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Some cloud solutions to load shedding

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As load shedding threatens businesses and their livelihood by causing them to turn customers away, TRACEY NEWMAN believes that many can turn to cloud-based services to keep themselves operational when the lights go out.

As the scourge of load shedding once again threatens to cause havoc amongst South African businesses by plunging restaurants into darkness during peak lunch time hours and causing clothing retailers to turn customers away during profitable weekend shopping hours, what measures can local companies take to minimise the impact of blackouts on their business?

According to Tracey Newman, SMB Lead at Microsoft South Africa, the answer, especially for companies that cannot afford to adopt green solutions and expensive UPS’s, may lie in the cloud – that is for businesses to adopt cloud-based services.

Besides leaving a business in the dark, power outages also breaks the line of communication organisations have to customers, partners, and service providers. Here, cloud-based services can keep that line open after Eskom closes the power taps. Unlike PABX lines, solutions like Skype for Business will enable a company to make or answer business calls and have conference calls with clients or video calls with employees in the field during power outages.

Staying productive during outages & out of the office

With cloud storage, there is no longer a need to have expensive UPSs running the company’s server during load shedding times since data is stored online and can be access from anywhere, any time, and using virtually any device. The organisation’s crucial business data remains accessible during power outages, since employees only need a connection to the internet like a 3G dongle plugged into a laptop or even a smartphone acting as a Wi-Fi hotspot for instance.

In fact, cloud has advantages for business with UPS’s as well since the network, computing and storage equipment takes around 40% of the power, while 35% is allocated to cooling the equipment, and only 5% goes to lighting as well as other ancillaries. This means that the cloud can offer significant cost and reliability advantages for businesses relying on UPS power during power outages.

Cloud-based services also make it possible for staff to work from home, where they can utilise soft phone (VoIP) capabilities and presence information to answer calls and attend meetings. Companies that are expanding quickly can utilise these services to instigate a telecommute programme for employees who do not need to be office bound all day to reduce office space costs as well as the impact of power outages. The added benefit of initiatives like these is an improvement in employee retention since workers have the flexibility to work from anywhere.

Providing secure access to the data you need most

A common barrier preventing organisations from moving forward with the migration of their data to the cloud is concerns over security and privacy. At Microsoft South Africa, the protection of user privacy and their personal data is as important as fostering innovation. We understand that our customers will only use technology that they trust and that is why we work hard to strengthen privacy and compliance protections for our customers in the cloud.

“Some of the fruits of our labour in this regard includes the fact that Microsoft has become the first major cloud provider to adopt the world’s first international standard for cloud privacy, namely ISO/IEC 27018. This standard was developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) to establish a uniform, international approach to protecting privacy for personal data stored in the cloud,” says Newman.

She added that, “Our adherence to the standard ensures that we only process personally identifiable information according to the instructions that customers provide to us. For enterprise customers, our adherence also reaffirms our commitment not to use enterprise data for advertisement purposes.”

NSBC is always connected thanks to the cloud

For an organisation like the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) being constantly connected to its data and services, even from remote locations is important. The NSBC needed a solution that could support the growing Bring Your Own Device phenomenon amongst its employees and offer mobility as well as access to email as well as documents from anywhere and consequently migrated to Office 365.

To date the NSBC has enjoyed several benefits as a result of migrating its legacy on premise business tools to Microsoft Office 365 including access to unlimited email storage space, which was a constant internal challenge at the NSBC. In addition, the solution automatically backs up the organisation’s information to a remote location, keeping data safe in the event of break-ins or fires.

The move to the cloud has become imperative to the survival of the SMB, not just because of the resulting isolation from the effects of power outages, but also because it is secure and provides flexibility for employees who are empowered to be productive for their company from wherever they find themselves.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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Google to give SA non-profits $2m for innovation

Google is committing $2m worth of funding to non-profits in South Africa through the Google Impact Challenge South Africa, which will see funding awarded to non-profits which are using innovative technology to reach their goals.

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Google is issuing an open call for non-profits in South Africa to apply to receive their share of $2m in funding. Four non-profits in South Africa stand to win $250 000 each, while 8 runners up will each get $125 000. 

Applications are open for the next six months, and non-profits can apply online at https://impactchallenge.withgoogle.com/southafrica2018

Winners will be decided by a panel of local judges and a public vote. The public vote provides a chance for the people to decide which organisation gets an extra portion of funding to help them impact their community. The winning non-profits will get cash as well as access to guidance, technical assistance and mentorship from Google, which they are free to take up should they so choose.

The South African judging panel includes HuffPost SA editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee, businesswoman & TV personality Basetsana Kumalo, South African actress Nomzamo Mbatha, Google SA country director Luke Mckend, singer and entrepreneur Yvonne Chaka Chaka, TV personality Maps Maponyane, singer/songwriter Simphiwe Dana, and computer scientist and entrepreneur Rapelang Rabana. 

The Google Impact Challenge South Africa will close on the 4th of July. The final awards ceremony will be held during the week of 26 November.

At Google for Nigeria in July last year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Google’s commitment to providing $20m funding to African non-profits over five years. This is the first initiative aimed at realising that commitment.

Says Google Africa CMO Mzamo Masito, “This is the first time we are running a Google Impact Challenge in Africa. Many African non-profits are doing great work with real impact and we’re keen to shine a light on them, and give a financial boost to innovative projects and ideas. We believe technology can help local and national organisations to better reach their goals and solve some of the continent’s most pressing challenges, and we are eager to back people who are using technology in new ways to make a positive difference in their communities.

“We also want to highlight the healthy state of social enterprise in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa today, and encourage non-profits to consider how technology can help them reach their goals.”

Other Google Impact Challenges around the world have supported ideas ranging from smart cameras for wildlife conservation to solar lights for off-grid communities to a mobile application that helps to protect women from domestic violence.

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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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