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IoT makes plumbing a glamorous new frontier



South Africa is considered a water-scarce country. This is hardly a surprise for those who live in Cape Town and have endured drought conditions that edged the city towards Day Zero (when the city would run out of water to supply), or for farmers who’ve struggled with yield and water scarcity, or for people who live with crippling thirst, every day. Water is a finite resource that’s finally getting the global attention it deserves. It remains one of the United Nations’ top sustainability goals and is consistently a focus of environmental discussions and focus groups.  

And yet there are often leaks and water pipe breakages that impact on water supply and water levels. Avoidable, preventable leaks that come about due to weak infrastructure and lack of insight into maintaining that infrastructure sustainably.

“A plumber is a trusted ambassador of water intelligence who can make a huge difference to water conservation,” says Ushal Moonsamy, Chief Solutions Officer, SqwidNet. “They are at the forefront of the challenges that influence the industry, the issues of infrastructure and the problems faced by consumer and business when it comes to unplanned leaks or loss.”

There are three core pillars currently dominating the conversation in the plumbing industry – the access to technology, the need to change societal behaviour, and the critical water situation. Plumbers have become key in driving water sustainability goals, leveraging new business models, and helping deploy smart water solutions, powered by the Internet of Things (IoT), to the South African market.

“IoT is the true enabler of data-driven decision-making by providing real-time information from assets that couldn’t be connected to the Internet before,” says Moonsamy. “So how can it make a difference? By providing information you can act on. It is guaranteed that almost every property has, or will get, a plumbing-related issue at some point in its life. Where the property is monitored by IoT, plumbers get an early notification as soon as the problems start, usually even before the homeowner realises. This is hugely relevant even in industrial and manufacturing businesses where water supplies and failures can have expensive, environmentally damaging, consequences.”

This shift to proactive insights in plumbing changes the plumbing model completely. It allows for the income model to become annuity-based, built on maintenance and innovation as opposed to emergency-based. An annuity-based model means a plumber can provide a better service to a homeowner, with just-in-time maintenance, and real-time visibility for both the plumber and the homeowner. This results in fewer water interruptions and a lower water bill. The deeper knock-on effect in South Africa could potentially allow for improved job security and more job opportunities, a much-needed boost in a country that suffers from high levels of unemployment.

“By blending the expertise of the plumber with the potential of technology, suddenly this profession becomes key in driving water sustainability goals, reducing water costs, improving water use and so much more,” says Moonsamy. “SqwidNet provides a low power network that covers over 90% of South Africa’s population and this, for the first time, is allowing us to connect water meters to the Internet using batteries that can last over 10 years. This makes the solution ultra-low cost. These connected water meters can detect possible leaks as they happen, reducing damage to property and reducing bill shock. In Cape Town connected water meter deployments, it has reduced water usage by up to 20%.”

The simple expedient of a low power network and connected water meters can instantly transform water control and management across the board. These battery-powered devices can even be retrofitted to existing water meters, reducing the need of having to remove existing water meter infrastructure. And it can be applied across numerous use cases from pool pumps to industrial pumping stations, and from commercial to residential estates.

“We have collaborated with many existing water technology partners in South Africa to create smart water solutions that address the water distress situation we currently face as a country,” says Moonsamy. “The solutions are cost-effective and easy. Users can view their usage and leak status on their mobile phones, set themselves water-saving targets, and even look at historical usage.”

The SqwidNet ecosystem provides a network that is ultra-secure and Sigfox Ready devices, like these connected meters, are hack-proof and jam-proof. On top of that, plumbers have access to technology seminars and training programmes designed to upskill their usage in IoT smart water solutions, and the opportunity to expand their skillset and businesses.

“We have great, appropriate technology; we have a great open access ecosystem; and now, we have great plumbers that are innovating and creating new offerings that will not only change how they operate but contribute to South Africa’s water sustainability goals,” says Moonsamy.


Meet the accountant of the future

The accountant of the future will need a new set of skills, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, as he meets both the local users and the global creators of Xero accounting software



Buchule and Sivenathi Sibaca get a highrise view of London. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

Meet Buchule and Sivenathi Sibaca. They are not only partners in marriage, but also in a thriving accounting business. Buchule and Sivenathi are, respectively, chief executive officer and chief financial officer of SMTAX, which focuses on tax and accounting services for small businesses in the Western Cape, but includes the likes of Absa and Old Mutual among its clients. It employs 18 people and has 4,500 individual and business customers.

That’s not what makes the outfit remarkable. The startling feature of this business is that it has been structured to be a model accounting firm of the next decade. Even more remarkable is the fact that the couple both hail from rural areas where thoughts of the future tend to be about survival rather than blazing new trails.

Last week, they made their first trip out of the country, to attend Xerocon London 2019. This 2-day conference, hosted by the world’s fastest growing accounting software maker, Xero, attracted more than 3,000 delegates from the United Kingdom, Europe Middle East and Africa. A total of 57 Xero partners and users, mostly from accounting practices or suppliers to accountants, made the trek from South Africa.

“It was really about seeing how other accountants on other continents operate in terms of how they think and where their headspace is at,” Buchule told us during Xerocon. “Also, being our first time out of the country, it was to see the culture of other small businesses outside of South Africa. 

“London’s quite different in that regard, but it’s been a really a great learning curve, and we were pleasantly surprised to find elements that look like South Africa, where we can say, at least you’re doing something right. The banking environment is quite unique, as it’s been a really good learning curve in terms of where banking might go to in the future of South Africa if they follow the same trend.”

Buchule comes from the “dusty streets” of Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, while Sivenathi grew up on a farm in a deep rural area near Mthatha.

“I had no idea about technology or the rest of the world or how it could impact the economy in general,” she said. The two met at the University of Cape Town, where she was studying to be an actuary, and he completed a Masters degree in tax. She decided to put actuarial science behind her, however, when the opportunity arose to join Buchule’s business. But her skills helped transform the business.

Said Buchule: “When Sivenathi came on board we did the modeling of the business, and we said that in order to in order to automate the whole bookkeeping journey, we would need to turn closer and closer towards ‘x’, meaning fully automated bookkeeping. We looked at the journey of how long it will it take for us to get to time ‘x’. And then we said, OK, once we get there, what then?

“It was a big realization that when we do get to time ‘x’, the most important thing will be the human touch. That will be the differentiator. So we then spent our time developing that.”

Visit the next page to read more about the Xerocon 2019 event.

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Takealot reveals startling numbers for Black Friday



Takealot has revealed startling numbers for expected bumper sales this holiday season, beginning next week, and peaking with Black Friday.

South Africa’s leading ecommerce group expects to ship at least one order every second, with roughly 10,000 boxes leaving their warehouses every hour, this shopping season. 

Black Friday was first introduced to South Africa by Takealot in 2012, and has since become an important day in South Africa’s annual retail calendar. It has been a record-breaker for both retailers in the Takealot Group: Takealot and Superbalist. Takealot’s Black Friday gross merchandise value (GMV) grew 125% from 2017 to 2018, with orders up 127%. Superbalist’s Black Friday GMV has grown on average around 50%. This year, CEO Kim Reid is anticipating the biggest Black Friday yet, a culmination of months of tech and operational business-wide focus to prepare for increased predicted traffic and shopper volumes.

ABSA bank estimates that two out of three South Africans participated in Black Friday sales in 2018. And FNB reports in 2018, Black Friday transaction volumes grew by 16% compared with 2017 and anticipates a 15% increase in transactions over the sales period in 2019. 

Successfully meeting this massive growth in orders has been a key focus for the Takealot Group. CEO Kim Reid says throughout the year they have been working to scale operations across multiple areas within the business. “After expanding our Johannesburg distribution centre (DC), our warehouse storage space now stands at 75 000m2. We house over 3.7 million items at any given time, and have opened 47 Takealot Pickup Points in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Limpopo, Free State and Mpumalanga for order collections and returns, with more to open in the coming months.” 

Takealot Delivery Team delivers to more South African homes than any other courier company in the country. On a monthly basis, they carry out over 1.6-million deliveries,  with this number expected to increase to over 2-million during the shopping season. More than 4,500 drivers currently deliver for the Takealot Delivery Team; a number that is growing every month. The Takealot group anticipates they’ll travel over 4,000 000km from Black Friday until 24 December. “To put that in context, it is the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe over 100 times” says Reid.’s Blue Dot Sale is a five day sale period which starts on Black Friday (29 November) and sees a range of new deals throughout the weekend as well as on Cyber Monday (2 December) and Takealot Tuesday (3 December), with up to 60% off thousands of items. For the first time, will also be giving their shoppers early access to some of its Black Friday deals, starting on 24 November. Fresh new app-only deals will be added daily. 

The Superbalist Showdown will run from 29 November to 3 December, with up to 70% off more than 15 000+ items. Superbalist shoppers will also have early access to Black Friday deals on selected days throughout November, with Superbalist’s Black Friday Spoilers – 24 hours to shop deals that they say won’t be beaten on Black Friday. 

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