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.
Smart home arrives in SA
The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
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.
Matrics must prepare for AI
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.