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Tips for Setting up a Small Business Network

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Every network requires the foundations of routers and switches – the essential pieces of equipment. Although they look pretty similar, they actually have different functions in the very network. Small business (SMB) owners often confuse the two, and fall at the first hurdle. Well, do not make the same mistake and remember that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. That being said, you should strive to make informed decisions, pick hardware which supports your specific business needs, and stay on the safe side.

The state of interconnectedness

Switches connect different devices like computers, printers, network-attached storage (NAS) and servers that are on the same network, and possess an Ethernet cable port. They basically make the communication and sharing of information possible. On the other hand, routers are used to tie networks together. In fact, these devices connect computers (networks) to the internet, and allow them to share one internet connection.  A router also acts as a dispatcher, choosing the way your information travels, repelling cyber-attacks and assigning priority orders.

Note that, apart from switches and routers, there is some additional infrastructure at play here, such as electrical outlets and wires. However, if you go for switches with inline power, for example, you can avoid this altogether and place wireless access points (WAPS) wherever there is a network wall jack. Furthermore, bear in mind that the hardware you purchase today may become outdated in just a few years. Hence, it pays off to design the network with this redundancy in mind, and stay flexible to future changes.

Moving parts

In any event, for flawless communication, it is advisable to invest in business-grade switches and routers. Consumer and home networking products do not cut it, especially not when business starts growing. You do not want to outgrow them before they become obsolete, do you? Many business owners add Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIPs), video surveillance, integrated messaging and other features. It also goes without saying that you must choose the best data cabling for copper or fiber connectivity and Ethernet networks.

Now, many entrepreneurs opt for switches and routers that are easy to install and manage. For obvious reasons, functionality and simplicity are two guiding principles.  A bulk of small organizations is not eager to pay dearly for IT technicians.  Therefore, one has to comprehend the difference between unmanaged and managed switches. The former is a more likely choice for an SMB, as it works out of the box, providing only the basic configuration features.

As for the managed switches, they give users more control when it comes to modifying how the internet gets consumed. They demand a higher level of technical aptitude, and usually have a proprietary graphical user interface (GUI) for programming and monitoring. In both cases, however, the scalability of the device can be determined by simply looking at the number of ports they have and identifying the number of devices you need to connect.

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Lay the network groundwork

There is no going around the fact that you must grasp the basics of networking hardware. Your goal is to tie the devices together with switches, and utilize routers to connect the computers to the internet.  The aforementioned tips and practices are a good starting point to build a network capable of meeting the needs of a growing company. Remember that the choice of products depends on how you plan to use the network, features you want, your tech capacities and at last, tolerance for risk.

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Blue Ridge Enhances Machine Learning Capabilities for Price Optimization

Segun Balogun

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 Blue Ridge announced today enhancements to its suite of next-gen cloud-based Price Optimization solutions, which leverage machine learning to quickly identify opportunities and simulate pricing strategies for peak margin, profits, revenues and sales. The pricing suite supports end-to-end pricing transformations, a strategy proven to minimize disruption and drive significant earnings expansion for distributors and retailers.

Blue Ridge’s Price Optimization solution quickly identifies both overpriced and underpriced products while providing accurate recommendations for aligning prices across products, channels and price points including wholesale, list and customer segment. The solution provides daily alerts on competitive price changes to react quickly in price-transparent ecommerce channels, as well as make recommendations on reducing excess inventory to create significant value and profit margin improvement.

“Today’s enterprises and brands have seen the impact when supply chains and demand signals disrupt markets,” said Ray Wang, Principal Analyst & CEO, Constellation Research, Inc. “Those leaders who had the right price optimization tools were able to respond with agility, resiliency, and speed to account for new signal intelligence and ensure that customers were satisfied, margins were met, and supply chains were not disrupted.”

A report by McKinsey & Company illustrated the latent benefits of intelligent pricing, estimating that “A one-percent price increase would yield 22 percent increase in EBITDA margins, and a 25 percent uplift in stock price. Moreover, pricing has a disproportionate impact on a distributor’s enterprise value, with an increase of 20 percent for a one-percent increase in price.”

“The highly competitive and increasingly digital landscape of consumer buying today requires that distributors and retailers analyze things like minimum advertised price, psychological price points, willingness-to-pay measurement, and even list and net pricing, as well as macroeconomic influences before setting prices,” said Cliff Isaacson, Blue Ridge Executive Vice President of Product Strategy. “Machine learning-based pricing tools allow our customers to make those decisions swiftly and confidently, so they can always operate at max-profit point.”

Blue Ridge Price Optimization uses machine learning capabilities to continually optimize pricing across all products (not just top-tier items), segment and perfect pricing for each customer, and give distributors the upper-hand in supplier negotiations:

  • Comprehensive Pricing Strategy: Simulate different pricing scenarios and predict the impact of a price change before implementing it.
  • Competitive Positioning: Respond immediately to price changes from competitors, as well as supplier rules, segmentation, positioning and price change frequency.
  • Intelligent Analytics: Purpose-built for the distribution and retail industries, Price Optimization’s intelligent science learns from price changes and results over time to steadily improve price recommendations.
  • Customer Segmentation: Identifies customer performance, discounting and pricing opportunities based on willingness-to-pay and past performance.
  • Rapid Results: In under 90 days, businesses can have intelligent Price Optimization recommendations for achieving both short-term and long-term S&OP goals, continually refined year after year.

Price Optimization joins Blue Ridge’s suite of Supply Chain Planning solutions, which help customers increase forecast accuracy, improve customer satisfaction, and assure product availability to customers without creating a costly inventory surplus.

“Price Optimization combined with Supply Chain Planning solutions creates a huge financial game-changer for retailers, distributors and manufacturers in today’s volatile market,” said Jim Byrnes, Blue Ridge Chief Executive Officer. “It uniquely blends science and synchronization to solve our customers’ biggest problem – what they don’t know. With Price Optimization, our customers have the insight to pivot quickly and grab significant near-term savings; shape and align longer-range S&OP processes; and consistently deliver pricing that’s both competitive and profitable.”

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Ecobank Group and JA Africa partner to promote financial literacy skills among Africa’s youth

Segun Balogun

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Junior Achievement (JA) Africa and Ecobank Group announce their new partnership- “Banking on Africa’s Youth.” The partnership will undertake a campaign that will tap into JA’s vast online community, comprising over one million young social media followers spread across Africa. It will educate and mobilize over 600,000+ young people with financial literacy knowledge, as part of Ecobank’s Junior Savers initiative which in part seeks to grow financial inclusion for young Africans using Ecobank’s mobile/digital resources.

The purpose of the online campaign is to empower potential and existing Junior Savers account holders with the requisite financial literacy knowledge to understand and begin to build a culture of savings as part of their personal financial habits. The campaign targets youth groups, online influencers, and communities with knowledge of some basic financial concepts.

“The Ecobank Group is committed to building financial literacy and money management skills amongst the youth as they transition into Africa’s productive workforce,” said Nana Araba Abban, Group Consumer Banking Head at Ecobank Transnational Incorporated. “Our collaboration with JA Africa will enable us to positively impact young citizens who are our investment in the future of the continent.”

The value for customers will be expanded to include financial literacy concepts: earning, budgeting, spending, and banking. The campaign will involve participants advancing progressively through the four concepts. JA Africa will launch the campaign to reach different youth groups in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal through all its media outlets over a period of three years.

Speaking about the program, JA Africa’s CEO, Elizabeth Elango Bintliff, said, “This partnership with the Ecobank Group reinforces both JA Africa’s and the banking group’s commitment to financial literacy and inclusion for all Africans, especially the youth. We believe in educating a new generation of leaders with the knowledge they need to navigate their economic futures while giving them the tools to succeed.”

Africa’s youth today are growing up in a new financial world where technology plays a big role in in their lives. This partnership will go a long way to reach and influence behavior of millions of unbanked young people on the African continent by giving them the requisite financial literacy skills to become financially informed adults in the future. According to the World Bank 2018 report, young Africans are less likely to have a bank account than adults on the continent. At the same time, they are more likely to have a mobile phone, engage with friends and be aware of digital channels. Current technology channels, especially social and digital media, provide the avenue to reach and engage young people at scale. The campaign therefore seeks to leverage technology to achieve its goals.

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How Rwanda is spurring a generation of women in technology

Segun Balogun

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Rwanda is renowned as a pioneer for gender equality,In 2020, it was the only African country ranked in the top 10 of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.

It ranked in the top four in the Report’s political empowerment category, in recognition of the high proportion of Rwandese women lawmakers and ministers.

The country, therefore, seemed a natural fit for a 2018 pilot program of the African Development Bank’s Coding for Employment initiative, with Nigeria, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal.

The Coding for Employment flagship program is establishing 130 ICT centers for excellence in Africa, training 234,000 youths for employability and entrepreneurship to create over 9 million jobs.

Hendrina C. Doroba, Manager in the Education, Human Capital and Employment Division at the Bank, explains how Rwanda is empowering women in technology.

How has the government of Rwanda enabled women to pursue careers in technology, and STEM in general?

The government of Rwanda has been a foremost champion of women in ICT and in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (also known as STEM), by driving initiatives like the establishment of the Carnegie Mellon University-Africa campus, for which the Bank provided funding. Students from 17 different countries pursue highly specialized ICT skills at the Africa campus.

The country also hosts the African Institute of Mathematics (AIMS) which is now recruiting balanced cohorts of women and men. Lastly, the Bank-funded University of Rwanda College of Science and Technology has for many years produced women leaders in the ICT sector in Rwanda and globally.

Rwanda’s government also supports initiatives such as the Miss Geek Rwanda competition, an initiative of Girls in ICT Rwanda, which aims to encourage school-age girls, even those in remote areas, to develop innovative tech or business ideas and to generally immerse themselves in ICT. The Miss Geek initiative has now been rolled out in other countries in the region.

What role has the Bank played in supporting Rwanda’s digital strategy, especially in relation to women?

The strategy of the Bank’s Coding for Employment center of excellence in Rwanda has been to join forces with the Rwanda Coding Academy through a grant agreement to support the school’s activities, like ICT equipment, teacher training and career orientation. The Rwanda Coding Academy started in January 2019 and has so far enrolled one cohort, which is now going into their second year.

Besides the Rwanda Coding Academy, the Bank’s Coding for Employment program held a two-day masterclass for girls and young women entrepreneurs at the 2018 Youth Conneckt summit, where over 200 beneficiaries were trained in using digital tools to amplify their businesses. The session was attended by women entrepreneurs as well as students from girl schools in Kigali, including those from White Dove School, which is an all-girl school fully dedicated to training in ICT. The masterclass culminated into a pitching exercises from various groups who presented their ideas to a panel of judges.

What lessons can other African countries learn from Rwanda’s approach to the 4IR, in particular the role of women?

The government of Rwanda has been a trailblazer in using innovation to improve public services across the country using the e-governance platform Irembo, to bring government services closer to citizens. In addition, the government is driving national digital skilling campaigns by championing digital ambassador programs and platforms such as Smart Africa, which has organized the annual Transform Africa summit since 2013.

Still, gender equality remains a concern, and gender gaps are evident even in schools. Rwanda’s ambitions extend to piloting the Kigali Innovation City, also Bank-funded, to serve as the country’s knowledge and innovation hub by attracting new businesses and incubating ideas. At the same time, the country has created a business environment which is pro-entrepreneurship and welcomes global inventors to test their ideas and concepts. Zipline, a company which uses drones to deliver medical supplies in remote areas, is one example.

Lastly, Rwanda promotes women leaders in the ICT and innovation sector. The country’s Minister of ICT and Innovation is a woman, as is the CEO of the Irembo platform. Appointments such as these are helping to dispel the myth that women are not as capable as men in ICT.

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