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Tue Oct 21 00:47:07 SAST 2014

It's okay to take your toys to work

Arthur Goldstuck | 18 February, 2013 15:45
Samsung Electronics' Galaxy tablet computers are displayed at a store in Seoul. File photo.
Image by: KIM HONG-JI / REUTERS

With the dramatic evolution of consumer technology in recent years, it is easy to imagine we are living in a science fiction future - only to be brought back to earth by service providers or employers still trying to keep ancient steam engines going.

That is finally changing. Large corporations have caught on to the benefits of the "bring your own device" (BYOD) trend, with employees using their own tablets, laptops or smartphones in preference to those the company provides.

Risks in connecting personal devices to a company network used to keep the toys at home. But once chief executives began showing off their iPads at work, the writing was on the firewall.

Fortunately, another technology has evolved to catch up with the complexity of managing systems, people and devices. "Cloud computing" is quietly transforming the way we work and the way companies are run.

Google showed that company mail could be run through an online mail service, Gmail. The cloud allowed Microsoft to reinvent itself, with the cost-effective and sleek SkyDrive online storage system. Significantly for a world hooked to Microsoft's Office software, the cloud made possible an online version called Office 365.

Documents and devices are only the entry point to vast amounts of data and complex operations. Most big organisations run operations on software called enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. These rely on complex databases of information and even more complex procedures.

SAP has just announced one of its biggest ERP revamps. Flagship product SAP Business Suite now runs on a software platform called HANA, which loads data "in-memory"; it can be accessed live, producing instant reports and analysis that once took hours. It is also accessible in the cloud, making a lot of data more accessible as well as more versatile.

The software can be applied in almost any field: health records, concert ticketing or motor racing. And not just theoretically. The McLaren Formula 1 racing team uses it to crunch data on a car's performance and guide drivers on adjustments - throughout a race.

"I can't emphasis strongly enough how important this is to us strategically," says the chief operating office for SAP Africa, Derek Kudsee. "HANA will underpin everything we do. It's implicit in every single technology we have and in all future technologies we are planning."

ERP is no magic bullet, though, and smaller players can still fill the gaps - if they keep evolving.

For example, small Sandton firm HCTech has developed a product called erNavigator for companies to link employee databases to labour disputes, ethics breaches, employment policy violation and compliance management. It also plugs into major ERP systems.

It is 10 years old, but in the past year has had its greatest evolution yet, says director Mike Fisher.

  • Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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