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CES keynote: Bill Gates presents vision of hi-definition decade

The “next digital decade” will be distinguished by an expanding HD, or high-definition, experience, said Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corporation, delivering his eleventh and final keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Bill Gates at CESGates, who will retire from his full time position as chairman of Microsoft in July, will shift his focus to charitable work on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates marked the occasion with a humorous sketch featuring friends including former Vice President Al Gore, rapper/producer Jay Z and U2 front man Bono.

In his presentation, Gates predicted that displays will be everywhere, including walls and desks. In addition, all devices will be service-connected, which will relieve users from having to bridge between content and devices. Gates noted that next digital decade also will see the power of the natural user interface take hold, with “touch” technology and speech recognition appearing in more products.
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Posted in the category: News, Technology, Trends

Interview with the Avatar

# 1: ABN AMRO

By Global Merlin

This is the first in a series of interviews conducted in virtual worlds like Second Life, the “3D online digital world imagined and created by its residents”.

Second Life has about 11-million registered “residents”, but only about 780,000 logging on in the past month. Despite this, numerous companies, such as Adidas, IBM, and Mazda, have a significant presence in Second Life, ranging from offices and stores to creating concept cars and holding corporate meetings. Individuals interact through 3D figures known as avatars, which can be adapted or customised to the fullest extent of residents’ imaginations or abilities.ABN AMRO Second Life HQ

They do not use their own names, and are limited in their choice of names by a pre-defined list of first names and surnames. Our interviewer goes by the name of Global Merlin.

The business use of Second Life is still in its infancy, and this blog will explore the approaches taken by both corporations and small enterprises to their presence in virtual worlds.

The interviews are, by their nature, “found interviews”, in that they are not set up in advance, and are the result of encounters with avatars of people who are able to talk on behalf of organisations that have a Second Life existence.
The first company selected was ABN AMBRO, the Dutch banking giant, which also has one of the most imposing business presences in Second Life.

During the early days of that presence, in the first half of 2007, I had never encountered anyone from the organisation when visiting their Second Life site. Finally, in November 2007 I came across a company representative.


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

Great growth for Africa, but …

Africa’s communications market offers exceptional opportunities for growth thanks to increased demand for communications and broadband services, but operators must improve coverage and quality of service, and regulators must provide effective regulation to facilitate this growth.

AfricaCom logoThese were the key messages from AfricaCom 2007, the continent’s leading communications event for mobile, fixed, wireless and satellite telecommunications professionals, which took place in Cape Town last week. More than 3000 attendees, 70 expert speakers and 150 exhibitors participated.

At the high-level strategic conference, some of the region’s thought-leaders discussed what they thought were the optimum strategies for growth in their sector.



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Posted in the category: Economy, News, Technology, Trends

Fax lives!

By Hayden Lamberti, manager, applications solutions, Internet Solutions

The humble fax machineWorldwide, there’s a general perception that fax is dead – replaced by e-mail, instant messaging and scanning of documents, all of which having reached new heights of usage. If you have an Internet connection you can send your stuff anywhere, any time.

But across the globe, and specifically in South Africa and the African continent, fax is most certainly alive and well, especially fax to e-mail and e-mail to fax.

Several reasons come to mind, the first of which are the social/economic factors which are prevalent in SA. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Technology, Trends

Skills shortage a calamity

Gusti CoetzerThe shortage of skilled executives in South Africa was nothing short of a calamity, a leading recruiter warned this week. And, she added, the belief that expatriates who had left the country would return to reverse the situation was an illusion.

Auguste (Gusti) Coetzer, founding partner with leading executive recruitment firm Leaders Unlimited – Korn/Ferry International, said there was a world-wide shortage of talented people, and South African recruiters were fishing in the same global pool as their competitors elsewhere in the world.

Speaking at the Labour Market 2008 conference in Midrand, Coetzer said the workforce had become globally integrated and executives were now selling their services to the highest bidder on an international basis. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Economy, News, Trends

Outsourcing for Africa

Ghanaian businesswoman Estelle Akofio-Sowah once considered a career in politics before deciding that she could do more for her country’s economy by becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Estelle Akofio-Sowah

The Internet-provider business that she launched in Accra in 2001 has gone on to become one of Africa’s most important “incubators” of new web-based companies in both Ghana and beyond, helping create badly needed jobs and promoting development.

Often requiring relatively low capital investment, such new service industries employing Internet technologies offer high potential for economic development and social advancement and can significantly contribute to the growth of Africa’s economies.But governments frequently overlook the needs of trade in services when setting economic priorities and even companies can fail to spot available export opportunities. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: News, Trends

Most execs believe they can outperform the boss

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of executives believe they can perform their boss’ job better than their current manager, according to the latest Executive Quiz from Leaders Unlimited Korn/Ferry International , a global provider of talent management solutions.

Moreover, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of executives surveyed indicated that they aspire to attain their boss’ job.

Nevertheless, when asked to rate their boss’ performance, the largest percentage of executives (42 percent) marked it as either “excellent” or “above average,” while another 23 percent cited it as “average.” Fourteen percent of executives ranked their boss’ performance as “below average” and 11 percent deemed it “poor.” Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Strategy, Trends

SMEs have what it takes to hold their own: Findings from SME Survey 2005

When it comes to being competitive in the South African economy, most small and medium enterprises (SMEs) feel they have what it takes to hold their own, according to the final results of SME Survey 2005 backed by Standard Bank, MWEB Business and Microsoft.

Although there was no surprise in the fact that Johannesburg leads the way with more than half its SMEs considering themselves to be extremely competitive, the city and area with the next highest confidences was Port Elizabeth (49%) and the Eastern Cape (48%), respectively.

“This was a real turn up for books, particularly considering that it was a region that, until recently, was considered to be in economic disarray,” says Arthur Goldstuck, principal researcher for the survey.

“It is obviously an indication of the amount of energy and attention that has been focused on the area recently, and of course the development of the Coega project has also been a major economic driver.”

Goldstuck points out that not only would there be a trickle down effect in terms of business opportunities for SMEs in the region, but that because the Eastern Cape is not really part of the economic heartland, a project the size of Coega would inevitably have much bigger impact than a similar sized development in Gauteng, for example.

“The other issue that will have impacted this region is the recent boom in vehicle sales, as this is an area that practically lives and dies on its motor car industry,” he says.

“These findings indicate that there needs to be some kind of special treatment for economically disadvantaged areas from government’s side. Of course the SME sector as a whole needs this type of support, so government must not be doing this at the expense of another region, but perhaps pay a little more attention to these disadvantaged areas.”

In terms of the impact of services on the competitiveness of SMEs, business owners surprisingly consider banking services as having the highest impact. 75% of SMEs say that banking services have a positive impact on the competitiveness of their business. Online banking received a similar positive rating, with 73% of business owners claiming it has a positive impact on their competitiveness. “This indicates that we are starting to meet the needs of SMEs both offline and online,” says Roy Ross, Director Business Banking of Standard Bank. “The high level of online banking usage by SMEs has enabled us to better meet the need of SMEs”.

The survey results also suggest that SMEs view Internet connectivity and the form this takes – whether dial-up or ADSL – as impacting greatly on perceptions of competitiveness.

Some 53% of players using ADSL regarded themselves as being highly competitive, while only 43% of those using dial-up held the same views.

“ADSL is particularly useful for the SME that has a large phone bill, as it can help to cut the bill extensively. Between this and the fact that Telkom has substantially reduced the cost of ADSL recently, using this becomes a no-brainer,” states Goldstuck.

The commonly held perception that e-mail is the killer application of the Internet has been confirmed. In fact, as many as 69% of small or medium sized businesses regard the impact of e-mail on competitiveness as positive, while only 18% say it has a negative effect and 13% are neutral.

According to Goldstuck, such perceptions are very much sector-dependent.

“Certain sectors of the market view e-mail as very important and these were way above the average, while others were well-below. It is obviously a sector-based issue – after all, if the SME is in the agriculture sector, e-mail would be almost irrelevant, while in the IT arena, for example, it would be critical.”

Gender once again made a significant difference in the perception of being highly competitive, with a far higher percentage of female respondents (51%) against just 44% of male respondents regarding their companies as highly competitive.

The survey results also show a direct correlation between the size of company and the perception by decision-makers in those companies as to levels of competitiveness, with the rating increasing steadily from a very low 33% for one-person businesses and 39% for other micro-enterprises (up to five staff members), and going as high as 58% for companies with 40-50 staff.

However, once the companies get beyond a staff complement of about 50, the perception of being highly competitive declines slightly.

“It is basically an efficiency issue, as once a company reaches a certain size, but without attaining the level of a corporate that will have a strong human resources department; it can become a bit unwieldy.”

“Nonetheless, it is still only a small decline overall, whereas the perception of competitiveness from the one-man operation up to the larger (50+) organisations showed a massive increase,” says Goldstuck. “Size does count in feeling competitive.”

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Posted in the category: Trends

The next big boom in the online world

A fascinating picture is beginning to emerge of the trends in Internet growth, electronic banking and e-commerce.  Today I pull together the threads of various research projects.

The first decade of democracy in South Africa has, by pure coincidence, gone hand in hand with the first decade of public Internet access in this country.

What was first a hobby for this writer, counting the number of people going online each year, has inevitably turned into a serious research business, as the 25 000 people with dial-up Internet access in 1994 turned into an overall market of more than 3 million users by 2004.

Today, the Internet pervades our lives, and in the business world has become more or less seamlessly integrated into the background of general business communications and activity. Among the public, however, it remains an expensive option that has to be justified on a budgetary basis – where it can be afforded in the first place – and looms large in the individual consciousness.

Today, the Internet pervades our lives, and in the business world has become more or less seamlessly integrated into the background of general business communications and activity. Among the public, however, it remains an expensive option that has to be justified on a budgetary basis – where it can be afforded in the first place – and looms large in the individual consciousness.Any additional costs associated with Internet use therefore becomes a decision based on experience, trust, and perceptions of improved convenience, efficiency and cost-effectivness. That is no less than five broad factors that will influence the uptake of the likes of online banking, online retail, and using the Internet as a commercial channel for individuals.

A core mistake made by many online retailers and other operators is to assume that all users arrive on the Internet ready to engage in all forms of activity. They then peg their market size at, say, 3.3-million, and then express shock at just how low the uptake of their particular offering might be.

A core mistake made by many online retailers and other operators is to assume that all users arrive on the Internet ready to engage in all forms of activity. They then peg their market size at, say, 3.3-million, and then express shock at just how low the uptake of their particular offering might be.The truth is, those 3.3-million people do not represent a current target market.

In putting together the findings from three of our surveys, namely Internet Access in SA, Online Banking in SA, and Online Retail in SA, we’ve come up with a few surprising conclusions about one of the market dynamics for e-commerce among the public. That dynamic is the level of experience of the Internet user.

In putting together the findings from three of our surveys, namely Internet Access in SA, Online Banking in SA, and Online Retail in SA, we’ve come up with a few surprising conclusions about one of the market dynamics for e-commerce among the public. That dynamic is the level of experience of the Internet user.Bear in mind that the Internet user statistics we compile are based on an industry-wide survey, examining the number of people with access, rather than on the more common media studies, which are concerned with the use of the Internet as a media tool, and thus examine usage over, say, the past week or month.

In industry terms, the level of Internet experience is based on length of time with access, rather than the intensity of access. And here is where a fascinating picture emerges. Rather than look at how many people have access to the Internet today, we looked at how many people had access five years ago. That figure would then equate to the number of people with five years experience at the end of 2003. The figure for 1998 was 1.2-million people with Internet access, meaning that at the end of last year 1.2-million people in South Africa had five years experience on the Internet. It is therefore not a great coincidence that the number of online bank accounts in South Africa came close to that amount, namely 1.06-million. However, that number represents probably around 800 000 individual users of online banking. Given that it is unlikely 100% of a target market will take up any service or product, it is a remarkable achievement of South African banks that they have achieved an uptake that is equivalent to about 80% of the experienced user base.

In industry terms, the level of Internet experience is based on length of time with access, rather than the intensity of access. And here is where a fascinating picture emerges. Rather than look at how many people have access to the Internet today, we looked at how many people had access five years ago. That figure would then equate to the number of people with five years experience at the end of 2003. The figure for 1998 was 1.2-million people with Internet access, meaning that at the end of last year 1.2-million people in South Africa had five years experience on the Internet. It is therefore not a great coincidence that the number of online bank accounts in South Africa came close to that amount, namely 1.06-million. However, that number represents probably around 800 000 individual users of online banking. Given that it is unlikely 100% of a target market will take up any service or product, it is a remarkable achievement of South African banks that they have achieved an uptake that is equivalent to about 80% of the experienced user base.Given these numbers, we can begin to see a close correlation between online access and online banking – as long as we focus on experienced users rather than all users. The banks’ projections for 32% growth in online banking in 2004 suddenly does not sound like dot.com-era hype: the growth in number of Internet users with 5-years experience this year will be no less than 44%.

The next question is what this means for spending online. Firstly, only about half of online banking users also transact within the online banking environment (i.e. not only accessing account information). Using a similar proportional basis, of these 400 000 or so individuals who have gained enough trust in online banking to transact on a banking site, it must be assumed that around half would have gained enough trust in the Internet in general to transact outside a secure banking environment.

The next question is what this means for spending online. Firstly, only about half of online banking users also transact within the online banking environment (i.e. not only accessing account information). Using a similar proportional basis, of these 400 000 or so individuals who have gained enough trust in online banking to transact on a banking site, it must be assumed that around half would have gained enough trust in the Internet in general to transact outside a secure banking environment.Suddenly, we see the real ceiling for online retail: no more than 200 000 online shoppers at the end of 2003. And suddenly, we can understand why even the most successful online stores cannot claim more than around 50 000 individuals actively and regularly shopping on their sites. And we can understand why we do not have Amazons and eBays setting our markets on fire.

But by that very same token, we can also see huge potential in the future. In 2009, on the eve of the World Cup Finals in South Africa (doesn’t it feel good to say that?), we will have three and a half million South Africans with more than five years experience on the Internet. We will have more than two and a half million banking online. And the number of online shoppers will be approaching the million mark.

But by that very same token, we can also see huge potential in the future. In 2009, on the eve of the World Cup Finals in South Africa (doesn’t it feel good to say that?), we will have three and a half million South Africans with more than five years experience on the Internet. We will have more than two and a half million banking online. And the number of online shoppers will be approaching the million mark. Which begs one final question: five-year plans, anybody?

  • Arthur Goldstuck is editor of The Big Change and Managing Director of World Wide Worx, South Africa’s leading independent technology research organisation. He leads World Wide Worx’s research into Internet access, online banking and online retail.

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Posted in the category: Insight, Trends

The changing face behind the mouse

By Arthur Goldstuck

If you own a large online media property in South Africa, chances are you are catering for more women than men.

A new research project commissioned by MSN in South Africa, and conducted by AC Nielsen, shows that, for the first time, more women than men are accessing media sites, by a ratio of 54.4% to 45.6% men. One possible reason is the fact that women have become more economically active in South Africa over the past decade. However, regional differences showed a massive swing in the urban areas of the Western Cape (58.3% women) and Kawzulu natal (59.9%).

These were the most interesting of a range of statistics drawn from an online survey of around 3200 Internet users. Since the respondents weren’t randomly sampled, but rather represented a self-selected sample of those web users willing to take part in an online survey, the results can’t be viewed as scientific, but nevertheless represents a clear picture of the trends shaping online usage patterns in South Africa.

For example, 60% of Internet users go to movies at least once a month, suggasting that the Internet user population is an ideal target market for driving increased cinema visits – or not, if you regard their habits as cast in stone. After all, 59% watch more than six hours TV a week, which is about as healthy a pattern away from couch potatohood as one could wish.

More than half of the respondents read the Sunday Times (51%), 37% read newspapers daily, and almost a quarter listen to 94.7 Highveld Stereo.

Almost a fifth work in large corporates with more than 1000 employees, while a large proportion (42.2%) work for small and medium businesses with up to 100 employees. More than half (51.7%) have purchased online, with the 25-34 age group being most willing to click and pay (57.8% of the online buyers), followed by the 35-44 age group (55.6%) and the old fogeys in the 45-54 age group (48%), indicating that the Internet is no longer only the playground of the young and experimental.

The bad news hidden in these bright starts, however, is that 39% of users make a purchase less than once a month, and 9.6% on average once a month, leaving a mere 3.7% of frequent (every week or two) online shoppers. What was that about women being shopping addicts?

The top reasons given for shopping online are fairly obvious:

* Convenience – 41.8%;
* Ability to research online – 37.2%;
* Competitive pricing – 18.5%.

More interesting is the response to the question of what will make people purchase more often:

* Free delivery – 29.9%;
* Better security – 14.3%;
* Relevant products – 12.6%.

Online purchases are predominantly made with credit cards (35.3%), with electronic funds transfer adding 4.1%, debit cards 4%, Icanonline another 3.5%. eBucks 2.4% and Bluebean.com 1.6%. No surprise there: plastic remains the most effective online currency in the world today.

Arthur Goldstuck is editor of The Big Change and managing director of World Wide Worx, the leading independent technology and telecommunications research house. He can be contacted on arthurg@internet.org.za.

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Posted in the category: Insight, News, 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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