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Two SA students through to Imagine Cup World Finals

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Two second year students from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) have been listed among the 33 top teams competing at the 2015 Imagine Cup World Finals in Seattle.

Following a heavily contested World semi-finals involving 150 student projects from 64 countries, two second year students from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) find their team – Digital Interactive Games – listed amongst the 33 top teams competing at the 2015 Imagine Cup World Finals in Seattle taking place July 28 –31.

Imagine Cup is a global student technology competition that provides opportunities for students across all disciplines to team up and use their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create applications, games as well as integrated solutions that have the potential to change the way we live, work and play. The South African leg of the competition is co-sponsored by Microsoft South Africa and Department of Science and Technology.

“Microsoft Imagine Cup empowers tertiary education students of all ages and skill levels with the tools, programmes, and instruction to turn innovative ideas into reality. Whether they’re building a game, designing an app, or launching a project, Imagine Cup will help them develop their idea and boldly bring it to life,” says Clifford De Wit, Developer Experience Director at Microsoft South Africa.

Possessing that ‘cease the day’ mindset.

Digital Interactive Games consists of two students, Jason Cross and Nicholas Jordaan, who are both attending NMMU in Port Elizabeth. Cross and Jordaan are currently second year students and are studying Software Development.

The team’s project is called PYA Maze of Gods and is a 3D Labyrinth style game that has been built to challenge the player’s problem solving skills, reaction time as well as their ability to overcome the obstacles. For fans of fantasy, the game involves in-depth lore along with detailed character profiles. In the game, PYA, is the name given to the realm of the gods.

They both share a passion for game development and met each other in the first week of varsity, when Jason decided to put together a team in the hopes of making a game. Nicolas was one of the first people he approached in support of that cause.

To get the programming ball rolling both budding game developers taught themselves Unity Personal Edition (formally known as Unity Free) and Autodesk Maya. During their first year at varsity, the pair entered PYA Maze of Gods in the local round of the Imagine Cup, making them the first ever first year students in South Africa to not only compete and win at the local level of the Imagine Cup, but also progress from the Global Semi-finals to the World Finals.

“This phenomenal achievement reassures us that South Africa is on the right path of developing skills in software development that is able to compete with the rest of the world. Initiatives such as Imagine Cup provides an avenue through which to develop future IT entrepreneurs who will soon be creating jobs for the youth,” says Dr Quentin Williams, Strategic Research Manager at the CSIR’s Meraka Institute.

Cross explains their drive in the following manner: “Don’t be afraid to go into something you truly have a passion for or to take the initiative for what you wish to do one day. Don’t wait until someone offers it or you get taught how to. There is a ton of resources available for anyone to teach themselves as well as exciting opportunities like Imagine Cup. So just go, learn and make sure you have fun doing it.”

Seattle is calling

Cross and Jordaan are looking forward to going to Seattle for the first time and competing in the World finals of the 2015 Imagine Cup.

“It is the greatest feeling either of us has ever experienced career wise. We could never have dreamed we would make it this far in the competition, but we are honoured to have the opportunity to represent South Africa in this category,” says Jordaan.

He added that they also cannot wait to meet and learn from all of the Microsoft officials and hopes that this experience will help them start their own game development company. Previous winners of the South African leg of the Imagine Cup has gone on to do exactly this.

For instance, 2007 Imagine Cup winner Devin de Vries and his colleagues managed to build a successful and thriving business around their winning entry called Where is my transport. This solution provides commuters in select South African cities like Cape Town with up-to-the-minute information and timetables for taxis and buses, directly to their smartphones.

“Like previous winners of the Imagine Cup have shown, technology can be a powerful tool for addressing local development challenges and we believe that the youth of the country can be important partners in this endeavour,” says Ms Jeanette Morwane, Director: ICT and Services Industry at the Department of Science and Technology.

According to Cross, Digital Interactive Games plan to build on their achievements. “We want to expand our team to keep pushing our limits and develop games to the best of our abilities,” he concludes.

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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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