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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

Top 10 business continuity issues for SA in 2010

While views on 2010 are generally cautiously optimistic, there are serious issues South African businesses will have to face during the year, issues that have nothing to do with soccer or economics, writes ALLEN SMITH, CEO of ContinuitySA.

Whether it’s crumbling infrastructure, lack of skills, social unrest, failing health standards, a larger tax bill or any combination of these events, 2010 in South Africa will be a good year to be sure your business continuity plans are in good shape.

There are, of course, always issues that force organisations to implement their business continuity plans, but with reduced budgets, less certainty in all spheres and the continuing brain drain, we expect a busy year for business continuity professionals.

With that in mind, I believe the following make up the top 10 issues businesses will face in 2010 that will cause them to invoke their business continuity plans:



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

'Mark' re-imagines business

The new magazine of digital business, Mark, is about the changing nature of both people and the business environment. Its blog, Marklives.com, extends the content into the social media space. Founder and editor of the magazine and Internet veteran HERMAN MANSON reveals the thinking behind the venture.

People are changing. Business environments are changing. Building business organisations (and profits) are no longer simply about building brand equity and loyalty – it’s about building customer equity. This is the premise for the launch of new digital business magazine Mark and its associated blog MarkLives.com.

Mark magazine and MarkLives.com covers a world-wide trend towards the re-engagement between real people as opposed to people and technology. Technology is simply a facilitator in this process. People are looking for real engagement, a real interest in their causes and needs. They are no longer sold on traditional advertising. The way business engages with people, both customers and staff, is being redefined, and we all need to be aware of how this trend affects us if we are going to manage this process.



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Posted in the category: Insight, Strategy, Trends

Dark Fibre Africa lights up

Just how much connectivity is being put in the ground in South African cities? There is much speculation, but little information. One of the key players in the physical roll-out of fibre-optic networks used by major telcos, Dark Fibre Africa, lifts the veil, courtesy of director RiICHARD CAME.

South Africa is experiencing major changes in its telecommunications market, following Altech’s court victory and the landing of the Seacom cable, two concrete signs that market liberalisation is becoming a reality.


Richard Came

Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) is keeping pace with these changes, and has already made rapid progress in creating a carrier-neutral dark fibre network in major metropolitan areas, with 350km of fibre cable laid in Johannesburg. Progress has been made with infrastructure in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. DFA owns, builds, maintains, secures and monitors the dark fibre network infrastructure, which is then leased to telecommunications operators.

The company is working with a number of network operators, large and small, who recognise the value in shared network infrastructure, and is looking to conclude agreements with more users following the Altech ruling.



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Posted in the category: Strategy, Technology, Trends

The mapping pioneers of Africa

Field data experts are the modern day pioneers of Africa, and the means they use to provide real world verification of maps and collect road names and points of interest holds key messages for understanding your working environment, writes ETIENNE JONKER, Field Data Capture Manager for TeleAtlas Africa

When you switch on your navigation device to help get yourself from point A to point B and you reach your destination with ease, take a minute to think about how the mapping information was gathered before being displayed on your device.

With the road network changing by up to 40% annually of its coverage in terms of both new names and changed roads, one of the key challenges facing map builders is keeping data accurate and up to date. The first step in building and maintaining an accurate map involves collecting geographic information. Field teams play an essential role in providing real world verification of maps being built and in collecting attribute information such as road names, land use and points of interest.



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Posted in the category: Insight, Strategy, Technology

HR is about delivery, not about doing

Part of the solution to South Africa’s skills shortage is for companies to retain key staff. Or, as Kumba Iron Ore’s HR head puts it, “You don’t want to get into a situation where skills recycling is constantly taking place, with companies poaching each other’s skilled staff”

There is a great need to move Human Resources into a position where practitioners are in a position to add value to business.Fergus Marupen speaks in the opening session

This was the key message delivered by Kumba Iron Ore general manager of HR, Fergus Marupen, at last month’s 28th Annual Assessment Centre Study Group Conference held in Stellenbosch.

Speaking at the opening session, he said : “Too often in the past HR has been relegated to a department that reports to the financial manager and not to the head of the organisation, and this has hindered its ability to attract talented people and keep them.”



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Posted in the category: Economy, Insight, Strategy

How to handle media in a time of crisis

Janine LazarusJust as an army should always be on red alert and prepared to go into battle at a moment’s notice, companies should be geared to manage their reputation, deal with often unwelcome media interest, and mitigate the consequences of bad publicity. Media consultant JANINE LAZARUS outlines the rules of media engagement in times of crisis.

At some point, most companies will experience some form of media or publicity crisis. That is pretty much a given. So, to minimise the effects of negative publicity, the possible loss of reputation and, ultimately, the loss of profit, what is needed is a “fat-free”, decentralised approach to communicating messages.

To this end, I recommend a less “top heavy” approach to interfacing with the media. Managing negative media interest involves far more than just preparing a “holding statement”. It’s about empowering key staff members with the ability to communicate succinct messages to the media, without having to waste precious time waiting for head office to respond.



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Posted in the category: Insight, Strategy

East African operators must get basics right

Competition in one of Africa’s most dynamic markets will allow operators to enjoy East Africa’s growth opportunities if they get the basics right, said participants at East Africa Com in Tanzania.

The mood was upbeat in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, last week, where over 450 telecommunications executives gathered for East Africa Com, their annual event in the region. The conference and exhibition brought together the leaders of the region’s stakeholders to discuss the commercial and technology strategies to maximise growth and improve services for users. From the debates that took place over the two days, it was clear that East Africa is one of the continent’s most dynamic markets.

East Africa ComThe message from some of the region’s major operators and investors at a plenary that opened the conference was that growth opportunities can be great in East Africa, for those who know how to grab them.

Most markets in the region experience high GDP growth, and favourable market and regulatory conditions. Host country Tanzania was presented as one of the most attractive of them, with 7% GDP growth, stable political conditions, dynamic operators and a low penetration levelwhich leaves room for growth.



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Posted in the category: News, Strategy, Technology

GM asks public to writeits history in a wiki

While many companies publish histories to commemorate special milestones, General Motors is putting a 21st Century, open-source twist on the way its history is told in cyberspace.

General Motors is inviting people worldwide to contribute to the Generations of GM Wiki on GMnext.com and share their personal, first-person experiences from the company’s first 100 years – everything from a story about a summer job in an assembly plant to pictures of a first car to favorite experiences with GM products.

A 1972 GM production team“The production group team I had been working in at the Chevrolet Nodular Iron Foundry decided to surprise the Plant Manager, Grant VanBuskirk, and go for the all time production record …”

An archive photo and excerpt from the Generations of GM wiki.

A wiki (Hawaiian for “fast”) comprises software that allows a web site or web-based article to be created, edited, updated and organised in a collaborative style. It is, for example, the engine behind the popular Wikipedia.

GM thinks its best authors are those who experienced the company firsthand – its employees, retirees, dealers, customers and the generations of people who have shaped GM.



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Posted in the category: Strategy, Technology

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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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