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Every cloud has a silver lining

JEFF RAMSAY
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA

When you think of freelancing your probably conjure up images of the gig economy and companies such as Uber  but this is an industry that is booming and burgeoning and not just in taxi services.

Think instead of entering a building of limitless dimensions, where there are no boundaries, no language barriers and myriad workers with an endless supply of abilities, skills and talents, all of whose main goal and purpose is to assist you in your business. I have just described ‘the cloud’, an area of  cyberspace which gives small business owners like myself access to global talent and skills at a fraction of the price which it would normally cost, also known as freelancing.

As the workforce moves away from the standard 9-to-5 working day in favour of a pool which is more fluid, there is increasing appreciation that if a company wants to adapt to the changing world it must be able to quickly access different skills set not available within the organisation in order to  stay competitive. In the United Kingdom it is estimated that 15% of the population is self-employed, a number that rapidly rose following the 2008 recession, but has been a rising figure since 2001.

Research has shown that freelancers are a huge benefit to the UK economy, contributing £119bn (P1785bn)  in 2016. In the United States it’s even bigger with 36% of the workforce made up of freelancers. My own company uses freelancers from time to time. Whenever I need some work in a hurry, or when I have my resources stretched, I use a service aptly named Freelancer.com.

It's an easy and cheap process whereby I simply post a job from web design, mobile app development, graphic design, editing, writing or something else I need and within minutes (sometimes seconds actually) I will receive competitive bids from freelancers able to do the job. So, I may decide to hire a talented graphic design artist from Indonesia for $11 an hour, a stay-at-home mom from the East Coast of the US for some editing, or a top web designer who simply prefers working for himself. You’ll pay them an agreed fee, but won’t be responsible for their taxes, leave pay, holiday time, medical aid or sick days and use them only for a specific need.

I select which freelancer to work with by considering their price but also through browsing their samples of previous work and reading their profile reviews. After each job completed the freelancer has been graded out of a 5 point scale,  so you are able to see how many jobs they have been done, how many times they have been given a 5-star rating and other performance criteria such as  if they have delivered on time and within budget.

So why use a freelancer and not a company? It’s a price consideration and an availability of talent. A freelancer working from home doesn’t have to meet lots of overhead costs and so it becomes possible for them to offer much cheaper rates than an organisation would charge with their high overheads and employee salary costs. Another thing about a freelancer is that they can be working out of office hours so you might be in a position to email a freelancer an assignment on Friday night and then find the tasks is done and on your desk by Monday morning!

Freelancers are usually very motivated to perform an excellent job and fast. They fully understand that it’s to their best interest when they remain reliable and exceed your expectations. They are also not distracted by office politics or endless agenda-less meetings. It is not to say that this is a perfect system or there is no risk because when you are working with a freelancer you do not necessarily have a relationship or bond with them and this may be problematic.

If your preference is to have staff that you can invest in to make them an asset to your business in the longer term and build a relationship, then you won’t get that from the freelancer interaction. For me one of the frustrating things is that there is often no oral communication, so all instructions and feedback is given in e-messaging and this creates an opportunity for misinterpretation.  Also, many of the freelancers may have English as their native language and there can be a lot of misunderstanding arising from this.

Freelancing is here to stay and will become even more common as technology continues to evolve so the opportunity for remote working and connecting with worldwide talent will expand exponentially.  In one study 74% of freelancers who are already established said that their workload has increased over the past few years and the technological advances that connect clients with freelancers all over the world have certainly played a major role in enabling easy access to  this global freewheeler talent network.
Blue Sky thinking?  Give me overcast any day!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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