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Take data toll-free

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Many businesses are adopting a data toll-free approach, where consumers can access a company’s website without having to pay for any data usage, writes ECKART ZOLLNER, Head of Business Development at Jasco Group.

A recent emerging global trend that is disrupting traditional data payment responsibility, is that of businesses offering their consumers free online access to their websites or other online platforms. Usually, consumers who wish to access a business’s online services, particularly via mobile channels, need to have enough data to do so – or they simply don’t go online at all. This has incited many businesses and service providers in South Africa to begin offering free access to their sites regardless of whether the consumer has any data left or not – but who covers the data costs?

The concept of offering toll free access to customer service channels isn’t a new one. Toll-free numbers that enable consumers to call businesses, at no charge to themselves, are still in effect today for both customer care and the selling of services and products. Today’s consumer, however, is more likely to access a business’s services, products or customer care centre via the Internet than over the telephone, meaning that businesses have had to change the way they offer their toll-free services to their market, shifting the same concept to an online platform.

At what price?

Data charges for accessing these “toll-free” platforms are invariably covered by the businesses who own the platforms, or websites. A business wishing to provide their consumers with free access to their sites – data or not – strikes up an agreement with one or many network operators which allows them to cover the charges for anyone who accesses their online site or platform. The charges that the person accessing the site would usually incur simply gets redirected to the business site owner.

Businesses offering this service can end up with hefty data bills, particularly for high traffic sites, however the benefits more than make up for the costs. Although there is the risk of incurring data charges which don’t result in sales, offering free access to their online portals means that businesses are able to effectively remove almost any barrier for consumers – potential and existing – to access their products and services. This translates directly into more site visits which means more sales and, ultimately, increased profits.

The disruptor differentiator

Providing free access to online portals also enables a business to stand out from its competition. It differentiates the business from others of its kind, and consumers are more likely to visit their site, free of charge, than those sites which require that they use their own data. Consumers see the perceived value of this service and are able to immediately feel the tangible effects thereof. They can “window shop” at no cost to themselves, which increases the possibility of impulse buying and serves to heighten the reputation of the business in their eyes. It’s a definite brand activator.

Despite the incurred data charges, businesses offering this service could actually end up saving costs. Businesses could shift most of their operations online and do away with physical, brick-and-mortar premises. This means fewer physical shops or offices, fewer employees and less need for infrastructure, all of which drag heavily at the bottom line.

Finally, businesses are able to tap into heretofore untouched markets. Consumers who would ordinarily have to travel for kilometres can access products and services at their fingertips – for free! Consumers who tend to use up all of their data before their month is up can still access platforms without worrying about the data charges. Suddenly, a business’s customer base can expand radically.

Integration is key

Any business who wishes to offer toll-free access to their sites and online platforms firstly needs a mobile commerce platform which will enable this functionality. Their platform must be able to integrate with their current operational systems, software, billing platforms and even customer relationship management systems.

Integration is critical to this process, to ensure full functionality and service delivery. A business would also need to engage with one or more network providers to ensure the charges for accessing their site, or specific portions of their site, are redirected to themselves and not to their customers.

Paving the way

Toll-free online access is the tip of the iceberg for similar services aimed at making it easier for consumers to access and buy products and services online. There are many other disruptive services starting to emerge in South Africa to simplify the buying process and widen the customer base. For example, companies that offer cardless purchasing, where consumers who don’t have access to credit or debit cards are able to use a ‘middle man’ platform to pay for products and services – consumers “buy” credit from a third-party provider, such as a mobile money service provider, who then pays the supplier for them.

It’s a short hop and a skip to a world of Internet shopping in which consumers are unencumbered by traditional shopper problems such as lack of accessibility or lack of a bank account, and South African businesses are acting quickly to be a part of it.

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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