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Dell puts Lab in Diepsloot

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Dell has recently installed a Learning Lab in Diepsloot housing a dozen computer workstations: networked to each other and to the Internet, and self-sustained through solar power.

Among the low-slung roofs of Diepsloot, next to the dust kicked up by playing children and bustling adults, stands a conspicuous metal container. Its past of carrying goods across oceans has been replaced, the roof now adorned with solar panels and windows letting light inside. The container’s massive doors are open, as inviting as its cool and calm colour scheme, and inside rows of computers beckon eager learners to join.

This is the Dell Learning Lab, an ambitious and successful project to bring digital technology wherever it is needed. Using the latest in technology efficiencies, a Learning Lab is home to a dozen computer workstations: networked to each other and to the Internet, and self-sustained through solar power.

But the reason why these Labs have been an incredible success is because they make sense on a local level, starting with the community first.

“I absolutely this solution,” said Natasha Reuben, Head of Transformation at Dell EMC South Africa. “It’s a fantastic way to not put pressure on a school or rural community in terms of electricity, as this solution is off the grid. More importantly, this little container has the potential to do so much. Kids can go in during the day and learn. They can code and play with new technology. In the evening the community has access to it. They can use it to find jobs and research.”

One example Reuben loves is that of an old grandmother, a Gogo, who joined her son at one of the Labs while he updated his CV. She tagged along not so much for the company, but to find new recipes online.  The depth of the kind of access to the internet and help that it brings is what the Learning Labs are setting out to achieve. 

Making Technology Matter

“Technology is forever changing and I think it is important to learn about technology like this,” said Ntale Mametse, a pupil at one of the labs. “It gets you to think about other careers that you didn’t know about before.”

Since launching in 2014, sixteen labs have been launched – some in Kenya and Nigeria, but the majority live across South Africa. Each is carefully chosen: Dell works with partners such as Change The World and Sci-Bono to find communities who want such facilities. It may seem like a given that anyone would approve of a lab, but there is considerably more nuance to such a project. Indeed, this is why many corporate social investment programmes fail: they take a parachute approach, the embodiment of ‘build it and they will come.’

In reality, if there is no sense of ownership from the community, the project inevitably fails. Instead of relying on the flawed determinism that technology will inevitably deliver good, asking what the community needs is crucial. Local organisations, churches and other groups are approached. But the foundation of this is the school where the Lab will be located. If the staff are not co-opted and given the lead on a Lab, it risks becoming a white elephant.

“I love the knowledge that we are gaining here, because it helps me integrate my lessons,” said Mike Masinge, a 19-year veteran teacher from Olifantsfontein. “It helps me teach to the best of my abilities.”

Each Lab is equipped to meet the varied demands and desires of a rising community. A curriculum is designed to help the studies of the pupils, and staff are assessed and trained to take advantage of the Lab’s services. But this goes further: Dell and its partners continuously evaluate the Labs and adjust them. At a high level every lab is scrutinised at least once a quarter, but on the ground it is a weekly and even daily activity.

The Labs are also always connected, enabling Dell administrators to know if there are technical problems. The computer equipment is continually monitored to ensure they are still working, a concept in business technology called ‘managed services.’

Community-Driven Success

But the fundamental success of the project is rooted in community support. It must be seen as having real value, which is why every Lab are available to the larger town beyond the school. Each container is also a wireless hotspot and locals are frequently engaged to see what they need from the container and if they grasp some of its potential. It’s forged a high degree of ownership with each Lab, down to community members guarding their local containers.

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“Most of our learners, if you ask them what is it that they get from the lab, they say they are getting more information, accessing books they don’t have,” said Sihlomo Puzam, one of the parents whose children frequent their local Lab. “It has changed my child’s life so much.”

Technology does not change the world. That is a myth, often told by those who live in the middle of a technology storm. But for those waiting at the edges for that rain to reach them, technology’s true purpose is clear: it’s a means to an end, to create a better life. Empowering people through technology, on their terms, is the key to success.

The Dell Learning Labs are proof of this. By putting the community first and providing technology that makes sense, not just tick a few altruistic boxes, is how real change happens. As new Labs arrive across the country, we all take a step closer towards a united and prosperous future.

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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