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Apps drive work democracy

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Apps have made just about anything possible and are broadening service providers’ access to their customers. Also, anyone can now start an enterprise, thereby brining in more competition and offering better prices and more choices than ever before.

In the evolution of the digital world, apps have made just about anything possible by broadening the access that service providers have to customers. Ultimately, it can be said that digital has democratised business by enabling anyone, even those operating on shoestring budgets, to start an enterprise of their own and exceed their wildest dreams. For consumers across the globe, this new world means more choice and better prices than ever before.

So says Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank, who points to the success of Uber, the innovative app that connects riders to drivers through smartphone technology. It has revolutionised the transportation industry around the world, and is presently making waves on South African shores.

The change Uber is bringing to the transportation industry, and the inspiration it provides to entrepreneurs looking for a new niche for their ideas, was illustrated in a recent episode of The Growth Engines, supported by Standard Bank and aired on Business Day TV. The series examines how innovative small and major businesses can collaborate to innovate in their markets.

“By using an app to create a connection point between transportation providers and passengers, Uber has changed the way that people move across 300 cities around the world. It has also boosted the earnings of taxi drivers who can use the technology to be connected to a new base of riders across their cities – thus reducing the ‘dead return time’ that normally occurs after a fare is dropped at a destination.

What is particularly interesting is that fitting the modern app-driven convenience of mobile technology into an established, traditional business like driving a taxi has involved some compromise on the part of Uber. Innovation has won the day, but collaboration between the old and the new is what is making the concept work,” says Ms Nyembe.

“The app has become the middle-man, bringing the essentials of democratisation to the transportation business. By bringing efficiency and accessibility to the fore, it has simultaneously empowered drivers to transform the way they do business,” says Alon Lits, General Manager: Uber (Gauteng and Durban).

In its six years of existence, Uber has transformed the way that people move around the world’s major cities. Commuters use the app to request a driver close by, are collected by the vehicle, and are billed through Uber, making the service seamless and easy.

“The birth of the Uber service was spurred by the founders walking through the snow in Paris trying to find a taxi. Both, already entrepreneurs in their own rights, returned to San Francisco and developed the app,” says Mr Lits.

Uber does not employ drivers or own any cars, but partners with the drivers. The drivers, in return for being able to access customers through Uber, pay a fee for the lead generation software every time they pick up an Uber rider. Security, however, dictates that drivers must have the necessary public professional driving permit, commercial insurance, roadworthy certificate, and spotless character references before they can join Uber.

It is at this point that the new way of doing business couldn’t succeed without the traditional, concedes Mr Lits.

“We looked at the system in South Africa and saw drivers coming through who had criminal records. We instituted additional screening practices by partnering with EMPS (Employers’ Mutual Protection Services) to clear prospective driver-partners.”

Says Kirsten Halcrow, Managing Director: Employers’ Mutual Protection Services, whose company uses the services of the South African Police Service (SAPS), Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), and other South African institutions to ensure that people who apply do not have criminal records and that they do in fact have the qualifications and experience they claim:

“We are constantly examining technology and what value we can add to our clients’ recruitment processes. This is particularly important in the present socio-economic environment where it is tough to get jobs and individuals are looking for easy ways of getting employment – many will use fake qualifications to achieve their ambitions.

Individuals who have criminal records do not admit this on application forms. For Uber specifically, we look for fake driver’s licenses, permits and examine all partner-drivers’ references. Unfortunately, to trust what is on a CV or driver application will not help anyone.”

A more challenging problem for Uber has been the failure of regulations and legislation to keep pace with the changes that have taken place with the emergence of the app world. An alleged contravention of permit bylaws in Cape Town recently saw 60 Uber operators running foul of the law.

“We continue to engage with regulators at city, provincial and national levels to ensure that our partners have a clear route to licensing. At the end of the day, we are dealing with a case where regulation is lagging innovation. It doesn’t make sense to step back and wait for regulation to catch up.

This is especially so in the context of South Africa. How can we sit back and let outdated regulations stand in the way of job creation, and safe and reliable rides that can transform the taxi industry?

We see Uber as not taking away business from traditional metered taxi drivers, but assisting them by taking away their down-time. It is not about them losing existing business, it is about adding to it. Even though Uber fares are lower, we are being told by drivers that they are making more money and also managing their time better,” says Mr Lits.

“The path to innovation and democratisation will never be totally trouble-free. In a fast-moving world, it is becoming increasingly common for entrepreneurs to identify a need and do what they can to supply solutions. It is inevitable that from time-to-time, entrepreneurs will conflict with entrenched interests and regulators.

Inevitably, the needs of customers and the opportunities offered to people to find gainful employment by using apps and digital services will win out,” says Ms Nyembe.

The Growth Engines can be viewed on Business Day TV (DSTV channel 412) on Tuesdays at 9:30pm, with repeats on Wednesdays at 10:00am and Thursdays at 2:00pm. For more information and to view in-depth articles on the key themes explored on the programme, log on at bizconnect.standardbank.co.za or bdlive.co.za/indepth/growthengines.

 

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Meet the ambassador to the future

Tilly Lockey, 14, lost her hands as a toddler, but sees it as a massive opportunity to embrace technology. She chatted with ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK about the human of tomorrow.

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Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

It is a description that defines 14-year-old Tilly Lockey: She lost her hands at the age of 15 months, and now uses bionic hands to show the world how to overcome disability.

That could easily read as an advertisement for a prosthetics company, but Tilly refuses to be defined by marketing messages. She has not only embraced what is supposed to be a disability, but wants to become nothing less than an ambassador to the future.

Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

That is in effect what she is achieving by pushing the boundaries of what is possible with artificial hands. It means that, eventually, she will have more capabilities built into her body than most able-bodied humans can imagine. She collaborates closely with Open Bionics, a start-up that is using 3D printing to create low-cost prosthetics with high-tech capabilities.

“I have very high hopes for the future,” she said during a chat on the sidelines of the SingularityU Summit at Kyalami north of Johannesburg. From Newcastle-on-Tyne in the United Kingdom, she was at the Summit as a guest speaker, chaperoned by her father Adam and sister Tia. 

“When I started working with Open Bionics, I wanted it to include lighting, music, Bluetooth, a projector in my palm, all over-optimistic things. But then I feel that is not too far away, and then a disability would turn into and enhancement of normal human hands. I’m really excited about it.

“I know there’s a couple of things they are working on right now, like trying to get the built-in battery thinner, because it’s hard to get overcoats and jackets over it, so they are trying to get the hands slimmer. They’re working on haptic feedback, to give a sense of touch of vibration, which tells me of I have a good grip on something. It could be coming soon. These hands I’m using now were made in the past five years. In another five years, I think we’ll have all of it.”

The hands in question are called Hero Arms, which its creators, Open Bionics, say is “the world’s first clinically approved 3D-printed bionic arm, with multi-grip functionality and empowering aesthetics”.

Click here to read more about the development of Open Bionics’s Hero Arms.

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How Tilly Lockey became a Hero

Part 2 of ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK’s interview with Tilly Lockey explores her amazing career.

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Picture courtesy SingularityU South Africa 2019 Summit

This is the second part of this series of articles. To start from the beginning, click here.

Tilly Lockey was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicaemia Strain B when she was 15 months old.

Her mother spotted the tell-tale signs one day in 2007: a fast-spreading skin rash that looks like pinpricks, along with symptoms like lethargy and bruising. She was rushed to hospital, but the bacterial poisoning spread so aggressively, doctors gave Tilley no chance of survival. They had to make a quick decision to amputate her hands to save her life.

Twelve years later, her future truly came into focus: “I was surprised with really cool Alita: Battle Angel bionic Hero Arms and went on the blue carpet at the world premiere of the movie with Rosa Salazar and director James Cameron.”

That pivotal moment in her life would not have been possible without the intensive efforts of her mother, Sara, to raise funds to buy something better than the metal prosthetics issued by the National Health Service in the UK. She increased Tilley’s profile with a campaign to “Give Tilley a Hand”, and today works as a fundraiser and events organiser for the Meningitis Now support group. Her involvement in an event meant she was unable to join Tilley on her trip to South Africa last week, when she spoke at the SingularityU Summit. After coming off stage, Tilley told us that Sara was her biggest inspiration in her life, and the closest to a role model.

“I’m usually a speaker at her events. I tell everyone my story and what I’m doing now and give these kids inspiration, because they often feel they can’t do anything because of what Meningitis did to them.

“I am home schooled now, which is pretty cool, because I’m able to have a career and get educated at the same time. I feel I can do a lot of things that friends can’t do. I can take a whole class on an aeroplane. I have a great time traveling and meeting so many inspiring people who are making a difference in the world.”

The form of Mengingitis that attacked her leaves hidden scars and issues that only become apparent years later. She is almost absurdly cheerful about the challenges that have faced her.

“I personally figured out that my left leg had stopped growing. I’m still finding out things it has caused, but you survive. At least I’m here and I’m alive.”

It does help that she’s comfortable in the spotlight, happy to give interviews, and eager to show what she can do with her bionic hands.

“I want to go into public speaking a lot more, and it could be an option as career. I want it to continue because it’s a lot of fun, and I feel I’ve got a story to share. If I can inspire people to change the world, I will. “

Her travels this year will still take her to Barcelona, Jakarta and New York. In the Big Apple, she will accept a humanitarian award, and intends “to give a funky speech”.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, she will take part in a fashion catwalk and do a makeup tutorial live. She learned to do makeup with one of her bionic hands when she fractured her right elbow in a fall at school

“I got makeup for Christmas and wanted to play with it, and got the idea of doing it with an open hand. It took a lot of perseverance and patience, but after studying how to do it, I was able to recreate a full makeup routine using one hand. It wasn’t a great situation at the time, but now I’m happy it happened because it got me into doing what I do now.”

What she is doing with makeup is remarkable in its own right. She gives tutorials on YouTube, where she says she is “kinda new”, as she has “only around 16,000 followers”. That may well soon expand into cooking videos.

In other words, everything is an opportunity: “I could be sad, just sit on my bed and cry, or I can live my life and realise what I’ve got: these amazing bionic Hero Arms.

“All I want to do is help give people confidence in themselves, accept who they are, accept their scars and everything about them. That they don’t have to impress everybody and just be themselves.”

Read more in the third article of the series about how family remains at the centre of Tilly’s life.

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