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Keeping Your Business Connected – Landline Or VoIP?

While significant voice traffic has moved onto mobile networks, customers still want to know they can contact a business on a landline. It’s about credibility – traditional telephones imply offices, systems, and real people offering real products and services. Innovative digital technology today means that small businesses benefit from ‘landlines’ at a fraction of past costs.

Tony Koutakis

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Ever-improving broadband Internet access means internet-based voice services are becoming cheaper, more reliable and easier to manage. It’s no wonder that penetration of South Africa’s traditional fixed line connections has fallen to its lowest level since 1992.

A small business has a variety of options when setting up a voice service, ranging from a simple Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) application to an integrated Private Branch Exchange (PBX): 

All about VoIP

Using a variety of devices and software, a business can make and receive phone calls by sending voice data in packets using Internet Protocol, rather than traditional circuit transmissions of the public switched telephone network.

Related: 6 Ways To Make Your Business Look Big While You’re Still Growing It

The same medium that sends emails, photos and videos is used to make voice and video calls.

internet-connection-and-wireless-services

VOIP benefits

  • Easy to set up – A VoIP system only needs an Internet connection, VoIP software and the calling device (such as a VoIP handset on the premises linked to the computer system).
  • Cheaper – There are no installation costs, and data prices are falling thanks to new broadband infrastructure (fibre and mobile) coming into the market. Free (and unlimited) broadband is a growing reality in South Africa.
  • Less red tape – the Internet in South Africa is still largely unregulated and businesses can install VoIP services without onerous compliance obligations, if a good internet connection is available.
  • More choice – services such as Whatsapp Calling, Skype and FaceTime are only a few examples of VoIP services. Developers continue to bring new VoIP software packages onto the market, with the only requirement being a fast and reliable Internet connection.

VOIP considerations

  • Internet-dependent – Businesses with high call and internet traffic volumes may experience network issues if their Internet connection is not fast enough or if the power is out.
  • Software issues – If an unstable operating system or VoIP is used to host calls, the quality and reliability is compromised.

All about PBX

Traditional, analogue PBX telephone systems provide physical line-to-line connections. Once dependent on physical hardware that made this a costly option, modern PBX systems host software and data in the cloud but still make use of installed landlines. Consider your PBX system a private telephone exchange in your office, allowing internal and external calls. 

Related: Beware VoIP Hacking

PBX benefits

  • Voice quality – Outside of urban centres where it is easy to obtain a high bandwidth Internet connection, it is possible that a PBX system will deliver better voice quality than VOIP.
  • Cuts costs – A PBX system can work out cheaper than subscribing for multiple connections with a traditional fixed line operator. In other words, you don’t need 10 telephone numbers for 10 employees. Cloud-based options mean that less hardware is necessary than before.

PBX considerations

  • More complex – A good PBX system must be installed by an outside service provider, but this is still cheaper (and often faster) than a traditional fixed line service.
  • Scale – Rapid business growth may require additional equipment to supplement an existing PBX system.

Whatever the chosen solution, it should be considered not just with the company’s immediate needs in mind, but with a view for future growth.

Tony Koutakis is the Executive Head of Ignite – an internet and communication technology services provider specifically focused on South African SMEs. He is convinced that with the correct business and technical support to connect, run and grow their businesses, South African SMEs have the potential to transform the economy. Ignite offers fast, easy, and affordable access to services and digital tools in four areas essential for SME growth - Communication, Connectivity, Cloud and Business Applications.

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Nedbank’s Full Service Offering for Franchise Owners

Nedbank Franchising

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Prithivan Pillay, National New Business Development Manager on Nedbank’s offering for Franchise owners.

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How The Sanlam Enterprise And Supplier Development Programme Is Helping Start-up Businesses

The balance between funding, business development and mentorship can make or break an enterprise development programme

Francois Adriaan

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Sanlam Enterprise and Supplier Development

165 new employment opportunities, 172 SMEs developed and 1046 jobs sustained. These are some of the numbers recorded by Sanlam as the company prepares to wrap up the fourth year of its Sanlam Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programme.

The flagship incubation scheme has turned around loss-making enterprises, helped some participants get critical accreditation and funding, but most importantly, R12.6 million was spent procuring goods and services from the participating businesses by the end of 2016.

Related: Enterprise Development Programmes For Black Entrepreneurs

Receiving funding isn’t the secret to start-up success

Francois Adriaan, head of Sanlam Foundation says the secret to a successful enterprise development programme is not the amount of funding big corporates can give SMEs: “It’s having the right mix of mentorship; business intervention and procurement spend flowing from your corporate to small businesses.

You have to show the entrepreneur you are mentoring that you trust them enough to do business and walk the journey with them instead of giving them a once-off grant and leaving them to their own devices,” says Adriaan.

Financial support that’s timed to business need

Like in many other ESD programmes, participants in the Sanlam ESD programme also have access to funding. But what sets the programme apart from others, says Adriaan is that the amount of funds disbursed to each participating businesses is directly linked to its need, its commitment and progress record.

“Financial support is timed according to the specific needs of each SME. Those who qualify for funding are then provided with a further seven years of SME growth support through the ASISA Enterprise Development Fund.”

The Sanlam ESD programme

The Sanlam ESD programme was launched in July 2013 in collaboration with the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA) to empower SMEs, create jobs and contribute to economic growth in South Africa. An independent evaluation shows that participating enterprises have grown their annual revenue by 19% on average.

D&P Auto participants

One of the programme participants is D&P Auto, a panel beating business based in Retreat. For two decades, the owners of the business (husband and wife) poured their life savings, bank loans and even pension policy pay-outs into the business to keep it afloat because it was not making profit. Three years of focused business incubation and mentoring under the Sanlam ESD programme resolved D&P Auto’s 20-year loss-making battle.

“Our business has grown from a non-profitable business to the extent that we now have to pay provisional taxes to SARS for the first time in 24 years,” said Pam Douglas on their business maiden profit.

Successes of the incubation programme

The incubation from the programme has helped other participants brush up their bookkeeping skills, file successfully for tenders and get accreditation that took their businesses to the next level.

G&T Auto, the only fully accredited Major Structural Repairer in the programme, bagged Mazda accreditation last year, a rare accolade that will see the enterprise repair Mazdas that are still under warranty. The owner, Thembi Sithole says the programme has given her confidence to approach bigger clients as she now understands the requirements to get big contracts. She has also become more knowledgeable about financial statements and their impact on obtaining funding.

Related: Why Employee Engagement Programmes Backfire And What You Can Do About It

Adriaan says enterprise development initiatives of this nature give big corporates an opportunity not only achieve their business objectives, but also impact broader South African society.

“This commitment is around impacting issues of inter-generational poverty, unemployment and inequality. It is also about aligning around public-private-civil society partnerships in sustainable ways,” concludes Adriaans.

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The Rise Of Digital In Shaping Business Terrains

There is pressure for businesses to become agile with many being pushed to innovate rapidly, and those that fail to adapt being blind-sided and left scrambling to survive.

ACCA

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The rise of digital is influencing the direction and conduct of business, large and small. It is challenging how entrepreneurs and their advisors, including finance professionals, produce and consume data.

The shift towards digital is transforming channels to market, customer preferences are shifting, product and service lifecycle is shortening and competition is merging from unexpected sources.

There is pressure for businesses to become agile with many being pushed to innovate rapidly, and those that fail to adapt being blind-sided and left scrambling to survive.

This changing business landscape is exerting pressure on CFOs and finance professionals to capture, measure, report and predict future performance in real time to support better decision making and business growth.

Related: Africa Rising: Contemporary Culture Revolution Presents Huge Digital Opportunities

It means capturing data at a granular level, processing massive amounts at the same time and visualising them to decision makers in real time through dashboards. This demands a massive shift in the CFO role to be a strategist, technologist and influencer.

ACCA has been championing research to understand the impact of digital on businesses, how emerging technologies are reshaping the economy and the impact on the finance profession. Research has identified the need to ensure that the shift towards digital is implemented as part of a broader transformation journey with clarity on how customer value is created, and how that is likely to change in the future.

Analytics, cloud, collaboration and robotics process automation (RPA) have been identified as the four pillars driving the rise of digital and bringing significant changes to how business is conducted, and will be conducted in the future.

Analytics is being spurred by the huge volumes of data generated inside and outside the organisation which is making it possible to inform evidence-based decision making.

Both businesses and consumers are generating tremendous amount of data that is easily accessible, whether free or paid, and capable of being analysed to extract insight. The rise of new technologies has made it possible to analyse huge volumes of data of all shapes and sizes including text, numbers, pictures etc in real time.

It’s making it possible for businesses to track sophisticated but useful key performance indicators. It is challenging the CFOs to understand the drivers of value, track performance and influence decisions.

A huge enabler of the shift towards digital has been the emergence of the cloud and the plethora of online applications accessible from anywhere in the world. The cloud has made it possible for small business to play in the big league without having to make the huge upfront capital investment normally associated with legacy systems. Cloud has made it possible for any business to have access to the very latest technology whether it is developed in Silicon Valley or Cape Town.

It has also transformed costs that were traditionally considered fixed into variable costs because of the revenue models of cloud based solutions. It has removed technology as a barrier to entry, creating competition and new possibilities. Business is driven by technological wave to think differently about business models, pricing and how to deal with competition.

The emerge of powerful online collaboration tools and applications, supported by improved access to broadband, has revolutionised how teams work together and made the gig economy a viable option.

Teams do not need to be housed in the same physical location to work together thereby lowering costs such as office rental and making access to skilled professionals more accessible and affordable.

Businesses can collaborate with advisors, such as accountants, online reducing consulting costs without comprising access to professional advice. On the other hand, professionals can service a lot more clients from the comfort of their office eliminating the need to frequently travel to client premises.

An emerging trend across the globe is the emergence of robotic process automation (RPA) to reduce process costs, increase control and standardisation.

While there may be moral questions around robots taking away jobs from humans in an economy with rising unemployment, the adoption of RPA can allow businesses to upscale rapidly and service more clients with the same number of resources.

While the financial services industry have taken the lead in the South African market, there is space for many industries and businesses of all sizes to adopt RPA.

Related: How To Thrive In The Face Of Digital Darwinism And Technology

The expected decline in technology costs will most likely make the cost benefit analysis tip in favour of RPA. It will challenge the world of business to streamline and standardise business processes and up skill staff.

Recent research indicates that even employees of SMEs and entrepreneurs see some good opportunities for innovation through technology. Whilst decision makers in the companies agree that technology will enable accounting and finance professionals to focus on higher value added activity.

The move towards digital raises the obvious questions around cyber-security and data protection especially customers and employees’ private information. Performing appropriate due diligence on potential partners, either for cloud or on-site options, is key as the consequences of a security breach could be fatal.  A recent example South African example is the breach of 30 million records containing sensitive information such as ID numbers‚ names physical addresses and property ownership details.

Businesses need a resilient cyber strategy to thwart and contain possible threats.

The rise of digital is here and the impact on businesses and the finance professionals will continue. What is certain that those who want to survive and remain relevant will have to adapt, fast.

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