The path to competitive advantage is paved with a broader technology vision that elevates organisations beyond the mundane. Abid Qadiri, Neotel’s Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, argues that South African companies can easily leverage a technology toolset to drive their competitiveness.
Technology is playing an increasingly pivotal role in organisations’ ability to compete and thrive. Probably more so than in any previous era.
This observation may appear self-evident to company and IT executives whose workday activities are dependent on technology solutions. Applications such as email or web access have become so ubiquitous that their usefulness is never questioned, while IT business critical systems have become the backbone supporting companies’very existence. These applications are no longer the domain of experts, but are now tightly integrated and embedded in the everyday worklife of people.
The advent and evolution of cloud-based services, however, has put a whole new spin on how companies view their technology stack. Services, responsiveness, availability and scalability that had previously been the preserve of mega-corporations are now available to organisations of any size. Anytime, anywhere, any device is becoming the norm rather than a privilege of executives.
The challenge for many companies, however, is that the wide and immediate availability of such services has introduced an expectation from customers that they respond in line with the agility offered by today’s technology.
And there is little reason why South African companies cannot meet this expectation.
This assertion is supported by the concept of the ‘third platform’that draws on the benefits of cloud services to provide anytime, anywhere access to application functionality. This imperative is heightened by the rise of mobile devices and platforms that have introduced an expectation of immediate responsiveness and availability.
The challenge for many companies is that instant and always on access to information and services is not restricted to their executives and employees. Their customers increasingly expect to be able to interact with, and purchase goods or services online.
It is within this context that the ‘third platform’takes on greater significance as it is premised on the interdependency of social engagement, mobile computing, analytics (and big data), and cloud computing. Commonly referred to as the SMAC stack.
These applications and services are now available and increasingly becoming embedded in how people and companies interact with each other and their ecosystem. Not surprisingly then, the starting point for any organisation to leverage these applications and services for competitive advantage, must be to ensure that the ability to access them is in place and is aligned with the behaviour of these applications to provide the right experience and outcomes.
Fortunately, South Africa has prioritised this, starting with the deployment of large-scale fibre infrastructure rollouts. This lays the foundation for providing network services and solutions that are responsive, scalable and highly available. There is no doubt that this infrastructure is going to revolutionise the manner in which companies consume and deliver services.
The next step is for CIOs to select the cloud platform and services most appropriate for their organisation. Such has been the pace of technological innovation that few companies do not already make use of cloud services in some form - private, hybrid or public.The benefits of dynamic, flexible and yet reliable cloud solutions are what transform the SMAC ideal into a practical reality.
Next generation, converged connectivity and cloud - essential and, fortunately, achievable in South Africa today.
Building on these foundational layers, the adoption of the social, mobile and analytic components will depend on corporate priorities. The challenge in prioritising these is that they are all inter-dependent.
The analytic component is probably the most difficult to accomplish as that is entirely dependent on all the other elements. This is compounded by the difficulty in employing an effective data analytics function.
Big data and analytics are two buzzwords that have been around for some time, yet few South African organisations have yet built the capability to extract the full value from these concepts. They may be able to gather the data, but knowledge of how to use that effectively is still in its infancy.
Turning to the social and mobile components of SMAC, their full value has also not been realised as yet.
The first reason for this is that ‘social’extends well beyond the social networks that have become so prevalent in the mind of marketers. Social has to be seen in the context of customer and supplier value chains and engagement strategies that rely on fast, efficient and accurate communication.
The social component, therefore, has to be part of a longer-term strategy that leverages cloud services to enable automated workflows and intelligent engagement. The call centre of the near future, for instance, is projected to consist nearly 60% of chat functionality, including a seamless AI-based ‘bot-chat’ capability. This environment is going to require a completely different mindset and infrastructure - which taps into analytics - in order to be successful.
The final SMAC component - mobile - is one that should have far greater uptake in South Africa given that these devices are by far the leading means of communication and Internet access for millions of users. To fully realise the value promised by a future of integrated SMAC solutions requires a shift to thinking beyond these devices simply as a means to communicate with customers. The computing power - including location services and a host of other analytic information that can be extracted from them - is where the true opportunity lies.
In many ways this speaks to the potential in the Internet of things - connected devices able to provide feedback and be controlled remotely - but also the convergence of this information with big data, analytics and connectivity.
Enabling this vision for a responsive, competitive organisation is not beyond the reach or realm of most businesses. The toolsets are available and the infrastructure has been developed to support an anywhere, anytime, any device solution.
The question that business and IT executives have to answer is: how quickly can we leverage the transformation led by SMAC to gain competitive advantage and who do we partner with to realise this vision of being a responsive, engaging and intelligent first-choice for our customers?