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John Deere opens farm data to agri suppliers

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John Deere has developed an innovative private permission-based platform that allows third-party suppliers of agricultural services to use farm data to help farmers make decisions better. Blended with their own data and insights, artificial intelligence is allowing agricultural service providers to conceive and deliver bespoke services – remotely – tailor-made for each field and farm.

The ability to, “blend data from each farmer’s operational and supplier universe is, for the first time, unleashing the power of artificial intelligence on South African farms,” says Wayne Spaumer, Product Specialist for Precision Agriculture, Sub-Sahara Africa at John Deere. The impact of artificial intelligence for individual farmers – in terms of increased yields, dramatically cut costs and, ultimately, higher incomes per hectare – is set to, “transform South African agriculture by radically increasing the accuracy with which farmers make decisions,” stated Spaumer.

Increasing the range of data points – available instantly and electronically – will also, “speed up decision-making, allowing the farmer to focus on income-generating functions and tasks,” added Spaumer.

To ensure that farmers maximise the yield impact of their machines by leveraging technology, John Deere has developed a platform, called Operations Center. Operations Center enables farmers to combine data produced by any agricultural machine fitted with basic guidance and monitoring packages – with supplier data from, say, soil analysts or fertiliser and seed companies.

Since, however, John Deere knows that farmers have a lot of decisions to make in a day and that they don’t farm alone, “choices on which third-party suppliers and services to work with are critically important – especially because of the information that these suppliers can provide,” said Spaumer.

In response, John Deere recently added a function, called More Tools to its Operations Center. More Tools provides the ability to combine a farmer’s existing data with data from companies like AgStudio, GeoFarm or T3RRA Tools, producing a much broader view of the farmer’s universe. This much richer data set enables each farmer to, “plan and manage activities, monitor progress and analyse results – informed by accurate reports compiled using his or her own operational and broader supplier and service data,” says Spaumer. 

By simply registering a farm as an organisation on MyJohnDeere.com, “South African farmers can build a one-stop artificial intelligence-driven information, decision-making and guidance shop – providing advice, in real time, based on their own farm data,” says Spaumer.

For example, by sending a soil analysis shape file to one of the soil analysers appearing in the More Tools function on a farmer’s Operations Center, results can then be shared with, say, a tillage adviser and then a seed supplier. Once blended and analysed, all this data can be relayed back to a farmer’s planter, guiding the machine on how best to till the field, what seed to plant, at what depth and in which frequency. “The fuel, time, seed and reduced compacting savings that information like this can achieve, not to mention the yield increases, is set to transform how South Africans farm,” predicts Spaumer.

Third-party service providers that have already joined the John Deere More Tools platform include; Agritask Agronomic management platform, AgStudio, Cropsat, Delair.ai, Ecosat, Farm Dog Scout, Farm shots, Fieldclimate by Pessl Instruments, Fieldmargin, GeoFarm, Landscout Mobile app, Mavrx, Meteobot Local Weather & Soil, Next Farming Office, SoilOptix, and T3RRA Tools.  

To expand the third-party supplier universe available to farmers on the More Tools option of its Operations Center, John Deere recently hosted a seminar promoting the advantages of listing on More Tools. Companies attending included; Aerobotics, RPAS consulting, Geoterra, Carrus fleet Management Services, Multi green, SGS, Agrisol, Agritechnovations, Mezzanine, BCS connect, Yara, Sion Agri, Nulandis, Axioteq, Novon retail.

The ‘Develop with Deere 2019’ seminar demonstrated how third-party suppliers can, “register on More Tools, by adopting available API`s and work through a ‘sand box’ testing period,” explained Spaumer. Once registered, South African farmers will be able to work with these companies, “by selecting them as trusted partners and granting them specific access to their data,” he added.  The suppliers listed on More Tools can then rework the farmers data on their own software programs, returning information to the farmer based on their agreement.

John Deere, “encourages all firms working with farmers to join our More Tools function so that, together, we empower South Africa’s agricultural hardware with autonomous decision-making capabilities,” said Spaumer.

John Deere has plans for more seminars in 2020 aimed at attracting additional relevant third-party suppliers to register on More Tools. In the meantime, companies considering registering on More Tools can explore the function and make contact with John Deere at https://developer.deere.com/#!help&doc=HELPoverview.htm .

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Liquid, IS, partner for 5G roll-out to corporate SA

Liquid Telecom has teamed up with Internet Solutions to develop an ultra-fast wholesale connectivity service for enterprises – including telcos

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Liquid Telecom South Africa has partnered with Internet Solutions (IS) to provide wholesale 5G connectivity targeted at delivering enterprise services to their existing and potential new customer bases.  

The 5G service will provide operators and internet service providers with faster speeds, lower latency and greater capacity, ultimately enabling businesses to deliver richer experiences to their customers.

“Providing IS with 5G wholesale services as an alternative to fibre connectivity, Liquid Telecom South Africa is highlighting how we are delivering on our commitment to the market to continue being the best business network in South Africa,” says Reshaad Sha, CEO of Liquid Telecom South Africa. “Local businesses are adopting technologies like SD-WAN, IoT, and cloud computing, However, these technologies need network connectivity that provides high quality, increased capacity, and greater reliability to ensure optimum performance.” 

IS managing executive Dr Setumo Mohapisays the company has evolved its networking model to provide a high-performance hybrid network that aggregates multiple WAN transport services. 

“This enables clients to fully utilise all available bandwidth for high availability and total application performance,” he says. “The innovation, flexibility and range of 5G use cases that this offers for different industries such as agriculture, retail, manufacturing, and logistics is boundless. 5G is a core component of our hybrid network and we are extremely excited about the extended capability this partnership with Liquid enables us to offer our clients.

Liquid Telecom is the first to launch a 5G wholesale network service, which it says will “accelerate the building of Africa’s digital future and the  digital revolution in South Africa”.

Liquid Telecom is a leading communications solutions provider across 13 countries, primarily in Eastern, Southern and South Africa. It serves mobile operators, carriers, enterprise, media and content companies and retail customers with high-speed, reliable connectivity, hosting and co-location and digital services. This means that it can provide the basis for its clients to offer 5G services to end-users.

Liquid has built Africa’s largest independent fibre network, approaching 70,000km, and operates state-of-the-art data centres in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Nairobi.

IS, which pioneered Internet connectivity in South Africa, is a subsidiary of the Dimension Data Group and part of Japanese telecoms giant NTT. It now leverages its infrastructure and global footprint to support organisations with the rapid deployment of emerging technologies. Still headquartered in South Africa, it has operating offices in Mozambique, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. It has 82 Points of Presence (PoPs) in 19 African countries and four international PoPs in London, Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore. The company has over 10 000 square metres of data centre space across Africa.

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So you think you need a Blockchain?

By CAYLE SHARROCK, Head of Engineering at Tari Labs

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It’s 2020, and we’re still in hype overdrive about blockchain. If conventional wisdom is to be believed, blockchain is going revolutionise and disrupt every industry known to humankind.

But does every industry actually need a blockchain? Let’s take an objective look at two of the most aggressively touted use cases for Blockchain to see if it’s all it’s cracked up to be.

Before we do this, let’s remind ourselves about the four pillars of Blockchain technology and what they give you: tamper-evident logs (the blockchain); cryptographic proof of ownership (digital signatures); public accountability (the distributed public ledger); and corruption resistance (proof of work).

If we use these four features as a checklist, we can evaluate any proposed use case of blockchain technology and decide whether the potential is genuine, or whether it’s just buzzword bingo.

Banking

There have been hundreds of headlines over the past four years proclaiming how Bank Y will use Blockchain to disrupt the industry. Usually, what they claim is that they can perform interbank settlements at a fraction of the cost of what the incumbent monopoly, SWIFT, provides.

So does Blockchain work for the banking sector? Clearly, tamper detection of the transaction history is a must-have here. What about digital signatures and proof of ownership? Without a doubt. Multiple signatures? The more the merrier.

Bitcoin was conceived as trustless money – and with banks, we have a fairly small community that is heavily regulated, and that do actually trust each other to some degree. Essentially, banks use governments’ big stick instead of proof-of-work to keep everyone honest. This works most of the time. Except when it doesn’t. The 2008 crisis and the 2012 Cypriot haircuts are just two examples.

How about Public Accountability from distributed public records? No, public accountability has never been the banking sector’s strong suit. That means the banks’ ideal “blockchain” is just tamper detection, plus digital signatures. This sounds like a bunch of databases that have tightly controlled access along with strong cryptographic signatures.

The banks actually gave this non-Blockchain blockchain a name: Distributed Ledger Technology. And it’s pretty much what SWIFT already does.

Verdict: Do banks need Blockchain? Nah. They want a cheaper alternative to SWIFT.

Supply-chain management

Blockchain technology is going to revolutionise the supply-chain management (SCM) industry, we’re told. BHP Billiton was one of the first large companies to announce in 2016 that they were implementing Blockchain for their core sample supply chain. We’ve heard similar stories about the diamond industry.

Whether you think a proof-of-work Blockchain makes sense for SCM is really secondary to the challenge of The Oracle problem: blockchains are brilliant at letting you know when data in the system has been compromised. But they have zero sense whether that data is true or not.

The Oracle problem arises whenever you need to bring the concept of truth, or providence from the real world into a trustless system like Blockchain. How does the core sample data get onto the blockchain ledger? Does a guy type it in? Does he never make mistakes? Can he be bribed to type in something else? If it’s a totally automated system, can it fail? Be hacked?

Maybe we solve this by having two systems running and we compare the results. Or three. Or four. Now we have the problem of having to ship our samples to different labs around the world and be sure they weren’t tampered with in transit. If only we had a blockchain-based SCM system to secure our blockchain-based SCM system …

Verdict: The Oracle problem is really hard, and torpedos a lot of tangible good-based blockchain proposals.

So, back to our original question: do you need a blockchain? Ultimately, the future of blockchain applications (beyond money) lies in whether the benefits of having a decentralised, public record secured by proof-of-work outweighs its costs. There are plenty of really encouraging use cases emerging – think ticketing, for example, or trading in any digital assets. But for most industries, the jury’s still out.

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