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Broadband can drive economies across Africa

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Africa’s legacy broadband infrastructure offers the continent the opportunity to leapfrog technology. FARHAD KHAN of Yahsat believes there is an opportunity for the continent to broadly become an early and easy adopter of new technologies.

As Africa’s economies continue to grow, more of the continent’s residents have been provided with a higher standard of living and additionally possess increased disposable income. The direct correlation between investment in broadband connectivity and the growth in economic activity has been well established, with research from the GSM Association amongst others, suggesting that for every 10 per cent increase in broadband connectivity, the GDP of developing nations rises by 1.38 per cent.  So, the impact of a 30 per cent rise in broadband connectivity across Africa in the coming decade would have a major positive economic benefit.

Africa’s relatively porous, legacy broadband infrastructure offers the continent the opportunity to leapfrog technology and roll out cutting edge, contemporary networks; given there are relatively few issues regarding network integration and regulatory red tape.  Therefore, there is a real opportunity for the continent to broadly become an early – and easy – adopter of new technologies.

The broadband revolution is already well underway across Africa, and there is no shortage of focus on providing the continent with affordable, reliable and  stable broadband connectivity. Take for example the vision of Internet.org and the innovative ideas to provide connectivity and access.  Some of these innovations include:

  • Facebook’s plans for Wi-Fi delivered by drones
  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX adopting reusable launchers to reduce the capital cost of providing broadband via satellite
  • The potential of Li-Fi to deliver high capacity, low power connectivity

One of the exciting perspectives to the broadband story for Africa is that real gains can be made now, today. Yahsat is in the unique position to be able to deliver stable, high powered, affordable broadband connectivity to our footprint immediately. We are in a unique and advantageous position to deploy our fleet of Ka-band satellites, utilising our capacity and spot beams to optimise the broadband pipe, to where it is needed most – efficiently and reliably. Next year our coverage area will widen even further with the launch of our third satellite, giving Yahsat the potential to reach 60 per cent of Africa’s population across 28 countries.

The advantages of satellite communications services are numerous and significant – offering stable, affordable broadband connectivity that, in turn, has the ability to change the fortunes of a nation – and its people, for the better. The provision of improved education, better healthcare, stronger, sustainable economic growth, and social development are all potential benefits that can be reaped by investing in the appropriate broadband technology.

We are already seeing first-hand the benefits that satellite technology is bringing to communities and individuals in Africa. Take the example of Eastern Cape in South Africa, a region that covers 65,000 square miles. Outside of the major cities, the province is diverse in terms of landscape, and home to many rural communities. These remote communities rely on local resources to stay informed and educated, with community libraries playing a key role. Traditionally these libraries have been underserved in terms of connectivity, meaning library-to-library communications and public internet access have been unreliable.  With our satellite broadband service, YahClick, and service partner Vox Telecom, we joined forces with The National Library to provide satellite broadband internet services to 207 public libraries in the Eastern Cape, covering a population of over 6 million. Communities across the Eastern Cape now have easier access to information and knowledge, enhancing the lives of millions of people.

When it comes to public services, they are easily accessible in urban areas; however, their availability across remote communities remains rather low. Home to one of the world’s largest national pension funds, South Africa has over 1.2 million people needing access to funds to be able to subsist during their retirement. Surprisingly, an estimated 10% of its eligible citizens are unaware of or unable to access these funds. Hence, there was a need to provide always-on broadband connectivity to allow real-time access to people’s pension. Again, with Vox Telecom, we worked with the South Africa Government Employees Pensions Fund to provide a solution through our YahClick Go service. Government pensions fund field service employees were able to mobilise their services in vans, with real-time access to the government pension system. Unhindered by the likes of mountains and inclement weather, they enabled access in the remotest areas, and today, all 1.2 million members of the GEPF and their beneficiaries can now gain access to valuable financial services thanks to satellite broadband connectivity.

The applications are endless for schools, medical centres, commerce/banking, as well as for connecting under serviced, off-network areas such as rural communities. Last September, under the auspices of the United Nations, countries adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years, and we believe broadband connectivity plays an instrumental role in the achievement of these ambitions, to the benefit of all, including the People of Africa.

* Farhad Khan, Chief Commercial Officer, Yahsat 

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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