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2017 the year of reinvention

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It is well into 2017 and companies are coming up with trends that they forecast for the year. LEE NAIK, CEO of TransUnion Africa, discusses the tech trends that matter to local businesses.

It’s well into 2017 and you’ve been bombarded with more trends pieces than you know what to do with. From the many articles covering the CES and Davos to the analyses by the likes of Accenture, McKinsey, Deloitte and other major consultancies, there’s a lot to absorb.

I’d like to apply a more strategic viewpoint. Sound business decisions should not be made on a whim, adopted every time a new, innovative technology claims to be the future of enterprise. To make these decisions easier, I’ve closely researched the predictions of big analysts, cross-referenced it with TransUnion’s extensive bank of data, and put together a shortlist of the innovations that should be at the top of any South African executive’s priority list.

AI becomes part of our everyday lives

Artificial intelligence (AI) came of age in 2016 and will continue to steal the limelight this year. While you may not quite be able to visit an AI-powered theme park just yet, at least you’ll be able to order a pizza while you watch Westworld.

In 2017, Chatbots will dominate headlines, as companies like Starbucks and Domino’s roll out virtual baristas, with retail and banks leading the early adoption charge. Here at home, Mercedes Benz and Absa are just two of the companies that have already bought into this new technology. But before you go all in on chatbots for your organisation, just remember that the technology’s not quite yet at a level to deliver a seamless customer experience by itself.

Less discussed (though hugely significant) will be the enterprise and industry use of AI. Most common will be the use of messaging platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams, incorporating some form of automation and chatbot functionality. And this is just the start: from reporting to research, the automation of knowledge work is already well under way. IBM’s Watson is streamlining cancer diagnosis and treatment, for example.

The Internet of Things comes home (but might bring a nasty surprise)

The advances in machine learning are set to have another big impact – on the mainstream realisation of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the home. The likes of Alexa, Siri and other virtual assistants are nothing new, but we saw a record number of companies at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – from Ford to Whirlpool – bring out compatible products. Smart home devices have always lacked a single unifying platform, but the number of Alexa-compatible devices set to come out this year suggests we might soon have one. The competition is not too far behind either: Google Assistant is already arriving pre-installed on the Google Pixel, and Microsoft’s Cortana is expected to be included in a variety of gadgets released in 2017.

The flipside of the IoT coin will be the challenge of securing intelligent devices from opportunistic cybercriminals. From automation to as-a-service models, hackers have embraced digital innovation as eagerly, if not more so, as legitimate businesses. And the IoT revolution doesn’t just offer a whole new army of hackable devices, but connected business processes that can be exploited as well.

Gartner believes the need for an adaptive security architecture will arise in 2017. What that architecture might look like will be the question that preoccupies many enterprises this year, but it’s likely that it will be powered by machine learning, gathering actionable intelligence in real-time from a variety of sources and adapting as threats evolve. Think next-gen authentication platforms that can tell who you are, simply by analysing behaviour patterns.

Blurring the lines between digital and physical

The PlayStation VR may be the latest virtual reality headset to hit the market, and a sensation at technology trading shows, but experts agree that it’s augmented reality you should be keeping an eye on in 2017. If IDC’s prediction that 3 out of every 10 consumer Fortune 5000 companies will experiment with Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) is anything to go by, it’s clear the greatest innovation will be found at the juncture between physical and digital.

Companies will find new ways to use digital technologies to enhance real-world experiences. Take Carnival Cruises, which is rolling out the same technology behind Disney’s MagicBand onto its cruise liners. Or BMW, who’s partnered with Google to allow buyers to check out any of its cars, even if it isn’t in stock, using a virtual showroom. We’ll also see the rise of enterprise IT, as businesses explore using AR tech to boost operational efficiency. With manufacturers such as Lenovo starting to create devices aimed at the enterprise market, we’ll see more and more businesses make use of AR and VR for scenarios such as training and remote stock-taking, and general collaboration.

Betting money on Africa’s FinTech market

It’s important not to focus so much on the headline-grabbing tech – the darlings of CES and Davos – that we ignore the disruptions outside of the American and European bubbles. McKinsey & Company predicts that up to 3 billion people will connect to the digital world – a large portion of that from emerging markets.

With many in these markets still unbanked, a need has arrived for solutions that can turn them into fully digital consumers. As a result, we’re likely to see a convergence of FinTech aimed at financial inclusion and convenience that could allow emerging markets to leapfrog the West.

Keep an eye out for money transfer, POS, microfinance, and mobile payment services to emerge out of Africa this year. As for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the continent will prove a fertile testing ground for alternatives to paper money. This year sees Senegal launch its own digital currency, for example.

Stop thinking big data, start thinking smart data

For years now, businesses have been acquiring more data than they know what to do with. But even with considerable investments in analytics, companies are failing to realise the true value of their data. And a shortage of data science capabilities means businesses are seeking alternate means of securing and using information.

Cue the rise of systems and partners designed around smarter, value-driven data analytics. More and more, businesses will use platforms like Hadoop and Spark to work around their lack of data science expertise. Business Intelligence applications like Power BI and QuickSight should also gain in popularity. At the same time, we’ll see more resources spent on high-level data strategy, as businesses work out ways to use their information as the basis for new services, experiences and models. In 2017, we will see more businesses partner with specialist service providers and original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in order to accelerate the extraction of value from vast data sets.

The reinvention of corporate culture

With all these new game-changing technologies hitting us, never has the task of digitisation been more urgent. In 2017, businesses must continue to find new ways to challenge their current operational models, or run the risk of lagging behind.

There is, of course, the task of adapting to a service-based economy. Not only are we going to see businesses continue to redefine their existing models, but we’ll also see largescale changes to what we think of as corporate culture. From the gig economy and on-demand enterprise to process automation and as-a-service models, these changes will support more elastic, people-centric cultures. Whatever form these changes take, they will all be centred around one thing: unlocking human potential and creativity to be able to innovate and thrive.

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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