This week, Tech-Talk had a Q&A discussion with Mickey Mashale, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Nexio about her new appointment, latest industry technologies and insights, cybersecurity, digital transformation and the benefits of the new industrial revolution.  

Tell us a little about Nexio? 

Nexio, previously known as StorTech, is a digital system aggregator and solution provider. StorTech Storage Technology Services was founded 19 years ago as part of the MB Technologies Group, focusing on storage and data centre technologies. In 2009, Vodacom acquired 51% of StorTech in order to provide systems integration solutions to Vodacom and enterprise organisations at large.

We’ve since evolved our business to become a trusted partner for the digital future. Customers can now focus on fulfilling their own business strategy, enabling them to be proactive rather than reactive. Nexio has created an integrated, secured digital ecosystem offering full visibility and control. This allows the CIO to drive and deliver on their own digital transformation and business strategy, enabling them to create new revenue streams.

At Nexio, we offer a complete solution set, including a single view digital platform, multi-cloud, data centre, workforce transformation, big data analytics and security. We ensure businesses are no longer hindered by technology, but rather freed to see what’s next and to proactively embrace new business opportunities. Nexio is a 53% black-owned and more than 33% black women-owned B-BBEE level one organisation.

What do you do at Nexio?

I’m the newly appointed company’s Chief Executive Officer. I took over from Chris Volschenk who left the company early this year. 

I have been with the organisation since March this year and was holding fort as interim acting CEO for the organization. I lead a strong team and have been tasked with driving the company’s digital transformation strategy to greater heights.

I look forward to taking up the position at such an exciting time where the company is on a digital journey to enable and transform its customer experience as a trusted IT partner for the digital future.

Tell us about your digital platform and how it helps companies drive digital change and enhance their operations?

We offer new capabilities on top of our already strong foundation [data centre, storage specialist and systems integrator]. Our integrated digital platform provides a unique launchpad for clients to unlock new opportunities for smart growth.

As a trusted business systems aggregator, our distinctive digital business platform is the key you’ve been searching for to drive visibility, control, optimisation and security across your organisation. We enable our clients to modernise environments and adopt new technologies. We help clients with solving legacy problems and paving the way for their future digital success and also eliminating silos across the business to create an integrated ecosystem for our clients. 

At Nexio, we believe that our Multi-Cloud, Security, Data Management and Storage solutions will equip organisations with the agility and assurance to conquer the digital world of business.

Is the 4IR a reality, or are we still in the preparatory stages, and what are the benefits of the changes the 4IR is bringing? Many people are concerned that the 4IR will bring job losses. What is your view?

The 4IR is here. We are using technology to reimagine how we live and work, which is precisely what the 4IR is all about. Some of the technologies are still in their infancy, and we are going to see many new uses and applications of technology over the next few years, but we are already in the full swing of this revolution.

In our personal lives, we have almost instantaneous access to information and the ability to find out whatever we want to, whenever we need to. Most people think of this in the context of social media, but it’s changing how much we know about things. Ordinary people today don’t have to have a degree in astrophysics to know about supernovas and supermassive black holes. In our work lives, the effect of technology is even more pronounced. The pace of work has never been faster, and as we learn to leverage technologies like AI more effectively as they mature, the way we work and what we do is going to continue to change.

There is no doubt that the nature of work is changing, but I believe that the predictions that machines will be doing all our work for us are missing the point. There are going to be many jobs that are currently done by humans that are going to be fully automated. However, these automated processes and the machinery and software that will make them work will need human intervention and supervision to make sure they are doing what they need to. Exactly the same fears were raised when computers were first introduced to the workplace, but instead of putting us all out of work, they created new jobs and opportunities. Even those positions that became redundant, such as typists, led to the upskilling of people to allow them to take on new roles and responsibilities.

In fact, the technologies of 4IR hold the potential to solve some of the most critical socioeconomic needs we have today, including poverty and unemployment. Connectivity-reliant technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, can deliver high-quality health, education and other services to residents, businesses and institutions that typically would not have access to such services.

Do you think these things are going to become a reality in the near future?

The technology already exists, but we have to have the fundamentals in place. While machine learning and AI are the latest hot technologies, the 4IR is being driven and will continue to be driven by “old” technology: connectivity and data. There is no point trying to implement sensors, for example, if you don’t have the line speed you need to enable real-time communications. Similarly, if the data produced by those sensors isn’t stored properly, analysing it, or getting any value out of it, will be that much harder.

These things are effectively the “plumbing” of the 4IR, and companies looking to implement the technologies of the future have to ensure that they have the basics right first. Many businesses are still struggling with the move to the cloud. Some are finding it a challenge to enable their workforce to work remotely. These are the things that need to be in place before they can start looking at all of the other technologies and solutions that they will be using in the future.

When people refer to 4IR technologies and developments, they are usually talking about the visible things that happen at the app layer. They are thinking about the fact that they are able to have instant feedback from a service provider, or tailored product and service recommendations based on their transactional history, to name just two examples. Both of these are reliant on insights gained from an effective analytics programme, and this is a good illustration of why the basics are so vital to get right a company can’t automate real-time communications, or gain insights from their analytics, if the data isn’t stored properly to begin with. How can you analyse and access it, if it’s all over the place?Similarly, there’s no point in digitising the business if you aren’t sure that it can stay up and running 24/7/365. BC/DR is another vital element all companies have to have in place before they go any further in their digital transformation journeys. Without a solid foundation in place, businesses are leaving themselves open to failure in their digital initiatives.

Would cyber security then also be considered essential “plumbing”?

Without a doubt. Security is the single most important consideration for any company today and will only become more so as the threats and risks continue to grow. Whether we are talking about AI, IoT, or just the current day-to-day running of any business, data sits at the heart. If that data isn’t protected, the business may as well shut its doors now. Already, data forms the core of the operations of every company in the world, and we have seen the negative effects of data breaches over the past few years. Now imagine a world where a cybercriminal can tell your AI to change its protocols, or stop it from running essential machinery.

In the 4IR, data, and considerations around data, should be the key consideration of every executive in every company regardless of the size of the business or what sector or industry it operates in. Each industry and sector will have its own concerns, but the risks and threats they face are equally challenging. For example, take the current scenario we find ourselves in of forced remote working – how do companies know and keep track of which sites their employees visit when not on their (local area network) LAN, if the security protocols are not rolled out in terms of access or denial of service for certain URL’s, or application, people unknowingly can be exposing the company to immeasurable security risks. Today everyone is collaborating on multiple platforms from multiple devices, exposing the company to attack. Almost all company priorities right now is security and this cuts across industries. You can imagine banking employees with access to client data logging in from home and their teenager had just used the parent laptop to access the ‘black web’, it could open a window of attack into the companies systems.

How can Nexio help companies prevent security breaches? What can companies do to mitigate the risks of a cyber-attack?

Whether its operational risks, such as ransomware or data theft, reputation risk, which more often than not results in organisations refusing to do business with an organisation due to the likelihood of exposing them to potential harm, or even investment risk, which consists of overinvesting in security products that either don’t integrate into the organisation or do not work at all security risk is one element that companies need to factor in to their digital transformation strategy. 

Companies, such as Nexio, have prepared themselves for the journey by investing in strategies aimed at deterring vulnerabilities. To counter the ever rising threat of cyberattacks, Nexio has invested in cyber defence against unauthorised activity for both itself and its customers through its cyber intelligence centre. 

With measures such as these in place, organisations can do away with constantly being on the back foot when eminent attacks come knocking on their door. The 4IR is here, and organisations need to ensure they have the right measures in place to embrace the change, stay relevant and avoid sinking to the bottom.

What are the challenges companies are facing in their 4IR journeys?

Their biggest challenge at the moment is in moving and digitising legacy systems. They know they need to modernise their environments, but there are many business-critical applications and systems that weren’t developed with technologies such as the cloud in mind. While every business is in the process of migrating, adapting, or redeveloping these for today’s digital ecosystems, the reality is that it’s a process that (once again) needs to have the basics done right in order to be successful.

Data is the currency of the digitised world, and companies must be able to free the data that is trapped in silos to be able to arrange and manage it. Only when the data is stored properly, when it is on the correct platform, and when it is easily accessible, can the business start to leverage it. Analytics is going to become increasingly important as companies learn how to get the most out of their data, but if they haven’t protected their data, and if it’s not stored and backed up properly, o if they don’t know how to manage it, businesses will find new challenges that they will have to overcome, and many of these challenges will have knock-on effects in other parts of their business operations.

Where do people fit into all of these changes, or is 4IR only a technology conversation?

Technology has always been and will remain an enabler. Technology is there to empower people and make it easier for them to achieve their goals. Alongside the digital transformations that businesses are busy with, they have to ensure that the workforce is also transforming.

The nature of work is changing, and people will need to reskill in order to stay relevant. Perhaps more importantly, companies will need to facilitate a more flexible and agile working environment. We are already experiencing the effects of the so-called gig economy, and the demands of Millenials to be able to work in their own space and time. The consequences of these trends will only become more pronounced as the 4IR advances.

Over and above the skills conversations, companies must start changing the way they empower their workforce. This includes corporate culture as well the tools they provide employees. Remote working which was taboo was forced on us by COVID, even the die hards who believed in seeing warm bodies everyday carry out tasks had to rely on the employees continuing to be productive remotely thus it has become the norm, rather than the exception, and put pressure on companies that  didn’t have the right infrastructure in place, obviously this is where telco’s made their exceptional Q1 numbers as they looked to enable the companies in the shortest time possible with all sorts of infrastructure solutions for the remote worker. This goes much further than just collaboration solutions. Enabling a mobile workforce requires providing secure access to all of the applications and data they need, at all times. This is why the cloud is a strategic imperative.

How has 4IR technologies changed your business offering?

To keep up with our clients’ shifting needs, we’ve undergone a transformation of our own. The organisation has created an integrated, secure digital ecosystem that offers full visibility and control. This allows the CIO to drive and deliver on the company’s digital transformation and business strategy, enabling Nexio to create new revenue streams.

Last year, StorTech, which has long been associated with high quality storage, data centre technology and networking solutions, announced the launch of a new corporate brand identity, name and tagline. The organisation changed its name to Nexio, and the company’s new tagline is: “The trusted IT partner for your digital future”.

The rebranding was part of the organisation’s strategy approach to best meet the digital needs of businesses today. Nexio now provides all of the solutions offered by StorTech, as well as a number of new solutions.

These solutions have been developed to enable organisations to modernise their environments, adopt new technologies and solve legacy problems. Nexio’s solutions now include fully managed security, multi-cloud, workforce transformation and big data offerings, as well as its pioneering digital platform, a solution that enables organisations to gain complete visibility and control over every technology, system and process deployed by the business. Wherever your organisation is in its digital journey, the new digital platform can link disparate systems to provide an integrated ecosystem for the future.

As the organisation has undergone its own digital transformation journey, it has evolved its solutions set to help its customers achieve their digital transformation goals, using the experience we have gained alongside the world-class technologies, partnerships and skills we have been investing in.

Are South African companies and organisations embracing digital transformation?

Some companies are already embracing the opportunities presented by the 4IR technologies. We are fortunate that this Industrial Revolution is being slowly embraced thus far, but in order for this to gain momentum, as an industry we must make more effort to relay the uptake message that new technologies are adapted by organisations with the customer in mind. Once consumers understand that they will be the ultimate beneficiaries of the digital revolution and the new technologies that come along with it, they too will be able to express signs of excitement about its impending takeover.

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