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The new mining industry: Big Data?

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Big Data is affecting companies of all sizes. However, many of them do not know how to properly mine important information it. Microsoft hopes to change this through an art exhibition that demonstrates how Big Data tools can be used to make sense of seemingly meaningless information.

Microsoft South Africa believes that the current South African business environment represents an important growth opportunity for the mining of data for firms seeking a competitive edge.

“Many people are talking about data becoming the new business currency,” says Kelly Husband, Microsoft South Africa’s Data Platform Product Marketing Manager. “Trending terms like Big Data, Internet of Things and Predictive Analytics are all buzz words in the market but the essence of what we are seeing is really the importance of data – existing data, new data, new insights from data, faster insights from data, and predictive analysis from data.”

Microsoft SA, through familiar technology tools such as Excel and SQL, is able to offer an unparalleled experience to businesses unlocking actionable insights with the ingestion and analysis of data.

Companies such as Tracker, a leading vehicle tracking company in South Africa, has been leveraging the data collected through the nodes in their customer database of vehicles to provide insights to organisations such as Navigation companies, Insurance companies, and Emergency Services.

“With the use of already installed vehicle tracking devices, we are able to track the live movements of vehicles around the country, segmenting the data down to the side-streets of the city we can predict traffic issues, map traffic incidents and even help define the state of the roads. The possibilities are endless to help organisations like to improve the quality of our roads or reroute emergency services to help improve emergency response time,” says Wayne De Nobrega CEO of Tracker South Africa.

“The impact that the analysis and understanding of the data on hand can have on business is already redefining the way businesses are operating in the country. Through the analysis and visualisation of the data, we have been able to effect change and impact the way we offer services to our customers and our partners.”

In order to showcase the evolving role of data in business Microsoft South Africa launched an art exhibition last night at the Mr Price Court in Sandton City, which showcases the work of six young artists. Artists were commissioned to create pieces of artwork that illustrated what Big Data means to them as well as the potential it possesses to boost a business’s performance and bottom line.

Through the use of the art exhibition, Microsoft South Africa hopes to educate businesses and consumers about the possibilities that could be unleashed with Big Data, how the information available through analysis has the potential to empower business and the consumer.

The art exhibition, on display at the Mr Price Court in Sandton City, will be open to the public for a two week period as of 19 June.

For the piece entitled Cloud, Kgosietsile Ramorola (20) used a mirror and light to illustrate how Big Data tools can be used to make sense of seemingly meaningless information. “My idea is to use light from the top to get the image that you are looking for. So the mirror works as a Microsoft tool, taking the image or information that’s at an awkward angle and displaying it on the wall in a clearer, bigger and easier to understand way.”

21 year old Njabulo Mziyane explains his train of thought when coming up with his artwork entitled Fly on the wall: “I thought of how much data is used every day and decided to amplify the amount of data, by taking something small and making it seem a lot bigger. With magnification as the tool, it demonstrates how a small amount of data can make a huge difference.”

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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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 about Netflix’s 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,” he adds. “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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