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Robots are not new!

Even though robots have become more sophisticated and popular in recent times, JENNI PALOCSIK says that they are not new, citing the use of them as far back as 400 B.C.

Robots seem to be everywhere these days—on the big screen in popular science fiction movies, in books and in toy stores, and also in a real way improving our workplaces and other aspects of our daily lives.

Primitive robots were machines designed to automatically perform a specific task. Around 3,000 B.C., Egyptian water clocks used human figures to strike bells on the hour. Another inventor, Archytas of Tarentum, was reported to have created a wooden pigeon that could fly in 400 B.C.

Robots have become significantly more sophisticated in modern times.

The first industrial robot was introduced in 1961 by General Motors in an automobile factory. Since then, many manufacturing industries have designed robots to do work that is too dangerous for humans or that can be done more quickly and consistently by machines.

Today, robots have evolved beyond physical motors and mechanical arms and manipulators to include software robots that can assist consumers and employees, helping them to do more tasks more easily. These robots can perform pre-programmed tasks or even leverage artificial intelligence to help them think and learn.

It’s a way to combine the convenience of automation with the work of today using computers and software programs. Here are some examples:

  • Virtual agents, virtual assistants and chat bots: These non-human software programs “live” on websites or within mobile apps, leveraging interactive, context-aware knowledge bases to answer questions from humans. Virtual agents are often used to extend and enhance self-service options for customers, answering basic questions and helping people find additional information for a particular need. Often these functions are visually represented as an avatar to make them more “friendly” and to reinforce the company’s brand identity.
  • Desktop automation: This software automates tasks to help improve employee productivity, completing steps more quickly and performing data reentry across systems. Some versions of the software can also help guide employees through tasks, displaying dialogue boxes providing instructions, presenting scripts to be read to customers and other important information.
  • Robotic process automation: This software completes end-to-end processes or tasks within longer processes that don’t need to be performed by a human employee. Typically these are high volume, repetitive tasks involving data entry or re-entry across systems based on specific decision criteria and logic.

Why robots? Because just as we continue to invent cool new gadgets and technology that make our lives easier, better or more fun, software robots can be used to handle work previously done by humans to help us get it done faster, less expensively, and more consistently and accurately.

This applies to customer service chat bots, desktop automation and robotic process automation. And, there’s an even bigger benefit in most cases—human employees can shift from the more boring and repetitive tasks to more value-added customer-facing work, continuing to learn new skills as the knowledge workers of the future.

* Jenni Palocsik, Director Solutions Marketing, Verint

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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as it reaches the end of its support, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2005.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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