With the weak Rand and interest rate hikes, most industries are affected – and ICT is no exception. But, the economic situation provides the opportunity to look at business processes and find ways to better service customers, writes GERHARD MALAN, Financial Director at Rectron.
South Africa is in for a tough few years, if economists are to be believed. Our economy, weak Rand and recent interest rate hike are affecting industries across the board – and ICT and ICT distribution are no exception. However, our economic situation also provides the opportunity for us to relook our business processes and find ways to better service our customers.
Weak Rand results in expensive technology
A snapshot of the ICT industry in South Africa currently shows that because the majority of products are imported, the weak Rand has made technology more expensive. Since the start of the accelerated depreciation of the Rand, resellers have reported that bigger capital outlays are being delayed for fear that the currency will further weaken. And while the demand for high end equipment is still there, it has decreased to give way to a larger demand for more affordable entry- to mid-level equipment.
This trend isn’t exclusive to South Africa. Although most developed countries have not had to deal with rising interest rates, they have been dealing with a relatively flat economy, making distribution more competitive across the board. Every business trading its home currency against the US Dollar has had to relook its approach to manage its foreign exchange risk.
That said, local vendors are doing what they can to keep their pricing as stable as possible, while foreign vendors are introducing some great initiatives to help protect us against our weakening currency.
An opportunity to rethink how we do business
Simultaneously, while everyone is experiencing the squeeze, it’s a great time for the ICT industry to correct our inefficiencies and cut unnecessary expenses. When the economy is strong, it’s easy to overlook these things, but now’s the time to place the emphasis on return on investment – every expense should be able to have a measureable return. It’s also an optimal time to outperform competitors who might be missing out on the change in how the market is spending.
Of course, beyond these benefits, there is a very real need for businesses within the ICT industry to maintain cash flow. Keeping tight control over budgeted expenses and working capital should put a stop to overspending and uneconomical activities. At the same time, proper risk management when it comes to security, debtors, inventory, cash and insurance is vital. Businesses that are prudent in spend and organised in chaos will come out much stronger and grow much faster when the market turns.
Finding solutions for the customer
From the customer’s perspective, there are also ways to help mitigate risk and reduce capital outlay when the economy is weak. Resellers need to be assisting their customers to continue operating in difficult conditions by offering better advice and products that reduce their expenses or even increase their income. A product such as Rectron Finance does this by freeing up cash so that there are funds available for crucial expenses like rent, salaries, marketing and other important overheads, while ensuring the customer’s business still has access to top end technology.
It’s clear that this is a model that’s working for many businesses, with the uptake of this service on the rise. Since the beginning of 2016 we have seen a trend towards deals being processed through rentals and asset finance rather than normal cash purchases. It’s an opportunity to opt for a manageable monthly expenditure over three to four years, as opposed to a significant once-off outflow of funds at the time of purchase.
What is important for resellers encouraging customers to adopt this model is to start the conversation early. This way, approval is sped up and the customer understands that a big capital outlay isn’t required. There’s also a need to educate on the difference between a rental and an asset finance deal, depending on the customer’s needs.
Beyond these options, several ICT product solutions are also aimed at helping resellers and their customers manage their businesses in the current economic climate. For example, Microsoft’s Office 365 offering gives customers the flexibility on yearly subscriptions, which reduces cash flow. The Samsung LFD range assisted by Intel’s technology also allows resellers to build up different income streams like content management and monthly subscription services, which increases their profitability. From Rectron’s perspective, our online ordering system and our AskRectron app assist customers to reduce their time spent on admin, freeing up time to focus on their business.
ICT plays an important role in national development
These solutions link to the idea that connectivity and the use of technology to access information has an important role to play. It is the key to drive down the country’s unemployment levels through job and entrepreneur creation, as well as by stimulating skills development. In addition, our industry is vital in assisting the government in fulfilling its National Development Plan.
With that in mind, ICT is no longer a luxury but a necessity. That means that despite the challenges facing the ICT industry in light of the state of the economy, it’s never been more important to find new ways to keep technology accessible. There’s little doubt that we are in for a rough ride, but by thinking carefully about how we do business, we are in prime position to weather the storm and make it to the other side.
Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon
On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.
Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.
“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.
Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion. In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.
A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.
David Noton advises:
- Download the right apps to be in-the-know
The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky. Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.
- Invest in a lens with optimal zoom
On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.
- Use a tripod to capture the intimate details
As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.
- Integrate the moon into your landscape
Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.
- Master the shutter speed for your subject
The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability. By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.
On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!
How Africa can embrace AI
Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.
To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.
These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.
Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed
AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.
According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.
It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.
Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.
It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.
Combining STEM with the arts
Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.
As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.
For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.
“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.
Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.
Revisiting laws and regulation
For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.
Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.
Preparing for the future
With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.
To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.
It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.