Brave new world of retail bad for workers

South African grocery retailers are taking their cue from global players, and as a result the retail workforce may be under threat as technology continues to rattle the sector.

About three years ago the biggest retailer in the world, US-based Walmart, embraced smaller-format stores as its superstores began falling out of favour with customers, and signalled it would employ a more rationalised workforce.

This year, the group announced a further reduction in staff as it focused more on e-commerce business. About 18 000 people lost their jobs out of a workforce of 2.3 million employees globally.

Similarly, UK-based retailer Tesco cut 1200 staff jobs in its head office after cutting 1 100 jobs in its call centre.

Walmart competitor Amazon has only 34400 staff, although it said in January it expected to add 100 000 people to its workforce in the next 18 months.

Andre Roux, head of the future studies programme at Stellenbosch University, said technology had been a significant disruptor in recent times, but several other issues were influencing the way companies were seeing the labour force.

“Robots can work for up to 40 days in a row for 24 hours a day”.

Robots would gradually replace human labour, he said.

“No one owes anybody a job. There’s no entitlement. You are only going to be employed if you can make an efficient contribution,” said Roux.

The fastest-growing employment was self-employment, as opposed to working for one organisation for many years.

“The whole idea of cradle to grave or womb to tomb is becoming more and more outdated,” Roux said.

“In the future, people will probably work for 20 or more organisations during their careers – just a couple of years at a time.

“That has implications for how one builds up one’s pension fund. It becomes one’s own responsibility.”

But in a country such as South Africa, which was part of a developing region, there was a disjuncture between adopting first-world ways of doing business on the one hand, and dealing with issues such as an unskilled labour force on the other.

“Although we are a developing country, these days you’ve got to be as good as the best.

“We have to follow new trends but at the same time be aware of our own unique challenges.

“As it is we have a surplus of unskilled labour and a shortage of appropriately skilled labour.”

According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, South Africa’s unemployment rate was 27.7% in the first quarter of 2017, the highest unemployment rate since September 2003.

In the current retail climate, Pick n Pay’s self-service checkout points may be the biggest threat of all to labour.

Bones Skulu, general secretary of the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu), said the union was challenging the installation of self-service checkouts.

It would continue calling on workers to embark on industrial action in response to technology that had the potential to replace labour.

He added that Saccawu was expecting further job cuts by Pick n Pay across various divisions.

For those on the shop floor, the changes are telling. Perceptions among staff are that more work has to be done by fewer people.

By Palesa Vuyolwethu Tshandu for Business Live

Tech trends SA companies care most about right now

Dimension Data has released its latest digital workplace report, highlighting which technologies South African companies are currently developing and working with.

In South Africa, Dimension Data spoke to 73 respondents of companies with at least 1 000 employees, from large businesses with headquarters in the region.

The companies surveyed reported that mobility was still the most important area for supporting broader digital workplace initiatives.

27% of organisations said that embracing multiple-device-ownership models (BYOD, COPE, company-liable) is the most important technology trend, and 89% identify mobile devices and business applications as being technologies that support business process improvement.

This was followed by an embracing of the consumerisation of IT (25%) as well as an increasing demand to make video communication more pervasive (21%), said the report.

“Ensuring that employees are well-connected and empowered with mobile technologies and applications has resulted in enterprise mobility becoming a key theme of broader digital transformation efforts,” said Dimension Data.

“Those leading on enterprise mobility strategy development and implementation should therefore ensure that mobility initiatives map well against broader digital transformation business objectives.”

Cloud

South African organisations are also turning to the cloud as an alternative to traditional on-premise deployments of workplace technologies.

For communications tools, such as WebEx and desktop video conferencing, 34% of South African organisations have deployed these in their own private cloud environments.
For collaboration applications, such as SharePoint and enterprise social, 22% of South African organisations have deployed these in their own private cloud environments.
For business applications, such as ERP, 18% of South African organisations have deployed these in their own private cloud environments.
“A better cost model is the top reason South African organisations are moving to cloud applications,” said Dimension Data.

“In time, organisations will rely more on fully hosted services for a wide range of digital workplace technology. The opex model is attractive to companies trying to rein in capital expenses, and cloud-based applications are considerably easier to keep up to date.”

However, it noted that many cloud-based applications do not yet meet the security and compliance requirements of many organisations.

Organisations also have existing assets that they own, that work well, and that do not need to be retired, it said.

“For example, 62% of South African organisations host business telephony applications on-premise, with only 5% being deployed in a private cloud environment. For this reason, managed services remain attractive for large organisations, which rely on them heavily as a way of keeping IT costs to a minimum.”

Enterprises are also turning to hybrid deployment models to keep one foot firmly planted in the current world of premise based technology whilst taking their first steps toward the cloud.

Hybrid deployments let organisations move some workloads to the cloud whilst retaining others on premise.

“Organisations with security or compliance concerns can keep applications on site or in private data centres under their own management whilst moving other, less sensitive applications to the cloud. Enterprises with significant investments in systems and applications deployed on premise can transition them to the cloud over a period of years, retiring legacy technology slowly as it becomes obsolete.”

Looking forward

Consumerisation and migrating to the cloud may occupy the minds of CIOs focused on here-and-now issues around digital transformation. However, those keeping an eye to the future see the dawn of a whole new set of technologies that will shape the digital workplace for years to come.

These primarily take the form of augmented reality which has practical uses for field technicians and other specialists needing instant access to information and AI/machine learning which are helping organisations derive insight from vast quantities of data and helping get the right information to the right people at the right time.

Unsurprisingly, the Internet of Things is also dovetailing with – and increasingly driving – a greater reliance on automation in the enterprise, as sensors variously monitor and control lighting, door locks, vehicles, medical equipment, manufacturing machinery, surveillance cameras, and other systems.

75% of South African organisations say they will have a practical use case for augmented reality technologies within the next two years.

The percentage of South African organisations (26%) that say they will never have a practical use for augmented reality technologies aligns quite closely with the global findings, which show that 34% of organisations see no value in this technology.

“It is still very early days for augmented reality technologies, especially in the enterprise context,” the group said.

“The focus is still very much on the hardware, as opposed to the new business outcomes that the hardware could potentially help support. The value of augmented reality technologies needs to be better communicated and in contexts that resonate with enterprises. A more enriched app ecosystem that supports the core technology will be vital to its enterprise success.”

“As this develops, and as the use cases for the technology become better contextualised, the value proposition of AR will be better understood by organisations across industries.”

21% of South African organisations are investing in intelligent agents now, and 18% are investing in IoT, but investment will increase significantly in those
areas over the next 24 months.

“Undoubtedly, however, it is analytics tools that interest South African organisations the most. Strong investment is planned in the area of workplace analytics, with 94% identifying that some form of investment will be made in this area over the next two years.”

“The most important use case for these analytics tools will be in managing the employee lifecycle and improving the customers experience.”

Source: Business Tech

South Africa’s tech billionaires

When the Sunday Times published its annual Rich List for 2016 at the end of last year, it included several billionaire tech executives based on their public investments.

BusinessTech provides an update on the Sunday Times list, using the latest shareholdings of the top executives in the industry against the current share price of that particular company.

Unsurprisingly, the list is littered with Naspers executives who have cashed in on the company’s growth which is largely as a result of it’s share in Chinese Internet and media firm, Tencent, which has enabled Naspers to work up a tidy market cap of R1.1 trillion.

Koos Bekker sits atop the list when it comes to wealth in tech, despite having stepped down as CEO of internet giant Naspers, several years ago.

Bekker is seen as having transformed Naspers into a digital media powerhouse, primarily due to his 2001 bet on Tencent.

During his tenure as CEO, which began in 1997, Bekker oversaw a rise in the market capitalization of Naspers from about $600 million to $45 billion, while drawing no salary, bonus, or benefits, Forbes noted.

He was compensated via stock option grants that vested over time. Bekker, who retired as the CEO of Naspers in March 2014, returned as chairman in April 2015.

Forbes said that over the summer of 2015 he sold more than 70% of his Naspers shares, with his total fortune put at $2.2 billion (R30 billion).

Also on the list are brothers Mark Levy and Brett Levy, who have been busy at Blue Label Telecoms in 2017 as they look to tie up an acquisition deal and recapitalisation of mobile operator, Cell C.

Also featuring on the list is founder and CEO of tracking firm, Cartrack, Zak Calisto.

One of the darlings of the JSE for a number of years, IT service management company, EOH has endured a shaky 2017 so far including the resignation of its long serving chief executive, Asher Bohbot, and a probe from the Competition Tribunal.

Shares in EOH are down from R163 at the end of December, to R124, which has meant a big dent in the wealth of Bohbot, and non executive director and largest shareholder, Danny MacKay.

How many billionaires are there in South Africa?

According to BusinessTech, the distribution of high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) is a as follows:

 

Source: Business Tech

Are we in the next tech bubble?

The obvious question is whether the likes of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google – collectively known as the FAANGs stocks – are merely pausing for breath after staggering rises so far this year or are about to launch Dotcom Bubble 2.0.

Before the sell-off, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) – had increased in value by $600-billion (R7.6-trillion).

That’s nosebleed territory.

Comparing the value of Nasdaq with the S&P, a very rough way of gauging how excited investors are about tech stocks compared with other sectors, generates the kind of multiples last seen when the dotcom bubble was primed to burst at the end of the 1990s.

The initial public offering of Snapchat earlier this year, which valued the social media company at $29-billion before ending up as a bit of a damp squib, also had a rather familiar feel to it for those with long enough memories.

Fund managers seem to think that things are getting a little toppy. According to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey of institutional investors, 44% think that equities are too expensive.

This is a bigger proportion than at any time since the survey began back in 1998 and up from 37% just last month.

A further 18% of respondents think that equity markets are “bubble-like”.

What’s more, three-quarters of investors said that they thought that tech stocks were either expensive or bubble-like. Investing in high-growth US stocks (being “long Nasdaq” in the vernacular) was top of the list of most crowded trades.

And a net 84% of respondents said that the US was the most overvalued region.

So, all these worried investors are rushing for the doors, right? After all, it is their clients’ money that’s at risk here, not theirs.

Well, according to the very same survey, a net 40% of asset managers say that they are overweight equities, which essentially means they’re making an outsized bet on the asset class. And what’s their favourite sector at the moment? You guessed it – technology.

There are several overlapping explanations for this apparent cognitive dissonance.

The first is that some investors really do believe that “it’s different this time” despite those words being about the most dangerous in finance.

At the turn of the millennium investors were betting on the potential of tech stocks, now that the importance of the internet and its centrality to everyday life is proven.

At the end of the 1990s roughly 300million people worldwide had (fairly clunky) access to the internet; now that figure is 10 times higher and for many it comes through the smartphone that is always on them.

Today’s big tech giants have proven business models and a long track record of churning out both revenues and profits (apart from Amazon that has only just got around to achieving the latter).

This means that while their valuations are stratospheric in market capitalisation terms, they are a bit more conservative when you look at price-to-earnings ratios.

Microsoft, for example, currently has a p:e of around 30 compared with around 50 at the time of the dotcom bubble (at which time Intel had a truly eye-watering p:e ratio of 190).

At the moment, the negativity is quite stock-specific. Short interest in Apple (essentially bets that the value of the shares will go down) has risen by 15% over the past month, according to analytics company S3 Partners.

For the four other FAANGs companies, it’s up just 5% over the same period.

Much of this can be traced to worries that the iPhone 8 won’t be as fast as its rivals.

Apple is so big that if its shares go into reverse it can have a big effect on the whole index.

Another thing weighing on the minds of investors will be the fact that just because stocks are expensive does not necessarily mean that they can’t become even more expensive.

Yes, we’re eight years into a bull market but it could extend into a ninth or 10th year.

Those investors who take their money off the table too early will lose out.

And then there is another issue and it’s a biggy – the almost total lack of other appealing asset classes in which investors can park their money.

They could sell their equities and invest in cash. But that would only guarantee that it gets slowly and surely eroded by rising inflation. And if they think equities are in a bubble then fixed-income assets are, after a decade of record-low interest rates and quantitative easing, strapped into stratosphere-bound hot-air balloons.

Fund managers could just hand the money back to investors but then they wouldn’t earn any fees.

Equity investors also tend to be congenital optimists: they may think equities are overvalued, and technology stock in particular, but they remain overweight equities, and technology stocks in particular, because they back their chances of getting out ahead of the crowd when things start to turn.

They can’t all be right, of course.

Source: www.businesslive.co.za

Paper is mightier than the microchip

Screen culture is damaging creativity. Increasingly, I see young creatives reach for their laptops whenever they have a problem to solve.

Hey, there are no new ideas on a screen. You’ll only find ideas that already exist. And you don’t want those. Do you?

The computer is a big cluttered cupboard, a superfast postman and a very clever professor. It’s not a creative tool.

Not when your task is to come up with new ideas.

The brain only truly ignites when the hand has a pen and it hovers over a huge pile of lovely white paper.

Screens encourage laziness.

Creatives simply do not bring the same mental effort to screens as they do when working with paper. Studies from around the world show that people working with screens are far more casual than those working with paper.

Paper demands more mental energy and commitment. In 2005, San José State University found that students using screens spent more time trying to take shortcuts than those working with paper.

Their time was spent browsing, scanning and hunting for keywords. The students using paper spent more time thinking. Their brains were more active in seeking out the problem. Screens tire us. They emit light that drains our energy, irritates our eyes and makes us feel tired. Paper does the exact opposite.

It reflects natural light. It has texture, weight and beauty. Paper is sensory. The physical aspects of writing and drawing on paper are simultaneously linked with our cognitive processes.

Our mind and body are interlinked.

Studies by Professor Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger in Norway show that our brains don’t work like computers.

We don’t sense things and process the sensory perceptions afterwards.

Mangen proved that sense and process are one.

And the best way of harnessing this is via the medium of paper.

There is a close connection between what we sense and do with our bodies and what we understand.

Paper is classical and speaks to us in a mental language we comprehend.

It has been the creative launch pad for centuries, inspiring Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs and David Bowie along the way.

Jean Luc-Velay, a French neurophysiologist, has produced studies showing that writing and drawing by hand stimulates different electrical impulses in the brain.
These brain impulses are dormant when we work with screens.

Which explains why the smarter institutes of learning are bringing paper back into the classroom.

Paper reveals your very own emotional mind map.

It shows you the wide roads of unhindered thoughts, the side streets where you can stop to gaze at the mental architecture, the cul-de-sacs of curious concepts and the random roundabouts that make you giddy.

Paper gets you to your destination: the big idea.

And it allows you to understand your creative journey more fully.

The next time you have a brief, shut down your laptop and grab a layout pad and a marker.

You’ll get more ideas.

You’ll get more interesting ideas.

And it will be more fun.

And if someone tells you that you are wasting too much paper, tell them they shouldn’t work for an advertising agency. They should work for the Forestry Commission.

By Tony Cullingham for www.campaignlive.co.uk

Sony’s digital paper: beautiful but expensive

Despite being the only horse in the niche race, Sony continues to develop E Ink devices.

The company has tried to sell higher-end professionals on edit-friendly displays since it released the 13.3-inch Digital Paper in 2014, which cost a whopping $1,100. The latest version, DPT-RP1, incrementally improves on its predecessors. But its $700 (R10 000) price tag might still be hard to stomach for a device ultimately trying to out-value regular paper.

The new Digital Paper keeps the 13.3-inch size but boosts the resolution from 1200 x 1600 dots to 1650 x 2200 dots. It’s also lighter and thinner, with new quirks like using NFC to unlock.

Unfortunately, the model still only reads PDFs. But Sony is also pairing it with a Digital Paper App for desktop that converts websites and documents to PDF form and sends them wirelessly to the DPT-RP1. You’ll have to ping the edited documents back to the hub computer to upload them to the cloud, though, as the device doesn’t appear to have that capability.

While Sony’s slowly driven the price down, knocking $100 off later in 2014 before reaching its current $700 price point, it’s still an expensive way to mark up PDFs. And it’s no longer the only E Ink-editing game in town, with startup reMarkable’s E Ink device launching last fall. But with the latter still honing its prototypes, at least the latest Digital Paper will almost certainly come out soon. It’s scheduled to go on sale in Japan on 5 June.

By David Lumb for www.endgadget.com

Tech + human: combining the best of both worlds

The workplace is changing and becoming more digital, fast-paced and dynamic than ever before. In this new, tech-driven atmosphere where there’s constant demand for increased speed and efficiency, are we losing sight of what the entire profession of human resources was founded on: people?

The fact is that we are only at the beginning of the digital economy’s exponential growth – automation and artificial intelligence will affect every aspect of human life, and therefore, the workplace as well.

As technology takes over increasingly complex tasks, new forms of human-technology interaction will emerge, and industry and society will have to evolve to accommodate that relationship. We have to work to blend the best of technology with the best of human abilities. There are certain things that technology will not be able to replace and those are the things we should start focusing on putting back into HR.

All humans have basic needs. We need to feel appreciated, valued and a sense of belonging. Face-to-face interaction provides the emotive qualities that we need in order to feel heard, respected and valued. E-mails, texts, virtual environments and automated responses can result in a misconnection. Customer satisfaction is not based solely on response time; relationships and experiences are crucial.

Here are a few suggestions on how to find the right balance between technology and human abilities:

• Leverage technology to connect – connecting does not always have to be done in person – virtual meetings are our most common form of interaction. I challenge you to turn on your video camera the next time you are connecting with a colleague. We want to feel noticed, and using video functions can help to make a meeting feel more personal.

• Make automated services personal – when accessing an automated service, the interface should utilise technology to have interactive videos to guide employees through a request. Lengthy descriptions on how to utilise a tool are time consuming to read and leave the requester feeling incapable of completing a request. Having a friendly face pop-up to walk you through a process would provide real-time guidance and would bring the system to life – the perfect blend of human and technology.

• Constant personal connections – personal connections allow you to have a pulse of the people and organisation. When analysing key data, trends emerge enabling you to build proactive solutions. It is up to us to bring the analysis to personal contacts to continue the investment in people and ensure we implement the proposed solutions.

• Engage with technology – create an environment that inspires employees to make your business their career, by engaging the right talent across your workforce – and make sure they succeed. With technology you can streamline and standardise your HR processes, get new hires up to speed quickly, and reward your employees in an instant. This enables you to attract and care for your most important resource, the human one.

The technology evolution is only beginning. It is our job to stay on top of the trends and find the right balance to combine the best of technology with the best of human abilities.

Tech is top-of-mind for BTS shoppers

Nearly three of every five back-to-school shoppers this year expect to purchase some type of technology item, be it a smartphone, tablet, portable memory drive, calculator or headphones, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

That figure (59%) is a full 12% higher than consumers who said the same thing last year, according to the CTA. All told, consumers are expected to spend $18.5 billion on back-to-school tech products this year (up 6.5% over last year).

“This growth in tech spend is a reflection of tech becoming a frequently used medium for learning and commonplace in schools across the country,” says Janvier Depeazer, senior research analyst for CTA.

“At this point, tech is being used for teaching all different ages, and for many older students it’s becoming a required need for success in high school and college.”

Among the top items shoppers are expecting to purchase are portable memory sticks (71% of consumers expect to purchase them), basic calculators (55%), headphones (52%) and laptops (44%).

“Compared to last year, the top anticipated back-to-school tech purchase remained the same as portable memory, and the top five tech items remain the same but the order differs,” Depeazer says.

Other expected purchases include carrying or protective cases (48%), software (39%) and product subscriptions (22%).

Nearly all (95%) of BTS shoppers plan to visit brick-and-mortar stores to make these purchases, including mass retailers (88%), office supply stores (56%) and department stores (47%). Only 36% plan to visit a consumer technology store, according to the organization.

“Generally, a tech purchase decision that involves more research may result in an in-store purchase after a chance to interact/demo the product and ask questions to salespeople,” Depeazer says.

Even so, nearly half (49%) of shoppers will also hit online retailers including online-only retailers (80%), retailer Web sites (69%) and auction Web sites (35%).

By Aaron Baar for www.mediapost.com

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