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See the light in dark data

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Dark data, or big data that has not been sorted or used can still help companies, all it needs is to be brought to the front with analytics, sharing and the correct implementation process, writes BRYAN BALFE of Commvault.

Dark data is a relatively new term to the industry, defined by Gartner “as the information assets organisations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes (for example, analytics, business relationships and

direct monetising).” Almost all organisations have volumes of dark data stored away in dusty vaults and off-site storage facilities, historically unaccounted for, unmanaged, and undervalued.  However, modern day information sharing with analytics is bringing the reign of

dark data into the spotlight – mobility trends mean that users can create and share at will through a range of devices, including smartphones, laptops and tablets.

Many organisations are discovering that they lack both the policy and technology needed to efficiently manage data outside of the corporate data centre.  Additionally, the growth of data – and big data especially – is causing enterprise to finally look to address the issue of dark data, if only to curb mounting storage costs.

Stepping into the light

Tackling dark data can be intimidating – even to the most accomplished of Chief Information Officers (CIOs). Organisations have very little awareness of the location, volume, composition, ownership, risk, and business value of their unstructured data..  Based on the complexity associated with managing dark data, Gartner recommends that

“organisations should review the scope of their unstructured data problems by using File Analysis (FA) tools to understand where dark unstructured data resides and who has access to it.”  FA differs from traditional storage reporting tools because the technology doesn’t

just report on simple file attributes, but can also provide critical contextual information; with the ability to analyse, index, search, track, report on file mega data and even content.

Reducing the risk of the unknown

FA tools applied to dark data provide business value in a number of ways, one of which is by helping organisations reduce risk. By identifying which files reside where, and who has access to them, FA tools introduce an element of control. They can also help organisations make more informed decisions around prioritising their unstructured data management needs for classification and information governance, providing insights in setting retention policies for data movement. Many FA tools also offer reporting capabilities that help define these retention policies; according to Gartner, “The value of reports in FA tools is that they can be used to determine policy and strategy in areas such as access, retention and location.”

The real cost of keeping everything

IT administrators often struggle with having little to no insight into what data is being created; limited control over how it is being stored; and almost no understanding of its business value.  When it comes to information lifecycle governance, more often than not, organisations choose to lean on cold storage tape vaults to keep every scrap of data due to a paralysing fear that they may throw away something of value. Recent studies suggest that 69 percent of a

company’s stored data has absolutely no value to the organisation.  In essence this means that organisations could be spending up to 20 percent of their annual budget on storing data that has gone stale, with virtually no Return on Investment (ROI) . When it comes to getting to grips with the mammoth task of dark data, FA tools deliver enterprises with the information required to ‘clean up’ legacy and current data, by identifying which data can moved to lower cost storage, and others which can be deleted.

Defining the value of business data

The key to satisfying the need to hoard information, as well as those who might leverage it for the business, is to first identify what data has value for which part of the organisation, and for how long, so that it can be leveraged.   Once data has been evaluated and indexed properly, organisations can better determine how and where to store that data – whether it’s locally, in the cloud, or using a combination of solutions. The classification process, enabled by FA tools, can also support a well-defined data strategy and used to enforce information governance policies. Although, as Gartner highlights, less than 1 percent of organisations manage their unstructured data today, by 2018 that figure is expected to increase up to 25 percent . Budget implications will drive the need for data management policy and data classification. Automated classification will play an increasingly integral role in the implementation of data classification policies, which will ultimately lead to a more streamlined approach and cost savings.

* Bryan Balfe, Enterprise Account Manager at Commvault

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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