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How to build Silicon Valley in South Africa

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Silicon Valley is well known for treating its employees well by creating an environment perfect for career development. redPanda Software’s CEO, GARETH HAWKEY, highlights a few lessons local businesses adapt into their corporate culture. 

Silicon Valley. That magical place where employees not only work incredibly long hours but also get access to quirky benefits that create an environment many consider perfect for career development. Looking to this environment for inspiration, there are a few lessons local companies can take to heart to look after their most important asset – their people.

While many South African businesses might baulk at the idea of unlimited vacation days or even a full year of paid maternity or paternity leave, it is evident by the successes of Silicon Valley that there are merits in rethinking what a work environment is supposed to be.

At last count, the famed Valley was home to approximately 2 000 tech companies, the densest concentration of its kind anywhere in the world. With many of those leaders in their fields, differentiating oneself is more than just about the work. It is about the workplace built around it.

But to simply try and recreate Silicon Valley in other parts of the world will not work. Instead, one needs to take into consideration the ethos of what that environment has created and emulate that within the South African corporate culture.

In the ICT sector specifically, I believe this is especially challenging as employees want to work at companies that are unique in their approaches to problems. They see and hear what is happening in Silicon Valley and want to go there and experience it for themselves.

Traditionally, South African businesses have been stuck in a certain way of doing things around human resources and skills development. Over the years, this has started to change – but the country is still a far cry from the innovative practices taking place in California.

A Management Overhaul?

Building good ICT solutions requires good people. And the best way to attract those talented individuals is to offer them support from a management perspective.

For example, developers want the opportunity to progress within an organisation and be exposed to as many different things as possible. They, like so many others, are hard-working individuals that want to be fulfilled and become successful. One of the biggest lessons to take from Silicon Valley is in how companies there are able to nurture both the professional and personal sides of each person, ensuring sustainable and balanced growth of the individual.

To this end, it is important to have a creative environment where people can do something besides work. For example, at redPanda Software, we offer rooms where employees can learn to paint or play musical instruments. Or, there are opportunities to tend a bonsai garden or build an R2D2 replica.

Businesses must realise that providing employees with an avenue to be creative will filter through to their professional lives. It is all about giving people opportunities to grow as individuals within the business. For this to happen, management needs to work much closer with people than what it is perhaps used to.

Passion Inspires Perfection

If there is one thing to be gleaned from Silicon Valley, it is that people are passionate not only in their skills, but in their attitudes as well. Providing employees with mentorship opportunities and having a supportive environment are integral in creating a business that reflects the requirements of the digital age.

A beautiful office is just one part of this dynamic. People want to work together and employees want to grow as individuals within the business. Cutting-edge software development can only happen because everybody is excited. Similarly, any other job needs people to come together and work in a place that is not your typical, grey corporate environment.

Ultimately, it is about creating a second home for people. You want to have your employees care about you and grow with your business. And that is one of the best lessons that South African companies can learn from Silicon Valley… sure, the technology is great, but it cannot be created without passionate people.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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