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Seismic shifts in the information and communications technology landscape bring change

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Seismic shifts in the information and communications technology landscape introduced by technology and legislation are bringing about organisational change, introducing opportunity for small businesses, and threatening to disrupt the entire nature of the South African ICT sphere

The decentralisation of technology is threatening to turn the traditional IT department into a dinosaur.

A recent survey by Mware and Vanson Bourn revealed that 57% of South African business leaders are seeing the traditional IT department losing control of technology management. This development is very much in line with global trends.

Decentralisation means that any employee can make IT purchases, or install or maintain software. This also means that employees use software such as Dropbox without asking the IT department for permission. Increasingly, non-specialists are able to access applications that once required specialist intervention—effectively making IT decisions independently.

The downside of this is that operations are rendered more complex and costly. At the same time, decentralisation is undeniably delivering the goods.

New products and services are launched to market faster, which allows businesses to be more innovative and be more responsive to the market.

With the IT department no longer the sole custodian of technology, employees are more satisfied and better talent is attracted. However, this shift also has its disadvantages, with the perception that it is unclear where the responsibility for IT ultimately lies. Duplication of spend and vulnerability to cyber-threat incurred by non-specialist decision-making are further negative consequences of this trend.

Unsurprisingly, IT department heads would like to see the trend reversed. In fact, most IT managers want more centralization, especially with regard to network security and compliance, private cloud-based services and storage. This will most likely call for a move away from old-school thinking around function towards a new investigation of form.

Whichever way you look at it, decentralisation calls for exceptional change management skills at the organisational level.

Artificial and collective intelligence

With decentralisation comes great opportunity. In the words of Klaus-Michael Vogelberg, Sage Chief Technology Officer: “As every business —big or small—is transforming more or less intensively into a tech-enabled business, today’s entrepreneurs should be on the lookout for the opportunities these technological developments can bring to their business.”

One such opportunity that even smaller companies can seize upon is represented by artificial and collective intelligence. As the variety of sensors and devices proliferates, so the volume of data grows exponentially. More and more companies are able to afford computer power, special analytical software and intelligent agents.

For Vogelberg, this represents a mouthwatering opportunity for SMEs.

“If small and medium-sized enterprises join forces and—while considering their corporate data protection policies and personal rights laws – share, for example, computer power and data with other companies in a structured and systematic manner, they could profit from this collaboration by receiving a better and larger data pool and superior data intelligence. Similar to crowdsourcing mechanisms, this enriched data pool would enable companies to better understand how customers behave, what they need, what to offer them and the business areas to invest in,” says Vogelberg. 

Data must fall

Potentially the most disruptive development of all will be the ICT Policy White Paper published last year by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services and approved by Cabinet in October 2016.

Among the big changes that the policy introduces for the ICT industry are restructuring regulatory bodies such as ICASA and USAASA and strengthening the hand of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services. Most controversially, it proposes to create a single national Wireless Open Access Network for mobile broadband and suggests that mobile broadband licence holders surrender their spectrum allocations for the greater good.

In the opinion of Leon Louw, executive director of the Free Market Foundation, the proposal goes against the grain of the international norm of liberalisation and competition. Speaking at a press conference, Louw also maintained that the policy in its present form may be unconstitutional: large sections of the document post-date the public consultation phase, and Cabinet approval took place without the required Social Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) ordered by Cabinet itself.

Dobek Pater, of Africa Analysis, warned that the policy might have unforeseen consequences. Under open access, the larger telecommunications firms would have to make their entire network infrastructure available at regulated wholesale prices. If the pricing isn’t right, operators might simply pull out of an unprofitable business. At the same time, if current network players try to stop the Policy through legislation, the deployment of faster broadband services could be slowed down.

These sentiments have been echoed elsewhere by other analysts. For Richard Hurst, director of enterprise research at Africa Analysis, competition and private investment are the keys to lower costs: ”Perhaps we need to look not so much as to whether data costs are declining but what we can do to make data more affordable in the market segments where it is needed the most, to tackle our serious socio-economic challenges such as unemployment and education.”

According to Mauritz Venter, ICT research analyst at Frost & Sullivan, ”the most effective and sustainable manner in which government could reduce the costs of data would be to complete the delayed digital migration process, freeing up more spectrum and reducing costs associated to connectivity provision by mobile network operators. This will allow MNOs to reduce costs whilst still maintaining healthy profit margins.”

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