Data visualisation: a new way of making it work for you

Your data, your company’s most valuable asset. Applications use data to run but more importantly, it is the data they generate that gets used by businesses to do the analyses required to understand their customers, their competitors and their way forward.
Experts in advanced digital solution development and application concur that being able to visualise this data effectively is an intuitive way of getting this value out of it.

But it goes beyond spreadsheets, bar charts and infographics, it is part of data management.

More elaborate analysis is a function of ever-growing data volumes, but it is what happens after the analysis where challenges often occur.

Unfortunately, after data has been analysed and visualised, of the live version as it were, it gets decommissioned to be preserved. And more often than not, once it’s served its primary purpose, this preservation results in archiving and the data is forgotten about.

In recent years, companies have been rediscovering the value of so-called “stale” data – they have started getting rid of the ROT (Redundant, Obsolete, and Trivial).

As part of the overall Data Management life cycle, re-using data becomes prudent. As new forms of data visualisation are being explored, the data’s original value is exceeded.

Business Intelligence(BI) in backups

As a leader in advanced backup solution development and integration, Redstor believes that understanding business indicators remains at the heart of BI.

That’s why billions of dollars are spent annually on developing and getting the best software the market has to offer. But one has to ensure that the data is available to be analysed.

This is where data backups become integral to the use of historical data in business projections. If data backups are kept religiously (the appropriate software and with sufficient RPOs in place), it ends up being a huge encyclopaedia of your business history and can be mined for the nuggets of understanding it contains.

Several technology influences have been believed to help to shape the Cloud-based backup:

3D representations

The world of 3D data visualisation is vast, as vast as the subject matters it aims to represent: social sciences such as social networking; natural sciences such as astronomy and biology; or even 3D modelling, such as molecular structures and architectural plans.

The familiar

It seems that a 3D representation of quantitative messages isn’t so much about its accuracy as it is about allowing the viewer to transition from the first two dimensions, side and top views, into a third. This is where techniques such as 3D Scatter Plots and Network Analyses become immensely useful. The former plots data points on a three-dimensional space in order to find correlations between them. The latter assists the viewer in identifying clusters and thereby allowing them to deduce the most influential nodes.

New frontiers

As part of this revolution in understanding large data sets, innovative methods are being devised. Take for instance Cascade, developed by the R&D group at the New York Times. It tracks the inception of news-worthy posts, and shows you how they get spread through social media.

Redstor raises the issue of application in various verticals including astronomy.

The field of astronomy is equally studious, being littered with all manner of representations of the Universe – and probably also one of the biggest generators of data on Earth.

There again, the value of the data lies in the interpretation thereof – its visualisation is key.

Danie Marais is the founder of the software division at Redstor.

Your desk … ditch or destination this spring?

It is declared that Friday 30 September is Desk Day 2016. The goal is to clear-up South Africa one desk, one office and one business at a time.

In order to harness the energy of spring, you need to start with a clean slate. This will ensure that the last part of the year is productive, fresh and energised. You need to let go of all those files, magazines, emails and clutter lying around your office, which are carrying a significant weight. It is this unnecessary bulk that will keep you and your business goals stagnant, stuck and slow.

The following stats and figures are shared: The average figures when completing a productivity de-cluttering day in an office with 10 desks and staff members, will yield on average, 500kg. That is half a tonne of shredding, recycling, donations and trash that can be removed. Ask yourself, what is the financial cost of that redundant load on your bottom line?

Get into shape for Desk Day 2016 by following these10 tips for an optimal office clear-out’

1.    Decide on a specific day and get the whole office on board – make it a collaborative team build with celebratory drinks (afterwards);
2.    Designate one person in charge to organise wheelie bins, black bags, cleaning products, shredders for sensitive data, and to take pictures;
3.    Have some guidelines: Do I love, it, do I use it, does it add value to our office, business objectives and productivity levels?
4.    Each person is responsible for their own desk, emails and personal filing system;
5.    Create small teams to tackle further joint filing/data/other STUFF that’s piled up in the office;
6.    Use the following guidelines for evaluating each piece of paper, staying within corporate governance guidelines for your industry/SARS, etc;

Should I keep this – if so in paper or scanned format?
Who is responsible for filing it?
Who needs access to it down the line?
Under what file name should it be filed for ease of retrieval?

7.    Jointly decide if any systems and processes are outdated and slowing your team down; engage with IT to see how to streamline and simplify;
8.    Share your best personal phone apps/email tips with each other;
9.    Play music to keep energy in the office high and do some fun awards for the oldest item found, weirdest item, most disgusting, etc. Always keep it fun; and
10.    Weigh the amount of waste leaving the office in order to feel really great about the clear out – a wheelie bin holds approximately 40kg.  

At the end of the day, you can all feel proud to have created a clean slate, some space and energy to allow new clients, ideas and business to flow through the doors.

Kate Emmerson, the Desk Deva.

How enterprise apps are essential for true digital transformation

An organisation’s applications are the glue that makes digital transformation possible. Without an optimised, next-generation application landscape, firms will find it very difficult to compete in modern digital ecosystems, or capitalise on the advantages of rapidly shifting markets.
As technology enthusiasts, we fall in love with sleek front-end interfaces, customer-facing apps and beautiful web portals … or funky wearable tech, and the endless potential of new immersive virtual and augmented realities. We enjoy talking about the UX, and the UI. We’re fired up by the opportunities to gather ever-sharper insights of our users’, to further refine our digital touchpoints.

But, at the heart of the organisation lies its applications; and to truly revolutionise customer experiences, these back-end apps need to work in perfect harmony with the front-end interfaces.

Consider an apparel company that invites customers to design their own running shoes. This innovative move would differentiate it from its competitors, increase brand loyalty, and enable it to charge a premium for the item.

At the front end, they’ll need an app or a website with editing software to help guide users through the process of custom-design. At first glance, this might seem to be the most complex part of the value-chain. But in the background, the entire spectrum from production, logistics, quality control, and delivery will need to be radically re-defined. Enterprise applications that can mould themselves around a new concept – such as personalised shoe design – will enable an organisation to roll out this kind of attention-grabbing service to customers.

Breaking free

Modernising one’s core enterprise applications enables the organisation to break free from traditional business boundaries and constraints – such as geography, distribution reach, industry vertical, or customer segment.

Consider a bank, for example, which may have previously been confined by the limitations of its physical branch and ATM infrastructure. As applications spur an evolution towards a platform-centric business, various Fintech firms could build new digital services that ‘hook’ into the bank’s infrastructure via secure APIs. Suddenly, new markets are served, and the distribution reach for the bank’s systems is extended outwards.

Applications are, indeed, the glue that connects the core of the organisation to new kinds of partnerships (such as a bank and a Fintech player), extending its reach and accessing new supply chains and new markets.

Africa’s new direction

When we look at this in the African context, it’s becoming clear that as a continent we’re not developing in the traditional industrial way of last century’s world superpowers.

Instead, we’re evolving in a digital direction – especially in the mobile realm. Pioneering solutions like mobile money and prepaid services, born in the cradle of Africa, are now influencing markets around the globe.

Seen in this light, we understand how essential it is for African organisations to take advantage of the wonders of Cloud architectures, crowdsourcing, social business, mobile broadband and other 21st century innovations.

Many of our strategic engagements with clients, across the continent, revolve around how their businesses will evolve so that an air-conditioning company can evolve from selling air conditioning units, to selling ‘high-quality air’; or an equipment manufacturer can transition from selling machinery, to selling guarantees of output within the construction industry, for example.

This is the starting point for any discussion about application management. We need to ask ourselves how we want to evolve our businesses, and then translate that vision into a discussion about what we’ll need from an enterprise technology perspective, to turn the vision to reality.

This may not necessarily mean that all of one’s core applications must be migrated to a Cloud environment; but a focus on open standards and open architectures is generally as essential feature of application modernisation.

There are, in fact, a host of other considerations when looking at how one’s applications need to be re-modelled, to unleash new levels of dynamism. It requires a new approach to application management, new mental models, and – very importantly – an entirely new relationship between clients and ICT service providers.

Shubna Harilal is the Head: DU SAP Solutions, Systems Integration at T-Systems South Africa.

How SMAC can increase business competitiveness

Business Management Solution providers are under enormous pressure to reinvent their platforms as the upsurge of social, mobile, analytics and Cloud (SMAC) technologies threatens to make traditional enterprise resource planning (ERP) software irrelevant.
SMAC, otherwise known as the third-platform, demands that organisations put in place simpler, more agile, and modular software platforms to support their growth. IT departments are trying to create more relevant and personalised customer and employee experiences across social and mobile platforms.

According to a 2015 survey conducted by EY, 64% have stated that their IT spend will increase as compared to the previous year. That means that companies need to offer enticing collaborative interfaces that are accessible anywhere – in other words, which are social and mobile. They also need to use big data analytics to deliver relevant experiences and drive better business decisions. What’s more, they must be able to access robust, powerful computing infrastructure at an affordable cost through the Cloud.

Social

Enterprise software needs to be ready for a workforce reared on mobile apps and social media platforms. Today’s employee wants business software to be easy to use, accessible everywhere, and built for collaboration. As a result, business software interfaces must be as attractive and intuitive as those of social media apps; they must also support easy and instant collaboration with tools like Chat. The focus needs to be on the user experience. Digital natives won’t accept the older outdated interfaces of traditional ERP software.

Mobile

By the end of 2016, there will be around 10 billion mobile devices in the world. Smart devices and wearable computers are joining PCs and mobile devices in the connected workplace. Enterprises need to master delivering information, services and apps to employees, customers, and other stakeholders wherever they are. From employee and customer self-service to mobile business intelligence, people demand that they should be able to get things done and access data wherever they have an Internet connection.

Analytics

With billions upon billions of devices and users on the Internet, enterprises have access to more data than ever before to drive better decision-making. They can use this data to understand consumer behaviour, perform financial investigations, carry out predictive maintenance or drive sales optimisation.

Advanced analytics is a vital competitive edge in the SMAC era. Companies that are able to manage and analyse unprecedented volumes of data coming into their business at high speeds will be able to outpace the competition by making smarter decisions faster.

Cloud

The Cloud is becoming a reality in Africa, especially using Cloud to access the latest technology without making huge infrastructure investments, purchasing expensive software licences, or managing complex implementation cycles in-house. With software delivered as a low OPEX (Operating expense) rather than CAPEX (Capital expenditure), the Cloud drives innovation in businesses, delivers scalability for growth, and lowers the barriers to access modern business solutions.

Seizing success

Success will be realised by those organisations that don’t just react to SMAC, but migrate quickly to it. SMAC will be the foundation of all successful business applications for tomorrow’s enterprise, but a solid technology platform is essential to exploiting its potential. The solution must be a stable, single architecture solution designed for the Cloud, mobility and big data.

Keith Fenner is the Vice President at Sage X3 International.

Why you cannot afford to go without medical aid

The medical aid conversation can be a controversial one. Many look at the price tag and wonder if it is worth the expense and the inevitable hassle.
Everyone knows that medical aid comes with paperwork and admin, but few recognise that it also comes with peace of mind and reassurance.

Everyone should have a medical aid plan in place. You may be healthy and well today, but there is no way of knowing what lies ahead in your future. You could receive a serious diagnosis, be involved in a car accident or even get bumped as you cross the road. Without a medical aid plan in place, you can end up in a lot of financial and physical trouble.

Many medical institutions request a hefty upfront cash deposit when a patient arrives without medical aid. While the amount is generally a percentage of the anticipated cost of what will be done for you in hospital, it can amount to anything between R3 000 and R15 000 or more. Few people have this kind of money available to them at a moment’s notice, and you have to deal with this additional pressure during a period of stress.

A clever choice

Webb adds that medical cover can be adapted to suit each person’s personal profile and budget. Therefore, when selecting a medical aid, it’s best to examine your own risk profile and make a judgement call, especially if you have children.

For someone who is young and healthy, a hospital plan is a very reasonable option, for example. You can also be clever around how your plan is structured – if your eyesight is failing, you can make sure you are covered by an optician well in advance, if you want to grow old with your own teeth, you need to ensure you are covered for dentistry.

It is also worth being aware of the fact that you do receive tax credits on your medical aid if you are earning a taxable income. A recent amendment to the taxation law means that now everybody who contributes to medical aid receives the same tax credits, whereas previously those who paid more, benefitted more. Now it is all equalised in terms of tax, according to the number of people you pay for.

For those who pay their medical aid contributions through their employer, the deductions should be shown on their payslip. This can then be used to assess the tax credit amounts at the end of the year as reflected on their IRP5 and to ensure all these credits have been taken into account.

It is well worth monitoring your payslip to stay on track of credits and deductions.

A long-term investment

While South Africa continues on its holding pattern around the ideal of National Health Insurance, it is important for individuals to invest in their health. Purchase the best medical aid that budget allows and stay on top of its changes and regulations.

People often think that medical aid pays for everything – it doesn’t. It is a good idea to understand the rules of your medical aid so you know exactly what it does and does not cover. Also, just because you stay on the same medical aid year after year, your benefits may not stay the same so check in annually.

There is, of course, another side to the medical aid coin – the employer. Often it is they who are suddenly expected to pay an unexpected medical bill or bail an employee out of a challenging health situation. While medical aid remains the remit of the individual, it is the business which is seen as the saviour in an emergency.

I really do recommend that employers make it a condition of employment that their staff members have medical aid. That way you know they are protected in the event of an emergency, and so are you.

Cathie Webb is the Director at South African Payroll Association.

Five tips for reward professionals in today’s tough socio-political climate

The economy is battling some severe headwinds. In a volatile environment such as this, getting reward structures right is a critical test for reward professionals.
We all know that our country and its economy face enormous challenges at present. As reward professionals, we need to face the fact that these headwinds are creating a highly combustible environment across society and within companies as well. How a company rewards its employees has become one of the flashpoints in this environment—a great risk but also a great opportunity for the reward professional.

Get it wrong, and we can fan the flames of resentment into an inferno; get it right, and we can help create a corporate culture based on performance.

Let’s just remind ourselves of what these headwinds actually are, and why they make reward policies such a critical corporate issue. Perhaps the most significant is that the economy is now officially not going to grow at all this year, which will greatly exacerbate the already high levels of unemployment. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Africa has an unemployment rate of 25.4 percent, the worst of all the countries they list—and I think the figure is actually higher.

This creates a situation of huge inequality in the country, something that creates social instability. The same is true within companies, where the gap between what executives and lower paid employees receive is large and growing. The effect on corporate culture is devastating.

The most toxic ingredient of this witches’ brew has to be inflation, which has been eating into the value of everybody’s salaries but, of course, hitting the lowest earners hardest. Our official rate of inflation is six percent but that does not reflect the reality of the man in the street—food and transport inflation, two of the biggest items in his or her basket, have been growing much faster. For many people, inflation is much, much higher than six percent.

In other words, somebody who has been getting a CPI-linked raise every year is having the actual spending power eroded quite dramatically. In the Internet Age, in which transparency is a standard of governance, the mere fact that the CEO is earning millions in options and bonuses eats like acid into peoples’ minds.

Equally important, companies, like nations, need great leaders to be successful. CEOs and other executives carry an enormous burden of responsibility and expectation and the new Companies Act makes them personally liable for any decisions that go wrong. All of these factors mean they can and do command very high rewards.

Against this backdrop, it is clear that reward professionals have their work cut out to create a reward structure that properly incentivises everybody in the company—but it’s never been more important to get it right. There are many issues to be considered, but these must be the top five:

Improve your business acumen

You need to understand how the business works in order to create the right structure. And, in these times, it has to be done without just spending lots of money.

Focus on the long term

Ensure that pay for performance schemes are closely linked to the company’s actual performance—with a focus on the long term. Too often, executives take decisions that have negative long-term consequences in order to meet short-term targets. For example, reducing head count may help meet cost-reduction goals but jeopardise the company’s sustainability.

Be on top of the effect of inflation on lower level employees

Get a good fix on the salaries at the bottom of the pay scale, and the effect of inflation on these employees. As noted above, one has to be realistic about what inflation actually is, which means considering what these people spend their money on. Because this is not happening, we are seeing more and more of what I call “in-work poverty”—people whose salaries do not allow them to live decently.

Work on a strategy to reduce inequality within the company

As I have argued, inequality is dangerous. Reward professionals should play a leading role in helping to reduce it within the corporate environment.

Make sure the optics work

By this I mean that the focus should not be on what is legal, but what makes sense—or looks good—to all stakeholders. One of the key elements here will be to communicate the rationale behind the reward structure and what those who receive high rewards did to improve the company’s performance.

Dr Mark Bussin is the Executive Committee Member, South African Reward Association (SARA) and Chairman of 21st Century.

Are you going “through something” or “to something”?

It is a fact of life that, regardless of our position in life, whether we’re smart or not, rich or poor, we will all face challenges in this life. It’s how we deal with them and what we learn from them that determines what we become.

Challenges in life come in all shapes and sizes. Some have to deal with health issues in themselves or in family members – partners, children, brothers, sisters or parents. Others face emotional issues such as depression or a lack of self-esteem. Still others face relationship challenges such as rejection, a lack of love, betrayal, abandonment, conflict or abuse.

Many people think money sorts out all problems in life and that, if they just had money, 90% of their problems would soon be a thing of the past. That is however just a myth. While money certainly helps to make life more comfortable and convenient, it does not provide protection against life’s challenges.

So, if money isn’t the answer to all of our problems, what is?

The answer to that lies in the grammar you use – which preposition you live your life by.

If you live in terms of a “through”, you will always be struggling with some sort of challenge. People who live on the basis of what they’re going through see their problems as an end in themselves rather than as part of a process.

When you only think in terms of going through things, you have no fixed idea of what you’re moving towards, so you never have any intention of finding a solution to your challenge so that you can move on to a goal you have set yourself – something you’re moving to.

Don’t for one moment think that I am seeing challenges as a negative. On the contrary. We learn some of our most profound lessons in the midst of the biggest challenges we face.

During my primary and high school careers, as a skinny youngster at a small town boys-only school which educated children from all levels of society, I was bullied quite badly by bigger boys looking to compensate for their own sense of disempowerment. Towards the end of my high school career, however, I learnt how to handle those bullies, not by meeting them with brute force but by outthinking them at their own game.

Believe it or not, today, I am extremely grateful that I was bullied – the skills I learnt from handling those school yard bullies literally saved my life many decades later when I was confronted by three armed men in my garage when I arrived home one night.

Recognising that armed men are simply bullies in another form, I quickly called on those almost forgotten skills I learned courtesy of my high school bullies and switched into “handle bully” mode. Using these and other techniques I had learned along life’s journey, I was able to get myself and my family through the experience unscathed.

I do not make light of other people’s experience at the hands of bullies, nor of my own experience with the armed robbers – I hope I never have to face a situation like that ever again in my life – but the point I wish to make is that sometimes, when we go through something, it’s so that we can go to something.

At a simplistic level, because I had gone through the bullying, I was able to go to the rest of my as-yet-unlived life. The way I see it, I got a second chance at life and I am eternally grateful for this. My life could have ended that evening and I would not have gone “to” anything ever again.

If you’re going through a tough time at the moment, don’t allow yourself to get stuck in it. Keep your chin up and do your best to deal with the challenge and, above all, learn as much as you can from what you’re going through because you never know what it will help you go to.

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He assists executives to develop new generation leadership skills, manage their age as an asset, and achieve self-mastery so that they can lead with greatness and agility in an increasingly disruptive world.

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