Tag: technology

Tech to boost work-from-home productivity

By Lauren Wadowsky for The Gadget Flow 

Take a look at our guide to the tech that made working from home possible. From VPNs to productivity apps, these technologies simplify work outside the office.

Technology is essential to running a business, but that’s become even more evident over the past few years. Due to global situations, many businesses had to adapt quickly to significant changes, and technology became the crutch that made it all, especially work-from-home productivity, easier.

Now that some world issues have subsided, we have adapted WFH technology to everyday life. And today, we’re breaking it down. Take a look at our guide to learn more about the tech that made work from home possible.

Cybersecurity protects work-from-home tech
A problem that appeared during lockdowns was cybersecurity. People went home and used their personal computers, which were sometimes connected to unsecured public networks for the sake of work-from-home productivity.

Unfortunately, this increased the risk that hackers would reach business data. If that business had customers or even an e-commerce aspect, hackers could be within reach of customer data and bank details.

Luckily, there have been advancements in this area. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), end-to-end encryption, and cloud security have all allowed for more secure laptop use at home. VPNs disguise your device, allowing you to access sites worldwide while blocking hackers.

Then, end-to-end encryption makes contactless payment devices secure and doesn’t allow hackers to intercept your transfer. Furthermore, cloud security is a third party that can store your data with more protective measures.

Productivity boosters keep people on target
A big issue managers had with working from home was that they assumed productivity would decrease. It’s a natural worry. The kids are demanding, the television’s distracting, and the very idea of home evokes relaxation, not work-from-home productivity.

So it makes sense that many PC, Apple, and Android productivity apps hit the market aiming to keep productivity up. Spike, for instance, makes using Gmail easier with its Priority Inbox that transforms traditional email structures into a beautiful chat interface. In fact, productivity apps make the more arduous office tasks easier and help users manage tasks and monitor productivity.

Video calls are now a normal part of business
Another initial problem with working from home was forcing ourselves to do something we all hate: adapting to new technology quickly. Of course, video calls were nothing new, though they had previously been relegated to the occasional call to grandma.

But, with physical separation, video calls began to include teachers, students, employees, and employers. Not to mention videoconferencing with every other professional you couldn’t see in person, like doctors and therapists.

Many businesses took up platforms like Google Voice and Microsoft Teams to keep in touch with their colleagues, allowing companies to continue collaborating and practice the one rule of any human relationship: clear communication.

Overall, technology allowed many businesses to continue operating without much of a hitch during the past couple of years. We can’t wait to see how it continues to support work-from-home productivity.

Source: Bloomberg

More than 30 Taiwanese companies including Pegatron Corp and Macbook maker Quanta Computer Inc. have now halted production in the electronics hubs of eastern China to comply with local Covid-related restrictions, spelling more trouble for an already fragile global tech supply chain.

On Wednesday, Quanta said it was suspending a Shanghai plant to comply with government restrictions. At least 30 other companies are suspending output in nearby Kunshan until April 19, they said in filings to Taiwan’s stock exchange. Some said the effect on their finances is still unknown, while others expect no major impact. Kunshan, a bustling city that hosts Apple Inc. suppliers including Pegatron and Luxshare Precision Industry Co., began a city-wide lockdown in early April.

The companies make parts for consumer electronics products ranging from PCs and smartphones, with many of the components critical for their global customers. The global supply of key tech has already been hobbled by China’s zero tolerance toward the virus and its measures to stamp it out in cities such as Shanghai and Kunshan.

On Tuesday, Pegatron suspended its iPhone assembly campuses in those two cities as China struggles to control the worst virus outbreak in two years. Other key Apple Inc. manufacturing partners including Luxshare and Compal Electronics Inc. also have major operations in Kunshan.

Widespread Chinese lockdowns have begun to exact an unquantifiable toll on the world’s No. 2 economy, the biggest buyer of semiconductors and the largest producer of electronics from iPhones to PCs.

Disruptions to local manufacturing are set to worsen the logistics hurdles of global companies already grappling with a shortage of cargo capacity that’s pushed shipping costs to record highs and a prolonged chip crunch. Gaming consoles, server computers and electric vehicles are among products facing further supply challenges.

Many of the most critical factories in Kunshan and Shanghai have managed to keep humming by operating so-called closed-loop systems that are quarantined from much of the outside world. But worsening logistics jams are constricting shipments of components, draining inventories to the point where some manufacturers including Pegatron and Quanta are down to just a few weeks’ stocks, Taipei-based consultancy TrendForce estimated.

Local officials on Wednesday placed two Kunshan districts with significant electronics manufacturing into lockdown for an indefinite period, while for certain other districts the lockdown was extended by seven days.

Some contract electronics makers have been unable to secure CPUs, battery modules and panels amid prolonged lockdowns, and certain manufacturers are facing a shortage of multilayer ceramic capacitors for servers and automotive products.

“The biggest problem for MLCC suppliers at this stage is they cannot deliver materials to Shanghai and Kunshan,” TrendForce said in a note on Tuesday. “Limited manpower and logistics and suspended transportation options mean [contract electronics makers] can only rely on onsite inventory to barely meet the needs of production lines, further exacerbating component mismatches.”

Source: BBC

The US government has added a dozen more Chinese companies to its restricted trade list, citing national security and foreign policy concerns.

Washington says that some of the firms are helping develop the Chinese military’s quantum computing programme.

This latest move comes as tensions grow between the US and China over the status of Taiwan and other issues.

Trade was among the items discussed at a virtual summit between the leaders of both countries earlier this month.

Eight Chinese-based technology firms were added to the so-called “Entity List” for their alleged role in assisting the Chinese military’s quantum computing efforts and acquiring or attempting “to acquire US origin-items in support of military applications”.

This entity list has increasingly been used for national security reasons since the previous Trump administration.

The US Commerce Department also said 16 individuals and entities operating in China and Pakistan were added to the list due to their involvement in “Pakistan’s unsafeguarded nuclear activities or ballistic missile program.”

A total of 27 new entities were added to the list from China, Japan, Pakistan, and Singapore.

Separately, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology was added to the department’s military end user list, although the listing gave no more details other than it had produced military equipment.

The new listings will help prevent American technology from supporting the development of Chinese and Russian “military advancement and activities of non-proliferation concern like Pakistan’s unsafeguarded nuclear activities or ballistic missile program,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

Potential suppliers to firms on the list will now need to apply for a licence before they can sell to them, with applications likely to be denied.

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei was added to the list in 2019 over claims that it posed a risk US national security.

The move cut it off from some of its key suppliers and made it difficult for the company to produce mobile phones.

The Chinese government has previously denied that it takes part in industrial espionage.

SA to get new driver’s licences

Source: MyBroadband

South Africa is set to get new driver’s licences in the next year, Transport minister Fikile Mbalula announced as part of the Driving Licence Card Account’s (DLCA) annual performance plan.

The DLCA, which falls under the Department of Transport as a trading entity, is the sole producer of driver’s licences in South Africa.

The DLCA is currently in the final phase of designing a new South African driver’s licence card.

Mbalula said in the DLCA’s annual performance plan for 2021/2022 the new card is expected to be introduced midway through the financial year.

This means the new driver’s licences may be here later this year or early next year.

The transport minister said the DLCA plans to reduce the turnaround time of the production of driver’s licence cards through ‘atomising’ its productions processes.

The new licence cards will be closer aligned to international practices and incorporate new technologies. The actual design of the licence card will also be changed.

“The introduction of the new driving licence involves a new design of the driving licence card, and the re-engineering of processes to allow for agility and focus on delivering services efficiently and quickly,” the DLCA said.

“The project will allow for the adoption of digital technologies such as blockchain and other related technologies which will form the platform of an integrated transport system.”

The DLCA’s annual performance plan states that one of the group’s key priorities was to modernise the ‘driving licence production environment’.

This will include the purchasing of a new production machine that is capable of printing more modern licences, as well as the introduction of a new secure, high quality, and durable licence card.

While the card will still have to be approved by parliament, it is envisaged that the new design and the procurement of the machine will run concurrently, the DLCA said.

This news follows shortly after Mbalula met with the Gauteng MEC for transport and Gauteng licensing authorities about the challenges related to Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs).

“Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs) provide an important service to our motorists, as they are an important support system to enable mobility,” the transport minister said.

There are, however, pervasive challenges, particularly in Gauteng, related to issuing driver’s licenses.

“The difficulties experienced by citizens in booking slots through the online platform is a serious cause for concern,” Mbalula said.

“We are gravely concerned that preliminary investigations suggest that corruption is the principal driver of lack of availability of booking slots in various DLTCs across Gauteng.”

He said problems at DLTCs impacted the livelihoods of those who require these services to put bread on the table.

“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare these challenges, most of which are a consequence of corruption in the system,” said Mbalula.

“The additional pressure has amplified these challenges and requires of us to move with speed and deliberate focus in addressing these.”

The aim of the meeting, Mbalula said, was to take stock of the challenges and agree on decisive interventions that effectively address the challenges facing Gauteng and its DLTCs.

The interventions must deliver a system that improves efficiency, eliminates corruption, and modernises processes to eliminate the need for end-users to queue at DLTCs.

“Post our engagements, we will unpack the modalities of these interventions and commit to firm time-lines on the rollout,” Mbalula said.

“We are paying particular attention to the rollout of online services in a manner that improves efficiencies and minimises the time the end-user spends in a queue.”

The ultimate end goal is to eliminate these queues once the full bouquet of online services has been successfully rolled out, the transport minister said.

 

Telkom fixed-line bloodbath

Source: MyBroadband

Telkom’s interim results for the six months ended 30 September 2020 revealed what most people expected – a big decline in fixed-line subscribers.

The company’s fixed-line subscribers dropped from 1 975 000 in September 2019 to 1 432 000 in September 2020.

This means Telkom lost 543 000 fixed-line subscribers year-on-year, which equates to a 27.5% decline in its fixed-access line customer base.

The latest decline follows a trend which started in 2001 when the company lost 531,000 subscribers from its peak of 5,493,000 fixed-line users in 2000.

Over the past two decades, Telkom launched numerous new fixed-line products, including ADSL, VDSL, and fibre, but this was not enough to stem the losses.

Many Telkom subscribers dumped their fixed-line services and migrated to competitors like Vumatel, Vodacom, MTN, and Rain.

While copper theft was to blame for some of the losses, Telkom was its own worst enemy in many cases.

The company’s poor customer service and billing problems caused tremendous frustration among its users, which prompted them to look for alternatives.

Telkom, however, put the decline down to factors outside of its control like competition from mobile services, copper theft, and tough economic conditions.

The operator has also proactively started to replace its copper-based clients to fixed-LTE – a strategy which is paying dividends.

The decline in fixed-lines can be expected to continue as Telkom is planning to stop providing copper-based services altogether by 2024.

Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko said phasing out copper was needed because maintaining multiple cable network technologies is costly, and expertise on copper networks is dwindling.

Curiously the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Telkom’s plan to decommission its copper network.

It has created an immediate strong demand for broadband access, and the company’s fibre network is not able to meet this demand.

Telkom’s wholesale arm Openserve is now using its copper network to satisfy this demand in the short term.

The company did, however, say it will continue its decommissioning strategy in locations where copper is not “economically viable”.

Copper used to rule until fibre, LTE, and 5G arrived
For over a decade, Telkom’s ADSL was the only game in town for most South Africans who were looking for affordable, uncapped broadband access.

Sentech’s MyWireless and WBS’s iBurst wireless products provided some competition to Telkom in selected areas in the mid-2000s, but ADSL remained the preferred choice.

Things started to change when Vumatel launched affordable fibre access in Parkhurst in October 2014.

Vumatel showed it was possible to take on and beat Telkom in the fixed-line market, which sparked a fibre revolution in South Africa.

Many other fibre network operators, like Frogfoot, Octotel, Cybersmart, Vodacom, MTN, and SADV, followed Vumatel’s example and started to roll out fibre across the country.

Telkom was on the back foot, and many households and businesses dumped their ADSL line for fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-business.

Improvements in mobile technologies, which made it possible to offer fast and affordable fixed-wireless broadband access, emerged as another big competitor to ADSL.

Over the last few years MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, Telkom, and Rain launched competitively priced fixed-LTE and 5G products.

Telkom even proactively moved many of its ADSL subscribers to its new fixed-LTE products in many areas.

Both fibre and wireless access provide higher speeds at lower prices than ADSL, which means DSL is seen as old and tired technology which should only be used as a last resort.

The effect was a rapid decline in copper lines as ADSL and VDSL subscribers migrated to these new technologies.

 

Sales in laptops, stationery and toasters boom

Source: Business Insider SA

Between January and August 2020, South Africans newly working from home showed a serious appetite for office equipment and stationery, with year-on-year growth of 83% recorded.

Of South Africans who buy online, 52% now own laptops, compared to 40% last year.

But broadly speaking, technology sales weren’t great during lockdown, the latest market insight from consumer experts GfK South Africa shows – despite the work-from-home boom. In the first quarter of 2020, technical goods showed a 1% year-on year increase in sales, then revenues plummeted by 25% during hard lockdown (April to July), when the sale of non-essential goods were banned.

South Africans, it appears, had to improvise, or do without.

The move to Alert Level 4 in May saw a sudden surge in demand for smartphones, tablets and small domestic appliances.

“Consumers snapped up appliances for making quick meals and drinks, including toasters, sandwich makers, coffee machines and microwaves,” says Nicolet Pienaar, head of market insights at GfK South Africa. “Performance for content creation devices such as laptops and tablets was strong, since sharing a device between people in the household was not an option in a time of remote working and home schooling.”

These isolated gains in the technical consumer goods market coincided with 10% revenue growth associated with small domestic appliances and 8% in mid-level information technology systems. But those were offset by steep declines in the supply of multifunctional technical goods, photographic equipment, and telecommunications.

Retailers were quick to capitalise on the announcement of Level 2 lockdown in August, redoubling promotional activity and running tailored marketing campaigns.

That seems to bode well for the upcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotional period.

“After a gruelling year that has hit many South Africans in the pocket, we’re expecting to see demand from two types of consumer over Black Friday: the reset spender, looking for genuine bargains after months of holding back and the revenue spender, looking for deals that let them trade up to premium products,” says Pienaar.

Comparative growth in the second quarter of 2020 is expected to boom, with 69% of brick and mortar retailers anticipating Black Friday sales to be at least as good as they were last year. Additionally, 36% of online retailers anticipate that Cyber Monday will be at least as good as last year, and 36% expect it to be better.

SA jolted into a digital way of life overnight

On Sunday 15 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a National State of Disaster in relation to the novel coronavirus, and asked people and businesses across the country to take precautionary social distancing measures – working from home where able, increasing sanitary measures in shops and businesses, and asking those who were sick to self-isolate for 14 days.

The following Monday, on 23 March 2020, Ramaphosa announced a nation-wide lockdown, commencing at 23:59 on Thursday 26 March – an effort by the country to reduce the rapid spread of Covid-19.

As a result, businesses, service providers, shops and telecommunications companies across the nation have had to pivot quickly to embrace a new way of working and providing services.

Here are just a few of the changes we have seen and will see over the next 21 days:

  1. Spars in some areas are offering pack-and-deliver services – some Spar stores allow you to phone or e-mail ahead with an order, which you then are able to either collect curb-side or
  2. PnP is launching a drive-thru service – customers can e-mail your order to your local Pick n Pay store with a drive-thru service. Customers will receive a notice when their order is ready for collection. They can park a designated spot in the Pick n Pay shop’s parking lot. A Pick n Pay staff member will bring the groceries and load them into your car. Payment is made from within the car through a sanitised credit card machine. Items will be limited on a per-customer basis.
  3. Chemists are offering curb-side pick-up services – some chemists allow order-ahead and curb-side pick-up
  4. Some vets will be offering curb-side pick-up services
  5. Telecommunications providers are lowering the cost of selected data bundles, due to the recent Competition Commission ruling. However, this is sure to aid people working from home.
  6. DStv and SABC will be hosting free channels which will aid parents to teach their children from home
  7. DStv is offering a number of free channels: 100 – DStv; 180 – People’s Weather; 238 – SuperSport Play; 313 – PBS Kids; 320 – Channel O; 343 – TBN; 400 – BBC World News; 401 – CNN; 402 – Sky News; 403 – eNCA; 404 – SABC News; 406 – Newzroom Afrika; and 414 – Euronews Now.
  8. Many businesses across the country are conducting meetings and business as usual via a number of online videoconferencing platforms, including WhatsApp, Zoom, Facetime and Skype. They are also making use of productivity apps such as Slack and Trello.

Uber Eats unveils food delivery drone

By Milly Vincent for Mail Online

Uber Eats has unveiled its newest drones which will be used to deliver food in San Diego, California, next year.

The new drones feature ‘innovative rotating wings with six rotors’ – a design that has previously only been featured in flying car prototypes.

Uber Eats said it believes the rotating wings will help to avoid food spillages, as the design enables a smoother transition between vertical takeoff and forward flight.

The rotors will be positioned vertically for takeoff and landing, but move into a forward position ‘for increased speed and efficiency during cruise flight’, reports The Verge.

NASA veteran Mark Moore designed similar rotors for the company’s flying-taxi prototype which is also part of the companies Uber Elevate project – to take its services to the sky.

Test flights will be carried out next year in time for a commercial launch in 2023, reports The verge.

The Federal Aviation Administration gave Uber permission to test drone delivery in San Diego, with a cruising altitude of below 400 feet – to comply with drone regulations.

According to Uber the drone will be able to load and deliver a meal for two in just eight minutes – and will only be able to fly 12 miles to make a delivery.

It is also expected to be able to hover in up to 30 mph wind speeds, reports The Verge.

Other delivery companies have also tried their hands at the niche market with Alphabet Wing, partnering with FedEx and owned by Google’s parent company, deploying its first drones in Virginia last week, reports The Verge.

The role of mobile technology in retail

By Sandra Wrobel-Konior for Business2Community 

Technology is changing the way most industries do business, and retail is no exception to the ever-evolving advancements. Although some are afraid technology may be hurting the retail industry by moving everything online.

If you take a more in-depth look into the situation, you’ll see that tech is actually helping retail stores to grow and expand their expertise. There’s a number of new technology systems that are being implemented, and are worth consideration to remain a top competitor in the heavily competitive retail market.

Connecting with your shopper
According to a study conducted by CMO, 54 percent of retailers put customer experience in the number one slot on their priority list.

Beacon technology made its presence felt in the retail industry in 2017 for this reason. They are small devices placed at the front of the store and throughout to allow interaction with customers as soon as they walk through the door. They connect and send a signal to a customer’s Bluetooth capable device, and send highly accurate, relevant information and in-store offers in real-time to create a greater personal shopping experience for the customer.

A study done by Swirl states that 70% of shoppers who received beacon-related content on their phones agreed it increased their likelihood of making a purchase, showing impressive sales results for companies. These small devices are similar to online shopping apps, which allow customers to digitally connect to in-store deals conveniently from their mobile device to plan their shopping experience around real-time in-store offers as they shop.

The online consumer is looking for a great deal just as much as the in-store consumer, and it’s important to provide both with a superior experience.

Retailers also often turn to online checkout tools to help streamline the online shopping experience for consumers. With online shopping becoming the main avenue for all forms of shopping, it’s important for merchants to have a safe and secure checkout system for their online customers.

Modern systems create an efficient transaction process done entirely on the product page. It is hassle-free and user-friendly (recognising various languages), and does not push customers to a third-party site or payment service.

This approach also makes it convenient for consumers to order right from their mobile devices and provides a higher level of security; an important feature in the digital age.

Sensing your customer
74 percent of firms want their operations to be data-driven, but seldom follow through, with only 29 percent applying analytics to their internal processes. If implemented properly, consumer analytics tools could improve this statistic. They prove to be a major asset for merchants to track customer behaviours and better understand relevant trends.

These tools use a sensor that recognises and tracks the number of customers that come into a store, and narrows that data by month, week, or day to give a short-term insight into foot-traffic.

Other kinds of technology within the realm of these complex tools include the ability to track online orders to measure which items are in demand, and which items can be eliminated from the stores’ stock costs. By 2021, 85 percent of retailers plan to use intelligent automation like this to further improve their supply chain plan and eliminate increased costs.

Keeping it together with tech-driven organisational tools
The Internet of Things (IoT) has created an important opportunity for retailers to integrate a major type of technology into their operational strategy. All smart devices are connected thanks to the IoT, so the integration of the online retail shopping experience is a viable strategy for companies to capitalise on a broad connection to consumers.

For example, the IoT enables a shopper to scan or search for a product to be connected to the detailed information provided by the merchant about that product. The consumer then has access to relevant reviews and feedback for the specific product to help make more informed buying decisions.

In the long run, this helps increase sales and consumer retention, by providing shoppers with helpful services and information, thereby improving their buying experience.

Tech-driven internal organisational tools also make an impact on customer experience by starting at the source and improving internal retailer functions. Resource planning cloud systems that automate manual tasks help companies zero in on the strategic initiatives that propel the business forward. They also organise financial operations and leverage real-time consumer-related data for insights that improve decision-making and performance management.

Having strong internal operations rely heavily on tech-driven tools to meet customer demands and remain future-proof, especially in the modern digital age.

Takeaways
Depending on the type of store you operate, different technological tools may be more worthwhile than others. What matters is establishing a brand that customers can connect with.

In this day and age of social media and the internet, simple tech-driven strategies can help consumers to feel connected to a brand online, prolonging company success.

Below is a summary of what we covered and how technology plays a role in retail:

  • Customer experience should always be a top priority in the retail space.
  • Technology-driven tools improve buyer experience and increase efficiency.
  • Technological advancements in retail are lucrative to future growth in the digital age.
  • Internal operations need to be streamlined in order to reflect positively on customer experience.
  • The utilization of consumer data can have a major impact on a company’s success.
  • Consumer data-driven strategies rely on tech tools to ensure relevance and accuracy before the implementation of new strategies.

Company culture trumps technology

There is no arguing the fact that technology has made our lives easier. It has also resulted in organisations being able to deliver more innovative solutions in the workplace to provide for a more compelling environment.

Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HR Business Unit at CRS Technologies, cautions that this should not happen to the detriment of the company culture.

“Technology in the workplace can create many temptations among employees. Social media is a perfect example where employees spend most of their time on their favourite networking platforms instead of working. Even more concerning is how prevalent viewing pornographic material has become in the workplace,” he says.

Myburgh believes there is a growing trend among companies to focus on technology innovation and neglect the human element.

“This is happening more today than ever before and can be partly ascribed to an increasingly intensive and regulated labour environment. Employers want to move away from staff and acquire tech-driven solutions to replace people, all in a move to alleviate having to deal with issues created by unions, employee complaints, and poor performance.”
Local examples are plentiful, but it is especially in the banking sector where this becomes apparent as leading banks look to close branches in favour of investments in digital banking solutions. It all comes down to the bottom-line – technology is cheaper to maintain than the people driving it.

Return to culture
So, how can companies still reinforce their culture without relying on technology, tools and mobile apps?
“It must always be remembered that the company culture is the personality of a company and is determined by the people who work there,” says Myburgh.

“Without it, a business cannot be expected to have employee engagement and growth potential. Moreover, management needs to be aware of how technological innovation has impacted on changes taking place in the company culture. Much of this revolves around the way people do things. For example, the office hours of a traditional business used to be from 08:00 to 17:00 but embracing a mobile workforce has resulted in more people working off site, thereby fundamentally changing the culture of the organisation.”

Technology does provide benefits and opportunities, but it should always be driven by putting the people first. Staff events and team-building activities are excellent ways to promote interaction and reinforce the company culture.

Maintaining focus
Technology and applications are just tools – a means to an end. Organisations can do more to ensure their focus remains people-centric.

“This is where company culture comes in. It revolves around making the environment a pleasant place in which to work. The technological tools merely facilitate companies being geared towards their people. Some individuals want to interact with their colleagues face-to-face, while others prefer to use an app. It all depends on the person’s perception of what it means to be people-focused. Technology can therefore be used to give voice to the individual needs of employees instead of simply being a one-size-fits-all approach,” Myburgh concludes.

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