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How tech will save you from the zombie apocalypse

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What the world would look like if it faced a zombie apocalypse from a digital standpoint? Lee Naik, MD at Accenture Digital for South Africa hypothesises.

What would you do if you were faced with a zombie apocalypse? With the popularity of fiction like The Walking Dead and World War Z, it’s become something of an internet cliché to imagine how you would survive if you were faced with a horde of brain-eaters at your door one day.

It’s a fun exercise, but I find it to be a little pointless. Not because a zombie apocalypse might never happen – sometimes when I look around my neighbourhood, I’m convinced it’s already started – but because we have the technology in place to prevent it from spiralling out of control in the first place.

Don’t believe me? Let’s strap on our weapons and take a journey through your typical zombie apocalypse.

The virus emerges

It starts slowly. One night, there is a report in the news about some isolated cases of a strange virus that keeps the brain alive after death. Before you know it, pockets of infection are popping up all over the place and an epidemic is well and truly underway.

In the prequel series Fear the Walking Dead, this scenario snowballs into a full-blown zombie epidemic. In real life, it’s unlikely we’d get taken by surprise, as the top minds would be closely monitoring the outbreak in real time.

Just take the West African Ebola outbreak, which saw the CDC use analytics to anticipate where the disease was likely to spread. Anyone who travelled by airplane during that time will also remember the screening processes in place at airports to detect potential Ebola carriers. Similarly, with the zombie virus, technologies like advanced video screening would be able to better identify potential infected individuals at airports and bus stops, preventing a global spread.

Walkers at your door? There’s an app for that

You typically wouldn’t see a cellphone in a zombie movie, but in the real world, mobile devices, not machetes, would make for the best weapons against the undead. You can bet that the dead rising would be a main topic of conversation on social media, making it the most effective platform to educate, inform and gather data on the threat.

The likes of Facebook Safety Check and Google Person Finder would certainly take centre stage, and a range of other digital tools would doubtlessly emerge in response to the new problems. Imagine a mobile app like Waze for zombies, using crowd-sourced information to pinpoint the safest route to take home. Or a Tinder for survivors, letting you meet up in safe places and send out a request for a rescue.

It’s not nearly as farfetched as it sounds. The CDC already uses social media to educate people on emergency preparedness and WHO has created apps to help fight Zika, Dengue Fever and other tropical diseases.

What’s more, the amount of real-time data that would pass through social media would be invaluable in detecting and stopping the spread. Governments are already exploring how to use data from Facebook and Twitter to predict flu outbreaks.

Zombie-proof societies

As we can see, data is key to preventing us from descending into our own World War Z. And, as the internet of things takes hold in our society, the chances of a zombie apocalypse affecting us will become even more minuscule.

Take the hordes themselves, one of the most dangerous aspects of any zombie apocalypse as The Walking Dead shows? Here, we could use geospatial mapping to predict their movements. In our zombie-style IoT, drones could go around following hordes and tracking their movements, in order to warn areas in danger of being overrun.

Okay, so we’ve successfully prevented the downfall of society and ensured that casualties are minimal. But how do we get rid of the zombie virus once and for all? Here’s where wearables could shine.

It’s not exactly easy to gather patient data on a person threatening to turn into a shambling zombie at any second. But should people already have some sort of healthcare monitoring device on them before they’re bitten, real-time data would be made available to researchers without putting anyone else in danger.

Our hypothetical zombie apocalypse scenario clearly has a lot of lessons to offer around healthcare and disaster management. But any enterprise can use the same digital-first mindset to tackle their own metaphorical hordes. Zombies may be a threat, but their ultimate defeat comes from identifying and adapting to their patterns of behaviour. The same is true for any business threat, whether it’s diminishing revenue or lack of innovation.

What are the zombies facing your organisation? And how can you use digital to prevent your own apocalypse?

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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