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The Workplace Of The Future – Or Now?

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The time for an intervention of the workplace has arrived. The traditional office as we know it, bound by a desk with set working hours, being present for meetings, and processing paperwork, is no longer functional. Technological advancements have changed the way people work so that it’s no longer where it gets done but that it gets done. These are some of the key insights shared by Deloitte in a series of reports released towards the end of 2016.

One of the reports revealed that the work place of the future will be mobile and not bound by location; it will be independent (contractors); more people will be working from home; and co-working spaces will be an alternate to working from home; all this ties in with a traditional workplace no longer being functional.

The future is mobile

Technology such as laptops, tablets, smartphones; wireless connectivity; and networking software will be a key driver to this paradigm shift. Mobile manufacturers are catering to this – the new Samsung S8 offers a “Dex” mode that lets you switch to a desktop mode by attaching a few peripherals to its smartphone. According to Deloitte, many workers may still have a designated office space for themselves but they are treating work as something they do rather than where they do it.

Not bound by location

The combination of portable devices, WiFi and modern software solutions, means employees can work from anywhere and don’t necessarily have to come into an office, or sit in traffic to get there – an issue South Africans can identify with. As more companies shift to cloud-based or custom solutions, it means one can work from any location yet still collaborate via shared documents in the form of Google Docs, Office 365 or Dropbox, to name a few.

Co-working spaces

There has been an increase in co-working spaces in South Africa with companies renting out ‘hot-desks’ to freelance individuals. These spaces come with desks, phones, high-speed internet, boardrooms, meeting areas, coffee, and whatever other amenities are required to work from ‘anywhere’. Provided one isn’t bound by specific machinery; one could find themselves sharing office space with individuals from varying industries. Access to a set-up with all amenities is usually tied to a daily/weekly/monthly/annual fee, offering greater flexibility for contract work.

Gig economy

The gig economy is one of the major elements of the workforce of the future. It is where independent contractors and freelancers will be used for short-term projects, and also ties in with not being bound by location. If a job can be done remotely with the right hardware and software, a greater pool of employees are available for the picking. With people changing jobs more frequently, the gig economy is said to be an evolution of this. Additionally, businesses save on other costs such as office space, training, and employee benefits.

No more paperwork

Going digital or moving to the cloud means no more unnecessary paperwork, saving businesses a huge chunk in costs. All it takes is moving to smarter solutions such a digital HR software; electronic contracts; accounting software; online project management tools; collaborating via shared documents, and online video chats instead of face-to-face meetings.

Inside The House Of The Future

Could this work in a South African context? Forty-year-old Daniel Calbacho, Managing Director of RED Marketing based in Illovo, Johannesburg, took an interesting, non-traditional approach with his company. He “fired” all his staff and re-hired them as independent freelancers.

Calbacho manages a team of young writers and recognizes that people are all different, have a life outside of standard working hours and want to pursue their passions as part of their lifestyle.

“Each person in the business is encouraged to see themselves as an entrepreneur, and focus on their predominant skillset, which is linked to their passion to earn a living.” His team comprises of individuals who are motoring journalists, photographers, writers, bloggers and even a pop singer.

Is There A Future In Cellphones?

They are also encouraged to grow at their own pace, and if they’d like to earn more, they don’t have to wait for an annual increase.

“Millennials are about instant gratification – ‘I want this now’. If someone in the team would like to earn a specific amount, we work towards that. Obviously this means taking on more work, much like earn-as-you-go.”

RED Marketing has offices with all the mod-cons, allowing the team to use its facilities at leisure. Cost saving for the company has presented itself in the form of equipment, bonuses, and benefits. As independent contractors, the team supplies their own laptops, cameras and smart devices, which they’ve insured. “Bonuses are no longer a cost consideration albeit we do believe in sharing the company’s profits for outstanding work, and there are no costs for medical aid or pension.”

Skills development has not stopped, says Calbacho. “Every three weeks the team gathers and a person within the group presents knowledge or a skill they’ve been elected to share.”

Leave has also become a secondary HR issue, with each team member allocated 18 days a year to take off completely. “Days are logged, not scrutinized; and most of them don’t take all of it because they are free to manage their time without the construct of a nine-to-five job.”

Calbacho says what they are doing currently works for the business. “The company is successful because the team is happy. Our main focus is delivering the best product to our clients.” – Written by Nafisa Akabor

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5 Ways Tech Can Revolutionize Education

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Professor Sally Smith, Dean of School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, was in South Africa to share how tech can revolutionize education and what Africa can learn.


With the Fourth  Industrial Revolution gaining speed, the nature of work and economic activity is set to dramatically change. One woman is on a mission to prepare the education system for such changes.

Professor Sally Smith, the Dean of School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, traveled from Scotland to South Africa to share her know-how, as one of the speakers at the Future of the Education Summit in Johannesburg.

Hosted by Africa Business News, the summit brought together thought-leaders and professors from all over the world. Smith met FORBES AFRICA a day before the summit to speak about her experiences in the education industry for 26 years:

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1.What trends have you picked up in the sector over the years?

In terms of technology, it has been very fast-moving so the big challenge for universities is conducting research and translating that into useful programs for students when they graduate.

In terms of the kind of trends and developments, we have seen huge growth in areas such as creative computing. There have been developments around designing meaningful interactions with computers, and that’s no longer just [limited to] a desktop computer; that will be your mobile phone, it’ll be augmented reality systems, virtual reality systems and other recent trends like cyber security.

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With more of our lives being conducted online, there’s a need to make sure we secure our data security, our identity is secure and businesses as well need to protect themselves. Those have been really interesting ways in which I have seen a big change in recent years.

And the other thing that has changed is there has been a lot of growth in AI. Some of those kinds of machine learning tools are now being put to wider use than ever before by things like self-driving cars. So that’s an area of great interest now to our students and when they graduate to apply these algorithms.

2.What do you think are the challenges in this sector?

One of the things we’ve been disappointed with in much of the western world is how few women are interested in studying computer science and it has been fairly constant at sub-20% of our undergraduate program since I have been in academia. And we have really been unable to make any great inroads into changing that.

3.What differences have you picked up between education in Scotland and South Africa?

Making sure graduates have the right skills to go to work, and part of that is getting work experience and it’s a challenge for all of us to make the case for businesses to take on a student so they can take on relevant work experience before they graduate. Some of the challenges I have seen around are about trying to get those partnerships.

4.How do you see collaborations of universities around the world with the 4th Industrial Revolution?

Yes, I think there are fantastic ways we collaborate over research and a lot of the big funds now are only interested in collaborations where we can draw on the strengths of universities from different countries and I think that the same will be true about teaching.

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At the moment, we are competing with each other but if we can put great programs together that draw on the strength of different universities, there’s a future for more collaborative work.

5.How can the private sector help upskill young people?

We’ve introduced a new way in which people can get degree level qualifications in the UK and degree level apprenticeships. Industry will employ someone and they attend university 20% of the time and work towards their degree while they are in work.

So that is a new way to make sure the degree is appropriate for employers and these programs are employer-led so employers are part of designing the program. The other project we have is a digital skills partnership which is where we try and get industry and lecturers to work more closely together on things like developing curriculum.

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Banks Are Promoting ‘Female’ Chatbots To Help Customers, Raising Concerns Of Stereotyping

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Meet Amy. And also Debbie, Inga, Mia, Erica, Eva and Cora.

These aren’t the members of a new, all-female rock group, but names that several large banks have been giving to their automated digital assistants.

So-called chatbots have become a useful cost-cutting tools for companies with large subscriber bases (think banks, insurance firms and mobile phone operators). As they replace human call-center workers, such bots will help save banks an estimated $7.3 billion in operational costs by 2023, Juniper Research predicts.

But the proliferation of bots with female names raises questions about whether they might also perpetuate gender stereotypes, particularly around the notion of women in the role of assistants. That criticism has already been levelled at Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

Now a Forbes analysis of Europe’s 10 biggest banks ranked by assets shows that at least three have deployed chatbots with female names on their websites and apps. HSBC has a chatbot named Amy; Deutsche Bank’s Debbie helps market traders; ING of the Netherlands has Inga, a chatbot that will “respond with empathy” to customer problems such as losing a card.

ING’s other chatbot Marie, available to retail customers on Facebook Messenger, was given the name “because it conjures up an image of someone who is helpful and friendly,” Tim Daniels, a programme manager for ING was quoted as saying on the bank’s website. (ING has a male chatbot named Bill, aimed at dealing with corporate customers.)

Among the other lenders, Santander, Barclays and Societe Generale appear to have unnamed chatbot assistants. Credit Agricole has an internal chatbot with a male name: Hector.

Female chatbots abound in other regions and industries. Bank of America recently deployed a digital assistant called Erica, while Mia, the chatbot released by Australian digital bank UBank, was described by the company earlier this month as “empathetic,” “fun” and “a little bit cheeky.”

IPSoft, a New York-based software company that sells chatbot technology to banks like Sweden’s SEB as well as mobile network giant Vodafone, has its own white-label version of a customer-facing chatbot, named Amelia.

IPSoft’s CEO Chetan Dube denied that the chatbot’s name perpetuated stereotypes, when asked by Forbes during an interview in December, and said it instead highlights “the thought leadership that is represented in females.”

“She was the first female aviator that tried to go around the world,” Dube added, referring to the 1930’s aviator Amelia Earhart.

Forbes revealed earlier this month that Vodafone was measuring the success of its chatbots on how many staff could be replaced by the software. While that may be an uncomfortable metric, the more worrying consequence of chatbots, according to four industry experts questioned by Forbes, is the risk that they could reinforce certain stereotypes.

“Gender bias is an increasingly serious issue in chatbot design, especially for voice-based chatbots,” says John Taylor, CEO of action.ai, a British startup that makes chatbot software for banks and travel companies. “These assistants often perform tasks that many view as menial.”

Vitor Shereiber, a language specialist at the German language-learning app Babbel, says that focus-group testing might lead companies to assign a gender to a chatbot on the notion that it makes customer feel more comfortable.

But, he adds, bots could spread unrealistic expectations of how women should present themselves professionally, just as photoshopped pictures have done for women’s perceptions of their bodies.

Part of the challenge for companies is finding a balance between automating customer service without putting customers off. PwC recently described chatbots as being able to “massively enhance customer delight and loyalty” because of their “personal touch.”

Taylor suggests software designers should try creating more chatbots with male names and male voices.

On the sidelines of a technology conference in London on Wednesday, Seth Juarez, an artificial-intelligence engineer based in Redmond, Washington takes it a step further. He calls Siri up on is iPhone to ask the time, and a male voice responds.

“I make it a guy specifically because I find it morally reprehensible that all of the service-based bots are female, and all the intelligence based bots [like IBM’s Watson] are named after dudes.”

He added that artificial intelligence generally shouldn’t be anthropomorphised. Chatbots should be used to manage “cheap thoughts,” or “stuff that a human would do robotically” rather than on more complex issues. “I would leave those problems to humans.”

-Parmy Olson;Forbes Staff

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BMW And Daimler Pool Resources On Automated Driving Technology

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Daimler and BMW deepened their alliance on Thursday to share spiraling development costs for highly automated driving technologies, even as each carmaker pursues separate efforts to develop fully self-driving cars.


The enormous cost of designing and building computer-powered vehicles has already prompted Honda to pool its efforts with General Motors, while Volkswagen is pursuing talks with Ford about an alliance on autonomous cars.

BMW and Daimler deepened their alliance for similar reasons, said Michael Hafner, head of automated driving at Mercedes-Benz research and development said in a blog post which accompanied a joint press release by the companies on Thursday.

“We have learned that the development of these systems is a bit like climbing a mountain,” he said.

“Taking the first few meters from the base station to the summit seems easy. But the closer you come to the goal, the thinner the air around you becomes, the more strength is required for each further step, and the more complex become the challenges you have to resolve.”

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It made sense to distribute the technological and financial challenges of automated driving, Hafner said, so BMW and Daimler will jointly develop technology to enable automated driving on highways.

“Initially, the focus will be on advancing the development of next-generation technologies for driver assistance systems, automated driving on highways and parking features,” the companies said in the statement.

“In addition, the two partners plan to discuss the possibility of extending their collaboration to cover higher levels of automation, both on highways and in urban areas.”

BMW and Daimler’s move comes as even deep pocketed technology companies struggle to gain traction in autonomous driving. Apple Inc said on Wednesday it planned to lay off 190 employees in its self-driving car program, Project Titan.

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The market for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles is expected to grow to $96 billion in 2025 and $290 billion in 2035 from about $3 billion in 2015, according to Goldman Sachs.

BMW and Daimler already cooperate in high-definition mapping with HERE and in the area of procurement, and earlier this month unveiled a joint ride-hailing, parking and electric car charging business.

They said on Thursday their new partnership will center on so-called level 3 and level 4 automated driving technologies, including cars that still require steering wheels and drivers.

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Daimler will pursue a separate development alliance for level 5 robotaxis between its luxury brand Mercedes-Benz and supplier Robert Bosch. Level 5 cars require no driver.

BMW, for its part, continues its development alliance for robotaxis with Israeli autonomous vehicle tech company Mobileye and chip maker Intel, with the aim of putting autonomous cars on the road by 2021. -Reuters

-Edward Taylor

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