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In 2020, tech will reconnect us with our humanity

By LEE NAIK, TransUnion Africa CEO

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From the Black Mirror series to the recent Terminator sequel, Hollywood keeps showing us pessimistic visions of the future. It’s all too easy to buy into the idea that tech is out to rob us of our humanity. But the trends of 2020 from global thought leaders and TransUnion data paint a different picture: that technology is actually allowing us to reconnect with our humanity.

How is it doing this? Let’s unpack some of the key trends we’re seeing right now.

Empowerment at the Edge

How close are we to the Internet of Things becoming a reality? It’s already here. Organisations like SqwidNet have been quietly laying the infrastructure for IoT in South Africa for the last few years. Now, all we need is the connection to take full advantage. With ICASA set to license 5G spectrum, expect to see plenty of enterprises connect to 5G over the next year. This is the final frontier of our digital leapfrogging journey, where inexpensive edge computing and hyperspeed connectivity come together for a fully connected Africa to emerge. Imagine a society where every single person is connected, not just to the internet, but to each other.  Where sensors are so ubiquitous that objects can communicate with each other instantly – think cars warning other cars when they’re about to crash. The promise of always-on connectivity isn’t faster internet – it’s the opportunities for empowerment and positive change.

Welcome to the Age of Augmentation

Nowadays, people are using automation to make their lives easier in nearly every industry, from medicine to mining. Clevva uses AI advisors to assist sales teams and technical consultants. Aajoh helps doctors make better use of their time by streamlining the diagnosis process. Mining companies are using augmented reality and digital twin technologies to create safer, more sustainable smart mines. With South Africa’s power issues taking centre stage for 2020, this is a chance to deploy augmentation in the energy industry. Augmentation isn’t just improving productivity – it’s freeing us from low-value tasks so we can focus on our customers and employees. The more we start treating AI as our partners, the more space we will have to practice our humanity and empathy.

AI gets Self-Sufficient…and So Do We

According to E&Y, at least 46% of SA companies are actively piloting AI initiatives, with 96% of businesses expecting to gain significant benefits. In 2019, Google opened its first AI intelligence lab in Africa, laying the groundwork for greater skill capabilities on the continent. In 2020, expect to see artificial intelligence finally live up to the ‘intelligence’ part – what Forrester calls cognitive automation, where machines are able to self-learn, self-diagnose and self-govern. That means less time spent developing and baby-sitting applications, and more time spent enjoying the rewards. What used to take 100 hours might now only take 10 – what we need to be asking ourselves is how we can make the most of those additional 90 hours.

Rediscovering Trust

For consumers, who have seen their personal data get commoditised and misused, trust is at an all-time low. The fact that so many people believe Facebook is secretly listening to conversations shows how deep the erosion of trust goes. Winning back consumers won’t just be about ticking the GDPR or PoPIA boxes. It will take embedding a culture of trust and human empathy in everything, from basic user privacy policies to how your AI applications are designed and deployed. The development of this trust culture is going to be one of the biggest challenges for organisations in 2020, especially as emerging platforms like wearables, voice search and facial recognition introduce new user privacy challenges. Only by making intentional choices to prioritise the wellbeing of your people – be they customers, employees or users – will you be able to win back their trust over time.

Embracing Digital Minimalism

In a world where digital and physical are one and the same, information overload is a real possibility. And, short of completely removing yourself from society, there’s no real way of opting out. Consumers are embracing a more purposeful approach to technology, cutting out the white noise and sticking with the parts of the connected world that add the most value to their lives. Who needs 10 apps when one superapp can do it all? And why spend more money on features you’ll barely use when you can spend less on those you use regularly? In 2020, we’ll see a return to ‘less is more’ approach as consumers seek more streamlined, simplified experiences. For businesses, this means reimagining the customer experience, finding ways to engage with their customers more meaningfully. It also means practicing their own digital minimalism, dropping bells and whistles in favour of simpler solutions that will have a greater impact on their customers.

The Search for Joy

For the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about design thinking and user experience. Yet while many organisations are talking the talk, there’s been little real commitment to this outside of the occasional side project. That’s set to change as advanced customer analytics become more accessible. Soon, everyone will be able to use data to understand how people use their services and products. The ones who stand out from the pack will not be those with the latest features, but the ones who understand and design for their customers’ emotional needs. More organisations need to take a page from the Apple playbook on how to spark joy in every engagement. Rediscovering our humanity means focusing on the empathy of what we do – how we can delight, pleasure, and bring joy to people through our products and services.

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TikTok takes on COVID-19

The fastest growing social media platform in the world has also become an epicenter of public education about the coronavirus, attracting more than 30-billion views, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The young have been getting a bad rap for wanting to party on while COVID-19 sends the world into lockdown. But a different movie is playing itself out on the social platform that is growing fastest among teenagers: TikTok.

Awareness campaigns by TikTok itself, collaboration with the International Red Cross, and spontaneous videos made by TikTok creators have combined into a barrage of information, education, awareness and social consciousness around the coronavirus.

Both globally and in South Africa, TikTok’s COVID-19 campaigns have gone viral.

The local #HayiCorona challenge, designed to remind people not to touch their face and wash hands regularly, has passed 1.5-million views. The TikTok collaboration with the International Red Cross, the #WashingHands challenge, has passed 12.6-million views.

One of the best-known participants in these challenges is the past year’s icon of South African talent, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, took up the global challenge with a 20-second hand-washing video. It put together a performance that brings tremendous energy to what can be a clichéd message, and ends with a punt for the Department of Health’s WhatsApp information service. The video can be viewed below.

@ndlovuyouthchoir

Our community has limited access to running water. Follow these instructions on how to safely wash your hands using a bucket. ##coronavirus##washinghands

♬ original sound – ndlovuyouthchoir

“On a global scale, TikTok also partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that, while creators are still having fun and expressing themselves on the platform, they stay informed with COVID-19 information coming from a reliable source,” a TikTok spokesperson told us. “Through the partnership, the WHO has created an informational page on TikTok that offers information to curb the spread of the coronavirus as well as dispelling myths.”

The page can be viewed at https://vm.tiktok.com/GHTEGf

TikTok has hosted a number of livestreams with WHO experts, attracting users from more than 70 countries, tuning in for live question and answer sessions. It has also introduced labels on coronavirus-related videos, to point users to trusted information. Resources are also offered directly in the app and in a dedicated COVID-19 section of TikTok’s Safety Center, at https://www.tiktok.com/safety/resources/covid-19.

If users simply want to explore videos on the topic, they can search via the #coronavirus hashtag, or click on https://vm.tiktok.com/swKbn4. The hashtag has had an astonishing 33.8-billion views, indicating the scale of activity and interest around the topic on the platform.

Read more on the next page about how South Africans have embraced the campaign.

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On World Backup Day: backup, backup, backup

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It was World Backup Day yesterday, 31 March, at a time when business continuity is threatened as never before. That makes calls for protecting email and defending against ransomware all the more urgent.

The global coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief many organisations’ lack of business continuity plans and policies. With more than two billion people around the globe in forced lockdown in wide-ranging government efforts to stem the tide of infections, an unprecedented number of employees are working remotely.

This interruption to the normal way of work is precisely what an effective and resilient business continuity strategy should plan for, says Heino Gevers, cybersecurity specialist at Mimecast

“Companies need uninterrupted access to critical business applications during times of disruption, including safe and secure web and email access for workers that are now operating outside the normal perimeters of the organisation,” he says. “In addition, comprehensive backup and archiving solutions should be ready to restore access to critical business applications should there be any unplanned downtime to ensure continuity until the crisis passes.”

According to Gevers, the current global crisis is likely to push business continuity up the list of priorities for many organisations that have been disrupted by the effects of the coronavirus.

“Organisations are facing new challenges to their productivity; for example in terms of technical support. If a remote user is infected with malware or ransomware, how does the IT team restore that device or do any remediation without being able to physically access it?”

Gevers advises that organisations implement tools that enhances the data protection capabilities of commonly-used tools such as Office365 and can leverage archived data to provide quick recovery of email data in the event of accidental loss, malicious attacks or technical failure. 

“As adoption of cloud-based business applications grow in the wake of forced lockdowns around the globe, companies need to ensure they have the tools to recover in any situation,” he says. “This includes a data management strategy that combines archiving, backup and data protection capabilities to allow for quick restoration of critical systems and applications in the event of disruption.”

Jasmit Sagoo, head of technology at Veritas for the United Kingdom and Ireland, warns that this is a golden age for cybercriminals looking for ransomware opportunities.

“As the global cost of ransomware continues to grow, this World Backup Day, Veritas is saying: ‘don’t pay up, back up!’,” he says. “Ransomware is said to generate an estimated annual revenue of $1 billion a year, and companies who are not consistent in backing up their data are allowing criminals to line their pockets.

“Ransomware attacks exist only because some businesses can’t survive unless the hackers give them back their data.  So, the key to survival is removing that reliance and being able to regain access to data, without engaging with the cybercriminals.  The best way to do that is with a sound backup strategy.

“Sagoo advises organisations to create isolated, offline backup copies of their data to keep it out of reach of any attackers.  They then need to proactively monitor and restrict backup credentials, while running backups frequently to shrink the risk of potential data loss. Businesses should also test and retest their ransomware defences regularly.

“Ransomware strikes without warning and it doesn’t discriminate between its targets – it can happen to any organisation, large or small. Despite their best efforts, most companies will fall to at least one attack. What distinguishes one victim from another is the ability to bounce back, which ultimately depends on its backup strategy.

“When ransomware hits, organisations that aren’t prepared often feel helpless to do anything other than to submit to their attacker’s demands.   That’s why we’re urging all businesses to use World Backup Day as a catalyst to get ahead of the situation and get their data protected.”

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