We’ve spent the latter half of 2017 describing the building blocks of the “Third Internet Era”, in which society moves from a physically-dominated existence to a digital existence.
This is the next Internet revolution, where the boundaries between global and local blur – geographically if not culturally – and advancements in technology have a substantial impact on societies and economies around the world.
We believe that three big technology shifts will result in this revolution – the network that connects us and our data, the ‘things’ that generate more data than we ever had before, and the ability to turn all of that data into useful knowledge.
Of immediate interest to us at Internet Solutions, and to our clients, is what these shifts will mean for South African business owners and industries.
Put your consumer hat on, and imagine that the service platform offered by your ISP, health insurer or investment manager has intuited that your current service is no longer appropriate. The platform suggests alternatives and with a few clicks, your contract is immediately updated. Compare this to the current process of adjusting health insurance or opening a new investment.
Put your CIO or CEO hat back on. Can you offer this kind of service? When ubiquitous connectivity serves customer experience through optimised business processes, the result is a consumer-centric, personalised, agile, forward-thinking enterprise. This is the type of business that will thrive in the global digital economy.
A network to connect us
To get there, key ICT technologies must shift Gartner, Cisco , PricewaterhouseCoopers and just about everyone imagining a digital economy agrees that what lies ahead of us is more data and more devices, which require more bandwidth. Today’s networks - whether wireless, fixed, or converged - cannot deliver the digital future we’re planning for.
The current network is overly-complex, unresponsive and too vulnerable to human error. This is not just a local issue - network operators internationally are examining how best to evolve beyond legacy networking technology.
At Internet Solutions, we envision a network that counters vendor lock-in, with reduced complexity and an infinite ability to scale . This network is nimble, dynamic, and able to meet the demand for data, automation of business processes, and expansive disruption of industry that we anticipate.
This network is defined by software, offering secure cloud-based, centralised, continuously reconfigurable network control and shaping, and on-demand service provision - all in real-time - whether a site is in the next town or on another continent.
Better still, this network offers elastic bandwidth consumption and billing. In practical terms, this means paying a nominal fee for a line with the potential to boost to a pre-defined bandwidth. For the time that a 4K movie is streamed, or the month’s sales transactions are uploaded to head office, the ISP will bill for the full capacity of the line. The days of bundled services will be over as service providers implement flexible billing for flexible services.
It is interesting that as we move towards a global digital economy where enterprises and their service offerings have global reach, in some ways it is more important than ever to localise delivery. This is consumer-driven, we want our digital experiences to adapt our lives, rather than adjusting our lives to consume digital content.
As a result, we must move towards a global-local approach to cloud architecture that is integrated into the network, to offer local service delivery and global reach by adding numerous ‘edge clouds’ to the web of services accessed via the internet.
Instead of linking the cloud to the network, and to applications or hardware, and devices, the cloud-integrated network will merge them, and in so doing deliver seemingly infinite capacity and zero latency, eliminating the network bottleneck that is inevitable as our need for bandwidth escalates.
The ‘things’ that generate data
The so-called Internet of Things depends on this new network. As connected as we are now, trust me, we have only just begun mapping our physical environment with digital devices – or ‘things’.
There are still many industries and businesses that must connect their legacy physical infrastructure to the virtual plane, which is exactly what IoT promises. We’re seeing an explosion in the availability of cheap, reliable and convenient IoT devices that allow small data to be gathered. Already, the use cases are extensive.
Think about lighting, temperature and electricity usage monitoring energy efficiency in the home. How about traffic and parking sensors in cities that generate income from smart utility metering?
There is more - smoke detectors and motion-triggered security surveillance in buildings, sensors monitoring stock levels in connected retail environments, asset tracking in the logistics industry, sensors embedded in equipment and positioned around factories to reduce bottlenecks in the manufacturing process, environmental monitoring in the agricultural sector… and that’s just a start.
Gartner estimates that by 2020 there will be 20.8 billion devices connected to the Internet, generating over 20 zettabytes of data. One zettabye, 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 bytes. By comparison, expressing a terabyte requires only twelve zeros.
The final shift lies in the transformation of information into intelligence, which is the unlocking of knowledge from all that Big Data.
Knowledge that transforms us
Big Data is both a technical methodology and a promise of valuable business intelligence, hidden deep within billions of documents, statistics, records and information generated daily by consumers in their interactions with enterprises.
Technology now provides enterprises with many more sources of information. Data storage costs are tending towards zero. The silicon necessary to crunch vast amounts of data is plentiful. But this is no guarantee of meaningful business intelligence, because Big Data is a powerful tool, but only in the right hands . And these hands are neither cheap, nor plentiful.
The new ideal is ‘augmented intelligence’ - amplifying our critical thinking using data and thereby creating knowledge.
Thanks to almost-real-time data generated by ‘things’ and delivered by future networks, with new tools to interpret that data, it is likely that we’ll see the invention of electronic assistants to human thinking.
What these may look like, I don’t know, but consider how sophisticated predictive text and searches are now, compared to even two years ago. Apple’s Siri and Google Now are increasingly useful as personal assistants, and they are changing the way that we search for information.
Whether technology is harnessed to drive efficiency and dynamism internally, or to extend reach into new markets – or both – the fact is that access to technology is decreasingly a barrier to business entry.
South African enterprises have an incredible opportunity to thrive in a location-independent, digital business environment. Conversely, they must also face the profound risk of ignoring what digital transformation could do for their organisations.
The fact is that business connectivity and intelligence inevitably leads to innovation and then to reinvention. Embracing relative transience and dynamism is critical to the success of enterprises in the future.