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SA Government’s Cloud pledge: a huge step for citizen engagement, service delivery

Government’s recent announcement to decisively embrace Microsoft’s Cloud Productivity (Office 365) tools will have a very positive impact on service delivery and governance.

16th June 2017 – Opinion Piece, Peter Reid, Head of Intervate

Last week, the CEO of the State IT Agency (SITA), Dr Setumo Mohapi, confirmed a Master Agreement with Microsoft, to standardise on Office 365 across all government departments and institutions.

National Treasury Circular 11 defines the details of the agreement.

Mohapi’s announcement represents a concise and progressive approach to Cloud migration, and eradicates much of the hesitancy that may have been holding back departments’ Cloud journey. Now, with the full backing of SITA’s framework agreement, they can very quickly roll-out Office 365 to their teams.

Government and its technology partners can now build new services within the Cloud, making them available to staff and citizens at faster pace and lower cost.

Backed by extremely resilient Microsoft architectures, system downtime will be reduced; and staff can move beyond time-intensive administration and process work – to now spend more time on value-adding citizen delivery activities.

Enhanced services

But perhaps the biggest benefit will be found in the various Cloud-enabled Smart Citizen projects now set to get the green light.

Our experience in creating apps like the Johannesburg Road Agency’s ‘Find ‘n Fix’, and the Community Shield (to report suspicious activity and crime), have shown the incredible power of citizen engagement. With the right tools, people become more engaged, supportive, and demonstrate greater community spirit.

With Cloud architectures permeating throughout every department, expect to see a surge in Smart Citizen services – for users to report problems with public infrastructure, find information (like public transport networks), provide data to inform better city planning, report crime, and more.

From a financial perspective, Cloud services will make it easier for local government departments to, for instance, issue municipal bills digitally, publish water readings more accurately, or send notifications for various kinds of upcoming license renewals. With clearer billing, and a more engaged community, revenue collection becomes much easier.

Perfect timing with local Cloud news

When National departments – such as the Department of Justice – commit to Cloud migration, it sends a very compelling signal to smaller public sector bodies and indeed into the private sector. If the very body that governs law-making is comfortable from a data sovereignty and security perspective, then other institutions can safely follow suit.

SITA’s decision aligns perfectly with Microsoft’s recent announcement that its enterprise Cloud offerings would be delivered directly from data centres in Cape Town and Johannesburg. It also links well with the Department of Education’s programme to give all school learners and varsity students’ free access to Office 365 and a terabyte of OneDrive storage.

Our close involvement in this Education Department strategy – through building the activation portal that gives young South Africans access to the tools – has shown the enormous potential for Cloud Computing to make a real difference in our nation.

In fact, over the past few years, Intervate has increasingly moved into public sector spaces, digitising processes and creating applications that make a meaningful difference in the lives of all South Africans.

From reducing the number of lost dockets at the Department of Justice, to improving public hospitals with the Department of Health, we’ve become excited about the opportunities to apply technology to solve the biggest social problems.

So we’re naturally ecstatic that SITA has announced a commitment for all public sector bodies to migrate to Cloud services, bring greater efficiencies and ultimately help to improve the lives of all 60 million South Africans.

Microsoft SA and partners – Intervate and 2enable, launch online portal to empower students

Microsoft South Africa, together with Intervate and 2enable, have created a portal for young South Africans called Mahala.ms. Through this portal young people can activate licenses for the Microsoft Office 365 suite and OneDrive cloud-based storage services free of charge.

26th May 2017 – Press Release

The main objective is to enable learners from grade R to 12 to become more productive and better prepared for the next phase of their academic careers or the workplace, by gaining free access to Office 365’s services, including Microsoft Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint.

In addition, students receive one terabyte (1000 GB) worth of free OneDrive online storage to save their documents, class notes, assignments, research, podcasts and vodcasts. An IDC study* that scanned 16.4 million job postings found that high-growth/high-wage jobs want employees with a range of skills that include a good working knowledge of Microsoft Office applications.

Peter Reid, Executive Head of Intervate notes that for some time Microsoft’s Student Advantage programme has been in place, giving students free access to the Office tools. “But in many schools the problem has been limited capacity to activate the licenses and provision the services.”

Through the Mahala.ms portal, students and parents are able to self-provision their licenses and install the software on up to five devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Students can organise their school and personal data in one secure location, and are able to create and share content as well as collaborate on documents in real-time. Moreover, they can access useful educational resources.

Says Lionel Moyal, Office Business Group Lead at Microsoft South Africa “There are around 12 million learners and students in SA, but only a fraction of them have access to digital tools. As such, there is an immense opportunity to change the fortunes of millions of young people through the Mahala.ms portal, enabling many more students to master the use of technology and acquire 21st century learning skillsets such as collaborating within groups and delivering captivating presentations.”

Reid concludes that education is of “fundamental, structural importance to the future of our nation. Wherever we can, we should find ways to make our education system more robust, so students can have better access to technology and to opportunities.”

 

The Mahala.ms site was built using Microsoft .net and Java Script, and is hosted on Microsoft Azure.

The screens below show more of the site – but you can also go to www.mahala.ms to see more


Contact us to find out how we can help you with your corporate website needs.

T-Systems sees early results of chatbot technology

As a global technology leader, it’s important that T-Systems explores breakthrough innovations within its own business. Often, services are tested and refined within the company, and then released out into T-Systems’ client environments as fully-fledged offerings.

With this in mind, it stood to reason that T-Systems would be one of the earliest adopters of ‘Pipa’, formerly known as ROBIT, a revolutionary chatbot developed by T-Systems’ own subsidiary, Intervate.

27th November 2016 – Customer Story, Dave Stevens, Business Development Executive

Intervate’s Dave Stevens explains that Pipa – which is accessible via the Skype for Business interface and as a web chatbot on the Microsoft bot framework – offers two primary features in her first iteration:

  • Integration into SAP, to enquire about invoicing and statements… with the user already authenticated into Skype for Business or in the web interface, Pipa understands the permissions of every user, and helps staff requesting documents from deep within the legacy SAP environment. Staff no longer have to wade through complex back-end systems; instead, they can retrieve documents with just a simple chat conversation. Conservatively, we estimate that this saves Account Managers 7-8 hours per month – time that used to be spent searching for documents. In a team of 25 account managers, this adds up to a significant annual saving of over 1500 man hours.

 

Booking meeting rooms… across the various T-Systems and Intervate regions, meeting room systems tended to differ and weren’t always integrated with one another. With Pipa, these systems are consolidated into one helpful, chat-based interface. Based on a short conversation to understand your requirements, she’ll find appropriate rooms. Staff can even invite colleagues & customers to meetings using Pipa, and sessions will be automatically synced to one’s Outlook calendar. If a previously-unavailable room becomes available, she’ll send you a message to let you know.

“These are simple, but surprisingly useful services that allow us to get to grips with chatbot technology in a practical way,” adds Stevens. “We’ve already moved beyond the ‘gimmick’ phase, and received highly positive feedback from early users, and tangible benefits”.

“It also serves as a great lead-in to a new way of working, where staff are able to be more remote, more flexible, and yet still access the entire spectrum of corporate services using interfaces that are familiar and easy to use.”

Looking further ahead, Stevens says that Pipa will grow in sophistication, and will likely benefit from the rapid advancements of Microsoft’s Cognitive services framework. Pipa is already able to answer common queries in over, 60 supported languages, by indexing a data source provided to the Pipa Engine. In time, she will connect with other specialist chatbots, from different fields, ‘borrowing’ their intelligence (and lending some of her own). This future state of ‘bot convergence’ will serve up some exciting opportunities, forever changing the way we work and the way we connect with organisations.

Building based on scenario’s or templates is what we are working on next – we recognise that many company’s have the same challenges, which may differ in terms of exact process but the outline is the same – check out the video below where we demonstrate using Pipa in a Helpdesk scenario.

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 awarded 2016 MS Collaboration Partner of the Year for the 10th consecutive year

Intervate, a T-Systems company, is proud to announce that it has been recognised yet again at the 2016 Microsoft Partner Network, Partner of the Year Awards and gala dinner, held at Gallagher Conference Centre in Midrand on the 24th of August. Intervate won the Collaboration Partner of the Year award for the 10th consecutive year.

29th August 2016, Press Release, Peter Reid, Executive Head of Intervate

The annual awards ceremony honours Microsoft partners for delivering meaningful and innovative solutions that directly address customer challenges. The Collaboration and Content Partner of the Year award recognises a Silver or Gold partner as exceptional and is based on successful and innovative projects completed with customers on SharePoint.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner and an organisation with a long-standing relationship with Microsoft that has grown over the past 17 years, Intervate continues to demonstrate excellence in their use of Microsoft technologies to help customers on their digital transformation journey.
Says Peter Reid, Executive Head of Intervate, “We are extremely proud of this accolade bestowed upon us yet again and our achievement is testament to our level of dedication to quality and innovative thinking. This mindset is ingrained in our culture as a company and we are continuously pushing the boundaries by delivering solutions that challenge the status quo.  Our goal is not to only to meet the expectation of the customer and their customer’s experience but to go beyond this and to be strategically relevant to their business objectives.”
Intervate is no newcomer to collaboration and have been delivering innovative and world-class solutions to customers for many years.  The company’s core values of passion, innovation and excellence are the driving forces behind its successes. However, team work played a significant role in the company winning this award.
Says Craig Mitchelmore, Head of Productivity Solutions at Intervate, “Our cultural ethos of challenging the norm enables us to deliver disruptive technologies that position our end user customers in a new light, enabling them to compete on a different level.”
Rozanne Day, UX Designer at Intervate described the experience as amazing, daunting, exhilarating and challenging – all at the same time.  She says, “Intervate has exposed me to different kinds of design with the use of Microsoft Sway and video production in the submission and prepared me to embrace a challenge as an opportunity to learn, grow and excel.”
Reid concludes, “We would like to extend our thanks to everyone at Intervate that made this accolade possible. We would also like to thank Microsoft for their unending support and inspiration with our collective projects and solution co-development initiatives.”

Intervate recognised as 2015 Microsoft Country Partner of the Year for South Africa

Intervate, a T-Systems company, today proudly announced it has won the 2015 Microsoft Country Partner of the Year Award for South Africa.

5th June 2015, Press Release, Lionel Moyal, Executive Head of Intervate

The company was honoured among a global field of top Microsoft partners for demonstrating excellence in innovation and implementation of customer solutions based on Microsoft technology.

“We are exceptionally proud to have been recognised by Microsoft for this award. Intervate being named Country Partner of the Year for South Africa shows that this award is not just about scale or how large a partner organisation is, but the impact that we have on our customers.

We are passionate about leading the market, and understanding the potential of new technologies to help our customers transform their business, and our acquisition by T-Systems has enabled us to reach a wider market and have a greater impact. This award is recognition of the success of our strategy of putting the customer first,” says Lionel Moyal, Head of Intervate, a T-Systems company.

Awards were presented in several categories, with winners chosen from a set of more than 2,300 entrants from 108 different countries worldwide. Intervate was recognised for providing outstanding solutions and services, as well as representing excellent subsidiary engagement in South Africa.

The Microsoft Country Partner of the Year Awards honour partners at the country level that have demonstrated business excellence in delivering Microsoft solutions to multiple customers over the past year. This award recognises Intervate as succeeding in effective engagement with its local Microsoft office while showcasing innovation and business impact, driving customer satisfaction, and winning new customers.

“We are honoured to recognise Intervate of South Africa as a Microsoft Country Partner of the Year,”said Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president, Worldwide Partner Group, Microsoft Corp. “Intervate’s dedication to providing outstanding value for our mutual customers is a prime example of the excellence we see in our talented community of Microsoft partners.”

The Microsoft Partner of the Year Awards recognise Microsoft partners that have developed and delivered exceptional Microsoft-based solutions over the past year.

Intervate recognised as finalist for 2015 Microsoft Public Sector: CityNext Partner of the Year Awards

Intervate, a T-Systems company, today announced it has been named a finalist in the 2015 Microsoft Public Sector: CityNext Partner of the Year Awards. The company was honoured among a global field of top Microsoft partners for demonstrating excellence in innovation and implementation of customer solutions based on Microsoft technology.

5th June 2015, Press Release, Lionel Moyal, Executive Head of Intervate

“We are proud to have been selected as a finalist from among thousands of entries from all over the world. The CityNext initiative is all about bringing to reality the concept of smart cities, driving engagement with communities and citizens. Global recognition from a world-leading brand such as Microsoft validates our own mission of creating solutions that have a meaningful impact for customers, staff and citizens of the world,” says Lionel Moyal, Head of Intervate, a T-Systems company.

Awards were presented in several categories, with winners chosen from a set of more than 2,300 entrants from 108 different countries worldwide. Intervate was recognized for providing outstanding solutions and services in the public sector.

The Microsoft CityNext Partner of the Year Award recognises the partner who best exemplifies how their solutions, built on Microsoft technology, address the most pressing challenges for cities and help them do “more with less”. The Microsoft platform provides a connected foundation for cities to build on, utilising solutions and apps across core city functional solution areas and scenarios that present opportunities for cities to address challenges, spur economic growth and transform where they work and live.

“Microsoft’s success as a company is dependent upon our ecosystem of great partners, and Intervate is a shining example of the kind of innovation our partners continue to drive year after year,” said Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president, Worldwide Partner Group, Microsoft Corp. “We are pleased to recognise Intervate for being selected as a finalist of the 2015 Microsoft Public Sector: CityNext Partner of the Year award and for demonstrating excellence in providing value to our mutual customers.”

The Microsoft Partner of the Year Awards recognize Microsoft partners that have developed and delivered exceptional Microsoft-based solutions during the past year.

Intervate helps enterprise take pragmatic, step-by-step approach on “Journey to the Cloud”

Cloud-based architecture continues to be a top point of discussion within the IT industry, and enterprises have either taken the first steps on their journey to the cloud, or are currently examining the possibilities.

7th April 2015, Press Release, Peter Reid, Head of SharePoint Solutions

However, while for smaller companies migrating to the cloud is a simple task, for the enterprise it is a substantial process that requires significant time and investment, and simply moving the entire architecture into the cloud is not a viable option. These organisations need to take a pragmatic view of exactly where cloud migration makes sense and produces business transformation, and where traditional on-premises solutions remain the best option.

In light of this growing challenge, Intervate, a T-Systems company, will be hosting the “Journey to the Cloud”, an event designed to break down the mammoth task of cloud migration into a more manageable framework. A number of global industry thought leaders will share insight into cloud technologies for enterprise and how organisations can begin their cloud journey or capitalise on existing cloud investment, as well as real-world examples of moving a large, complex organisation into the cloud using a hybrid model.

“We believe that enterprises can gain enormous benefit from migrating certain functionality to the cloud; however, deciding which functionality and how to go about doing so can be a daunting task. A hybrid environment is often the most beneficial approach, but lack of knowledge and information can prove to be a significant stumbling block. The Journey to the Cloud aims to help businesses understand the potential of the cloud for their business, break up the journey into manageable steps, and understand how the right partner can help them to achieve their cloud ambition optimally,” says Peter Reid, SharePoint Solutions Head at Intervate.

At the event, Uriel Rootshtain from Microsoft will deliver an introduction of a hybrid approach to the cloud, the cloud from a Microsoft perspective, as well as the benefits of the Microsoft stack in the cloud. Reid will share his insights on the journey to the cloud, the first steps organisations should be taking, and how to break this down into an easy-to-understand framework and steps to begin the migration.

Brian Wilson from Intervate partner, WiredLight, in the United Kingdom, will be presenting a customer case study that demonstrates first-hand experience of moving a large, complex organisation to a hybrid model. He will be addressing the how, when, where and what not to do when considering the move to hybrid, including legislation, practicalities, governance, bandwidth constraints and more. Presentations will conclude on the topic of the future of the cloud, how this is changing the world we live in and what this means for business right now.

“Those attending the Journey to the Cloud will gain a working knowledge of what is happening within the Microsoft cloud space and the state of the market. The main goal of the event is to help businesses gain a sense of the framework and structure they need for their journey, breaking it down into simple ‘bite-size’ chunks to simplify this often daunting task. In addition, attendees will be given the opportunity to interact with thought leaders in the industry, a valuable exercise for any business on the cloud journey,” Reid concludes.

The Journey to the Cloud takes place at the Davinci Hotel and Suites in Sandton, Johannesburg on Wednesday, 15 April 2015 and the African Pride Crystal Towers Hotel in Century City, Cape Town on Friday, 17 April 2015.

For more information or to register for the event, please e-mail Talia: taliaf@intervate.com.