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SA’s first data science academy launched in CT

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South Africa’s first data science training academy has become a reality thanks to an investment of over R50-million by BCX.

The investment has largely been fuelled by the growing demand for big data analytics and BCX’s recognition of the need for this skillset within the country.

The Explore Data Science Academy aims to meet the burgeoning demand for data analytics in the digital economy – a demand that far exceeds current supply. Through the academy, BCX will sponsor 300 interns over the next three years, as well as future-proofing executives in this scarce skill, through the provision of additional courses. The Academy is believed to be the first institution in the country focused on data science.

Kicking off the initiative was the announcement of 100 free internships to successful applicants of the Academy’s one-year Accredited Skills Data Science Programme, commencing January 2018. These internships will be fully sponsored by BCX, which has come on board as founder partner of the Academy for the next three years. BCX has committed its support after recognising the huge need for data science skills within corporates in South Africa.

There are no restrictions to entry for the one-year course, nor are formal qualifications required. Applicants should be between 17 and 35 years of age and must pass a challenging aptitude test on the academy’s website.

The Explore Data Science Academy is the brainchild of founders Shaun Dippnall, Dave Strugnell and Aidan Helmbold, all highly qualified data scientists with actuarial qualifications and experience in lecturing, research and consulting.

Dave Strugnell was former head of UCT’s Division of Actuarial Science. Dippnall was previously an actuarial lecturer at UKZN, but more recently served as both a Chief Actuary and Chief Data Scientist at some of the largest corporates in South Africa. Both Helmbold and Strugnell have also held executive positions in their roles as actuaries and data scientists.

“Ours is a unique, one-of-a-kind course in that it is free, practical, has real-world relevance and provides work experience. We also like the fact that it is open to anyone with aptitude,” said Dippnall.

By comparison, equivalent university programmes, such as a Masters in Data Science, come at a significant cost to a student, which prevent many people from applying. They also tend to focus on theory rather than practical application.

“The support from BCX allows our interns crucial access to real-world challenges. What’s more, the spectrum of programmes we offer, simulate the teamwork required when working with data in a corporate environment,” Dippnall added.

Ian Russell, CEO of BCX, said: “In a rapidly changing business landscape, data science has become a core skill for corporates who are looking to digitise their operations and leverage big data. We look forward to welcoming the first interns to BCX as a result of this programme.

“Data science is integral to the future of our business and many others. For this reason we have committed, through our agreement with the Explore Data Science Academy, to sponsor a minimum of 300 interns over the next three years,” Russell added.

The course, which will be held at the academy’s premises in the Bandwidth Barn in Cape Town’s trendy Woodstock, incorporates cutting edge training material, leveraging the latest in data science and artificial intelligence research. The Academy will be designated as a Seta Accredited Skills Programme, with the expectation that it will receive accreditation by the end of the year.

Commenting on the decision to establish the country’s first academy devoted to data science, Strugnell said: “The acceleration of the digital economy means that every industry will need data science skills. There is an estimated global shortfall in data scientists of two million. Likewise there is huge demand for these skills within corporate South Africa, which far outweighs current supply.”

The field has been ranked as the ‘sexiest’ career choice of the 21st century[1] and is also one of the highest paid.

“We are particularly excited to be the first institution to offer a focused, comprehensive and free year-long accredited skills data science programme in the country that will build the relevant digital skills within our youth, so that they can thrive in the new economy,” Strugnell added.

Dippnall and his team aim to complete the recruitment of 100 interns by October 31, 2017 from the flood of applications expected. While prior education and exposure to mathematics and computing will be an advantage, applicants will be selected primarily on their ability to complete an online aptitude test.  The course will start in January 2018.

“Anyone from any background with an aptitude for mathematics, statistics, problem solving and analytics may qualify for our course,” Dippnall said.

“Data science, at its core, is about solving real world problems. We will teach our interns how to solve these by applying the latest techniques – from prediction models and artificial intelligence – to the growing amount of data available in businesses,” Helmbold said.

“Our design principle is to build an agile, digital, peer-to-peer, modern education programme that is Seta-accredited and teaches students new economy skills that current platforms do not offer. We are also extremely gratified to have the support of BCX as founding sponsor for our first intake,” he added.

Successful candidates will spend the year between the classroom, on-the-job training and team-based project work.

“We designed a course that closely mirrors the demands of the workplace. Included in the curriculum are tools such as Python, Tableau, SQL and Scikit-learn, which are routinely required when building data science applications. We have also added job immersion and self-paced project work, which both involve team dynamics and interaction,” Dippnall said.

While job placement at the end of the year is not guaranteed, Dippnall is confident that uptake of candidates will be strong given the shortage of skills. Stipends are available to cover the living expenses of successful candidates who are in financial need.

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Samsung in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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