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Digital dream for the haves

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The new DStv Explora decoder is about to deliver on the unmet promise of previous versions, but leaves the have-nots even further behind, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The dithering of successive administrations at the Department of Communications has deferred the digital dreams of South Africa’s TV viewing public. The migration to digital terrestrial TV (DTTV), originally set for 2011, still has no due date. The Department has yet to issue tenders for set-top boxes needed by 5-million households to convert digital signals into an analogue feed for their old TV sets.

It was something of an irony, then, that a major announcement was made last week of a new set-top box. Sadly for the 5-million, the box had nothing to do with DTTV. For them, the dream remains deferred.

On the other hand, the new set-top box is good news for 4,4-million households that already have digital TV in the form of Multichoice’s DStv. In the past year, the number of subscribers grew by an astonishing 1,128-million subscribers.

When the DTTV migration strategy was first announced exactly five years ago, the DoC estimated that 7-million households would need set-top boxes. However, successive Ministers of Communication placed more emphasis on who would get the rights to manufacture the boxes than on digital migration itself.

Now we can see the exact cost of the delays created by this debate: the pie waiting to be shared out in terms of manufacturing requirement has shrunk by a third. And Multichoice has happily begun filling the digital donga left behind.

Not that the DStv set-top boxes have been a cure-all. Great things were expected when a high-definition version of its PVR decoder was launched in 2008, but it turned out to be a deep disappointment. It had lesser menu functionality than a standard decoder, and was a nightmare to synchronise with the standard version.

Finally, on 31 July, the future of set-top boxes arrived in South Africa. Multichoice unveiled the DStv Explora, a device sleeker than its predecessor, but with four times the recording capacity. It houses a 2 Terabyte hard drive, four times the size of the older model. This, says Multichoice, is enough to store 220 hours of HD content.

DStv BoxOffice has also been expanded, with 20 recently released movies, while DStv Catch Up now offers 30 movies on demand.

‚”We’ve expanded the number of series available and now also started to introduce series stacking, i.e. making two episodes of selected series available on demand,‚” says John Kotsaftis, CEO of DStv Online.

The most visible symbol of these changes lurks in the Explora’s more user-friendly remote control: it sports dedicated shortcut buttons to DStv Central, BoxOffice, Catch Up, Playlist, Search and Live TV.

Most dramatically of all, according to Multichoice South Africa CEO Collins Khumalo, is that the decoder will soon also allow for delivering content via broadband and remote recordings via the Internet.

The DStv Explora will arrive in stores from 15 August, selling at R2 499. While the have-nots are kept waiting, the haves are about to have a whole lot more.

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Meet the accountant of the future

The accountant of the future will need a new set of skills, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, as he meets both the local users and the global creators of Xero accounting software

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Buchule and Sivenathi Sibaca get a highrise view of London. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

Meet Buchule and Sivenathi Sibaca. They are not only partners in marriage, but also in a thriving accounting business. Buchule and Sivenathi are, respectively, chief executive officer and chief financial officer of SMTAX, which focuses on tax and accounting services for small businesses in the Western Cape, but includes the likes of Absa and Old Mutual among its clients. It employs 18 people and has 4,500 individual and business customers.

That’s not what makes the outfit remarkable. The startling feature of this business is that it has been structured to be a model accounting firm of the next decade. Even more remarkable is the fact that the couple both hail from rural areas where thoughts of the future tend to be about survival rather than blazing new trails.

Last week, they made their first trip out of the country, to attend Xerocon London 2019. This 2-day conference, hosted by the world’s fastest growing accounting software maker, Xero, attracted more than 3,000 delegates from the United Kingdom, Europe Middle East and Africa. A total of 57 Xero partners and users, mostly from accounting practices or suppliers to accountants, made the trek from South Africa.

“It was really about seeing how other accountants on other continents operate in terms of how they think and where their headspace is at,” Buchule told us during Xerocon. “Also, being our first time out of the country, it was to see the culture of other small businesses outside of South Africa. 

“London’s quite different in that regard, but it’s been a really a great learning curve, and we were pleasantly surprised to find elements that look like South Africa, where we can say, at least you’re doing something right. The banking environment is quite unique, as it’s been a really good learning curve in terms of where banking might go to in the future of South Africa if they follow the same trend.”

Buchule comes from the “dusty streets” of Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, while Sivenathi grew up on a farm in a deep rural area near Mthatha.

“I had no idea about technology or the rest of the world or how it could impact the economy in general,” she said. The two met at the University of Cape Town, where she was studying to be an actuary, and he completed a Masters degree in tax. She decided to put actuarial science behind her, however, when the opportunity arose to join Buchule’s business. But her skills helped transform the business.

Said Buchule: “When Sivenathi came on board we did the modeling of the business, and we said that in order to in order to automate the whole bookkeeping journey, we would need to turn closer and closer towards ‘x’, meaning fully automated bookkeeping. We looked at the journey of how long it will it take for us to get to time ‘x’. And then we said, OK, once we get there, what then?

“It was a big realization that when we do get to time ‘x’, the most important thing will be the human touch. That will be the differentiator. So we then spent our time developing that.”

Visit the next page to read more about the Xerocon 2019 event.

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Project prepares Africa’s youth for the future

A partnership between the African Union and VMware is hoped to give new impetus to preparing Africa’s youth for the future, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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VMware’s Everline Wangu Kamau-Migwi and African Union Commissioner Sara Anyang Agbo at VMworld in Barcelona. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

The woman in the regal red dress and gold turban cuts a dramatic figure as she sweeps through the halls of the Fira Gan Via expo centre in Barcelona, Spain. She stands out in sharp contrast to thousands of hipsters in hoodies and businessmen in dark suits thronging the halls. But she is on a mission that will bring true relevance to the work of many of these conference delegates

She is Sara Anyang Agbor, Commissioner for HR, Science & Technology at the African Union Commission. Agbor is at the VMworld cloud conference to sign a memorandum of understanding with the event hosts, VMware. They are formalising a shared commitment to developing the next generation of digital leaders in Africa in a project called Virtualise Africa.

When Agbor began her career as as a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon in the early 2000s, the last thing she worried about was technological infrastructure. But fast forward a decade and a half, and she talks of little else.

Agbor is passionate about preparing Africa’s youth for the future. Her focus is still on education, but she discusses it in terms far removed from her PhD in English literature.

“Nelson Mandela said it very well, that education is the greatest weapon that can transform the world, but what kind of education are we talking about?” she poses the question after signing the memorandum. 

“We’re talking about the education that can lead to the future of work. It is no longer about us having degrees in history and degrees in English, etcetera. It is no longer important for kids to go to school, just for the sake of going to school and having certificates. It is very important for them to go to school that will give them jobs so that they can become job creators, rather than job seekers.”

To that end, VMware will work with the African Union to bring to the continent the VMware IT Academy, a network of educational institutions that provides students with access to learning certification opportunities and hands-on lab experiences with VMware technologies.

Delegates to VMworld in Barcelona pick up new skills. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

VMware is the world’s leading developer of software for managing data centres and businesses’ adoption of cloud computing, generally referred to as virtualisation. It is a strategic partner of cloud giants like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Oracle, which are all setting up data centres in South Africa, and creating thousands of jobs across the continent. As such, VMware technology skills and certification represent a direct path into careers that are tailor-made for the digital revolution sweeping the world.

Everline Wangu Kamau-Migwi, channel lead for VMware in East Africa, responsible for setting up the VMware IT Academy in the region, says that the agreement is an outcome of the company’s quest to use “technology as a force for good”.

“We asked how we as VMware can play a role in bridging the digital skills in in the African continent,” she says. “Hence Virtualise Africa was born, with a key mandate around education. We’ve partnered with learning institutions, starting with universities, a little over 30 in Africa, where we are now giving them material, learning resources, and labs, and they’re able to access this using a methodology called ‘train the trainer’. 

“It focuses on the faculty, on the staff, for sustainability of the program within the learning institutions. Appreciating the fact that VMware virtualisation is the core of cloud computing, this is a technology that is well-appreciated across Africa. But we find that we are not moving at the pace we need to, especially in the adoption of emerging technologies, because we don’t have those skills.

“VMware also has a huge ecosystem with both a partner and customer ecosystem. So we looked at how we can leverage this ecosystem and ensure that those students who are graduating are able to innovate, are employable, and can be enterprising while doing that.”

Globally, around 550 institutions are part of the programme, with the University of South Africa the first in this country coming on board. VMware also supplies licenses to several thousand institutions around the world to teach the curriculum with its products and solutions. 

Enter the African Union. It has 55 member states, and the bulk of their populations are youths.

“We call it a demographic asset,” says Agbor. “But this demographic asset can also be a demographic liability or a demographic time bomb, if we did not put in place the right resources to capture the mind of the African youth. Over 200 million African youth are unemployed. Many have certificates, but they do not have a job.

“As a result, there is no dream, there is no hope. So now they migrate, looking for the European dream, the Canadian dream or the American dream. But there is an African dream.” 

Read more about the AU’s agenda for 2063.

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