African CIOs must master the difficult balance between managing the risks of deploying immature technologies and those of being left behind by emerging, disruptive trends if they are to help their businesses drive profitable growth in the years to come.
That’s one of the key insights I took from Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Cape Town, where many speakers focused on the state-of-play in the Internet of Things (IoT), the blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
These disruptive technologies will transform the way we do business over the next five to 10 years, yet they are not quite ready for prime-time deployment. African organisations have a few years to experiment with the tech in non-critical applications so that they are ready when the technologies burst into the mainstream.
IoT plus blockchain will enable a wide variety of new business opportunities in the future. Though they are evolving, they have a decade or more before they are truly mature. A lack of standardisation, the business process changes it will demand, and the impact of large ledger sizes on network and computing resources are among the challenges for blockchain. IoT, meanwhile, raises concerns of the diversity of the hardware in use, power consumption, network performance and privacy.
It’s time to experiment (and learn)
Those factors preclude massive investment and wide deployment for business-critical applications. This is a time to conduct many small proofs of concept to develop best practices and build the organisational capacity and infrastructure for tomorrow’s digital business models. Constant experimentation and innovation are essential if companies are to keep up with the rate of change.
We recommend doing 6-8-week experiments to start the digital transformation journey. Fail fast, fix, and move on. But organisations that start this journey will find themselves challenged by a shortage of digital talent, difficulties in scaling up small-scale experiments and a need to reinvent organisational cultures for constant innovation.
Where is the talent?
The shortage of skills in emerging technology areas was a key theme of the conference and of the conversations I had with many attendees. Organisations need strong in-house technical knowledge and skills in IoT and blockchain to manage vendor risk in these emerging areas. Companies need people able to evaluate the specialist offerings from niche vendors so that they can make good choices in a complex and constantly changing landscape.
One thing’s for sure: top quality IT talent has never been in more demand, so make sure your business is set up to attract and retain it.
Innovation as part of the culture
Many large organisations are treating innovation and disruption as separate disciplines because of the challenges of driving change in an established business and securing the right skills. Companies are pursuing a range of strategies to drive innovation in their businesses, ranging from setting up venture capital funds and incubators, investing in tech and digital companies, running innovation challenges and forming strategic alliances with tech companies.
However, it’s not enough for the techies to know about the technology, or to build innovation hubs within the business to play with disruptive new solutions. Blockchain and the IoT will one day affect everyone from risk and compliance to production to sales to finance. Every team needs to start to understand what these technologies mean for the company’s future, and adopt innovation as part of its mandate.
It can’t be stressed enough that innovation can’t happen in isolation — it must be part of the organisation’s culture. The IT team needs to develop new skills and change its culture to support the organisation as it integrates new technologies into the business. They will need vision and storytelling skills to help the organisation prepare for this change.
By Keith Fenner, VP: Sage Enterprise Africa & Middle East