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Internet rise will open SA e-commerce doors

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The recent closure of Stuttafords has raised the concern that more companies need to incorporate e-commerce into their business plans in order to keep up with the future, writes VINO GOVENDER, DFA, Executive: Product Innovation and Marketing.

The closure of the 159-year-old “Harrods of South Africa” department store, Stuttafords, has brought to the fore important questions about how industries need to develop stronger business plans and innovate in order to serve the tech-savvy customer. While many have simply pointed to the domestic economic slump as a contributor to the collapse of the Stuttafords business, an emerging conversation has been around the store’s failure to take advantage of future-proof digital business strategies to identify new growth opportunities and reach customers beyond their brick and mortar stores.

Constellation Research established that more than 50 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 list of 2000 did not make it to the 2015 Fortune 500 list. This serves as an indicator of what happens to ideas that do not adapt fast enough. Businesses of the future are those that embrace ‘innovative’ changes to remain competitive in today’s environment. E-commerce provides a key innovative shift, enabling businesses to convert insights into action and reach a wider customer base.

According to the Internet Access in SA 2017 report by World Wide Worx, the South African Internet user population passed the 20-million mark for the first time last year, and is expected to grow to at least 22.5-million in 2017. This will undoubtedly encourage improved e-commerce opportunities.

The global digital migration journey is inevitable and South African businesses need to leverage technology so that it can benefit as many of their customers as possible, as fast as possible. The truth is, businesses cannot afford to not invest in this digital future and risk being left behind.  The looming increase in connectivity and connected devices promises benefits that will change the way in which many businesses operate, for the better. Through e-commerce, travel, tourism, agriculture, retail, and many other sectors will enter a digital space in which business models, offerings, and value chains are digitised, driving new revenue streams and substantive business outcomes.

Today, consumers are demanding innovation as they insist on a seamless, integrated multi-channel experience that enables them to shop from anywhere and at any time. Accordingly, businesses must press forward urgently and include digital initiatives such as e-commerce in their strategies. Digital tools and skills are becoming the very oxygen that will enable them to anticipate and respond rapidly to the expectations of tomorrow’s consumers.

For many businesses, embracing e-commerce will set them on a course for renewed growth and more predictable prosperity. By leveraging big data and applying the insights gained across the entire value chain, many businesses will open up opportunities to create personalised offers and provide bespoke services to many more customers.  Considering the current economic outlook and tough growth challenges, with e-commerce, businesses can decrease the cost of managing their inventory of goods and automate inventory management using web-based management systems.

There are many more benefits that e-commerce gives businesses, including:

·         Building brand advocacy and loyalty by personalising customer experience

·         Creating markets for niche products

·         Allowing for targeted communication

·         Supplying considerable information through comprehensive descriptions of products

·         Reducing the cost of maintaining and managing inventory

·         Enabling deals and comparison shopping

·         Automating core processes and analytics

E-commerce provides a favourable approach for businesses that are willing to tap into the future and serve the customer of the future. It also enables businesses to build agile enterprises with capabilities to react swiftly to market shifts and the evolving business landscape.

Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), through its open access fibre infrastructure deployment, continues to play a critical role in enabling service providers to deliver a range of high speed fixed and wireless internet access technologies and services to their consumer and business markets. SqwidNet, the Sigfox network operator in South Africa, wholly owned by DFA, is also responsible for deploying a national IoT network and enabling an ecosystem that aids the digital transformation journey of businesses which is enabled by IoT. DFA continues to contribute significantly towards the development of the digital economy in South Africa.

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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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