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Top execs weigh in on the future of technology

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Where will technology go next in Africa?

Technology is evolving at a rapid rate across Africa. However, with Big Data, Cloud Technology and Enterprise Mobility making its mark across Africa, a few simply questions still remain unanswered – what does the future hold and where do we go to next?

Hamilton Ratshefola (IBM), Cobus Burgers (NETCB), Dr Brian Armstrong (Telkom), and Mark McChlery (Seartec) weigh in on what the future of technology holds in Africa.

Is XaaS the Next Big Thing in Africa?

Hamilton Ratshefola, Director of General Business, IBM.

According to Hamilton Ratshefola, Director of General Business, IBM: “XaaS the concept of anything and everything as a service via the cloud, is emerging as a new global buzzword. Where Africa often lags the world in technology adoption, XaaS is one area where IBM believes Africa is positioned to lead the world. By its very nature, XaaS is the ideal model for the African context, where research has shown that 70% of IT-related budget is used as operational expenditure, and operational efficiency, cost saving, and innovation rank among the top strategic priorities for the next 12 months.”

Ratshefola adds that: “With a low initial outlay and infinite scalability, XaaS offers small and medium sized enterprises room to grow their IT infrastructures without having to physically provision for peak usage. It allows new IT departments across the continent to leapfrog directly into the cloud era where they can take advantage of the same cutting-edge technologies their global peers are using.”

“Also on the back of better and more affordable connectivity, Africa’s major enterprises are moving to private and hybrid cloud solutions to benefit from greater flexibility in their infrastructures. In line with these trends, IBM’s Cloud Marketplace takes over 300 infrastructure-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and software-as-a-service solutions to global enterprises, allowing African enterprises to benefit from technologies such as advanced Big Data and analytics,” Ratshefola concludes.

Is the Mobile stage set for Africa?

Cobus Burgers
NETCB CEO, Cobus Burgers.

Businesses that do not adopt a mobile strategy will be challenged to remain competitive in today’s instant and always-connected marketplace. Mobility is fast becoming the key differentiator for businesses in Africa. This is according to NETCB CEO Cobus Burgers.

Burgers believes businesses in Africa will increase their investment in mobility over the next two years. “Will your organisation be one that simply uses mobile devices, or will it be an integrated mobile enterprise?”

According to Burgers, organisations that simply use mobile devices typically support just a few mobile initiatives, such as bring-your-own-device (BYOD), mobile expense management, remote email access, or mobile-enabled key business applications. These initiatives are usually discrete and often have little integration with each other or with legacy data and applications.

Burgers points to critical items to consider when designing a mobile enterprise. “Organisations that are mobile enterprises, by contrast, have enabled flexible and scalable enterprise-wide mobility – for employees and customers – using a holistic, integrated approach.”

Burgers adds that by taking an integrated approach that aligns mobility initiatives with each other and with business models, goals and objectives, these organisations are able to provide instant access to business-critical data and applications for a variety of devices, while still maintaining high levels of security.

Mobile enterprises may also utilise cloud technology as an element in their approach to provide the scalable, on-demand infrastructure that makes true mobility possible across the entire mobile IT stack. They use business analytics that draw data from both traditional sources and social business interactions – including analytics from mobile transactions and contextual data – allowing them to fine tune everything from relevant employee applications to customer service and marketing initiatives.

He says becoming a mobile enterprise may be the best choice for any organisation in the future. “The mobile enterprise meets employee demands and increases productivity. Mobile access has become a virtual prerequisite for top performing employees, and the consumerisation of IT is a trend that virtually every organisation needs to address.”

“Whether the organisation likes it or not, employees will use the same devices and communication or collaboration tools they rely on in their personal lives, for their business lives too,” he explains.

Enabling smartphone and tablet access, social media, video calling, conferencing and instant file sharing -along with mobile access to business-to-employee information – also have benefits for the business. Productivity and job satisfaction rise when employees can continue to work seamlessly across multiple devices depending on business need, location and circumstances.

On the customer side of the equation, the mobile enterprise’s ability to provide value-added applications and present an enhanced body of product and service information on a variety of devices strengthens and enhances the customer relationship and gives customers even more reason to purchase.

Burgers says mobility improves operational efficiencies and reduces costs. “The key attribute of the mobile enterprise, comprehensive integration of personal information, access points, data, applications, business analytics tooling and security infrastructure, results in a more robust and more scalable mobile architecture that is less expensive to operate from both licensing and staffing standpoints.”

Leveraging cloud technologies to support the mobile enterprise – especially when cloud-enabled mobility functions are provided by a third party – has additional savings benefits. Instead of having to bring in-house IT staff up to speed on every mobile device and operating system, plus near continuous technology improvements, the organisation can rely on the third party to provide this expertise at little to no extra cost. All of the cost reductions can then be rechanneled into business-value improvements and innovation.

He says the mobile enterprise differentiates and transforms the customer experience. “New ways for a customer to interact with your organisation and its products and services can result in increased sales.”

The mobile enterprise can make possible such interactive and engaging features as a Bluetooth product finder, SMS order confirmation, video product information, bar code scanners and mobile payments. This can make doing business with one’s organisation easier and more rewarding, while providing a competitive differentiator.

New ways for customers to interact with organisations can lead to greater customer satisfaction and higher sales. All of these new features also provide organisations with a wider and deeper pool of information on customer behaviour and perceptions.

This data can be incorporated into the organisation’s big data or customer insights strategy, resulting in new and more targeted marketing efforts that deliver relevant information based on a customer’s location at the time of access. In addition, improvements will be realised at all levels of customer service.

The mobile enterprise enables new services and business models. When accessibility of data and applications across multiple access devices is combined with a flexible and scalable infrastructure, the mobile enterprise can allow organisations to roll-out new services faster.

Development and test environments can be provisioned in hours instead of days, while the transition from testing to full launch can be accomplished in minutes.

“Because the mobile enterprise virtually eliminates the distance between employees, customers and the company, business models that would have been deemed too cost-risky and time intensive in the past can be revisited and new models considered in the future. These models include online product delivery and employee telecommuting, among others,” he concludes.

Will Digitalisation drive future economies?

Dr Bian ArmstrongDr Brian Armstrong, COO of Telkom Business states that: “the days of the analogue approach are over. Now, Digitalisation is changing every facet of business and powering business competitiveness.

According to Dr Brian Armstrong, Digitalisation is revolutionising public and private sector organisations across all verticals. Through digital technologies, organisations can reach out and interact with their customers and partners in ways that were not possible as recently as a few years ago. The digital approach to customers, products, services and operating models supports a real-time and information rich marketplace, presenting unlimited potential for innovation.  Cloud and mobility deliver increasingly responsive and flexible enterprises. Big data analytics enables more accurate understandings than ever before.

He adds that this phenomenon is being driven by a combination of consumer pull by a new, connected generation; and technology push through enhanced infrastructure backbones, more affordable broadband and devices, and the growth of cloud computing. In addition, there are also significant economic benefits to Digitalisation, such as increased agility, more effective strategic decision-making, improved efficiencies and operating cost reductions.

As Digitalisation becomes the driver of an evolved business strategy, the basis of competition will be set by the companies that embrace and deploy Digitalisation in the right places at the right time.  The role of Chief Operations Officers (COO) and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) changes accordingly –now they must take the initiative to build the right capabilities for their companies to remain relevant in the digitised environment, achieve growth and discourage competitive threats.

At the same time, the face of the consumer market is changing. By 2020, a new generation, Generation Connected (Generation C), will emerge and grow up in a primarily digital world. For Generation C, computers, internet, mobile phones, texting, social networking are part of their lifestyle. Additionally, their familiarity with technology, reliance on mobile communications, and desire to remain in contact with large networks of family members, friends, and business contacts is transforming the business and consumer environment. This megatrend will, without doubt, impact and demand digital models to be implemented by companies across all verticals.

Are you ready?

Clearly, there is no stopping the spread of the Digitalisation megatrend. Despite this, up to 22% of global companies and up to 32.5% of companies across Africa do not yet have a digital strategy. In order to compete effectively and remain relevant to their markets, organisations must move now.

Companies need to have a clear understanding of their digital strategy and focus on the digital capabilities to be implemented along the value chain.

They need to assess:

– How will Digitalisation affect our current business model and positioning within our industry’s value chain?

– How can we identify and enter business areas where value is being created, both inside and outside our industry?

– What areas of our business model are vulnerable to disruptions from new entrants, and how can we best address them?

– Which capabilities do we need to build to be a leader in the field?

A digital strategy should integrate the main business components, such as innovation and product development; supply chain and operations; marketing sales and services and ensure that these departments work in harmony within the business structure.

Furthermore, CIOs must also identify the effects that the digital strategy will have on the company’s workspace and infrastructure.

Growing countries on digital

Developed countries with advanced levels of Digitalisation have experienced significant benefits in their economies, societies and in the functioning of their public sectors through Digitalisation.  Economic benefits such as reduction in unemployment; improvement in quality of life; boosting citizens’ access to public services and enabling governments to operate with greater transparency and efficiency.

However, the regulators, whose major role is to move their countries into advanced levels of Digitalisation, encounter a bigger challenge.

Regulators need to:

– Establish standard indicators to measure the extent to which ICT is being incorporated in societies, rather than focusing on infrastructure development.

– Determine the impact digital technologies and applications are having on societies and economies.

– Adopt regulations to accelerate Digitalisation and reap its benefits

Overall ICT regulations in Africa are more focused on enhancing communications services, setting up policies to introduce competition and promote infrastructure sharing. Although these are important and relevant steps that will lead to a digitised country, regulators need to start encouraging the usage of digital platforms amongst consumers, businesses and public institutions so that socio-economical and political benefits are experienced, in developing countries.

In the context of the African continent, infrastructure development is a priority as increases in network development is likely to boost internet connections and thus add to a digitised society. In addition, digital technology, such as usage of cell phone is a trend in Africa as a direct result of obsolete and limited penetration and development of the fixed communication.

Underpinning the revolution

Underpinning this digital revolution in organisations and society as a whole, Telkom leads the market in fixed communication services and is fast becoming the industry leader in converged communications and cloud services, by leveraging assets such as an unparalleled business customer base, a nationwide infrastructure, and a unique combination of fixed network, mobile network and data centre operations. Telkom’s advanced network transformation programme is taking fibre deeper into the network to allow for smart leveraging of a mix of high speed broadband access technologies, enabling the Next Generation Network Enterprise Business and Consumer Project (NGNEC Project), and so enabling Digitalisation.

Can Moore’s law drive tech forward?

Mark McChlery
Bob Skinstad (Left) and Mark McChlery CEO Seartec. (Right).

According to Mark McChlery CEO Seartec: “Technology and its use in South Africa leads the way for the rest of the continent as South Africa serves as Africa’s gateway in a multitude of facets. As the continent’s leading economy (until recently) business confidence and its link to technology driven efficiency follows Moore’s Law (Moore’s law is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit – doubles approximately every two years) almost to the month.

Due to its rapid pace – phrases describing the next big thing in technology is clichéd long before it becomes mainstream in South Africa. That said, if you follow Moore’s law from all aspects, it won’t take very long before South Africa is in the forefront of technological advancement as inventors. Until then, the next big thing is to work on proven platforms and discover innovative ways to integrate multifaceted platforms to suit an emerging markets need. I strongly believe that this act alone will position the ‘skilled, early adopters’ of technology in South Africa to disrupt the landscape and challenge the established inventors like Microsoft, Apple, Google et al.

In our environment we are continually looking for ways to integrate Business Intelligence best practice into the use of hardware and software. Imagine your office as a space where everything from physical access to authenticated use of printers, phones ,computers and internet access is defined by your authority level in that company. Now imagine that this information is loaded once on an active directory. Imagine its benefit to ensuring that your company’s intellectual property is protected, your variable costs are not abused and you have an automated matrix to comply with various labour and health and safety regulations. You can stop imagining, because we can already do that. What is to come next it to create a portal that allows a cloud application of your company Document management and security on top of Applications (ERP/CRM etc) and Disaster Recovery as a service, and for good measure order your company stationary from us too.

Darryl Linington

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