In the early days of computing, a digital business usually meant using a computer to automate basic numerical tasks. PCs changed the definition of digital business, extending computing power to every employee. With the rise of the Internet, websites became the digital front door for every brand, from the largest enterprise to the smallest local shop. Then mobile computing came along, and the definition of digital business has continued to evolve. Today, digital businesses are those that have thoroughly capitalised on the opportunity to connect people with technology.
Digital transformation continues to grow with a predicted spend of $1.7 trillion globally by 2019, a massive 42% increase on 2017 spend (IDC 2017). The business models and processes that we have grown deeply familiar with being are disrupted for the good. In particular, cloud computing services will grow exponentially in Africa this year. The “public cloud” with local data centres is booming – that is, a service provider makes virtual machines, applications or storage available to the general public via the Internet, on a pay-per-usage model. “Software as a service (SaaS)” or on-demand software such as Gmail, Salesforce or Sage has already overtaken all locally hosted software.
Flexibility and lower costs
Historically, your hardware investment would depreciate substantially over a few short years. By contrast, today with the cloud there is no need for vast capital expenditure on local hardware. Your business can choose computing power and storage as and when required. Using the cloud means that you can offload lower-level tasks like scaling and maintaining infrastructure to service providers, and focus on delivering new functionality to your users faster.
You can use billions of dollars worth of equipment at the price of thousands of rand per month – as well as ‘switch it off’ when you want to. Businesses will no longer buy three-year software licences but increasingly take advantage of “pay as you go” licence models for enterprise services like document editing, CRM, HR and accounting.
The same thing applies to skills: businesses used to take outsourced multi-year IT contracts for granted, but we’ll see that model shrink as internal technical skills are reshaped. The cloud frees up the capacity of existing teams to invest in other internal skills. Retooling your approach comes at a fraction of the cost of what it used to.
Staying relevant in the age of big data
According to PwC and MIT Tech Review, data-driven organisations are three times more likely to report significant improvement in decision-making, yet less than 0.5% of data is currently being analysed. To stay relevant in the age of big data, businesses must analyse copious amounts of data to derive actionable insights – both from historical data and in real time. The right infrastructure is key to making this happen: a modern, cloud-native data warehouse with smart analytics. Whether your business is a start-up or an established enterprise, shortening the time to actionable insight should be the key objective.
To take a local example, South African start-up Beverage Insights is changing the way beer is poured, and at the same time pushing the boundaries of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). The company saw the massive potential for the IoT – where networks of physical devices embedded with software and sensors enable these objects to connect and exchange data – to measure beer consumption and management across South Africa. They built South Africa’s first-ever “smart beer tap” – incorporating pressure, temperature and flow rate sensors to measure telemetry of beer being poured in multiple locations around the country, linked to a dashboard analytics interface. Beverage Insights connected beer taps provide instant insights to bar owners and breweries about what is being poured around the country, allowing for optimised inventory management, waste reduction and better profitability. A combination of hardware and software, big data analysis and interpreted reporting allows bar owners and breweries to be far better informed before taking operational decisions.
Cloud computing is now about access to unlimited computing power and storage, for as much as you need, whenever you need it. Historically, we created data warehouses because our production infrastructure was not powerful enough; there was so much data to move around that we had to run batch jobs in low-peak times. Today the cloud offers unlimited storage and computing power at extremely affordable pricing, all being packaged together into services accessible via APIs (application programming interfaces). The world of data is moving away from warehouses to real time ingestion engines that can consume millions of records per second, meaning that the data can be processed in real time with real insight for your business. The biggest effort in data today is transforming the “old school” warehouses into cloud modern architectures (we call this ETL – “Extract, Transform and Load”) that will unlock business potential. By getting this right we will start to see an explosion of big data and artificial intelligence services, which will for the first time be far more accessible.
...there is global deluge of security breaches and ransomware...
Cloud-based security and data protection in the age of ransomware
Planning for data backup and recovery has long been a grudge purchase for most businesses.
But the reality is that there is a global deluge of security breaches and ransomware. In 2016, South Africa ranked 58th in the list of the 117 countries suffering the most cyber attacks; in less than a year, SA jumped up to the 31st most attacked country, losing around R50 billion in the process.
How secure is your on-premises data centre? What happens if it goes down? How many dedicated security engineers do you have on staff? What is the cost of a system upgrade Nagging questions like these can keep you awake at night. What could you accomplish if you didn’t have to worry about these things? Security needs are driving organisations to re-evaluate their practices and products.
Previously, it was painful to create a replica disaster site which barely got used and was a headache to maintain. The cloud changes all that: it makes the portability of data seamless and, with purchase-on-demand Compute, you no longer need to have a disaster site running. Providers like Google have more than 650 security engineers working away to discover vulnerabilities so that you don’t have to – they offer end-to-end custom-built infrastructure, from the physical security of their data centres to their underlying hardware and software. Their custom-built infrastructure has a subset of the features in off-the-shelf hardware, so it has a smaller attack surface.
2018 is the year you can comfortably hit that big “test your recovery” button knowing full well it will work every time into the cloud. This will also prove to be the secret weapon for your big data plans, thanks to your own backed-up data set.