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Why you can’t future-proof your business

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When it comes to technology, executives who believe they can future-proof their organisations need to realise there is little that can be controlled about its evolution in the workplace, writes BRIAN TIMPERLEY, MD of Turrito Networks.

Effectively planning for advancements in technology is virtually impossible, especially when the organisation still relies heavily on legacy infrastructure. Arguments can be made for phasing in the adoption of, by way of example, a fully virtualised environment. But how effective can this adoption be, if the legacy hardware and software cannot support it?

Fundamental to any future-thinking approach has to be an organic strategy that can cater for significant technological changes three to five years from now. Business has to remain as agile as possible when it comes to the potential of what technology will be able to deliver in our near future.

Realistically, there is just too much change and innovation taking place to really say any organisation is future-proofed. This is where small to medium enterprises (SMEs) have the advantage. Traditionally, they are nimble enough to adapt and have already embraced office productivity software-as-a-service, while many enterprises are still debating the merits versus the colossal migration required.

Any organisation has to adapt quickly when market forces change. The days of being in total control of technology are long gone. Instead, the business needs to work with an agile technology partner to deliver a future-friendly strategy.

Identifying such a partner is no mean feat. Businesses are cautioned against relying on a specific vendor solution, rather than a partner who is vendor / solution agnostic. It comes down to delivering solutions effectively in an ever changing environment.

The road ahead is all about technology and not just having the right business mindset. Executives need to understand the impact this will have in their environment. First-to-market advantage when embracing innovative technology is critical to stay ahead of competitors. It is all about how quickly you can evolve and implement.

Those organisations choosing to ignore the technological forces at play might as well close  their doors. Fighting these changes is an exercise in futility – either embrace it or get out of the way of others who are better geared towards a digital future.

The cloud is already here. In a decade’s time, it is going to be the most archaic thought to still own and manage your own infrastructure. People will consume everything through applications and infrastructure driven by cloud environments.

Even in South Africa, the bandwidth discussion will become as irrelevant as it is to far more developed countries. Organisations will no longer be concerned about their internet speed or the amount of data they consume monthly. It will simply be a case of consuming as much as is needed.

The future will be always-connected and businesses are starting to realise this. Combine that knowledge with a more holistic technology strategy and there will be some semblance of future planning. Even better, decision-makers need to focus on the things they can control and leave the right technology partners to deliver the rest.

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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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