Converged communication solutions have become critical to the enterprise. But, while organisations have invested large sums of money into communication technology, they often fail to realise the full value of their investment, says PAUL FICK, Divisional Managing Director of Jasco Enterprise.
While cost is an important aspect, TCO is not simply about the amount of capital paid. In order to gain the full value of converged communication solutions, organisations need to have always on, reliable, scalable, flexible and efficient solutions. Understanding the TCO of communication technology and solutions is key in leveraging the investment, and in ensuring that any future investment will deliver on the value needed.
One of the main reasons that organisations fail to leverage full value from their converged communication solutions is that they do not adequately understand and document their requirements. This results in them purchasing a ‚’one size fits all’ product or solution that may not meet their exact needs, and in fact does not fit at all. They are then faced with the challenge of closing the gap between their requirements and what the solution can actually deliver. Organisations also focus heavily on the purchase price of a solution, attempting to save money without looking at the long-term value and implications, including availability, the cost of repair if the solution breaks down, the cost of maintenance and the ability of the product to fulfil required functionality and integration, amongst others.
TCO involves many more factors than the initial cost and the first year of the maintenance agreement. In order to leverage value it is necessary to have a forward-thinking approach and make strategic decisions based on all factors. TCO involves many aspects, including interoperability with other solutions, open standards or the lack thereof, and avoiding vendor lock-in scenarios, as these can contribute to making a solution more costly than the benefits it delivers. Other areas that make up TCO include monthly support and maintenance, service and upgrades, ease of use, ease of integration and changes, reliability, flexibility, scalability, automation, complexities of processes involved, energy efficiency and more.
The cost of downtime is another critical factor to consider, as this will not only cause direct loss of productivity, but also lost opportunities. If communication systems are not working, even for a single day, the savings achieved with the technology investment can quickly be eroded, yet this is something that is not often factored in when a purchase decision is made. Ultimately, organisations today rely heavily on their communication solutions to function. Take for example a call centre with 1000 agents, who are each earning R10 000 a month. This means that the monthly cost of labour is R10 million. If you divide this by the average 21 working days in a month, this cost adds up to almost half a million Rand each day. If these agents are not able to work for one day, the business has immediately lost half a million Rand. The average maintenance fee for a 1000 agent solution is around R6.5 million per annum, which is the equivalent of 12 days of downtime. Organisations looking to take shortcuts on maintenance can easily lose more money than they save, simply through downtime.
The availability of the system on an on-going basis is critical. And this scenario does not factor in the cost of lost opportunities, which are more difficult to quantify. Downtime can cost millions more, eroding customer satisfaction, creating customer churn, and steadily eating away at an organisation’s bottom line. Downtime can also expose an organisation to risk, especially in terms of legal and compliance risk, if the communication system is used to keep a record of transactions. These records need to be made while people are making calls and communicating, and must also be accessible after the fact, something which downtime can have serious implications on.
Another factor to consider in TCO is ease of use. Since labour is the biggest cost of any contact centre, if the solution is difficult to use, the organisation is wasting their resources’ time trying to operate the system, losing money as a result. There is also often a lot of agent churn within the contact centre industry, and if your solution is difficult to use, a significant amount of training is required at a cost, on an on-going basis, every time new agents join the organisation. Adopting an easy-to-use industry standard platform means organisations can more easily recruit agents and have them up and running and productive sooner, with less cost. Communication solutions also need to interoperate with other systems such as accounting, customer relationship management, work flow solutions and so on. Organisations should therefore also look at open standards as part of TCO, since systems and solutions are difficult and costly to change if they have been specifically customised using non-standard integrations.
Organisations need to examine their requirements and then ensure that they choose technology that has proven itself to be reliable. This may be a more expensive initial investment, but will cost far less in the long term. It is also vital to ensure that the chosen implementation partner meets the businesses requirements and can integrate the solution to ensure that it functions optimally. Communication solutions also need to be maintained on a proactive basis, with regular health checks, trend watching, system monitoring, capacity monitoring and so on, to prevent problems before they can cause expensive downtime.
Choosing the right solution is important, but hand in hand with this is choosing the right partner for the delivery and implementation. Technology is a fantastic enabler, but if it does not meet requirements it is useless and a costly waste of time. No organisation can afford to have full time resources to handle every aspect of their organisation, and as such they need a specialised provider to partner with to ensure that solutions deliver value and are the enabler they should be for business processes.
Technology, especially communication technology, should enable a business to deliver to their customers, and this in turn relies heavily on the right skills for integration, implementation, maintenance, and keeping the solution running at the lowest possible TCO. Instead of focusing solely on the purchase price, and rewarding decision-makers who cut immediate costs at the long-term expense of the business as a whole, organisations need to make communication technology a strategic decision, and one which factors in all of the aspects of TCO.
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Prepare for deepfake impact
Is the world as we know it ready for the real impact of deepfake? CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, CEO at ESET SA, digs deeper
Deepfake technology is rapidly becoming easier and quicker to create and it’s opening a door into a new form of cybercrime. Although it’s still mostly seen as relatively harmful or even humorous, this craze could take a more sinister turn in the future and be at the heart of political scandals, cybercrime, or even unimaginable concepts involving fake videos. And it won’t be just public figures that bear the brunt.
A deepfake is the technique of human-image synthesis based on artificial intelligence to create fake content either from scratch or using existing video designed to replicate the look and sound of a real human. Such videos can look incredibly real and currently many of these videos involve celebrities or public figures saying something outrageous or untrue.
New research shows a huge increase in the creation of deepfake videos, with the number online almost doubling in the last nine months alone. Deepfakes are increasing in quality at a swift rate, too. This video showing Bill Hader morphing effortlessly between Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan is just one example of how authentic these videos are looking, as well as sounding. If you search YouTube for the term ‘deepfake’ it will make you realise we are viewing the tip of the iceberg as to what is to come.
In fact, we have already seen deepfake technology used for fraud, where a deepfaked voice was reportedly used to scam a CEO out of a large sum of cash. It is believed the CEO of an unnamed UK firm thought he was on the phone to his boss and followed the orders to immediately transfer €220,000 (roughly US$244,000) to a Hungarian supplier’s bank account. If it was this easy to influence someone by just asking them to do it over the phone, then surely we will need better security in place to mitigate this threat.
Fooling the naked eye
We have also seen apps making DeepNudes where apps were able to turn any clothed person into a topless photo in seconds. Although, luckily, this particular app has now been taken offline, what if this comes back in another form with a vengeance and is able to create convincingly authentic-looking video?
There is also evidence that the production of these videos is becoming a lucrative business especially in the pornography industry. The BBC says “96% of these videos are of female celebrities having their likenesses swapped into sexually explicit videos – without their knowledge or consent”.
A recent Californian bill has taken a leap of faith and made it illegal to create a pornographic deepfake of someone without their consent with a penalty of up to $150,000. But chances are that no legislation will be enough to deter some people from fabricating the videos.
To be sure, an article from The Economist discusses that in order to make a convincing enough deepfake you would need a serious amount of video footage and/or voice recordings in order to make even a short deepfake clip.
Having said that, In the not-too-distant future, it may be entirely possible to take just a few short Instagram stories to create a deepfake that is believed by the majority of their followers online or by anyone else who knows them. We may see some unimaginable videos appearing of people closer to home – the boss, our colleagues, our peers, our family. Additionally, deepfakes may also be used for bullying in schools, the office or even further afield.
Furthermore, cybercriminals will definitely use such technology to spearphish victims. Deepfakes keep getting cheaper to create and become near-impossible to detect with the human eye alone. As a result, alt that fakery could very easily muddy the water between fact and fiction, which in turn could force us to not trust anything – even when presented with what our senses are telling us to believe.
Heading off the very real threat
So, what can be done to prepare us for this threat? First, we need to better educate people that deepfakes exist, how they work and the potential damage they can cause. We will all need to learn to treat even the most realistic videos we see that they could be a total fabrication.
Secondly, technology desperately needs to develop better detection of deepfakes. There is already research going into it, but it’s nowhere near where it should be yet. Although machine learning is at the heart of creating them in the first place, there needs to be something in place that acts as the antidote being able to detect them without relying on human eyes alone.
Finally, social media platforms need to realize there is a huge potential threat with the impact of deepfakes because when you mix a shocking video with social media, the outcome tends to spread very rapidly and potentially could have a detrimental impact on society.
A career in data science – or your money back
The Explore Data Science Academy is offering high demand skills courses – and guarantees employment for trainees
The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced several new courses in 2020 that it says will radically change the shape of data science education in South Africa.
Comprising Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, each six-month course provides vital digital skills that are in high demand in the market place. The full time, fully immersive courses each cost R60 000 including VAT.
The courses are differentiated from any other available by the fact that EDSA has introduced a money back promise if it cannot place the candidate in a job within six months of graduation and at a minimum annual starting salary of R240 000.
“For South Africans with drive and aptitude, this is the perfect opportunity to launch a career in what has been called the sexiest career of the 21stcentury,” says Explore founder Shaun Dippnall.
Dippnall and his team are betting on the explosive demand for data science skills locally and globally.
“There is a massive supply-demand gap in the area of data science and our universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth and changing nature of specific digital skills being demanded by companies.
“We are offering specifically a work ready opportunity in a highly skills deficient sector, and one which guarantees employment thereafter.”
The latter is particularly pertinent to young South Africans – a segment which currently faces a 30 percent unemployment rate.
“If you have skills in either Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics or Machine Learning, you will find work locally, even globally. We’re confident of that,” says Dippnall.
EDSA is part of the larger Explore organisation and has for the past two years offered young people an opportunity to be trained as data scientists and embark on careers in a fast-growing sector of the economy.
In its first year of operation, EDSA trained 100 learners as data scientists in a fully sponsored, full-time 12-month course. In year two, this number increased to 400.
“Because we are connected with hundreds of employers and have an excellent understanding of the skills they need, our current placement rate is over 90 percent of the students we’ve taught,” Dippnall says. “These learners can earn an average of R360 000 annually, hence our offer of your money back if there is no employment at a minimum annual salary of R240k within six months.
“With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – recently announced as a national emergency by the President – it is important that institutions teach skills that are in demand and where learners can earn a healthy living afterwards.”
There are qualifying criteria, however. Candidates need to live in close proximity (within one hour commuting distance), or be prepared to live, in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and need to be between the ages of 18 and 55.
“Our application process is very tough. We’ll test for aptitude and attitude using the qualifying framework we’ve built over the years. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be accepted,” says Dippnall.
To find out more, visit http://www.explore-datascience.net.