Kathy Gibson reports – South African companies are at a watershed when it comes to the technology they employ – and they will have to embrace emerging technologies in the near future to avoid being sidelined.

This is the word from Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, presenting research enterprise mobility on behalf of Syspro.

We are living in a time of unstoppable change, he points out. “Mobility is no longer just about a mobile device – it’s about integration with an ecosystem.”

The research finds that South African companies are poised to embrace emerging technologies like robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), big data, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI).

However, although there is an eagerness to embrace these technologies, many of them have still not done so.

“South African corporations are all seeing their counterparts around the world  being disrupted by small, nimble newcomers or large companies willing to disrupt themselves, says Mark Wilson, MD of Syspro Africa.

“If they don’t respond as part of their own strategic direction, someone will force them to respond. The result will be that these companies will find themselves in crisis management mode.”

Budgets, on the other hand paints a different picture, with software as a service leading, followed by VPNs and cloud computing and virtualisation. Mobile computing and fixed-mobile convergence are way down on the list of budget priorities.

However, Goldstuck cautions that mobility leads in some industries, notably health service education, IT software and services, and retail, followed my medical and learning and manufacturing.

Companies see the relevance of mobile in being able to use e-mail on the go  82,4% of respondents cite this reason.

Oher uses for mobile include emergencies, being able to keep up with office activities and the ability to manage time.

The hardware that is seen as important to mobility showed some surprising results, Goldstuck says.

The top hardware device are laptop computers and desktop computers. “This gives the lie to the assumption that smartphones have taken over from computers,” he points out.

The other priorities in terms of hardware are fibre to the office, fixed landlines and office WiFi, with smartphones coming in at only sixth.

Tablets come in at number eight, after ADSL connections but ahead of MiFi devices, standalone devices and public mobile radio.

Smartphones may be down the list overall, but in the IT software and services industries, it is critically important, as it is in mining, distribution, manufacturing and logistics.

“It’s a case of horses for courses – technology that makes sense for specific purposes.”

Tablets come into their own in the retail sector, where they have become point of sale devices to a large extent, Goldstuck says. They are also useful in IT software and services, distribution, health services and education.

Robotics are currently not well used – only 6% of companies use them today. But 47% plan to use robotics in the future, while those that use them will increase their usage.

Those that aren’t going to increases their usage cite cost as the factor holding them back.

The primary use for robotics is currently in mining, where one-quarter of companies are using robotics today. Freight and logistics are also big users of industrial robotics.

When it comes to planned use, health services an education are the biggest future users. They are followed by retail, distribution and logistics.

But there is also interest in robotics in the finance, insurance and real estate environments, as well as in construction and engineering, mining, manufacturing, IT software and services, and the medical fields.

The Internet of Tings (IoT), on the other hand, is seeing huge uptake. Already 66% of companies use IoT, and 84,6% of those not currently involved plan to use it in future.

Meanwhile, 100% of those already using IoT plan to increase their use in the future. This shows that IoT has become a commodity business,” Goldstuck says.

The biggest users are health services and education, followed by retail then construction and engineering, mining financial services and IT.

Big data and machine learning or AI are only employed by a small number of companies now, but 63,3% plan to use it in future.

Those already using it plan to increase their usage.

The biggest industry for big data and machine learning is mining, followed by retail, then logistics, financial services, health services and education, then construction and engineering.

Blockchain is not well used today, with just 3,2% of organisations using it now. But 40,5% of companies plan to use blockchain soon, with 100% of current user planning to increase their usage.

Blockchain is currently predominantly sued in logistics, medial and mining. Retailers see it as a potential solution, though, indicating their appetite for future blockchain adoption. They are followed by construction and engineering, distribution, health services and then IT software and services.

Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) is only in use in 13,6% of organisations, and just 43% plan to use it. Cost is a big inhibitor, and particularly the cost-benefit ration, Goldstuck says.

Medical and learning will be one of the big beneficiaries of VR and AR, he adds, followed by retail, mining and construction/engineering.

Wilson points out that there are 88-million unique mobile subscriptions in South Africa – this 1,6 subscriptions per consumer.

“This means South Africa, and the continent, and the world, are in love with mobility,” he says.

On the business die, we are seeing the mobile network providers aggressively rolling out LTE and fibre, which offers endless possibilities. “This means there are new opportunities associated with new frontiers and borders.”

What this means, Wilson says, is that organisations are changing the way they do business. “We are no longer confined by four walls.

“Those who have adopted enterprise mobility are seeing huge business benefits, These include huge productivity gains, getting closer to the customers, improved customer satisfaction and improved flexibility.

“We see that many organisations have undergone a digital transformation, but there are still a lot of legacy companies, using legacy software that is outdated – and they are losing advantages. They risk becoming redundant in the marketplace.”

Quality of product and service, is the top feature that companies look for when choosing a technology provider. This is followed by lack of downtime, maintenance and the relationship with a provider.

“Providers have to give customers a high quality product and experience,” Goldstuck says. “Only then does price some into the picture.”

“For several years we been watching a new IT revolution sweeping the corporate world – but it has been mainly in developed countries. We are now seeing the IT revolution arriving in South Africa,” he concludes.

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