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Not tech, but social and business revolution under way

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Former Microsoft number 3 and ex-head of VMWare, Paul Maritz shared his journey and insights with South Africans at the recent MyWorld of Tomorrow conference

Veteran industry executive Paul Maritz opened the recent My World Of Tomorrow  technology expo and conference with a technology vision of businesses that is not about the technology itself.

In his keynote address at the Sandton Convention Centre, he said that we were experiencing not a technology revolution, but a social and business revolution.

Maritz currently heads Pivotal, a landmark company created through the combined forces of GE, EMC and VMWare. It was born for a new purpose: to create the next generation of operating systems that will power our future. Those platforms are vital, as Martiz set about to explain.

He first illuminated his own journey: as a fresh-faced varsity graduate from South Africa, Maritz left for the US to engage with the new world of PCs. It was the start of the Eighties and mainframe computers were being replaced by new maverick innovations from companies such as Intel. Maritz wanted in, kick starting a career that took him through giants such as Intel and Microsoft – where he was number three behind Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. He would later move to EMC, soon heading up VMWare, then Pivotal.

This gave Maritz a good sense of history and a clear vision of where we are going. He looked at how the Eighties and Nineties were spent creating digital equivalents for paper-based processes, leading to the development of applications such as Microsoft Office. But now it is time for the next step:

“Those applications are not going away – they are going to stay with us for a long time to come. But they are no longer where differential value is coming from. Those are not where the new business models are being driven out of. We’re moving into an era where we are now starting to tackle things that you cannot imagine in a paper-based world. There is no paper-based equivalent to Google and Facebook. We’ve had to evolve structures and architectures to allow us to tackle those kind of use cases.”

To illustrate his point, Maritz looked back at mainframes. The cost to generate enough computing power to track a computer mouse was huge. Then the desktop-style PCs we are familiar with arrived, bringing that kind of power spend to virtually zero and thus ushering in the era of graphic user interfaces.

Yet the client/server PC world has its own limitations: the power available is still dictated by the capacity of an individual machine. So if something required ten machines to do its job, it would be an expensive and rare practice: Maritz called it avant-garde development.

The world needed a new way to evolve technology – especially if it expected to match the consumer-driven revolution pegged by smart devices and connectivity.

“Google is actually the pioneer here. In 1998, when they set out to index the entire world’s information, they already knew that the index would be petabytes in size. If you had gone to your favourite database vendor in 1998 and buy a petabyte of capacity – even if they could have supplied it to you at the then-going prices of $1 million per terabyte – it would have cost you $10 billion. For Google that was just a non-starter, so they had to go a different route. They had to tackle their problem by ganging together lots and lots of very cheap machines.”

Google’s thriftiness sparked the new technology platforms that are increasingly driving our world today, creating new use cases and opportunities for business. By combining many machines, the power of technology has become a commodity. Like the leap to graphic interfaces, now we can tackle big data, contextual behaviour and more. One example is General Electric, a century-old company that has become the standard bearer for transforming to the new digital epoch. GE’s aircraft engines famously generate terabytes of data over one single transatlantic flight, prompting the company to wonder what value lies in all of that data. This in turn brought new opportunities, which is why GE invested in Pivotal: it wants the next generation of technology to fuel its newfound ambitions.

Ultimately all that brought Maritz’s main point to book: what we are experiencing is not a technology revolution. It is a social and business revolution, exemplified by among other things how companies reach audiences.

“A lot of businesses used to operate on the principle of spending huge amounts of money on broad, horizontal media-based advertising to drive the masses to them. Now instead innovative companies spend their money on building compelling, useful ways of engaging with their customers in realtime. They rather spend their time and money into building useful apps that gives information and service in context to the user.”

The maverick automobile maker Tesla counts as one – it uses applications and in-car software to extend the experience well beyond simply owning a vehicle. Uber, the favourite example of this revolution, also uses apps and analytics to improve customer engagement. If you ever pondered why a food retailer wants you to swipe its shopper card, that’s towards gathering trends for improved service. All of that is being run on what Maritz called the third platform: the world of cheap, powerful parallel computer systems.

But to access this new world requires companies to shift their mindsets. Technology is becoming inseparable from business, at least if that business hopes to keep engaging the new consumer.

“One of the big changes many companies have a lot of problems with is to realise this is not an IT problem. This is a business problem. Google has an IT department, but they make sure every machine has an IP address and that’s about it. Everyone else in Google doesn’t think of themselves as IT people. They think of themselves as part of the product department. They build products. The business and technology people sit as equals around the table.”

Maritz rounded his point with a call to action for companies: “Find partners who want to do this with you as opposed to doing it for you. It will not help you if they do it all for you. At the end of the day this capability is going to be your differentiator for finding value. You can’t outsource that. If a partner says ‘No problem, just write me a cheque’, that’s a big red flag. Don’t go there.”

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Cape Town not so calm – if you’re a driver

Cape Town drivers lose on average 162 hours a year to traffic jams, so will need some tech and a few tips to stay calm

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Cape Town drivers lose, on average, 162 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, and the city is ranked 95th out of around 200 cities, across 38 countries surveyed globally, in terms of congestion issues.

That’s according to the latest INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which is an annual analysis of mobility and congestion trends. The study provides a data-rich evaluation of information collected during peak (slowest) travel times, and inter peak (fastest point between morning and afternoon commutes) travel times. Together they provide a holistic account of congestion throughout the day, delivering in-depth insights for vehicle drivers and policy-makers to make better decisions regarding urban travel and traffic health.

Of the further five South African cities surveyed:

  • Pretoria drivers lose, on average, 143 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, ranking as the 64thmost congested city
  • Johannesburg drivers lose an average of 119 hours annually, ranking 61st
  • Durban drivers lose 72 hours, ranking 141st
  • Port Elizabeth drivers lose 71 hours, ranking 75th
  • And Bloemfontein drivers lose 62 hours, ranking 165th

If these hours sound horrific, spare a thought for the poor drivers in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá who lose, on average, a whopping 272 hours a year stuck in traffic jams!

On average, drivers’ commutes increase by roughly 30% during peak versus inter-peak hours. And the reality is that congestion issues aren’t going away anytime soon. Not here in SA, or anywhere else in the world. So what can we, as drivers, do to make the situation easier to cope with on our daily commute?

Change of mindset

Stressing about the unavoidable, the inevitable, and all the things that are out of our control – like congestion caused by accidents, faulty street lights, or bad weather – is a waste of energy. We should try finding ways of using that time in our cars more productively, to create a less tense, more positive experience. Learning to change our perspective about this challenging time, and associating it with something enjoyable, can drastically alter our reaction to and engagement with it. Rather than expending all our energy on futile anger and frustration, we can channel our focus on things that relax or energise us instead.

Just one more chapter

Being stuck in traffic usually aggravates us because it feels like a huge waste of valuable time. But like a wise man once said, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Listening to a podcast or audiobook can not only be entertaining, but also educational, which is a brilliant use of your time. Ifyou think of your car as a ‘learning lab’, a mobile university of sorts, and your time spent inside as away to exercise your brain and grow intellectually, you may even find yourself wishing for bad traffic so you have an excuse to carry on listening to your podcast or audiobook.

Tame your inner Hulk

Pulling up a playlist of your favourite, feel-good songs can do wonders to combat stress levels. Downbeat music has been proven to have a mellowing effect on drivers. Making a quick switch to downbeat music shows measurable physiological improvements, with drivers calming down much sooner, and making fewer driving mistakes. So the next time you feel your inner Hulk emerging, crank up the volume on your favourite tunes.

The power of ‘caromatherapy’

There are numerous studies on aromas and their impact on human emotion, behaviour, and performance. Researchers have found that peppermint can enhance mental and athletic performance and cognitive functioning, while cinnamon may improve tasks related to attentional processes and visual-motor response speed. A study from Kyoto University in Japan revealed that participants reported significantly lower hostility and depression scores, and felt more relaxed after awalk through a pine forest. It makes sense then, to incorporate some ‘caromatherapy’ into our lives. There are plenty of off-the-shelf car diffusers available, or you could add a few drops of essential oil to DIY felt air fresheners. Citrus scents like orange or lemon can provide a boost of energy, while rosemary can relieve stress and anxiety. Take care not to hang anything that might obstruct your field of vision though, and always make sure to test out essential oils at home first, in case a scent makes you dizzy or overly relaxed, which could affect driving focus.

Contemplate your navel

The mind is a powerful thing, and simply willing yourself to relax might be the most effective method of all. While we don’t recommend meditating while driving due to safety reasons, breathing exercises can help you stay focused and feeling calm. One useful practice is the one-to-one technique – breathing in and out for the same count with the same intensity. Deep, measured breaths facilitate full oxygen exchange, helping to slow down the rate of your heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure, as opposed to shallow breathing, which doesn’t send enough air to the lowest part of your lungs, causing you to feel anxious and short of breath. Just always keep your eyes on the road, and take care to ensure you’re not so busy counting breaths that your concentration is compromised.

Not all those who wander are lost

Some of our best ideas come in those moments where we’re alone with our own thoughts, able to really reflect on the ideas we have without having something immediate that needs our attention. Allow your mind to wander, and do a little brainstorming. Alternatively, use the time to simply day dream. Remember, downtime is not dead time. It is both necessary, and important for your mental health. Use this time as an opportunity to take care of yourself.

In-built vehicle tech

“As we spend more and more time commuting, cars are being designed to accommodate longer periods behind the wheel,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Ford uses human-centric design to deliver vehicles that are inviting, accommodating, and intuitive. For example, our SYNCT infotainment system offers nifty, hands-free functions, like allowing drivers to listen to their texts, change music or climate settings, and make phone calls easily with voice control. Our range of driver-assist technologies, like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Semi-Auto Active Park Assist, are also designed to take some of the stress off city driving. If our lifestyle means that we might be spending more time in our cars than we do on holiday, then we should make sure we make the most of that time.”

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Vodacom exits Africa biz services

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Vodacom Group has sold Vodacom Business Africa’s operations in Nigeria, Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to Andile Ngcaba’s Synergy Communications. The two entities are in the process of concluding the acquisitions, which are subject to the approval of the regulatory authorities within these markets.

Vodacom says the transaction supports the Group’s enterprise strategy in Africa, which has been refocused to grow and strengthen its core business. It will no longer directly service global enterprise customers in these three markets but will rather continue to operate as a pan African telecommunications networks provider through local relationships, like the one with Synergy Communications. 

This acquisition represents a significant milestone in Synergy Communication’s quest to be a leading provider of cloud and digitally based services in key markets across sub-Saharan Africa and provides key additional assets in its build out of a regional footprint. Synergy Communications currently has operations in Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique.

Andile Ngcaba, Chairman of Synergy Communications said: “This is an exciting landmark transaction for Synergy Communications, providing us with additional momentum in the delivery of our strategy as a pan-African enterprise digital Services Provider. Synergy Communications will partner with major global cloud providers and deliver platform-based services to both multi-nationals and local enterprises.”

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, said: “Vodacom has a clear vision for strengthening our position as a leading pan-African business and will work with local service providers like Synergy Communications to grow in these markets. Crucially, Vodacom is not exiting any of the territories related to this transaction and remains focused on continuing to deliver exceptional service to our global and multinational clients in these markets through long-term commercial agreements. 

“To support the sustainable growth of pan African digital economies and building connected societies, Vodacom will, via local service providers, continue to service clients in each market. We seek to leverage the collective strengths of Vodacom and Synergy Communications to meet the changing requirements of clients across each of these markets.”

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