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Innovation built on cloud can help address challenges in SA

South African education and development needs to look to innovative approaches built on the cloud to tackle the challenges facing society.

So says Glenn Gillis, CEO of animation and game development house at Sea Monster, whose work is solving the toughest communication challenges through animation, gaming and immersive technologies.

Innovation built on cloud can help address challenges in SA

Gillis says innovation in the use of animation and gamification has the power to revolutionise education and social development in South Africa. “People have been successfully telling stories and using games to support learning for generations, so we use animation to enhance stories and games, to drive learning and behavioural change at scale,” he says. “If we are going to solve the continent’s challenges and unlock the opportunities inherent here, we have to do it at scale and very differently from the way we have been doing it.”

Gillis was speaking ahead of the upcoming AWS Cloud Technology 2022 Series of events, where experts will unpack how to drive innovation and growth with cloud technologies in South Africa. The first event in the series will explore how cloud infrastructure and technologies spur organisational, economic and social growth in South Africa.

Sea Monster, a company based in Cape Town, has won several international awards for its innovative solutions. Gillis believes AWS cloud’s regional presence in Cape Town has helped the company scale and take its innovations global. “The science of changing and shaping behaviour and uplifting communities is built and scaled on the cloud, with the power of data to drive creative decisions. AWS being local is absolutely critical for our success, and that of other local innovators: AWS is solving the infrastructure problem, the scale problem and the globalisation problem. They are an absolute enabler,” he says.

Sea Monster has not only achieved solid growth, but has also earned international recognition for its innovative products. Among its accolades are the International Content Marketing Awards award for Best use of Data and Insight for its Livin’ It Up app in 2020 for Capitec; the CMA International Content Marketing Awards Silver award for Best Use of Innovation for its Super Animals app in 2016; Learning Idols Winner in 2018 MTN Business award for Best Gaming Solutions in 2017; Africa Arena Innovation Award; and the CMA International Content Marketing Awards Use of Innovation Tech Award (Bronze) for its Makro Lighthouse Instance in 2021.

Gillis adds that in addition to providing the technology needed to scale, AWS also empowers South African businesses in numerous other ways. “They put their money where their mouth is, for example, giving customers like us an opportunity to showcase our work; and as the world’s most customer obsessed company, they will even call us to tell us of cheaper ways to do things. They understand that everyone benefits from co-creating value, and we feel it in a substantial way,” he says.

Building SA entrepreneurs with animated app scaled and underpinned by AWS

Illustrating the power of engaging, digital storytelling and games in learning, is My Lemonade Day, a US-based non-profit, which has positively impacted over a million children in the past 14 years. Its new My Lemonade Day app built by Sea Monster is now bringing an enhanced digital component to the programme, which adds 13 animated stories and an engaging digital tracker to the programme, and will allow it to scale globally. The My Lemonade Day app teaches children how to start, own and operate their own business, while also teaching teamwork, financial literacy, goal setting, responsibility and social emotional skills.

Gillis says the data built up over the life of the programme to date is compelling. “Lemonade Day is a six-week real-world programme with practical exercises. Our companion app empowers mentors and kids to run through the programme. It’s about working with both real world and digital tools to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs. The programme really works, the kids love it and its benefits even extend to their parents and caregivers. We see marginalised kids getting their parents to open bank accounts for the first time, for example. It teaches them about spending, saving and sharing.”

Changing mindsets with gamification

Another project by Sea Monster used its Lighthouse solution to build #point taken, a gamified experience to drive factual, educational and positive conversations around the COVID-19 vaccine. #point taken reached 5.3 million people over nine weeks, with over 500 000 likes, shares and retweets, and – crucially – 49% of those surveyed said they were more confident in having vaccinations.

Gillis says projects such as these have proven to be transformative and can address urgent challenges facing society. “You can scale and impact society for just fractions of a cent per user, so both the public and private sector need to get behind programmes such as these,” he says.

Sea Monster will share a live demonstration of its transformative work at the first in the AWS Cloud Technology 2022 Series, to be held on 5 May. The event will also feature Deeplens, a deep learning-enabled video camera integrated with the several AWS machine learning services, which enables you to learn and explore the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools and technology for developing computer vision applications based on a deep learning model.

During a panel discussion, Rashika Ramlal, Country leader at AWS, and John Bosco Arends, group head of information and network technology operations and chartered CIO Council chairperson in the City of Johannesburg, will discuss how cloud infrastructure and technologies spur organisational, economic and social growth in South Africa.

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