While the internet isn’t technically centralised, it is monolithic and monopolised in practice.
A handful of companies currently control most of the world’s personal data and, in most cases, we are ostensibly fine with this situation… or are we?
Driven largely by data privacy concerns, there is a growing chorus of entrepreneurs, experts, activists, and consumers starting to call for major changes.
Everywhere you look, trust in the Internet’s string-pulling behemoths is taking a hit due to a constant storm of hacks, technical mishaps, and operational intractability. People are getting disillusioned and consequently, an aspirational exodus toward more protected, transparent, and decentralised web options is gathering pace.
In many ways, decentralisation is already trundling into the mainstream, largely thanks to the fervour surrounding Bitcoin and a clutch of its lesser known cryptocurrencies. This is just the beginning too. We can confidently anticipate eye-catching and frenetic progress in the coming years as blockchain, the technology underpinning Bitcoin, continues to evolve.
New tech on the block
Blockchain is a global database functioning as an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions. It can be programmed to record not just financial transactions, but virtually anything of value. Intriguing use-cases are popping up all over, from food supply chain traceability to micropayments for media content. Many of the emerging concepts propose a dramatic shift in traditional approaches to transactions and businesses processes. It will simplify the Internet of Things (IoT), prompt a decentralised app design boom and, crucially, reinforce identity management capabilities.
Tech boffins, investors, and top-level decision-makers of every ilk are duly and intently monitoring the situation.
The father of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, is one such observer and a firm believer that change is both necessary and on its way. Ultimately, he wants his creation to go back to what he originally intended – a decentralised platform with unfettered user freedom and watertight personal data controls. To help turn the tide, he recently founded SOLID, an open source project aiming to decentralise web applications, foster true data ownership, and improve privacy.
There’s also a hive of entrepreneurial activity starting to evince blockchain’s commercial viability. TraDove is shooting for a B2B blockchain payment network for international transactions, recently raising $53 million and fuelling corporate demand for cryptocurrencies for sales and marketing – a $76 billion market. In Japan, the ambitious PATRON has big expansion plans for its decentralised influencer-marketing platform set to eliminate inefficiencies in branded content and social media. Then there’s Celcius Network, a trailblazing borrowing and lending platform committed to introducing the next 100 million people to cryptocurrencies. There are many others and it is easy to see why excitement is building.
Curb your enthusiasm?
Beyond the headlines, however, there are still plenty of obstacles on the road to decentralised nirvana.
Firstly, mass adoption requires mass buy-in. It can be a slow process to get behind something new, particularly if it stems from a field prone to technical opacity. Having said that, consumers are tech-savvy and data conscious than ever before. Incidents like Cambridge Analytica illegally mining Facebook data for 2016 US presidential election advertising are already prompting many to explode the status quo.
Another potential impediment to user enthusiasm is speed, which is an enduring and well-known issue for decentralised apps. Without high-powered servers to keep latency at bay, there is always a looming buffer dread. Switching to a slower network is undoubtedly a tough sell but decentralisation acolytes believe the problem will be resolved soon. As the sentiment goes, lag is temporary. Disruption is permanent.
Even more complicated is the regulatory minefield ahead. Establishing data jurisdictions? Defining responsibilities for deleting and changing information on the blockchain? These are all lingering grey areas. Current legislative frameworks will buckle under the adaptive strain without consistent and focused industry input and governmental vision. Clearly, widespread change is needed to untangle mounting and unavoidable complexities.
In the long-term, it is important to note that a thriving blockchain-driven B2B marketplace or platform will require all stakeholders to develop and deliver applications and services that integrate in a safe, scalable, and reliable manner. In addition, it will necessitate the technical wherewithal to coordinate massive data flows and business processes, as well establish sustainable infrastructures for applications and a distributed network of connected things. Automation and orchestration tools and frameworks – most often associated with DevOps and open application programming interface (APIs) ecosystems – will be in high demand.
As ever, security remains a major concern. It isn’t the blockchain that’s getting hacked – it’s the things that surround it: payment systems, databases, and user credentials. Today’s cryptocurrency exchanges may be tomorrow’s banks, and you can bet somebody will try to rob them. Industry-wide, we must get better at boosting developers’ abilities to self-service provision and automate the network. We also need to ensure that security services are intimately integrated into the software development cycle.
The road ahead
Soaring demand for data security and transparency, combined with emerging business models built on blockchain technology, will only continue to cast all things decentralised in a positive light. Meanwhile, existing technical hitches will diminish over time due to inevitably improved processing technologies and the step changes required to comprehensively leverage the IoT. All businesses operating in the tech and data arena need to know the score, and carefully consider which investments can both meet, and pre-empt, shifting customer demands.
“Hello BMW” – Now we’re talking, with X5
BMW brings impressive safety features and a built-in voice assistant to its 4th generation X5, writes BRYAN TURNER.
Marking 20 years since its release, the BMW X5 has been given a substantial redesign for its fourth generation. A major revamp of aesthetics and functionality affirms this luxury Sports Activity Vehicle’s (SAV) position in the market.
New safety features not only make it safer but also more comfortable to drive. The redesigned headlights utilise laser lighting, which eliminates glare on reflective objects like signboards in dark driving conditions. The laser lighting technology also extends the distance of bright lighting to about 500 meters, 200 meters further than the previous generation.
The Driving Assist Professional package, an option for the SAV, comprises a steering and lane control assistant as well as a lane keeping assistant. These assistants work closely with a smart collision evasion system, which helps avoid collisions with vehicles or pedestrians suddenly appearing in the driver’s path. As soon as an evasive manoeuvre is detected, the system assists the driver with steering inputs to direct the vehicle into a clear, adjacent lane.
BMW Operating System 7.0, the latest version of the car’s software, focuses on customisability. This means that more aspects of the vehicle can be set up in a way that is most comfortable for the driver. For example, the 12.3” infotainment panel features a home screen which uses a three-tile layout, where one can have one large tile and two smaller tiles. These tiles can be swapped around and configured to the point where drivers no longer have to search through menus to get what they would need, as their favourites sit on a customised home screen.
The X5 gets a voice assistant with the BMW Assistant Professional. “Hello BMW” will wake the onboard voice assistant for voice commands. These voice commands could be anything from “Play rock music” to “Is my tyre pressure okay?”. Renaming the voice assistant’s wake prompt is also possible if the driver has named their car something other than BMW.
Keeping in line with the latest technology, the X5 features options for a wireless charging tray in the front and two additional USB Type-C ports. Other features include an adaptive navigation system, a hard-drive-based multimedia system with 20 GB of memory, Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.
BMW’s attention to minor details goes a long way with massage seats and thermo-cupholders. Electrically adjustable and heated sports seats are fitted standard. Additional options include seat massage functionality and ventilated seats. The thermo-cupholder option allows a driver to keep a beverage heated or cooled during a drive.
Unlocking the X5 with a smartphone will soon be a reality with a planned update to the BMW Connected Drive app, in the second quarter of 2019. BMW Digital Key brings functionality to lock and unlock the car with a smartphone’s NFC chip, which eliminates the need for a traditional car key. The driver will simply hold the smartphone to the door’s handle and the car will unlock. Once the driver is inside, the smartphone can be placed on the built-in wireless charging tray, and the NFC chip will register again to verify the driver. From there, the engine can be started.
Overall, exciting technology features come with the new X5 and even more impressive features will come with software updates in 2019.
ERP needs asset management
A single, integrated EAM and ERP solution can power an asset-intensive business into the future, says MOHAMED CASSOOJEE, MD and Country Manager, IFS South Africa and Africa.
Most Enterprise Resource Planning software originated in the manufacturing sector as materials resource planning (MRP) solutions for organisations that needed to manage a lot of inventory. From there, they were rapidly developed into solutions for every industry imaginable.
But these roots mean that most standalone ERP software isn’t quite enough on its own to address the needs of organisations in asset-intensive industries such as metal foundries, mining, oil and gas, pulp and paper, energy and utilities, and construction and engineering.
Companies in these sectors are not managing inventory as much as they are managing the capacity of a fixed asset over its lifecycle as well as handling large-scale infrastructure projects with long planning cycles. This is where enterprise asset management (EAM) comes into play, offering capabilities that are not found in typical ERP systems.
EAM systems are built to help organisations manage assets such as plants, heavy machinery, pipelines and industrial-class vehicles. These solutions enable organisations to track the location and status of assets and asset objects in real time, schedule work orders to maintain and fix the assets, and manage the storage of spare parts required to service them.
As Africa’s governments, state-owned enterprises and private sector step up infrastructure investment, EAM has a vital role to play in ensuring that organisations drive the highest possible value from their new assets, whether these are telecoms networks, railway systems, ports or power plants.
According to the World Bank, Africa needs to spend around $93 billion a year over the next decade to address its infrastructure backlogs — about one-third of that cost is for maintenance. In 2008, World Bank found that about 30% of the infrastructure assets of a typical African country needed rehabilitation.
These numbers point to the urgent need for organisations across the continent to take a more proactive and preventative outlook towards maintenance of their key infrastructure and assets. Implementation of EAM can enable organisations to better track, manage and maintain assets to prolong their lifespan and enhance return on investment.
From asset planning to construction to operation to decommissioning and replacement, EAM allows organisations to maintain, manage and optimise assets over the entire asset lifecycle. By helping companies to increase asset productivity and availability – while reducing total cost of ownership – EAM can have a direct impact on profitability and financial sustainability.
Good EAM solutions can also be paired with corporate performance management and analytics tools to let organisations analyse operation disruptions and determine and address the causes, such as maintenance issues, inadequate training, or design faults.
Technological advances, along with the associated price drop for smart products being developed for the Internet of Things (IoT), now make it possible to monitor almost any asset in real-time from nearly any location across the globe. This further boosts the power and usefulness of an EAM solution. It is imperative that the EAM solutions that are implemented are built on robust, newer technologies that can easily support IOT, AI and smart bots.
EAM and ERP: a critical partnership
To sum up, ERP manages business operations, while the EAM system manages all the monitoring and operations of the asset. That means for most companies it isn’t an either-or choice because they need both EAM and ERP to drive optimal business performance.
Some organisations opt for so-called ‘best of breed’ EAM and ERP solutions from different providers. Yet integration can be a headache. The challenges include master data synchronisation and transaction integration. The company may also need to consider whether the ERP or EAM system is the better fit for a particular transaction or asset type.
However, for most organisations in asset-intensive industries, the ideal solution is an ERP system with extensive EAM capabilities: a system built from the ground up to manage not only basic business functions but also assets and their maintenance. Such a solution provides one complete solution spanning key processes and data.
This approach enables the organisation to truly manage and maximise value over asset lifecycles. It also empowers the enterprise to organise operations around the assets and individual asset objects it uses to create value for stakeholders, customers and the community.
For most asset-intensive companies, delivering EAM capabilities as part and parcel of an integrated ERP solution, simplifies their business systems landscape, giving them a single source of truth. The same arguments apply to project management and workforce management systems.
Organisations seeking to transform their business by standardising processes and leveraging reliable, real-time data will benefit from an ERP system with all of these capabilities, setting them up to adopt IoT, artificial intelligence, or whatever other new technologies are coming up next.