By Malcolm Vather - Manager- Solutions Design at T-Systems South Africa
It’s no secret that the role of IT specialists and CIOs alike has changed drastically over the past few years, stemming from the need to get a better handle on the ever-evolving technologies integral to doing business in an age of disruption. This shift has also been essential to create more effective and comprehensive digital transformation strategies for organisations. Of course, with the new year, the pressure is even greater to deliver future-minded IT solutions that meet the requirements of companies and, more importantly, their customers.
No business wants to be left behind. Ideally, they want to position themselves as a notable industry pioneer, utilising tomorrow’s innovations in their operations today to give themselves an advantage over their competitors. Looking at 2019, especially in South Africa, there are likely to be two parallel developments in terms of IT solutions integration for business.
Development 1: Existing concepts take off and evolve further
It seems like we have been talking for ages now about concepts like Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, augmented reality and blockchain. In 2018, however, the long-discussed potential of these technologies was finally embraced. With the opening of Microsoft Azure data centres on South African shores, some companies began to feel more confident about utilising cloud-based solutions to cost-effectively modernise their systems and enhance their competitiveness. The complete move to cloud may take some time as some companies will migrate slower than others
In 2019, that mindset is expected to further take hold, as these buzzword solutions simultaneously change and converge, offering entirely new solutions that will become critical to businesses looking to secure an advantage. Underpinning almost all of them, though, is the “megatrend” of AI, according to Gartner’s chief of research, Brian Burke.
Paired with the sister process of machine learning, Artificial Intelligence is drawing on a combination of narrowly programmed instructions and extensive data analysis (typically facilitated by the cloud), AI will take over simple functions once performed by humans to increase efficiency and accuracy. Expect increasingly sophisticated online chatbots, with sentiment-analysis and -response abilities, to be joined by physical robots that automatically perform tasks. Drones and self-driving cars are perhaps the most well-known examples of the latter.
If this sounds too far-fetched and futuristic for your office-bound business, consider the usefulness of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) instead. RPA is an ever-more-important tool, plugging into the work of developers, as it uses AI to automate assorted business software functions, such as transaction processing and the more complex task of supply chain optimisation. It’s reported that 60% of occupations could have 30% or more of their activities automated in this manner, freeing workers to apply their efforts to multifaceted tasks and decision-making beyond the capabilities of computer intelligence.
At the same time, 2019 will be a year where smart workplaces proliferate on the back of IoT uptake. Consumers in suburban areas are warming to the convenience of areas where every device is linked to the Internet, typically by wi-fi. Although remote control of technology in this context is the main appeal, IoT’s revolutionary capabilities to capture and process data for actionable insights has vast benefits for business. Healthcare practitioners, for example, are already utilising this technology to connect to, and monitor, their patients via wearable devices.
As for evolving cloud technologies, where once a business would commit to either a public or private cloud, there are now multi-cloud environments that combine the platforms for a better, all-round more flexible experience. Tech giants like Microsoft are already coming to the party with hybrid cloud solutions that mix on-premise and data centre-based cloud infrastructures, for example.
Development 2: New tech solutions will start to gain traction
It’s possible to argue that the newer digital solutions to emerge are also evolutions of existing technology. However, the leaps from step one to two are large enough to consider them as fundamentally changing the nature of work on their own.
Digital twins, for example, could be considered intrinsically linked to IoT technology. Here, physical assets like factories, or even cities, are given a virtual model treatment. Combined with sensors at the real-life site and network connectivity, it becomes possible to gather system data, remotely monitor and even accurately simulate future scenarios, especially when combined with augmented analytics. With the ability to avoid downtime, identify safety issues and digitally test-run new processes without any operational disruptions, digital twin technology will have major repercussions for manufacturing, industrial and mining industries especially – and those pioneering organisations in each sector that embrace the solution.
Quantum computing, meanwhile, is a complete paradigm shift in terms of processing power and speed. Promising to function at a subatomic level, using qubits as opposed to conventional digital bits, and allowing for potentially millions of simultaneous calculations, the theoretical benefits of quantum computing for business include everything from substantially smarter, problem-solving AI to improved battery performance. Quantum computing is likely to only see commercial application at some point in the mid-2020s but Google, IBM, Intel and Microsoft, in addition to assorted start-ups, are all investing in this next “space race,” so start considering its potential now, especially in relation to analytics-centred cloud services.
The trend never to neglect: Cybersecurity
Cybercrime is far from a new trend but it evolves just as quickly, if not faster, than general innovation in the IT sector. It’s predicted that costs from ransomware attacks will reach $11.5 billion globally in 2019, and a business will be affected every 14 seconds. Considering the severe penalties for non-compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and South Africa’s upcoming POPIA (Protection of Personal Information Act), air-tight system security must be a priority for every business this year.
Moving forward, there may be a role for blockchain technology in helping businesses to transact more ethically and protect individuals’ private data. Bitcoin’s fortunes have been up and down lately, but the blockchain technology underpinning the digital currency is decentralised and uses public-key cryptography, offering reliable, independent data verification. In addition to security, this type of technology can be adapted to provide a host of other solutions too. Its increasing use in healthcare, government and manufacturing, is something we can certainly expect in the upcoming year.
The continual emergence of new tech trends, offering more efficient ways of doing things, is inevitable. And given the speed at which things are changing, simply keeping up to date with developments can be challenging. It’s important to maintain a dual focus though – on the technologies of the always-shifting now as well as the fast-approaching future.
More important than even this, though, is focusing on the needs of your organisation first, and then considering how to integrate available technology into your IT strategy in a way that betters internal processes while transforming the customer experience. Enlist the help of a solutions specialist if you’re struggling to make that connection because rapid action is necessary. Digital transformation will continue to change how we do business no matter your industry. Embracing the process now is the key to survive and thrive.