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Keeping up with UPS

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A UPS is a very important piece of equipment to any business in South Africa, but purchasing one and just installing it is not enough. It needs to be maintained and monitored to make sure it operates properly when needed, writes ELRICA QUICK.

A UPS has become one of the most critical pieces of office equipment in South Africa, given the on-going power problems as well as the essential nature of technology equipment such as servers, switches and other IT equipment. However, a UPS is not simply something that can be purchased, installed and forgotten about. As essential as it is to operations, it is vital to ensure that the device itself is maintained. This is necessary to make certain that, when it is needed, the UPS will be able to perform with maximum efficiency. Simple preventative maintenance and proactive monitoring, can help businesses to ensure their UPS is always available and in good working order, ready to perform its critical tasks whenever needed.

In the past, performing preventative maintenance on UPS’ was challenging, and problems could only be resolved once they surfaced. However, today’s new UPS models offer integrated advanced monitoring, such as regular automatic status updates, through self-monitoring software. This can greatly assist in ensuring problems can be corrected before they affect the business. However, aside from this proactive monitoring, it is also important to still inspect a UPS regularly to ensure it is operating at maximum efficiency. Through regular maintenance, unnecessary downtime can be avoided, which saves businesses both time and money.

While UPS systems are designed to be reliable and durable, as they age there is an increased chance that they may malfunction either mechanically or electronically. The most common causes of UPS failure are the batteries, fans, electrolytic capacitors, Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs) – a resistor designed to protect circuits against high transient (short term) voltage – and the relays.

Batteries do not last forever, and will typically need to be replaced at some point during the lifecycle of a UPS. The forecasted lifespan of a UPS battery is between three and five years. However, this depends on the cycles run on the battery. For example, the number of times that the UPS was dependent on the battery will impact the lifecycle of the battery. Newer UPS units include more advanced features and will send out SMS or email alerts regarding the status of the battery and UPS.  Other factors that impact the lifespan of the battery include placement and storage of the battery, ambient temperature and battery chemistry. Being proactive and being aware of these factors can help organisations ensure they obtain maximum life from their UPS batteries, and can predict and prepare for imminent failures.

Temperature has a significant impact on the life expectancy not only of batteries, but of all UPS components. Most UPSs are thus equipped with fans, to help cool the unit and keep ambient temperatures within recommended ranges. The fan will typically switch on or speed up when utility power is not available or when the temperature within the UPS surpasses a predetermined level. To prolong the life of UPS fans it is advisable to limit the scenarios in which the fan is forced to operate. Keeping the ambient temperature within the specified range, monitoring the UPS for unusual or frequent cycling, and correctly sizing the UPS for the relevant load can all help to extend the life of this component.

Electrolytic capacitors smooth out voltage fluctuations and monitoring the temperature of the environment and ensuring it remains within specified ranges, will greatly enhance the life expectancy of electrolytic capacitors.

When it comes to MOVs, they typically malfunction after being exposed to frequent and/or extreme voltage spikes. A UPS is designed to provide surge protection to connected equipment, and the MOV functions to achieve this by absorbing excess voltage. If a severe voltage spike occurs, the MOV may be destroyed. There is little that can be done to prevent the effects of extreme voltage spikes, however, it is important to ensure that if they do happen, the MOV is replaced so that the UPS can continue to provide optimal functionality.

Relays switch the battery on and off, and under normal circumstances it is unlikely that the UPS will cycle enough times to cause the relay to fail. Unusually high cycling could indicate incorrect UPS operation, and the relays and the battery may be affected. Proactive monitoring and reporting will help organisations to become alert to this type of issue, which enables proactive adjustments to be made to the firmware to prevent substantial damage or failure before it occurs.

While the majority of serviceable UPS components are designed to be touch safe, it is wise to bear in mind that a UPS is still a live piece of electrical equipment, and due care and safety procedures should always be taken. General best practices for the maintenance of UPS solutions are to be proactive, be prepared and be organised.  Proactivity is always the best approach with regard to both battery and UPS replacement. Finally, correct organisation is essential. Maintenance inspections should be routinely scheduled, and should always include documentation with details such as inspections performed and date of inspection. Keeping records of the type of maintenance performed and the condition of equipment, including any areas of degradation such as reduced battery runtime, will help organisations to predict future failure.

Monitoring and maintenance are of the utmost importance in preventing problems before they occur, and minimising the effects of costly downtime to a business. Certain factors can easily be controlled to help extend UPS life through optimal conditions, and understanding the effects of elements like temperature and environment. Utilising a reputable brand of UPS from a reliable service provider or partner, and making use of the management features available, can help organisations to leverage their UPS investment to maximum advantage.

* Elrica Quick, APC Product Specialist at Drive Control Corporation

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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