It is expected that 2020 will see a myriad of innovative technologies starting to enter the mainstream. And while many of them have been around for a while, South African companies will only now start realising the potential benefits they can unlock.

By Ian Jansen van Rensburg, lead technologist for sub-Saharan Africa at VMware


Operations and development

Any business, irrespective of size and industry sector, focuses on two things – selling more and reducing costs. Critical to both is an operational strategy reflective of the digital environment and application development that can adapt systems to become more agile in meeting changing customer expectations.

Operationally, it comes down to employing the right people and putting them in positions where they can deliver the most business value. These employees are willing to continuously learn and embrace new technologies to do their work more efficiently. However, insofar as these digital workers are essential for a rapidly evolving environment, so too must management be willing to embrace this shift. Simply maintaining the status quo will no longer be good enough. To be competitive, a business must take a digital-first approach throughout operations.

Part of this entails collaborating between departments as the means to gain a more unified view of the data at their disposal. Having better insights across all divisions will help optimise cost efficiencies. Using mobile devices to access back-end data will become even more vital in 2020. As data points increase, so too must the company’s ability to capture and analyse that data to deliver meaningful insights. This is where automation will play a significant role in taking care of much of the menial administrative-intensive work, leaving employees available to deliver higher cognitive value.

Application development will act as the glue tying all these components together. It is a case of ensuring code is not only optimised but can also leverage automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning to provide applications that can harness data insights faster than before, resulting in more customised products and services for customers. Development must also be cognisant of how other technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), edge computing, blockchain, and the hybrid cloud will impact on operations.


The Internet of Things and edge computing

It is anticipated that there will be approximately 29 billion connected devices by 2022, 18 billion of which will be directly related to IoT. Companies are therefore faced with a surge in remote devices generating data further from the ‘central’ cloud data centre. These devices must be secured as any compromise could have significant consequences for the data integrity of the organisation.

Furthermore, the reliable connectivity of these IoT-enabled devices must also be taken care of. Whether this is through 3G, 4G, or even 5G technologies, companies must continually review and assess how the information is getting back to the central hub. In many respects this will result in the growth of edge computing in South Africa.

Essentially, the edge will create better ways to maximise the efficiency of IoT devices. It will deliver data processing capabilities at the source (i.e. the edge) where these devices operate reducing the latency and cost involved in getting that information back to the organisation. Identifying problem areas quickly (think mining) can often mean the difference between life and death. Inevitably, AI will start playing more of a role to introduce machine learning capabilities to these edge devices. IoT will start becoming increasingly autonomous thanks to the availability of more powerful computing capabilities at the edge.


The blockchain

It is anticipated that the blockchain will return to prominence next year, especially in developing markets. It will become less about the technology and more about the potential of cryptocurrencies in volatile countries where exchange control, difficult economic conditions, political instability, and other contributing factors make traditional payments a challenge.

In Africa, it is especially cross-border payments of vendors and partners where the blockchain will start coming into its own. The simplicity (and lack of middle-man) means transactions can be processed in near real-time with security being inherently stronger thanks to how the blockchain is designed. Additionally, verifying everything from identity to transactions will become increasingly important in a high cyber security risk environment. As malware continues to increase in its sophistication, so too will companies opt for blockchain technology as a reliable delivery mechanism.


Hybrid cloud

Finally, the hybrid cloud will become an essential building block of the digital organisation in 2020. While many local companies rushed to move to the public cloud a few years ago, they are now realising that fundamental aspects around the transition were not put in place. From security to backup and recovery, it was more a case of being first to market than looking at the practical realities of the cloud.

Next year will see a ‘correction’ in the sense that these companies will take their learnings and move into a hybrid environment. Furthermore, the arrival of multinational data centres will see most new migrations focus on going the hybrid route instead of being completely public. Certain workloads will always remain on-site while the high-performance computing capabilities of the cloud will deliver the potential of AI, machine learning, automation to organisations of all sizes.