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Fibre set to boom in SA

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The priority for the telecoms industry this year is to accelerate deployment of true broadband services, says SUVEER RAMDHANI, CDO at SEACOM.

The telecoms industry in South Africa and the rest of the continent is on the cusp of a fibre and mobile broadband boom, as network operators scramble to meet the demand for video, cloud applications and mobile solutions among consumers and businesses.

That’s the word from Suveer Ramdhani, Chief Development Officer at SEACOM, who says that the priority for the telecoms industry this year, should be to accelerate deployment of true broadband services so that African users can benefit from the full power of the Internet.

Says Ramdhani: “In Africa, we have seen some progress in increasing Internet penetration, but the goalposts keep shifting. Many, perhaps even most, Internet connections on the continent are sub-1Mbs connections that do not meet the insatiable demand among businesses and consumers for fast and plentiful bandwidth.”

In Africa, one major factor driving demand for high-performance bandwidth, is a growing and youthful population that sees connectivity as a fundamental right, he adds. For them, broadband spells access to educational, economic and social opportunities. Mobile broadband has an important role to play, but fibre-based fixed-line infrastructure is also vitally important in connecting mobile towers and giving users affordable last-mile access to high-speed services.

Mobile-first

“Research from We Are Social indicates that 75% of web pages served to web browsers in South Africa are accessed from mobile devices,” says Ramdhani. “Across Africa, people spend most of their time online using mobile devices because of the world’s shift towards mobility and because it is the only affordable or available means of connecting to the Internet in many regions.”

However, the way that people use the Internet on a mobile device is different to how they use their fixed-line connections. They use their smartphones for social networking, messaging, entertainment and utility, while desktop users do more data-intensive tasks such as file sharing and video streaming.

Another factor is the rapid rise of video. Data from Cisco shows that video accounted for nearly 58% of data consumption in South Africa in 2015, which is expected to rise to 71% by 2020. Streaming video services such as Netflix and ShowMax will be a major reason for this growth, Ramdhani says.

In the business market, there is growing demand for cloud computing services such as those provided by Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com and a range of African service providers, he adds. Many African organisations are embracing the cloud to fast-track modernisation of their IT infrastructures.

“With the trends towards higher video consumption and cloud computing, users will need to find their way back to a fixed-line connection,” says Ramdhani. “Mobile operators will need to look at their business models and decide whether they will evolve these models to capture all of our data spend or whether they will continue to provide relatively expensive services for niche mobile use.”

Ecosystem comes together

Ramdhani says that many elements of the ecosystem have come together in Africa for a boom in high-speed Internet access. For example, an explosion in local data centres and the deployment of on-continent content caches has brought global content closer to the end-user, improving their experience dramatically.

In addition, open-access infrastructure players have reduced barriers to entry for innovative service providers, meaning that fibre to the business and home is becoming increasingly viable in African metropolitan regions. “There is fibre from city-to-city and fibre in rings around the cities, but not enough to businesses’ and consumers’ doorsteps,” says Ramdhani. “Changing this is a priority for SEACOM this year.”

SEACOM is also focusing on connecting into more countries as backhaul becomes economically viable and expanding its ring around Africa with aspirations to the West. “With such low broadband penetrations and with such high demand for data volumes, the growth possibilities are tremendous,” says Ramdhani.

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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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