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Technology comes good

What do celebrities like Charlize Theron, Jon Bon Jovi, and charitable causes have in common with technology? Everything, if a recent mega tech conference is anything to go by, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The city is Orlando, Florida. The stage is brightly lit. The actress all but shimmers as she addresses the audience.

“This is the city where I shot Monster,” says Charlize Theron, whose role in that movie made her the first South African to win an Oscar.

But she’s not here to talk about movies. The event where she is talking has nothing to do with movies. Rather, it is one of the biggest business technology conferences of the year. More than 20 000 business and technology professionals have descended on Orlando for the annual Sapphire Now event, hosted by global enterprise resource planning (ERP) software leader SAP.

The prime focus of the event is the release of a new software suite called SAP C/4HANA, designed to usher in what SAP CEO Bill McDermott calls a new generation of customer relations management.

“At the centre is the person, not the transaction,” he declares. The key to this person-focused approach is “intelligent customer experience”, both a philosophy and a new name for the category of software that includes C/4HANA. 

McDermott tells business leaders attending his opening keynote session: “Brands are not defined by you, they are defined by your customers. Customers are rebelling against being treated as sales opportunities. Customers are not records in a system; customers are people. Customers have needs and desires, and those have to be at the centre of your design.”

It is this people-focused theme that sets the stage for Charlize Theron, along with stars like Jon Bon Jovi and several Olympic medalists, to share their ideals and motivations.

During an on-stage interview with one of SAP’s most senior female leaders, executive board member Adaire Fox-Martin, Theron shares her views on leadership and purpose. Mostly, however, she speaks of her dedication to a cause close to her heart: the Charlize Therson Aids Outreach Project.

Asked by Fox-Martin why she chose that direction, she speaks passionately about her feelings for South Africa.

“I was born and raised in South Africa and South Africa is the hardest hit country in the world when it comes to HIV and Aids,” she says. “We represent 1% of the world’s population but 19% of the world’s HIV-positive population. More people are living with HIV – 7-million – than anywhere else in the world. 

“It’s a very modern country, there’s a real modern face to SA, it’s a very rich country, although still grappling with its democracy. It’s a young democracy. We have things that make our country more complicated than anywhere in the world. 

“More cultures are living together than anywhere else, which makes for an incredible country. A country like South Africa should not be dealing with HIV Aids in the way that it does.”

In case the audience doesn’t get the message, she emphasises one of the overriding themes of the conference: “For me, it is very personal.”

Her many return visits to South Africa, she says, made her realise she could do something.

Charlize Theron speaks at Sapphire Now in Orlando. Photo by Arthur Goldstuck

“Every time I went back, I saw the devastation this virus had on my country on every level. Emotionally, it stayed with me, and I realised I was living in these two worlds: one in America where I had been given these opportunities, then going back and seeing young girls like myself not living with opportunities, not having knowledge or education. 

“This gave me the drive to take what I had in my life in America and help children who don’t have the tools or resources we have in other countries. We should care about that because it will come round and affect us no matter where we are in the world.”

She leaves the audience with a powerful message: “I’m proud to say South Africa has the biggest HIV treating programme in the world, but we can’t treat ourselves out of HIV and AIDS. We can’t treat it; we have to stop it.”

In contrast, rock star Jon Bon Jovi’s message is almost tame. In conversation with Bill McDermott, he speaks of being moved by the sight, from the window of his luxury hotel room more than a decade ago, of a homeless man sleeping on the streets of Philadelphia. It inspired him to start the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a non-profit organisation focused on hunger and homelessness in the United States.

Coincidentally, it is another South Africa, little known outside the software world, who shows how technology and compassion truly come together. 

Robert Enslin, who built up the SAP business in South Africa in the 1990s, worked his way up the ranks to become president of the SAP Cloud Business Group and a member of the SAP executive board.

He also serves as the executive sponsor for SAP’s Autism at Work program, which integrates people with autism into the workforce. It had become clear to SAP that, while people on the autism spectrum did not often interview well, they excelled at programming once they were hired as software developers. As a result, it launched the Autism at Work programme in 2013.

At Sapphire Now, Enslin discusses SAP’s commitment to the project in a session titled “Inclusion Drives Innovation”. 

“In order to compete in the innovation economy, companies need employees who think differently,” he says. “We have a corporate goal to employ 650 colleagues on the autism spectrum by 2020. The initiative currently includes nearly 120 colleagues filling over 20 different positions, and is active in nine countries.”

Enslin is also honorary global Chairman of the Els for Autism Golf Challenge, initiated by South Africa’s golfing legend Ernie Els. While this takes the cause into the world of sports, Enslin is well-known for his views on workplace inclusion.

“Having a diverse workforce no longer means just gender parity,” he says. “Diversity means employing people across generations and cultures, employing differently-abled people, and making sure you have equality across all dimensions of diversity.”

Ultimately, and surprisingly, it is Jon Bon Jovi who sums up the key message coming out of the conference as he sums up his advice to the youth: 

“Remain true to who you are, don’t follow fads and fashions because, by the time you get to it, it will already be past. The greatest gift the next generation can give is to aspire to inspire. Don’t sing The Macerena because it is a worldwide number one, but try to write Blowing in the Wind because that song will change people’s lives.”

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

 

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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