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INFLUENCE: TECHNOLOGY REPORT

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THE DIGITAL TSUNAMI

The digital tsunami is fast approaching and all previous changes in business will pale into insignificance. Business will have to change dramatically in the next few years on all levels, writes Steven Ambrose

Customers’ expectations of how and what they expect from organisations both small and large will dramatically shift in the next few years, and the systems and processes needed to deal with this change will have to be fundamentally different to what we take for granted today.

The new consumer

Always connected, low in patience, high in their search for convenience, and instant gratification will be the defining characteristics of the digital consumer. It will not matter if it’s groceries or accounting services, the way we interact with service providers and vendors will shift to a new model. A perfect example of digital disruption and innovation is Uber. No matter how the existing establishment resists, the taxi business will never be the same. In fact, transportation is undergoing a radical realignment from ownership to ride-sharing and on-demand transport.

The new business models will be based on three fundamental technologies, namely mobility, cloud, and real-time data. In the past, new hardware devices such as tablets changed they way we computed, and new software-based platforms such as social media changed the way we communicated. These are now merging into a seamless blend of software and system-driven hardware.

The new digital landscape will subsume all the current and future technologies and essentially make hardware and software a blend of services that meet our needs whenever and wherever we are. Businesses that get this trend will thrive and those that do nothing or miss the wave will become history.

Mobility

It is almost impossible to navigate the current business and personal landscape without some form of mobile smart device. That device may be as simple as a smartphone or tablet, or as complex as a fully blown portable computing device. Emails, orders, social media and systems are following us everywhere. It is not acceptable to tell customers or even executives, in any size business, that you will come back to them tomorrow or next week. Information is needed real time and with accuracy and relevance undreamed of even a few years ago.

Consumers and businesses alike will expect this real-time availability of information on any one of the platforms or devices they may have in their pocket or bag. Not only do we all want access – we also want functionality to respond appropriately, be it to an order or a service request. Wearable devices like the smartwatch are just another iteration of computing devices fitting lifestyle and customer expectations.

The cloud is growing

The systems that run some of these devices and services may well reside in the data centre of larger organisations at present. However, the demands and lifecycles of change will become ever shorter and demand solutions that can adapt to requirements in hours or minutes, not weeks or months. Expect the data centre to move into massive high-performance computing clusters well out of the basement of even the biggest organisation. The sheer need of computing power, automated intelligence, and scale to respond 100% of the time will make ownership of hardware unviable, apart from the end user devices.

The basic systems and processes that most businesses currently rely on take time and change that can be managed sequentially based on process and approval that has developed over years. Smaller, more agile competitors can produce an identical end result, without any of the legacy baggage in time frames that would make current companies of all sizes look like the Titanic: majestic, but unable to avoid the iceberg in their paths.

All the big software and hardware vendors now offer various solutions and systems that take this trend into account, along with device-agnostic interfaces that offer functionality without borders or access limits. From SAP to Pastel, cloud is not a vision, it’s a reality.

Real-time data gets real

The solution is a combination of software, hardware, and solutions that remodel the way we operate on all levels, from human resources to accounting. Real-time actionable data based on structured, read accounting data, and unstructured data (meaning social interaction, customer feedback, and more critically customer behaviour data) will become the defining features of the new digital business. Real-time data will drive flexible and informed decision-making which adapts to real-time situations and allows business the ability to provide what is wanted, when it is wanted, across any hardware, software process, or platform.

All business today needs to start seriously thinking of how to change existing systems, both hardware and software and the processes that hook this all together. The use of external or internal cloud based systems along with agile processes and real-time data will change the way we work, think, and serve our customers.

This may sound daunting, but with a little clear strategy and understanding of the forces driving the digital business, it’s not only liberating, but actually exciting, for all of us engaged in the digital economy. It used to be all about a social media policy and e-policy, digital migration, a website that was good enough. It is now way beyond that.

Author:  Steven Ambrose CA(SA) is CEO at Strategy Worx Consulting

 

BYOD: ARE YOU MISSING THE BOAT?

Although bring your own device (BYOD) may provide a competitive advantage, the inherent risks in connecting mobile devices to corporate networks discourage many enterprises from implementing BYOD. Are they missing opportunities by not fully analysing the business impact, asks Roelf Swanepoel

Thanks to the growing consumerism of information technology (IT) and the potential 24/7 availability of the workforce, many companies are allowing employees to connect to corporate networks from home, the coffee shop, the train, and various other locations outside the office.

In many cases, this connectivity is achieved utilising multiple mobile devices. Many young professionals today have laptops, home computers, tablets, smartphones, even mobile watches that are all connected to their employers’ networks and in all probability, most of these devices are privately owned by the employee. At minimum young professionals want to receive their work e-mails on one or more of their devices. Many companies focus on the security threats presented by a BYOD strategy and, as a result, choose not to allow private devices to connect to their networks or only allow for limited use of mobile devices. However, by not understanding the impact of BYOD on their business, they may be missing the boat regarding the opportunities on offer.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is an IT strategy allowing employees, business partners and others to use privately owned personal devices to connect to an enterprise’s network, run applications, and access enterprise data while connected to the enterprise’s network.

Impact

A BOYD strategy typically includes decisions on the extent to which users will be allowed to use personal smartphones, tablets, PCs and laptops in the performance of their duties (if at all). However, a properly developed BYOD strategy should also take into account end-user usage of web, cloud-based and software-as-a-service applications.

Before introducing a BYOD strategy, management should consider the impact that the adoption of such a strategy could have on the business by considering the opportunities and risks associated with the strategy. Adopting BYOD can present benefits and opportunities to businesses such as the following:

  • Cost savings: Businesses adopting BYOD may experience hardware cost savings as end users will be purchasing their own devices for use in their work. Additionally, businesses may also experience cost savings on application license fees because employees will also be purchasing the applications that they use on their devices. Further cost savings on capital expenditure may be realised as BYOD contributes to the virtualisation of certain businesses as a physical location is no longer needed to accommodate certain employees or functions – for example  sales representatives may be allowed to be completely mobile. Companies considering a BYOD strategy should perform a thorough cost-benefit analysis since the afore-mentioned cost savings may be eroded by increased costs in areas such as bandwidth usage, user support requirements, and custom business application development.
  • Employee satisfaction: Organisations supporting a BYOD strategy may be able to attract and retain top talent better than ones without a BYOD strategy. A 2012 Cisco survey showed that a BYOD policy, and the associated flexibility and choice it affords employees, influenced the decision of many young jobseekers when deciding on a new job offer, or when deciding on whether or not they will remain in a particular position.
  • Productivity increases: The use of mobile devices and functional business applications under a BYOD strategy should enable users to perform their duties from anywhere at any time. For example, insurance brokers may be enabled to access policy information and complete quotations using tablets while in a consultation with their clients. This ability to perform their duties from anywhere, at any time, together with the familiarity with and preference for a particular device translates into employees experiencing higher levels of mobility, productivity and efficiency.
  • Information sharing: Collaboration with business partners, suppliers and customers through the sharing of applications and data accessible from devices under the control of these third parties may provide a competitive advantage. An example of this would be insurance houses sharing product, pricing and policyholder information directly with intermediaries via a web-based portal. This strategy would improve the speed of quotation for the intermediaries and reduce costs for the insurance house.
  • As with anything in life, these opportunities come at a potential cost. Companies adopting BYOD should take the following risks into consideration:
  • Drain on resources: Users expect a consistent experience across all platforms they use and they expect the same end user experience irrespective of the device that they are using to connect to the enterprise network. IT resources would, therefore, need to be capable of coping with devices from multiple manufacturers using multiple operating systems. Furthermore, strain may also be placed on IT and network resources because IT infrastructure may have to deal with multiple connected devices per user. BYOD does not only impact IT resources. It may also become more difficult for businesses not offering BYOD to attract and retain top talent.
  • Loss of control over data: With data being delivered to devices not under the direct control of corporate IT departments, data security is a major risk when adopting BYOD. In many cases, corporate data is being transferred to or through third-party cloud-based applications such as DropBox, Box and OneDrive, where corporate IT departments have little to no control over user settings to secure data.
  • Mobile intruders: Any device can fall victim to malware, which opens up new avenues for attacks on corporate networks. Private devices are more vulnerable to attacks since IT departments have very little control over the protection of personal mobile devices with anti-virus software and whether or not the software gets updated on a regular basis. The traditional anti-virus software used on corporate networks also has difficulty in detecting malicious software on mobile devices.
  • Theft: The loss or theft of mobile devices represents a significant security and data loss risk to companies and may in some cases result in breaches of corporate networks via these lost or stolen devices.

Along with the reputational risk that data leakage and data theft represent, companies have to contend in many countries with regulatory requirements relating to the safeguarding of data, such as the Protection of Personal Information Act in South Africa and even Sarbanes–Oxley Act when dealing with a South African subsidiary company in a New York Stock Exchange-listed holding company.

Mitigating the risks

Many enterprises that have adopted BYOD have no idea how many privately owned devices are connected to their networks and many have no controls in place to mitigate the associated risks, or consider these risks a priority. Enterprises can, however, mitigate the risks by implementing effective controls on governance and strategic, project and operational levels.

At governance level, it is imperative that management identifies and takes ownership of the risks associated with adopting BYOD. Additionally, they should also:

  • Develop a well-defined BYOD strategy addressing the expected challenges related to the adoption of BYOD, specifically relating to bandwidth requirements, mobile device management and mobile security and access control
  • Develop and implement policies detailing accepted usage of mobile devices, social media and third-party party applications in a BYOD environment
  • Be aware of and manage regulatory requirements affecting data security
  • Educate end users on BYOD, its associated risks, the accepted usage policies of the business and any regulatory requirements on data security
  • On project level, IT departments should have a clear project plan and should work with end users to ensure the successful roll out of BYOD in the organisation.
  • Operationally, IT departments should focus on access security and data protection by:
  • Adopting a multi-layered approach to security and authentication where both users and devices are authenticated
  • Implementing mobile device management and removing rogue mobile applications
  • Protecting data at the data file level to prevent unauthorised access to data files, as well as unauthorised moving, copying and/or editing of data files. This must include a remote delete function
  • Improving logging, monitoring and follow-up of access to the enterprise’s information systems and data

Mobile devices continue to become a more integral part of our daily lives, and many companies can no longer avoid considering a BYOD strategy as part of their business model. Do not miss the boat and get left behind, but rather take control of the strategy and its implementation.

Author: Roelf Swanepoel CA(SA), CISA, RA is a director at Boshoff Visser

 

CLOUD POWER, MOBILE PRODUCTIVITY

Mobility and the cloud are transforming the business software landscape and bringing new levels of efficiency to enterprises. By Steven Cohen

Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen the business software market evolve at a rapid speed, moving from basic DOS-based solutions with text-based interfaces to rich and attractive graphical user interfaces. Now we’re seeing the next shift in the market as businesses start to transition away from running software on their own standalone PCs or servers towards accessing it online as a cloud service.

Cloud computing is essentially all about the move away from buying a software suite that you install on your computer towards accessing the software you need over the Internet and on a web browser, wherever you are. As a cloud user, your accounting data and application are both reached through your browser – it makes business productivity as simple as using Facebook.

This trend – the shift towards computing in the cloud and software as a service –  is revolutionising the way that SMEs and bigger businesses alike use and pay for their software. So what’s behind the rise of the cloud as a deployment option for accounting software and other business solutions? Maturing technology is one major factor behind the growing adoption of the cloud.

Though the idea of ‘hosted’ applications is nothing new, it’s only now that the bandwidth is fast, cheap and reliable enough to deliver a stable, affordable and responsive user experience for applications that are hosted in a service provider’s data centre and accessed across the Internet. Not only has the fixed-line Internet improved, but Wi-Fi and cellular connections have become pervasive.

What’s more, today’s web browsers are also more suitable for accessing rich content online, allowing users to work on complex online applications and enjoy a smooth experience – all without needing  to download any special software. Devices such as smartphones and tablets are also playing a role in cloud adoption by giving people convenient and easy ways to access cloud services.

And with cloud technology having been widely adopted by consumers, the business world is following in its footsteps.  As a digital native generation comes into the workforce, it expects to use business IT resources online and on-demand in the same way as they use services such as Gmail and Dropbox.

Today, even business tools such as accounting applications are expected to be mobile, easy to use, and wrapped in an attractive interface.

Faster, cheaper, better

Having established that the technology to support the cloud is mature, why should a small business consider buying online accounting or payroll software rather than sticking with buying software licences and running them on its own computers? To put it simply, cloud solutions enable SMEs to simplify their IT environments, save money, and achieve the flexibility to get more done, faster.

Though cost-savings – and the flexibility to pay for the software per user, per month – are often mentioned as key benefits of the cloud, there is far more to it than reducing costs. Implementing cloud-based solutions also help the business to become more agile and access better quality systems than they could not afford to pay for upfront. Here are a few ways that users of our accounting software tell us the cloud helps them to run better businesses:

  • Fewer IT headaches, better IT performance: With a cloud-based software application, the responsibility for IT maintenance, software upgrades and any system issues lies with the service provider. Our cloud customers tell us that the cloud is liberating because they don’t need to install software or hassle about updates and upgrades. As such, SMEs can stay focused on their core business rather than worrying about technology. Plus, they usually find that cloud systems are more reliable and feature-rich than the old DOS-based systems they have used for years.
  • Flexibility: Cloud-based software can be accessed on a pay-as-you-go model, so SMEs don’t need to worry about overinvesting in software licences. They can add more users as the business grows or decrease spending if they need to. For example, if they have a lot of seasonal workers or contractors they bring on board for projects, they can pay for payroll software per payslip rather than buying a licence upfront.
  • Increased security: Cloud computing can be more secure than traditional IT. Established cloud suppliers invest vast amounts of money into securing their applications and have technology infrastructures beyond the means of any small business. There’s also less risk of losing data stored on a laptop or a USB stick because everything is stored in the cloud and not on devices that could be lost or stolen.
  • Mobile productivity and collaboration: Users can simply log in from wherever they are and start working. Because their data is in the cloud, it is available online, anywhere, anytime and they are always working on the same data as their accountant or colleagues. Mobile apps for accounting solutions, for example put customer and accounting information in the palm of user’s hands. They can log on from wherever they are to view customer information, record notes, search for customers and contact them.
  • Gain business insight: Today, SMEs don’t merely need an electronic recordkeeping system. In today’s competitive, knowledge-based economy, SME owners and managers also want to analyse and understand the business instead of just submitting tax returns and printing customer statements. Cloud solutions enable them to access this functionality at an affordable cost.

Keeping pace with a changing world

SME owners today are busy, tech-savvy and under enormous pressure to drive profits and revenues – that’s why they need software ready to take advantage of the latest technology trends. The cloud changes everything by allowing them to work anywhere and anytime. For those that are comfortable with desktop accounting software, ‘connected services’ provide a bridge from the old world of desktop software to the new world of mobile and cloud computing.

These services can allow SMEs to automate more of the drudge work involved in business accounting, for example, making it simple to make online payments to suppliers straight out of the software’s interface. Another worthwhile feature is an automatic bank feeds function that automates the process of importing bank statements into the accounting system.

AUTHOR: Steven Cohen CA(SA) is  managing director at Sage One AAMEA (Australia, Asia, Middle East and Africa)

 

GADGETS

Get some of the latest cutting-edge technology by Steven Ambrose CA(SA)

Huawei Mate 7

The new Huawei Mate 7 smartphone offers cutting-edge technology wrapped in a premium metal case. The highest screen to body ratio results in a 6″ screen in a body barely bigger than that of a 5.5″ smartphone. The Huawei Mate 7 incorporates the latest technology: from the Octa Core Kirin processor to a single-touch fingerprint reader. A 4th-generation Sony sensor-based 13 MP camera takes fast, sharp picture in all light. LTE connectivity is standard with worldwide compatibility and CAT 6 speeds of up to 300 Mbps are produced. A huge 4100 mAh battery will power the Huawei Mate 7 for days.

Available from all operators.  For more information go to www.huawei.com

Samsung SUHD TV

Samsung have released their next generation of ultra high-definition 4K TVs in South Africa. The new Samsung Curved TVs (called SUHD) boast 4K resolution and new curved panels that feature nano-crystal semiconductors. The result is greater colour accuracy and range, brightness and contrast, rivalling AMOLED TVs. The new Samsung SUHD features the Tizen operating system for better connectivity and locally curated TV content such as Vidi video streaming. The TVs are available from 55″ to 85″ and priced from R35 000 to R300 000.

For details go to www.samsung.co.za

Canon SX 60 HS

The new Canon SX 60 HS is a traveller’s dream camera. It is light and compact with an extreme built-in zoom of up to 65x optically and 130x in software. The Canon is easy to use, with exceptional optics along with a compact lightweight body and integrated lens. It offers an Advanced DIGIC image processor along with a 16.1 MP sensor and some clever software which allows tracking and clear capture of long-zoomed shots. Optical image stabilisation is standard. The Canon SX 60 HS shoots full HD video and can take an optional external microphone for professional video.

Available at all Canon retailers at under R6 000. For more info www.canon.co.za

ASUS ZenBook UX305F

The ASUS ZenBook UX305 is a sleek all-metal Ultrabook featuring Intel’s Core M processor, which offers extended battery life and snappy performance along with silent fan-less operation. It is thin, light, and well made, with an overall weight of a super-portable 1,2 kg. The sharp, clear 13.3” matt HD IPS screen offers great colour and viewing angles.

All the connectivity you would want is included from dual USB 3 connectors to Bluetooth 4.0, while 8 GB RAM and a 256 GB SSD round out a great value-for-money ultra-portable laptop.

Available from Incredible Connection and other ASUS dealers from R11 499.

Author:  Steven Ambrose CA(SA) is CEO at Strategy Worx Consulting

 

REPORT, ANALYSE AND PREDICT BUSINESS PERFORMANCE

Information-driven financial performance management improves efficiency, transparency and decision-making at all levels in the organisation, says David McWilliam

Financial performance management software goes beyond the basics of accounting solutions, providing companies with simplified and automated financial processes which increase transparency and productivity, and improving decision-making across the organisation.

Once available only to large corporates because of cost and complexity, today financial performance management solutions are accessible to businesses of all sizes. This is because more finance professionals see these solutions as a way to address their top challenges in planning, compliance, and management reporting. They can no longer rely on spreadsheets alone for planning, reporting, or more sophisticated forecasting and analysis.

‘Whether a finance team comprises three people or 30, all finance offices are under the same pressure to produce accurate and timeous budgets, forecasts and reports,’ says David McWilliam, executive for customer success at Cortell Intelligent Business Solutions. ‘Large organisations have long had the benefits of specialised software that automates and streamlines all the processes in the office of finance. SMEs, on the other hand, have continued to use spreadsheet-based, manual methods to achieve their objectives. That’s because the perception is that that only big companies can afford performance management software and analysis. But that is not the case.’

Real-time analysis and reporting

Financial performance management software makes it easy for the finance office to deliver detailed analysis and reports based on real-time data that paves the way for more informed decisions. The finance team can budget and forecast using repeatable processes and analytics that reveal valuable insights in data, and they can develop flexible ‘what if?’ models to test different scenarios against historical data.

The benefits of financial performance management are well documented and include:

  • Reduced risk of error
  • An ability to manage complex business models
  • Time-saving and increased productivity in the office of finance
  • Financial models that can be re-used in multiple scenarios
  • Improved distribution and sharing of information
  • Greater ability to scrutinise and analyse results
  • Retention of intellectual capital – organisational intelligence is not lost if the financial director leaves the company
  • Documenting the past with financial reporting, consolidation, and disclosure
  • Understanding the current state with performance measurement and management reporting
  • Seeing into the future with planning, budgeting, and forecasting so that you can anticipate change

Improved performance and cost-savings

‘Research by Gartner and Forrester has indicated that companies with a performance management culture perform between two and five times better than their counterparts,’ McWilliam notes.

‘In addition, these solutions are reasonably priced, and organisations like ours are there to mentor and guide customers as they make the move to these simplified financial processes. Implementations have taken just a few months to show significant improvement in accuracy and productivity.’

On the question of return on investment, McWilliam notes that even a small finance office is likely to cost in the region of R1 million per year to operate. ‘A financial performance management solution can be installed and amortised over three years at a cost of around R200 000 per year for the software and consulting services combined. Improved productivity and effectiveness have shown impressive ROI for many SME companies.’

Authir: David McWilliam is director at Cortell Intelligent Business Solutions