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Array of local Cloud services will spur faster digitisation of SA Inc

The launch of various local Cloud platforms is a defining moment in the digitisation of companies and governments across the continent.

Microsoft recently announced that its Microsoft Cloud would be delivered from data centres in Cape Town and Johannesburg. This follows the news that T-Systems SA and Huawei will bring Open Telekom Cloud (an Open Stack public cloud platform) to local shores; and other providers preparing to establish their own datacentres around the country.

15th May 2017 – Opinion Piece, Peter Reid, Head of Intervate

 

Local organisations can now access some of the more advanced, computing-intensive fields – in areas like artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and connected sensors – which were previously not viable due to the costs of massive data volumes flowing to faraway Cloud destinations.

With direct access to these powerful and scalable Cloud tools, local firms can confidently commit to bold digitisation strategies – refurbishing and rebuilding systems in local Cloud platforms, architecting and designing with greater flexibility and becoming truly Cloud-ready businesses.

Perfectly positioned

With an over decade-long close relationship with Microsoft, and as the winner of multiple Microsoft awards, Intervate is naturally excited about the possibilities that Microsoft’s local Cloud will bring.

We’ll now be able to create applications that leverage the unique features of Azure – from advanced business intelligence and analytics, to their SQL database that includes embedded machine learning, performance optimisation and cyber-security defences.

Intervate is perfectly positioned to help local organisations get the most out of their Cloud migration journey – accelerating innovation, boosting entrepreneurship and helping to tackle some of our country’s most important problems.

Now, we can expect to see new businesses springing-up, new skills development programmes emerging, and heightened levels of innovation. Imagine the opportunities for the likes of facial recognition technology, real-time language translations, or sophisticated telemedicine services, for instance.

We’ll leverage the very best in Cloud platforms, to develop uniquely African solutions that solve our uniquely African issues.

No reason not to migrate

While many large SA firms have started migrating certain applications to hosted environments, fears and uncertainty around data sovereignty issues often prevent enterprise-wide Cloud transformation. Driven by new data and privacy legislation, many organisations have taken a conservative Cloud view.

In the Microsoft realm, for instance, while local firms may have already been using tools like Office 365 and Azure, the data has always resided in another part of the world.

But with global-class Cloud platforms available in SA, these concerns around data sovereignty and records management will quickly evaporate – allowing local organisations to accelerate their Cloud strategies. Within the Public Sector (where these concerns are even greater) we can expect to see a new wave of enthusiasm for Cloud-enabled e-Government plans.

From a technical perspective, local Clouds will address the issue of latency. With overseas data centres, latency is in the region of a couple of hundred milliseconds (at best). Now, we can bring this down to just a few milliseconds, and use dedicated lines to take full control over the connectivity linking your branches to the data centres.

This makes the world of difference if you’re crunching through vast volumes of data, and providing services that require real-time information flows. From stock exchanges to connected cars, the ability to bring latency down to virtually zero is a huge benefit.

As more and more global and local Cloud players commit to building South African Cloud environments, customers have greater levels of choice. And depending on your existing IT landscape, and your business strategies for the future, you’ll be able to pick and choose the platform that best suits your needs.

It will be exciting to see the effects on our digital economy, as local businesses take advantage of these new Cloud platforms, and go ‘all in’ with their digital transformation aspirations.

Beyond the chatter: how chatbots will evolve into practical tools

With research showing that the number of new app downloads is slowing down, it’s clear that customers are becoming pickier about the apps on their phones and tablets. The slowdown also points to a phenomenon of ‘app fatigue’ – we’re getting tired of continually updating all our apps, of learning different UX and navigation principles, or remembering passwords.

5th November 2016 – Opinion Piece, Craig Heckrath, Head of Mobility & Peter Reid, Executive Head of Intervate

There’s a theory – popularised by a book, a talk at the South by SouthWest conference, and the hashtag  #NoUI – which says the best user interface is, simply, no user interface. #NoUI tries to address the issue of app fatigue.

Craig Heckrath, Head of Products at Intervate, explains that, “in the spirit of #NoUI, many of us are enchanted by the idea of a more natural, more human interface that could replace the small rectangle of smartphone glass which seems to continually demand our attention. And it’s for this reason that the idea of chatbots holds such universal appeal: verbal language is perhaps the most natural, most human way of communicating.”

Just think of the apps that are most often used. For most people, chat messaging apps like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat reign supreme. Many analysts predict that these platforms will develop into whole new ecosystems of services – the likes of ecommerce, payments, personal concierge, gaming, and more.

The promise

Intervate Head, Peter Reid notes that chatbots in the workplace perfectly combine the popularity of messaging as an interface, with rapid advancements in the field of artificial intelligence. They promise to help customers, staff members, partners or other parties engage more fluidly with an organisation.

“Chatbots are often hailed as the end of call centre frustrations – no more waiting on line, being transferred to other agents, or getting cut-off. Instead, customers can chat at any time of the day or night, with intelligent bots that can interpret various styles of language (in fact, various languages), and provide useful responses,” he explains.

For the organisation, chatbots can be used to automate certain repetitive tasks and common queries – such as IT helpdesks resetting users’ passwords, for instance. It’s a way to automate low-value activities, and redeploy the human staff to focus on more strategic work.

But these are the grand promises of chatbots. So far, the early examples of bots are fairly limited in their scope, and can become quite frustrating if users try to perform more complex tasks – above and beyond what the chatbot has been specifically ‘trained’ to do.

Cutting through the hype, getting down to business

The coming months and years will see businesses becoming more realistic with the way they implement chatbots into the organisation, notes Heckrath. “The focus will be on integrating the chatbot channel into the core systems and data repositories of the organisation. Those that try to become too ambitious too early will probably struggle to get their chatbot programmes off the ground. To increase the chance of success, we advocate a five-step process to getting started on your chatbot journey”

  1. Codify those common queries, and commonly-used information sources that could be used by a chatbot, to offer immediate value to users. Look at those repetitive tasks that are easy to automate and to surface in the chat format.
  2. Begin with a few limited channels – for some organisations, this may be Skype for Business, or a web chat window. You don’t have to give your bot a presence of every possible channel immediately.
  3. Monitor the early conversations at a very granular level of detail, use those learnings to understand user sentiment and frustrations, and adapt the bot as quickly as possible
  4. Allow your chatbot to “fail gracefully” – if it doesn’t know the answer to a question, allow it to become a simple digital assistant, which helps to patch the user through to a call centre, or direct them to a support email address, or escalate to a particular individual
  5. Don’t oversell the technology, to your stakeholders or your users. Don’t try to pretend that your bot is a warm-bodied human being. It’s important to set the users’ expectations up-front. Generally, people are quite forgiving if your bot has an open and honest personality

Glimpse into the future

By getting started early on a chatbot journey, companies will be perfectly poised to benefit from the huge strides that developers are making in refining natural language processing, enhancing the sophistication of artificial intelligence, and creating ecosystems where specialist bots can communicate and hand-over to other bots of a different specialisation.

Reid adds, “As chatbot technology continues to mature, we’ll start moving into the realm of predictive algorithms – where the chatbot can start initiating the conversation with the user, based on predictions about what the users will need. This has the potential to dramatically enhance customer service and satisfaction levels. In time, your chatbot will be able to synthesise and crowdsource information from a vast number of information services, to provide the best-possible engagement with users.”

“From there, the future is unknown. In much the same way that we could not have predicted the rise of apps like Uber and AirBNB a decade ago, it’s virtually impossible to imagine the new opportunities that chatbots will create in the future. Perhaps we’ll see entirely new businesses growing out of the chatbot revolution?”

Heckrath concludes, “Whatever the future holds, chatbots will play a role. There’s never been a better time to explore how your chatbot could help spur your company’s digital evolution.”

Intervate, a T-Systems Company helps small enterprise transform its business model

Capitalising on the strength of Intervate’s ‘Citizen Reporting’ framework, local start-up Cool Touch has radically elevated its business model by embracing mobile app technology. Cool Touch – founded in 2013 by two aspiring local entrepreneurs – was originally a humble cleaning company that focused on cleaning municipal dustbins around Gauteng.

22nd September 2015, Press Release, Lionel Moyal, Managing Director of Intervate

By connecting with Intervate, Cool Touch was able to fundamentally pivot its approach. It created a service through which facilities management and building management companies can log incidents that require maintenance work, and have tasks easily or automatically assigned to reputable maintenance crews in the local area.

At the heart of the service is the intuitive Snap! mobile app, which is available on  any Windows Phone, Android or Apple smartphone. Incidents or issues are captured via the app – with descriptions, photos and other supporting evidence. The report is automatically geotagged to the exact location. This app makes use of the same ‘Citizen Reporting’ framework that powers apps such as the Johannesburg Road Agency’s ‘Find & Fix’ app, has been surfaced in a unique interface for Cool Touch’s requirements. It leverages the native capabilities inherent in almost all smartphones and tablets: GPSs, cameras, and internet connectivity. Facilities management companies can choose to plug into their existing maintenance support function, or wholly-outsource the process to Cool Touch – in which case maintenance crews will be automatically dispatched.

With quoting, billing and sign-off processes handled efficiently via the mobile app, the end results include:

• Incidents are reported more comprehensively, and are fixed more quickly and at lower cost

• Facilities management staff no longer have to painstakingly capture information manually and track individual jobs one-by-one

• Facilities management companies looking to outsource all aspects of the value chain are able to do so

Intervate’s lead Lionel Moyal explains that the relationship with Cool Touch developed to the point where it became clear that leveraging the ‘Citizen Reporting’ framework would allow the young entrepreneurs to unlock new opportunities.

“We were strongly attracted by their vision to move from a simple cleaning business, to a scalable network-type organisation. Our underlying infrastructure was perfectly suited to the app they wanted to develop, and the service model they were looking to establish surrounding that app.”

“Core to our enterprise development ethos is the idea of sharing our IP, our technology, and consulting resources with the right partners. It is incredibly rewarding to see the technology we’ve developed having a broader impact on people’s lives and helping to grow dynamic South African start-ups”.

Cool Touch co-founder Babongile Ntuli adds that Intervate has provided more than just the technical foundation for the app. “Intervate has provided us with mentorship and guidance throughout our journey – helping us create both the technology solution and the business strategy.”

“Together, and with additional supporting funding from T-Systems South Africa, we’ve made a successful entrance into the market. We’re now working hard to grow the service across the country, and build the base of clients and maintenance service providers”

More information on Cool Touch is available at www.cooltouch.co.za