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How to take It global

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In the competitive world of IT, forming relationships with international partners could be integral for success, particularly in light of our uncertain local business ecosystem, says redPanda Software’s, GM, LEON COETZER.

In a local business ecosystem that is fraught with both political and economic uncertainty, companies are under pressure to innovate and expand with few resources. For many SA businesses, and particularly those in the fast moving and highly competitive world of IT, forming strong international partnerships is a savvy – but difficult – way of injecting new energy and IP into local operations. But for those who can get it right, the short and long-term benefits are numerous. 
 
“Securing an international contract and solid partnership requires a great deal of research, due diligence, and internal transformation,” explains Leon Coetzer, General Manager of local enterprise software development firm redPanda Software. 
 
The Cape Town-based firm has partnered with PCMS, a UK-based technology retail provider and a worldwide leader in its field. The multinational group was looking to establish a local centre of excellence in software development in South Africa, and their research led them to redPanda Software. 
 
“In our case, the ‘courtship’ process took close to a year, and both parties got to know each other extraordinarily well from both a business and technical perspective,” adds Coetzer. “Since the contract was secured and the engagement formally started, we have seen a marked increase in interest from both local and global clients.”
 
Internal transformation
 
According to Coetzer, the partnership has resulted in a noticeable internal shift within redPanda Software, with significant changes being made to systems, processes and team management. redPanda Software is now able to draw on global best practices, and to exchange valuable learnings and IP with a renowned specialist.
 
“As a result, we have been able to more clearly define the different roles and responsibilities within the company and its structures, and to have the right combination of talent within our teams,” he says. “For employees, the international partnership also brings with it exciting new opportunities, added personal development and greater visibility in the IT sector worldwide.”
 
Besides the operational, cultural and reputational gains that the partnership has brought, Coetzer notes that the financial gains could be significant – albeit hard won. He cautions against viewing earning foreign currency as simple and a ‘get rich quick strategy’, primarily because it brings with it many hidden costs as well as administrative challenges. 
 
“The volatility of exchange rates can certainly eat into profit margins,” says Coetzer. “Also, transparent and clear negotiations upfront can go a long way in ensuring the success of a partnership with global companies.”
 
True job creation
 
In his view, the foreign currency benefits pale in importance when one considers that true job creation is taking place. 
 
“We are not simply moving people between companies, we are (through this contract) creating exciting new work opportunities for local talent, while simultaneously growing and enriching the local IT industry,” he adds. “South Africa has a pool of immensely talented and ambitious technology and IT professionals, and we are committed to developing and supporting local talent in every way possible.”

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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