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Technology comes good

What do celebrities like Charlize Theron, Jon Bon Jovi, and charitable causes have in common with technology? Everything, if a recent mega tech conference is anything to go by, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The city is Orlando, Florida. The stage is brightly lit. The actress all but shimmers as she addresses the audience.

“This is the city where I shot Monster,” says Charlize Theron, whose role in that movie made her the first South African to win an Oscar.

But she’s not here to talk about movies. The event where she is talking has nothing to do with movies. Rather, it is one of the biggest business technology conferences of the year. More than 20 000 business and technology professionals have descended on Orlando for the annual Sapphire Now event, hosted by global enterprise resource planning (ERP) software leader SAP.

The prime focus of the event is the release of a new software suite called SAP C/4HANA, designed to usher in what SAP CEO Bill McDermott calls a new generation of customer relations management.

“At the centre is the person, not the transaction,” he declares. The key to this person-focused approach is “intelligent customer experience”, both a philosophy and a new name for the category of software that includes C/4HANA. 

McDermott tells business leaders attending his opening keynote session: “Brands are not defined by you, they are defined by your customers. Customers are rebelling against being treated as sales opportunities. Customers are not records in a system; customers are people. Customers have needs and desires, and those have to be at the centre of your design.”

It is this people-focused theme that sets the stage for Charlize Theron, along with stars like Jon Bon Jovi and several Olympic medalists, to share their ideals and motivations.

During an on-stage interview with one of SAP’s most senior female leaders, executive board member Adaire Fox-Martin, Theron shares her views on leadership and purpose. Mostly, however, she speaks of her dedication to a cause close to her heart: the Charlize Therson Aids Outreach Project.

Asked by Fox-Martin why she chose that direction, she speaks passionately about her feelings for South Africa.

“I was born and raised in South Africa and South Africa is the hardest hit country in the world when it comes to HIV and Aids,” she says. “We represent 1% of the world’s population but 19% of the world’s HIV-positive population. More people are living with HIV – 7-million – than anywhere else in the world. 

“It’s a very modern country, there’s a real modern face to SA, it’s a very rich country, although still grappling with its democracy. It’s a young democracy. We have things that make our country more complicated than anywhere in the world. 

“More cultures are living together than anywhere else, which makes for an incredible country. A country like South Africa should not be dealing with HIV Aids in the way that it does.”

In case the audience doesn’t get the message, she emphasises one of the overriding themes of the conference: “For me, it is very personal.”

Her many return visits to South Africa, she says, made her realise she could do something.

Charlize Theron speaks at Sapphire Now in Orlando. Photo by Arthur Goldstuck

“Every time I went back, I saw the devastation this virus had on my country on every level. Emotionally, it stayed with me, and I realised I was living in these two worlds: one in America where I had been given these opportunities, then going back and seeing young girls like myself not living with opportunities, not having knowledge or education. 

“This gave me the drive to take what I had in my life in America and help children who don’t have the tools or resources we have in other countries. We should care about that because it will come round and affect us no matter where we are in the world.”

She leaves the audience with a powerful message: “I’m proud to say South Africa has the biggest HIV treating programme in the world, but we can’t treat ourselves out of HIV and AIDS. We can’t treat it; we have to stop it.”

In contrast, rock star Jon Bon Jovi’s message is almost tame. In conversation with Bill McDermott, he speaks of being moved by the sight, from the window of his luxury hotel room more than a decade ago, of a homeless man sleeping on the streets of Philadelphia. It inspired him to start the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a non-profit organisation focused on hunger and homelessness in the United States.

Coincidentally, it is another South Africa, little known outside the software world, who shows how technology and compassion truly come together. 

Robert Enslin, who built up the SAP business in South Africa in the 1990s, worked his way up the ranks to become president of the SAP Cloud Business Group and a member of the SAP executive board.

He also serves as the executive sponsor for SAP’s Autism at Work program, which integrates people with autism into the workforce. It had become clear to SAP that, while people on the autism spectrum did not often interview well, they excelled at programming once they were hired as software developers. As a result, it launched the Autism at Work programme in 2013.

At Sapphire Now, Enslin discusses SAP’s commitment to the project in a session titled “Inclusion Drives Innovation”. 

“In order to compete in the innovation economy, companies need employees who think differently,” he says. “We have a corporate goal to employ 650 colleagues on the autism spectrum by 2020. The initiative currently includes nearly 120 colleagues filling over 20 different positions, and is active in nine countries.”

Enslin is also honorary global Chairman of the Els for Autism Golf Challenge, initiated by South Africa’s golfing legend Ernie Els. While this takes the cause into the world of sports, Enslin is well-known for his views on workplace inclusion.

“Having a diverse workforce no longer means just gender parity,” he says. “Diversity means employing people across generations and cultures, employing differently-abled people, and making sure you have equality across all dimensions of diversity.”

Ultimately, and surprisingly, it is Jon Bon Jovi who sums up the key message coming out of the conference as he sums up his advice to the youth: 

“Remain true to who you are, don’t follow fads and fashions because, by the time you get to it, it will already be past. The greatest gift the next generation can give is to aspire to inspire. Don’t sing The Macerena because it is a worldwide number one, but try to write Blowing in the Wind because that song will change people’s lives.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

 

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Veeam passes $1bn, prepares for cloud’s ‘Act II’

Leader in cloud-data management reveals how it will harness the next growth phase of the data revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Veeam Software, the quiet leader in backup solutions for cloud data management,has announced that it has passed $1-billion in revenues, and is preparing for the next phase of sustained growth in the sector.

Now, it is unveiling what it calls Act II, following five years of rapid growth through modernisation of the data centre. At the VeeamON 2019conferencein Miami this week, company co-founder Ratmir Timashev declared that the opportunities in this new era, focused on managing data for the hybrid cloud, would drive the next phase of growth.

“Veeam created the VMware backup market and has dominated it as the leader for the last decade,” said Timashev, who is also executive vice president for sales and marketing at the organisation. “This was Veeam’s Act I and I am delighted that we have surpassed the $1 billion mark; in 2013 I predicted we’d achieve this in less than six years. 

“However, the market is now changing. Backup is still critical, but customers are now building hybrid clouds with AWS, Azure, IBM and Google, and they need more than just backup. To succeed in this changing environment, Veeam has had to adapt. Veeam, with its 60,000-plus channel and service provider partners and the broadest ecosystem of technology partners, including Cisco, HPE, NetApp, Nutanix and Pure Storage, is best positioned to dominate the new cloud data management in our Act II.”

In South Africa, Veeam expects similar growth. Speaking at the Cisco Connect conference in Sun City this week, country manager Kate Mollett told Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER that the company was doing exceptionally well in this market.

“In financial year 2018, we saw double-digit growth, which was really very encouraging if you consider the state of the economy, and not so much customer sentiment, but customers have been more cautious with how they spend their money. We’ve seen a fluctuation in the currency, so we see customers pausing with big decisions and hoping for a recovery in the Rand-Dollar. But despite all of the negatives, we have double digit growth which is really good. We continue to grow our team and hire.

“From a Veeam perspective, last year we were responsible for Veeam Africa South, which consisted of South Africa, SADC countries, and the Indian Ocean Islands. We’ve now been given the responsibility for the whole of Africa. This is really fantastic because we are now able to drive a single strategy for Africa from South Africa.”

Veeam has been the leading provider of backup, recovery and replication solutions for more than a decade, and is growing rapidly at a time when other players in the backup market are struggling to innovate on demand.

“Backup is not sexy and they made a pretty successful company out of something that others seem to be screwing up,” said Roy Illsley, Distinguished Analyst at Ovum, speaking in Miami after the VeeamOn conference. “Others have not invested much in new products and they don’t solve key challenges that most organisations want solved. Theyre resting on their laurels and are stuck in the physical world of backup instead of embracing the cloud.”

Illsley readily buys into the Veeam tagline. “It just works”. 

“They are very good at marketing but are also a good engineering comany that does produce the goods. Their big strength, that it just works, is a reliable feature they have built into their product portfolio.”

Veeam said in statement from the event that, while it had initially focused on server virtualisation for VMware environments, in recent years it had expanded this core offering. It was now delivering integration with multiple hypervisors, physical servers and endpoints, along with public and software-as-a-service workloads, while partnering with leading cloud, storage, server, hyperconverged (HCI) and application vendors.

This week, it  announced a new “with Veeam”program, which brings in enterprise storage and hyperconverged (HCI) vendors to provide customers with comprehensive secondary storage solutions that combine Veeam software with industry-leading infrastructure systems. Companies like ExaGrid and Nutanix have already announced partnerships.

Timashev said: “From day one, we have focused on partnerships to deliver customer value. Working with our storage and cloud partners, we are delivering choice, flexibility and value to customers of all sizes.”

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‘Energy scavenging’ funded

As the drive towards a 5G future gathers momentum, the University of Surrey’s research into technology that could power countless internet enabled devices – including those needed for autonomous cars – has won over £1M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry partners.

Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) has been working on triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), an energy harvesting technology capable of ‘scavenging’ energy from movements such as human motion, machine vibration, wind and vehicle movements to power small electronic components. 

TENG energy harvesting is based on a combination of electrostatic charging and electrostatic induction, providing high output, peak efficiency and low-cost solutions for small scale electronic devices. It’s thought such devices will be vital for the smart sensors needed to enable driverless cars to work safely, wearable electronics, health sensors in ‘smart hospitals’ and robotics in ‘smart factories.’ 

The ATI will be partnered on this development project with the Georgia Institute of Technology, QinetiQ, MAS Holdings, National Physical Laboratory, Soochow University and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI and the principal investigator of the TENG project, said: “TENG technology is ideal to power the next generation of electronic devices due to its small footprint and capacity to integrate into systems we use every day. Here at the ATI, we are constantly looking to develop such advanced technologies leading towards our quest to realise worldwide “free energy”.

“TENGs are an ideal candidate to power the autonomous electronic systems for Internet of Things applications and wearable electronic devices. We believe this research grant will allow us to further the design of optimized energy harvesters.”

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