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Face it or fail

Disruptive technology is here to stay - it's time to tread into the unknown.

Read time 6min 50sec
Michelle Hall, Nampak.
Michelle Hall, Nampak.

Disruption has toppled change as the new business constant. According to a survey conducted by Harvey Nash and KPMG, 'The CIO Survey 2015: Into an Age of Disruption', disruption has emerged as mainstream, and CIOs are preparing for it with new cloud, mobility and collaboration initiatives.

"The speed of technology is what's driving IT today," says Bob Miano, president and CEO of Harvey Nash USAPAC. "Digital disruption is the norm now, so it's about how fast companies can innovate. The pace will only continue to quicken and the companies on track to win will secure and hold on to talent, be nimble enough to shift quickly and reign in digital to manage it in a smart way."

Nothing new

Since any company that consumes IT must adapt to the changing way in which services are provisioned, and must look to the services they support and provide in their own industry, we spoke to three South African IT leaders to learn their views on and level of preparation for disruption.

Steven Sidley, a partner with Grey Hair Consulting and previous Group CTO at Anglo American and Altech and Account CTO at T-Systems, says these are the same questions that were being asked ten years ago at Anglo American.

"There was even a stream on mobile strategy - BlackBerry - only in those days - at our annual CIO conference. So digital disruption is not a new topic. Back then, it meant how do we use the internet and server consolidations, central provisioning and wireless infrastructure and virtual machines? Today, we have social networks and clouds or everything-as-a-service and really reliable low-cost global telecom networks - including cellular - and ubiquitous devices and app delivery systems."

He says today, all his clients are struggling with how to integrate and manage some of this new stuff, and, more importantly, how to evaluate its risks and rewards. "They are, unfortunately, mostly struck dumb with terror of the unknown, and remain running creaky architecture from the dark ages."

Of the technologies labelled 'disruptive' today, Sidley reckons that the most significant is the fast maturing of the cloud. He says that in almost all instances, on-premise systems look like an Ford Edsel by comparison, being breathtakingly insecure, more expensive, a drain on time, energy and resources, a source of great grumpiness, and ageing before their time for management.

"My advice to every non-tech client is: you are not in the datacentre business, you are not in the coding business, you are not in the software business. Get this stuff out of here. All of it. Your IT department should be one tenth of the size it is currently."

Firm foundations

Which, he says, is a very difficult message for CIOs to accept. "But anyone from the largest company down to the smallest that are modelled on on-premise hardware and owned software will eventually lose the race and be treading water."

Michelle Hall, the CIO of Nampak, says that to be disruption-ready, there are two fundamentals that any organisation should embrace. "They need robust platforms to move from so that the area of business that is being disrupted is the only area that's being disrupted because the existing and current platforms are stable."

The second crucial basis is that organisations must espouse an open-minded and agile mind-set. "If disruption is seen as the norm, new technology won't be an obstacle. Instead, it will simply be how you do business."

We were able to access thousands of staff in the field with devices that didn't cost us anything.

Warren Venter, Money 4 Jam

She says that in this way, the core focus of any business department won't change, but it will ensure that it isn't missing a trick in terms of making use of what technology has to offer. For example, while it may seem that big data doesn't have any specific scope in the manufacturing context, there are areas of the business that can benefit hugely, including plant information, enterprise resource planning and the outward focus of the operations.

"All of this can be pulled together to provide better, more proactive decision making," she says.

At the same time, she believes that if virtual private cloud solutions can be made to be as cost-effective and flexible as they are supposed to be - which she says she has yet to see - then companies should certainly be making use of this.
Broadly speaking, she believes CIOs and businesses need to have the vision to see the possibilities.

"You have to be agile and able to recognise disruption as it's coming for you. And if you're operating off of a robust platform, you won't be too busy putting out fires to adjust. This is a 21st-century way of thinking - making the connection between what you see and what is possible. And the beauty of IT is that it allows you to visualise what you can imagine before it's possible."

Disruption in their DNA

Warren Venter is the chief jammer of Money 4 Jam (M4JAM), a micro-jobbing platform that allows registered users to perform small jobs using their smartphones, for a fee. He says that from the outset, M4JAM, as an organisation that intended to disrupt, was also an organisation that made use of disruptive technologies.

"We were by no means the first to roll out a micro-jobbing solution. Others have tried to disrupt completely by building an app and engaging a community from scratch, but for us, by using a platform as a service (M4JAM runs on the
WeChat platform), and tapping into that existing community, our route to market was much simpler."

With this approach, they were able to take their organisation from concept to launch in 115 days, building on open source technology to get them quickly out of the starting blocks. "We were able to access thousands of staff in the field with devices that didn't cost us anything."

He says he and his team are always on the lookout for new technologies that make things better or easier for them, and they never enter into long-term contracts so that they can switch to a better solution if one comes along.

"We use open-source, best-of-breed, cutting-edge stuff. If anything falls behind, it's very easy to start using another solution that makes sense. For us, it's about speed to market, failing fast, and then moving forward."

As an organisation that has disruption as a part of its DNA, he says M4JAM is very careful about making sure that all components of its business are at the forefront of what can be done in their space. "All our components are standalone modules - our wallet, our location services - so if anybody out there is better than us, we can rework it."

He believes that any organisation should have this outlook. "I think any company that is naive about disruption is going to fall behind. You can't sit on your laurels. You have to continuously disrupt."

Disruption presents great opportunities for those organisations that are ready to embrace it. Unfortunately for many, moving on from 'this is how we've always done it', is a bold and frightening step to take. The successful companies of the future will be the ones that say, 'imagine how it could be done...'

This article was first published in Brainstorm magazine. Click here to read the complete article at the Brainstorm website.

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