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Non-profits falling behind in digital era

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Despite 98% of non-profits indicating that technology is very important to their operations, the sector still faces challenges to its digital transformation, compared to other industries, writes SIYA MADYIBI, Head of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft SA.

According to a recent survey conducted by Microsoft polling NGOs across South Africa, which found that the non-profit sector is fast having to play catch-up when it comes to fully embracing digital transformation.

Out of the 55 non-profits surveyed, only 12 said that 80 percent of their employees and field workers have access to devices, and 16 reported that their field workers are using technology to better serve their cause.

A lack of funding and poor internet connection were cited as the biggest barriers to adoption. Several respondents indicated that there was often an internal belief that technology is too expensive and they face challenges regarding weak team structures and collaboration, and restricted funding models.

Why non-profits need to digitally transform

Non-profits operate in much the same way as do big businesses and enterprise. Each tries to maximise a return on investment of often limited resources in order to satisfy the objectives of various stakeholders or customers.

Just as successful enterprises must constantly innovate to meet and shape customer preferences, so too do non-profits need to adapt to meet the demands of today’s digital world. Finding new and innovative ways to reach customers and shareholders, or beneficiaries and donors, is one area that both enterprises and non-profits respectively share.

In the survey, non-profits indicated that technologies like cloud computing can help them keep detailed databases of their beneficiaries, update records easily, search for records faster and back up information on servers that are not on their premises. Other respondents reported that they use mobile technology to capture and share pictures and reports for evidence of implementation. This allows their team to share progress with funders, opening doors for more funding.

Overcoming the obstacles

Organisations that are agile enough to effectively adapt will be well positioned for the future; those who aren’t, risk becoming redundant as new models emerge that better serve beneficiaries and match donor interests.

Rise the connected non-profit

Here’s how non-profits can digitally transform their organisations:

1.     Become a digital-first organisation

A digital-first organisation is one that embraces technology across business functions, rather than treating IT as a separate department.  It must become a culture that flows from top managers to all levels of the organisation, not just the IT department.

2.    Choose the right tools for the job

Traditionally non-profits have used a variety of disparate technologies to store, manage and analyse data. However, the emergence of cloud computing has unlocked a vital resource for addressing the world’s problems. Cloud services utilise data to create new insights and lead to breakthroughs, not just for science and technology, but for addressing the full range of economic and social challenges and the delivery of better human services. Cloud also improves communications and productivity, and is much more cost-effective than traditional software.

3.    All staff need to become digital staff

The reality is that digital intersects the work of all staff in any organisation. Non-profits need to create digitally-savvy, mobile workforces who are well equipped to flourish in a mobile-first, cloud-first world. They can do this by arming staff and field workers with adequate devices and equipping them with the necessary skills to serve the broader needs of the non-profit community and the beneficiaries they service.

At Microsoft we are committed to helping non-profits use cloud computing to solve basic human challenges. One of our ambitions for Microsoft Philanthropies is to partner with these groups and ensure that cloud computing is accessible to a greater number of people and meets the widest range of societal needs.

This is why Microsoft recently announced that it will be making Microsoft Azure available to eligible non-profit and non-governmental organisations, by offering Azure credits. This offer adds to the existing comprehensive suite of Microsoft cloud services that are available to non-profits to empower their missions.

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Samsung clears the table with new monitor

For those who like minimalism and tidy desks, Samsung’s new Space Monitor may just do the trick, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The latest trends of narrow-bezels and minimalist designs have transcended smartphones, spilling into other designs, like laptops and monitors. 

The new Space Monitor line by Samsung follows in this new design “tradition”. The company has moved the monitor off the desk – by clipping it onto the edge of the desk.

It can be put into three configurations: completely upright, where it sits a bit high but completely off the desk; half-way to the desk, where it is a bit lower to put some papers or files underneath the display; and flat on the desk, where it is at its lowest.

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The monitor sits on a weighted hinge at the edge of the desk, providing sturdy adjustment to its various height configurations. It also swivels on a hinge at the point where the arm connects to the display. This provides precise viewing angle adjustment, which is great for showing something on screen to someone who is standing.

Apart from form factor, there are some neat goodies packed into the box. It comes with a two-pin power adapter, with no adapter box on the midpoint between the plug and the monitor, and a single cable that carries HDMI-Y and power to prevent tangling. 

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However, it’s slightly disappointing that there isn’t a Mini Display Port and power cable “in one cable” option for Mac and newer graphics card users, who will have to run two cables down the back of the screen. Even worse, the display doesn’t have a USB Type-C display input; a missed opportunity to connect a Samsung device to the panel.

A redeeming point is the stunning, Samsung-quality panel, which features a 4K UHD resolution. The colours are sharp and the viewing angles are good. However, this display is missing something: Pantone or Adobe RGB colour certification, as well as IPS technology. 

The display’s response rate comes in at 4ms, slightly below average for displays in this price range. 

These negatives aside, this display has a very specific purpose. It’s for those who want to create desk space in a few seconds, while not having to rearrange the room. 

Final verdict: This display is not for gamers nor for graphic designers. It is for those who need big displays but frequently need to clear their desks.

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Can mobile fix education?

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By Ernst Wittmann, global account director for MEA and country manager for Southern Africa, at TCL Communications

Mobile technology has transformed the way we live and work, and it can be expected to rapidly change the ways in which children learn as smartphones and tablets become more widely accepted at primary and high schools. By putting a powerful computer in every learner’s schoolbag or pocket, smartphones could play an important role in improving educational outcomes in a country where so many schools are under-resourced.

Here are some ways that mobile technology will reshape education in the years to come:

Organisation and productivity

For many adults, the real benefit of a smartphone comes from simple applications like messaging, calendaring and email. The same goes for schoolchildren, many of whom will get the most value from basic apps like sending a WhatApp message to friends to check on the homework for the day, keeping track of their extramural calendar, or photographing the teacher’s notes from the blackboard or whiteboard. One study of young people’s mobile phone use in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa confirmed that many of them got the most value from using their phones to complete mundane tasks.

Interactivity

One of the major benefits smartphones can bring to the classroom is boosting learners’ engagement with educational materials through rich media and interactivity. For example, apps like Mathletics use gamification to get children excited about doing mathematics—they turn learning into a game, with rewards for practicing and hitting milestones. Or teachers can set up a simple poll using an app like Poll Everywhere to ask the children in a class what they think about a character’s motivation in their English set-work book.

Personalisation

Mobile technology opens the doors to more personalised and flexible ways to teach and learn, making more space for children to work in their own style and at their own pace. Not very child learns in the same way or excels at the same tasks and subjects – the benefit of mobile phones is that they can plug the gaps for children seeking extra enrichment or those that need some additional help with classroom work.

For example, teachers can provide recommended educational materials for children who are racing in ahead of their peers in some of their subjects. Or they can suggest relevant games for children who learn better through practical application of ideas than by listening to a teacher and taking notes. 

In future, we can expect to see teachers, perhaps aided by algorithms and artificial intelligence, make use of analytics to track how students engage with educational content on their mobile devices and use these insights to create more powerful learning experiences. 

Access

South Africa has a shortage of teachers in key subjects such as mathematics and science, which disproportionately affects learners in poor and rural areas. According to a statement in 2017 from the Department of Basic Education, it has more than 5,000 underqualified or unqualified teachers working around the country. Though technology cannot substitute for a qualified teacher, it can supplement human teaching in remote or poor areas where teachers are not available or not qualified to teach certain subjects. Video learning and videoconferencing sessions offer the next best thing where a math or physical science teacher is not physically present in the classroom.

Information

Knowledge is power and the Internet is the world’s biggest repository of knowledge. Schoolchildren can access information and expertise about every subject under the sun from their smartphones – whether they are reading the news on a portal, watching documentaries on YouTube, downloading electronic books, using apps to improve their language skills, or simply Googling facts and figures for a school project.

Take a mobile-first approach

Technology has a powerful role to play in the South African school of the future, but there are some key success factors schools must bear in mind as they bring mobile devices into the classroom:

  • Use appropriate technology—in South Africa, that means taking a mobile-first approach and using the smartphones many children already know and use.
  • Thinking about challenges such as security – put in place the cyber and physical security needed to keep phones and data safe and secure.
  • Ensuring teachers and children alike are trained to make the most of the tech – teachers need to take an active role in curating content and guiding schoolchildren’s use of their devices. To get that right, they will need training and access to reliable tech support.

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