Mobile commerce tech driving SA businesses

Retrenchment, recession and reduced spending – signs of an economy under pressure, but, it would seem from research that SA companies are fighting back!Image result for mobile commerce technology

 

Local ICT managed services provider and leading infrastructure management firm Integr8 says there is clear evidence of exponential growth across multiple sectors, based on increased investment in mobile commerce technologies and platforms.

 

Frost & Sullivan’s analysis of the retail sector, published in regional media, notes that cloud-based services, managed services and cellular connectivity will represent the baseline of IT spend in retail – the figure of R1,8 billion in ICT spend by 2019, according to a report published by IT-Online.

 

“There is a realisation among most companies today, irrespective of sector/ industry, that mobile commerce should be central to any ICT development strategy,” says Lance Fanaroff, joint CEO of Integr8.

 

“Mobile commerce technology are allowing companies to make realtime transformative decisions on sale, retail, merchandising, big data, trading and security,” adds Fanaroff.

 

This sounds very good, but as Fanaroff adds, these type of platforms are not considered ‘bells & whistles’ – they are having a real and measurable impact on sales and revenue, operational efficiency and controls.

 

“We continue to see evidence of this impact on clients who confirm a reduction in costs, streamlining admin, and boosting compliance, all while improving service levels and the client user experience,” says Fanaroff.

 

Integr8’s message to the market is that mobile commerce platforms are enabling companies to take advantage of big data analysis, which, as Fanaroff suggests, is a critical part of almost all leading, sustainable and successful companies today.

 

Specifically, as Integr8 points out, these strategies are finding application in businesses across a number of influential markets including retail, security, IT & telecoms, sales & logistics, banking, automotive and hospitality.

 

As Fanaroff says, these industries have different requirements and dynamics; but essentially, they all require advanced technology to assist in their evolution to digital-based organisations.

 

Mobile commerce platforms are not just a ‘nice to have’, but will be essential for the sustainability and success of almost all businesses in the future. And the future is happening now.


Integr8 recognised for HR Innovation using Technology

South Africa-based ICT managed services specialist Integr8 has been recognised for its leading HR technology having been nominated as a finalist in the Future of HR Awards 2017 in the category Best HR Industry Innovation Using Technology.

 

Integr8 was up against several strong competitors and established business stalwarts across a variety of industry, including Ericsson SA, Clicks Group, Fuel Online Trading, Hi5, LexisNexis and Zensar Technologies.

The ICT company has proven its strength in being able to deliver reliable, robust solutions that revolutionise the business and help decision makers keep up with digital transformation.

Lance Fanaroff, joint CEO of Integr8, explains that HR is an area that has been impacted significantly by digitalisation. He believes that HR practices and the role of the HR professional have changed significantly.

The shift from ‘personnel’ to ‘human resource’ was part of the movement to acknowledge the value of employees as an organisational resource and an attempt to remove some of the stigma attached to slow, bureaucratic personnel departments.

This shift was accompanied by a call for HR to become a strategic partner with the leaders of the business-to contribute to significant business decisions, advise on critical transitions and develop the value of the employees.

 

“HR and Human Capital Management is becoming more reliant on solutions that automate and streamline functions and organisational processes. This recognition emphasises that technology aside, people will always be at the heart of HR,” says Fanaroff.

Monica Sennelo , Integr8 IT HR Manager

“HR is core to our company in driving Transformation and Skills Development, and when it comes to acquiring these solutions and embracing digitalisation to enhance HR, it really is about being ‘future fit’ to handle the demands of a continuously evolving market,” he adds.

Integr8’s advice to HR professionals who want to keep ahead of innovation and technology trends is to always keep in mind how HR has changed and what its modern mandate is.

 

According to the company HR needs to be a strategic partner working to align HR and business strategy, an administrative ‘expert’ working to improve organisational processes and deliver basic HR services, an employee champion, listening and responding to the needs of employees, and a change agent managing change processes to increase the effectiveness of the organisation.

“Being nominated as a finalist for this renowned award, is confirmation that we are on the right path”, confirms Monica Manana, HR Manager of Integr8. The Future of HR Awards 2017 will be adjudicated by the panel including representatives from Telesure Group, Smart HR, AngloGold Ashanti, Global Business Solutions, Coca Cola SA, SABPP, Deloitte, TransUnion Africa and Quest Staffing Solutions

 

Winners of the industry competition will be announced on 20 July 2017 in Johannesburg.

 


Integr8’s Sussman backs FinTech startups

Co-founder of national ICT managed services provider and member of the Business Connexion (BCX) Group Integr8 Robert Sussman has added his support to the Barclays Accelerator Programme.

Rob Sussman, Joint CEO, Integr8 IT
Rob Sussman, Joint CEO, Integr8 IT

Sussman heads up Integr8, a market leader and South African technology success story. The company services local and international clients, and is a long-time contributor to local ICT skills development.

As joint CEO, Sussman knows exactly which tech skills are sought-after in the market and what is required to establish and run a successful enterprise within global technology markets.

His passion for technology focused startups and entrepreneurs means that he is able to add immediate value to initiatives established to support local talent.

One such initiative is the Barclays Accelerator Programme, a three-month intensive programme designed to assist newly formed global and tech-focused businesses advance and sustain growth.

Sussman is a mentor on this programme and offers advice to budding entrepreneurs on the realities of running a technology operation in today’s market, covering all aspects such as digitisation, cloud strategy, big data and analysis, data governance, various outsourcing models and financing.

“These factors will influence the growth trajectory of any business entering the market today… a startup has the advantage of being fresh, nimble and flexible, so there is a natural degree of agility. But, it takes support from mentors and investors to ensure that business models work and that those who are driving these businesses do not overlook critical steps and risk making all-too common mistakes,” Sussman explains.

He also believes in the work being done by Nedbank-backed Launchlab business ecosystem in moulding tomorrow’s business leaders by leveraging and supporting academic institutions and has sat on the judging panel of Standard Banks Seedstars.

Image result for Launchlab“We believe that by sharing our story and vision for the future, we will continue to uplift and empower entrepreneurs to create companies.  It is these companies that create jobs and these entrepreneurs that unlock opportunity to disrupt existing business models and deliver value to people. I enjoy seeing Africa’s technology ecosystem grow and thrive, and I am proud to add our support to these important business accelerator programmes,” Sussman says.


Integr8 partners with Tintri to add virtualisation and cloud value

Leading South Africa based global managed ICT services provider and member of the Business Connexion (BCX) Group, Integr8 has announced a partnership with Tintri, a leading producer of VM-aware storage (VAS) for virtualisation and cloud environments. The agreement will offer customers in South Africa an enhanced VAS offering, interlinked with cloud, to the market.

Tintri builds VM-aware storage specifically for virtualised applications, without the limitations of traditional physical-first storage. The company’s VAS offers enterprise customers both all-flash and hybrid-flash storage platforms.

The value proposition is underpinned by an Operating System (OS) that treats virtual machines as the unit of management, the ability to scale-out from terabytes to petabytes with less than one employee, and set QoS thresholds for critical VMs.

Jacques Watermeyer, CTO Integr8 IT
Jacques Watermeyer, CTO Integr8 IT

Today, with the percentage of virtualised workloads rising from 2% in 2005 to over 80% in 2015, Integr8 has confirmed its status as a Tintri Authorised South African partner to roll out solutions and services that will empower enterprise businesses.

“This will enable us to prioritise virtualisation and focus on differentiated products, additional revenue opportunities and be part of a channel that supports sales,” says Jacques Watermeyer, CTO at Integr8

Watermeyer adds that Tintri’s focus on VAS specifically built for virtualisation and cloud is an ideal fit for Integr8.

“Our customers depend on virtualised servers, databases and desktops to operate, they require storage that can guarantee the performance of these applications,” he continues.

Claudio Polla, Regional Manager, Middle East Africa and Turkey, at Tintri, comments: “Integr8 lines up with our globalchannel expansion plans, which makes them an ideal partner in this region. As a specialist provider of managed services, Integr8 supports and regulates the ICT environment of many of South Africa’s leading enterprise organisations. Therefore it will help provide more exposure for Tintri’s highly differentiated storage across the region.”

Claudio Polla, Regional Manager, Middle East Africa and Turkey, at Tintri
Claudio Polla, Regional Manager, Middle East Africa and Turkey, at Tintri

“With its knowledge of the local market, valued-added cloud services, expert customer service and a solid technical understanding of our products, Integr8 will assist us in our efforts to deliver unparalleled value to our customers. Tintri VM-aware storage isn’t an incremental change – it is storage you can manage in a fraction of the time and for lower costs,” Polla concludes


SA’s spectrum spectacle is an opportunity to learn and grow, says Integr8

Telecom regulators across many countries across Africa are beginning to focus on available spectrum licenses to advance digital migration. While the majority of countries failed to meet the ITU’s June 2015 migration deadline, there is an increasing number that are auctioning spectrum licenses to generate revenue and empower operators to leverage resources and contribute towards this migration process.

 

According to Lance Fanaroff, joint CEO at Integr8, says South Africa, by all accounts, is lagging in this process and the situation involving the regulator ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) remains precarious and more needs to be done.

 

As a leader in technology services integration, Integr8 is closely following developments within South Africa’s telecommunications space. In July ICASA initiated a controversial move by inviting applicants to apply for 700MHz, 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum licenses.

According to regional media the auction is scheduled for January 2017, and the move has triggered a response from the Telecoms and Postal Services Ministry and a threat to take legal action against ICASA. The Ministry has reportedly argued that ICASA has not complied with legislation, and that there is no clear policy governing spectrum.

 

Although the situation is ongoing, it does reflect South Africa’s difficulty in cementing its position regarding spectrum management and regulation.

 

“Spectrum allocation and management is critical to expanding the country’s telecommunications services and capability. It is unfortunate that key stakeholders are struggling to align with each other in the best interests of mobile broadband coverage in the country. We are confident that a resolution will be found sooner rather than later,” Fanaroff continues.

 

He adds that available spectrum is an issue that continues to impact on the discussion, and it is no secret that policy makers continue to urge the private and public sectors to collaborate to iron out issues that continue to hamper progress in the rollout of affordable and accessible broadband connectivity.

 

Jan Roux, CIO at Integr8, adds that the auction process should be addressed. “Although we all agree that the additional spectrums need to be allocated as soon as possible, the planned auction process by ICASA will definitely benefit the bigger players who have very deep pockets. In return, this will just add to an already monopolized industry, and will exclude all the potential smaller players. This is unfortunately not good news for the end user the long run,” Roux continues.

 

Going forward the reality of the situation is that spectrum auction will go ahead in the South African context and the likelihood is that any legal action taken will hamper already slow progress – something the country can ill afford if it wants to keep up with its counterparts across Africa.

 

Fanaroff believes the spectrum issue could be a blessing in disguise and presents the telecommunications industry to rectify legacy problems and progress to a point where authorities represent a source of help, of empowerment and of effective regulation that fosters healthy competition.

 

“This is where telcos and MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) can play an important and lasting role,” Fanaroff concludes.
END


‘5G Could Bridge the Digital Divide’ – Integr8

The advent of technology forces such as Big Data, analysis, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Cloud computing to support digitisation in business brought about next generation connectivity infrastructure. Experts in ICT managed services have described the imminence of 5G mobile wireless standard as a breakthrough that promises to open up new channels of opportunity across enterprise networks.

 

Jan Roux, CIO, Integr8
Jan Roux, CIO, Integr8

Jan Roux, CIO at Integr8, a South African-based global managed ICT services provider, says 5G is currently more of a ‘concept’ than an actual technology, but there is little doubt about its influence in the near future…

 

5G represents an advancement of 4G LTE standard of wireless communication, and promises higher speed and will underpin Unified Communications (UC) – the convergence of the IoT, big data, the cloud and mobile technology.

 

Roux says while it is difficult to know precisely what 5G will ultimately look like, there are several characteristics that will differentiate the technology. “What we do know at this stage is that there will definitely be a huge increase in speed over the current 4G/LTE technology. Dependent on the final technology, it is estimated that the final speed will be in the region of 10Gbps versus the current theoretical 100Mbps we get from the current 4G technology,” he explains.

 

“This increase in speed, together with a big decrease in latency, will enable the technology to be used for applications and services that has historically only been able to function over fibre or traditional cable networks,” Roux adds.

 

5G will very likely influence user experience of full ultra HD video or 3D video streaming; according to the Integr8 executive. From an end-user point of view, it is predicted that the next generation mobile wireless standard will have a lasting and positive impact – particularly within mobile-driven and dominated markets.

 

“The progress in technology over the next couple of years will see additional benefits like better power consumption for portable devices, simple configuration and management, and much better and more stable connectivity, as well as the ability to cater for more connected devices,” says Roux.

 

Looking ahead, Integr8 is positioning its service and technical expertise to guide clients in their understanding and application of 5G to leverage the speed and reliability of the technology.

 

“With all these anticipated enhancements of the technology, it will without a doubt prepare the landscape to truly cater for concepts like IoT and “smarthomes”; both of which are heavily dependent on fast, reliable and stable connections between devices. It will also negate the need to have fiber for a fast Internet connection, and this, in its own right, holds a huge amount of benefits,” he says.

 

These benefits will materialise and be exploited by businesses, but will also empower users in rural areas across the continent. As Roux explains, there is an ongoing and widespread campaign in many regions across Africa to increase Internet availability rates, and raise the continent’s profile from an adoption and mobile access point of view.

 

Given that the majority of access to the Internet is via mobile solutions in Africa, the role and relevance of 5G cannot be underestimated.

 

“5G will probably be the technology that will wipe out the digital divide,” Roux concludes.


Technology can help to curb costs, says Integr8

Economists recently gave a mixed review of the current state of the South African economy and its short-term growth potential. Businesses are acutely aware of the need to scale back, of a higher unemployment rate and competitive but economically strained market. ICT leaders believe whole-heartedly and more passionately that technology can empower businesses.

Lance Fanaroff, Joint CEO Integr8

Lance Fanaroff, joint CEO of national ICT managed services provider Integr8, explains economic realities have forced businesses to reduce expenditure, transform Opex to Capex, effectively manage TCO and guarantee a return on investment in projects, technology and resources.

“I think that the economy is in for a very challenging time.  The weakening of the Rand, the growing unemployment, the political instability, the business confidence, and loss of skilled professionals to immigration and the decreasing number of entrepreneurs all have a negative compound effect on the economy,” Fanaroff says.

Integr8 has proven its capability by diversifying its product portfolio to provide creative financial solutions to help cost-conscious companies sustain their services and operations.

Using its years of market experience, technical expertise and product know-how, Integr8 offers clients the opportunity to pay for products and services on a monthly basis – as apposed to laying out large amounts of capital.

 

“This allows companies to have greater efficiency and control over their cash-flows, as well as be more tax efficient,” adds Fanaroff. “While at the same time, ensuring that companies are always up to date with the latest technology platforms, with a reducing support cost”.

The offering complements significant value in the day-to-day business operations, but specifically for clients that are holding back on potential opportunities because of economic uncertainty.

On the back of this increasingly popular offering, Fanaroff and his fellow executives at Integr8 believe that companies can grow stronger in this environment and there are many opportunities that can be taken advantage of in this time of adversity.

 

“These are challenging times, however with challenging times come a fortune of opportunities. I believe that companies can find opportunities, and take advantage of the current environment… we believe that this is actually an exciting time. It is during these sort of times when innovative, open-minded, and positive businesses can catapult themselves forward, and grow exponentially – both vertically, and horizontally,” Fanaroff continues.

As more businesses become aware of these opportunities and act with agility, there is more room for partnerships, mergers and acquisitions. Fanaroff points out that this increasing level of consolidation will define the continent’s ICT environment for the foreseeable future.

 

“I think this trend will continue for a few years still, and I think it will become even more prominent. Companies will need to do this from a speed perspective, from an agility perspective, from an innovative perspective, and from a synergistic view. The market will definitely continue to consolidate as companies will prefer to work closer with other specialist companies, as opposed to grow those specialities and competencies organically,” Fanaroff concludes.


Agility, speed and digital transformation top priority Integr8

From a technology maturity point of view and the general direction that innovation is taking, digital transformation is considered the top priority for businesses. However, there are challenges and it takes an experienced, highly skilled managed service provider to help clients overcome hurdles that hamper technical progress.

Management at Integr8 were asked recently what their stance towards barriers in business transformation is. “The company has always been an advocate for growth and digital transformation and one of our main objectives is to help our clients revolutionize their systems to become successful,” says Jan Roux, CIO at Integr8.

Jan Roux, CIO Integr8  IT
Jan Roux, CIO Integr8 IT

“But, by default this also means acquiring a level of agility that offers businesses access to the latest solutions and the very best available skill sets to ensure that their digital strategies add value from day one,” Roux continues.

There are certain fundamentals about the ICT sector that make it a challenging environment to operate in – particularly if businesses do not upgrade their infrastructure and keep ahead of local and global trends.

“Trends such as Cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data analytics is changing the business landscape in a major way; with issues like triple play and collaboration forcing companies to adapt their strategies immediately,” he adds.

“Digital transformation and agility in operation is the end-goal, but actions that are taken to achieve this must be consistent and deliberate. Strategies should be calculated, systematic and in line with business requirements,” Roux says.

One of the biggest hurdles of successful digital transformation, particularly for smaller operator, is the pace at which technology is changing and evolving.

There have been a number of developments that have helped to shape the ICT and telecommunications space. As an example, Roux points to the “increase in connectivity speeds (improving all the time)”, the uptake of tablets and smartphones, cloud computing and virtualisation.

“These are considered disruptive forces because they can’t be ignored by any credible venture, irrespective of size or focus. They will impact on operations, on processes and procedures – they must be embraced and brought on board,” he adds.

According to Integr8 the advent of cloud computing, virtualisation and hosted infrastructure & services, smaller businesses don’t have to invest large amounts of capital in their own technology & infrastructure, but can rather leverage off larger infrastructures from companies that offer this as a service.

“This will allow smaller companies to have access to the best technologies they require, while at the same time growing rapidly,” Roux concludes.


Integr8, F5 answer call for more intelligent network traffic management

There is an increase in demand for intelligent solutions that empower users with the ability to fully control applications running on a network at any given time, and to better manage these applications to free up network capacity – in other words, effectively manage network traffic to optimise the resource.

 

Jacques Watermeyer, CTO Integr8 IT
Jacques Watermeyer, CTO Integr8 IT

Jacques Watermeyer, Chief Technical Officer at Integr8, says the benefits of integrating a robust, proven network traffic management solution are clear and this is why the company continues to experience an increase in demand for its F5 global offering.

 

F5 is best known internationally for its application traffic management methodology, one that the company pioneered and designed for intercepting, inspecting and translating network traffic, and then directing it to the optimum resource based on specific business policies.

 

The market today demands that businesses be agile, reduce costs and secure a quick return on investment. Agility and streamlined operation is the underlying theme running across all sectors and industries, in order to absorb the pressure of economic downturn impacting on trade.

 

“It makes sense that the market would be attracted to a solution that provides instant visibility into which applications are running on any network, and enables management of these applications, as well as scale to an organisation’s requirements by allowing additional applications to be securely integrated,” says Watermeyer.

 

Integr8 is a leading & renowned managed ICT services provider, equipped with the experience, knowledge and technical capability to help clients immediately integrate F5 and apply the advantages.

 

The acclaimed South African-based global services house can completely cover the entire solution and simultaneously help manage all applications under its control. It can also guide clients in the exploration to remotely manage features and services offered by the solution.

 

“We also add value as a single supply and support partner,” adds Watermeyer. “And we have the relevant skills & expertise in-house to ensure this level of support.”

 

“F5 is easy to engage and manage; and it has one support line to a set of professional engineers worldwide that supports the channel, partner and vendors. Each technology has a set of expertise required. The F5 certification program is progressive and builds on the skills and knowledge demonstrated in previous exams,” he continues.

 

As load balancers continue evolving into today’s Application Delivery, F5 delivers more than just the average result – it allows the additional benefits to enable application developers to expand why pass what modern day load balancers achieve.


What makes an IT company great?

 

 

In business, having your foot in your mouth can easily translate to a foot out the door. So when the ICT world makes a noise, the aim is to attract new business.

They don’t talk about themselves, especially companies that sit in the food chain between vendors and clients. Yet, these companies help make up a R13.9 billion local industry, excluding telecommunications. So Brainstorm decided to turn the tables, so to speak, and ask its roundtable attendees: what sits behind the sales pitch?

The people of ICT are as regular and congenial as anyone else, but their brands often demand a bit of swagger and bravado. ICT companies court big fish with big contracts – cloud may have broadened the market to smaller customers, but it remains a highstakes game.

So when the opening question is an opportunity for attendees to buff their brand, a steady march of jargon and catchphrases appears. One person even manages to capture the entire mantra in a single comment: “You must innovate and iterate, but one must also be cautious of cutting-edge delivery. You want to deliver solid solutions, but also be at the forefront of technology. People you work for want to know you deliver top-end solutions and give them what they need.”

This is what practically every ICT company would and does say. But similar comments don’t even make a complete round before the conversation begins turning inwards, speculating on the direction of a very competitive industry.

“With quality comes a price and we’re at a time where companies are very cost-sensitive,” says Lance Fanaroff , joint CEO of Integr8, wondering if customers are going to forego quality in tough times. “It’s about whether that additional quality warrants them spending the additional money. As South Africa comes on the squeeze, there will be more of a focus on price than quality.”

Bruce Pitso, South African regional manager at Ruckus Wireless, agrees that there’s pressure from customers to reduce costs or be undercut, but sees it as a more long-term trend that emerges as business leaders take control of ICT: “You get organisations that will want quality at any (or great) cost. But you get other companies that say, ‘If it will work at a cheaper cost, we’ll go for it’. People who decide about technology often don’t know much about technology. So the best of breeds will come in and cater a project for a long-term investment. But because the supply chain has been instructed to go for a more cost-effective solution, it’s a challenge. And we are headed in that direction.”

Quantity race

At this point, it warrants a reminder that ‘ICT’ is a catch-all phrase that involves many different types of technology and implementation. Pitso’s comment gels with that of companies that count hardware and infrastructure as a large part of their business. Whether you look at the rise of Chinese manufacturers or fibre networks threatening incumbents, there is a quantity race in those markets that can override quality, something customers are taking advantage of (if the risk seems fine).

 

But Decision Inc.’s CEO Nicholas Bell notes that this is not the case in the more service-orientated ICT sector: “On the professional services side, it’s slightly different. Quality is no longer the diff erentiator – it’s the norm, the expectation. The market wants it for less, but it doesn’t want the quality dropoff . So with a large enterprise, you can’t increase rates or make great margins. They are squeezing us on rate, but the quality remains constant. These days, they have options and take advantage of that.”

But is there even a choice? A popular military maxim says that a good plan now is better than a perfect plan later. Yet in ICT, a good plan now often leads to big headaches later, says Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director and CEO at the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering. “There is a concept bandied around called technical debt. If you rush to market with something that is cheap now, it will cost you later. We need to get it out of our minds that you do something well or you do it cheaply. We have to find ways to do things well and cheaply and use that in the same sentence, not as flipside to the coin.”

Yet, companies can’t just expect cutthroat pricing if they dug themselves into a hole, says Warren Olivier, regional manager, Southern Africa for Veeam Software: “Often companies didn’t invest in an entire solution, only a part of it. There hasn’t been that entire end-to-end focus.” The result is patchwork environments that are never brought ahead on the curve.

We're at a time where companies are very cost-sensitive. - Lance Fanaroff, Integr8
We’re at a time where companies are very cost-sensitive.
– Lance Fanaroff, Integr8

Nonetheless, this spells more opportunity for the ICT industry: “I’m not going in to force this down the customer’s throat,” says Olivier. “I’m going to say, you got a bit of this and that. I’m going to find ways to leverage more out of this. That’s where partnerships and alliances – co-opetition – are important.”

But delivering on those intentions and partnerships requires a key ingredient, one that is becoming ever scarcer in the country.

Falling behind

Earlier in the discussion, Bell had remarked: “(Enterprises) can’t afford for you to learn on their time. Everything is more urgent and must be out faster.”

He was talking about the demand for quality despite cost, but this also touches on a much bigger issue, one that requires much more buy-in than it is getting: skills.

Saying the ‘S’ word almost always draws the same response from IT professionals: a metaphorical roll of the eyes and a, ‘yeah, but what can you do?’ look. Yet skills are a serious problem. South Africa is not producing enough of them, particularly in the ICT field, and that shortfall is growing as 21st-century technologies start making an impact.

“There is a big gap between quality skills and the quantity of those skills,” says Dave Ives, head of Solutions at Karabina Solutions. “We have quality skills, but if I look at the new skills – machine learning, new languages and the stuff we’re encountering in the predictive space – I would say we have a skills shortage. If I look at the CRM and digital transformation space, taking a company to end-to-end transformation, I question if we have the depth and capability in this country.”

The big issue, he adds, is the lack of a large pipeline of people coming into the sector. Ives isn’t alone in this concern: an annual survey from Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering last year found South African ICT skills to be lagging far behind Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria.

 

“We invest too little in skills as an industry and country,” says Dwolatzky, adding that this burden is too often laid at the feet of universities and government. Instead, the ICT industry needs to become much more involved and address its own culture. “If you look at the companies in India, for example, they recruit people from universities and put them on ten months of intensive training before putting them to work. They invest in their skills.”

Local companies throw newcomers into the deep end, then complain that the skills are rubbish: “We have to put the spotlight on what we as an industry are doing to produce the skills we need. There is plenty to complain about, but it’s all of our responsibility.”

“If I was approaching a vendor, I’d ask, ‘Do they actually contribute by growing skills?'” adds Kim Andersen, CTO at T-Systems South Africa. “In India, they decided IT matters to India’s economy. That has transformed the country. South Africa hasn’t made that decision yet.”

A pool of sharks

Due to the lack of decent local skills, it has created a market defined by scarcity: high salaries, low retention rates and relentless headhunting.

“A lot of companies in SA don’t look at skills as an investment,” says Pitso. “They do it because they have to – they’ll take in interns as a tax kickback. But if someone is studying software programming, they aren’t stupid. So they will exploit this and get a better job.”

That lack of an investment mindset is, instead, in the words of one attendee, creating a pool of sharks. For example, when one of the country’s major banks needed skills for antiquated Cobol systems, they started an academy to train those skills. But other companies, instead of partnering with the initiative, snapped up graduates as quickly as they could.

This took place between large entities such as financial institutions and government departments bolstering their in-house talent pool. The trend is creating a negative impact on the much smaller ICT market, which is often burdened with the expectation to train skills that they know will be lured away.

“I used to keep guys for three years,” says John Eigelaar, director and co-founder of Keystone Electronic Solutions. “Now most of them leave within six months to a year. I lose people before they are even at a useful stage!” Adds Bell: “The problem is that the large companies such as the banks can off er salaries that don’t fall in line with the market we play in. They create this ceiling that makes it very hard for others to compete. So you have guys with a year’s experience getting double their salary and the industry loses them.”

 

But while there is agreement that the country needs more skills, not everyone sees the above as entirely negative. It may also define a feedback loop that helps the industry.

“If you train proper skills, wherever they go, they will generate more work,” says Armandè Kruger, regional sales director at PBT Group. “Instead of getting a slice of the pie, let’s grow the pie. It’s not a perfect model, but there is another side to it.”

Still, Dwolatzky makes a clear call to arms: “Let’s all get around the table, let’s run a programme jointly. We all contribute and create a big pool of skills we can then all fish from.”

‘Sinful crimes’

ICT companies are not entirely victims. Skills are also scarcer because of the influx of new technologies and customer industries. Business ICT has been booming, creating a wave that the industry is not only happy to ride, but tends to add its own hubris of ‘must have or die’ technologies. Raising this habit leads to a rare moment of admonishment from the attendees. Says Dwolatzky: “There is a concept called technological determinism. Does the technology drive change in business or does change in business drive the technology? We as technologists fall into the trap of technological determinism. We think we invent a new widget and that widget will change the world. In fact, it’s business that is changing things.”

help their targets?

The conversation starts around a question about the cloud: today, the mantra for salespeople is that cloud helps companies to innovate. But go back only a year or so, and the message was more about the cost benefits of using cloud infrastructure. This isn’t an atypical example of messages ICT sends to customers. As business takes more interest in technologies it doesn’t quite understand, the result is confusion – and ICT has been exploiting this.

Says Andersen: “The IT industry has long been committing sins: we’ve sold technology above and beyond the needs of business. We’ve pushed technology because we thought it was so great. But what is the business value?”

Yet, the real trap may be a matter of ego: solution providers cannot come across as incompetent or clueless. So they often have to toe the line for a technology that itself has yet to really define its usefulness. Fanaroff draws on the popular example of cloud: “Cloud means different things to different people. Meanwhile, it’s waiting for infrastructure to catch up and offer richer services to companies.”

The issue with new technology, he says, is that the use cases are not always there yet and it takes time for the market to find them. This tends to rely on other parts of the puzzle, such as connectivity and cost, to match expectations.

“Technology matures, so the message changes all the time.”

Technology is a moving target, which means those selling technology often have to run and talk at the same time. But those doing the buying shouldn’t think they are immune. Everyone in the ICT game should understand how highly fluid it is. Says Kruger: “Innovation comes from passion – once something becomes commercial, the innovation stops. And innovation these days happens at the speed of fibre, driven by a new generation that expects quick delivery. So innovation should be pushed from the bottom up. But if it only lives for a year, it lives for a year and then you move on.”

 

ITWEB
DATE: 1 MARCH 2016

http://www.itweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=150277:What-makes-an-IT-company-great-&catid=116&Itemid=81