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Banks must adapt to mobile world

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A survey has shown that 12% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa have mobile money accounts – compared to a mere 2% worldwide. MARIANA KRUGER, GM for Private Sector at MTN Business SA, says this is a clear indication that banks need to adopt to the new business models.

The World Bank’s Global Findex financial inclusion study shows that 12% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa have mobile money accounts – compared to just 2% worldwide – and of these 64 million adults, 45% of them have only a mobile money account.

This is a reflection that banks’ traditional models could be under threat unless they adapt and an opportunity exists in revolutionising trade finance and cross-border payments. The International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) Bank Payment Obligation (BPO) framework is a step toward enabling this revolution.

Past experiences have shown the continent has the ability to leapfrog more developed practices as new technology over-takes entrenched business practices. Widespread adoption of mobile money solutions points to the potential for systems such as the BPO proposal. Organisations, such as MTN Business – the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) partner of choice for geographic and market expansion, that operate across the continent have a deep understanding of Africa, its challenges and opportunities

MTN Business has proven, reliable and secure network infrastructure across the continent that financial institutions can leverage on. ICT providers such as MTN Business are well positioned to help banks make that shift.

ICT partnerships can help financial institutions overcome threats to their trade finance business posed by disruptive business models such as mobile money and other industries – including insurance companies moving into the banking space.

The hosting of the ICC Banking Commission Annual Meeting in Johannesburg marked a pivotal moment that could help unlock the potential for economic prosperity on the continent.

‘Potential’ is the operative word as many hurdles still exist to African countries realising their economic promise. For one, Africa may be seen as a single economic region, but conditions and the regulatory environment vary greatly between individual economies. Add to that the enormous infrastructure deficiencies, and it becomes clear that pursuing a view of Africa as a single market still requires considerable effort.

Rapid advances in technology and heavy investment in infrastructure have taken place across the continent, enabling the delivery of services to markets that not only have a need, but a demand to be able to interact and transact.

It is this desire to adopt new technologies – even for the most basic, personal services – that holds such great promise for enabling increased trade across the continent.

The ICC has clearly recognised the need to simplify trade and supply chain finance in order to facilitate economic growth. Its work to establish new standards through the Bank Payment Obligation (BPO) framework is evidence of that realisation.

With investment and footprint in the continent, MTN is ready to partner and set the world ablaze with innovative ICT solutions.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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