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End of on-premise: Call centre trends for 2018

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JED HEWSON, co-founder and joint CEO of 1Stream, explores the major contact centre technology trends that emerged last year including fibre, AI and chatbots,

At the end of any year, it is wise to look forward to the year ahead, and to use the knowledge gleaned from the previous year to predict some of the business trends and influences that will impact on the economy.

1.       Fibre

South Africans are finally having fibre delivered to them. With the rollout of fibre across the country, the full potential of cloud technology and connectivity can permeate our lives: both in the home and at work. 2017 showcased a fundamental shift in the cloud marketplace thanks to the accessibility of fibre and the potential it unlocks for the enterprise.

2.       SD-WAN

SD-WAN is the next layer of fibre ubiquity that allows the business to free itself from the complexities of multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). It is agile, introduces an additional layer of security and high availability on the router, is link agnostic, and allows the user to configure and manage systems rather than hire specialist engineers. SD-WAN is, quite simply, a better way to use fibre.

3.       Artificial intelligence and chatbots

2017 taught us is that there are number of players in  the artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbot arena. Until now, connectivity limitations and infrastructure in South Africa have slowed its uptake, but it seems very likely that these services will soon be far more accessible.

4.       Integration

In the past, integration in the call centre meant lengthy and expensive projects to connect on-site proprietary systems and usually needed the involvement of highly specialised developers. The cost and effort to implement and maintain integrations made the business case for smaller call centres hard to justify. As modern cloud technologies are designed for remote connection and generally offer “open-Standard” APIs such as Web Services, integration today is faster and less expensive to deploy.

With the rise of cloud-based integration systems, 2017 saw a resurgence of  integration in contact centres of all sizes. These systems are designed to use agile methodologies, open and industry standards, with remote connectivity. The integrations of the past year have been more flexible and efficient, faster, cheaper, and designed with more modern technology in mind.

5.       The omnichannel

As the call centre adopts an increasing array of channels through which to communicate and collaborate with customers and employees, it is also adopting an increasingly complicated ecosystem that demands improved management accessibility and capability. In 2017, the omnichannel demonstrated both its relevance and its high maintenance. There is a growing number of companies looking for solutions that can streamline all these channels with central reporting and real-time data functionality.

6.       The hypercloud

The big four hyperclouds are here at last. Amazon, Azure, IBM and Google are coming to Africa, and with them brings a bevy of services that will see competition for cloud dominance hit an all-time African high. In the past, cloud offerings were limited as the hypercloud leaders were unavailable and the cost and complexities involved in bringing tools to Africa were prohibitive. Now, however, this is all about to change, and the next step is anyone’s guess.

7.       The end of on-premise

This past year has shown how businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to justify on-premise solutions. This is being further influenced by shadow cloud or stealth-cloud, where employees and individuals are introducing their own cloud solutions and IT environments, without the influence of IT. This trend was firmly entrenched throughout 2017 and triggered the corporate understanding that they will have to move off-premise at some point. However, in order to proceed, they will need a clear strategy to define how they manage their providers within their infrastructure.

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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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