Load shedding is going to be with us for some time in the future, and with it comes endless inconveniences, for both citizens and businesses. ELAINE WANG of Rectron discusses how companies can use technology to stay connected and operational during load shedding.
Load shedding is set to be part of our lives in South Africa for the foreseeable future, bringing with it inconvenience and expense for all citizens, not to mention the business landscape.
While the digital environment we operate in and rely on brings with it significant benefits for doing business, without power it can be quite the stumbling block. And while big businesses may be able to absorb the costs of generators to keep operations up and running, small and medium sized businesses can find themselves in a more vulnerable position, with some resorting to shutting down until the power is back up.
However, making use of the tools at our disposal in the digital age can mean the difference between staying connected and being cut off when the lights go out.
In the age of mobility and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), it’s commonplace for employees to make use of their own devices and to work wherever, whenever.
While big businesses may have the budgets to be more mobile ready, it pays SMBs to embrace this trend. Portable devices like laptops and tablets don’t have to cost the earth, and mean employees can keep working as long as their devices’ battery life allows. Investing in a cloud productivity service like Office 365 means they can access Office across their devices, wherever they can connect to the internet – perhaps there’s a coffee shop with power down the road ideally suited to a productive few hours of work while the lights are out at the office.
Of course, when working with portable devices, it pays to invest in devices with long battery life, such as Lenovo’s Yoga range, which boast up to 18 hours between charges, and to maintain the battery for optimal performance. It’s also essential to have an outlet to charge the devices, whether this is a UPS or even portable power packs that can charge a device on the go.
If we’re considering a more portable way of life when it comes to devices in the workplace, then it makes just as much sense to untether from ‘traditional’ internet connectivity. While the majority of South African small businesses use ADSL to connect to the internet (World Wide Worx SME Survey 2015), this only works when the power is on. The solution here is to consider mobile data, which can allow employees to continue working on their mobile devices or even create a mobile hotspot to stay connected.
Working in the cloud
We’ve already mentioned the benefits of Office 365 as a means of accessing Office from anywhere. Taking this a step forward, investing in public cloud computing like Microsoft Azure means businesses can run their servers in the cloud, housing all company email, documents and applications offsite. Aside from saving money on expensive infrastructure that many small businesses can ill afford, the benefit of going this route is that when the lights go out, productivity doesn’t have to come to a halt. The combination of having staff using mobile devices, equipped with mobile data and still able to access their emails and important documents is essential for small businesses to ensure that load shedding doesn’t become a deal breaker.
The power of the battery
There are certain office functions that cannot be housed in the cloud or moved to a mobile device. One such function is printing. Battery operated multi-function printers offer a great solution, allowing for businesses to print, scan, fax and copy without having to find the nearest printing shop and rack up unnecessary expenses. Ricoh’s SG3120B SFNw printer is a great example, as it can operate on external power for day-to-day use, and automatically switches to battery power in the case of a power cut.
Keeping business going
When we hear the words ‘load shedding’, most of us immediately worry about loss of productivity, data and business. Technology can be a stumbling block if we rely on plugging in to stay connected. However, by altering the way we work in the digital age, not only can we stay connected in the face of load shedding, but we can actually save money and improve productivity in the long run. Finding solutions that promote employees working anywhere, anytime; moving to the cloud; and investing in the right technology can be the difference between fading into the dark or shining as a successful business – regardless of size.
* Elaine Wang, Group Microsoft Business Unit Manager, Rectron.
Smart home arrives in SA
The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.
The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.
The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.
The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.
The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.
My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.
Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.
Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?
These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.
Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.
Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.
Matrics must prepare for AI
By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.
Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.
With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.
Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.
Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist.
So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?
For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.
In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.
This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.
In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.
As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.
This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.
The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.