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Customer experience key in Industry 4.0

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Byron Horn-Botha.

Byron Horn-Botha.

The way we perceive and interact with technology to manage and protect the lifeblood of every organisation has, historically, been a critical factor in business viability and digital transformation.

Today’s ultra-competitive business environment means companies cannot afford to be offline. Having a quality product or solution sure to sell and boost the bottom line is simply not enough in the age of the experience economy, where customer loyalty is driven by convenience.

We are living and operating businesses in an age where product quality is not only a given, it’s expected. But it’s not enough to keep them coming back. Today, organisations must deliver what the customer wants, when they want it.

And let’s face it: everyone, regardless of industry, expects instant access to information and the ability to buy products or services anytime, from anywhere. So, what in a business is the pivotal hub for the delivery of that positive experience? The answer is unquestionably: IT.

Let’s unpack the experience economy. What is it?

In a world where over half the Fortune 500 companies have disappeared since 2000 simply because they didn’t embrace the realities of digital business, it may seem an obvious observation that our new world is data-driven and also being referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.

This era has hailed the introduction of the digital consumer and subsequent optimisation of business. Those that didn’t embrace this digital transformation have ceased to exist. Under the circumstances it is hardly surprisingly that an organisation’s most critical asset has become its data; and protecting it is possibly the single most important factor in its ability to thrive.

And let’s face it: everyone, regardless of industry, expects instant access to information and the ability to buy products or services anytime, from anywhere.

In September 2018, Arcserve commissioned a survey with research firm MayHill Strategies in order to acquire more insight into how businesses are modernising their approach to handle new data types, increased workload volumes and meet rising service-level agreements.

A total of 759 targeted respondents, responsible for IT management in their organisations, were interviewed online in the US, UK and Germany. Industry sector and job responsibility were factored into the results analysis to ensure a balanced sample.

Ransomware attacks estimated to occur every 14 seconds by end of 2019

Whether this can be described as media scaremongering fuelling concern over data safety security is debatable but the fact is that the above headline is the result of recent research and was attested to by 58% of IT decision-makers identifying recent media coverage of data breaches and ransomware attacks as a key concern relative to their ability to safeguard business-critical data.

Yet, even with ransomware being a real concern for 91% of IT decision-makers, nearly 70% still view the threat as a data security – not recovery – issue. But it doesn’t stop there. Media coverage of Facebook’s recent data breach also sparked fear for 42% of IT decision-makers; more so than a digital disruption to their own business applications and systems, or recent natural disasters.

To prepare for, and mitigate against, threats of events such as cyber attacks and system outages, 89% of IT decision-makers indicate having a formal disaster recovery plan in place. What’s alarming is that nearly 75% lack confidence in their ability to recover business-critical data in time to avoid business disruptions. Why would that be the case?

The answer lies in the high costs and time required to protect multi-generational infrastructures ranging from non-x86 and x86, to software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service. In fact, 64% of IT decision-makers agree that protecting business-critical data has not become easier over the past five years despite efforts to simplify operations and reduce costs.

Speed of recovery versus loss of business activity

Most IT decision-makers agree that safeguarding business-critical data has become more difficult, primarily due to resource constraints plus the high cost and multiple backup tools needed to protect complex infrastructures.

Some 51% of survey respondents cite major challenges to include the amount of time and skill required to keep backups functioning, coupled with the high expense of backup solution acquisition and support.

However, C-class executives were significantly more likely to state cost as the most difficult aspect of safeguarding data. The need for separate and/or additional backup tools to support new workloads, plus more frequent recovery points, were highlighted by nearly half of IT decision-makers as key challenges in data protection.

Yet, as backup infrastructures are clearly becoming more costly and complex, the tolerance for data loss is diminishing. Some 93% of IT decision-makers revealed their organisations could tolerate “minimal”, if any, data loss from critical business applications; with half saying they have less than an hour to recover business-critical data before it starts impacting revenue.

However, IT decision-makers are divided on the importance of recovery speed versus the extent to which business activity is lost, with only half stating both are of equal importance in recovery efforts. Significantly, a quarter of respondents indicate the speed of getting back online is of more importance than how much data they actually lose.

In my second Industry Insight on this topic, I will reveal why IT decision-makers are divided on the importance of recovery speed versus lost business activity.

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Downloads of a Pandemic-Themed Game Surge As Coronavirus News Spreads

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Interest in the continued spread of the coronavirus has had an unintended side effect for UK-based Ndemic Creations, makers of Plague Inc. The eight-year-old game—which asks players to shepherd a worldwide pandemic that destroys all of humanity—has seen a spike in popularity in recent weeks, becoming the most-downloaded iPhone app in China on January 21 and in the United States on January 23, according to tracking firm App Annie.

ARS TECHNICA

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by WIRED’s parent company, Condé Nast.

The surge in interest has led Ndemic to issue a statement urging players not to rely on the app for information on staying safe from the coronavirus’ current spread. “Please remember that Plague Inc. is a game, not a scientific model and that the current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people,” the statement reads, in part. “We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities.”

At the same time, Ndemic notes that Plague Inc. was “specifically designed … to be realistic and informative, while not sensationalizing serious real-world issues.” The company points to a 2013 CDC interview which highlights the online research that went into the game, as well as its use as “an educational tool—teachers and professors often get in touch to let me know how they used Plague Inc. to illustrate biological and economical concepts to their students.”

This is not the first time Plague Inc. has benefited from real-world epidemic news; Ndemic also issued a statement during the 2014 ebola outbreak, noting the game’s contributions to global health charities, for example. Ndemic notes that “whenever there is an outbreak of disease we see an increase in players, as people seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks.”

This time around, the added interest in the game has been large enough to take the Ndemic website offline temporarily “due to very high player numbers.” Ndemic also tweeted that its “servers for multiplayer and custom scenarios are struggling to cope with very high player numbers.”

Ndemic points players to the WHO for up-to-date information about the coronavirus. The disease now has more than 2,800 reported cases worldwide and has led to at least 80 deaths.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.


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‘Dangerous’ to crop African voices on climate: Uganda activist

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Africa is on the frontlineof climate change, and it is crucial to listen to voices from the continent in global discussions about the crisis, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate told AFP on Tuesday.

Nakate was at the heart of a viral debate that erupted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week after she was cropped out of a photo of a young activists, including Greta Thunberg, taken after a press conference.

Nakate, a 23-year-old graduate in business administration, was the only black person and only African in the photo shoot and accused the Associated Press news agency of racism in cropping her out.

The agency said the photographer had cropped the photo for composition purposes.

However in an article on Monday AP said the incident had prompted “soul-searching” on the issues of racial sensitivity and inclusion.

Famous activists such as Thunberg are from first-world countries which are often blamed for being behind global warming, whose effects are worst felt in poor nations, with countries in Africa at highest risk from climate extremes.

“It wasn’t just about the photo because I read the article first. They quoted the various activists but I wasn’t there,” Nakate told AFP in an interview in Kampala.

Nakate found out about the Fridays for Future youth protests in early 2019 and was inspired, alongside her brother, to protest once a week at a neighbourhood market in Kampala.

She was invited by activist group Arctic Basecamp to deliver hard truths to world leaders gathered at Davos.

“There was no message that I had spoken at the conference … It is dangerous (for African voices to be excluded from the debate) because many people are ignorant about the climate crisis in Africa and most of the activists feel unheard,” said Nakate.

“If their voices are silenced it means they won’t be able to explain to the people that we are facing a climate crisis. It’s important for every voice to be listened to no matter where they come from.”

Africa ‘most vulnerable’ 

Experts say Africa is the most vulnerable to climate shocks, with more frequent droughts and floods stretching people to their limits as farmers and herders get no time to recover.

East Africa is currently facing its worst locust invasion in decades after one of the wettest seasons in 40 years came on the back of a drought – a situation scientists say is becoming the new normal.

“Uganda mainly depends on agriculture and we’re really affected by climate change, for example by extreme weather conditions – droughts in some places, floods in other places — that means food prices are affected and only the more privileged can get something to eat and the less privileged are left with nothing,” said Nakate.

“They literally lose everything after these climate disasters.”

She said that messages of support after the scandal, including from others inspired to join climate activism, had “motivated me and encouraged me so I came out stronger.”

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Fig leaf or first defence? Deploying flimsy masks against coronavirus

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While Asian commuters cover their noses and mouths with the blue-green paper-thin covers — and social media buzzes with mask emojis, rumours of stockpiles and shortages — the humble medical mask has become an essential weapon in the battle against an invisible enemy.

Cheap, mass-made and usually readily available at convenience stores, experts dispute the usefulness of masks as a tool to block transmission of the new SARS-like virus.

‘One-way defence’

While the basic, loose-fitting mask can help restrict the spread of cough droplets from infected people, they are a “one-way” defence and do not create an effective barrier to breathing in dangerous airborne microbes. 

“It is not one of the recommended barrier measures” for people who have not been contaminated, according to France’s health minister Agnes Buzyn. 

Satoshi Hiroi, a senior researcher at the Osaka Institute of Public Heath, said high-quality masks could be effective, referring to more expensive, tight-fitting respirators used to filter fine particulates of dust and pollution. 

“But as always, there is no 100% guarantee,” he said, adding, the science was still out on exactly how the virus — which has so far killed 106 people and infected more than 4 000 — is transmitted.

Act of self-defence

Still, on Bangkok’s streets many members of the public put faith in surgical masks on Tuesday 28 January, an act of self-defence in worrying times.

“I’m very concerned about the virus,” Tanyamon Jamophast, 28, told AFP.

“Everywhere I go [in addition to a mask], I also bring alcohol and gel sanitiser to clean my hands and avoid areas with Chinese tourists.”

Others wore heavier duty — and more effective — PM2.5 or 3M (N95) masks, in a city shrouded for weeks by damaging pollution. 

A total of 14 infections, all but one detected in Chinese visitors, have been reported in Thailand, a peak season destination for the tour groups from the mainland.

Sold out

For chemist Suphak Saphakkul that has led to the most intense panic-buying of medical items he has witnessed since the SARS epidemic in 2002/3.

“All our [mask] suppliers are out of stock. These masks are made in China and the country itself is out of stock,” he said.

“We know that it does not provide 100% protection, but it is better than nothing…and it can also reassure the public.”

Masking up

Even for those who have one, there is a proper method to masking up.

On Monday, the mayor of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, took an online battering after wearing his mask inside-out.

“You can inhale the virus if there is a gap between the mask and the face,” added Satoshi Hiroi of the Osaka Institute of Public Heath.

Meanwhile, the Hubei provincial governor was pilloried for not wearing a mask during a press conference — contravening an order to cover-up in public.

Regular handwashing with soap, alcohol rubs and avoiding touching one’s face, as well as crowded places, are endorsed by the World Health Organisation as effective personal hygiene habits against infection.  

The advice has not stopped a run on the shelves, stockpiling or price hikes for medical masks, from Cambodia to Tokyo and Hubei to Hong Kong, where queues stretched outside the remaining retailers with stocks.

In Bangkok, it is a case of better safe than sorry.

“I just want to be as careful as I can,” said 50-year-old commuter Apinya Sukprasitchai.

By Sophie Deviller / Montira Rungjirajittranon © Agence France-Presse

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Coronavirus Live Updates: More Than 4,000 Infected as Death Toll Surpasses 100

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The outbreak of a mysterious new virus is rapidly spreading, the Chinese authorities said on Tuesday, as the official account of known cases jumped nearly 60 percent overnight and the death toll exceeded 100 for the first time.

◆ China said on Tuesday that 106 people had died from the coronavirus that is believed to have originated in the central city of Wuhan and which is spreading across the country. The previous death toll on Monday was 81.

◆ The number of confirmed cases increased from 2,835 on Monday to 4,515 on Tuesday, according to the National Health Commission. The youngest confirmed case is a 9-month-old girl in Beijing.

◆ Most of the cases have been confirmed in the central Chinese province of Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, where several cities, including Wuhan, have been placed under a veritable lockdown. Of the total cases, 2,714 are in Hubei.

◆ Thailand has reported 14 cases of infection; Hong Kong has eight; the United States, Taiwan, Australia and Macau have five each; Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia each have reported four; France has three; Canada and Vietnam have two; and Nepal, Cambodia and Germany each have one. There have been no deaths outside China.

The sudden outbreak is straining China’s already overworked and underfunded health care system.

In major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, many people have to stand in line in the wee hours of the morning to secure appointments with doctors. When they do get an appointment, patients get only a couple of minutes with a doctor. During flu season, residents set up camp overnight with blankets in hospital corridors.

China does not have a functioning primary care system, so most people flock to hospitals. On an ordinary day, doctors are frustrated and exhausted as they see as many as 200 patients.

Those weaknesses are most pronounced in the poorer areas of China — like Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus. Panicked residents of the city are heading to the hospitals if they have any sign of a cold or cough. Videos circulating on Chinese social media show doctors straining to handle the enormous workload and hospital corridors loaded with patients, some of whom appear to be dead.

Despite having dealt with the SARS coronavirus nearly two decades ago, many Chinese hospitals in smaller cities are not fully prepared to deal with a major outbreak like the current virus. Wuhan hospitals have posted messages online urgently appealing for medical equipment. The situation is even more desperate in poorer, rural areas nearby.

Last week, eight hospitals in Hubei Province — where Wuhan is situated and where most of the cases have appeared — put out a call for N95 masks, goggles, surgical masks and surgical gowns. In the absence of proper equipment, some medical workers have resorted to cutting plastic folders to jury-rig goggles.

With medical facilities in short supply, the local government has also pledged to build a new 1,000-bed hospital in 10 days, and vowed that another new 1,300-bed hospital would be ready by the middle of next month. It is taking a page out of the government’s playbook during SARS, when it built a new hospital in Beijing in just a week.

Health officials in the United States issued new guidance for travelers on Monday, recommending that they avoid all nonessential trips to China.

The warning, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that transportation in and out of Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak, is restricted and that there is “limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas.”

International health officials counseled travelers in China to avoid contact with sick people, animal markets and uncooked meats, and to talk to their health care provider and wash hands frequently.

Reporting was contributed by Chris Buckley, Russell Goldman, Elaine Yu, Raymond Zhong, Austin Ramzy, Sui-Lee Wee, Joseph Goldstein, Jeffrey E. Singer, Peter S. Goodman and Roni Caryn Rabin. Jin Wu, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Amber Wang, Yiwei Wang and Claire Fu contributed research.

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Mahikeng woman arrested for cop’s murder, residents heard screams

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A woman has been arrested for the murder of an off-duty police constable in Mahikeng in the North West after the two allegedly became embroiled in an argument.

It is alleged that residents alerted police in the early hours of Tuesday when they heard screams coming from a house in the Rhodes Park area.

“Members of the SAPS (SA Police Service) reacted swiftly to the crime scene and upon arrival, they found a 29-year-old police constable lying in a pool of blood. The member was rushed to hospital but sadly, died on arrival.

“At the scene, eyewitnesses pointed out a 33-year-old woman as the alleged murderer. The woman was then arrested,” police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe said.

The woman allegedly had an argument with the constable, preliminary investigations revealed.

She is expected to appear in the Mmabatho Magistrate’s Court on Thursday and cannot be identified until then.

National police commissioner General Khehla Sitole has welcomed the arrest.

“We cannot overemphasise the important role of our communities in working together with our members to detect, prevent and investigate crime. We will continue to urge people in South Africa to join their local community police forums with a view of ensuring that together, we put an end to criminality. We, once again, applaud the brave men and women who continue to work with us in sharing information on crimes,” Sitole said.

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How to reduce your tax bill without resorting to a tax revolt

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Economists and analysts are warning South African taxpayers to prepare themselves for a barrage of tax hikes come April 2020, as government scurries to find some way to plug the country’s growing tax gap.

It has become evident in recent years that the country’s tax collector, SARS, is struggling to meet targets for revenue collection, with government’s spending budget only getting bigger.

With tax collection falling short, and government bailouts to SOEs expanding (on top of an overwhelming wage bill), economists have warned that taxpayers will likely have to fork out more in 2020 and beyond, in the form of more taxes.

Some taxes on the cards include adjusted tax brackets for income tax; higher fuel levies and sin taxes; and even a possible VAT hike to 16%, which would be the second such hike after the tax was raised to 15% in 2018.

News of possible tax hikes comes as government keeps throwing billions of rands at failed SOEs and reports of nepotism and corruption persist in government departments, has again spurred talk of a tax revolt among taxpayers.

However, while tax protest via a revolt might seem attractive, dodging taxes is illegal – and analysts have previously noted that the route would be ineffective in South Africa, where such action would likely fail without the support of corporations.

What can be done

According to Stephen Hartzenberg, head of Product Development at 10X Investments, there are other options available to taxpayers before heading into the murky waters of a tax revolt – namely using every legal channel available to you to minimise the tax you pay at the end of the month.

“There is no doubt that people are angry about money wasted on dysfunctional state-owned enterprises and lost to corruption, and for good reason. In such circumstances, it seems perfectly reasonable for people to ask why they should render unto Caesar more than is absolutely necessary,” he said.

“As much as the idea of fighting back may sound righteous – given a belief that the situation seems to call for stern punitive action against the powers that be – but quiet diplomacy can be extremely effective too. The bottom line is: Make sure you have maxed out on tax incentives before considering tax evasion or a tax revolt.”

Hartzenberg said that taxpayers instead have a number of legal (and moral) tools at their disposal, including:

  • Contributions to a medical aid (and if you have major medical expenses above a certain threshold);
  • Donations to certain charities;
  • Investments in tax-free savings accounts;
  • Retirement fund contributions.

Retirement funds

Hartzenberg said that contributing to a retirement fund will reduce your take-home pay, but it is effectively moving your earnings (plus the tax you would have paid on them) to a different column on your personal balance sheet.

Importantly, you will get all the tax you have paid on these rands refunded when you file your return the following year, he said.

“How much you get back depends on your tax bracket. If you earn R20,000 per month, you fall into the marginal tax bracket of 26%, which means for every extra rand you earn, 26 cents goes to the state.

“The good news is that this is the rate at which your refund will be returned for retirement contributions. In this example, a R10,000 investment in a retirement fund will result in a R2,600 refund from Sars. In other words, your R10,000 investment cost you only R7,400. That’s a whopping return on investment by any measure.”

Hartzenberg said that there are limits, but they are fairly high.

“You can deduct total contributions to a pension, provident or retirement annuity fund up to 27.5% of your taxable income. The overall limit is R350,000 per annum. In our example, the maximum deduction would be R66,000 (27.5% x R20,000 pm).

“Any excess contributions above the limit can be rolled over to the next tax year and deducted then,” he said.


Read: South Africa’s ‘shock’ medical aid changes explained

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