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Emerging technologies bite into SA jobs market

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Recruiters have seen a decline in demand across most industries within South Africa as companies look for ways to increase output and productivity, while at the same time cutting costs. Instead of hiring more people, they are turning to automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, digital and broader technology to achieve these goals.

This is the conclusion reached by Michael Page International in its 2020 Guide to Salaries & Skills in South Africa. However, the company has also identified fascinating trends in technology recruitment.

“We have seen an increased need for strong commercial leaders with the capabilities to steer businesses through these challenging economic times, focusing on guiding and leading the workforce, and increasing the bottom,” says Paul Newman, associate director of Michael Page South Africa.

“The last year has proven to be challenging for the professional labour market within South Africa, due to various economic and political reasons. The year started cautiously, with the General Elections held on 8 May, and investors adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach. This has, however, continued with policy uncertainty such as expropriation of land without compensation, underlined by the highest unemployment rate since comparable data was recorded in 2008, peaking at 29.1% in the third quarter of last year.

“Overall, we have seen a decline in demand across most industries within South Africa, with certain industries feeling the impact more than others. Companies are looking for ways to increase output and productivity, while at the same time cutting costs. Therefore, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, digital and in broader terms, technology is playing a bigger role in achieving the above mentioned goals.

“South Africa is also facing a brain drain of highly skilled labour who are opting to emigrate; this is creating a talent gap in the market, further contributing to the challenges of investing in the economy.”

Newman points out that 2019 will also be fondly remembered by South Africans as the year the Springboks won the 2019 Rugby World Cup and Miss South Africa was crowned Miss Universe.

“There is a renewed sense of hope and achievement spreading across the country. South Africans are resilient and have overcome many challenges in the past. There are some real success stories to celebrate all over the country, from innovative start-ups showing phenomenal growth and a fresh new approach to doing business in Africa, to larger multi-nationals with world-renowned structures and processes continuing to be pillars of the economy.”

Kagiso Rangaka, manager at Michael Page Technology South Africa, says The big incumbent banks have always been heavily invested in technology, but much of this investment had been towards maintaining legacy infrastructure and making incremental change, with limited incentives to disrupt.

Kagiso Rangaka, manager at Michael Page Technology South Africa,

“Even efforts that were intended to be ‘disruptive’, were often poorly conceptualised and offered more theatrical than bottom-line value. However, this is changing for two key reasons,” he says.

“Firstly, a deteriorating economic outlook is forcing incumbents to finally ‘bank’ the benefits of past digitisation efforts by cutting branches and workforces. This will only be expedited by new investments in robotics that, with little systems impact, automate data entry and checking that was still being done by humans.

“Secondly, new capital, a more open regulatory environment, and customer discontent, has led to the emergence of new entrants that are unconstrained by legacy systems, bloated workforces and inertia. Tyme Bank, Discovery, Yoco and Jumo have been able to leverage new tech and business models from the get-go. Such entrants are forcing incumbents to invest more, and demand more from their tech and innovation efforts. Big bets are being made in innovation processes, cloud and AI.”

Rangaka says bets in innovation processes and collaboration tools should help make available more relevant customer value propositions quicker. Cloud platforms should help incumbents become more agile, in terms of both lower cost scalability as well as in being able to integrate best of breed services and partners.

“The informed application of AI should empower incumbents to better offer the nuanced, personalised experiences that big tech (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) has made customers get accustomed to. These bets will all be underpinned by the skills required to secure, manage and optimise networks, especially those in the cloud and new mobile application endpoints.”

These bets are reflected in the skills that companies say they are currently lacking, as well as what they expect to need in future, says Rangaka. As a result, there will be losers as well as winners.

“Mainframe specialists will have to re-tool to develop micro-services. Project managers will have to morph into Scrum masters. Data analysts will have to learn the No-SQL paradigms prevalent in the AI world. Application developers will have to apply their skills to the Internet of Things and mobile. Not everyone will cope.

“Companies will have to mix new recruitment with up-skilling, contracting, off-shoring and fintech partnerships, as skills shortages, increased specialisation and needs volatility may not make full time onboarding practical.”

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How social distance has transformed health services

The COVID-19 crisis has quickly transformed healthcare, ranging from hospital protocols to how doctors see patients, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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A doctor friend recently came into contact with a patient who had been exposed to a family member who had contracted coronavirus. In line with protocols his clinic had adopted in addressing the COVID-19 crisis, he had to be tested himself and then self-isolate for 14 days.

While he waited for the test results, he set up his practice at home, and moved all appointments from physical to telephonic and video-conferenced consultations. And a remarkable thing happened: he was able to see far more patients in far less time. No less than 50 consultations were completed in the first few days.

This is a scenario that is playing itself out across the world.

A week before the lockdown began in South Africa, Discovery Health announced that it was expanding access to its online doctor consultation platform, DrConnect. It invited members who thought they were ill or thought they may have symptoms to do virtual consultations with their doctors.

The benefit was obvious, said the medical insurance provider: “This will prevent medical facilities from becoming overcrowded with people, possibly spreading infection to others.”

To avoid members rushing to use the facility, it required them to visit a COVID-19 hub and answer a series of “risk assessment questions” to determine if they needed to have a virtual consultation. If your own doctor is not available, a dedicated COVID-19 Care Team of doctors is on standby, and the patients are guided through a few steps to book the virtual consultation.

Last week, the service went a step further: Vodacom partnered with Discovery to offer the benefit to all South Africans during the pandemic.

“Globally, telemedicine has proved invaluable in the management of this disease, with many governments and healthcare systems advocating for digital healthcare tools and virtual consults to be the first step and primary means of healthcare support during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Vodacom in a statement. “The COVID-19 risk assessment and virtual healthcare tools can help to identify people who need health professional engagement and a potential referral for testing or to a hospital.”

The service also helps to bridge the digital divide between the privileged who have the tools and data for videoconferencing and the less privileged who can barely afford data on their smartphones. The online healthcare platform is available on any web or mobile phone, and allows for a full consultation with a doctor through video or audio calls, or by text.

Vodacom and Discovery have also jointly created a fund to pay doctors for approximately 100 000 consultations, making them free to any South African.

“Our partnership with Discovery can go a long way in alleviating any increased pressure on healthcare practitioners while at the same time empowering citizens by connecting them to doctors,” says Vodacom group CEO Shameel Joosub. “As a leading technology company, we are optimistic about the capabilities of digital connectivity to transform the lives of our communities. Through the online doctor consultation platform, anyone looking for COVID-19 related information will be connected to a network of doctors who will be readily available to answer their questions.”

Adrian Gore, CEO of Discovery Group, says the initiative is in line with the company’s core purpose: making people healthier.

“In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic that purpose is very simple – we need to keep South Africans out of harm’s way,” he says. “We are very hopeful that this initiative will make a huge impact on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa – for the good of all our citizens.”

It is no only ordinary individuals but doctors, too, who have to climb the steep learning curve towards the new world and ways of healthcare.

My own general practitioner has resisted new technology for years. Now, his smartphone has become a lifeline for his patients, and a tool to protect himself as far as it is practical.

Doctors have also been invited to download the Discovery HealthID and DrConnect apps to join the virtual healthcare platform. Those who are behind the technology curve receive guidance on how to consult, as well as how to receive payment from a dedicated fund that Discovery and Vodacom have set up for these specific consultations. A total of 10,000 free consultations are initially being provided as part of the service.

This service, and similar ones globally, will mark a watershed in the history of telemedicine, defined by the US Health Resources and Services Administration as “distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies”.

It is not a new concept in South Africa. As far back as 2008, Cape Town social entrepreneur Marlon Parker founded an organisation called RLabs – for Reconstructed Living Labs – in a marginalised community known as Bridgetown. The initial purpose was to counsel drug addicts, and its primary tool was the now-defunct instant messaging tool Mxit.

The service expanded into Mxit Reach, which create free mobile educational, health care, agricultural and community resources. While Mxit is gone, RLabs still focuses on skills training and economic empowerment opportunities.

It showed how even the most basis cellphone could be roped in to change people’s lives, at a distance. More than a decade later, the entire health industry is waking up to the need and the benefit of such approaches.

Visit the next page to read about how to get an online doctor’s appointment.

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Dell offers deferment of payment for financed IT

Dell Technologies South Africa announces payment deferment options for new and existing customers

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To help organisations limit the unprecedented pressure put on their cash flow and financing by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dell Technologies South Africa is announcing payment deferment options for current and new customers financed through Dell Financial Services (DFS).

DFS offers 3- and 6-month payment deferment on end-user devices and enterprise systems bought by South African companies, covering financing arrangements from R250,000 to R15 million. Once the deferment has been applied for and processed, subject to credit approval, buyers of end-user devices can enjoy a delay of up to 3 months, while enterprise systems buyers can do so for up to 6 months.

The deadline for deferment approvals closes on 31 July – it requires 10-14 days to process applications, so do not hesitate. By successfully applying for the deferment, a company can delay payments for its financing contract with DFS as well as gain protection against the volatile Rand/Dollar exchange rate.

DFS customers also have the benefit of locking in a rate today. Interest will be compounded at the lowest rate, decided on a case-by-case. In addition, Dell will support extended warranties to include the added deferment period.

New customers can take advantage of the offer to begin their technology modernisation and refreshment projects. This deferment is an opportunity to secure their organisations’ futures further, pending on credit approval. Talk to a Dell consultant today on the best technology options, and delay payments while enjoying the advantages from the start. The deferred payment offer is only applicable to financed transactions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is creating unexpected and unusual financial pressures for South African companies,” said Monique Watson at Dell Financial Services. “We want to support local companies and the economy during this difficult period, enabling them to continue their growth and output without worrying that their modernisation investments will be undone. If we all stand together, we can overcome the damage of this pandemic.”

Organisations can start applying today and reap the benefits within 14 days. Don’t delay – the deadline for approvals is 31 July 2020. Deploy now, pay later, and enjoy some cash flow relief with Dell Financial Services’ payment deferment offer.

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