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Why remote working is a must for SA

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Construction in Sandton and Fourways, gridlock in Cape Town are all factors building a strong case for companies to embrace remote working. But is your business geared to make the move and if not what can you do to make it so.

South African commuters are starting to feel the pressure of getting to work on time mounting, which is in itself causing undue stress on both employees and employers. Spending between an hour to two hours in traffic just to get to the office on time is becoming the norm, and in a country where public transport is not as pervasive as it is in Europe and the United States, the problem isn’t going anywhere fast.

“Employees are feeling trapped which is breeding an unhealthy and unproductive environment, which is why corporate South Africa needs to start embracing flexi hours and remote working,” says Marius van Wyk, operations and technical director at SkyGroup Communications. “There simply is no excuse. The technologies and tools, such as remote data access, video conferencing facilities and cloud solutions like Skype for Business exist, all of which support remote working and promote productivity.”

According to van Wyk remote working has to date been reserved for workers willing to take a knock in salary in order to be able to benefit from more flexibility in work hours. This is particularly true for those employees with children. But he says the view needs to shift to one which supports productivity and employee well-being, particularly as news reports and daily traffic reports paint a bleak picture of the state of South African roads.

“Internally we have implemented a pilot project called P.O.P – Place Of Productivity, which encourages employees to work from home.  Project P.O.P. is an initiative to gauge employee productivity and general business engagement irrelevant of location.  It is centred on our belief that your place of work should not be tied down to a single location.

“What we have seen is that as long as an employee has a stable Internet connection at home, have access to collaboration tools such as our videoHUB conferencing solution and relevant business applications i.e. Microsoft Office, Skype for Business, hosted or cloud based telephony services etc., they are even more productive at home than they are in the office,” he adds.

Surely not more productive? This is the standard answer from much of corporate South Africa who still battle to relinquish face-to-face “clocking in” of employees. Reports from Fortune Magazine, the Harvard Business review as well as a slew of independent studies all build the case for remote working.

All of which speak to the fact that office workers who spend between 45 minutes to 2 hours commuting, arrive in the office feeling like they have already spent a day at the office, and can take as long to get into their work. The growing cost of real estate that is forcing the need for open plan offices is another factor. Open plan offices are a sure fire way to kill productivity, unless the corporate culture supports these.

In one case study run by Chinese travel website Ctrip, sales people working remotely were able to complete 13.5% more calls than their office bound counterparts. The company said it estimated that it saved $1,900 per employee for the nine months just in office finishings and space. It also managed to completely eradicate the “water cooler” effect which is a sure fire way to eat into productivity hours.

“It is not all a bed of roses though. Instilling a remote working culture and making it successful relies about 50% on technology to support the environment and the other 50% on company culture, incentives and the willingness of the employee. You can’t just deploy a cloud-based video conferencing solution, buy mobile data and install fibre at the home of an employee to make it work.

“You need to develop policies, gauge if the individual is disciplined enough to embrace it and set out incentives to encourage its success. Furthermore, regular meeting and ‘management check in’ points need to be established, reports need to be submitted and management need to review these. But the benefits far outweigh the pain points,” adds van Wyk.

Looking ahead, the construction in Sandton is not going to improve in a hurry, nor is the traffic trap that is Fourways or the gridlock that is gripping Cape Town. Which begs the question: if you aren’t considering remote working then why not?

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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