Author: My Office News

By Jason Karaian for Quartz

This week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his net worth soar above $150 billion, giving him the most billions among all the billionaires on the billionaire lists. Bill Gates, in second place, is worth a modest $94 billion, according to Forbes. Bezos first appeared on Forbes’ list in 1998, with a $1.6 billion fortune.

He made that much this week alone, on paper, as Amazon’s shares jumped in anticipation of “bigger than ever” sales on Prime Day, which ran from Monday to Tuesday. Amazon is now worth nearly $900 billion, and Bezos owns around 16% of the company’s shares. He became the world’s richest person earlier this year.

Although he is clearly doing pretty well for himself, a financial advisor might tell Bezos that he should consider diversifying his portfolio. It’s rarely wise to concentrate one’s wealth in a single asset, whether it’s a house or shares in a company you founded in a garage in the 1990s that now accounts for half of all e-commerce sales in the US.

So let’s say Bezos wanted to add some exposure to Europe. He’s familiar with Luxembourg—Amazon does a lot of business there. He could buy some stocks there. Or, actually, he could buy all the stocks in Luxembourg. Twice.

The Amazon founder’s vast wealth is enough to buy several countries’ stock markets outright. Currently, for example, he could purchase every company listed in Ireland, another popular place for tech firms, and still have a few billion dollars left over. Bezos may be better off, though, sticking with Amazon, which has gained more than 50% this year, adding around $50 billion—the total market cap of the Egyptian exchange—to the founder’s net worth.

By Tom Warren for The Verge

Microsoft and Walmart are teaming up for a strategic partnership that will take on rival Amazon in both technology and retail. Walmart is announcing today, at Microsoft’s Inspire partner conference, that it’s partnering with Microsoft to use the company’s cloud services. The five-year agreement will see Walmart use Azure and Microsoft 365 across the company, alongside new projects focused on machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data platforms.

Walmart is Amazon’s biggest retail competitor, and Microsoft is Amazon’s largest cloud services rival. That rivalry isn’t lost on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who hinted in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that it’s “absolutely core to this” new partnership. “How do we get more leverage as two organisations that have depth and breadth and investment to be able to outrun our respective competition,” says Nadella.

While the tech partnership will obviously benefit both companies, it also comes just weeks after reports suggested Microsoft is working on rival Amazon Go technology for cashier-free stores. Microsoft is reportedly in talks with Walmart for this technology, and the software maker has hired a computer vision specialist from Amazon. Amazon’s Go store in Seattle uses multiple camera and sensors that use computer vision algorithms to detect what items you’re taking out of the store so you’re automatically charged. Microsoft is reportedly experimenting with attaching cameras to shopping carts to track items.

Both Walmart and Microsoft don’t reference too many of the future-facing parts of this strategic deal, and it’s mostly timed for Microsoft’s big partner conference in Las Vegas this week. However, this new deal could be a unique test ground for Microsoft’s bigger AI ambitions and any future plans it has to push other retailers to use its range of cloud services.

Was Absa’s drone show illegal?

By Timothy Rangongo and Jay Caboz for Business Insider SA

Absa put on Africa’s first “drone firework” show in partnership with technology giant Intel above Johannesburg last Wednesday night, but it is not clear how it got permission to do so.

Questions have been raised about the event because neither Absa nor Intel seems to have a licence to operate drones, nor do they seem to have registered the 300-odd drones that were involved.

South Africa has strict licensing requirements for drones, in part to protect those beneath them.

Current rules require companies to have an air-service licence issued by the Air Service License Council (which resides at the Department of Transport) as well as a remote operator’s certificate (ROC) from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), responsible for regulating the civil aviation industry.

Drone operators must also have a Remote Pilot License (RPL), as they would be using the drones for commercial purposes, says technology lawyer at Michalsons, Lisa Emma-Iwuoha.

Strictly speaking, each of the 300 Absa drones should be individually licensed before they can take off, she says.

Such licensing is a tedious process that has taken local companies years to organise, according to Jono O’Connell, owner of Timeslice, a licensed drone company in the film industry in Cape Town.

“Many of us were contacted only a month ago to quote on this project and we all said it could not happen in such a short space in time,” O’Connell tells Business Insider South Africa.

“I have waited nearly two years for one [letter of approval] and at best around eight months. I said organising a job like this within the time frame would be impossible.”

In response to the allegations that they were flying drones illegally over Johannesburg, Absa told Business Insider it had received the correct permission to use the airspace above two sites, Nasrec and the Johannesburg CBD, from the CAA in June.

But a CAA letter seen by Business Insider shows approval was granted on 5 July for safety and security procedures for a “once-off special event”.

The letter also mentions a company called NTSU Aviation Solutions, which Absa says was contracted to acquire permissions for the use of the airspace only.

To obtain such permission, a company must either have an Air Service License (ASL) or an operating certificate, according to aviation lawyer, Chris Christodoulou of Christodoulou & Mavrikis Inc.

One of NTSU’s co-founders, Sam Twala, confirmed to Business Insider that the company is not a drone operator, as it doesn’t have a certificate for operating drones.

Twala said he couldn’t comment on whether the company has an Air Service License, and referred us to the company website – which does not contain that information.

NTSU is not listed on the CAA’s organisations that currently hold ROC licenses.

Further investigation shows that the founders of NTSU are former employees at the regulatory body.

Twala worked in the remotely-piloted aircraft division at CAA while his co-founder, Dale McErlean, is a former flight inspector responsible for new drone company applications.

Drone company owners verified their former positions.

But Absa says all is above board and Intel was given “special permission” by the CAA.

“I really want to promote drones and what Absa is doing is fantastic. How can it be fair to fast-track one operation while dozens of others get left lying in limbo? The way this was done goes against the regulations we are strictly held to,” says O’Connell.

“We’re all happy to play by the rules. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Unfortunately what seems in this case is that is not what’s transpired,” says O’Connell.

Even the chairman of the council responsible for granting licences to fly drones in SA, Michael Mabasa was perplexed at the operation.

By Sarah Wells for TechCrunch

If you’re endlessly distracted by your co-workers in the gaping open office space you all share, you’re not alone. Compared to traditional office spaces, face-to-face interaction in open office spaces is down 70 percent with resulting slips in productivity, according to Harvard researchers in a new study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B this month.

In the study, researchers followed two anonymous Fortune 500 companies during their transitions between a traditional office space to an open plan environment and used a sensor called a “sociometric badge” (think company ID on a lanyard) to record detailed information about the kind of interactions employees had in both spaces. The study collected information in two stages; first for several weeks before the renovation and the second for several weeks after.

While the concept behind open office spaces is to drive informal interaction and collaboration among employees, the study found that for both groups of employees monitored (52 for one company and 100 for the other company) face-to-face interactions dropped, the number of emails sent increased between 20 and 50 percent and company executives reported a qualitative drop in productivity.

“[Organisations] transform their office architectures into open spaces with the intention of creating more [face-to-face] interaction and thus a more vibrant work environment,” the study’s authors, Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban, wrote.

“[But] what they often get—as captured by a steady stream of news articles professing the death of the open office is an open expanse of proximal employees choosing to isolate themselves as best they can (e.g. by wearing large headphones) while appearing to be as busy as possible (since everyone can see them).”

While this study is far from the first to point fingers at open office space designs, the researchers claim this is the first study of its kind to collect qualitative data on this shift in working environment instead of relying primarily on employee surveys.

From their results, the researchers provide three cautionary tales:

  • Open office spaces don’t actually promote interaction. Instead, they cause employees to seek privacy wherever they can find it.
  • These open spaces might spell bad news for collective company intelligence or, in other words, an overstimulating office space creates a decrease in organizational productivity.
  • Not all channels of interaction will be effected equally in an open layout change. While the number of emails sent in the study did increase, the study found that the richness of this interaction was not equal to that lost in face-to-face interactions.

Seems like it might be time to (first, find a quiet room) and go back to the drawing board with the open office design.

By Roy Cokayne for IOL

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has been placed under administration.

This is after Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies last month removed the entire SABS board because he had lost faith in its ability to effectively manage the bureau.

In May this year, Davies confirmed that the bureau was bleeding customers and potential revenue and in March this year he instructed its management to urgently oversee a detailed process to develop a turnaround strategy.

Davies on Friday announced the appointment of three SABS co-administrators, SABS group operating officer Jodi Scholtz, the deputy director-general of the Industrial Development Division at the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) Garth Strachan, and the chief director of technical infrastructure institutions at the dti, Tshenge Demana.

He said the co-administrators were charged with producing a diagnostic report and turnaround action plan.

They hade been appointed for the period from July 2 this year until January 30 next year and in terms of the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act, they had been given all powers and duties necessary or incidental for the proper functioning of the SABS. Sidwell Medupe, a spokesperson for the dti, on Friday confirmed that SABS chief executive Boni Mehlomakulu, who as chief executive was a member of the bureau’s board, had been dismissed as a board member, along with the other board members. Medupe also confirmed that Mehlomakulu now reported to and took instructions from the co-administrators.

The SABS last year reported a R44.3 million loss for its 2016/17 financial year.

The SABS has been in the spotlight since it emerged that it irregularly certified substandard coal by Guptalinked mines to facilitate the suspension imposed by Eskom on another supplier to pave the way for the Gupta-owned Tegeta contract to go ahead.

However, the problems at the SABS go much deeper than that and it has received widespread criticism in the past few years from many industries about the level of service these industries were receiving from the bureau.

Business Report reported in January last year that South Africa’s coatings industry claimed the SABS’s paint testing laboratories appeared to be non-operational.

The Master Chemical Blenders Association, which collectively represents more than 50 companies, last year told Business Report that their members were unable to get their compliance certificates from the SABS, despite interacting directly with Mehlomakulu and that the SABS did not have testing capability and that many were possibly no longer compliant.

The SA National Accreditation System (Sanas), which is responsible for accrediting industry bodies and laboratories that conduct testing and is recognised through legislation as the only national body responsible for carrying out accreditation, suspended the certification programmes of the SABS, but subsequently lifted this suspension in March 2016, claiming the suspension was of an administrative nature.

Complaints Many other industries have complained to Business Report about the level of service provided by the SABS. Davies last month confirmed that he had received many complaints from both big and small business, including complaints from black industrial players, that the government was working hard to expand, about the lack of service from the SABS.

Davies confirmed in response to a parliamentary question in May that the SABS had lost 1 052 customers since its 2015/16 financial year, including 401 customers since April this year, resulting in a loss of revenue to the bureau of almost R50m in this period.

In addition, the SABS had to refund 41 customers a total of R1.03m in this period.

Davies said the peak in customer losses was in the SABS’s 2016/17 financial year, due to customers cancelling their permits and certificates with the SABS.

The reasons for the cancellations included the suspension of SABS certification programmes by Sanas; customers moving to competitors; and expired certificates and permits.

Debit order disputes on the rise

By Carin Smith for Fin24

Debit order disputes have increased significantly over the last three years, according to the Payments Association of South Africa (PASA).

Yet, it said recent investigations have shown that in the majority of cases, proof that debit orders were indeed authorised by consumers could be provided.

According to PASA, the increase in debit order disputes could mean that companies have bad practices in obtaining such debit order mandates, or that consumers are asking their banks to reverse actual valid debit orders.

Consumers could be doing this, because the reversal of such legitimate debit orders creates temporary cash flow relief for them. PASA emphasises however, that this kind of behaviour by consumers is not acceptable and has become a huge concern for the financial services industry.

As part of a project to reduce debit order disputes, banks are investigating ways to enhance their current dispute and prosecution processes.

Over the last few years PASA has been working with banks to address debit order abuse. Initiatives include – statistically identifying potential problematic companies, refining the minimum criteria for mandates, and managing a debit order abuse list which can result in “rogue companies” being excluded from the system.

Initiatives also include a process to investigate and issue fines or initiating forensic investigations and prosecution when companies do not have mandates or have mandates that do not conform to minimum requirements.

DebiCheck

One of the most pertinent, but longer-term solutions to curb debit order abuse remains the Authenticated Collections project that was started in 2013.

Now close to implementation, the project will deliver a new type of debit order, called DebiCheck. Currently there are 11 banks participating in DebiCheck. Through this new debit order system, a debit order will only be processed to a consumer’s account if the mandate for such a debit order has been electronically confirmed by the consumer.

This means that consumers will be aware of which DebiCheck debit orders will be processed to their accounts – and these debit orders will not be processed by the bank if they are outside the agreed conditions the consumer initially confirmed.

As a result, PASA foresees that the number of invalid debit orders being processed as well as the number of consumer disputes where valid mandates are in place will rapidly decline.

Improving safety and efficiency

Additionally, an interbank committee has been established and mandated to improve the safety and efficiency of debit orders. This is through including new ways to better identify existing users abusing the system, enhanced measures and support to ensure offenders are adequately investigated and prosecuted, and processes that will assist in curtailing improper consumer behaviour.

PASA says consumers continue to have the right to dispute or instruct their bank to reverse debit orders they have not agreed to, or which are processed outside the mandate they have given.

They should continue to be watchful when entering into contracts – verbally, in writing or electronically. PASA also encourages consumers to check their bank statements on a regular basis. Also, not to provide or confirm account information if they are not certain what exactly it will be used for.

The industry is currently involved in the prosecution of certain rogue collectors. PASA believes the new measures it is working on will significantly assist the authorities and improve the success of prosecution.

Source: eMarketer Retail 

When it comes to the US e-commerce market, Amazon is leaving the competition in the dust. This year, the online shopping juggernaut will capture 49.1% of the market, according to eMarketer’s latest forecast on the top 10 US e-commerce retailers, up from a 43.5% share last year. Amazon now controls nearly 5% of the total US retail market (online and offline).

Amazon will generate $258.22 billion in US retail e-commerce sales this year, up 29.2% over last year. Amazon’s Marketplace sales will represent an increasingly dominant portion of its e-commerce business—68.0% this year, compared with 32.0% for Amazon direct sales. By the end of 2018, sales generated from Amazon’s Marketplace will be more than double that of Amazon’s direct sales in the US.

“The continued growth of Amazon’s Marketplace makes sense on a number of levels,” eMarketer principal analyst Andrew Lipsman said. “More buyers transacting more often on Amazon will naturally attract third-party sellers. But because third-party transactions are also more profitable, Amazon has every incentive to make the process as seamless as possible for those selling on the platform.”

Computer and consumer electronics is the leading product category for Amazon, with sales of $65.82 billion in the US this year, representing more than a quarter of its retail e-commerce business.

In 2017, apparel and accessories surpassed books and music to become the second largest category. Apparel sales will grow more than 38% this year to reach $39.88 billion in the US. This category will represent 15.4% of Amazon’s e-commerce business, and 38.5% of all online apparel sales in the US.

But Amazon’s private-label push is being met with apprehension by several brands and retailers.

“While they are dependent on Amazon as a selling channel, they also recognize the threat to their brands should Amazon decide to compete by introducing its own private labels,” Lipsman said.

Other fast-growing categories for Amazon are food and beverage* and health, personal care and beauty. Food and beverage will grow more than 40% this year, while health and beauty will jump nearly 38%. Still, both categories represent just a small portion of Amazon’s US retail ecommerce sales.

“Amazon’s strategy for food and beverage is no different, in some respects, than it was for books—dominate the category,” eMarketer senior analyst Patricia Orsini said. “However, e-commerce in the grocery sector is a challenge. Share of online sales in this category is low because most people, for a host of reasons, prefer to buy food in brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon has an advantage because its shopper base is comfortable with shopping online. Along with insights gathered about Whole Foods shoppers, Amazon probably has the best chance of converting in-store grocery buyers to online grocery buyers.”

Source: BusinessDay 

Media24 has announced it is ending its publishing arrangement with global internet media brand, HuffPost.

In a statement on its website, HuffPost SA said: “Today Media24 and HuffPost announce plans to mutually end its SA licence.”

The company said it was a routine decision and was being made despite “strong” audience numbers because advertising revenues were “challenging”.

The statement quoted Esmaré Weideman, CEO of Media24 saying: “We regularly review our portfolio of brands. The HuffPost SA audience numbers are strong and consistently hold steady on the list of top-10 news sites in SA. HuffPost SA was an important new voice in South African journalism and attracted a fresh new audience.

“Advertising revenues for HuffPost in SA have, however, been challenging. As an innovative and responsible business, we will continue to respond effectively to the market’s needs and explore new digital opportunities.”

The story said staff members were “being consulted”.

Paper, packaging and graphic solutions provider Antalis South Africa has announced that the company will become South Africa’s leading black empowered company in its industry, on completion of a 100% local buyout of shares currently owned by Antalis International.

Antalis South Africa has a net asset value exceeding R200-million and an annual turnover of over R1-billion. In the process of divesting from South Africa, Antalis International sold all its shares to two existing Antalis South Africa directors. The company will continue to trade as Antalis South Africa.

Following the buyout, the entity becomes an entirely South African owned company that is 51% black- and 30% black female-owned. Antalis South Africa’s B-BBEE maximum procurement recognition level will enable the company to partner with government, state-owned entities and other organisations that prioritise South Africa’s transformation agenda.

The new shareholder team comprises Antalis South Africa’s existing financial director Neelesh Kalidas, who will serve as joint managing director. Together with his business partner they will own a combined 51% of Antalis South Africa, with a 30% black female shareholding.

Raymond Waldeck, currently managing director of Antalis South Africa, will hold the remaining 49% of the company, and will also assume the role of joint managing director.

Each managing director will concentrate on business functions specific to their core strengths for operational efficiencies and market optimisation.

“Kalidas and Waldeck realised that the buyout opportunity presented by Antalis International would result in the formation of a truly empowered South African entity. Together with our 320-strong team, we will continue to serve existing and new customers with excellent service, innovative product ranges and industry expertise that Antalis customers have come to expect – elements that are critical to the ongoing success of the business,” says Romano Daniels, spokesperson for Antalis South Africa.

“Antalis South Africa will continue to be a reputable contributor to the local paper, packaging and graphic solutions market, just as it has been for over 120 years. We are proud to lead meaningful transformation of the industry that is long overdue, with this transaction.”

With an eye firmly on how digitisation and shifts in the commodity markets are changing the pulp, paper, and packaging trade worldwide, Daniels confirms that Antalis South Africa aims to continue increasing its focus on market opportunities in packaging, graphic equipment, visual communications, inclusive of signage and display as well as logistics services.

“As the global demand for commodity paper changes, established businesses like Antalis South Africa, who has the widest offering in the market, are taking advantage of technological advances that create opportunities for new services, innovative product developments and overall industry growth,” he says.

He notes that the increasing impact of environmental consciousness is bringing about new developments in paper packaging as an example of how changing consumer outlook and demand has benefited, rather than threatened, the paper and graphics solutions sector. Furthermore, Antalis South Africa will continue strengthening its ties with key global suppliers to ensure the organisation is always at the forefront of new product introduction to the market.

Daniels says that in the meantime, staff, clients and suppliers will find that business continues as usual because business stability is of critical importance to customers and staff alike.

“This is an exciting new chapter in the Antalis South Africa life cycle, and as an influential, sustainable and transformed South African company, we look forward to being at the forefront of the continually-evolving local paper, packaging and graphic solutions industry,” he says.

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