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Dear Mobile Networks: It’s over

Dear Mobile Network Operators,

This is an open letter to tell you it’s over between us.

I once thought you loved me. I really did. You brought me the future. You placed in my hands a tool that transported me into tomorrow.

The mobile phone was the embodiment of my science fiction dreams come true. It allowed me to talk to anyone from anywhere, as long as I had their number and they were willing to answer my call. You gave me a message service that was faster than a telegram. You even gave me the Internet on the move.

I remember like yesterday the moment, now almost two decades ago, when I sent an email from a laptop computer connected to a newfangled device called a “data card”, which plugged into my cellphone. Somewhere on the N1 highway between Trompsburg and Bloemfontein, the impossible became reality, thanks to your warm embrace of my needs, my devices and my future.

I returned the love, of course, although it appeared to go unnoticed. Do you know you’ve never thanked me for my loyalty? Oh yes, you kept telling me you loved me, especially when it came time to renew my vows every two years.

But something else. You took my affections for granted. You even drastically forced up the amount I had to pay, using something called the interconnect fee, which wasn’t even part of your cost of providing the service.

When you were told to stop making me pay so much, you resisted like a raging tiger. Do you know how much that hurt, after all my years of devotion? You didn’t respect me anymore.

Naturally, I found solace elsewhere. Instant messaging (IM) came calling, seducing me with the offer to send a text message at a fraction of a cent instead of paying close to a rand for an SMS.

Please don’t think I’m a cheap date: it wasn’t just the price. IM allowed me to keep conversations together, add photos, and even send messages composed entirely of smiley faces and hearts. And all the while, your SMS had the same tired look that once had seemed so fresh. I have to be blunt here: while BBM, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger all kept getting better, you didn’t make even the barest effort to look good for me.

Now they offer something even more enticing: voice calls over your data service. I really thought you would be able to live with that, as it keeps me coming back for your expensive data, even while I’m in bed with these cheap surrogates. Instead, you’ve gone running to the Government, asking it to make them behave, just like you tried to persuade it to allow your interconnect abuse.

These services are my new future. They allow me, sometimes, to escape your cruel love. But you begrudge me even that respite. You are declaring to the world, loudly, that you really don’t love me.

And that’s why it’s over between us. You might succeed in chasing away my new loves, but there will be others. The future is arriving faster and faster, and you can’t hold it back. The more you try, the more ways I will find to bypass you. The more you try to keep me chained to your past, the more I will find ways to slip away into the future.

Sincerely,

Your hopelessly devoted customer

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee. This article first appeared in his Signpost column in the Business Times section of the Sunday Times.

 

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Posted in the category: Insight, Technology, Trends

Mustang points to auto technology gear shift

The coming year will see the automobile undergo a radical revolution as manufacturers shift gear to meet consumers’ insatiable need for high-tech options.

The shift was symbolised this week by the launch of the first right-hand drive Ford Mustang in South Africa, 50 years after the original American version began its journey to iconic status. While the 2016 edition remains true to Mustang’s heritage of muscle cars, it also carries a heavy overlay of connectivity and “assistive” technology that is usually associated with 21st century innovation.

High-tech features include voice control, Bluetooth connectivity, eight-inch colour touch screen, dual USB ports and SD card slot. In reverse, a video display with parking sensors guides the driver precisely. A Track Apps function includes an accelerometer, acceleration timer and brake performance display.

These are becoming standard types of features in new luxury cars, but are startling in a Mustang.

“We like to say we democratise technology,” says Joel Piaskowski, who was responsible for the design of the new Mustang in his previous role as Director of Exterior Design for the Americas. He has now been appointed head of design for Ford Europe

“We made a conscious decision to progress the car to capture a new customer for the next 50 years. We had to look to the future and say, how can we bring in a new customer, a younger customer, but still see the roots of the car?

In 2016, however, technology will not be merely a selling point

“Technology is there to enable a better driving experience. We have many means of interacting with technology, like Bluetooth and voice recognition. These systems are all aimed at a safer, more enjoyable driving experience.”

Piaskowski, who was in South Africa briefly for the launch of the Mustang, is now tasked with leading the design of all concept and production vehicles in Europe. He believes technology has not yet complicated his job, but that is about to change.
“From the point of view of styling the vehicle, it will become more of a challenge as we get into semi-autonomous and eventually fully autonomous vehicles, which are still a few years out.

“Ford currently employs lane-keeping assistance, radar control, and speed and distance control. But as the technology develops and we get more of it, we’ll be looking at different ways to present displays and communication devices to both drivers and passengers.”

This means the car of the near feature has to cater for more than one audience. In the past, it would have meant duplicating features to ensure everyone gets a piece of the action. Interactive screen technology changes the interior landscape completely.

“One of the trends is to declutter interiors to enable a better and more conducive environment for driver and passenger,” says Piaskowski. “That means relying more on technology to deliver the information, whether critical driving information or, in the case of passengers, crucial social information.”

Piaskowski expects passengers to have a lot more interaction with vehicles. Different technologies for multi-display screens, heads up displays, big screens and reconfigurable displays are all being explored, both by Ford and its competitors.

“We’re at the tip of an iceberg at moment. Technology develops by the month, but development time of an automobile is from three to five years. The challenge to forecast where technology is going and either develop it internally or work with partners to develop it with enough future in it.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee.

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Posted in the category: News, Technology, Trends

Big government needs big data to protect children

Government’s inability to harness data to support policy decisions means it cannot protect those that new regulations are intended to protect, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

 

A flagrant disregard for facts is an excellent way for a government to embarrass itself. In recent weeks, we’ve seen two examples of absurd new laws proposed or implemented in the name of protecting children, with little evidence to back up the arguments.

The absurdity of the Film and Publications Board (FPB) trying to gain control over all Internet content, ostensibly to help it protect children, is almost as bad as the Department of Home Affairs introducing onerous new travel regulations for foreign tourists, in order to prevent child trafficking.

The latter is particularly offensive, in that it strikes a massive blow against a successful tourism industry, without addressing the scourge.

The travel regulations are based on little more than urban legends, and stem from claims about tens of thousands of women being trafficked as sex slaves for the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cup finals. The 2006 event in Germany supposedly saw 40 000 women trafficked across Europe. Similar numbers were bandied about for South Africa in 2010, with some estimates as high as 100 000. Building on the arguments, an NGO at the time issued an estimate of 30 000 child prostitutes in South Africa – numbers quickly discredited as having no basis in evidence.

The truth is, there was very little cross-border trafficking in either country during the tournaments. In Germany, there were only five reported cases. Most trafficking in South Africa happens from within the country. However, the very fact that no official statistics are available tells us about Government’s inability to base policy on facts.

The same applies to the FPB, which seeks sweeping powers in order “to ensure cyber safety of children and that children are protected from disturbing and harmful content access through social media and mobile platforms”. Considering that the proposed regulations are drawing international attention for their draconian provisions, it would be assumed that the Board, or at least the Department of Communications under which it falls, would have conducted rigorous homework on the issue.

For example, how much content posted in YouTube from South Africa can be construed as “disturbing and harmful”? The answer is, so little that it would barely register. But even that answer is merely an assumption. And the FPB is basing control of, among other, all South African YouTube content, on the same kind of assumption.

We have entered an era of Big Data, in which it is not only possible to gather statistical evidence on any topic, but also to analyse the statistics rigorously and extract insights that guide policy, strategy and decision-making. That is the essence of Big Data.

We could begin with Small Data. A study by the Human Sciences Research Council published in the March 2010 edition of the Development Southern Africa journal included interviews with 300 street children, as merely a sample of children living on the streets. Based on its research, it estimated a high likelihood that there were at least 3200 children living on the streets of Gauteng.

Living conditions are just the beginning of the horrors to which these thousands of children are exposed.

Were there a fraction of the energy devoted to protecting them as there is to undermining tourism and online publishing in the name of protecting children, then government’s commitment to this cause could be taken a little more seriously.

But when you don’t believe in acting on data, why would you believe in acting on the evidence that is constantly available before your eyes?

  •  Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.

This article first appeared in Arthur’s Signpost column in The Sunday Times, Business Times section, on 14 June 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in the category: Insight, Strategy, Technology

Big Data game gets real

The German football team’s use of big data during the 2014 FIFA World Cup brought the concept into sharp focus, but such “real-time” application is not new, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

 

On the exhibition floor of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, one of the stand-out displays was a large TV screen on which the tactics of the German football team were being analysed.

Enterprise systems company SAP was demonstrating how an application called Match Insights could gather data before and during a soccer match, and use it to influence the team manager’s tactical decisions while the game was on.

Most saw the demo as a marketing exercise. But when Germany won the World Cup, systematically outplaying opponents with superior tactics, the data game suddenly became very real.

According to SAP, the journey started last year when national team general manager Oliver Bierhoff found that players were most happy communicating with each other via digital platforms. He commissioned SAP to develop an application that could facilitate the exchange of information, including data about opponents.
SAP Match Insights was then developed in collaboration with the German National Team.
“This data can be converted into simulations and graphs that can be viewed on a tablet or smartphone, enabling trainers, coaches and players to identify and assess key situations in each match,” says Manoj Bhoola, a director at SAP Africa. “SAP Match Insights synchronised the data from scouts with the video footage taken from the pitch to make it easy for coaches to identify key moments in the game.”
The impact of these insights on the outcome of the World Cup are not as easy to quantify, but it’s given “big data” one of its biggest showcases yet. And it could well invade news media.
“Big data is an incredible resource for coaches and players to contextualise information and draw well-informed conclusions to optimise training and tactics,” says Simon Carpenter, chief customer officer at SAP Africa. “It’s high time to make this type of information accessible to sports journalism and the fans as well.”

German soccer may have officially discovered big data, but it’s a path that’s already well-trodden among large enterprises.

“We have been doing it all along,” says Desan Naidoo, managing director for Southern Africa of SAS, the global analytics company. “But some of the aspects have changed. If you look at the volume and variety of structured and unstructured data, ranging from social networks to text and video, that has definitely changed. 90% of all data ever created has been created in the last two years.

“This is unbelievable in itself. But now the requirement from clients to have access to this data has moved from running data through models for 18 to 24 hours, to wanting access in minutes or seconds.”

And it’s not enough merely to analyse the data that is formally collected in organisational systems.

“We’ve had to tap into social media data. We’ve had to restructure the way we do analytics to cope with the volumes. We’ve had to look at hardware changes and infrastructure, such as in-memory analysis.”

The latter refers to loading all the relevant data into live memory, so that it can be processed on the fly, providing usable information in seconds. A typical example is a customer going into a bank wanting a home loan; the bank can now run a risk profile and provide an answer while the individual is waiting.

“In the past, if you based that risk profile on all the data sources the bank has, it would have taken hours,” says Naidoo. “Having access in-memory means you can click a button and run a risk profile accessing all that data, instantaneously. On top of that, analytics today can predict how that customer will behave, rather than being merely reactive, as in the past.

“That’s what big data means today.”

• Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

This article first appeared in Arthur’s Signpost column in The Sunday Times, Business Times section, on 27 July 2014

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Posted in the category: Insight, Strategy, Technology, Trends

BlackBerry 10 signals new round in smartphone war

This is the debut edition of Signposts, Arthur Goldstuck’s new weekly column for the Sunday Times Business Times. It is archived in The Big Change a week after appearing in print.

On 30 January 2013, BlackBerry served notice that it had rejoined the smartphone wars.

The spotlight was on the first phone sporting its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, the Z10. But, between the scripted lines of the launch event, the company formerly known as Research in Motion (RIM) sent out many signals of a newly fortified brand.

On the surface, the Z10 is merely a high-end device playing catch-up with all the high-end devices from rivals like Apple and its iPhone 5, Samsung with the Galaxy S III, and Nokia armed with its Lumia 920. These three phones also happen to run on the three major rival operating systems, respectively Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows 8 Mobile.

The older BlackBerry 7 operating system, which underpins the current ranges of Curve, Bold and Torch phones, could never be mentioned seriously in this company. The founders and former joint CEOs of RIM, Michale Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, would not bring themselves to admit it – one of many reasons they needed to step aside and make way for the current CEO, Thorsten Heins

While his predecessors had paved the way for BlackBerry 10, Heins instantly set about changing the way the organization thinks about its customers and its technology. One of the many outcomes of his new-broom approach was the announcement, on Wednesday night, that the RIM brand would be killed off, and the company would henceforth be known by the same name as its core brand, BlackBerry.

Symbolically, the new branding buried RIM’s recent past and its one-time culture of attempting to dictate to customers what it thought best for the market.

Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: News

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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