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Rick Parry

Rick Parry

Rick Parry is the Managing Director of AIGS.

AIGS is the Sub Saharan distributor of Progress Software. Progress Software is a global software company that simplifies the development, deployment and management of business applications on-premise or on any Cloud, on any platform and on any device with minimal IT complexity and low total cost of ownership.

Website URL: http://www.aigs.co.za

Inspiring leadership in tough times

Thursday, 20 September 2012 09:58 Published in Leadership
Kevin Gaskell

There are many experiences that have shaped me and made me the person that I am today. I was fortunate to serve as an officer in the Royal Navy for almost 9 years). What I learnt from that experience, among other things, was to never underestimate the need and the value of mature leadership.

Leadership is not about sitting in an ivory tower, telling everyone what to do. It’s about being a source of direction and inspiration. For many of us, the recession re-emphasised this principle. It’s easy to lead complacently when the going is good, but when we’re faced with tough times we realise how important a strong leader is – at every level of the organisation.

Richard Branson has always been somebody whom I have greatly admired – mostly because I share his philosophy surrounding his employees. He once made a statement regarding the success of Virgin: “We firstly give top priorities to the interests of our staff, then our customers, third to our shareholders. This is not only a reflection of the importance of our people; it is also the most positive way of fitting together these three priorities.”
I realised this once again when my team and I sat down to draft a SWOT analysis. One of the “weaknesses” in the organisation that came as a surprise was...well, me. Customers had become so used to coming to me with all their queries that it was working to the detriment of our organisation. In short, it had become the Rick Show.

I’m glad that we’re changing that. Not only because I hope to leave a legacy – an organisation that can exist with or without me – but because there should never be just one pivotal person in the organisation. There should be many. Every single person, in my mind, should feel and act as if they are the heart of the company.

At the recent AIGS Progress Africa Conference, Kevin Gaskell (who has had the privilege of being the CEO of top UK companies like BMW and Porsche) shared his story about giving an employee the opportunity to take the reins. As his company car, Kevin had a top of the range stretch 7 series BMW, complete with chauffeur . Over time, Kevin got to know John, his chauffeur, quite well and discovered that he was dyslexic. He had difficulty reading and writing, but was incredibly logical and well-organised. He would arrive at appointments on the minute. He would plan for contingencies. He would even take time to wash the car after a long journey before pulling into a client’s parking lot. It was clear that John had an amazing talent for planning.

One morning, Kevin explained to John a task he had been given, involving the launch of two premium cars to over 400 VIPs within one morning. The VIPs – which included the press, partners, buyers, directors – were to have a breakfast at BMW cooked by a celebrity chef, followed by a viewing in the show trading centre. He had to admit that he had no idea of how to pull off this event, being that the trading centre was over 2km away, the route from the BMW offices was entirely uncovered, and that weather forecast for the launch day was for rain! Kevin was envisioning soaking wet and miserable VIPs battling their way across to the trading centre in the pouring rain. But John simply listened and said, “Leave it to me.”

I can’t say what prompted Kevin to hand the most important event of his career over to a virtually illiterate chauffeur, but he did.

“It was a thing of beauty,” Kevin said. “One week later, I came out and there were 200 of our staff members standing outside. John had organised a dress rehearsal. There were six security guards standing at each of the six doors, dressed in suits, with MI5 ear pieces. I looked around the corner and spotted a row of stretch 7 series BMWs. At that point, John gave the signal...the first four cars pulled up and the security guards escorted four people inside with a branded umbrella held over their heads. When they left, the next car pulled up. And the next, and the next...John had organised 24 stretch 7 series BMWs. To this day, I don’t know where he got them. But within 15 minutes, all 200 people had seen the cars. He pulled it off. The staff stood on the balconies of the building and cheered. It was brilliant, profound.”

That is the culture of enthusiasm and ownership I want to adopt in my company. I don’t want my employees to think of their roles as set, I want to employ their creativity and potential. Being a leader does not mean that you have to do everything yourself. Trust your staff – let them be leaders in their fields. I encourage everyone at AIGS to “live the brand”, acting as company advocates and ultimately impacting positively on corporate profitability.

I believe that the difference between companies who continuously succeed and those who flounder can be traced back to a level of personal responsibility held by the staff. If your employees feel like they matter, changes in strategy can be successful, inspiring more motivation, and more success. At the end of the day, the A-Z experience of working with your employees to bring the best out of them, could be your strongest competitive advantage.
You’d be surprised at what one person can do. The torch relay for the London Olympics is a good example. As the precursor to the biggest sporting event in the world, this torch has to go through the hands of 8000 carriers, across 1000 cities, in just 70 days. It is being broadcast live, to millions of people. Can you imagine the logistics involved? The investment? Yet that relay is organised by just one person.

It’s incredible. Perhaps even more incredible considering that that one person who is in charge was once a just humble chauffeur, working for BMW.

Next-generation software (and how it will change your business)

There is a fundamental shift occurring in the technology industry. Household name brands are being usurped by start-ups. End users are dictating development. Companies are finding themselves struggling to compete in markets that they've dominated for decades. And most importantly - technologists are no longer driving the technology. Consumers are. Even in the business to the business space, technologists will find that their clients are concerned with tailoring their business practices to meet the needs of their end users. As a result, the nature of the so-called "business app" is changing.

There are 5 key imperatives that technologists have to cater to if they hope to succeed in the marketplace today.

#1 Cloud

Next-generation applications are going to be deployed on-premise, cloud and hybrid. It's a well-known fact that cloud-base solutions are growing at a faster rate than on-premise solutions. Think of the implications for development. Very few languages will fit all three, particularly with Big Data thrown into the equation. And how will one scale up an application to be resilient when there are outages (seeing as how downtime is not an option)?

Next-generation business apps will have to support elasticity on demand and it will be impossible to build them from scratch. Software developers of the future will compose their applications through mash-ups, consuming other people's services and software in order to be a success.

#2 Mobile

Modern applications are taking a mobile first approach. About half of the world's population are already carrying handsets capable of rich, mobile commerce. Mobile devices are becoming computers in their own right and with that, ability to use location, motion and context to market to customers has been unlocked. There is a race to push out applications as a competitive tool to improve relationships. Retailers want to be able to detect their customers when they enter a shopping mall, send them marketing messages via SMS, equip them with the means to pay on the spot via their mobile, and then tweet about the experience...after which sentiment analysis surrounding their twitter activity should be conducted. Next-generation business applications have to cater to the mobile market across any device, any language, any platform.

#3 Big Data

The volume of digital data has grown to 2.7 ZB in 2012 up 48% from 2011, and is heading towards 8ZB by 2015. More data is being created and stored than ever before...and thus far, companies do not know what to do with it. That is going to change soon as more and more companies are exploiting big data to generate new revenue sources. Retailers, according to IDC, using big data to the fullest, could increase operating margins by 60%. Business applications of the future have to offer a single entry point to all sources of big data, with real-time analytics. Companies that can automate decision-making by slicing and dicing the overwhelming volume of information will ultimately conquer the market.

#4 Social Media

Approximately 40% of users access social media from their mobile devices and 80% of all mobile apps developed will integrate with social network services. We tend to forget though that the social media platforms that we're seeing are still early entries to the market – Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Instagram are all in their infancy. Social media, however, remains at the heart of new applications that are being developed. People are conducting sentiment analysis on social media and are trading based on sentiments found in twitter! How do you connect to your customers and exploit the data in a comprehensive way? Modern apps must plan for social network analysis and tracking if they hope to be successful.

#5 Ecosystems

The ecosystems that support technology are becoming as important as the technology itself. Time-constrained ISVs will primarily chose their paths based on the popularity of a platform with users, and the ones who will succeed will be the ones that are driven by the entire ecosystem. Mash-ups and partnerships will spawn new ecosystems, discover resellers in new countries and markets. The future will see the formation of joint projects and collaborative forums that can propel companies forward faster than ever before.

Businesses hoping to reach their target markets will need greater access to information and the ability to speak to their customers across a variety of technologies. Technologists of the future have to start changing the way they approach business applications today if they want to continue doing business tomorrow.

Beyond the hype: The business guide to cloud computing in South Africa

What it is, why you should use it, and how to get ready

I recently had the pleasure of hosting a business forum at the AIGS Progress Africa Conference where we asked the question: what is the cloud? Suffices to say, we had a diverse range of answers and questions flying back and forth.
Cloud computing involves the delivery of computing and storage as a service to a community, essentially entrusting services with a user's data, software and computation over a network. The most common examples that the public would interact with includes services like Dropbox or Gmail, but there are more complex services such as renting servers (known as "Infrastructure as a Service" or IaaS) or application software and databases ("Software as a Service"). Essentially, this allows for economies of scale and access to improved services, particularly for small business owners.

The broken promise of the cloud

As "moving to the cloud" became a widely accepted and promoted marketing phrase, many CEOs and business owners have been caught up in the hype of adopting cloud services, and been disappointed. Chantel Lindeman, an analyst for Frost and Sullivan, pointed out 5 ways that the cloud is not living up to its promise.

  • Cost

Firstly, the perception exists that using a cloud platform will instantly reduce costs, whereas the reality is that this is not always the case. Some companies find themselves running two systems: one on-site for core applications and one off-site with non-critical data.

  • Ease of use

The implementation of cloud is not as easy as portrayed and requires a good support structure of the company implementing the system.

  • Reliability and performance

This is a key issue in South Africa as our connectivity is not forthcoming and leaving information on the cloud is potentially hazardous to the redundancy of a company.

  • Control and trust

There is a major trust issue with cloud implementation and this is where private clouds have managed to ease the concerns of companies looking to implement a cloud solution

  • Security risk perception

There is a perception that information on the cloud is not necessarily protected as well as if it was on-site for companies to manage directly.
However, that's not to say that using cloud computing is flawed or should be avoided. In fact, if the cloud is used correctly, it can revolutionise a business.

South Africa and the cloud

Frost and Sullivan has revealed that there has been an uptake in the cloud solutions, specifically in infrastructure as a services due to the fact that people are noticing the direct coloration on their CAPEX to invest in virtual machines vs. investing in infrastructure on-site. Findings show that the uptake of other solutions in the cloud sector is still in its nascent stage and will require another three years before we still a significant uptake - the key to the uptake of cloud solutions will ultimately be better established connectivity throughout the country.
It is crucial that businesses start preparing to implement cloud-based services and solutions in their organisation within the next few years if they hope to compete.
My advice to businesses that are considering using cloud-based solutions is to examine their motives for doing so very carefully. In many instances, the cloud has been a solution looking for a problem, and companies have been getting caught up in the hype. The question to put to yourself is: is the cloud solution I want to implement meeting a problem? The technology has to meet the business needs and be driven by that alone.
I have no doubt that the expansion of the cloud will be widespread and all-encompassing very soon. But I always know that whatever we think it will look like in a few years will be quite different in reality. Plan for the cloud, but tread carefully and use the needs of your business as your compass.

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