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Blockchain can change retail

The retail industry has undergone a transformation with technology and online shopping retailers are spying ways to hang on to traditional shoppers while diversifying both their channels and their wares, says JAQUELINE VAN EEDEN, Business Development Manager: Retail and Consumer Industry at Wipro Limited, Africa

Cryptocurrency and the blockchain

The wave of cryptocurrency has lapped over the world, garnering the interest of even the most guarded and technology-reluctant folk. Retailers have cottoned on to this trend, with leading South African retailer, Pick n Pay, trialling Bitcoin payments mid last year. Despite the fact that they have not proceeded beyond trial, Pick n Pay spokesperson cited cryptocurrency as a “game changer” for the retail space, and one which will inevitably be accepted as tender as it matures.

Meier, says however, that it is the technology behind cryptocurrency, called blockchain, which is making a more tangible impact on retail.

“Retailers are exploring blockchain technology to drive core processes such as buying and reselling of stock and regulating logistics. Use cases are gaining traction virtually on a daily basis. Beyond cryptocurrency, the blockchain can also facilitate other payment methodologies, such as voucher or barcode payments, which will eventually encroach on traditional payment methods,” says Meier.

The custom customer

Customer demands are changing, partly because of new shopping habits brought about by technological advancements such as shopping apps, and partly because of the advent of an entirely new generation of shoppers who’ve been born to a world of instantaneous delivery. A natural follow on from this is customisation.

Consumers today are uniquely positioned to demand what they want – and get it too. Meier points out that retailers are leveraging big data and analytics to tailor their services and products to the market. In some cases, going as far as to customise for individual consumer requirements. Customers are reaping the benefits of on-demand products and delivery, from whichever platform they feel most comfortable using.

“Customisation is gaining popularity in the likes of fashion and the automotive industry. The line between retailer and manufacturer is blurring – both have begun selling direct to the customer and retailers have invested in their own private label products. Retailers are moving into the manufacturing space, making use of technologies such as the blockchain, 3D printing, augmented reality and online app-based customer design platforms, where customers can simultaneously create and buy their own unique version of a product.”

It’s all about choice

Consumer demands and retailer’s access to technology are creating an effective meeting or engagement point between customer and retailer, where more choice is available either through the method of purchase, such as apps, or method of delivery, as with subscription-based buying.

“Products are increasingly being offered as a service, a prime example being upcoming car subscription services such as Volvo’s Care,” says Meier. “Retailers in other industries are also exploring this type of offering or looking at ways to integrate service offerings into their delivery, either themselves or through strategic partnerships with emerging players.”

For retailers, leveraging start-ups that can add value to their own customer service, becomes cost  effective way of boosting their offering without building or retaining in house services of their own. Meier offers examples of replacing an in-house logistics fleet through partnering with a start-up transport service, or using the likes of PayPal or Zapper instead of traditional Point-of-Sale (PoS) systems to supplement cash and card payment options.

Electronic tokens, SMS and WhatsApp have become normalised interaction channels, particularly for retailers that target the youth. Retailers are using the likes of WhatsApp for more than just communicating with customers; it’s being used to transact, confirm payments and orders, and to inform customers of important information, such as delivery status.

Challenge of change

Meier poses that the challenge with these platforms – as with shared delivery platforms – however, is that they are difficult to monitor and manage.

“While there is value and costs savings to be had by chasing these technologies and partnering with emerging players, in that retailers are able to focus on their core business, measuring the success and true value of these ventures still poses a concern,” explains Meier. “Retailers still rely on records such as delivery notes, purchase orders, etc. For these platforms to be successfully integrated into operational functionality and become auditable, they need to tie in with the retailer’s financial system – which many don’t as yet.”

Keeping it all secure

Where financial information is disclosed, there is always a risk of security breach. Retailers are investing heavily in security measures such as encryption to minimise this risk, boost consumer trust and mitigate potential damage to their reputations. The use of multiple interaction channels such as WhatsApp can be a concern, as the security of these platforms resides with the platform and not the retailer.

“Most shoppers are familiar with the scams out there, such as phishing sites and poor security when buying from sellers via online platforms. Introducing rating systems helps to boost buyer trust and makes buying and selling on these platforms safer, by virtue of using only well-rated sellers. Consumers need to actively use the trust facilities available to them,” says Meier.

Goods-in-transit security is another concern. The introduction of smart dashboards in vehicles, and IoT devices to monitor loads, is opening the door for their use as a security and communication tool, enabling monitoring of goods-in-transit while offering other benefits, like proactive vehicle maintenance.

Change is happening

It’s not the retail industry as a whole that is necessarily driving the demand for technology though. Individual retailers are exploring things such as disruptive payment systems, ways of outsourcing their logistics requirements, or methods to engage with customers through third parties who offer multiple brands across all sectors on a single, interactive platform.

“There is a technological convergence happening in the market place, where consumers can access whatever they are looking for across different traditional industries, in one place, and have it delivered in a manner of their choosing. Maintaining pace with this expectation, and innovating to meet it easier, quicker and with better returns, is driving technological adoption, even as technology drives the change,” concludes Meier.

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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as end-of-support looms, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2008.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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