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IBM to help clean Joburg air

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IBM Research has announced a collaboration agreement with the City of Johannesburg and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to apply technologies to help the City deliver on its air quality management plan.

Building on IBM’s global Green Horizons initiative, the partnership with the City of Johannesburg will leverage Internet of Things (IoT) combined with the analytical power of cognitive computing to provide insights and recommended actions to improve air quality and better protect the health of Johannesburg citizens. IBM is collaborating with South Africa’s CSIR on this project. This will build on IBM and CSIR’s Collaboration Framework Agreement that was signed formally in January 2015.

Researchers from IBM’s South Africa research lab will work closely with experts from government and CSIR to analyse historical and real-time data from environmental monitoring stations in the City of Johannesburg, with a long term plan to extend the project across the Gauteng province to include the City of Tshwane and the Vaal Industrial Triangle. The objective is to uncover greater insight about the nature and causes of air pollution as well as model the effectiveness of intervention strategies. In the second phase, the programme will also be extended to include high-accuracy air pollution forecasting for planning and decision support and enable a proactive approach to air quality management.

“For Johannesburg to be a world-class African city, we need world-class solutions to deliver on pressing problems like air pollution,” explained Nthatisi Modingoane from the City of Johannesburg. “This is where our partnership with IBM comes in. Using advanced decision analytics and pollution forecasting technologies, we will strengthen our air quality management strategies and gain greater situational awareness of the challenges at hand. Johannesburg is committed to ensuring a place where people and businesses are in harmony with the environment.”

Johannesburg is the economic hub of South Africa, generating 17% of the country’s GDP. Originally established as a mining town, the city’s mine dumps, residential and traffic emissions generated by the city’s population of approximately 4.5 million people are behind the city’s air pollution which includes ultrafine particulate matter particles – the most harmful to human health. With high rates of continued urbanization, the City of Johannesburg government has put in place a comprehensive Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) to mitigate the risk of increased levels of air pollution and ensure that the City’s continued growth is not at the expense of environmental and public health. CSIR is currently working with the City of Johannesburg to update this plan.

IBM’s Green Horizons initiative draws on innovations from the company’s global network of research labs with contributions from leading environmental experts. At the heart of the initiative are air quality management systems which draw on vast amounts of environmental Big Data generated by thousands of sensors in environmental monitoring stations, traffic systems and meteorological satellites. Cognitive technologies understand this data, and use it to tune a predictive model that shows where the pollution is coming from, where it will likely go, and what will be its potential effect, allowing more informed decisions about how to improve air quality.

Machine learning technologies ensure that the Green Horizon system constantly self-configures, improving in accuracy and automatically adjusting the predictive models to different seasons and topographies. It blends various predictive models including traffic flow, weather forecasting, air pollution and economic data to help officials explore various ‘what if’ scenarios and better understand the consequences of certain actions, such as optimizing or changing traffic flows, relocating industry, switching to renewables and even introducing more green areas into the city. Feeding on the experience of other cities around the world, Green Horizons’ pollution forecasting and scenario modelling capabilities can also help city governments make informed decisions about the construction and location of future industry, power generation facilities and roads.

“Air pollution is now the world’s largest environmental health risk. While Johannesburg does not yet have the air pollution challenges to the scale of the world’s megacities, continued  economic and demographic growth mean that the city government must take action now to safeguard the future health of the city and its people,” explained Solomon Assefa, Director of IBM’s South Africa Research Lab. “The combined power of Internet of Things and cognitive computing means that understanding, managing and forecasting air quality today is more technically and economically feasible than ever before.”

The new agreement builds on existing collaborations between IBM Research and the City of Johannesburg. In October, the two parties struck up a partnership to leverage IBM’s Watson social media analytics capabilities to better understand the pulse of citizens towards the city’s recent EcoMobility World Festival 2015 during which time people were encouraged to walk, cycle, car-share and use public transport as opposed to private vehicles.. During the Festival, IBM’s data scientists used the company’s world renowned Watson cognitive computing system to ingest and understand over 18,000 tweets from over 6,000 Twitter users. They provided the city with regular updates about public opinion towards the city’s ecomobile’ transformation.

“There is increasing focus on energy and environmental issues here in South Africa and around the world leading to new streams of investment and opportunities for innovation,” said Dr. Sibusiso Sibisi, CEO of CSIR. “Working together, CSIR and IBM will explore how advanced technologies can help to better understand and improve society’s relationship with the environment, bringing to bear local talent and best practices from some of the most environmentally challenged places on the planet.”

This also builds upon CSIR’s research into air quality and resultant health impacts in the city and province, including the recently completed Vaal Triangle Health Study and the ongoing project to assess and update the City of Johannesburg’s air quality management plan.

 

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Now for hardware-as-a-service

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Integrated ICT and Infrastructure provider Vox has entered into an exclusive partnership with Go Rentals to introduce a Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) offering, which is aimed at providing local small and medium businesses (SMEs) with quick, affordable, and scalable access to a wide variety of IT infrastructure – as well as the management thereof.

“Despite an increasingly competitive business environment where every rand counts, many business owners are still buying technology-based equipment outright rather than renting it,” says Barry Kemp, Head of Managed IT at Vox. “The problem with this is that the modern device arena has grown in variety and complexity, making it more difficult to manage, and to reduce the overheads of controlling these devices.”

According to Kemp, there is a global trend being observed in businesses moving away from owning and managing IT infrastructure. This started with the move away from servers and toward cloud-based subscription services, and now organisations are looking to do the same with the remaining on-premise hardware – employees’ desktop systems.

The availability of HaaS changes the way in which local businesses consume IT, by allowing them to direct valuable capital expenditure toward the more efficient and competitive operation of their organisation, rather than spending on hardware products. 

“The rental costs are up to 50% lower than if they buy these products through traditional asset financing methods. Furthermore, using HaaS gives businesses the ability to scale up and down depending on their infrastructure requirements. Customers on a 12 month contract can return up to 10% of the devices rented, while those customers on 24 and 36 month contracts can return up to 20% of the devices – at any time during the contract,” adds Kemp.

More than just a rental

HaaS gives business access to repurposed Tier 1 hardware from vendors such as Dell, HP and Lenovo, equipped with the required specifications (processor, memory, and storage), and come installed with the latest Microsoft Windows operating system, unless an older version is specifically requested by the customer.

Kemp says: “Where HaaS is different from simply renting IT hardware is that businesses get full asset lifecycle management, such as having all company software pre-installed, flexible refresh cycles and upgrades, support and warranty management and transparent and predictable per user monthly fees.”

The ability to upgrade during the contract period means that businesses can keep pace with the latest in technology without needing to invest on depreciating equipment, while ensuring maximum productivity and efficiency for employees. Returned devices are put through a decommissioning process that ensures anonymity, certified data protection, and environmental compliance. 

Businesses further stand to benefit from Vox Care, which incorporates asset management and logistical services for customers. This includes initial delivery and setup in major centres, asset tagging of all rented items, creation, and the repair and/or replacement of faulty machines within three business days – again in the main metropolitan areas. 

Vox Care also assists in the design, testing and deployment of custom images, whereby HaaS clients can have the additional programmes they need (security, productivity tools, business software, etc) easily pre-installed along with the Windows operating system, on all their machines.

Kemp says HaaS customers can get further peace of mind by outsourcing the day to day management of their desktop environment to Vox Managed Services, as well as leverage the company’s knowledge and expertise to manage and host workstation backups to ensure business continuity.

Says Kemp: “Hardware-as-a-Service allows businesses to reduce the total cost of ownership of their hardware and ensure they only pay for what they use. Making the switch to a service model helps them take advantage of the global move in this direction, and to turn their business into a highly functional, flexible, low cost, change your mind whenever you want workplace.”

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Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.

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The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here: http://seedsta.rs/doen

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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