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Virtual assistant for Skype

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Intervate has released ROBIT, a locally-developed virtual personal assistant (VPA), enabling organisations to extract more value from Microsoft’s recently launched Skype for Business.

Skype for Business, recently re-branded from the previous name of Microsoft Lync, facilitates instant messaging and live online meetings for multiple colleagues within a company – via video, audio, or text-based chat.

ROBIT leverages the Skype for Business platform to act as a company-wide virtual personal assistant for all employees within an organisation.

These could range from simple tasks like booking meeting rooms or resetting account passwords, to more complex queries that dive into line-of-business systems – such as one’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution.

Using the text chat feature of Skype for Business, interactions are as quick and simple as any other form of instant messaging (like WhatsApp for example).

Best of all, ROBIT has a quirky and sometimes irreverent personality. She can serve up jokes on request; or reply with cheeky responses like “we don’t have any meeting rooms with a time machine”, if one accidently tries to book a meeting room for a date that’s already passed.

These light-hearted aspects help bring a human-like touch to each interaction, making it fun to engage with ROBIT. It assists in taking the drudgery out of trawling through complex line-of-business systems, which often have less-friendly user interfaces or require additional user access licences.

ROBIT can be customised within any environment, and taught to learn how to perform specific tasks. So, the next time a staff member has the same request, ROBIT is able to deal with the query.

Bruce Williams, ROBIT Product Manager at Intervate, emphasises the importance of this innovation: “Organisations are increasingly looking to automation as a way of becoming more agile and responsive to their customers. ROBIT is an easy-to-use business process tool – designed to speed up many of the simple operational tasks that can consume much of one’s day.”

“She’s always available, always replies instantly, and always provides accurate responses to any queries”.

With fairly straightforward integration, ROBIT is able to draw information from any form of line of business system. Most commonly, information sourced by ROBIT is housed in one’s ERP, CRM and Intranet environments, but it can be plugged into any system.

Williams explains that ROBIT is another illustration of the close partnership between Microsoft and Intervate. As a multi-award winning partner over the past few years (most-recently, Intervate was named South Africa’s Microsoft Partner of the Year for 2015), the two companies have enjoyed a long-standing relationship in Africa.

“From our origins of deploying Microsoft SharePoint to delivering content management services to local clients, we’re now evolving into other areas – like Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Azure, Skype for Business and the Internet of Things.”

Intervate will be extending a free one year ROBIT license to all existing clients.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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Ford begins production of high-tech Ranger in SA

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Ford’s Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria has officially commenced production of the new Ford Ranger, bringing a raft of product upgrades and refinements to one of South Africa’s best-selling vehicles and export models.

“Following the investment of over R3-billion in our local operations and extensive upgrades to our plants over the past 18 months, we are delighted to see the first of the new Ford Ranger models coming off our production line,” says Neale Hill, managing director for Ford Motor Company Sub-Saharan Africa Region.

“This is an extremely important and exciting year for the Ford Ranger, which will also see the launch of the first Ranger Raptor that is undoubtedly one of this year’s most highly anticipated new models,” says Hill.

“The 2019 Ford Ranger will deliver more power, greater fuel efficiency, enhanced refinement, and additional advanced technologies when it goes on sale in the coming months, and we are confident it will once again set the benchmark in the extremely competitive pickup segment.”

Selected range-topping models, including the Ranger Raptor, will be powered by the all-new 2.0 Bi-Turbo diesel engine assembled at Ford’s Struandale Engine Plant in Port Elizabeth. This unit produces 157kW and 500Nm of torque – up by 10kW and 30Nm compared with the current 3.2 TDCi – and delivers up to a nine percent improvement in fuel efficiency when combined with the advanced new 10-speed automatic transmission.

Certain derivatives will feature a 2.0 Single Turbo version of this engine, producing 132kW and 420Nm of torque, mated to the same 10-speed transmission. Various other models in the line-up will retain the proven 2.2 and 3.2-litre Duratorq TDCi engines and existing gearbox options – thus giving customers the widest choice yet in this category. As usual, the line-up includes Single Cab, Super Cab and Double Cab body styles to suit customer requirements.

Along with freshened design cues, range-topping Ranger models will raise the bar once again with industry-defining safety features on the Wildtrak such as Pre-Collision Assist and Active Park Assist. SYNC 3® with Navigation remains one of the Ranger’s technology highlights as a fully featured infotainment system with intuitive voice control.

Following the launch of the ‘standard’ new Ford Ranger models, the attention will be shifted to the locally assembled Ranger Raptor that is set to create an entirely new segment in the pickup market when it makes its eagerly anticipated debut.

“There is a lot of excitement and hype around the Ranger Raptor, and this exhilarating new model will occupy a white space in the pickup market when it goes on sale in the second quarter of this year, creating a much-needed performance model in this crucial segment,” Hill states.

“We can’t wait to get the Ranger Raptor to market, enabling our customers to experience unrivalled off-road performance, cutting-edge technologies and the most muscular design yet seen in this class.”

Some of the defining features of the Ranger Raptor include Position Sensitive Damping (PSD) shock absorbers exclusively manufactured by FOX, and an advanced Terrain Management System (TMS) that includes an exciting Baja mode for fast off-road driving. It also boasts a toughened reinforced chassis, powerful all-disc braking system and specially developed BF Goodrich tyres.

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