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SA on edge of business revolution

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The global business landscape is seeing many businesses digitise, largely due to the many ICT trends that are affecting businesses. As late adopters South African business stand to benefit immensely from these trends, writes Patrick Shield, CTO at Software AG.

Buzz phrases such as ‘enterprise digitisation’ are discussed among ICT and business industries alike with increasing frequency, but often hold little meaning to business decision makers who have historically left ICT initiatives to ICT-focussed departments. The global shift towards the digitisation of business, however, cannot be ignored by business leaders, and has become crucial to the survival of many organisations – with South African businesses being no exception.

“It’s vital for South Africa’s industry leaders to acknowledge that ICT and business objectives are no longer separate entities, and are in fact interdependent functions,” explains Patrick Shields, Chief Technology Officer at Software AG South Africa. Addressing delegates at the recent annual Software AG Innovation Day in Sandton, Shields explains: “The wall between ICT and business is slowly being broken down, and ICT is playing a far more active role in business than before. The importance of these departments collaborating closely cannot be underestimated, and all stakeholders need to be able to speak and understand the same language. Combining the value that both business and ICT jointly deliver, can lead to an exponential increase in an organisation’s effectiveness, agility and profitability.”

The global customer landscape is changing drastically, and quickly, and Shields explains that businesses need to adapt their offerings just as swiftly in order to remain relevant. “Currently, there are upwards of two billion internet users worldwide – seeing a third of the human population connected today,” he says. “Due to this, we are experiencing a 40% growth in data year on year, which is speeding up. This presents a significant opportunity for businesses that have poised themselves to access and harness this data. This is especially relevant for African enterprises that serve a continent of mobile enabled citizens and consumers”

Shields notes that the ability to ‘tap into’ data streams that describe customer and citizen behaviour presents unique opportunities to identify patterns, then program their existing systems to automatically respond to a range of ‘time sensitive’ scenarios. “This can have a profound effect on functions such customer service, internal processes, faster response to structural and legislative changes, and the identification and resolution of problems, among many other benefits. Digitising these functions means that they will be faster and more effective, but at a lower operating costs.”

According to Shields, about 75% of businesses who are embracing the digital change fall within the conventional industry categories – such as financial services, manufacturing and logistics. These enterprises are taking the first steps of digitisation by changing from ‘paper based’ processes to automated business processes.

While the digital business trend has entrenched itself quite thoroughly in the world’s leading economies, South African businesses are relatively late adopters to this new approach, as South African businesses in general are appreciative of the risks involved. “The current economic challenges presented to South Africa’s organisations means that decision makers have a healthy apprehension when looking at projects without a thorough understanding of how it will work, as well as a thorough understanding and proof of the potential business value. South African decision makers do not want to invest time and resources into just another tool that sits on the shelf in their organisation, so it is crucial for software solution providers to prove value upfront, rather than promise the sky through convoluted sales-speak.”

“That being said, being late adopters to digital business puts South Africa in the beneficial position of being able to learn from the lessons of pioneers, who have already experienced a range of trials, errors, and successes which have led to optimised performance of software solutions,” Shields continues. “One of the most crucial takeaways for business decision makers is that digitising business in no way requires an expensive overhaul of existing systems in order to be implemented. Proper digitisation should not mandate a ‘Rip and Replace’ approach” he says. “Many organisations have already invested large amounts of time and money into creating and tailoring their existing systems, which are often thoroughly customised and carried large set-up costs. Rather than ripping and replacing expensive legacy systems and technology, our approach is to ‘wrap and re-use’ existing systems at a fraction of the cost, so that they remain and continue to function as designed, but are linked through a customisable integration layer.”

Shields explains that this integration layer, as seen in the word’s first Digital Business Platform, which was recently launched by Software AG in South Africa, connects existing systems to a central point of monitoring and management; is agile, allowing enterprises to quickly automate any form of business process, and gain real-time operational visibility through simple, practical dashboards.”

“Digital change is disrupting traditional business models like never before. The updating and evolving of processes that needs to take place within companies to address the ‘big change’ will define how these organisations will fare in the future,” he notes. “Essentially, the digitisation of business is a race – and companies need to keep ahead of the competition in order to survive and capitalize on the digital revolution. This is the compelling reason why companies should embrace digital change – either leverage its opportunities and take full advantage of the significant benefits it offers to your organisation, or get left behind and potentially face ‘business irrelevance’ or ‘technological extinction’ within the markets, customers and citizens that you serve,” concludes Shields.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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