An open marriage

When companies successfully marry being digital with being open, the world will be their oyster.

Read time 3min 50sec
Muggie van Staden.
Muggie van Staden.

In this, the first of a four-part series of Industry Insights focused on the importance of embracing openness in South African business, I will examine how companies can benefit from a digital approach, and the role open source can play in this.

The shift towards digital is not a new thing. Even before the likes of machine learning, cloud computing and big data, there were things like interoperable systems, open standards and cross-platform solutions. However, what is different is companies are embracing digital and IT to become more agile in an increasingly connected environment.

Critical to the success of incorporating all these innovations and evolving ICT solutions is being open. This is something that has been two decades in the making, with all the pieces of the puzzle finally falling into place. Open standards, open platforms, open source. These three elements are the fuel powering the adaptive digital business in SA today.

The potential for digital to disrupt is evident. Just look at the impact Uber, Airbnb and others have had on the local market. And that is not even accounting for the myriad local innovators and start-ups across industry sectors that are changing the rules as they go along.

More than tech

Being open and a digital-centric company in SA is so much more than just the technology used. Even more critical is the human factor. People need to have the ability to use the solutions they want, when they want, wherever they are. With the nuts and bolts of how technology works being usurped by the ethos of 'it just needs to work', businesses are under increasing pressure to integrate digital approaches in ways that empower all their stakeholders.

The potential for digital to disrupt is evident.

This requires the business to embrace a new way of doing things or risk getting left behind. All of this points to having smarter teams, smarter code, and smarter data to gain the competitive advantage. Customers have more choice today than at any time in the past. Brand loyalty is near impossible to achieve, with people opting for service providers that can meet their needs in the here and now. A digital business must leverage its people, solutions and data analysis effectively to provide that level of service delivery.

Open becomes an enabler to do so. It is about providing decision-makers with the peace of mind that fast-paced changed is possible using the solutions they have at their disposal. There is still significant education required in the local market on many of the benefits that digital and open can deliver. So, even though SA is ahead in certain areas of digital adoption, it is lagging in others. For example, SA's banking apps are world-leading in terms of innovation, but in retail, the country still struggles to embrace digital and open platforms effectively.

Digital journey

The challenge for local companies is that, while the infrastructure to accomplish this is available, the mind-set needed to do so is often lagging. Fortunately, the imminent arrival of two multinational data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town will likely change this, and will give those still sceptical about the benefits of digital and open the necessary incentive to move forwards.

It is expected that these data centres will be the catalyst for others, and could spur innovation even further in SA and into the rest of Africa. The coming months will be interesting to watch, as businesses realise they need to more effectively marry being digital with being open.

Given the complexities of doing this, some might be hesitant to fully commit towards change. However, the pervasiveness of open source and open standards solutions in business (both local and international) means most of the hard work has already been done. It is now a case of customising and adapting those solutions to be more reflective of digital requirements.

With companies prioritising customer-centricity, there is a growing need to find ways to leverage data across the business more effectively.

In my next Industry Insight, I will discuss how a single view of the customer is vital in helping to achieve this.

Muggie van Staden
MD of Obsidian Systems.

Muggie van Staden has been at the helm of open source solutions company Obsidian Systems for 15 years. Leveraging the Linux open source way as a driving force, Van Staden has embedded a culture of innovation, relevance, dedication and collaboration in this niche software house. As an engineer, Van Staden's nature is to solve problems in unique and effective ways. As MD, he has overseen the growth in the company in both services on offer and revenue. Outside of work, Van Staden is a devoted family man and geek at heart.

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