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IoT has massive power to change our lives

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The power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect us to everyday objects and allow them to send and receive data has the potential to change the way we buy, sell, manage and service goods and commodities, writes SEBASTIAN ISAAC, Business Development Manager at Rectron.

Moving from a hardware first to a software first mindset

There has been a legacy of businesses focusing on hardware first, and of bigger businesses outsourcing various aspects of their products and services. The result is a functioning product that does what it’s meant to, but without the business functionality to monitor usage or have any further input in the customer’s experience.

The same businesses are beginning to see the benefits of including an IoT component into their products. For example, imagine operating an office automation business and being able to monitor toner usage in your customers’ devices so that you can deliver new cartridges before the customer even knows they need to be replaced. Or you may own a lighting company and thanks to real-time data monitoring, you may be able to find a problem and redevelop a lightbulb that many of your customers have been having trouble with. It changes the nature of your business from being purely a manufacturer or distributor, to being able to take responsibility for the full customer experience.

However, a lot of existing companies are trying to retrofit IoT technology into their products to take advantage of these benefits and, quite simply, because they need to in order to stay relevant. The problem with this is that if you have been in business for several years, your business model has probably been devised around the way you sell and service your products. Simply plugging IoT into your existing model is going to be difficult.

That’s where newer or more innovative companies have an advantage. Many of them are starting with a blank canvas and designing products with software and service at their core focus.

Tesla Motors embodies this way of thinking. The company designed its whole business around its car, in a ground-up approach. Tesla is in control of its entire ecosystem, from manufacturing through to aftersales service because IoT technology was part of its business model from the beginning. It’s a prime example of using IoT to take control of customer experience at every touchpoint, and making these customers’ lives as simple as possible by choosing to use this product.

Improved customer service and deeper insights

This highlights one of the two main advantages of incorporating IoT into your business: the positive impact it has on customer service. It’s a relatively easy way of looking after your customers by monitoring their usage of your product and then stepping in with assistance before they have to reach out to you. The knock-on effect of this is creating customer loyalty to your brand. This creates a proactive approach as opposed to our current reactive nature in business.

Beyond customer service, IoT can also be a useful tool for you to monitor and manage customer data and gain insights from this data. Alarm companies have been monitoring our homes using a form of IoT technology for years, and they have the potential to take this further by incorporating data collection, storage and analysis to develop a picture of how many houses are being broken into in each suburb. Although they are currently doing it, the incorporation of an IOT platform, allows them much more insight into the data they are able to collect.  They then have the opportunity to work on their product offering and security strategies, to address this.

Companies involved in water management and electricity management are also ideally placed to take advantage of IoT. In South Africa, the City of Johannesburg has already rolled out approximately 92 000 smart meters and plans to deploy another 250 000 by the end of 2016. This can give the municipality important information about energy consumption in the area and per household – and the more broadly this is rolled out, the more information there is for the government to make decisions about energy regulations within the country. Apart from that, it’s also a useful tool for consumers to monitor their own energy consumption and manage it more effectively to cut costs. It’s already fairly common to have an app on your phone linking to your circuit board to turn off circuits that aren’t being used. And there is the potential to develop a similar system to manage water consumption too.

Addressing real, relevant problems

This shows that IoT innovation is not only a nice to have for improving customer service and consumer experience, but actually addresses real and relevant problems within the South African landscape. The good news is that we have a lot of young, innovative talent in the country ready to help us ride the IoT wave by developing new technology and looking at how to transform existing business models to incorporate it.

The technology on the backend is ready to roll. All you need to do now is start thinking beyond your existing business model and put IoT software and services at the centre of your business model. We’re not far away from making this connected world a reality – so the time is now to start innovating to make sure you’re riding the wave rather than being washed away.

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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