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Making power smart

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The energy problem in South Africa has made it essential for businesses to find alternative forms of power. But how do we know when to switch between environments? INUS DRECKMEYR, CEO at Netshield South Africa discusses how to gauge when it is ideal to move off the “grid” and when to stay on it.

The energy crisis in South Africa has made the addition of alternative energy sources imperative for businesses and households across the country. So now you have power around the clock – regardless of power outages or load shedding. But how do know when to switch between environments, gauge when peak hours are or make your renewable energy solutions work to help you save costs and cut back on grid usage?

Power management needs to be carefully thought out, or you may end up spending more on your electricity bills than you did before. There is a lot of scepticism around implementing renewable energy sources because of the hefty price tag that comes with the initial lay out, but if used correctly these solutions will ultimately save you money while keeping the lights on.

So what can you do? You need to implement a single power management resource that will intelligently and proactively help you determine which energy sources you should be using when, so that you get the most out of your power and maximum return on your investment.

It is all about management, if you have a device in place to manage your power sources in the best way possible, you don’t have to. But be careful to select a scalable solution, something that can accommodate your personal business need. This is particularly relevant if you are a large enterprise, SMBs or homeowner, who has made an investment into multiple power sources, but are finding it challenging to take control and understand your power environment.

All the features, none of the fuss

When we factored all of this in we looked at what was available on the market, saw there was little to match these needs, we elected to develop a home-grown solution designed especially with South African needs in mind to help cut costs and manage your power. If you have a renewable solution in place you want to use it first, because ultimately it reduces your reliance on the grid.

We wanted something that could dynamically determine when these renewable resources were depleted and then move you back onto the grid (Eskom) power, without disruptions to your home or your business. That means happy customers that will always get the services they need, and no wailing children when the TV goes off in the middle of their favourite show.

In addition, if your power goes off at a peak time and your renewable energy stores aren’t fully “charged” to capacity, your solution must tell your system to start up and revert to a generator, if this is included in your power environment. So basically, your power is managed for you to ensure stability and business/home continuity which will in turn, enable you to get the most out of your renewable energy investment and realise ROI. It will also give you the ability to gauge the total cost of ownership in a qualified manner.

Why do I need power management?

Multiple power feeds or sources are very much the way of the future unless some massive changes are made to energy management in South Africa. When adding alternative energy sources to your power environment, the options can be overwhelming and if you don’t use a power management solution, you can’t see where the power is going or where it’s coming from and may end up throwing money down a black hole.

Ultimately it is about effective and smart power management, using the power that’s best for your needs – and pocket – so you can realise a return on your renewable energy investment. Power management is quite a new concept for South Africans, we know that it’s needed but very seldom know where to start. A large problem when it comes to renewable energy at the moment is that people want a “quick fix”. So they will purchase renewable energy and power management solutions that are of bad quality and that will ultimately cost them more than laying down initial investment on a good quality solution would have.

All you need in one solution

How does it work? By quantifying and identifying peak times and even load shedding schedules, we will set up a series of triggers in the systems that then use a type of failover model to determine which power source is needed at that moment.

Depending on your setup of the system, your power management solution should always seek to use renewable first, only electing to revert to the grid if the load requires it, helping you save on grid costs wherever possible. This is achieved via a series of pre-set priorities, determined by you before installation, priorities range from one to four with four being the most severe-case scenario.

In addition to managing your power, the solution we have developed the Nviromon, is also an environmental monitoring solution that enables the remote management of server rooms, entire business networks, and your home, remotely, from a single management console and from a single device. It can remotely open and close gates, serve as an alarm system when connected to movement sensors and sirens and will inform you of power outages as well as other environmental threats outages through an SMS or email.

Remember that power management must give you an efficient, and convenient way to manage your power and your environment with one device, so that you get maximum ROI and peace of mind. In addition, the future will see South Africans paying more for their grid electricity during peak times, so why wouldn’t you want a solution that enables you to switch to alternate sources and save money? It’s the smart thing to do.

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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