Systems of Things: The Building Blocks for the Next Internet Revolution
By Pfungwa Serima, Chief Executive Officer of SAP Africa
The promise of the connected world we live in is an alluring one; someday, we will be healthier because our doctors will have access to all the data they need about our health, our vehicles and appliances will monitor themselves and will let us know when it is time to service them, and we will never have to make a decision without the data we need to make smart decisions.
Thanks to the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), that day is coming sooner than you think. There are more connected devices then people in the world today. By 2020, it is estimated there will be 50 billion connected devices globally.
However, businesses and society will not benefit from connected devices if there are no systems in place to gather, analyse and gain insights from the massive volumes of data generated by these connected devices.
Let’s take a step back here. We spent last half of the 20th Century building what Geoffrey Moore calls Systems of Record, the structured transactional data that is the core of every business. These Systems of Record capture every dimension of our lives, be it financial transactions, human resources, order processing, inventory management, customer relationship management, supply chain management, product lifecycle management or more. These Systems of Record have paved the way for enormous economic expansion over the last 50 years.
With the explosion of the internet in the last few years, Enterprise IT saw a shift towards Systems of Engagement, encompassing the edge of the business, leveraging social networks, and processing loosely structured data that is constantly changing. This shift towards Systems of Engagement resulted in more agile business processes, seizing new business opportunities at the edge of the business.
These systems depend on gathering and analysing large volumes of data from various sources in real-time to generate actionable insights for fast decision-making. For instance, a clothing retailer can now offer highly personalised real-time discount offers to online shoppers after analysing their shopping behaviour, social media sentiment, likes and dislikes.
Today, we are witnessing another massive revolution where enterprises will need to build Systems of Things in parallel to Systems of Engagement to harness the Internet of Things. As the previously dumb devices on the edge become intelligent and get connected, Systems of Things will be needed to source, capture, analyse, predict and act on the data in real time.
A recent report by Morgan Stanley predicts that the Internet of Things could be an opportunity for several large industries, driving potential changes in business models and significant cost savings.
What does this mean for us in Africa?
I believe it’s a great opportunity for us not only to create entire new business models for companies, moving the value proposition from products to services, but to use technology to make a real impact at socio-economic level.
In the utility sector, Africa’s utility companies need to meet the growing demands of urbanising populations and booming industrial sectors. IoT can help with smart metering and distribution, to be able to accurately measure and predict demand and generation.
In agriculture, we could be using IoT technologies to improve yields. In healthcare, there’s a real opportunity to use IoT to use our human capital more effectively, and deliver better services. In the capital goods sector, we could be streamlining industrial processes and helping marginal mining operations do more with less.
What do African companies need to do to take advantage of this?
For the Internet of Things, and billions of connected devices, to become useful, we need Systems of Things – and luckily, the foundational blocks of this are the same as those of Systems of Engagement and Systems of Records: big data, fast data, predictive analytics, cloud, and mobile.
If African companies get these building blocks right, and are able to embed their Internet of Things applications directly into their existing business processes, they will be able to chart their own destiny.
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”