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SA ‘could’ lead smart city race

New technology and the advent of big data is creating opportunities for Africa to leapfrog other parts of the world when it comes to smart cities, says DENISE LEE.

The ‚Äòthird industrial revolution’ led by new digital technologies, converging streams of information and the advent of big data is creating opportunities for Africa to leapfrog other parts of the world with smart city technologies that could revolutionise the quality of life for city dwellers, says Deloitte.

Already, says Denise Lee, Associate Director: City Solution Leader for Deloitte Africa, several major metros in South Africa are investigating the potential that smart city technologies have for meeting the needs of an increasingly urbanised population- a population that could see the size of Africa’s cities doubling within the next 15 years.

South Africa, as a continental business leader and home to the second-largest economy in Africa, has much in common with Africa when it comes to population age and prospects. The major differentiator for the country lies in its well-developed infrastructure and access to skills. These two factors will prove vital in enabling cities like Johannesburg to launch initiatives ahead of competitive cities elsewhere in Africa.

Municipalities in Gauteng are aware of the advantages that smart city systems hold for the future. Many, with Deloitte assistance, are already investigating systems and there potential future roll out. The opportunities presented are regarded as not only essential in optimizing services on the ground, but a way to increase service delivery-especially where problems exist in this regard.

This will be made possible by municipal use of big data to effectively coordinate and schedule activities across diverse city services – alleviating the problems and costs arising from present practices caused by a lack of communication and allocation of resources across cities,” says Lee.

The spread of big data and its use across municipal operations will change the current reality imposed on service delivery by operations that operate in silos, communication is awkward and data capture is still mainly a manual process. Sharing pertinent information across areas such as asset, fleet and workforce management will result in shorter task turn- around times being achieved through the avoidance of bottlenecks in the system.

Best practice has shown that this can be achieved through the establishment of data warehouses and business intelligence-assets that developing cities still lack. The most used method for rectifying this is through the establishment of an operations centre. City managers are able to access data in real- time streams whilst operators can facilitate responses from different departments to deal with incidents as they occur.

“The operations centre powered by big data is the pinnacle of a city’s tactical strategy as it provides a focus point that pivots on achieving cost savings through the consolidation, monitoring and optimisation of shared ICT assets and services. It also plays roles in:

· Stimulating business by creating a city-wide digital strategy that fosters economic growth through access to broadband and Wi-Fi services:

· Driving efficient citizen relationships systems geared to resolving their requests and complaints on first call and benchmarked call closure times:

· Lowering costs by providing an analytics capability to monitor and optimise city processes and resources that can be benchmarked against international standards: and

· The ability to provide for enhanced second-tier, cross-department and agency support to citizens and providing integrated structures rather than operations that work in silos.

Underpinning this proactive environment means that data sources which can range from CCTV camera systems, voice, social media, streaming data, sensor logs, supervisory control systems and data acquisition sources are combined with traditional structured and unstructured data to support the mission of the city.

As with all major initiatives that have the potential to revolutionise the environment in which people live and go about their daily business, the transformation of a city from a reactive position to a proactive stance will take several years to accomplish. Considerable monetary, IT and organisational restructuring will also be required,” say Lee.

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Loadshedding keeps small business from the cloud

New research shows nearly half of South African small businesses struggle with internet connectivity

New research reveals South African small businesses aren’t able to adopt cloud technology because of their connectivity problems. The third annual State of Small Business report from accounting software firm Xero, conducted in partnership with World Wide Worx (WWW), shows that over half (53%) of small businesses haven’t adopted cloud technology yet, due to connectivity problems.

Over half (59%) said that scheduled power outages by the national supplier posed a significant challenge for their business. In addition, more than two fifths (43%) said that their internet connection was ‘OK but not 100% reliable’. Other challenges cited include new technologies entering the market (29%) and compatibility with customers (45%).

The research represents the opinions of 400 South African small business owners and 200 South African accountants. Almost half (47%) said their staff were highly tech-literate, but more than two thirds (67%) don’t allocate budget for training employees to use the software provided.

Colin Timmis, General Country Manager, Xero SA and professional accountant said “Our most recent State of Small Business report gives a real insight into what it’s like on the ground for small businesses in South Africa. In uncertain times like these, technology can provide stability. For example, cloud software can help overcome issues with connectivity. It helps to make your business more agile, meaning you can work from anywhere at any time. Being able to move when there are scheduled power cuts or patchy internet is crucial to keeping your business running.”

Nearly all who had adopted cloud technology said that they noticed an increase in profit (98%) and an increase in efficiency (99%). More than half (51%) suggested that it had improved their ability to work anywhere, and a quarter (25%) said it had improved security.

In addition, nearly two fifths (38%) said their IT set up was ahead of the curve. Over half (56%) said they use basic automation, whether in operational or accounting tasks. A quarter (25%) said they were using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, followed by cloud computing (19%).

“It’s great that South Africa’s small businesses are seeing the benefits of adopting technology. But there will be a learning curve for anyone using new software and employees shouldn’t be expected to self-teach. Because people are more tech-savvy than they used to be, training normally only takes a few hours. It could make all the difference in getting return on investment on the technology that you buy”, said Timmis.

Other key findings from the research reveal:

  • Three quarters (79%) of small businesses claim that accounting software support is very important
  • Three quarters (78%) of respondents use accounting software to manage financial records and over half (55%) are using desktop solutions.
  • Only one fifth (22%) are using cloud accounting tools and nearly a quarter (23%) still do their books manually.
  • Only a tiny proportion of respondents (0.25%) are using AI and machine learning.

Download the report in full here.

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Uberising solar energy

A team of students from Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya on Thursday walked off as winners with R20 000 in prize money for an innovative concept to provide equitable energy access to remote villages based on, among others, “Uber(ising) solar energy.”

The team was one of four university teams participating in the African Utility Week and Powergen Africa conference and exhibition’s first ever Initiate! Impact Challenge. The 19th edition of the event gathered thousands of power, water and gas industry experts in Cape Town this week and ended on Thursday.

Student teams from Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand also took part in the three-day challenge sponsored by the Enel Foundation, the Innovation Hub, Lesedi Nuclear Services and the Russian Nuclear Agency Rosatom. The Initiate! Challenge aimed to create a platform for students and start-ups to drive innovation and share ideas for the energy sector.

Strathmore University’s winning team: (left to right) Fredrick Amariati, Ignatius Maranga, Raymond Kiyegga and Alex Osunga.

The Strathmore University team included engineering students Ignatius Maranga, Raymond Kiyegga, Fredrick Amariati and Alex Osunga. One member of the team will also have the exclusive opportunity to join the 5th annual student fact-finding mission to Russia to visit several state-of-the-art nuclear facilities and dedicated Russian nuclear universities. Maranga said the team is happy and humbled especially because they competed against some of the top universities on the continent. He said the teams’ winning idea is rooted in real life challenges that Kenyans in rural areas face. “The solutions offered so far to expand energy access are not solving these problems as many are not financially viable.”

The team’s idea is to put a solar panelled container in rural villages that will also house a clinic and a knowledge hub like a school for vocational training to teach people about the use and benefits of solar energy. It will also include a shop where villagers can buy daily essentials like milk.

Maranga said: “The school will help with capacity building as villagers will see and learn benefits of electricity and as the business grows, they will want to have electricity in their homes and when that point comes, we will have solar powered tricycles. These tricycles will carry and deliver batteries like Uber does passengers to villagers in more remote areas. The system is modular so we will add another container to charge batteries. These batteries are ferried on trikes, so villagers in more remote areas can request a number of charged batteries on their phone.”

Maranga explained that it is common cause that Africa is big, and many people live in remote rural villages. “So, it is not always possible to extend the power grid to these areas as it is very expensive. So, what do we do instead? Most people own a cell phone, and everyone needs electricity, so you take it to them. They cannot exactly carry a battery for two kilometres so why then not Uber a battery?” Maranga said their company Kijiji, (Swahili for village) will now look at commercialising their idea, optimise it and do market tests. “If accepted we want to roll it out depending on funding.”

The team’s idea appealed to the judges because it was a simple idea that is easy to replicate beyond Kenya to the rest of the continent. Chief executive officer of Rosatom Central and Southern Africa, Dmitry Shornikov, said: “We are very pleased with the solutions presented by the students. The maturity and depth of their research gives us great hope and proves that young Africans really are devoted to solving Africa’s energy challenges.”

Business Development executive at Lesedi Nuclear Services, Shane Pereira, in an earlier interview said the company partnered with Initiate! because it is dedicated to the youth that will be the leaders of tomorrow. “The growth and development as well as training, coaching and mentoring of the youth is critical to the success of our future economy.”

The ideas of the other three teams focused more on mitigating the risk of climate change and came up with ideas ranging from vertical farms to energy boxes.

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