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The CTO of an ICT distributor plays a very different role from one within the industrial or financial sectors. It involves identifying new technologies and discovering how they can be shaped through a distribution channel and enabled for resellers to consume, within an ecosystem.
“Unlike other industries, being the CTO of an ICT distributor is not about looking for new technologies for your organisation to use for its own benefit, but about identifying ground-breaking technologies that we can supply to the channel for them to better service their customers,” says Jacques Malherbe, CTO of leading ICT value-added distributor, Axiz.
And this isn’t a simple task, he says. “It means digging through mountains of information. Remember, everyone thinks that their solution is the answer, or the the ‘silver bullet’ that will be game changing.”
He says we are in an era digital transformation, that comes with previously unimagined benefits, but also new and great challenges. “Disruptive trends and technologies are challenging the old guard. At times, it’s a question of holding one’s breath and scratching around in the dark a little bit to figure out which of these trends will survive, and which ones will still make sense in a year or two or even three from now.”
Figuring out which technologies will survive and which will fall by the wayside, takes years of experience, he says. “I’ve been in the industry a long time. This has taught me to see which trend lines have evolved. Remember, there are surface currents and there are deep currents, and it’s crucial to be able to distinguish between the two. If you react too quickly to what turns out to be a surface current, it could end up costing you a lot of money.”
Another thing, says Malherbe, which is key to making the right technology decisions, is listening to the market, listening to end users, and listening to business. “If something does not make business sense, you can be sure it is merely a fad, or a bubble that is busy developing. You need to question how this particular technology can translate into value for the business. This could be either in terms of costs or efficiency, or strategic advantage – but it needs to be in some form where its value can be clearly articulated to the board and to customers.”
There are several technologies that Malherbe believes will do exactly that. “The industry has become fatigued by the cloud conversation. There is a general consensus that we are at the point where the ‘de facto’ way we will consume technology in the future, will be in a hybrid environment. The cloud is a massive part of that – if we examine all its benefits, such as flexibility, scalability, the additional services, the cost advantage, accessibility – we know that all of these will translate into value for businesses.”
“But it’s not the ‘secret sauce’,” he adds. “The ‘secret sauce’ is data. I have heard data referred to as oil, I prefer to think of data as water. Once you burn oil it is gone forever. Water, on the other hand, is a sustainable resource that continually provides life to the organisation – and it can be mined.”
For this reason, he sees technologies that centre around data as becoming more prominent in the years to come. “We need to find ways to view, access and mine data more effectively, as well as find ways to automate insights back into the business. To solve these challenges, I believe data technologies, and the intelligence we glean from data, are going to be a game changer in the future.”
The next big thing, he says, is ICT’s foray into the industrial sector. “Much in the same way we saw the old analogue PABXs and voice services make way for IP, we will see the same IP taking over in the industrial sector. However, it comes with security risks. Most industrial control systems were never designed to connect to the Internet, and their remote locations often makes manual updating and patching very difficult. In addition, there are implementation considerations and risks, given the current, very stable technologies that have functioned effectively for decades at a time.”
He says the industrial sector also comes with a very dusty or ‘uncarpeted’ environment, that has never been a traditional home for ICT, and has the potential to open up a slew of new opportunities for ICT practitioners to begin working within these industries.
The third and final trend that Malherbe sees as coming to the fore, has to do with connectivity, and how connectivity technologies, be it 5G or one of the other lighter technologies, have been affected by the advent of the Internet of things, and the connected or ‘sensored’ world.
“There are billions of devices and sensors talking to us, and to each other over the Internet, and all of them need to be connected. However, the old, traditional ways of connecting, are either unable to reach the remote areas where they are now required to go, such as the isolated environments where we find mining and manufacturing concerns, or the costs are prohibitive. I believe we will witness an evolution in the way we connect the world, and a variety of new services will be born out of that.”
He believes these areas – data, connectivity and the industrial sector – will present opportunities, and says Axiz is already actively involved in all three, and has begun building competencies around them.
“Axiz has found its niche as a true value-added enterprise distributor. We focus on identifying and delivering total solutions that our customers need, and injecting real value by building ecosystems to meet all their requirements,” he concludes.
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