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How to achieve your objectives

by Saki Missaikos

A Case for Hosting… This month’s Red Herring reports that data centers are nearing a comeback in the hi-tech marketplace. What are they and what is their relevance to South Africa?

Physical security of the computer systems that drive business is becoming a top priority. While the focus in the past has been protecting data – and it remains important – companies are now looking at ways to keep their IT assets safe.

Computers are under threat from a number of sources. They may be stolen or destroyed in a fire. Someone might damage them maliciously or break them by mistake. The problem is, computers are being used to run businesses – lose the computer and you lose the business.A

A growing number of South African companies are opting to have their critical IT systems hosted on their behalf at sophisticated data centres.

Hosting firms have the dedicated facilities required to keep computers physically secure as well as the expertise to keep them running reliably.

Servers are kept in large, secure rooms where temperature is controlled, access is restricted and back-up power is provided in case of an outage.

* Often machines are kept behind steel shoutage.Oftenevent them being tampered with.
* If you look at the machines that run finawith.Ifnstitutions, for example, you can see that it’s paramount that they are protected and that they run around the clock.
* By having their IT systems centrally hosclock.Bypanies achieve several things:
* The physical security of the computers is tight so there’s little chance of them being stolen, damaged or interfered with.
* Machines are constantly monitored and kepwith.Machinescondition.
* Because the servers are centrally locondition.Becausee backed up reliably and securely.
* Many smaller firms don’t have the ressecurely.Manyre required to do this and it makes sense financially – and security wise – to have their critical systems hosted.
* Using a dedicated Internet connection, hosted.Usings use the systems that are based on our premises to do business. Their software applications and data are stored here and backed up.

Most important of all, the machines themselup.Most in a safe environment where they are constantly fine-tuned to operate at their optimum. As more businesses rely on computers simply to operate, this becomes increasingly important.

Saki Missaikos was business director at Internet Solution

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Posted in the category: Trends

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Posted in the category: Insight

Satellite in the Education Market

by Mark Chertkow

As emerging technologies play an increasingly important role in connecting people, they are also redesigning the fabric of education.

Satellite technology especially has attracted the attention of educators and trainers to the idea of distance education in a way that no earlier technology managed to do.

Supplying distance learning tools via IP (Internet Protocol) satellite broadcast is beneficial mainly due to cost-effectiveness and reduced bandwidth requirements. And, besides educating people on an unprecedented scale, it also provides a means to effectively alleviate the severe teacher shortage we are experiencing in South Africa. Via satellite, expert teachers can be deployed over multiple sites, offering their expertise to multiple schools at the same time. In addition, content can be stored on site and can be used repeatedly.

Another major drawcard of this technology is the fact that it is interactive – students are pulled into the learning environment; they can no longer hide at the back of the class. Ultimately, satellite adds to the overall learning experience by incorporating different mediums – satellite, classroom, textbooks, facilitator, etc.

But how does distance learning over satellite work?

Distance learning via Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) is delivered by means of a live channel. This approach, however, is quite expensive and because it is a live transmission, there are specific time slots during which students can access it.

IP multicast over satellite, on the other hand, offers real-time broadcast at much lower bandwidth than via live feed. It also allows users to use the ‘store and forward’ option whereby content can be recorded for later use. The advantage here is that content can be streamed via multicasting – meaning one stream is used for all sites simultaneously without being overly bandwidth intensive.

Satellite also allows for the remote management of content, and users need only pay on a per-use basis, making it a more cost-effective option. From a security point of view, it is also ideal as encryption can be built in.

Ultimately, satellite provides the ideal platform for delivering distance education because it gives you the opportunity to adapt your system to the play out environment.

Mark Chertkow holds a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and is currently MD of Graphic Image Technologies, a company specialising in Digital Video Solutions both in the DVB Broadcast and video over IP
environments.

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Posted in the category: Trends

Fixing the "chain pain"

by Bruce Jones

There is often a “pain chain” within large organisations – a ripple of causes and effects across departments that result in business problems. The challenge in this information overload era is to clearly identify these patterns, and then address them. People can no longer rely on gut feel or past practices, but need to depend on technology for assistance.

Business intelligence solutions help by transforming company data into intelligence, and analysing it to address the “pain” or business issues.

Business intelligence consultants are trained to identify business issues. They do so by asking the affected individuals a series of questions. In this way, they obtain a broad-brush idea of the magnitude of the problem, and can begin to design business intelligence solutions that will identify the patterns, and then overcome the problem.

For example, the CEO’s “pain” may be that the company share price is dropping. The question and answer methodology might uncover the fact that this is because revenues are dropping, and this may be an issue associated with sales. Perhaps the product range has been superseded or made redundant. Or it may be because the production manager cannot get hold of materials required to make new types of products.

The point is that business issues within a company have a knock-on effect. If you uncover the pain throughout the organisation and across departments by asking a series of “why” questions, you can then provide solutions to companies that address their issues.

By following this route, it is easy to demonstrate positive return on investment (ROI) with business intelligence solutions.

However, it is very difficult to prove tangible benefits and positive ROI when it comes to operational systems such as ERP (enterprise resource planning). ERP systems are vital to business to formalise processes and capture data. It is, however, extremely difficult to prove their benefits and ROI. The major deliverable from an ERP system is to create lots of data. An organisation can only start benefiting from this operational exercise once that data is changed into intelligence.

An ERP system is not going to create a core difference in any company. Leveraging that data to provide intelligence, however, does.

Business intelligence solutions can increase revenue or reduce costs, while simultaneously increasing profitability, within a few months.

Typically one needs to find out where measurable benefits will be most rapidly apparent, and then prioritise implementation projects so that these are done first. The extended business intelligence exercise then becomes self-funding.

Typical areas in which ROI is rapid and measurable are in customer and supplier relationship management.

By introducing marketing automation on the customer front, companies can gain immediate wins by reducing costs and increasing revenue. Business intelligence solutions enable companies to target marketing campaigns intelligently. By reducing the number of marketing brochures from a random 100 000 to a carefully targeted 20 000, the positive response rate will be higher and more positive. Added to this, the cost of producing the marketing material is substantially reduced.

If organisations understand the characteristics of their customers, and their likely behaviours, they can then predict when they may be likely to leave for competitors. On the basis of this intelligence, organisations can then put interventions in place to keep profitable customers, and to let the non-profitable ones go.

Rapid returns are also common when business intelligence is applied to supplier relations. Data can be consolidated and cleaned, and rid of all duplication due to data being caught differently. Simply by undergoing that process, a company may unearth the fact that it has only 500 suppliers, and not the thousands it thought it had. Further analysis may reveal that of those suppliers, many belong to the same group of companies, so that the organisation is in fact only dealing with 200 different supplier groups.

Once these relationships have been established, the organisation can negotiate far better discounts, based on group discount structures. Similarly, by de-duplicating data of purchased commodities, organisations may cut out duplicates and increase purchasing from fewer suppliers.

Organisations can also reduce risk by better understanding suppliers.

If an organisation knows a supplier is likely to go bankrupt in the near future, it can proactively intervene and start to source from a different supplier to reduce risk.

All this is possible using business intelligence technology. While the trend is often to focus exclusively on internal data, the inclusion of external data – for example parent/child company information – can be extremely valuable. Technologies such as data mining can then sift through the data to uncover previously unrealised relationships and patterns.

The organisation sets the rules, and the business intelligence tools then perform the analysis. People throughout the organisation see immediate payback, and are more likely to buy into the longer haul.

Bruce Jones is the Sales Support Manager at SAS Institute. He holds an MBA from UCT and a Civil Engineering degree, has worked as a strategy consultant for Andersen Consulting, and started his own software development and marketing company. He specialises in business intelligence solutions at SAS. He can be contacted on (011) 713-3400.

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Posted in the category: Trends

Darwinian winners

by By Rudy Nadler-Nir

A quick Web history quiz. What do the following sites have in common:
beenz.com, 24-7.com, carefinder.com, discjockey.com, etoys.com, go.com, iguide.com, mobilemoney.com and sportal.com?

They’re dead. These are “ghost sites” – web sites that were left empty, inhabited, neverchanging and quiet. Digital ghost towns. Steve Baldwin – himself a creator of a ghost town left on the ruins of the short lived portal pathfinder.com – started a site dedicated to the collection, tagging and cataloguing of ghost sites
(try – http://www.disobey.com/ghostsites/index.shtml)

Collecting such morbidibillia is easy. The collapse of dot.coms and the normal atrophy of millions of web sites that ran out of financial fuel supply Baldwin with fresh binary cadavers every day.

And herein lies the question: if we accept a Darwinian-like law of demise (as in – “the destruction of the unfit Website”), can we stipulate the opposite? Namely: the survival of the fittest web site?

This has nothing to do with financial success. According to this harsh, yet effective formula, we can consider a web site a Darwinian winner if it survived, and if it continues ticking over (in other words – it did not become a ghost-site.)

Our Darwinian winner continues living against all odds. It is maintained by its users, it survives with little-to-no maintenance and programming and it shows stable, continuous, uninterrupted growth. Can this be?

Consider two South African Darwinian winners:
http://www.matchmaker.co.za/s/a/3/tbc – a local matchmaking engine with
both local and global appeal; and
http://www.dine.co.za – a local registry of South African eateries.

The amazing and exciting aspect of these sites is the fact that they survive purely and solely on input from their users. No marketing, no branding, no pushed email, no competitions, freebies and other forms of user bribery. Darwinian winners are run like successful associations – each user invests time and efforts to ensure the system works.

Do we have a successful economic formula here?

Perhaps. Undoubtedly, Darwinian winners are enormously successful models, but will they survive a transition from non-paying users to paid subscribers?

Back to the underlying principles of service-on-demand: if a Free State farmer is looking to marry a pleasant, agreeable Russian woman. He tries matchmaker.co.za and realises that the free options are good – but less detailed, powerful or effective.

What will he do? He can buy a monthly subscription and try his luck over a few months. If the fees are reasonable (say – R25 per month, much less than buying a newspaper for a month), he might try it.

Restaurant owners look for patrons. If they can see clearly that people come to their restaurant after having seen the information online, they may feel that spending a modest amount of money each month to subscribe their business is warranted.

Subscribers will try the sites for a few months (hence the “service-on-demand” model) and, based on the way results answer their requirements and expectations, they will opt to continue – or terminate – their subscription.

Are you a site owner? Consider the following checklist:

I keep my site alive by:
– Paying for traffic from other sites
– Aggregating traffic from other media assets (print, radio, TV)
– Using an e-mail newsletter to “invite” users over to the site
– I pay for the e-mail list
– I own the e-mail list
– Offering competitions, freebies and cash prizes

Assuming you’re using any of the tools above, what will happen to your site should you stop using them?
– Nothing, my site will carry on irrespective of what I do
– My site will probably become a “ghost site”

The amazing thing about Darwinian winners such as matchmaker.co.za (which has just been re-designed and relaunched) and dine.co.za is that they seem to have a life of their own and, as long as the host computer isn’t switched off, they will be open for business.

* Relevant links:

1. http://www.disobey.com/ghostsites/
2. http://www.dine.co.za
3. http://www.matchmaker.co.za/s/a/3/tbc

Rudy Nadler-Nir is an independent e-strategist and Brain-for-Rent. Check Rudy’s personal Website, at: http://eclectic.co.za or email him at: mailto:rudyn@eclectic.co.za

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Posted in the category: Trends

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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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