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Tech offers infinite opportunity to retailers

By GARETH HAWKEY, CEO redPanda Group

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Although the local economy is creating a tough operating environment for South African retailers, technology is providing near-infinite opportunities for savvy retailers to drive sales and bottom-line growth. From seamless online shop fronts to digitally enabled payment systems, the right technology – underpinned by the most suitable retail software – can transform small retailers into global players, and established retailers into innovators and trailblazers within their vertical. Understandably, however, many decision-makers within retail are daunted by the question of what technology and software to employ within their environment. Retail technology, and technology in general, is fast changing…and it is nearly impossible to stay abreast of the changes and developments when you are immersed in your core business (i.e. retail).

This naturally creates the question: how does one approach the challenge of technology implementation and software rollouts within one’s retail environment, and particularly within a specialised environment – such as furniture, or credit? All too often, the answer to this question is to simply do nothing, and keep pressing ahead with operations as usual. Indeed, when margins are tight and consumer and business confidence is low, this can seem like the safer option for retail decision-makers who are first and foremost focused on survival.

The bad news? When it comes to technology in today’s digital-first era, doing nothing is equivalent to going backwards. Today, success in retail is undoubtedly defined by the consumer experience, which is being shaped and driven by world-class back-end software and innovative technology. In short, every retail player, no matter their specialisation or vertical, has to be taking definitive steps forward to implement new technology that is underpinned by agile, tailored and responsive software. For savvy retail decision-makers, the best way to ensure success in a specialised retail environment is to find an experienced and innovative software or technology partner to develop a highly tailored strategy for the technology rollout.

Key insights into local retail challenges

Given the complexities of today’s fast-evolving enterprise technology landscape, retailers need to look for a technology partner that has demonstrated knowledge and expertise within the local retail sector. This deep experience within retail is absolutely vital – as it enables the software partner to develop a solution that is finely tailored to your specific retail environment (and the challenges and opportunities currently shaping it). In addition, an immersive understanding of the local retail context also enables this partner to include elements in the technology strategy that speak to unique local pain points: for example, in South Africa there is a high demand for quick and accessible in-store credit.

Independent & uniquely experienced

Importantly, as retailers embark on a technology journey with a trusted partner, it is increasingly beneficial to work with a software specialist who has extensive experience in building bespoke solutions and customizing packaged solutions. By being completely independent as both a technology advisor and solution provider, this partner is then able to give the retailer advice and options that are highly suited to their specific environment and phase of technology development. More often than not, being solution agnostic enables such a partner to provide retailers with a tailored mix of technology solutions that allow the retailer in question to remain responsive and adaptive to the fast-changing needs of customers. In essence, the retailer is not contractually bound to expensive products or software that lock the business in for many years (making the retailer less able to respond to changing consumer trends).

Efficiency where it matters the most

Given the current financial constraints that many local retailers are facing, new technology and software rollouts have to be implemented in such a way that retailers still retain close control over their retail environment and can tailor the business rules to speak to specific in-store demands and pressures. Such control requires the presence of a trusted, transparent and responsive software partner that has teams who are experienced in specific retail verticals. These teams can ensure quick response times, as well as immediate support should it be required – preventing any risk of downtime or inefficiencies when it really matters. The highly responsive nature of such a partner also ensures the speedy release of updates or changes to the software environment, which ultimately translates into a more responsive and efficient consumer experience on the shop floor.

Looking ahead, although the outlook may be challenging for South African retailers, they can undoubtedly achieve quick efficiency wins (coupled with valuable, long term benefits) by choosing an experienced and specialised local retail technology partner…

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TikTok takes on COVID-19

The fastest growing social media platform in the world has also become an epicenter of public education about the coronavirus, attracting more than 30-billion views, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The young have been getting a bad rap for wanting to party on while COVID-19 sends the world into lockdown. But a different movie is playing itself out on the social platform that is growing fastest among teenagers: TikTok.

Awareness campaigns by TikTok itself, collaboration with the International Red Cross, and spontaneous videos made by TikTok creators have combined into a barrage of information, education, awareness and social consciousness around the coronavirus.

Both globally and in South Africa, TikTok’s COVID-19 campaigns have gone viral.

The local #HayiCorona challenge, designed to remind people not to touch their face and wash hands regularly, has passed 1.5-million views. The TikTok collaboration with the International Red Cross, the #WashingHands challenge, has passed 12.6-million views.

One of the best-known participants in these challenges is the past year’s icon of South African talent, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, took up the global challenge with a 20-second hand-washing video. It put together a performance that brings tremendous energy to what can be a clichéd message, and ends with a punt for the Department of Health’s WhatsApp information service. The video can be viewed below.

@ndlovuyouthchoir

Our community has limited access to running water. Follow these instructions on how to safely wash your hands using a bucket. ##coronavirus##washinghands

♬ original sound – ndlovuyouthchoir

“On a global scale, TikTok also partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that, while creators are still having fun and expressing themselves on the platform, they stay informed with COVID-19 information coming from a reliable source,” a TikTok spokesperson told us. “Through the partnership, the WHO has created an informational page on TikTok that offers information to curb the spread of the coronavirus as well as dispelling myths.”

The page can be viewed at https://vm.tiktok.com/GHTEGf

TikTok has hosted a number of livestreams with WHO experts, attracting users from more than 70 countries, tuning in for live question and answer sessions. It has also introduced labels on coronavirus-related videos, to point users to trusted information. Resources are also offered directly in the app and in a dedicated COVID-19 section of TikTok’s Safety Center, at https://www.tiktok.com/safety/resources/covid-19.

If users simply want to explore videos on the topic, they can search via the #coronavirus hashtag, or click on https://vm.tiktok.com/swKbn4. The hashtag has had an astonishing 33.8-billion views, indicating the scale of activity and interest around the topic on the platform.

Read more on the next page about how South Africans have embraced the campaign.

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On World Backup Day: backup, backup, backup

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It was World Backup Day yesterday, 31 March, at a time when business continuity is threatened as never before. That makes calls for protecting email and defending against ransomware all the more urgent.

The global coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief many organisations’ lack of business continuity plans and policies. With more than two billion people around the globe in forced lockdown in wide-ranging government efforts to stem the tide of infections, an unprecedented number of employees are working remotely.

This interruption to the normal way of work is precisely what an effective and resilient business continuity strategy should plan for, says Heino Gevers, cybersecurity specialist at Mimecast

“Companies need uninterrupted access to critical business applications during times of disruption, including safe and secure web and email access for workers that are now operating outside the normal perimeters of the organisation,” he says. “In addition, comprehensive backup and archiving solutions should be ready to restore access to critical business applications should there be any unplanned downtime to ensure continuity until the crisis passes.”

According to Gevers, the current global crisis is likely to push business continuity up the list of priorities for many organisations that have been disrupted by the effects of the coronavirus.

“Organisations are facing new challenges to their productivity; for example in terms of technical support. If a remote user is infected with malware or ransomware, how does the IT team restore that device or do any remediation without being able to physically access it?”

Gevers advises that organisations implement tools that enhances the data protection capabilities of commonly-used tools such as Office365 and can leverage archived data to provide quick recovery of email data in the event of accidental loss, malicious attacks or technical failure. 

“As adoption of cloud-based business applications grow in the wake of forced lockdowns around the globe, companies need to ensure they have the tools to recover in any situation,” he says. “This includes a data management strategy that combines archiving, backup and data protection capabilities to allow for quick restoration of critical systems and applications in the event of disruption.”

Jasmit Sagoo, head of technology at Veritas for the United Kingdom and Ireland, warns that this is a golden age for cybercriminals looking for ransomware opportunities.

“As the global cost of ransomware continues to grow, this World Backup Day, Veritas is saying: ‘don’t pay up, back up!’,” he says. “Ransomware is said to generate an estimated annual revenue of $1 billion a year, and companies who are not consistent in backing up their data are allowing criminals to line their pockets.

“Ransomware attacks exist only because some businesses can’t survive unless the hackers give them back their data.  So, the key to survival is removing that reliance and being able to regain access to data, without engaging with the cybercriminals.  The best way to do that is with a sound backup strategy.

“Sagoo advises organisations to create isolated, offline backup copies of their data to keep it out of reach of any attackers.  They then need to proactively monitor and restrict backup credentials, while running backups frequently to shrink the risk of potential data loss. Businesses should also test and retest their ransomware defences regularly.

“Ransomware strikes without warning and it doesn’t discriminate between its targets – it can happen to any organisation, large or small. Despite their best efforts, most companies will fall to at least one attack. What distinguishes one victim from another is the ability to bounce back, which ultimately depends on its backup strategy.

“When ransomware hits, organisations that aren’t prepared often feel helpless to do anything other than to submit to their attacker’s demands.   That’s why we’re urging all businesses to use World Backup Day as a catalyst to get ahead of the situation and get their data protected.”

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