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Business slow to automate

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While the majority of organisations worldwide are planning to automate business practices, with some jobs being discontinued as a result, less than a third of SA businesses are considering this course of action.

This is according to a new Grant Thornton International Business Report which researched the scale of technology’s influence on business.  The report highlighted that 56% of firms globally, and 31% of SA companies, are already automating or may do so in the coming 12 months. 

“The local situation is different for many reasons – including the high number of unskilled people, making it difficult for employees to operate more advanced machines or computers,” says Michiel Jonker, director: IT Advisory at Grant Thornton Johannesburg.

The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) provides insight into the views and expectations of more than 10,000 businesses per year across 36 economies worldwide.  Research for this IBR Automation report is drawn from datasurveying 2,571 executives in 36 economies during February 2015.

Jonker adds that a failing government education system is not preparing young people for jobs in the 21st century, which is also referred to as the ‘second machine age’ and this is a major cause of the unacceptably high percentage of unskilled labour in this country.  Many matriculants cannot be considered for skilled employment, not to mention tertiary education, after school because of the poor quality education system in South Africa (e.g. low standards and pass rates).   

“Even if unskilled people get jobs, they are only trained to work in a specific sector,” he continues.  “If there are no longer any jobs in agriculture, for example, workers cannot simply move to the secondary sector as they do not have the required skills.  Unlike in the western world, where employees’ education background is a strong foundation, enabling them to move more easily between sectors, in SA the majority of workers are simply unable to jump from one sector to another – hence the occurrence of structural unemployment in South Africa.”

Jonker explains that structural unemployment is when unemployment for individuals lasts longer than usual due to issues in an economy, or a lack of skills across various industries which prevent workers from ‘cross trading’ their abilities. It’s when there’s a fundamental ‘mismatch’ between the skills which workers have vs those required and urgently needed in an economy or country.

Commenting on the IBR report, Steven Perkins, global leader for technology at Grant Thornton International, said: “In this digital age, businesses are looking to technology at an ever-increasing pace. Post-financial crisis, firms continue to strive for greater efficiency and better productivity. But fifty years on from PCs going into mass production, costs of capital are low while labour costs increase. As businesses consider whether to invest in staff or machines, for many, the latter is becoming the more cost-effective option.”

Despite this, the research reveals that 66% of SA businesses are not considering automating any business functions in the next 12 months, while only 3% might consider this.

“But automation will have to be introduced if we are to be globally competitive,” says Jonker.  “And there are several factors that will start driving automation here at home.  We face extraordinarily high labour costs, very low productivity and – compared to other countries, including the BRIC countries – entry salaries of young people are extremely high.

 “In addition, if we want to compete globally, we will have to play according to global rules. Productivity is extremely important for competition, which means that we have no choice but to automate.”

He notes that capitalism continues to demand maximisation of process, increasing output and decreasing input, all benefits offered by automation.

Jonker also affirms that there is a school of thought with a strong argument for rapid adoption of technology, as countries that do so benefit from higher per capita income than those that don’t.

“The Harvard School of Business revealed in a series of research papers that the rate at which nations adopted new tools hundreds of years ago strongly affected whether those nations are rich or poor today,’ said Jonker (Report by Associate Professor Diego A. Comin and colleagues).

“Technology is definitely an initiator for permanent change in society,” says Jonker.   “Research conducted by the World Bank entitled “Building broadband: Strategies and policies for the developing world” claims that a 10% increase in broadband penetration could raise GDP growth by 1 to 2% in low- and middle-income countries – a figure which is more than the impact which broadband penetration would have in high-income countries.”

Jonker emphasises that although this statistic is very much debated by different parties, and that it certainly differs from country to country, we cannot escape the fact that technology is causing change and bolstering globalisation – causing further problems for the South African economy and labourers with their low productivity (as globalisation means global competition, placing pressure on the labour market to be more productive).

Grant Thornton’s IBR findings also suggest that opportunities will arise for workers to assume new roles and responsibilities created by an increased use of technology. Globally over half of automating firms (54%) expect to redeploy workers in other areas, with 28% saying that workers will be trained to operate new machinery.

In South Africa, the IBR research revealed that 44% of firms that have automated, or intend to, said their people would be trained to use the new machines, while 32% expected automation to lead to a reduction in their organisation’s head count.

Jonker says the world will soon see new jobs that do not exist today and that automation will make people become redundant faster.

“We’re already seeing this in the IT environment where the ‘cloud’ is taking away certain traditional IT jobs,” he says.

“SA needs to accept that automation is going to happen, and that innovation will be key for economic growth.  We need to start encouraging our young people to consider jobs that cannot be replaced by automation.  They must design those robots, rather than going into occupations that will be replaced by robots.   For example, the introduction of more automation into the world is going to unleash many ‘dark forces’ that will exploit the enhanced level of system and data integration which will arise between millions of different parties, companies and systems. There is already a huge shortage of cybersecurity experts globally, and the upcoming generation will have to fill this new gap, especially if they want to live in a relatively safe world.

“Chances are extraordinarily high that it will be the repetitive (routine), uncreative jobs which will be automated. Certain parts of the world have already seen a decline in routine manual labour as well as cognitive jobs. It is only non-routine manual and cognitive jobs that are safe, as robots are not good at non-precision tasks – but only for now,” Jonker concludes.

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Bring your network with you

At last week’s Critical Communications World, Motorola unveiled the LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. It allows rescue personal to set up dedicated LTE networks for communication in an emergency, writes SEAN BACHER.

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In the event of an emergency, communications are absolutely critical, but the availability of public phone networks are limited due to weather conditions or congestion.

Motorola realised that this caused a problem when trying to get rescue personnel to those in need and so developed its LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. The product is the smallest and lightest full powered broadband network to date and allows the first person on the scene to set up an LTE network in a matter of minutes, allowing other rescue team members to communicate with each other.

“The LXN 500 weighs six kilograms and comes in a backpack with two batteries. It offers a range of 1km and allows up to 100 connections at the same time. However, in many situations the disaster area may span more than 1km which is why they can be connected to each other in a mesh formation,” says Tunde Williams, Head of Field and Solutions Marketing EMEA, Motorola Solutions.

The LXN 500 solution offers communication through two-way radios, and includes mapping, messaging, push-to-talk, video and imaging features onboard, thus eliminating the need for any additional hardware.

Data collected on the device can then be sent through to a central control room where an operator can deploy additional rescue personnel where needed. Once video is streamed into the control room, realtime analytics and augmented reality can be applied to it to help predict where future problem points may arise. Video images and other multimedia can also be made available for rescuers on the ground.

“Although the LXN 500 was designed for the seamless communications between on ground rescue teams and their respective control rooms, it has made its way into the police force and in places where there is little or no cellular signal such as oil rigs,” says Williams.

He gave a hostage scenario: “In the event of a hostage situation, it is important for the police to relay information in realtime to ensure no one is hurt. However the perpetrators often use their mobile phones to try and foil any rescue attempts. Should the police have the correct partnerships in place they are able to disable cellular towers in the vicinity, preventing any in or outgoing calls on a public network and allowing the police get their job done quickly and more effectively.”

By disabling any public networks in the area, police are also able to eliminate any cellular detonated bombs from going off but still stay in touch with each other he says.

The LXN 500 offers a wide range of mission critical cases and is sure to transform communications and improve safety for first responders and the people they are trying to protect.

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Kaspersky moves to Switzerland

As part of its Global Transparency Initiative, Kaspersky Lab is adapting its infrastructure to move a number of core processes from Russia to Switzerland.

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This includes customer data storage and processing for most regions, as well as software assembly, including threat detection updates. To ensure full transparency and integrity, Kaspersky Lab is arranging for this activity to be supervised by an independent third party, also based in Switzerland.

Global transparency and collaboration for an ultra-connected world

The Global Transparency Initiative, announced in October 2017, reflects Kaspersky Lab’s ongoing commitment to assuring the integrity and trustworthiness of its products. The new measures are the next steps in the development of the initiative, but they also reflect the company’s commitment to working with others to address the growing challenges of industry fragmentation and a breakdown of trust. Trust is essential in cybersecurity, and Kaspersky Lab understands that trust is not a given; it must be repeatedly earned through transparency and accountability.

The new measures comprise the move of data storage and processing for a number of regions, the relocation of software assembly and the opening of the first Transparency Center.

Relocation of customer data storage and processing

By the end of 2019, Kaspersky Lab will have established a data center in Zurich and in this facility, will store and process all information for users in Europe, North America, Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea, with more countries to follow. This information is shared voluntarily by users with the Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) an advanced, cloud-based system that automatically processes cyberthreat-related data.

Relocation of software assembly

Kaspersky Lab will relocate to Zurich its ‘software build conveyer’ — a set of programming tools used to assemble ready to use software out of source code. Before the end of 2018, Kaspersky Lab products and threat detection rule databases (AV databases) will start to be assembled and signed with a digital signature in Switzerland, before being distributed to the endpoints of customers worldwide. The relocation will ensure that all newly assembled software can be verified by an independent organisation and show that software builds and updates received by customers match the source code provided for audit.

Establishment of the first Transparency Center

The source code of Kaspersky Lab products and software updates will be available for review by responsible stakeholders in a dedicated Transparency Center that will also be hosted in Switzerland and is expected to open this year. This approach will further show that generation after generation of Kaspersky Lab products were built and used for one purpose only: protecting the company’s customers from cyberthreats.

Independent supervision and review

Kaspersky Lab is arranging for the data storage and processing, software assembly, and source code to be independently supervised by a third party qualified to conduct technical software reviews. Since transparency and trust are becoming universal requirements across the cybersecurity industry, Kaspersky Lab supports the creation of a new, non-profit organisation to take on this responsibility, not just for the company, but for other partners and members who wish to join.

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