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Take the road to digital

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To channel the flood of data generated by the Internet of Things, companies need to move away from standard software platforms and move over to flexible, multifunctional versions. In so doing, they are already taking the first step to a secure future in the volatile era of digitization, writes DR. WOLFRAM JOST, CTO Software AG.

Smartphones, apps, wearables—IT moved into the everyday lives of consumers long ago. As the Internet of Things (IoT) segment grows, smart refrigerators, self-driving cars and other networked smart items will also become part of daily life. The main thing that makes these devices unique is that they communicate with each other. This generates one thing above all else: data. IT experts predict that by the year 2020, around 50 billion networked machines and devices will generate a data volume of about 40,000 exabytes (1 exabyte is equal to circa 1 million terabytes)—more than five times the level in 2015. To channel this flood of data productively, companies need to strip off their stiff corset of standard software and use flexible, multifunctional platforms instead. In so doing, they are already taking the first step to a secure future in the volatile era of digitization.

Traditional ERP systems cannot provide the speed of process restructuring and innovation needed these days. Cloud computing and mobile applications have been highlighting the limits of the monolithic approach with intertwined software packages for some time now. Static, inflexible legacy programs make updates time-consuming and costly. Even the concept of service-oriented architecture (SOA), which accelerates processes with flexible middleware without completely replacing the old systems, proved to be a temporary solution. As data volumes continue to grow along with the number of (mobile) devices, agile jacks-of-all-trades such as enterprise apps are taking the place of standard applications. These programs allow companies to combine analytical functions and transactional capabilities to design flexible business process. At the same time, apps support smart decision-making and offer a link to social networks.

Entrepreneurial spirit in the digital transition

Social media and custom apps enable businesses to speak the customer’s language since their everyday lives were appified long ago. Uber, Amazon, Facebook, Zalando—behind all of these apps and business models stand companies that have left behind traditional processes in favor of being a digital business. In so doing, they have blurred the lines between the spheres of the digital and physical worlds.

Agility, scalability, speed and responsiveness are the attributes of the “digital business.” They generate dynamic business processes that serve the customer’s needs faster and better with the greater differentiation and customization. Only personalized offers that are available 24/7 will keep customers loyal in today’s excess supply of options. The competition isn’t snoozing through digitization, and competitors who handle it better are already heading to the starting blocks.

Achieving success through co-innovation

There are a few paths into the digital business world. For example, the change can start with designing business processes or analyzing customer data that a company has collected. Generally speaking, there is no clear sequence here: Companies provide the starting point with their IT and business activities—and the IT service provider stands by their side as a software expert.

First they collaborate to develop a digitization roadmap. This includes the company’s digital strategy, business objectives and models, as well as the appropriate strategy for apps, IoT and cloud computing. The digital capability map is based on this roadmap and provides an overview of the company’s future digital capabilities and its new IT structure. Based on experience, up to two months should be allotted for this discovery phase. Then the IT service provider trains the IT organization and different departments on how to use the new systems. Users learn in real-world examples how to integrate cloud systems and link them with the backend, among other things. The goal for users is to work as independently as possible under initial supervision on implementation, execution and controlling within the new business processes, learn from them and improve them through further innovation. Experienced service providers allocate around six months for such an innovation cycle.

User companies should concentrate on planning, realizing and later autonomously developing the minimum of innovation needed. However, neither side should lose sight of the roadmap and both need to ensure that they communicate the necessary knowledge in small steps so users are not overwhelmed, which could place the entire digitization process at risk. Moreover, these agile methods give the team a certain leeway to familiarize themselves with the digitization processes on their own. Shaping IT projects themselves will require some companies to rethink their approach.

A secure future thanks to digital business platforms

Digital business requires open, fast IT. Aside from the technology being used, whether and how quickly companies develop, implement and improve promising business ideas also plays a key role. Companies that unite all these factors are successful—whether as a digital player in the business world or in public administration. That and the opportunity to integrate all process controls in the backend are the advantages of the platform strategy.

A platform pursues a generic approach, so it gets by without business logic and offers functions for designing, controlling, managing and developing software. It is not about software packages, but rather about flexible, changeable, individual applications that are customized for specific needs. These include cloud-capable services, in-memory databases, and CEP, integration and process engines.

Digital business platforms unite these and other functions in modular core components that can be implemented and expanded individually, but can also be built on each other and interlock like teeth on gears. These building blocks can be assigned different levels, such as data management and analysis, integration, modeling or process and program logic. This offers a structure that allows companies to remain competitive while focusing immediately on known weak points and expanding the platform incrementally over the medium term. The situation in the digital market is constantly in flux and innovations that will revolutionize processes are increasingly difficult to predict. Monolithic ERP systems are obsolete. Only digital platforms allow the greatest possible flexibility and reaction time to be prepared for all eventualities of the race of digitization speeding ahead.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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