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Third of companies unprepared for digital

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A recent IFS study has revealed that even though big data, ERP and IoT are noted as top investment areas for digital transformation, only one in three of the companies surveyed are prepared due to talent deficiency.

IFS has revealed the findings of its Digital Change Survey that polled 750 decision makers in 16 countries to assess maturity of digital transformation in sectors such as manufacturing, oil and gas, aviation, construction and contracting, and service.

Strong willingness to invest

Nearly 90 percent of firms surveyed have ‘adequate’ or ‘advantageous’ funding for digital transformation, indicating a strong willingness to invest and an appetite to evolve their business in order to stay competitive and grow. When asked about prioritised investment areas, the top three choices were IoT, ERP and Big Data & Analytics.

“It is apparent that companies today understand the urgency of focusing on digital transformation.” IFS VP of global industry solutions Antony Bourne said: “Technologies such as big data and analytics, enterprise resource planning and internet of things are paramount to transforming a business. Companies need to apply innovative technologies hand in hand with their relevant industry expertise to succeed and gain a competitive edge. It is this combination that makes digital transformation both meaningful and powerful”.

Lack of talented employees

Alarmingly, more than a third of companies (34 percent) feel either slightly or totally unprepared to deal with digital transformation due to talent deficiency. When asked to name the areas that will experience the greatest deficit in talented staff, 40 percent cited “business intelligence” and 39 percent “cyber security”. Other areas of concern are “AI and robotics” (30 percent), “big data/analytics” (24 percent), and “cloud” (21 percent).

Antony Bourne added, “Although new technology is key to digital transformation, it is clear that change communications and access to the right talent are principal catalysts to succeed. It is alarming that more than one in three companies are not staffed to manage digital transformation. These organisations need to focus on concrete talent investment plans to make sure that they establish what roles are critical to success in their industries. After that the key is both to find and attract new talent as well as training and re-skilling existing staff.”

“Industrial IoT investments offer excellent ROI which is driving adoption,” stated ARC Advisory Group, VP Enterprise Software, Ralph Rio. He continued: “But, talent is a constraint as the IFS survey shows. Hence, IoT users partner with companies like IFS that offer leadership IoT solutions.”

Major differences across industries

When asked about the digital transformation maturity level of their organisations, meaning actual progress, 31 percent of the respondents consider their business to be in the two highest levels of maturity on a five-graded scale. The aviation industry is the most progressive with 44 percent of respondents considering themselves advanced in their ability to leverage digital transformation. Runner up is the construction and contracting industry, 39 percent of whom identified themselves as mature. At the other end of the spectrum is the oil and gas sector, where only 19 percent of the respondents consider themselves able to benefit from digital transformation.

“The differences in digital maturity levels across industries are notable. The highly competitive nature of the aviation industry, together with its rapid adoption rate of new technologies such as predictive maintenance and 3D printing for spare part manufacturing, are key drivers of its successful digitalisation”, Antony Bourne said.

Drivers and investment focus

43 percent of respondents identified “internal process efficiency” as the number one driving force behind digital transformation. “Accelerating innovation” (29 percent) and “growth opportunity in new markets” (28 percent) were recognided as the second and third most significant drivers.

Obstacles to digital transformation

Despite the practical and technical complexities of digital transformation, the number one barrier to change is on the human side: “aversion to change” (42 percent). The second and third largest barriers are the more concrete “security threats/concerns” (39 percent) and “absence of the right organidational and governance model” (38 percent).

Which will be the most disruptive technologies?

When asked what technologies will be the most disruptive, Big Data tops the list with a score of 7.2 out of 10. Second is Automation (7.0) and third is IoT (6.6). Although Big Data is ranked the highest overall, there is a significant minority who feel that automation will have the most dramatic impact. Over 40 percent rated the level of disruption by Automation as 8 or more out of 10, while only 32 percent gave such high ratings to Big Data. In the construction, aviation and manufacturing industries 48 percent, 48 percent and 50 percent respectively consider the automation disruption score >8/10, which makes it the highest rated technology for those industries.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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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.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

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.

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