Technology

Category Archives:Technology

A Caribbean Perspective on ICT

ICT today has evolved to become not only the dominant institution in society (courtesy of the Internet), but also manifest in a form that we can readily identify with as and within our communities (i.e. social media). Add to that the compelling usage numbers, distributed globally, and the result is a reality that no entrepreneur can ignore.

 

There is a growing presence of technology across the dimensions of revenue generation, profit optimisation and quality attainment and sustainability. More and more today we are witnessing the use of technology to engender innovation of our products and processes within organisations on one part, and to support the innovation of products, processes and approaches by individuals on the other.

 

ICT now presents a strategy-option that can empower the organisation to entrench competitive advantages of the organisation in an environment of growing participation and integration. In fact, it is changing the conversation from sustaining competitive advantages to pursuing more temporary transient advantages, driven by the use of technology.

 

ICT Forms

We see ICT in a very visible form in mobile computing devices – from smart phones to laptops to tablets – and its ready availability is indicative of potential reach and access. Within organisations, our ICT is pressing on, slowly, as devices are more distributed even though they may represent a new interface for old processes and perpetuating inefficiencies.

 

On the software side, cloud computing and software access via an internet browser requires less up front capital expenditure on an ICT infrastructure. The rise of open source platforms – many of which provide global standards of performance at zero cost, means that we can activate capabilities for our organisations and ventures with greater efficiency and the accompanying diminishing need for pirated merchandise. The rise of social media – in our environment within concentrated platforms such as Facebook and Youtube means that we have increasing opportunities to meet our targets where they are, and at the same time benchmark our competitors. It is estimated that two in every three internet users in Trinidad and Tobago are on facebook (67%), which translates to two of every five people in the population.

 

People and ICT Use

In a world of seven billion people, we are currently at an estimated 2.5 billion internet users – just about one in three people are online. Our Caribbean region is a microcosm of this trend, with penetration estimated at roughly 32%. In Trinidad and Tobago, we currently stand at about 53% penetration – one in every two persons is online. Statistics for other countries in the region vary significantly – higher and lower, so while it serves as a useful average overall the realities and the expectations can be very different on the ground.

 

This global phenomenon bears a lot of growth capacity, and sector studies are reflecting this reality with many growth areas across industries being technology or more specifically internet-related. Consider for instance the drivers of growth across banking, retail merchandise, materials and equipment sourcing, trade in services, education, media and entertainment, telecoms and even ICT as an economic sector, along with their contributions to national income, and the picture becomes clear.

 

Connectivity and social interaction notwithstanding, individual attitudes vary significantly and we tend to view ICT and computing technology either with fear (of the technology or our capabilities in using it), mistrust (seeing technology as a competing resource for labour), or enthusiasm (either as a tool that can yield results, or an instrument that defines our individual brand). Some persons are not adverse to technology per se, but still have a preference and more confidence in seeing things ‘in black and white’. Except for status updates, of course. I am not sure that building comparative advantages in social media and its management would generate the necessary volumes and variance in income streams to engender competitiveness or development.

 

To add to this, as upcoming generations enter the workforce, their preferred destinations would invariably be those organisations that recognise the power of technology as a tool and willingly provide it to their staff. This is not difficult to relate to, since immediately, we as employees or service providers would not tolerate inefficient manual payroll systems on a monthly basis – at least not for long.

 

We recognise within other institutions that the tone is set at the top, and leadership bears responsibility for the direction and culture of the organisation. The same would apply to our organisations, and within the context of ICT. As entrepreneurs, business owners and executives, we need to overcome our apprehension of technology and build our competence and confidence in using the resource, even as we strive to diffuse the message throughout our organisations and reengineer our processes to support efficient and effective technology deployment.

 

Innovation and Growth

ICT development has been such that it is now available to everyone, regardless of scale or scope. Some even question its strategic value – seeing it rather as a utility and necessity than a basis for differentiation. Perhaps this is why the emphasis has now shifted to innovation and creativity – that we have all supporting infrastructure available, do we now have the imagination to redefine our revenue models and value propositions to be able to compete against our global counterparts? Can we reengineer our organisations to compete on our turf or theirs?

 

Overall, there is still need to build an appreciation for technology as a resource on one part, and build an appreciation for the information that it provides on the other part – information which we have been engaging in more inefficient ways through other channels, historically. In achieving this, we become poised to realise real growth from the contemporary ICT ecosystem that can so easily be interwoven with our innate cultural propensities. As individuals we are already engaged. As organisations we must ensure that we are. And judging by the volume of whatever.com shipments that populate our couriers’ shelves – certainly our customers think so.

 

In concluding I am reminded of a quote by Sir Richard Branson: “Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That’s always been my philosophy of business…”

MANAGING TECHNOLOGY AS A STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS

Despite the many terms used across literature and practice, for the willing or open-minded, the underlying contribution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is simple to understand and increasingly central to all that we do today as professionals in a discipline or as organisations creating value within an ecosystem.

 

Technology today has conveniently converged into a largely integrated form that makes managing it as a resource a bit easier, although with some accompanying risks. And like the introduction of a resource to an equation, it brings with it its own challenges and demands that we as decision-makers and resource-managers need to reconcile as we strive to succeed in today’s environment.

 

The simple framework of dissecting our technology into its component Hardware, Software, Networks, Data and Risk dimensions allows us to not only consider the specifications across each dimension that would contribute to our operating demand, but also give us the basis to explore and frame developments and emerging trends as it fits to our reality. This framework proves useful when we consider as an example the integration of cameras into internet-enabled phones – which can aid us in our inventory management even as it reshapes the form and format for news reporting sectors.

 

We recognise that ICT today is the dominant institution in society (courtesy of the Internet), and serves to connect us within our ecosystem or communities through social media. The dispersion and usage – and the potential that exists – cannot be ignored. That 3 in 10 people globally are online, or that 2 of those 3 are on the popular social media site Facebook, gives us the opportunity to connect with a sizeable community, and highlights the growth potential that accompanies the use of internet-based cannels of commerce, marketing and resource-engagement. That more connectivity is via mobile devices also serves to reinforce real-time connectivity with fewer accompanying compromises to performance.

 

How is this reality being incorporated in our planning and projections? It would be useful to consider – on a sector basis – the potential sustaining vs. disruptive technologies that can serve to either support our competitive positioning or alter the way business is done. One only has to look at the impact of Apple’s iTunes on the music distribution sector to understand the probabilities.

 

It must be recognised that other mentionable trends are also being deployed to aid us in achieving or even redefining our standards of productivity and performance. From automation which marginalises human error on routine tasks to analytics and ‘Big Data’ which give us the ready supply of information that can transform the quality of our roles and decisions, we recognise the potential applications in job functions behind the desk or in the field.

 

In the same way, we can consider Social Media and Mobile Computing penetration that is not only impacting our engagement of external stakeholders and reshaping organisational forms and structures, but also impacting directly on our ability to innovate our products, service delivery and processes of creating and sustaining value.

 

Overall, the zeal to unleash technology might be tempered by the apprehension onset by the speed of change and the vagaries of technical jargon, but as Peter Drucker reminded us, “Today, knowledge… controls access to opportunity and advancement.” Simple frameworks aid us to unleash this resource for our benefit and for those we serve.

Technology and Millennials – An Inside View

The following is a contribution by Ms. Sasha Soogrim – Media and Technology Analyst at panCaribbean.org, and posits her reflection on the significance of technology to one of the Millennial Generation.

Technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purpose especially in industry. It is amazing I found something that was hard work but I enjoyed very much. I was introduced to basic computer skills in form 1 of Pleasantville Secondary School. To my surprise I was  immediately interested in the different areas of technology.

As an 18 year old woman, who was newly introduced to the world of technology and its fast evolving nature; it’s amazing to see how the humans went from sticks and stones to iPhone and Wi-Fi. That’s when I figured out I want to further my education in computer technology.

What I really understand technology to be is the improvement of human life. Where we invent a more efficient and less time consuming way to improve anything. For example, from using stone, clay, charcoal to write, we improved it to pencils, pens, ink, now we use the computer to type and print our words. I know that finding a way to do things faster, producing more of a product or ensuring that things can be done without mistakes can be used to increase productivity and revenue. For example, a company can now produce over 1500 bottles of water a day as opposed to 500 a day hand filled or instead of having someone write 5 copies of a document when we can use a copier/printer to do it without mistakes and less time.

digital worldFor me, the world of technology is fascinating, it’s like a whole new world of improved equipment to help make life easier. To see how we can make robotic arms and micro cameras it’s really surprising how far in technology we have improved. I saw a really interesting video where two full bodied robots were playing table tennis. Also to know that our world is yet to be further improved by several new technology on the market. I personally think that the world has improved immensely in technology. A lot of everyday tasks has been made easier to do with technology. For example, toilets that flush themselves so it’s more sanitary, alarm systems where a person does not need to be present at the compound, hearing aids to help the hearing impaired individuals, a pair of glasses to help the vision impaired individuals, prosthetic limbs to help those who lost limbs and many more.

I think it can be both positive and negative to the world. Positive things such as chairs to sit on & beds to sleep on so we would not have to use the floor, refrigerators to preserve our foods (raw & cooked), microwaves to heat cold food etc. It’s also scary to know that some technology can be of danger to us- negative things like weapons of destruction, chemical toxins that can harm living things, pollution that harms the environment and much more.

I am involved in the world of technology from my everyday life. From my fridge to the microwave, the television, the internet… soo many devices we use that are technologically advanced from the original inventions. I myself can only go 1 maybe 2 days without my phone but to go without my everyday essentials it would be extremely hard especially if you do not have water in the taps, no toilets, no internet, no library, no cars etc.

Computer Technology has a big part to play in my job. I’m a media technician. I promote businesses via internet, newspapers, advertisements, flyers, websites etc. I have my fair share of project management to do but it is fun when I have a new project like making videos, making websites, even just editing videos or recording radio programs. All exciting things to do and the level of technology is interesting especially learning how to use it. It is interesting to get to know the world of computer technology before actually studying it. Yes, it is a step into the unknown world but my opinion is working hands-on in this field you learn a lot more. It is always more fun and educational when you have a hands-on experience than sit with a book to read about it.

My plans for the future is to further my studies in Software Engineering. I also plan to focus on researching technology and the different areas such as construction, manufacturing, information & communication, energy and power, transportation, medical & bio-related, agriculture & environmental. My interest grows rapidly in the area of technology as it is fascinating and has captured my attention. And I intend to quench my thirst for knowledge in this particular field.

Sasha is an Analyst – Media and Technology Projects at Professional Alliance Network (Caribbean) Ltd. She can be contacted at ssoogrim@pancaribbean.org

The Future of Management in a Technology World

Going by definitions, which are necessary but really aren’t that popular, we know management to be a job function or task set that is responsible for planning, coordinating, enabling and control of activities within the organisation. Mintzberg saw it as a cluster or roles that have to be assumed. All allude to a science of effort – at least in theory. Management has not yet been recognised as a profession in many of our jursidictions.

From a practical viewpoint, it is even less structured, since we see management as a position within organsiations, not a profession or specific skill set – with good reason; being a position, anyone sitting in that coveted spot (the corner office?) is a manager, regardless of whether that individual has any of the required abilities to [plan, coordinate, enable and control] or not. In fact, I have seen in some instances the only real skill being brought to the management position is complete compliance with those higher up the ladder. No room for planning etc. here – you have one job, and that is to tow the line.

Notwithstanding, the role or task-set spans the the entire gamut of planning through control, and manifests within organisation indifferent layers across the various functional and location divisions – straddling in each the layers of supervisory, management and executive positions. These we have heard in the context of operadigital world 2tional, tactical and strategic level issues, in ascending degrees of importance respectively (if we go by the accompanying remuneration as a guide).

In terms of management roles today into tomorrow, we are seeing more and more the diffusion of intelligence technologies playing a supporting and in a growing number of instances an ‘advisory’ role to managers’ job functions and task-requirements. Our enterprise-wide applications are able to share information in a process that renders time and location irrelevant. The emergence of drone and robotic automation processes within operational functions is encroaching on large segments of supervisory roles. Programmed flags or notifications against established performance standards are rendering reporting and human intervention in the process of supervision comparatively expensive, inefficient and to a large extent unnecessary. It is driving firms to be flatter and leaner in their operating structures today. And that was only the beginning.

Looking ahead, the advent of Big Data, Analytics, Business Intelligence or any other term used to refer to data-intensive artificial intelligence, is poised to only amplify this trend, and distill the diffusion of technology further upwards through the layers of management-oriented positions. That software can on one part compile, collate and articulate data from various divisions in incomparable time is profound, and on the other part personalise and customise communication to various individuals – again in real time – on demand, is equally important to note. The supporting infrastructural developments – cloud and mobile computing in particular – are poised to deliver this intelligence to central decision makers as required. In fact, automated reporting posits a degree of consistency that is rarely emulated by human beings.

The computer-based learning systems – typically algorithms today – are moving into the space of assessing data, making decisions, executing automated functions based on the decisions, providing further detail and information access to persons using the system, and recording (and reporting) on performance and exceptions.

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/So how can this work in the management arena? In a pool of 5000 job applicants, a software can filter academic qualifications and performance, past experience, social media activities and other data streams to short-list candidates. It can provide online, remote simulations to prospective candidates and rank them accordingly. It can drive the orientation and training components to which candidates are exposed. With a pool of historical data on performance of different persons on a variety of tasks, an algorithm can select the best persons for the performance of a particular job based on their past experiences and performance on related tasks. Work schedules, performance registers and quota management are all automated computerised systems with which the candidate can interact and report. Meetings are already virtual, and the supporting documentation and ‘tangibles’ are accessible synchronously or asynchronously by anyone with approved access (Access is automatically assigned by employee rank and job description).

Financial, information access and even facility resources can be allocated (or booked) automatically on job assignment per candidate. Their performances are tracked by a system against milestones and comparative benchmarks. Bonuses, penalties and issuing of payments can be automatically configured and channel resources to the supporting structures (perhaps an employee’s bank account or company-issued credit card). At any (every?) point throughout execution the response expectations and projections based on the established plans and objectives (and environmental conditions) can be evaluated and adjusted – with the resulting changes communicated to the affected staff on their mobile devices.

All this to say that there are many management-centric functions which are being supported (or driven) by technology today. Which would be good news for larger organisations seeking to become more agile and responsive to market dynamics. It is also expected to be welcomed by entrepreneur-led and small and growing enterprises, if Greiner’s challenges throughout his Life Cycle Model is anything to go by. Firms facing severe shortage of skilled labour, or economies with an ageing workforce would also stand to benefit from this trend.

However, the shift is expected to be gradual from all indications. And it is currently difficult to see it as a replacement entirely – what with issues of diversity, capta, intuition and creativity still being core human tasks within management (or any) job functions. Yet from considering the tasks associated with management functions and the deployment of technology, the relationship seems set to become only more intertwined.

I wonder if IBM’s Watson would agree?

Faheem Mohammed is the Managing Director of Professional Alliance Network (Caribbean) Ltd., where he serves as Lead Consultant for Strategy, Leadership and Technology portfolios. He can be emailed at fmohammed@pancaribbean.org