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Tech Trends 2013: Elements of post-digital

Technology has become completely integrated into business operations and not just relegated to the IT department, says Deloitte's global CTO, Mark White.

Technology has become completely integrated into business operations and not just relegated to the IT department, says Deloitte's global CTO, Mark White.

Deloitte SA has released its annual Technology Trends Report, which focuses on the theme ‘Elements of post-digital’ and identifies the key disruptive and enabling technologies for business in SA.

The report focuses on the convergence and “controlled-collision” of five forces, namely analytics, mobile, social, cloud and cyber.

Disruptors are defined in the report as technologies that can create sustainable positive disruption on IT capabilities, business operations and business models. According to Deloitte, enablers are then technologies that are “more evolutionary than revolutionary” and which have already seen investment by business, but which warrant another look due to new developments.

The Tech Trends 2013 report was presented by chief technology officer for Deloitte US, Mark White, at an event in Johannesburg today. White says the trends are not limited to any specific sector: “They impact companies across the board. Decision-makers need to realise that technology has become completely integrated into business operations and not just relegated to the IT department.

“On the one side lies opportunity for innovation. On the other, the existential threat of disruption. Every industry may be affected by the underlying digital forces. Every market may be reshaped by their controlled collision. It is no longer just about technology but about the underlying business principles that it can unlock."

Explaining the concept of ‘post-digital’, White says it echoes the concept of ‘post-industrial’. Post-digital therefore refers to the era in which digital forces are adopted, integrated and form the basis upon which businesses now plan and compete.

“We’re in the post-digital era now,” says Deloitte SA’s technology leader, Kamal Ramsingh. “Each of the 2013 trends is relevant today. Each has the momentum and potential to make an impact. And each warrants timely consideration. Forward-thinking organisations should consider developing an explicit strategy in each area – even if that strategy is to wait and see. But whatever you do, step up. Provoke and harvest disruption. Don’t get caught unaware or unprepared.”

DISRUPTORS

1. CIO as the post-digital catalyst

“The CIO is no longer the person responsible for ensuring desktops and mobile phones run properly. In the post-digital enterprise, the CIO fulfills an integral business role in helping drive the strategic direction of the organisation,” says White.

The report says the CIO should be responsible for catalysing value from the five post-digital elements. “The CIO can’t be in all places at once doing all things – it’s not feasible or humanly practical,” says White.

“But catalysts enable and accelerate a reaction. So as a CIO, other parties can be the agents of change of which you are the catalyst. There’s a lot of hype, and the CIO needs to be informed and know what’s practical and what’s possible.”

2. Mobile only (and beyond)

Deloitte emphasises that the enterprise potential of mobile is far greater than just today’s smartphones and tablets. White says business has been shifting from a ‘mobile maybe’ approach to a ‘mobile first’ approach and the next step is ‘mobile only’.

“There are any number of solutions that should be mobile only. Mobile should be top of mind for organisations,” says White. “Think mobile only, imagining an untethered, connected enterprise."

White adds that the definition of mobile itself is changing and extending to include things like machine-to-machine communication, augmented reality, location-based services, device convergence and pervasive mobile computing. “We are going to start seeing augmented reality in the general business place,” says White, adding that things like Google Glass are precursors to this. “It’s about delivering information and services to where decisions are made and transactions occur. It’s not science fiction – data or information shells are real, it’s the augmentation of decisional data.”

3. Social reengineering by design

“Social reengineering can fundamentally transform how work gets done, but it isn’t just a ‘project’ it’s an intentional, designed strategy. How work gets done is no longer constrained by the 19th century platforms.”

He adds that while many businesses were building social technologies simply for the sake of having them and implementing them for unknown business outcomes, now they are starting to engineer social platforms for specific contexts. “Platforms that can relieve rather than service traditional organisational constraints such as deep hierarchies, command-and-control cultures, physical proximity and resource concentration,” says White.

4. Design as a discipline

White says: “Design is not a phase. It’s a way of thinking that goes beyond look and feel and user interfaces. Inherent, pervasive and persistent design opens the path to enterprise value. Driven by consumer experience, intuitiveness and simplicity are moving IT aspirations to enterprise mandates.”

He adds that what is needed is a collaborative, immersive work environment where design is not just an “IT thing”, a “marketing thing” or a “product engineering” thing, it should be seen as an enterprise thing.

5. IPv6 (and this time we mean it)

“If you’re a business that relies on the Internet to communicate with customers and conduct business, you have to make the change,” says White, adding that ubiquitous connected computing is straining the underlying foundation of the Internet.

White says the explosion of mobile and cloud computing has meant that IP addresses are being consumed at an astonishing rate. “IP addresses are woven deep into applications and infrastructure, and migration can bring challenges,” says White. “Here’s the dangerous part – it’s like Y2K.”

According to White, while there is no ‘drop-dead’ date for IPv6, the final IPv4 address blocks have been allocated. “Careful and proper adoption will take time for planning, execution and verification. The time to start is now.” 

ENABLERS

1. Finding the face of your data

White says putting big data to work through data mining is only half of what’s possible. “Step back and find patterns in data to form better questions. So big data isn’t about simply answering questions, it’s about finding the questions that you should probe and ask,” says White, adding that pattern finding in big data requires machines and methods such as IBM’s Watson.

“Humans do some things really well, while computers are better at other things. It is the combination of these abilities that enables identification of new patterns and relationships in data,” says White, describing it as creating an autonomic nervous system for business.

“By combining human insight and intuition with machine number-crunching and visualisation, companies can answer questions they’ve never answered before. More importantly, they can discover important new questions they didn’t know they could ask.”

White advises that when it comes to big data analytics, businesses should plan big, start small but “scale soon”.

2. Gamification goes to work

White says one shouldn’t make the mistake of confusing gaming with gamification. It’s about motivating and rewarding desired behaviours through innovative processes (by incorporating social context and location services) in today’s mobile-social world.

“This trend has moved beyond hype and is already demonstrating business value.” He uses the example of gamification in the call centre, where call centre agents are given credits based on their performance, and are able to build their skills lists and compete on a leader board.

Gartner predicts that by 2015, 40% of Global 1 000 organisations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations. However, many early gamification efforts have never moved beyond simply layering on points, badges and leader boards to small pockets of the business.

“In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2014, 80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design. Gamification’s potential is much bolder – systematic adoption within and across the business, tightly integrated with the core systems that drive front- and back-office functions.”

3. Reinventing the ERP engine

“Revving up data, hardware, deployment and business model architectures at the core,” says White. “Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is no stranger to reinvention, overhauling itself again and again to expand functionality, but the underlying engine has remained fairly constant. That’s changing.”

According to the report, the underlying ‘drivetrain’ of ERP has remained constant throughout its past evolution (on-premise, licensed, single-tenanted software stacks built on transactional relational databases, running on enterprise-class machines in dedicated data centres). “This time, though, that drivetrain is being changed, with torque-rich updates at the infrastructure, data and application layers.”

Deloitte says SA has a mature ERP market and because of this, the mid-tier sector is beginning to look at re-implementations of ERP to make them work harder. “This means looking at newly released add-ons and enhanced functionality.”

4. No such thing as hacker-proof

“If you built it, they will hack it,” says White, adding that everyone has either been breached or soon will be. “You’ve got to learn to diagnose the disease before it manifests – anticipate outcomes, sense and react. Infiltrations are viral – don’t wait around. Change the way you think about defending yourself and be more proactive.”

He adds: “Be outward-facing, prepared and ready in advance. Anticipate and prevent when possible, but be ready to isolate and encapsulate intrusions to minimise impact. It’s better to lose a finger than an arm.”

Deloitte says in SA, proactive CIOs should already be ensuring their system integrity and resilience to attack by implementing counter-measures to minimise any potential damage.

5. The business of IT

“After reengineering the rest of the business, IT’s children need new shoes,” says White.  “Fragmented processes and systems can prevent IT from effectively delivering on the changing demands of the business. IT may need to transform its own management systems to keep up.”

According to the report, in the coming years, IT’s value proposition will likely be increasingly shaped by how well it addresses its second mandate: “To improve operational efficiency in the business of IT itself.

“There are finally tools in the market that can support running IT like a business. Just as ERP had wide-reaching effects on people, process and underlying technologies, the impact of these tools on IT’s operating model can be significant.”

The full Deloitte Tech Trends 2013 report can be downloaded here


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