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IBM to help clean Joburg air

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IBM Research has announced a collaboration agreement with the City of Johannesburg and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to apply technologies to help the City deliver on its air quality management plan.

Building on IBM’s global Green Horizons initiative, the partnership with the City of Johannesburg will leverage Internet of Things (IoT) combined with the analytical power of cognitive computing to provide insights and recommended actions to improve air quality and better protect the health of Johannesburg citizens. IBM is collaborating with South Africa’s CSIR on this project. This will build on IBM and CSIR’s Collaboration Framework Agreement that was signed formally in January 2015.

Researchers from IBM’s South Africa research lab will work closely with experts from government and CSIR to analyse historical and real-time data from environmental monitoring stations in the City of Johannesburg, with a long term plan to extend the project across the Gauteng province to include the City of Tshwane and the Vaal Industrial Triangle. The objective is to uncover greater insight about the nature and causes of air pollution as well as model the effectiveness of intervention strategies. In the second phase, the programme will also be extended to include high-accuracy air pollution forecasting for planning and decision support and enable a proactive approach to air quality management.

“For Johannesburg to be a world-class African city, we need world-class solutions to deliver on pressing problems like air pollution,” explained Nthatisi Modingoane from the City of Johannesburg. “This is where our partnership with IBM comes in. Using advanced decision analytics and pollution forecasting technologies, we will strengthen our air quality management strategies and gain greater situational awareness of the challenges at hand. Johannesburg is committed to ensuring a place where people and businesses are in harmony with the environment.”

Johannesburg is the economic hub of South Africa, generating 17% of the country’s GDP. Originally established as a mining town, the city’s mine dumps, residential and traffic emissions generated by the city’s population of approximately 4.5 million people are behind the city’s air pollution which includes ultrafine particulate matter particles – the most harmful to human health. With high rates of continued urbanization, the City of Johannesburg government has put in place a comprehensive Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) to mitigate the risk of increased levels of air pollution and ensure that the City’s continued growth is not at the expense of environmental and public health. CSIR is currently working with the City of Johannesburg to update this plan.

IBM’s Green Horizons initiative draws on innovations from the company’s global network of research labs with contributions from leading environmental experts. At the heart of the initiative are air quality management systems which draw on vast amounts of environmental Big Data generated by thousands of sensors in environmental monitoring stations, traffic systems and meteorological satellites. Cognitive technologies understand this data, and use it to tune a predictive model that shows where the pollution is coming from, where it will likely go, and what will be its potential effect, allowing more informed decisions about how to improve air quality.

Machine learning technologies ensure that the Green Horizon system constantly self-configures, improving in accuracy and automatically adjusting the predictive models to different seasons and topographies. It blends various predictive models including traffic flow, weather forecasting, air pollution and economic data to help officials explore various ‘what if’ scenarios and better understand the consequences of certain actions, such as optimizing or changing traffic flows, relocating industry, switching to renewables and even introducing more green areas into the city. Feeding on the experience of other cities around the world, Green Horizons’ pollution forecasting and scenario modelling capabilities can also help city governments make informed decisions about the construction and location of future industry, power generation facilities and roads.

“Air pollution is now the world’s largest environmental health risk. While Johannesburg does not yet have the air pollution challenges to the scale of the world’s megacities, continued  economic and demographic growth mean that the city government must take action now to safeguard the future health of the city and its people,” explained Solomon Assefa, Director of IBM’s South Africa Research Lab. “The combined power of Internet of Things and cognitive computing means that understanding, managing and forecasting air quality today is more technically and economically feasible than ever before.”

The new agreement builds on existing collaborations between IBM Research and the City of Johannesburg. In October, the two parties struck up a partnership to leverage IBM’s Watson social media analytics capabilities to better understand the pulse of citizens towards the city’s recent EcoMobility World Festival 2015 during which time people were encouraged to walk, cycle, car-share and use public transport as opposed to private vehicles.. During the Festival, IBM’s data scientists used the company’s world renowned Watson cognitive computing system to ingest and understand over 18,000 tweets from over 6,000 Twitter users. They provided the city with regular updates about public opinion towards the city’s ecomobile’ transformation.

“There is increasing focus on energy and environmental issues here in South Africa and around the world leading to new streams of investment and opportunities for innovation,” said Dr. Sibusiso Sibisi, CEO of CSIR. “Working together, CSIR and IBM will explore how advanced technologies can help to better understand and improve society’s relationship with the environment, bringing to bear local talent and best practices from some of the most environmentally challenged places on the planet.”

This also builds upon CSIR’s research into air quality and resultant health impacts in the city and province, including the recently completed Vaal Triangle Health Study and the ongoing project to assess and update the City of Johannesburg’s air quality management plan.

 

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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