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How big data can ease transport woes

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South Africa faces some unique public transport challenges, but with the advancements of technology, such as Big Data, many of these hurdles can be overcome, writes GAVIN HOLME of Wipro.

South Africa faces some unique challenges when it comes to public transport. The reality is that public transport – in general – hasn’t yet capitalised on the opportunities presented by new technology advancements. Developments in the realm of Big Data, for instance, present tantalising opportunities to create a more efficient transport system in South Africa.

Our road-based transport challenges include:

•               High volumes of daily commuters using informal transport systems – not governed by central authorities.

•               A middle-class still heavily reliant on private transport – which causes increasing congestion, particularly on urban roads.

•               Strong expansion of other urban infrastructure (such as housing and office developments) which is not supported by the same level of investment in transport networks.

•               An emerging trend of closed-loop and localised systems – such as the Gautrain rail network in Gauteng and the MyCiti bus network in Cape Town – with no national approach of integration of payment and profile management.

•               A vehicle licensing department that remains very manual in its operations, often resulting in inefficient service levels for motorists.

Attracting commuters that are currently using private, individual cars requires more than just the penal approaches such as road tolls and emissions taxes. The trend towards better use of public transport requires transport operators to offer more attractive propositions to South Africa’s commuters and travellers.

The radical changes in the private taxi industry (the move away from traditional metered taxis, to the phenomenally popular disruptor, Uber) unfortunately doesn’t help in solving our transportation woes.

There is an answer

But, by cleverly tracking geospatial trends to understand user behaviour and congestion patterns, it becomes possible for transport operators to develop rail and bus networks that suit people’s lifestyles, and incentivises more motorists to move away from private transport.

With real-time data streamed to the right authorities – such as traffic police – it also becomes possible to minimise the impact in those ever-so-often cases where an accident causes traffic snarl-ups for kilometres. In these cases, authorities would be able to deploy resources to re-route traffic to different roads, and aid people in getting to their destinations on time, for example. As viable public transport systems emerge, technology plays a central role in ensuring that they are designed and managed in the optimal manner. Ticketing could be digitised, with alerts sent to users when there are any delays or changes to schedules. With increased interoperability between the country’s various transport networks, one would be able to use the same card or payment mechanism to travel locally in any region, and over longer distances when making long-haul trips.

This also opens up a number of exciting possibilities for digital marketing – where transport operators can partner with local service providers in a specific area to provide coupons and discounts to commuters on a particular route, for example.

Another important point is that stronger use of technology in transportation has excellent synergies with crime prevention efforts. With video technology being a firm feature of traffic management, this plays a surveillance role – detecting suspicious activity and aiding authorities by tracking vehicle license plates and other information.

Why data management is so essential

For any of these promises to become a reality, having a sophisticated system that manages huge volumes of data, and transforms it into useful insights, is absolutely critical. Data collection, warehousing, integration, and quality-control are essential facets for transport operators as they embark on their Big Data journey. Numerous examples from around the world have shown that transport operators are able to effectively develop networks of road and rail systems that improve the lives of commuters and benefit the economy at large.

In the most mature examples, predictive analytics makes it possible to know how what volumes of commuters are likely to travel on specific routes, and make capacity-planning decisions in advance. And while this might still be some way off for South Africa, it is clear that there are many advantages to capitalising on Big Data – to not only enhance the convenience for today’s motorists, but also to make transport authorities and operators more successful and profitable.

* Gavin Holme, Country Manager, Africa, Wipro Limited and Rudraksh Bhawalkar, Practice Manager, Analytics, Africa, Wipro Limited

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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