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South African business leaders need to rethink how they see those in “technical” roles within their organizations according to Deloitte KwaZulu-Natal Technology Leader, Saleem Cassim.

This comes in the wake of Deloitte’s recently released 2015 Deloitte Technology Trends Report that examines the trends that could disrupt the way business is done within the next 18 to 24 months.

He points out that technology is impacting on South African businesses whether more traditionally minded businesses want to admit it or not. That’s why the technology manager or IT director of old is evolving into the Chief Integration Officer (CIO) of the future.

This CIO needs to be elevated up the ranks and included in the executive decision making structures as soon as possible. This will enable him or her to play a critical role in integrating often disparate technologies that will be critical to the direction and ultimate success of a specific enterprise.

Cassim says that, at present, some CIO’s are likely to be seen as the folk who “keep the lights on” and ensure that basic business processes are working.

But, at ground level, the new age CIO needs to pull together all the technologies used within an enterprise. Often, different departments within a single company can be using disparate technology or systems that overlap.

“CIOs should view their responsibilities through an enterprise-wide lens to help ensure critical domains like digital, analytics and cloud aren’t spurring redundant, conflicting or compromised investments within departmental or functional silos. In this shifting landscape of opportunities and challenges, CIOs can be not only the connective tissue but also the driving force for integration,” he says. 

Strategically aligned with this is another tech trend identified in the report – ambient computing.

The tremendous growth of embedded sensors and connected devices in the home, business and the world at large is opening up numerous opportunities. However, translating these into business impact requires focus, warns Cassim. 

Again, the responsibility falls to the CIO.  “This entails purposefully bringing smarter things together with analytics, security, data and integration platforms to make the disparate parts work seamlessly with each other. Ambient computing is the backdrop of sensors, devices, intelligence and agents that can put the internet of things to work,” he explains.

It also goes beyond the internet of things to include what he describes as computing happening behind the scenes and seemingly happening on its own without user intervention. An example is online checking in for air travel which is already seeing smart phones that have recorded flight times automatically organizing transport to the airport and even facial recognition software replacing the traditional boarding pass procedures.

Locally, he points out, ambient computing is extremely relevant. “The message is that the technology works. In some industrial environments, we are finding the technology is at play already. In Africa, the technology and skills are already place and we believe many organizations are already completing proof of concepts.”

However, the flip side is that many organizations are deferring investment in favour of technologies with more immediate, short term benefits.

“But we believe that machine to machine applications and telemetry are essential for business in the near future. As its value is derived over time, early stage experimentation is highly recommended, particularly for sectors where telemetry and machine-to-machine applications are prevalent,” he says.

Both the changing role of the CIO and the evolution of ambient computing are resulting in a fundamental shift when it comes to the Information Technology (IT) worker of the future, notes Cassim. He explains that, with millennials entering the workforce, their expectations of employment and how technology is used within the organization will mean human resources and company structures need to evolve. 

The 2015 Deloitte Technology Trends Report reflects that, globally, scarcity of technical talent is a concern across all sectors with many industries facing talent gaps along multiple fronts. The legacy skilled workforce is retiring and organizations are scrambling for needed skills in the latest emerging disruptive technologies. To tackle these challenges, companies need to cultivate a new species of IT worker with habits, incentives and skills that are inherently different from those in place today.

But locally, according to Cassim, existing human resource systems are not ready for this change.