Oracle South Africa – Seeing the Future

Oracle Corporation is a multinational computing giant. In 2015, it was the second largest software developer in the world by revenue, behind Microsoft. As with many tech multinationals, Oracle has recently moved into smart industry and the Internet of Things (IoT), technologies finding plenty of takers among African industrial sectors. The company is also a major player in the cloud application and platform service sector, which is revolutionising the African business world.

 Recently, Oracle South Africa appointed a new country manager, Kholiwe Makhohliso, to oversee operations at the company. Oracle’s African branch is a key player in the continent’s burgeoning cloud internet scene, developing and deploying new applications of cloud technology across in both the public and private sectors. The firm’s focus at present is helping African clients embrace the future, fostering innovation and development through cloud computing, industrial IoT and data-driven analysis.

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Oracle is well-known for its in-depth research and analysis programme which tracks and studies underlying trends and developments in the tech, business and industrial sectors worldwide. It is one of the major players involved in the emerging “Industry 4.0” concept, the idea that industrial development is on the verge of a revolution not seen since the mass industrialisation of Europe in the late 1700s, the development of production lines and mass production in the early 1900s and the automation of industry in the 1990s.

Industry 4.0 is the idea that logistical and industrial businesses and networks can be upgraded significantly with smart applications of sensors, interconnectivity, full automation and data exchange. Born out of a German think-tank in 2011, Industry 4.0 proposes a future industrial model that works smarter, not harder. Its core tenets are interoperability between machines, systems and factories, information transparency that allows the creation of a virtual copy of the physical machinery, advanced support systems that help operators solve problems and enhance operations and decentralised decision-making that lets autonomous systems make decisions on their own. It promises improved productivity and vast savings in efficiency.

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Oracle’s other major focus is in the field of integrated cloud applications and platform services. Even less developed regions like much of Africa are rapidly moving onto a cloud-based computing format, essentially outsourcing much of the processing power and storage capacity needed to run a business to external storage facilities.

Oracle offers an integrated array of applications, databases, servers, storage and cloud technologies to help empower modern businesses by providing them with the flexibility necessary to stay ahead in the modern commercial environment. The company provides public and private cloud models, allowing businesses to keep sensitive data on site while outsourcing less sensitive operations to the best possible server cluster to meet their needs.

The applications of cloud technology are extensive and becoming increasingly necessary to meet the needs of evolving markets and new forms of commerce. Mobile, decentralised workforces, increasingly digitally fluent customers, new and unprecedented security challenges and an endless, accelerating stream of new developments and technologies mean that businesses need to be flexible above all else. Oracle can help them do just that, removing or reducing reliance on costly, increasingly rapidly obsolescent hardware.

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Africa presents a unique cloud computing environment when compared to the more developed Western and Asian markets that first began to adopt it wholesale. In many cases the adoption of the cloud has been top-down, with several African governments moving to cloud-based governance systems for many of the more portable aspects of their administration.

Cloud governance offers attractive efficiency improvements, and incentivises development of internet infrastructure, opening the way for commercial cloud computing. It also helps with Africa’s endemic software piracy problem by making it more convenient and reliable for businesses to use legitimate versions of their software that allow them full access to features and support.

Oracle’s cloud applications have a wide range of uses across both the public and commercial computing environments. One more futuristic application is the Smart City initiative, a variety of programs that can run everything from transport, safety and delivery infrastructure to civil departments and government administration, using greater access to data and more importantly analytics at all levels to maximise the efficiency of urban service delivery.

Other programmes like Modern 311 are designed to help bridge the gap between the government and the people, allowing government transactions to be done online via desktop or mobile platforms, providing 24/7 automated support and vastly reducing the need for extensive and costly support staff. Emergent technologies like VR and chatbots look set to reduce the need for human interaction, and as such reduce call times, waiting times, call dropping and cost per support call for companies. Efficiency can be increased further by collating data from previous calls, ensuring that all possible information about a customer is available for human or bot agents to use and act upon.

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Africa’s online retail sector is growing in leaps and bounds as mobile data internet access explodes across the continent. As Africa’s largest online shopping malls like Jumia, Mall for Africa establish themselves properly, they are in a good position to leverage artificial intelligence for retail. Oracle is one of the thought leaders in the retail AI field, going beyond bots that merely recommend items for shoppers based on their browsing activity and moving on to both intelligent learning to improve customer experience and one-on-one chatbots that revolutionise customer communication.

Oracle’s work with government clients presents a major opportunity for commercial businesses looking to utilise cloud computing in their everyday operations as well. Africa’s relatively low level of development in the business IT field means that there’s room for new and existing businesses to be much more flexible and innovative than more established international competitors.

Companies and startups will be less hidebound by conventional wisdom, able to make a fresh start with cloud technology rather than being held back hybridisation requirements with legacy systems or older hardware-based business and management software. As with other tech areas like mobile data networks, renewable energy and high-tech housing, African companies can reap the benefits of decades of development elsewhere by immediately installing the latest versions of proven and tested cloud technologies.

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Oracle has offices and representatives across Africa, with two each in Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa and further presences in Algeria, Kenya, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Morocco and Mauritius. The company has had a presence in Africa for more than two decades.

Recently, the company opened an office in Abuja in Nigeria to expand its footprint to the country and drive cloud adoption across Nigeria’s public sector to enhance its local capabilities and service offerings. At the opening of the new office, Cherian Varghese, the company’s Vice President, Technology in Africa, said:

“Nigeria’s Public Sector is focused on delivering transparent, efficient and proactive services to its citizens. Our aim will be supporting the government implement its vision with a modern, secure and cost effective suite of cloud solutions built specifically for the public sector.”

The Nigerian government is putting a good deal of faith in tech development to help drive it to its goal of being one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2020, hoping to drive investment, enhance government revenue and identify new growth areas as easily and reliably as possible.

Oracle’s software and solutions already help run multiple government departments in Nigeria including NSITF, Lagos State and Edo State.

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Oracle also has an extensive CSR programme, helping to train the next generation of programmers and designers and give back to the communities that have fostered their development. Oracle aims to be responsible to its stakeholders, employees, customers, partners, the environment and society as a whole. In Africa, the company has invested heavily in education and training, working with the Urban Poor Child organisation in Ghana, mentoring  teenagers in South Africa and authorising various education centres like Bytes People Solutions to teach their various training courses in Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Western Cape.

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African industrial and particularly commercial companies have been competing with overseas competitors for centuries, and while going multinational and expanding to other countries has been relatively easy and lucrative for many (although corruption and tariffs remain problematic), expanding to other continents has been less so.

With its inherent portability, however, cloud computing offers a new expansion potential that allows companies to establish presences anywhere in the world and reduces the logistics necessary to sustain them. With virtual office environments, outsourcing of processing power and storage to centralised facilities and on-demand online access to training and communication resources, multiple business locations can be sustained with a fraction of their former costs.

This can even apply to businesses that trade in physical goods. With both government and corporate application of IoT and cloud-driven data analysis to logistical, transport and customs infrastructure, international transport can be made much easier and more efficient.

An example of successful application of Oracle’s technologies can be seen in South Africa’s Mr Price Group, an apparel, homeware and sportswear retailer that has seen rapid growth since implementing the Oracle Commerce solution to support its e-commerce online store. Mr Price’s requirements are wide-ranging and analytics-driven. Its management and procurement need to know what kinds of items to stock for each season, what will sell well and how much inventory to order, and be able to react to the inevitable unexpected changes in the market that will ensue during the season. As it’s an international business, with stores and franchises across Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Zambia, Mr Price also needs multi-currency support, international shipping and transport and the capacity to communicate with multiple stores across international borders.

Oracle Commercial and Oracle Retail Management have met these needs and more across Mr Price’s 1,000 stores, and helped them improve both customer and merchant experience.

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There are a few potential pitfalls on the road to Industry 4.0 and the African cloud revolution. The most notable, of course, is security, both in a personal and financial data sense and in terms of the IoTs itself.

Cloud government has the potential to attract larger and more sophisticated cyber-attacks, or be susceptible to greater disruption as a result of standard hacking if not kept properly updated and secured. The recent WannaCry attack, which hit businesses and indeed governments worldwide including the Russian Interior Ministry, is an example of a flaw in old, outdated hardware leaving a backdoor open a relatively poorly designed ransomware attack. IoT and cloud data connected governments trade vastly increased efficiency for a new dimension of potential risks.

Oracle and other cloud providers counter this with security training as an integral part of the package when implementing new cloud solutions, pointing out that employee, user and operator training is just as important as malware protection. In addition, as a major corporation, Oracle can continue to provide support and security updates for its clients, and help them upgrade to newer versions with security holes patched.

There’s also the underlying issue with efficiency and automation’s influence on the unemployment rate, an issue which is particularly pressing in Africa thanks to the continent’s often high unemployment rates. For the foreseeable future, however, Africa’s economies still have a great deal of room to grow, and the potential to create vast numbers of new jobs. Unlike the Anglo-European economies, which risk making large chunks of their workforces obsolete, Africa is positioned well to ride the wave and continue creating more employment as fast as jobs are lost to automation.

Oracle South Africa is one of the companies spearheading an exciting revolution in industry, commerce, communications, business, manufacturing and government across the entire African continent. It remains a thought leader and key partner in many national and commercial upgrade and revitalisation efforts, and look set to influence the development of Africa for decades to come.