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Telcos must adapt – fast

No industry will remain undisrupted in 2018 and the years to come. But for African telco providers, who have feasted on near-uninterrupted subscriber and revenue growth over the past two decades, the need to adapt is paramount, writes MARIAM ABDULLAHI, Telco Industry Lead at SAP Africa.

In a market where the average business lifespan is 12 years (compared to 25 years in the last two decades) the objective is not to simply improve that which is already working. African telcos need radical transformation of entire business models in order to become digital supply networks and re-imagine work, resources management, and contingent worker management.

Since the advent of the Internet and the more recent emergence of technologies that include machine learning, IoT, cloud computing, and predictive analytics, businesses with exponential growth models such as Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and MPESA have entirely transformed their industry sectors almost overnight.

Thanks at least in part to these companies, customer expectations have ballooned, with modern consumers demanding personalised, efficient service at low cost and with added convenience. Talented employees have also increasingly gravitated toward these companies, putting further pressure on incumbents who suddenly are outperformed and out-innovated at every turn. “Too big to fail” in today’s market is a near-certain recipe for decline and eventual disaster.

Telco execs heeding the call

Telco executives across Africa and other emerging markets have scrambled to reinvent their business models in the face of shifting customer demands and the arrival of agile, customer-centric competitors. Airtel Africa merged its Ghana operations with Tigo Ghana and sold off operations in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions. South Africa’s Cell-C is seeking investments into fibre-to-the-home providers to enable its diversification into new service offerings including insurance and media.

Further afield in India, LTE and Voice-over-LTE operator Jio acquired 100 million subscribers in only six months by offering free voice services for life to its customers, prompting a sudden merger between Vodafone India and Aditya Birla Group’s Idea operations to form India’s largest telecoms company.

Kenya’s Safaricom is building on its much-lauded MPESA platform by diversifying into new revenue streams, including Uber competitor Little and e-commerce portal Ma Soko to claim a greater share of its customers’ wallets.

These companies have already felt the effects of declining traditional revenue streams as disruption from the likes of OTT players such as WhatsApp, Skype and YouTube put pressure on what was until recently primary (and highly dependable) sources of revenue. According to PwC, many telco operators globally are seeing revenue drop-offs of as much as 30% in SMS, 20% in international voice, and 15% in international roaming. Incremental improvements and operational changes are no longer enough. Those that can adapt to take advantage of technology megatrends such as hyper connectivity, cloud computing, and IoT are far better placed to reinvent their business models and can further incorporate Software Defined Networks and Network Function Virtualisation to speed up the innovation cycle.

The nature of transformation in 2018

Digital transformation in 2018 is not about cutting costs or optimising existing processes. It is a relook of the entire telco business model. It is asking the hard questions: Am I serving my customers in the right way? Are my operations efficient? Is cost-cutting adequate and sustainable? Am I able to hire the correct staff, attract the best talent, and empower them to contribute to an inclusive and innovation-focused workplace?

Telco executives must ensure their companies’ day-to-day culture drives innovation across the entire business. The aim should be on developing personalised services and to deliver such services in a way to meets the demands of an empowered customer base. The only way to do that is to have access to the correct customer insights – such as data usage and consumption habits, call volumes, area of residence – and to act on such insights in a humane and personalised manner. For this, analytics and data are key, especially when matched to an in-memory computing platform that enables real-time actionable insights.

At a time when telco offerings are highly commoditised and there’s not too much distinguishing one operator from the other, telcos need to simplify their core business operations to allow for the development of a clear unique value proposition for sustainable growth that takes local conditions into account. For example, with so many African countries not yet fully adopting 4G technology, does it truly make sense to invest heavily in emerging 5G technology?

The African telco market has moved away from improvement to large-scale disruption and transformation. Telcos who embark on a process of total business model change underpinned by powerful exponential technologies will be far better placed to withstand and overcome the challenge posed by the new breed of disruptors.

2018 will determine who adapts, maximises on operational efficiencies, leverages innovation for new revenue streams and who relies on old ways of doing businesses that negatively impacts their Go To Market offerings.

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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