideas out of the starting block into something that people can see, feel and touch so that they can begin to understand how they can incorporate that into their processes. Once we have that, we can help our clients build it at speed, embed it and scale it.

However, we need to think about innovation in more than the conventional way.

Innovation is not just about invention

Steve Jobs did not invent the concept of a phone; he built a large platform for a something that already existed and perfected it.  He also got into the music business late, but today his $12 billion iTunes platform is the largest of its kind today. What did he see? He wanted to connect music producers with music consumers. He got into the middle.

This is the opportunity for us – to start to think about what exists out there and how we can repurpose it using our collective genius to come up with a market-defining innovation. Our challenges as a country and as a continent are large; incremental innovation is simply not going to get us there.

Alibaba offers another brilliant example. It is not just an ecommerce platform, it’s an infrastructure and a data company. This is its strength and future. It focusses on its big data capability, matching buyers and sellers on its platform and so offering ever more services on its platform. From the foundation of an ecommerce capability, it saw a great opportunity to connect people in the most rural of rural places in China with a huge market. It has the power to move goods from one place to the other – through Ali-pay it reduces friction in the value chain, and through its insurance offering that insures goods in transit it creates a trust equation between the goods producer and the buyer.

The insight? Alibaba has leveraged ‘exponentialising’ technologies in a combinatorial way to become – in just a few years – one of the largest enterprises today. We have the power to unleash the potential in this country in a similar way.

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Security gets an upgrade – with a few glitches

Video doorbells are all the rage in the USA. Can they work in South Africa? SEAN BACHER tries out the Ring Video DoorBell 2 and Floodlight Cam.

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IP cameras have become synonymous with both business and home security. They are readily available, fairly inexpensive and, in many cases, easy to install.

Many are wireless, allowing one to place the camera anywhere within Wi-Fi range. As a result, they are a solution that can be customised to suit any type of security situation.

A world leader in doorbell security, Amazon subsidiary Ring, has recently extended its range of security devices, which now includes doorbells, floodlights, and Wi-Fi extenders, all designed to enhance and complement existing security beams and electric fences.

First up is the Ring Video DoorBell 2

It doesn’t look much like your normal intercom system, except for the miniature eye that keeps track of mischief that may be happening.  

Setting up is fairly easy. All one needs to do is connect it to the network by pushing the connect button, create an account on the downloaded smartphone app and get started with customisation and certification. Features like sensitivity, alerts, and numbers where these alerts need to be sent can all be preprogrammed. It is then just a matter of positioning the doorbell to get the best video coverage.

Getting the correct position may take some time, though, as cars and pedestrians may set it off. 

Next up is the Floodlight Cam

This works much the same as the doorbell. However, it needs to be mounted to a wall. Ring has you covered there: in the box you will find drill bits, screws and even a screwdriver to help you secure the camera. 

You will have to set alerts, phone numbers, and sensitivity. The spotlight allows you to change what time it should light up and shut down, and the package also includes an alarm, should its beams be broken.

Although this all sounds good, there are a few drawbacks to the Ring solutions. Firstly, unlike the United States, where doorbells are stuck in the vicinity of a front door, allowing them to connect to a network easily, many houses in South Africa have gates that need to be opened before one can reach the front door. This means that the bells are on or near the gate, and they are unable to connect to a home or business network.

Now, however, Ring has launched a Wi-Fi extender, but this requires an additional set-up process – and a fairly expensive one, considering the camera cost.

The Ring devices come with Protection Plans that automatically upload any triggered recordings to the cloud, allowing you to view them at a later stage. This trial period only lasts for 30 days, after which the plans can be extended from R450 for a three month period, up to R1 500 for a twelve-month period.

In practice

The attention to detail in the packaging and the addition of the tools really does put the Ring in a class of its own. No short cuts were taken in its design, and you can immediately see that it’s no rip-off. However, the Protection Plans need to be looked at carefully in terms of their costs.

Aside from this challenge, I found the devices very handy inside my house. For instance, a few times my external alarm or fence would sound, at which stage I would get a notification from my armed response – while I was away. But I easily logged in to Ring from my phone to check if anything strange was happening – all in a matter of seconds and while I was sitting all the way in Berlin.

The devices are rather expensive, though, with the Video Door Bell starting at R3 500 and going up to R7 990, and the Floodlight Cam going for R5 000. It all adds up quickly.

The cost means these solutions may not be quite ready for the South African consumer looking for a complete external perimeter security system.

Despite the Protection Plans, I did find them very handy inside my house. For instance, a few times my external alarm or fence would sound, at which stage I would get a notification from my armed response.

But, I easily logged in to Ring from my phone to check if anything strange was happening – all in a matter of seconds and while I was sitting all the way in Berlin.

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It’s not a ‘techlash’ – it’s a ‘tech clash’

By RORY MOORE, Innovation Lead, Accenture South Africa

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People’s love for technology has let businesses weave it, and themselves, into our lives, transforming how we work live and interact in this new world which we at Accenture are referring to – in our Tech Vision 2020 – as the “post-digital era.” But now we are being held back.

At a time when people see the potential of embracing technology more deeply into their lives, systems and services built for a old era are not supporting where people want to go. The next five years will see radical transformation as technology is realigned to better reflect people’s needs and values.

We look at the latest emerging trends that will transform how we live in work in this fundamentally different post-digital world.
Tech trend 1: “The I in experience” – helping people choose their own adventure

The next generation of technology-driven experiences will be those that make the user an active participant in creating the experience. Businesses are increasingly looking to personalise and individualise experiences to a greater degree than ever before, but are faced with stricter data regulations and users that are wary of services being too invasive. To address this, leading businesses are changing the paradigm and making choice and agency a central component of what they deliver.

Tech trend 2: “Artificial intelligence (AI) and me” – reimagining business through human and AI collaboration

Businesses will have to tap the full potential of AI by making it an additive contributor to work, rather than a backstop for automating boring or repetitive tasks. Until now, enterprises have been using AI to automate parts of their workflows, but as AI capabilities grow, following the old path will limit the full benefit of AI investments, potentially marginalise people, and cap businesses’ ability for growth. Businesses must rethink the work they do to make AI a generative part of the process. To do so, they will have to build new capabilities that improve the contextual comprehension between people and machines.

Tech trend 3: “The dilemma of smart things” – overcoming the “beta burden”

As enterprises convert their products into platforms for digital experiences, new challenges arise that, if left unaddressed, will alienate customers and erode their trust. Now that the true value of a product is being driven by the experience, a facet of the product that enterprises have traditionally retained strict control over, businesses must re-evaluate central questions: how involved they are with the product lifecycle, how to maintain transparency and continuity over product features, when is a product truly “finished”, and even who owns it?

Tech trend 4: “Robots in the wild” – growing businesses’ reach and responsibility

Robotics are no longer contained to the warehouse or factory floor. Autonomous vehicles, delivery drones, and other robot-driven machines are fast entering the world around us, allowing businesses to extend this intelligence back into the physical world. As 5G is poised to accelerate this trend, every enterprise must begin to re-think their business through the lens of robotics. Where will they find the most value, and what partners do they need to unlock it? What challenges will they face as they undergo this transformation, and what new responsibilities do they have towards their customers and society at large?

Tech trend 5: “Innovation DNA” – creating an engine for continuous innovation

Businesses should assemble their unique innovation DNA to define how their enterprises grow in the future. Maturing digital technology is making it easier than ever before to transform parts of the business, or find new value in share tools with others. The three key building blocks of innovation DNA are:
Continue on the digital transformation journey
Accelerate research and development (R&D) of scientific advancements and utilise elements such as material sciences and genomic editing to ensure practical applications are leaving these labs quicker than ever before
Leverage the power of DARQ (distributed ledger technology, AI, extended reality and quantum computing) to transform and optimise the business
Differentiation in the post-digital era will be driven by the powerful combinations of innovation and these building blocks will enable exactly that.

It’s not a “techlash”, it’s a “tech-clash”

Essentially, this new digital world is more intimate and personal than ever imaginable, but the models for data, ownership, and experience that define that world have remained the same.

Tech-clash is a clash between old models that are incongruous with people’s expectations. The time to start transformation is now. To this end, businesses need to defuse the tech-clash, build human-centered models and foster deeply trusting relationships.

For more information on how Accenture can help enterprises adopt the latest tech trends to future-proof their businesses in the post-digital era, go to: https://www.accenture.com/za-en.

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