Securing Connectedness

Lor Steyn was recently the main contributor to an article in the November issue of Leadership Magazine on the trends we can expect in 2017.

‘Change is the only constant in life’, said the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, and 2017 will be no exception.

“IT Security leads the list for me” says Lorraine Steyn, Simplifier-in-Chief at KRS software developers. “We have completely new threats, as well as all the old challenges. There’s Hactivism, Ransomeware, security breaches, the “common” virus etc. As more of our systems become accessible externally – websites that allow users to view or modify their own data, mobile devices with access into corporate data, and remote workers with laptops and a range of devices – the opportunity for data breaches multiplies tenfold.”

“Any IT development that isn’t taking security seriously, will be redundant before it sees the light of day (or shortly thereafter!) – completely unable to cope in today’s high-threat environment.”

This is emphatically agreed and echoed by Craig Newton, Chief Technical Officer at HoneyKome, a digital agency that deals with multiple websites and online properties with high traffic for local and global clients. Newton also draws attention to how personal and business lives have converged onto mobile, making our cellphones a primary target for security breaches of information. “There are already a host of ‘Bot’ communication interceptors out there checking out who you are. If you are anywhere on a social media platform – be it Facebook or LinkedIn, you’re fair game for profiling, especially clear text platforms like Whatsapp that have always trolled your information. There will be a huge increase in the development of security encryptions for these OTT services and possibly even from the mobile phone companies themselves, as it is not always about design but functionality, especially in a professional environment.”

Cloud is top of the list after security for both Steyn and Newton – “or maybe it’s part of the same problem…” says Steyn. “It’s having our data in the Cloud that has made it so vulnerable, but this doesn’t mean we can draw up the wagons into a laager and shut out the world. Businesses need access from anywhere, on a range of devices. Big Cloud services also have the huge advantage of being able to scale, and the muscle of providers like Google or Amazon behind them.”

With 99 million hits to one asset directory per month and more than 79 million asset requests on just two of the digital properties Newton oversees, he needed a solution that was stable, secure and where latency was low. Moving his various sites over to Amazon, Newton and his team are also following the trend for moving away from own-hosted servers to cloud-hosted systems. Others to follow suit are brands like Nike and Addidas who are also taking advantage of Amazon’s Web Services to split its information over numerous servers.

“It’s like going to a supermarket and instead of only one cashier helping you, there are five (or more), all helping everyone in the line, it allows customers to check out sooner and quicker,” says Newton. “The same applies in the IT realm.” Newton also believes that there is massive opportunity for South Africa to lead the continent in creating cloud-hosted services.

Cloud has been a trend for a couple of years now, and it needs to stay on the list for 2017 as it is only getting better, cheaper, and more accessible, particularly as it is good for the next trend: Big Data.

Businesses want to see value from their data, and they want flexibility in their collecting mechanisms. Open Source databases like PostGreSQL, that provide great relational and NoSQL features, will be on the rise.

In-memory analysis tools, like Qlikview, will continue to gain market share, with their sophisticated modelling capabilities and speed of producing data sets that business can work with. Part of unlocking this value is interpreting the data that is gathered and with tools like Delv’s platform and association with Oracle’s BluKai platforms, these data sets are going to be more meaningful than ever to enterprise and marketers alike. This will also fuel digital marketing and advertising as profiling is so much easier and effective.

Websites themselves have also grown up notes Steyn. Single Page Applications (SPA’s), like, provide a rich and responsive user interface. We expect the SPA website to look good on all devices (have a responsive layout), and to be easy to navigate.

On the development side, SPA’s require a deep tool stack to provide this sophisticated experience. There are numerous Frameworks like AngularJS, Aurelia, Kendo etc, each with its own learning curve and unique pros and cons. Then there are pre-processors for style sheets, for Javascript, and many tools for Continuous Integration and Deployment. And don’t forget security – security issues morph into new and unexpected threats by the week.

On the Mobile side, there are Native Apps and Cross-Platform tools. Mobile development skills are still in very short supply in South Africa, and the developers are highly mobile themselves, as companies head-hunt aggressively in a small pool. Steyn also remarks on how outsourcing to India or Eastern Europe remains a sensible alternative to local skills, with the caveat that communication has to be at a much higher level to work successfully with a remote team.

No discussion of trends would be complete without a mention of Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). For instance, conference calls, which are a part of life for many businesses, are being improved by sensors that pick up on non-verbal communication. Not missing these non-verbal clues can make all the difference during a major sales pitch.

Johannes Booysen, Founder of Futuereneers, a venture capital company that looks at technology-enabled businesses agrees that IoT has the capacity to provide huge benefits across a multitude of industries. Healthcare being one, where incremental leaps forward in monitoring and tracking people’s medical conditions, their pharmaceuticals and their overall health have already started. It can also present excellent means in which to prevent crime, human trafficking, and protecting people in general. Other enterprises that will also benefit will be the entire eCommerce sector, where drones can deliver goods to where consumers are, tracking them by cellphone and knowing precisely when they are at home. These are all great services, however, if we are all connected to one another and through IoT devices all the time, there is also a greater opportunity for this ‘control’ to be mismanaged.

Therefore Booysen agrees with both Steyn and Newton saying that security requires careful consideration and attention to ensure devices and systems are reliable, secure and cannot be tampered with or vandalised remotely. When IoT connectivity becomes more pervasive there will be a rapid growth in the number of connected devices with an end user easily owning 10-50 connected devices. Thus data security is extremely important as these systems have the potential to monitor every aspect of an end user’s life.

Our own ability to change is the biggest stumbling block to IoT, AR, VR and even Mobile Apps. “Relearning how to engage with technology, and figuring out new ways of doing things, is the creative challenge ahead of us. The industry leaders are the people who can reimagine their businesses, and see the opportunities in devices that are (mostly) already an intrinsic part of our lives,” concluded Steyn.

Change itself will therefore be the biggest trend and development.