IoT and ERP is a powerful combination that gives African SMEs the agility to enter large supply chains and compete head-on with the big guys, says DEIRDRE FRYER, Product Manager for Africa at SYSPRO Africa.
Stop for just a minute and take a look at your office printer. It may not be particularly exciting – like any other printer, it likely tracks the amount of paper you are using and alerts you when your cartridges are low. But what if that printer could be linked to your ERP system? What if it could tell you when it needs to be serviced, and provide you with accurate information around its lifespan so that you would know exactly when it’s beginning to cost more money than its worth?
And your printer is just one everyday item with IoT capabilities. Imagine the possibilities of being able to feed information from an entire network of assets into the ERP.
We all want to be more agile
As we already know a good ERP system essentially allows you to take all your vital data across business units and divisions, and integrate it seamlessly to view real-time information and make better informed business decisions. So naturally if you were able to feed the wealth of unstructured data from all of the smart devices in your business, and integrate that information with the existing structured data in your ERP, you could leverage it to provide extremely valuable insights. Whether you want to up your game in customer service, forecasting or inventory management, integrating the IoT into your ERP can help you make infinitely better business decisions. You’ll also be able to gain these insights more quickly, allowing you to rapidly adapt to changing consumer and business requirements, and extend your business model accordingly. The end result? Far greater flexibility that enables you to compete in large supply chains with much bigger players.
So what’s holding us back?
While it’s fair to say we are starting to see local businesses begin to harness the power of IoT in their ERP solutions, many companies are still constrained by the complexities involved in integrating all of their systems. And, of course, another big part of the reason why many businesses are holding off on IoT, is the concern around security. Because the very nature of the IoT entails the collection of personal information, a breach in IoT security could quite literally put people at serious risk. Hacking has also become a great deal more prevalent in recent years and when it comes to IoT specifically, it means you suddenly need to secure devices which previously you didn’t have to worry about because they were in isolation. Your protocols and security need to be a lot stronger so that your business isn’t put in a position where hackers can access your entire network via an IoT connection.
Start with a simple question
So how can you overcome these challenges and start leveraging IoT in your ERP?
It’s essential that you start by asking yourself what your objectives are. You need to know what your return on investment will be and what benefits you can expect. Perhaps most importantly, ask yourself what kind of insights you are hoping to achieve, and whether you are likely to develop those insights based on the IoT strategy you plan to put in place.
Ultimately you need to then base your entire strategy around those insights you want to achieve. Your ERP software also forms an important part of your ability to leverage IoT. As such you’ll want to make sure that your ERP system has an integration layer and protocols that enable the sharing of information and communication between solutions and devices. It’s also important that you partner with an ERP solutions provider which recognises IoT as a natural evolution of its strategy. There’s little doubt that IoT is the future when it comes to the way businesses communicate and connect their information.
The right systems can remove the complexity
This is exactly why SYSPRO is currently developing its platform to make it easier for companies to connect their ERP systems with IoT devices. Ultimately, we want to remove the complexity involved in this process, and make it simpler and less expensive for businesses to achieve their IoT goals. Indeed, as ERP platforms evolve and make it simpler to connect various systems across the business, we will likely see a significant pickup in the number of local companies merging IoT and ERP over the next two to three years. And for good reason. The internet of things is already all around us – perhaps even more so than we might think – and by tapping into this incredible source of data, companies can fast forward their business intelligence, enabling them to punch high above their weight. So stop thinking of your printer as just a printer and start asking how IoT can benefit your business. A world of invaluable insight awaits.
How to predict the future
Forecasting the future is about people, not technology, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers on a visit to the HP Innovation Lab in Barcelona
When HP chief technology officer Shane Wall talks about the world three decades from now, the trends to steers clear of technology. That’s startling, given that he is also global head of HP Labs, the advanced research group within the world’s leading PC and printer manufacturer.
The Labs play host to numerous futuristic technologies, from 3D printing to virtual reality, so one would expect its vision of the future to be all about the gadget. Instead, it’s all about the people who will use the gadgets of the future.
“When we think long term, we try to look 15-20, even 30 years into the future,” he said during the HP Innovation Summit at the HP Innovation Lab outside Barcelona, Spain, last week. “The way we do it is that we don’t start with technology. In HP Labs we invent all manner of incredible things in basic areas like biology, physics, and 3D printing. Those give us an idea, but we’re careful not to extrapolate those into the future, because by extrapolating you miss disruption.
“Instead, we look at people. We’ve done this for a number of years, looking every year at what’s accelerating, what’s gone slower, what’s new. We call these megatrends, that look at humanity rather than technology.
“In 2019 we stood back and took a different look at humanity. Everyone does market segmentation, analysing who the customer is and how they buy things. Instead, we looked at economic segmentation, we looked at where the money is moving in the next 30 years. We conducted numerous interviews with economists.”
The key megatrends identified by HP for the next three decades revolve around rapid urbanisation, changing demographics, hyper-globalisation, and accelerated innovation.
“We’re changing where we live,” said Wall. “People are moving out of rural areas and densifying cities. Cities themselves are getting bigger. In 1991, there were 10 megacities – defined as urban areas with 10-million people or more. By 2013, there were 41, by 2030, there will be over 60. Those cities are changing the very nature of everything we do, from the nature of work to the manner of how we do product development.”
The challenge of how to get goods into cities and waste out of them, he said, will result in a much greater focus on sustainability and energy management.
“That is going to change our go-to-market approach. Currently, we focus on countries as markets. Now we are seeing how important cities are becoming. In Nigeria, you may care about all of humanity, but for sales, you care about Lagos. In China, by 2035 any tier 3 city’s gross domestic product will pass that of the entire country of Sweden.”
The very nature of the population is changing, said Wall. The impact of the post-Word War 2 population boom, resulting in the American concept of “baby boomers”, has now evolved into the “silver spenders”, who are living longer thanks to healthcare advances. They expect technology to address solutions to their toughest problems.
“On the other end of the spectrum, we are seeing a whole new generation, Gen Z, a generation like we’ve never seen, very focused on experiences and values, less focused on purchasing. They are also driving a change in our behaviour as businesses in terms of go-to-market. Understanding them deeply shapes the very nature of the enterprise.”
Wall points out that, because we live in a world that is hyper-connected, we expect things to move at speed of light, while at the same time we expect it to be local. This has given rise to the concept of “glocalisation”.
“It is the expectation that things be both global and local, thanks to connectivity and mobile phones. Startups in emerging markets growing at 20% a year. It will be not only ideas that will move at this speed, but in the near future physical goods will also move at that speed.”
Finally, technology must, by its very nature, play a key role.
“Tech itself is moving faster; it’s not just a perception. It started with Moore’s Law and the doubling of capacity on a transistor every two years. That happened at a systems level, and eventually, it brought artificial intelligence and machine learning into being. The algorithms were invented 10-20-30 years ago, but because of scale we have seen that only now are they becoming usable.”
What does this mean for consumers and businesses? On the one hand, it represents massive opportunity. On the other, even greater challenges.
“Over the next 30 years we will see incredible economic expansion, where the number of haves with the ability to spend on products we sell is going to grow at an incredible rate. The number of have-nots will shrink. But in order to meet that economic growth, we will see a 16% shortage in skilled labour, which means we must drive higher levels of automation to reach that growth.”
A big question is: What can prevent it from happening? The answer is highly relevant to South Africa.
“The challenges lie in basic infrastructure, like roads, buildings, and airports, but one thing at the root of it all is energy. When we look into the future, energy will become the critical piece: how well, how fast, we can build it out to meet those needs. In many economies, it is not being built out in a sustainable way. We need to change the equation.”
One of the solutions lies in 3D printing.
“Products can be designed digitally anywhere, and you can transmit the design on a digital supply chain, perhaps using blockchain and security tech, to cities where they are printed or manufactured on demand using 3D printers. That’s digital manufacturing and it’s already happening in some places today.
“Imagine you go to Amazon, you find a product, you edit it, personalise it, make it yours, and at the push of a button it is printed at a local manufacturing facility and shows up at your door two days later. It’s estimated that we can save 25% of our energy using digital instead of traditional manufacturing. Manufacturing itself takes one-third of energy use the in the world, so it will have a big impact on the world of the future.”
Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee
Google launches open-source cloud for enterprises
Vendor lock-in is a thing of the past for Google Cloud users, writes BRYAN TURNER.
A new way for enterprises to use cloud, that prevents lock-in, has been unveiled by Google at its Cloud Next event in San Francisco.
“Cloud Next is held in San Francisco, London, and Tokyo to cater for the various markets,” said Mich Atagana, head of communications for Google Africa. “The event aims to bring together cloud developers to showcase the latest cloud. You can think of it as the Google IO event for executives.”
At a round table, a team of Googlers broke it down for those of us who aren’t cloud developers.
“There’s a lot of technicality in this event, and a lot of the magic could be lost on those who aren’t developers,” said Atagana. “That’s why we’ve assembled our Cloud team to demystify the technicality.”
Shai Morgan, head of Google Cloud Sub Saharan Africa, said: “Cloud Next started four years ago. The first one hosted 3600 attendees, while this year we hosted about 30,000. This shows the way Google moves across the industry and how we address businesses. We’ve seen large growth in our partner ecosystem. It used to be very niche players, and now it’s big players like Accenture and Deloitte using Google Cloud.”
Daniel Acton, regional tech lead for Cloud at Google, said: “We had a new CEO come in [for Google Cloud] and he said it’s all fair and well to talk about the benefits of the cloud, but it’s not always attainable for business.”
This is where Google comes in. It launched new products to assist businesses in customising the cloud, the transition to cloud platforms, and how much must remain on-premise.
First up is Anthos, a management system for hybrid environments.
Acton said: “Anthos addresses the journey to the cloud. Businesses know that this journey doesn’t happen at the snap of the fingers. Executives have to make carefully calculated decisions on how to get there. There’s also lots of friction to get to the cloud, with a big factor being cloud vendor lock-in.”
“One way to move a business to the cloud is through a ‘lift and shift’, which is simply moving all the components of the business off-premise and on the cloud. This isn’t always what a business needs. Anthos deals with “infrastructure modernisation”, which is how we go from what we got to what we need. That’s because not everything should be in the cloud.
“We give businesses that option for hybrid infrastructure. Anthos exists to help customers on their journey to the cloud. We realise this is a multi-cloud environment and provide our customers on-premise, a bridge, and computation on the cloud, for example.”
Morgan expanded on this and said: “It’s a bridge to the cloud and a very well managed bridge at that. For an enterprise customer, it’s complicated to move assets, manage skillsets, all while thinking about lock-in to a cloud vendor. Open source in an enterprise environment prevents lock-in. We work very closely with existing vendors, walking with them in their cloud journey but they can leave at any time.
“Anthos can run on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. That’s the beauty of Open Source, no lock-in. Containerising is a method that’s popular in the cloud developer environment but moving these containers across these environments is not trivial currently. Anthos allows this to happen.”
This brings the second major feature: serverless computing.
Containers and serverless computing go hand-in-hand. Acton explained that containers are like pre-setup computers, where a developer doesn’t have to spend time setting up a virtual environment and can focus on writing code, which ultimately delivers business value. He compared the proliferation of containers to Java, with the “write once, run anyway” phrase.
Serverless computing is split into many levels. At a low level, the Google App Engine allows developers to write code, and it takes care of hosting and handling the load. This is similar to the AWS Lambda service.
The enterprise nature of Google Cloud is not exclusive to large enterprises.
“We address very small businesses as we treat our consumers,” said Morgan “They most likely use Gmail, Drive, Docs, and Calendar because those products are free and very easy to handle. Setting up an enterprise cloud environment is quite complicated.
“If one invests enough time and energy, one can start a business that adds value and has its computing backed by Google Cloud.”