Mastercard and M-KOPA Solar to light up homes and businesses in Africa

Mastercard and M-KOPA Solar to light up homes and businesses in Africa

Mastercard and M-KOPA Solar to light up homes and businesses in Africa.

Mastercard and M-KOPA have announced a partnership that aims to provide Africans living without electricity a way to light up their homes and businesses. M-KOPA, which already provides energy to 3 million people in East Africa, will pilot Mastercard’s Quick Response (QR) payment technology in Uganda to extend the reach of its pay-as-you-go solar program.

Masterpass QR, an open and interoperable technology will create a new payment channel for M-KOPA’s pay-as-you-go customers outside of Kenya. The network of mobile network operators and banks using Masterpass QR will help M-KOPA to scale and grow across Africa without requiring additional technology investments. Masterpass QR is currently available in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

“We may take for granted our ability to produce light with the simple flick of a switch. But for many around the world, simple things like having electricity can be life-changing,” said Kiki Del Valle, senior vice president, Commerce for Every Device, Mastercard. “By using our digital payment capabilities, we want to make it easy for people to access reliable and regular sources of energy and become more economically resilient – earn a livelihood by working from home, keep shops and businesses open for longer and study after dark.”

An estimated 16 percent of the world’s population — 1.2 billion people — have little or no access to electricity. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 625 million people lack access to electricity, relying on bio and fossil fuels such as wood, charcoal and kerosene.

Solar is an independent way for people to power homes and businesses but requires a large, one-time investment. With pay-as-you-go financing, M-KOPA customers purchase a solar home system on credit and make small daily payments using mobile money for less than what they previously spent on kerosene lamps. Customers will now be able to make daily payments or top up the solar accounts easily by either scanning a Quick Response (QR) code from their smartphone or by entering the merchant ID associated with the QR code into their feature phone.

After making successive payments towards their solar system for roughly a year, customers build creditworthiness and can purchase other products, such solar-powered televisions, energy-efficient cookstoves and smartphones on a similar payment scheme.

“We’ve proven that the pay-as-you-go solar model works in East Africa, but the off-grid market in Africa is tremendous. Our partnership with Mastercard provides the roadway for more solar services and infrastructure across the continent,” said Nick Hughes, co-founder and chief product officer, M-KOPA Solar. “QR technology holds great opportunity to extend the range of payment channels for customers and represents a step-change in our mutual goal to light up homes and businesses in Africa.”

Following a successful pilot, Mastercard and M-KOPA plan to extend the program across East Africa. Mastercard will also work with mobile network operators to extend this model to other utilities like water and gas in developing markets across the world. This digital service innovation will open up new business opportunities for telecommunication companies and mobile network operators and evolve their business model beyond providing airtime and data services.

Edited by Fundisiwe Maseko
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Hubs.ng launches online tech hub in Nigeria

Hubs.ng launches online tech hub in Nigeria

Hubs.ng launches online tech hub in Nigeria (Image Source: sciencedaily.com)

On Monday 26 January 2018, Hubs.ng launched in Nigeria. The platform is aiming to provide an online ecosystem that will offer an extensive range of digital services to boost the use of tech in everyday life.

Hubs.ng was inspired by the idea of traditional bricks-and-mortar tech hubs which have been popping up all over the world. What the company wants to do is re-create the broad-ranging supportive environment of a hub doing it… but online, thus making it accessible to anyone in Nigeria, regardless of their profession or location.

The platform has launched with an offering of 12 digital services, ranging from a website builder and hosting service, to an e-publishing tool, and a jobs platform.

Further services will be rolled out on a continuous basis, with an online healthcare network due to launch shortly.

According to co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Itopaking David, the startup’s nearest competitor is Google, but Hubs.ng differentiates through the fact it has been built specifically for the Nigerian market.

“We are building Nigeria on a digital space, with services inspired by our ecosystem and real people so we will go a long way to narrow the digital divide and to also increase the use of tech in our daily activity as a country. Every class of Nigerian will benefit from Hubs.ng, as we offer a wide range of services to users in the ecosystem that are vital to everyday living,” David says.

“Our plan for the future is to build a digitally inclusive Nigeria by having more services and users on the ecosystem, which will develop and provide new opportunities for Nigerians and entrepreneurs.”

Having already gathered over one hundred registered users, the self-funded startup is seeking funding and partnerships to further strengthen the Hubs.ng digital ecosystem.

Edited by Dean Workman
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Overcoming Africa’s manufacturing challenges

Overcoming Africa’s manufacturing challenges

Heilet Scholtz Executive at Softworx.

Manufacturers based in South Africa often face unique and intricate operational challenges. From labour unrest to an unstable electrical grid, water shortages, harsh conditions and asset risks, there are various factors to consider, and strategic management is essential. With the right technology, however, these challenges can be overcome for a profitable, seamlessly run manufacturing plant.

To achieve this, it is essential that systems are scalable and can be easily deployed to any new business units or ventures. The solutions should support the overall business strategy and promote lean, cost efficient operations. Effective software solutions deliver key business drivers, while upgrading business process management, enabling effective process standardisation and automation, removing customisations, and leveraging new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) functionality, while enabling modern “Digital Manufacturing” principles.

According to Heilet Scholtz, Executive at Softworx, Infor’s Master Partner in Africa, there are distinct challenges that continue to affect the manufacturing industry. For example, in the furniture and building industries in, customisations and complicated business processes make it increasingly difficult to maintain industry best practices. “To succeed, manufacturers must aggressively simplify business processes and follow standard system procedures while eliminating functional customisations.”

With these adjustments user efficiency and experience is improved, overall operations are streamlined, and functionality is enhanced. “The key is to improve ales and distribution planning with a strong emphasis on warehouse controls and stock accuracy, incorporating barcode scanning,” adds Scholtz. “By implementing intelligent management reporting with an industry-standard middleware layer and a common data repository, deployment can be phased in per division to reduce risk and achieve benefits as early as possible.”

To streamline business processes, warehouse and shop floor mobility, solutions should be deployed across manufacturing plants to increase visibility and automate outbound transactions and stock control within plants and warehouses. Scholtz adds that; “This will reduce the time it takes to do cycle counts and stock takes and manage warehouse inbound transactions. These solutions ensure the close integration production control and finished goods stock control.”

When implementing solutions, flexibility is an integral consideration. Specific business requirements must be addressed, without complicating deployment through customisations. “Solutions must deliver parameterised configuration capabilities, such as scanning multiple stacks and accumulating the scanned quantities of the same product onto a stock take order; adding new items onto an existing stock take order, and so on. This makes transacting easy and efficient.”

Scanning outbound stock movements ensures the accurate dispatching of stock, correct loading of transport vehicles and reduces the requirement for credit notes. “With the right solutions, maintenance is made easier, upgrades are simpler and standardised processes have best practice considerations and functionality built-in,” concludes Scholtz. “Improved user efficiency with automated, streamlined system processes, and ease of data extractions and reporting empower users to enjoy flexibility, configuration capabilities and exponentially increased management confidence.”

By Heilet Scholtz Executive at Softworx 

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Alibaba sets up AI research centre in Singapore

Alibaba sets up AI research centre in Singapore

LAS VEGAS, NV – JANUARY 05: An Alibaba Group sign is displayed at the its booth at CES 2017 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 5, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 8 and features 3,800 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 165,000 attendees. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba on Wednesday opened an artificial intelligence research institute in Singapore in partnership with a local university, as the battle to develop AI technology heats up.

The institute, a tie-up with Nanyang Technological University (NTU), is Alibaba’s first joint research centre outside mainland China. It aims to develop cutting-edge AI technologies in areas such as elderly care and urban transport.

The institute will carry out research on artificial intelligence technologies for an initial five years, starting with a pool of 50 researchers from both organisations, according to a joint press statement.

Alibaba chief technology officer Jeff Zhang said the Singapore venture was part of research and development efforts by Alibaba’s DAMO Academy, which was launched last year.

A focus of the institute will be on technologies to help in caring for the elderly, including developing robot companions to stay with them at home and sensors to help detect problems.

“Using AI technologies, we can address fundamental societal challenges such as an ageing population,” said NTU president Subra Suresh.

Singapore, a city-state of 5.6 million people, has a rapidly ageing population which is causing problems such as labour shortages.

There is intense competition among leading companies in the area of artificial intelligence, with Google, Microsoft and Amazon scrambling to develop new software and technologies.

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Why playing in a regulatory sandbox is a good thing for fintechs

Why playing in a regulatory sandbox is a good thing for fintechs

Matthew Barnard, executive at software development company BBD.

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) recently announced their FinTech Programme, to enable them to review and consider the regulatory implications of emerging fintech innovations.

One of the programme’s objectives is deciding on the applicability of regulatory sandboxes. BBD executive Matthew Barnard believes this would be an excellent way for South Africa to innovate and safely take fintech to market, providing consumers with confidence in the new offerings.

“A regulatory sandbox allows for live testing of innovations such as new products and services in a controlled environment, under a regulator’s supervision i.e. SARB, to ensure regulation is adhered to and that the regulator has the time to adapt legislation as needed.”

Barnard emphasises how this collaborative approach can be a very effective way to safely take fintech to market, in a manner that promotes consumer confidence in the new offering.

“The first regulatory sandbox was introduced by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in 2015, ensuring consumer protection and market competition. “Since the UK launched their regulatory sandbox, 60 organisations have tested their innovations with real customers in a live market, under controlled conditions. 90% of the organisations that tested progressed towards a wider market launch and 40% of firms that completed testing received investment during or following their sandbox test.”

In South Africa the outcomes from a regulatory sandbox could truly change lives, given how financial inclusion is still not mainstream. Barnard believes regulatory clarity is key for the mass adoption of fintech, as operating costs can be lowered and societal benefits enhanced, by boosting financial inclusion and delivering more convenient financial services.”

As long as the adoption of the emerging technologies doesn’t weaken a country’s financial system or erode consumer protection, a regulatory sandbox can open the space for positive change through innovation. “A regulatory sandbox should respond to real demand and not just be about solutions that are looking for a problem. They should be deemed an important compliment to a policy maker’s existing approaches to dealing with innovation.”

An example of how the promotion of innovation to improve financial inclusion has addressed the needs of the excluded or underserved is M-Pesa, launched in 2007 in Kenya. The mobile money service changed the African payments landscape, with 30 million customers in 10 countries now being serviced, processing 6 billion transactions.

“Imagine if similar revolutionary solutioning could be tested in a South African regulatory sandbox. “Distribution channels could be created to address the needs of marginalised customers in remote and rural areas. Much needed financial sector growth could be facilitated.”

Other countries running regulatory sandboxes include the US, Canada, Russia, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong to name a few.

Edited by Fundisiwe Maseko
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Connectivity is key

Connectivity is key

Vino Govender, Acting Chief Strategy Officer, Dark Fibre Africa.

The increased adoption of new and evolving digital technologies will continue to transform the way businesses innovate their operating models, digitise their product and services portfolios and engage with stakeholders.

A Microsoft study conducted in the middle of 2017 put the percentage of South African companies that have already embarked on digital transformation at 48%, while a further 44% plan to begin this journey by mid-2018.

Many global – and local – organisations are already reaping the benefits of connectivity-dependent platforms and applications, such as cloud-based business applications, social media, data analytics, and more recently, IoT, AI, AR, and VR. More than just efficiency gains, companies are seeing the benefits of new and differentiated customer experiences as well as innovative new services and value chains that can be leveraged for growth.

A recent IDC report states that, by 2019, the world’s enterprises will have collectively invested over $7 trillion in transforming their processes and functions to meet the demands of an increasingly digitalised society and economy. For today’s business, it’s no longer a question of whether digital transformation will or should happen; it’s to what extent and how quickly.

The critical success factor of any organisation’s digital transformation journey lies in having the right perspective. Quite simply, an organisation that sees digital transformation just as the acquisition of new technology is likely to end up with a disjointed, ill-fitting set of systems that never quite live up to their potential.

True digital transformation doesn’t happen when an enterprise merely deploys advanced technologies. It happens when the application of these technologies are directed by a robust, forward-looking business strategy that leverages appropriate technologies to create value, competitive advantage and a differentiated position in the markets and industries in which the organisation operates.

While many companies already use business collaboration, planning and management applications to optimise operations, as well as digital-touchpoints to engage with and service customers, the next wave of technologies have the potential to significantly shift these experiences.

Whether a company choses to use cognitive artificial intelligence-driven chatbots to service and support clients, drones for delivery or operations and maintenance purposes, IoT based applications to evolve their physical product based portfolio to a digital services based portfolio, VR technology for organisational training or technical support services, the foundational requirements will be the same.

The digital platforms that deliver these services require reliable, high-speed connectivity. This is where fibre, with its capability to support significant data traffic, fibre has emerged as a key enabler of a connected digital world. The open-access model for fibre connectivity services also reduces the cost-barrier for service providers in delivering digital services since they these services do not require them to invest in network infrastructure, and they can benefit from the economies of scale are achieved by a wholesale open-access provider.

With the business landscape changing so rapidly, South African business is stepping up its digital transformation efforts in a bid to remain relevant. Decision makers should consider that keeping up with better and more efficient ways to do business will never be a once-off event, but will – and should – continue as long as new technologies are introduced. But these emerging and future enterprise technologies will be impossible to deploy without high-speed connectivity and the infrastructure that enables it.

By Vino Govender, Acting Chief Strategy Officer, Dark Fibre Africa

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Creating safer cities to help drive greater economic growth

Creating safer cities to help drive greater economic growth

Roy Alves, Country Manager, MEA, Axis Communications.

The majority of the world’s citizens reside in urban areas and when cities is managed effectively, they can provide their inhabitants with vital opportunities for economic development as well as improved access to public services. An important component of city management, especially within the sprawling metropolitan and urban areas within countries like Kenya, is safety and security.

By delivering efficient city surveillance systems for instance, governments are able to reduce crime, increase citizen safety, and stop vandalism. The latter is a major problem within the Central Business Districts of Kenyan cities such as Nairobi, which has been hit by a spate of muggings and armed robberies recently as well as public spaces like the Kenyatta National Hospital.

In addition, Kenya is making considerable infrastructure investments to help boost the local economy such as the expansion of fibre network access across the country and these have to be protected from vandals and thieves.

When it comes to critical facilities like these, city management needs to be prepared for all sorts of threats. Everything from incidents and theft to terrorism and natural disasters can cause process disruption and safety hazard.

With the use of effective surveillance solutions, local government can manage some of these challenging situations – and make sure its infrastructure and facilities run as smoothly as possible.

For instance:

  • Security staff will be able to detect, locate and identify intruders at the gate, along the perimeter and all the way into the critical areas, as well as record highly detailed video scenes with HDTV image quality for future analysis.
  • In addition, these surveillance systems enable security staff to employ thermal cameras to detect people, vehicles and incidents even in complete darkness.
  • City surveillance systems can help in these instances, because they help to reduce incidents of pickpocketing, vandalism, graffiti and illegal garbage dumping.

Moreover, cameras used in a safe city project can be an effective support in creating a process for managing, assessing, and optimising emergency response in public places. For example, by utilising network cameras, city management can help measure the average response times for emergency services to respond to an initial distress call, which acts like an indicator of how well protected citizens actually are.

With Axis, creating a safer city doesn’t have to be an expensive, time-consuming project. All of our flexible solutions can be integrated into existing analogue systems – so there’s no need to completely replace equipment. And with our open platform, city management can add extra functionality later on – from encoders and cameras to increased security and intelligence measures.

Cities can start off with a few small changes that make a big difference and by so doing, can move towards making their people and infrastructure even safer.

By Roy Alves, Country Manager for Axis Communication Africa

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Alcatel’s affordable smartphone line to hit South Africa

Alcatel’s affordable smartphone line to hit South Africa

Alcatel’s affordable smartphone line to hit South Africa.

TCL Communication announced on Wednesday 28 February 2018 that the Alcatel 1 series, the latest addition to the Alcatel smartphone portfolio, will soon be available in South Africa without revealing an exact date. The 1 series is Alcatel’s most affordable line-up, which aims to provide universal access to technology for everyone around the world, according to the company.

One of the smartphones in this line includes the brand’s first Android Oreo (Go edition) device in the form of the Alcatel 1X. In addition to the optimised version of the Android operating system, the Alcatel 1X features the latest Alcatel smartphone design language and technology. Alcatel believes that the device is one of the most affordable devices from a major global brand to come with an 18:9 screen.

“The 1 series breaks the entry-level stigma of bulky design, low-quality displays, poor performance and disappointing camera experiences,” according to Ernst Wittmann, Regional Manager – Southern and East Africa at TCL.

“The introduction of the Alcatel 1X powered by Android Oreo (Go edition) sets a new benchmark for smartphone affordability and connectivity for customers across the globe,” he added.

The Alcatel 1X will feature a new suite of popular pre-installed Google apps designed for increased speed, less demand on storage, and efficient data use. This includes the new Google Go, Files Go, Google Maps Go, YouTube Go and Gmail Go, as well as performance optimisations to Chrome, Google Play and Gboard.

The 1X will also feature the Google Assistant for Android (Go edition), enabling entry smartphone customers to experience the convenience of the voice-powered Google Assistant. With Android Oreo (Go edition), these applications and features have been optimised to be smaller in size meaning less storage requirements and offering Alcatel 1X customers more storage space out of the box.

The Alcatel 1X will be available locally in a single-sim option and will be priced globally at USD $ 122 and USD $134 respectively. Local prices and colours will be announced closer to the time of launch.

Edited by Dean Workman
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Hitachi Vantara announces new appointments

Hitachi Vantara announces new appointments

Newly appointed GSI Manager for South Africa, Adrian Futcher.

Hitachi Vantara, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, has announced two new key appointments.

Neo Nhantumbo will take on the role of Channel Manager: South Africa. With more than a decade of experience in IT, Nhantumbo has gained experience working both within the channel and as a reseller to the channel.

She began her career in 2006 at IBM, where she worked across various roles throughout the group, predominantly in the hardware division. During her final four years at IBM, Nhantumbo moved closer to the channel, focusing on the recruitment of open source ecosystems.

In 2015 she joined an open source reseller, selling a range of enterprise open source solutions.

In her new role at Hitachi Vantara, Nhantumbo is tasked with looking after both the company’s traditional channel and strategically recruiting new partners in line with Hitachi Vantara’s transformation to a data-driven organisation.

“A critical aspect of our transformation journey will be recruiting the right partners who understand and are aligned to the company’s overall strategy. My primary focus will be on recruiting these partners and enabling them,” she comments.

Newly appointed GSI Manager for South Africa, Adrian Futcher, has also been brought on board to strengthen relationships with Hitachi Vantara’s business partners.

Futcher comes with close on 20 years of experience across various business functions and industries and has a particular flare for sales.

Prior to joining Hitachi Vantara, Futcher worked with IBM for six years. He started there as a storage seller, later taking on a role looking after the company’s business partners, helping them to drive storage solutions. During this time he also ran the server business.

Futcher’s primary strength lies in relationship building and driving new business opportunities. “Hitachi has a formidable offering in IoT and analytics, and one of my goals is to take our partners on a successful IoT journey, driving exciting new solutions among our client base,” he says.

“We are very excited to announce these new appointments,” says Alexander Jenewein, General Manager and Managing Director for Sub-Saharan Africa. “As the strategic direction of the company shifts towards an end-to-end data management and IoT offering, we will place significant emphasis on the growth of a strong ecosystem. These appointments will play a critical role in helping to drive that focus.”

Edited by Fundisiwe Maseko
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How AI will accelerate IoT solutions for enterprise

How AI will accelerate IoT solutions for enterprise

How AI will accelerate IoT solutions for enterprise.

As announced at re:Invent 2016, AWS reveale that it is simplifying artificial intelligence (AI) adoption through three low-cost, cloud-based services built for AI-specific uses cases. Instead of creating proprietary algorithms, data models or machine learning techniques, all levels of developers from Global 2000 enterprises through start-ups can leverage the Amazon Lex, Amazon Rekognition and Amazon Polly APIs to innovate quickly and build new Internet of Things (IoT) product and service offerings. Accenture, is delivering these innovative offerings by supporting clients with vertical industry applications powered by Amazon AI.

Combining AI with IoT is essential because it enables businesses to collect data in the physical world–from wearables, appliances, automobiles, mobile phones, sensors and other devices—and add intelligence to deliver a better response or outcome. In other words, AI is the automation brainpower to make IoT device-driven data more useful.

For example, a telecommunications company could create an AI-powered mobile chatbot to automate customer service processes. One use case would be to monitor incoming IoT data from cable boxes installed in homes. If a device started to malfunction, the mobile chatbot could notify the customer via text or voice interaction of a possible service issue, and offer the convenience of scheduling a service technician. This device-driven data could leverage AWS Lambda for serverless functions, as well as AWS Greengrass for embedded software on the edge. Thereby, leveraging the use of AWS cloud as needed when processing, storing and computing.

API functionality overview and real-world uses

  • Used separately or in combination, developers can embed the APIs into existing smart product and service roadmaps, or inject them into cloud-native programming processes.
  • Amazon Lex—AI-driven processing engine that computes voice input or sensor data to better understand and personalize an experience or outcome (part of Alexa voice platform)
  • Amazon Rekognition—Image and facial analysis to detect and understand environment and what is happening in real-life scenario or picture
  • Amazon Polly—Text-to-speech service that synthesizes structured text data into natural voice-like capability (in male or female voice and in 24 languages) to enrich response.

Today, businesses typically run analytics in the cloud on transactional datasets, such as customer purchases or location-based information. But, IoT data combined with AI provides a deeper level of insights. By collecting real-time data from IoT devices (or what is known as device-driven data), a business can use an AI engine to automate the information processing and connect different sources of unstructured/structured data to contextualize what a person is asking for. From this understanding, the machine can provide a personalised response or experience directly to the end user, or route the response back into the enterprise to automate another process.

This capability opens an entirely new set of IoT-based product or service offerings. Accenture recently released their Technology Vision 2017, which explains the benefits of AI for the Enterprise. For instance, a healthcare business could implement Amazon Lex and Amazon Rekognition to improve the process of monitoring house-bound or elderly patients who need assisted living. In one use case, the service could install a video camera to take pictures of an individual, analyze the images in the cloud to keep track of movements and send an automatic alert to a healthcare giver or family member if the patient has not moved in a specified amount of time or has fallen.

Expanding AI and IoT opportunities

In the future, AI combined with IoT will introduce even more scenarios in which robots (aka automated machines) collaborate with people to supply intelligent information and augment human interaction. This will help people to complete tasks more efficiently, interact in a more personalized way or supply on-demand services.

In a retail setting, for example, a business could create a collaborative artificial intelligence (“cobot”) application using Amazon Lex and Amazon Rekognition that analyzes facial features of in-store shoppers in real-time and combines this information with purchase transaction history. The cobot could then prompt sales associates to offer customized help to each customer as they choose items. Or in a hospital situation, Amazon Lex and Amazon Rekognition could be built into an application that uses AI and cloud-based big data, all connected with IoT, to help physicians better diagnose their patients. Examples include detecting skin anomalies with image analysis or stress-related symptoms.

AWS’s new AI-driven APIs, developing IoT products and services with AI capabilities is becoming cost-effective and accessible for all businesses and leveraging Accenture to deliver new, applied, solutions give Enterprises a quick way to adopt at scale.

By Everton Xavier and Imran Rafique

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