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How VR saves lives

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Innovation and technology play a big part in the South African mining industry, but now it has moved on to a new era. ETHEL NYEMBE of Standard Bank explains how to maintain production and reduce cost using new technology like virtual reality.

South Africa is world-renowned for clawing mineral wealth from the earth, often at depths that are unequalled anywhere else in the world. Working at these great depths means physical discomfort and danger – all risks that have to be considered and planned for. Ultimately, it is the combination of innovation and technology that save lives and ensures that miners return safely to the surface.

Because safety is taken so seriously by mines, millions of rands are spent every year on products and services designed to keep miners safe. Not many people would believe, however, that some of the most important and advanced technological safety solutions have their origins in the world of computer gaming.

“Innovation and technology are game changers in the mining sector. Minimising risks means maintaining production and reducing lost-time incidents,” says Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank.

“Given that mining companies are operating under many constraints, it is to their credit that they have adopted all the technology they can to protect their people. Achieving this has meant investing in computer-generated, advanced visualisation techniques and tools that have crossed-over from the world of video gaming.”

A recent episode of the Standard Bank-supported The Growth Engines series, highlighted how major mining company, Anglo American Platinum, works with specialised SME, The Cyest Corporation, to reduce risks and drive bottom line performance through 3D visualisation technology.

Anglo American Platinum is a key player in the global platinum market, and produces about 37% of the world’s platinum in the Bushveld complex that is home to about 70% of the world’s known resources of the mineral.

However, various factors such as a platinum price that has dropped by about 35% in the last five years, and reduced global demand, have placed a strain on the sustainability of platinum mining. Responding to tough times demands innovative strategies.

Says Ms Jeannette McGill, Head of Technology and Innovation at Anglo American Platinum:

“Innovation and technology in the mining sector is exceptionally important, particularly to companies like Anglo American Platinum.

We look at how we can increase our global competitiveness in terms of being able to produce sustainable operations and create maximum value for our shareholders. This requires a certain level of innovation and/ the application of technology both in underground and open-pit environments.

With shallow resources being depleted, we need to mine deeper. There are significant challenges involved with this, including being able to supply our mines with ventilation and support through a variety of applications. It is about mining safer and meeting our corporate objective of causing zero-harm.

Achieving this involves driving discontinuous change. Our need has been to stop making small continual changes in technology, by bringing about change that leapfrogs us into a different space. This is about being collaborative and comparing ourselves not only with other mining companies, but also about seeing what impacts other sectors as far as technology is concerned.”

Keeping pace with the demand for change led to The Cyest Corporation bringing different  technologies – including advanced visualisation technology – to Anglo American Platinum.

It is in this visual discipline that they are making a majoring impression. The technology is being used in the training arena, where virtual reality software is used to drive home the realities of working underground and making the intrinsically hostile environment as safe as possible for all workers.

Visualisations are used to simulate scenarios that can produce life-saving improvements in the mining industry. The relevance of gaming technology to business technologies is acknowledged by the company – particularly when it comes to promoting safety underground.

Andreas Cambitsis, Director of The Cyest Corporation, says:

“There is so much that technology can do in empowering people and making them more effective at their jobs. Whether it is advanced visualisation or beneficiatiating data to make better decisions, we are only touching the tip of the iceberg. Innovation and technology are the bridge to taking companies forward.

It is important to keep an eye on innovation and the bottom line. You must be clear on how the innovation is going to benefit profitability. It is also something that should be considered as a long-term objective. Great ideas are often stifled because they don’t meet short-term needs.”

* Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank

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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