Providing the human touch to machines

While South Africa is preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), international organisations are already bracing for Industry 5.0.


This fifth wave of industrial innovation will see humans working alongside “smart” machines and robots to achieve new levels of precision, efficiency and productivity.


It is a natural progression from Industry 4.0 that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT).


This era of cyber-physical systems, including autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy storage and cloud computing, is already having a significant impact on the way in which people live, work and interact with one another.


However, Frikkie Eloff, Regional Manager of First Technology Group’s Limpopo and Mpumalanga operations, says the ramifications of the Fifth Industrial Revolution will be significantly more profound, and South Africa has to, therefore, start preparing for it now.


“This is when man and machine shake hands to introduce the so-called ‘human touch’ to modern technological processes. A sound example is the convergence of human intelligence with cognitive computing in the manufacturing sector to produce more value-added goods, while consumers will be able to harness this ability to personalise their orders en masse,” Eloff says.


As humans and machines continue to interact and collaborate in the future, highly automated manufacturing and self-managed supply chains will become a reality which, he says, “is much closer than many would want to believe”. This is considering the rapid rate of technological development, especially between the Third and the Fourth Industrial Revolutions.


The First Industrial Revolution took place in the late 1700s when steam was harnessed to provide power.


This period of technological revolution was followed by the development and application of electrical technologies in the in the late 1800s.


However, it was the significant strides made in computers and information technology in the 1970s that would eventually catapult the world into a new digital era and pave the way forward for the subsequent two extremely advanced phases of industrial innovation.


Companies were now able to start automating processes to reduce errors and improve productivity, albeit at a very limited scale considering that these systems were still heavily reliant upon human intervention.


Manufacturing was just one of a number of industries that benefited significantly from, among others, improved Internet access, connectivity and renewable energy during the Third Industrial Revolution.


Eloff says that the swift and almost seamless transition from Industry 4.0 to Industry 5.0 will “challenge existing mind-sets of entrepreneurs and ‘Captains of Industry’”.


“In order to stay abreast of the latest ‘disruptive’ technologies and remain relevant, business leaders will have to continue looking forward to pre-empt the latest “disruptive” trends. There will also have to be closer collaboration between competitors in industries and even with companies in other sectors to ensure readiness,” he says.


Certainly, there is also a need for greater co-operation between the private and public sectors, as well as universities and unions, especially in a country that faces unique socio-economic challenges, such as soaring unemployment, mainly among the youth; low skills levels; and growing disparities. These are against the backdrop of economy that has been underperforming since the worldwide recession at the end of 2008.


Co-operation between these critical stakeholders is essential to ensure a steady pipeline of advanced skills to needed for Industry 4.0, as well as the increasingly automated era of the Fifth Industrial Revolution.


In many instances, especially in the production and manufacturing sectors, MI and robots will be able to perform most if not all of the functions that have traditionally been undertaken by low-, semi- and skilled employees. This is opposed to only operating in the background and supporting skilled workers.


Over the past decade, for example, the banking sector has been using AI and algorithms to negotiate and define the share price to make precise buying and purchasing decisions within Nano-seconds.


Other examples of sophisticated technologies with autonomous decision-making algorithms include self-driving cars and the “platooning” of trucks.


This is in addition to the autonomous mining equipment that has already been successfully deployed in drilling; loading and hauling operations; as well as in and around stockpiles. All of these “driverless” vehicles are able to determine how to avoid accidents, increase productivity and reduce pollution without human intervention.


Meanwhile, forward-thinking ports authorities are already deploying sophisticated technologies to protect infrastructure and operations against rising sea levels and storm surges, as well as other extreme weather phenomena due to climate change.


A sound example is the Maeslantkering, a massive storm surge barrier that protects the Port of Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, against severe and unpredictable weather events.


When sea levels reach a critical level, namely three meters above average, the system engages the doors and swings them across the 360m-wide entrance.


This large “gate” is controlled by an automated weather-tracking computer system and the decision to open and close it is taken by both skilled people and sophisticated robots to eradicate the risk of a catastrophic disaster due to human error.


Closer to home, Transnet Port Terminals recently implemented Portinsider, a leading next generation Port Community System technology, at the Port of Durban.


Comprising a combination of port-call optimisation tools and hinterland platforms, the system has significantly boosted efficiency, information provision and safety at Africa’s busiest port.


First Technology Group is already working with leading international port automation technology developers to design other systems that trigger automatic notifications via smart algorithms that are able to receive real-time updates.


They can be converted via IoT and displayed on First Technology Group’s dashboard to provide accurate time of arrival for vessels, as well as improve the efficiencies of loading and offloading operations. These are over-and-above the critical role that the technology is playing in enabling ports authorities to accurately predict storms and other severe weather events, such as tsunamis.


The group’s smart solutions are based upon its extensive technological track record, as well as robust partnership with some of the world’s leading instrumentation, automation, motion and robotics development companies.


Certainly, the extremely high level of sophistication of AI and the large part that it will play in making far-reaching decisions in the foreseeable future also means that the way in which humans and machines interact in the future will have to be clearly defined and regulated. 


“Now is the time to be thinking about and preparing for Industry 5.0. Moving forward, it is imperative that we have a sound understanding of these advanced algorithms to ‘pull the plug’ when necessary and according to set rules and regulations. First Technology Group is ready to assist government and leading high-tech companies define and develop a framework for machine intelligence,” Eloff concludes.




First Technology Group CyberIIoT


Robust cybersecurity a fundamental pillar of IIoT

Cyber-security has been placed firmly under the spotlight as South Africa prepares for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or “Industry 4.0”.


“This Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will comprise hundreds, thousands and even millions of connected devices and objects that are controlled remotely, while also collecting useful and, in many instances, critical, or sensitive data with the help of various existing technologies. Robust cybersecurity is, therefore, a fundamental pillar and facilitator of Industry 4.0, considering the potential far-reaching negative ramifications of an attack. These range from compromised physical security, equipment, as well as products and services through to devastating financial and reputational losses,” Nico Bezuidenhout, Business Development Manager of First Technology Group, says.


First Technology Group is a leading developer of sophisticated information communications technology products, as well as cutting-edge cyber-security solutions that collect, aggregate, monitor and normalise data from IoT devices to pro-actively mitigate the risk of cyber-attacks.


The company’s scalable, secure, vigilant and resilient integrated solutions are being integrated into organisations’ overall cybersecurity strategies right in the early design phases to ensure high levels of preparedness. These are complemented by First Technology Group’s ongoing strong technical support from a large team of skilled and experienced technicians.


According to experts, the IoT is expected to comprise about 30-billion “things” by 2020 and as many as 50-billion by 2022, and of serious concern to companies and participants in the public sector are those devices with limited or no cyber security. This is in addition to other weak points, such as compromised sensor- and actuator-equipped technologies.


Certainly, one of the biggest challenges in this connected era will be managing the many different security solutions from numerous vendors.


“Organisations have had no other choice but to continuously invest heavily into multiple layers of security technologies due to the ever-evolving nature of cyber threats. This has, in turn, resulted in a serious disconnect between various security solutions,” Bezuidenhout says


“Some global security teams have managed to somewhat resolve this challenge through solutions, such as Artificial Intelligence, Behavioural Analytics and Machine learning. However, I anticipate that more organisations will start adopting synchronised or connected security solutions as the cybersecurity industry matures. These technologies will enable different security controls to ‘talk’ to one another, as well as to share and correlate information.”


Increased collaboration and extended partnerships between companies, as well as their supply-chain vendors will also be a major trend moving forward in various industrial sectors of the economy.


A case in point is the mining industry which has become increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks since embarking on a digitisation drive.


Its cyber footprint has grown significantly as a result of the convergence of traditional information technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT), or otherwise referred to as Industrial Control Systems (ICS).


A hacker could, for example, exploit weaknesses in connected and networked internet protocol and telemetry devices to manipulate machinery and equipment with the intention of causing injuries and even fatalities, resulting in labour disputes and mine stoppages. This scenario would also have cataclysmic consequences on the overall performance of the business and possibly irreparable damage to the reputation of its brand in the market.


Mining is just one of a number of important industries in the country that is also preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to reduce operating costs, improve productivity and increase safety levels. IIoT is critical to the survival of the African mining industry that has been beset by a range of challenges, including declining commodity prices, labour concerns, increasing input costs, as well as a constantly evolving and volatile global political landscape.


Meanwhile, Bezuidenhout identifies limited capacity in smaller security teams as another stumbling block in the way of a smooth transition into Industry 4.0. This is evidenced by the mainly reactive response to cyber incidences, as opposed to a proactive approach that is informed by a planned robust cybersecurity strategy.


He again refers to mining as an example of an industry where complacency and a false sense of security have prevailed as is evidenced by the large investments made into non-agile security tools and processes. Examples include conventional firewalls, antivirus, intrusion detection and prevention systems that have largely been ineffective in defending against the increasingly sophisticated hacking techniques, such as encryption.


Meanwhile, limited resources have also been misallocated to lesser and more generic threats, as opposed to directing most of the attention to the detection of long dwell cyber-intrusions in both the IT and OT environments.


Certainly, the lack of preparedness of the industry for IIoT is mirrored by the damage that it has already incurred as a result of a host of well-orchestrated cyberattacks.


These include corporate espionage, such as theft of exploration data or sensitive financial information. This is in addition to the robbery of process information, as well as ICS equipment configuration files and specifications.


Worryingly, many cyberattacks have also been launched from within organisations to intentionally remove or sabotage data.


“Hacktivism” is yet another typical form of cyberattack orchestrated against mining houses that are usually committed by individuals, environmentalists, as well as socio- and geo-political organisations with various agendas.


Fraudulent e-mail communication is also a well-known technique that has been used to extort personnel into releasing sensitive information.


Industry 4.0 is critical for the reindustrialisation of South Africa and to raise its ability to compete globally, while also closely aligned with those policies aimed at significantly raising the skills levels of the labour force.


Policymakers also understand the important role that these “cyber-physical systems” are able to play in stimulating the development of new local industries that supply sophisticated services and products.


However, its facilitation is dependent on robust cybersecurity, especially in a country that ranks as the third most exposed in the world to cybercrime.


“If companies are not leveraging the best-of-breed technologies, they will simply not be able to tackle real threats in time. This could cause data loss, critical system downtime, reputational damage and, in extenuating circumstances, imprisonment and hefty fines, in terms of General Data Protection Regulation and Protection of Personal Information Act regulations. First Technology Group can successfully challenge Industry 4.0 cyber risks with our robust cyber-security solutions,” Bezuidenhout concludes.




First Technology Group IoT


Cutting-edge IoT and ICT solutions help eliminate carbon headaches

Enterprising South African companies are harnessing the power of the internet of things (IoT) and information communications technologies (ICT) to significantly improve the measurement and management of their carbon (CO2) emissions.


More have followed suit since the introduction of the first phase of the Carbon Tax in June 2019. This phase will run through to December 2022 to provide most heavy emitters of CO2 with an opportunity to adequately prepare for the introduction of the subsequent phase of the programme. The second phase will entail imposing a higher penalty on companies for emitting harmful carbon from industrial processes and through the combustion of fossil fuels.


The initial headline rate is R120 per tonne of CO2 or its equivalent, namely methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Businesses can realistically expect to pay between R6 and R48 per tonne of carbon dioxide, as well as other harmful gases that they emit into the atmosphere during this initial phase.


While the tax is a commendable initiative that is in line with best international practice, there are many facets of the legislation that require clarity. Nico Bezuidenhout, business development manager of First Technology Group, says that this has made it almost impossible for companies to precisely quantify the costs of their carbon footprints.


There is a dearth of accurate and reliable emissions data and the limited information that is available is seldom shared between organisations. Forward-thinking companies have been well aware of this risk since the Carbon Tax policy paper was published in 2013. Much of their focus since then has, therefore, been on finding effective ways of collating accurate data they need to measure emissions for mitigation planning. Following closely in the footsteps of their international counterparts, many South African companies also want this information in real-time to better inform their decision-making,” Bezuidenhout says.


This leading supplier of sophisticated IoT, Hosted Cloud-based technologies, as well as hardware and software solutions has been fielding an increasing number of enquiries from local companies as to how it is able to help them develop a robust solution to manage this risk.


The company’s IoT solution comprises smart sensors that are equipped with transmitters that can be installed in most industrial processes, such as mineral-beneficiation plants and factories, to automatically detect CO2 molecules. This information is then transmitted to a central country-managed repository where it is accurately recorded and corroborated using First Technology Group’s Blockchain technology. Meanwhile, the company’s Hosted Cloud-based solutions enable the efficient processing, analysis and visualisation of the wealth of information to better inform decision making.


First Technology Group’s international parent company has already established a strong partnership with some of the world’s foremost instrumentation, automation and control manufacturers to develop state-of-the-art IoT solutions. These comprise an arrangement of embedded devices that communicate via the internet and exclusively addressable standard protocols.


Notably, the company’s IoT solutions have been instrumental in enabling its international clients operating in, among other sectors, manufacturing, resources extraction, construction and agriculture to seamlessly transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or “Industry 4.0”.


South African companies are also set to undergo this revolution, a vital component of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” that aims to reindustrialise South Africa and raise its ability to compete globally.


Importantly, it is also aligned with those policies aimed at significantly raising the skills levels of the labour force. Industry 4.0 will be introduced in a responsible and phased manner by equipping the country’s youth with the skills that they need to operate in an era where connected machines have replaced mundane low-paying and unsafe jobs.


Many of the country’s mines have already started undergoing this transition. Sensors, actuators and cameras, among other instruments, connected to Cloud databases are being used to measure, analyse and actuate switches. Automation has significantly improved efficiencies and precision by eliminating human error, while raising safety levels underground and in beneficiation plants by removing workers from harm’s way.


Policymakers also understand the important role that these “cyber-physical systems” have to play in stimulating the development of new local industries that supply sophisticated services and products. These include genome editing; the development of new types of machine intelligence technologies; as well as the design and manufacture of unique materials.


They also make it possible to introduce new and novel approaches to governance that are based upon cryptographic methods, such as Blockchain. This is in addition to supporting the planned development of “smarter” cities that provide more efficient and cleaner services, such as transportation, for their citizens as part of government’s focus on improved spatial planning.  


However, a major highlight of this digital and connected era has been the ability to monitor and control carbon emissions automatically and remotely to achieve new levels of environmental protection and compliance. This supports South Africa’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint as a signatory to the Paris Agreement.


“IoT has long been recognised as a powerful tool in the fight against climate change,” Badenhorst says.


“For instance, vehicle manufacturers and fleet owners are now able to analyse accurate data that is being collected in real time from smart sensors installed on exhaust systems and transmitted to their databases. Leading vehicle manufacturers and engine original-equipment manufacturers use this information to improve the designs of their cleaner engine technologies. This is a key component of many European countries’ drive to achieve carbon-neutral economies. Meanwhile, fleet owners in developed countries are able to remotely adjust the engines of their ‘connected’ commercial vehicles to optimise emissions. This is being done in the same manner that mines are now able to control beneficiation plants and energy utilities and independent power producers their combined-cycle turbines and micro-grids, among other examples.”


However, sound cyber security, high-speed internet connectivity and excellent technical support, other key focus areas for First Technology Group, are critical in these applications.


“South Africa is following closely in the footsteps of developed economies by penalising industries for polluting. It is expected to drive meaningful change in the country in the same way that this approach has done in other parts of the world. The ability to detect, monitor, measure and control emissions is now an imperative to the bottom line. First Technology Group stands ready to assist companies of all sizes design, implement and operate a real-time emission-monitoring tool,” he concludes.





First Technology Partnership with CapricornFM

First Technology Group helps leading radio station migrate to the cloud

First Technology recently assisted Capricorn FM, Limpopo’s leading radio station, to successfully migrate to the cloud.


“Our client relied upon our extensive experience as one of Africa’s leading information and communications technology specialists to make this bold move that has ultimately provided extreme reliability and significantly alleviated pressure on hardware. Moreover, Capricorn FM’s acceptance of our proposal to implement structures, such as Exchange Online and OneDrive, has eliminated downtime and ensured that software is always up-to-date,” Keith Badenhorst, account manager of First Technology Polokwane, says.


Capricorn FM approached the Polokwane arm of First Technology for assistance at a time when its information technology infrastructure required major and urgent upgrades.


Aged physical servers on site, which hosted critical services, had reached the end of their useable life and existing hardware could no longer cope with the growth in operations over the years.


Notably, software also required urgent updating: not all of the existing Microsoft licenses, especially for Office, were up to date and various versions were in use throughout the organisation.


The broadcaster was struggling to keep the Exchange server operating at optimal levels, compounded by an array of other issues relating to the overall performance of the e-mail server.


As part of the cloud-based solution, First Technology, which has nurtured a long and proud working relationship with Vodacom, installed two 20Mbps Premium Wireless links to provide the necessary redundancy in the event of a failure of towers in the area.


They were connected to a Sophos Firewall to provide data load-balancing, security and the ability to efficiently manage substantial traffic sent and received by about 60 Capricorn FM employees.


The First Technology team also replaced all of the existing 47 laptops and five desktops in the broadcast studio with new high quality yet cost-effective Lenovo hardware.


Badenhorst and his team also motivated a far-reaching decision to migrate Capricorn FM from packaged versions of Office to Office 365 Business Premium as part of the solution.


As a monthly subscription-based service, Capricorn FM can now easily increase or decrease user count as and when required. All mail content is saved in the administration portal and, when employees leave the company; their licenses can easily be transferred to new users.


An active subscription includes updates that negate the need to purchase new versions of the software every three years.


Importantly, the cost of the subscription also provides Capricorn FM with access to Exchange Online mail services.


Exchange Online provides companies with larger mail boxes of up to 50GB per user and relieves them of the burden of having to manage many users on an on-site Exchange. As a cloud-based solution, it is accessible anywhere via desktop, laptop, Smartphone or tablet and users do not have to purchase special hardware for e-mail.


Moreover, Exchange Online has done away with the need for complicated login and web-interface structures for users to access e-mails on the premises, in addition to bolstering the existing security provided by the firewall.


As a subscriber, Capricorn FM also has access to another important feature of Office365, namely OneDrive, which enables the synchronisation of documents to the cloud.


Users are able to copy documents to the cloud account and retrieve it by logging into their 1TB OneDrive account with the new hardware –  a critical security feature in the event of a hardware failure.


Meanwhile, the e-mail automatically resyncs to the local personal computer providing users with uninterrupted experience.


Badenhorst says that Office 365 provides retention policies that are in line with the European General Data Protection Regulation and the South African Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 a.


“Motivating our solution was made easier by Capricorn FM’s past experience using the software. Over the about three year period that it has been using Office, it  has never experienced any issues with mail or Exchange. Encouragingly, it also reports that the software’s internal firewall and the Sophos XG Firewall have significantly reduced spam,” he says.


As part of the solution, First Technology also supplied and is maintaining an Azure Backup of the server environment. Azure Backup creates a complete image of the file server on site and saves it to the cloud. Files are backed up at a granular level so that the complete server or a single file can be restored.


The file server is used on site for Active directory control so that users are required to logon to the company domain – essential access controls for any company, especially for their financial departments.


Badenhorst says that he is proud of his involvement in developing and implementing a state-of-the-art IT solution for Capricorn FM.


“Capricorn FM was Limpopo’s first radio station and has since grown into the foremost broadcaster of music, entertainment and factual news in the province. As the only radio station in Limpopo that broadcasts in English, Tshivenda, Sepedi and Xitsonga, it is also an important driver of social cohesion in the most diverse area of the country,” he concludes.




First Technology Polokwane - Security

SMEs increasingly at risk of cyberattacks

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly becoming “soft” targets for cyberattacks.

This is evidenced by the number of smaller companies that have already fallen victim to denial of service (DOS) attacks, previously mainly geared at high-profile companies in the banking, commerce and media industries, as well as government and trade organisations.

These attacks entail flooding their target with information or sending specific data that is able to trigger a crash that shuts down machines or entire networks to make them inaccessible to legitimate users, such as employees, members and account holders.

Meanwhile, a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) entails using multiple systems from various locations, often worldwide, to launch a synchronised DoS attack.

The use of random distribution makes it more difficult to pinpoint the exact locations from where the attack has been orchestrated, while shutting down many machines is a significantly more cumbersome undertaking. It is also difficult to identify the true attacking party, which is often disguised behind many and mainly compromised systems.

While large and more financially robust companies have been able to recover from these cybercrimes, they can be debilitating for a smaller organisation.

“This is considering the tremendous losses that they can incur during and after the attack. Companies have lost revenues as a result of downtime, valuable data, customers and, in extenuating circumstances, even incurred irreparable reputational damages,” says Keith Badenhorst, part of the FirstTechCloud’s Polokwane-based operations.

FirstTechCloud is a leading African value-added Microsoft CSP Indirect Provider, specialising in cutting-edge data centre, Cloud, networking and security technologies.

There are many reasons for the increase in cyber-enabled and cyber-related attacks on smaller companies.

As part of larger supply chains, unprotected small companies provide cybercriminals with a weak point from which to gain illegal access to the valuable data of big corporations.

Hackers are also well aware that many SMEs have limited response and resilience capabilities versus their larger counterparts that can afford expensive IDS and IPS DDoS protection.

This is despite the access that all companies now have to affordable cyber-security systems and solutions via the Cloud, which is being used by more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies and governments.

“One of the many successes of Cloud is the accessibility it has provided SMEs to cutting-edge systems and solutions commonly deployed by larger organisations and even government departments. In the past, these, including critical cybersecurity, were simply unaffordable for smaller companies, leaving them largely exposed to looming cyber threats. In this way, the Cloud can be viewed as democratising force,” he says.

Badenhorst points to Azure as a sound example of a hybrid-Cloud solution that has provided smaller companies with access to sophisticated platforms, software and functionality without having to invest in on-premises hardware and servers.

Notably, its built-in protection automatically safeguards all companies when accessing even the most basic of functionalities.

Threat protection for workloads can also be extended in Azure or on-premises by deploying other applications. Kaspersky, for example, will guarantee protection against multiple cyberattacks.

While cybercrime  has become a major focus point for large companies following widely-publicised attacks such as those perpetrated against Postbank, Standard Bank South Africa, Armscor and the SABC, smaller South African businesses are yet to take the threat more seriously.

“They may not want to believe it, but the fact is that SMEs are far from immune to this danger,” Badenhorst says.

“For example, one global study suggests that just fewer than 60% of all breach victims are small companies. This is considering that they so often lack appropriate response capabilities. Worryingly, they have also failed to prioritise developing the necessary resilience to restore operations after a cyberattack.”

FirstTechnologyCloud’s many customers have access to Microsoft’s 3 500 dedicated cybersecurity professionals working at the Cyber Defence Operations Center. These skills and capabilities are complemented by a Digital Crimes Unit and other specialist teams to help protect, detect and respond to threats in real time.

Meanwhile, physical security is significantly bolstered by hundreds of Azure data centres throughout 50 regions of the world.

Notably, they have extensive multi-layered protections to safeguard against the unauthorised access of customers’ data.

However, it is Azure’s ability to proactively respond to the ever-changing face of cybercrime that still stands out as the most important security feature.

Features are constantly being updated as part of monthly user fees to stay abreast of the increasingly sophisticated means by which these cybercriminals are attacking businesses.

South Africa is currently ranked as sixth on the Cyber Exposure Index as the most targeted country in the world by cybercriminals, and FirstTechnologyCloud continues to assist SMEs safeguard against this threat.

“My advice to these companies is to be organised by focusing on protecting their digital information in the same manner they would their physical assets and personnel. They also need to plan ahead as far too many of them have merely adopted reactive measures. A sound plan will identify vulnerabilities, protect against attacks, detect anyone who gets through, respond to the attack quickly and recover after it has been stopped,” he concludes.


First Techonology Polokwane - CJ Makelaars


CJ Makelaars cuts ICT costs and strengthens connectivity 

A sophisticated connectivity and cloud-based solution has provided CJ Makelaars, a specialist insurance broker in Polokwane, Limpopo, with significant cost savings. 

The solution, comprising a suite of legally-licensed digital products, was designed and implemented by the Polokwane arm of the First Technology Group.  

This project serves as a sound example of the information and communications technology (ICT) specialist’s ability to assist companies mitigate risks associated with the deployment of new technologies, while also providing competitive total cost of IT technology ownership. 

“CJ Makelaars approached First Technology Group to assist it in addressing the very high costs of the existing ICT solution – its single biggest concern. We were quickly able to identify the root cause of this problem following a brief evaluation of our client’s environment. Pleased with our assessment and proposal, CJ Makelaars then appointed First Technology Group to implement the workable solution,” First Technology Group’s Sean Slattery says.  

Slattery says that the new solution has replaced that of a non-registered WIFI service provider and an extremely costly telephone connectivity service that amounted to as much as R3 000 a month for business calls.  

Although the fee of R500 per month for unlimited calls initially seemed a very favourable arrangement, the telephone connectivity service was actually sold per line and CJ Makelaars was using up to six for its business. 

A further concern identified by the First Technology Group team was that while the service was sold as a Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) solution, it was certainly not performing as such.  

Slattery’s assessment also highlighted the absence of a standardised and formalised procedure to ensure that backups were actually being undertaken regularly and reported to the client. This is considering that they were being done directly to the local service provider. 

The lack of legal Microsoft licensing and security mechanisms also placed the client at risk. 

Firstly, First Technology Group signed up CJ Makelaars as a client to Vodacom via the Vodacom Business Partner Portal. 

Broadband connectivity was provided with a long-term evolution (LTE) backup line to ensure stable internet services, which enabled First Technology Group to provide further services to the client at a minimal cost. 

These included a true VOIP system that has already cut CJ Makelaars’ monthly telephone bill by up to 50%, in addition to providing a marked improvement in the overall quality of business calls. 

Moreover, First Technology Group installed a state-of-the-art cloud-based solution at CJ Makelaars. 

Slattery says, “The server was backed up to the cloud via Azure Backup services. Notably, this modular service facilitates rapid expansion to proactively respond to our clients’ requirements for increased data space in the cloud. It is also automatically set to undertake incremental daily backups with their status monitored regularly. This has enabled First Technology Group to provide monthly reports to all of its clients on the status of backups.” 

Meanwhile, the substantial cost-saving achieved on both telephone calls and backup solutions also provided CJ Makelaars with scope in its budget to deploy Office 365. As he notes, this was a critical intervention as user data is now also being backed up in the cloud to further improve data integrity. 

These interventions were complemented by the implementation of an appropriate Firewall and endpoint protection solution to bolster security.  

Importantly, this measure has also enabled CJ Makelaars to better manage internet usage and deploy policies to end users’ machines to govern the use of IT infrastructure during office hours. 

Furthermore, First Technology Group assisted its client migrate to a modern desktop environment using Office 365, a security-hardened service that has been designed according to Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle.  

“This integrated software-as-a-service solution is based on extensive experiences and learning gained over two decades of building enterprise software and managing online services. At a service level, Office 365 uses a defense-in-depth approach to provide physical, logical and data layers of security features and operational best practices. In addition, Office 365 provides CJ Makelaars with enterprise-grade user and admin controls to further secure its environment,” Slattery says. 

Another important benefit of First Technology Group’s solution that cannot be overstated is the confidence that it has provided the client in its own ICT infrastructure, an essential backbone of any successful business. 


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