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Blockchain beyond Bitcoin

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Distributed ledger technology like blockchain was only associated to the financial services until recently. However, companies in other industries are starting to understand its power, write MARY ANN FRANCIS and GILLES GRAVIER of Wipro.

Distributed ledger technology has, so far, been largely discussed only in the context of the financial services industry, specifically in the area of payments. Blockchain technology was popularised by its application in the wildly-popular new crypto-currency Bitcoin, for example.

But blockchain has many wondrous applications in a variety of other industries as well; where visionary firms are starting to understand its power to transform their operations.

Essentially, blockchain allows for the creation of timestamped digital assets, and digital records, which are impossible to tamper with, delete, or edit, commonly referred to as immutable.

So, for a vastly different scenario than moving currencies – imagine a diamond producer leveraging holographic identity technology, where a record of all transactions could be connected to this holograph, and entered into a blockchain. Consumers could see the public record of all prior transactions, and get assurance that the diamond was sourced ethically.

Following the same principles, a blockchain could be used by fine art distributors to confirm the validity of its pieces, or by lawyers to validate the accuracy of photo and video evidence, or by governments when issuing title deeds to homeowners.

The possibilities are endless. There are already companies, start-ups, offering products that cover these specific use cases.

Transparency and efficiency

As a distributed ledger, blockchain technology presents companies with an opportunity to fundamentally re-architect many of its internal processes, and the ways in which they interact with partners, suppliers, distributors, and others in the varied ecosystem.

Whether the use-case is smart-contracts, cryptocurrencies, proof-of-assets, or anything else that blockchains enable, companies are able to interact in a more collaborative, but highly-secure, trusted, manner.

But many CEOs remain reticent to seriously look at adopting blockchain technologies into the company’s business strategies. And it’s true that this area of technology seems to be moving at a rapid pace – zooming into mainstream conversations on the back of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies. To some, blockchain looks volatile, uncertain, risky.

However, blockchain technology can be applied to businesses in South Africa, to improvise record management and transactional efficiency in a wide range of different processes and value chains.

So just how quickly could blockchains take off in SA, considering the very many possibilities for the technology? At this year’s Gartner Symposium/ITxpo Africa, held in late-September in Cape Town, conference delegates showed overwhelming interest in its use.

From keynotes to sideline discussions, the enthusiasm for blockchain technology was palpable, making analysts more bullish on the prospects for blockchain in the short-term. Very possibly, the technology could grip the imaginations of business in a similar way to the Cloud revolution, for instance.

Getting started

The best starting point is to research blockchain deeply and widely, understanding potential use-cases for your industry; and then looking at which internal processes and external transactions could potentially be improved. Which areas would benefit from greater transparency, greater collaboration?

Every company is different. Some rely more heavily on digital assets and services than others, others have embraced connected sensors and devices (the “Internet of Things”) more warmly than others, and some naturally have a more innovative leaning.

But in our experience there are exciting blockchain-related opportunities in even the most traditional organisations.

Following this discovery phase, it is critical to partner with an objective blockchain specialist that can help to craft the strategy. Firms that try to ‘rate their own work’ in this field often miss opportunities, or create blockchain plans that fail to respond to the most urgent business priorities. As we find ourselves in the top of the hype-cycle for blockchain, we still find ourselves in search of the app that brings maximum ROI.

It is recommended that businesses look for three key competencies in a blockchain partner:

•             Thought-leading advisory and consulting services with the ability to design, implement and support blockchain initiatives, along with rich domain expertise in use cases across various industry verticals

•             A deep pool of partners, start-ups and innovators with whom solutions can be created and tailored to the organisation’s unique needs

•             The execution capability to actually run blockchain PoCs and evolve them into fully-fledged solutions – integrating the technology into existing operations.

With blockchain, the traditional principles governing ‘systems of record’ are fundamentally reversed, and many business leaders are still somewhat confused about how this highly-sophisticated shared ledger technology actually works.

But while it’s essential to read deeply and understand blockchain principles, for one’s end-client, we can refer to the analogy of the internet to explain why we don’t have to wait for clients wrap their heads around the technology.

Most of us do not understand the technicalities of the TCP/IP protocol, but that doesn’t hinder us from surfing the web and exchanging emails. In the same way, clients will come to trust blockchain, in the same way they trust the Internet.

Those organisations starting now on a blockchain journey will have a first-mover advantage over slower-moving peers, getting a jump start on the competition and repositioning themselves for a future where blockchains govern all sorts of interactions and transactions in the future. Scale use of blockchain is still a 3-5-year journey – starting now will lessen the urgency some are experiencing now.

* Mary Ann Francis, Executive Advisor and Practice Partner for Global Treasury, Payments and blockchain at Wipro Limited, and Gilles Gravier, Director and Senior Advisor for Open Source and blockchain at Wipro Limited

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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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