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Customers to outpace companies

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As companies seek more ways to reach customers, the role of digital agencies will expand from just being tactical implementers to giving extensive strategic input across the business says BRADLEY ELLIOTT, director at digital creative consultancy Platinum Seed.

According to the Forrester’s 2017 Customer Experience (CX) Index, 30% of companies will see declines in the quality of their customer experience performance in 2018, placing their businesses at risk.

The report explains that customer expectations will outpace companies’ ability to evolve or invent experiences. This slow pace of transformation means companies can’t adjust fast enough or well enough.

The smart executives will be the ones to take proactive steps in turning their customer experience platforms into portals for truly compelling and meaningful engagements with customers.

As digital agencies and consultancies seek to gain distinction over competitors, the following seven trends will drive the development of digital in 2018:

  1. Data will fall

South Africa has some of the highest data tariffs in the world, restricting access to cutting edge applications at work and home. Due to pressure by #datamustfall campaigners, network operators have begun the long-overdue process of drastically cutting data prices, granting easier access to broadband Internet to South Africans, particularly the youth.

  1. The rise of online video

As data prices decline, video content is becoming an increasingly dominant part of the Internet, with video making up 74% of all Internet traffic in 2017, according to a recent report. This is set to increase further, with brands investing more on video across their functional divisions.

  1. Marrying tech with creativity

As marketing and core business functionality become increasingly intertwined, companies are breaking down the silos that separate their various divisions. Creative agencies and tech consultancies alike will need to offer integrated digital platforms with a range of applications, including admin, logistics and marketing. The various tools will be integrated into a single experience that takes the user seamlessly from the initial moment of gaining awareness about a brand or offer, to placing an order, tracking it, delivery, and after-sales service and monitoring.

  1. The Technology Revolution – IoT, AI and robotics
  • Big data analytics will become a vital input into marketing efforts and key business decisions, enabling the offering of targeted and personalised offers to customers through preferred channels. Automated artificial intelligence (AI) systems will allow much better precision and accuracy, improving click-through-rates and sales.
  • Feeding in the Internet of Things (IoT), the online world will extend further into urban planning through Smart City technology that connects public infrastructure such as traffic lights with smart devices such as vehicles and mobile phones. Already gaining momentum are location-based social platforms like traffic and navigation app Waze, which offers motorists the easiest and fastest routes to their destinations. At home, devices such as the Amazon Echo smart speaker, a voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant, offer a wide range of weather, radio, music streaming, shopping and general search services, offering deeper and richer connectivity to the online world.
  • Using AI, robotics will take on increasingly complex tasks, such as online retail delivery using drones, autonomous transport and hi-tech assembly and maintenance.
  1. Real Influencers

The flooded world of social media calls for brands to demand more out of their influencer programmes than just well-known faces. AI technology such as Continuon can identify the most active individuals who drive the conversation around a brand on social media. While not as famous as celebrity influencers, they are authentic in their engagement and effective in their ability to drive a meaningful campaign.

A host of new channels, devices and technologies are set to enter the market in 2018, however the overall trend is towards more personalised and meaningful engagements that recognise a long-term relationship between a brand and its customers and employees.

Using these tools and trends, digital marketers and tech consultants will be able to stay on the cutting edge at each step of evolution. Advanced technology will be meaningless without the intention of creating a world that enables the lives of consumers rather than clutters them.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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