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Data is the key asset for dot.com success

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There isn’t a silver bullet to make your business “the next Uber”, but one vital aspect of the Uber culture these businesses have instilled in their employees, customer service and operations, is understanding and using data, writes SEKETE PATRICK MAPHOPHA of NetApp Africa.

Nowadays, if you watch Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice, the majority of the proposed business ideas – not necessarily those that receive investment – are online-based businesses or apps. At the very least, budding entrepreneurs are advised to ditch the traditional retail store. Therefore, it’s no wonder that companies like Amazon.com, Uber and AirBnB, the fastest-growing companies in their respective fields, are both the inspiration and envy of SME owners.

There isn’t a silver bullet to make your business “the next Uber” as so many claim, but one vital aspect of the Uber culture these businesses have instilled in their employees, customer service and operations, is understanding and using data.

Mantras like “Data is the new currency”, “Data = profit” and “Data holds the key to our future” are bandied about, and it can hardly be denied that for a company that does not produce any products of its own, data is arguably its most valuable asset. Central to this mantra needs to be a cloud storage solution like NetApp, aimed at simplifying data control and mobility across on-premises, hybrid cloud, and public cloud infrastructures.

Fostering a ‘sharing economy’

The ubiquity of technology in our daily lives and the growing digitisation of services means that our lives are becoming more and more “connected”, in terms of being connected to the internet and to data from multiple sources which are linked together and used to make another service relevant. Now it’s time for SMEs with an appetite for growth, or that want to increase their value proposition to existing customers, to make data a key part of their business culture.

The proof of the success of data for driving business growth can be seen in the “Sharing Economy” trend, which began in the early 2000s. As consumers, we’re constantly connecting intelligent cars, speakers, watches, lightbulbs and more to the Internet. Experts are therefore predicting a 4300% increase in data production in 2020 compared to 2012. In order to address the data overload, SMEs need to rather invest in a hybrid cloud solution, such as one built on a Data Fabric, to place the control in their hands. With that solution they can:

  • Synchronize data between on-premise and cloud storage for data analytics purposes;
  • Back up data securely to on-premises, hosted, or public clouds by using cloud-integrated storage;
  • Gain insights into their cloud workloads across on-premises and cloud environments with.

By having full control over data workloads, connecting to consumers can be made easier than ever before.

Building out the necessary infrastructure to take data to definitive success

By utilising the data at a company’s disposal from any and every relevant channel, SMEs stand to gain in two key ways.

Firstly, they can use the data for their own strategy, improving competitiveness and operational efficiency, while being able to create new products and services with real, actionable insight into the target customer. This is crucial for SMEs who have much smaller budgets than their enterprise rivals with which to develop and research new offerings, and can be a key driver in allowing SMEs to compete on a larger scale.

In order to fulfil this, SMEs will have to consider their IT infrastructure and look into storage and analytics solutions that can support both the volume of data required, and the processing capability necessary to transform huge amounts of raw actionable data into useable insights. The NetApp ONTAP storage operating system is one such example, and can be used across cloud and on-premises infrastructure to create a Data Fabric that acts as a single system, meaning that data is more easily managed and controlled.

Secondly, for SMEs who either can’t or don’t want to use data directly, there is also a financial opportunity presented by the growth in data. Data sets can be sold on to third parties who may be able to transform it into exciting new innovations and services.

We are living in a data-powered world, where data, devices and systems are unifying to produce the best products and services for customers, and the best ROI opportunities for businesses – SMEs and enterprises alike. As more devices become connected, we are moving towards a future powered entirely by data – and SMEs can’t afford to miss out.

* Sekete Patrick Maphopha, NetApp Africa CTO and Technology Evangelist

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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