Business connectivity is the beating heart of the SME revolution. Is your Internet Service Provider helping you use it to drive profits or simply letting it become a drain on your expendable bank balance? Jarryd Chatz, CEO of BitCo, explores this question and explains how businesses can ensure they choose the right ISP.
New digital capabilities have blown the lid off the traditional start-up mentality, effectively levelling the playing field. Where business used to be conducted within a limited border, it has since transitioned to an infinite web and, according to the International Data Corporation, South African companies are expected to spend around $10bn populating this digitally connected business network in 2017.
With more prepaid options, WiFi hotspots and Fibre lines than ever before, internet connectivity is growing at an alarming rate. This opens the door to a previously untapped market of consumers and greater access to existing ones.
So, it makes sense that ICT products and services are getting a bump up the budget priority list, but do you know how your ISP could be negatively impacting the return on your investment?
Vague uptime guarantees tend to miss the mark
“Reliable” is a word a lot of ISPs throw around, but like “successful”, it’s a relative concept. Their idea of reliability might only be 80% uptime, while BitCo’s is 99%.
Without defined and agreed upon standards, you could find yourself running up a hefty phone bill and wasting productive hours to solve a problem that ends up costing you more than the initial cost saving.
External suppliers are as good as loopholes
Any ISP who is not a Tier 1 telecommunications operator uses external suppliers. This poses several threats to your bottom line. First, their assurances are limited or subject to change. If a supplier changes their offerings, your ISP may be forced to do the same, putting you in line for potential unforeseen costs.
Secondly, you won’t be able to place accountability squarely on their shoulders, because they can point the finger or pass the buck when something goes wrong. This makes recuperating lost funds a difficult, lengthy and often futile process.
The last inconvenience linked to a complicated supply-chain is a lack of priority. When it comes to contention, a carrier that uses third party suppliers cannot offer you an eternal greenlight, meaning that how and when you do business won’t always be up to you. This could get in the way of lucrative, time-sensitive opportunities.
Nothing stands without support
A house of cards stands well enough, as long as no pressure is applied. The same applies to your ISP agreement if you don’t get clarity on customer support. If you can’t respond to pressure quickly and in an effective manner, it could wreak havoc with your customer retention and conversion rates, as well as put a dent in your business’s reputation – all of which comes with a financial backlash.
Inflexible solutions block the way to progress
Integration and mobility are just two of the biggest trends businesses have had to adapt to in the last decade, and there will of course be more to come. These will force your business to evolve or to change its course in unexpected ways.
In this case, saving money in the long run means choosing an ISP with solutions that can change as you do. From wireless solutions that can run at 5Mbps to 100Mbps, or moving from IP to a virtual PBX – smooth transitions mean less budget dips.
Bigger is not always better
Large telecoms providers may be able to offer more affordable connectivity options, though less capabilities to customise solutions – not to mention less motivation to do so. This could result in you paying for more than you need to, or saving on some initial fees but having to settle for corner-cutting solutions instead of tailored ones.
At the end of the day, the competitive advantage SMEs have over large-scale and more established companies is their ability to adopt transformative technology with relative ease. That’s why it’s important for them to seek out service providers who enable that competitive edge, instead of those that hinder it, delivering little in the way of legitimately profitable products and services.
Step Into The Future With Ignite Fibre
A fast Internet connection has swiftly moved from being a “nice-to-have” to a critical component of business success.
As more business is conducted online, applications and data are being moved to the cloud for increased versatility and to facilitate a better interaction with customers. This is why so many small business owners are turning their attention to fibre.
According to the SME 2018 survey conducted by World Wide Worx, small businesses are looking for connectivity solutions that will help them deliver better products and services and produce a greater return. Arthur Goldstuck, the founder of World Wide Worx, says that the fibre uptake among SMEs has grown from 7% to 24% in the last three years. SMEs want to put themselves in the best position to be more innovative and find solutions to existing and future demands.
Key benefits of switching to fibre
Once fibre is installed, SMEs will gain access to a fast, reliable and well-supported Internet connection. Fibre-optic technology uses light pulses to carry data. In terms of speed or “throughput”, fibre transfers more data at higher throughput over longer distances than copper wire.
This means faster file transfers, uninterrupted streaming and faster page load times. For instance, networking between computers will be easier when you use fibre because there’s no interference and you have a higher bandwidth, which translates to more effective data transmissions. You will also experience quick access to data or operational resources hosted in the cloud.
Businesses can adopt more cloud-based applications to improve productivity. Data transfers between team members are seamless when a business moves processes to the cloud. There’s less downtime, which allows employees to be more productive throughout the day. This directly contributes to an improved customer service.
Fibre is a superior connectivity solution because no data protocol is prioritised over another. Whether you’re uploading a cloud backup or downloading rich media, both functions will enjoy uninterrupted streaming. In terms of VoIP, the quality of voice is far superior over a fibre line.
Fibre allows your business to operate online without any of the performance and quality constraints you might have experienced previously. This opens up the business to a range of new possibilities and expands the capabilities of an SME to compete on the same level as larger businesses.
Change the way you use the Internet
When you choose a package, base it on your business requirements and be sure to take into account your daily connectivity demands. SMEs that require a cost-effective solution, with fast download speeds, should connect to an Asymmetrical line. If your workforce needs to transfer large amounts of data, adapt cloud telephony or collaborate online, it is advisable to use a Symmetrical line.
A Creative Business In A Box
Thanks to her investment in a Brother ScanNCut machine, Mary-Anne Shaw has doubled her income while keeping her hours flexible and costs low.
With an eye for creative detail and an interest in electric machines, Mary-Anne Shaw has carved a niche reputation as a seamstress who produces perfect finished goods. Her reputation is such that she’s even had the opportunity to add some Shaw flair to a collection of Mandela family outfits in recent years.
Mary-Anne’s sewing and stitching services began as a hobby almost 45 years ago. Thanks to word-of-mouth referrals from friends and family however, it soon grew into a business. “I’ve been extremely lucky to build a small speciality business over the years selling sewing machines and teaching sewing skills, drawing business from repeat and new clients based on recommendations,” she says.
The business became more serious when, a few years ago, Mary-Anne made the decision to invest her earnings in a Brother sewing machine. “I started attending Brother training sessions and workshops to gain more knowledge and meet more people.”
Mary-Anne’s relationship with Brother grew. At a Hobby-X exhibition in Johannesburg she came across a Brother ScanNCut machine. Already familiar with the Brother brand and the training and support that customers can access, she was drawn to the ‘novelty’ machine.
“I watched a few demonstrations and immediately saw how the ScanNCut could add value to my existing business and generate some exciting new creative projects.”
Mary-Anne was right. In just two short years, she has doubled her business income, while keeping her hours flexible and her costs to a minimum. “The Brother ScanNCut is a remarkable little machine,” says Mary-Anne.
“The cutting and scanning quality is superb, and it’s easy to set up. Brother provides a number of tutorial videos and case studies and, after a few days of viewing and practising, anyone can get up and running.”
Related: Make A Quality First Inkpression
Mary-Anne began showcasing her ScanNCut capabilities at quilting events in Gauteng, gaining orders for applique work, and enquiries from people who wanted to buy the machine.
“Since the quilting events began, I haven’t stopped,” she says. “I now sell ScanNCut accessories and kits daily to existing owners, and I teach groups and individuals how to use ScanNCut to extend their skills into a variety of creative areas such as applique work for gift boxes, cushions and lamp shades, as well as card making and more. People buy the machine for their own use, or ask me to create personalised items for them on my own machines.”
Knowing who her customers are has been important to Mary-Anne’s growth. “My advice to anyone who wishes to start a small business with ScanNCut is to first understand who you want to sell to and how. Most of my work is word-of-mouth, but I also exhibit at crafting exhibitions, and work with crafting associations with an interest in the products I sell. I use email specials and post tutorials and projects on my Facebook page. I’m finalising a new website that will feature my products and training tools.”
Mary-Anne is supported by local Brother ScanNCut distributor, Kemtek Imaging Systems and its highly-qualified sales and business development team, who provide training, sales and marketing support for promotions and events. Mary-Anne’s set-up costs for ScanNCut included the machine, and a range of accessories, kits and materials, totalling R45 000. Two years on, her first machine is still in operation and she has invested in a second unit — the latest ScanNCut CM900, which offers a WiFi set-up.
Introducing the Brother ScanNCut CM900
The latest ScanNCut CM900 is a revolutionary home-cutting machine with a built-in scanner. Its uniqueness lies in the 300 dpi built-in scanner that makes it the only cutting machine able to turn scanned images, photos or hand-drawn sketches into unique cutting designs.
What’s more, the ScanNCut CM900 has a 12″ x 24″ scanning capability for larger projects, with the cutting mat doubling up as a scanning mat. Enhanced scanning quality with RGB colour recognition automatically distinguishes hues to extend design opportunities.
Once scanned, this fuss-free machine allows crafters to put their own creative spin on images, providing the option to customise using the 30% larger LCD screen with rotate, weld and resize functions, as well as an innovative ‘Pen Draw’ feature.
The interchangeable blades can easily cut shapes from a host of different materials to cater for numerous craft projects. The machine can read SVG files, PES files and PHC files containing appliqué stitch data. Fabric shapes can be cut out to then appliqué with an embroidery machine.
The ScanNCut CM900 comes with built-in wireless LAN, plus a total of 1002 built-in designs and 15 fonts.
Is The Future Of AI Around the Corner? Computing Power Suppliers Are Shifting Gears
Here, we look at the challenges faced by cloud-based computing, and some potential solutions.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing everything from the information we see on our Facebook feeds, to improving diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.
According to McKinsey, it has the potential to create an additional $13 trillion in global economic output by 2030. Governments and start-ups alike are scrambling to ensure they are in a position to enjoy the economic benefits that AI will bring.
However, despite the apparent potential, there’s one significant bottleneck — the supply of computational power required to develop and drive AI products and solutions.
At present, cloud-based providers of computing resources are striving to keep up with the pace of development in power hungry AI. Here, we look at the challenges faced by cloud-based computing, and some potential solutions.
Challenge 1 – Supply and Demand
AI relies on data and lots of it. As such, the computational demand of AI is growing — one report estimates that the amount of compute used by AI currently has a three and a half month doubling time.
As things stand, AI developers are dependent on computing capacity from the $247 billion cloud computing industry. This industry is dominated by four corporate IT firms – Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM, collectively known as the ‘Big Four’. These companies rely on their vast centralised data centres to keep the world’s cloud computing services running.
In an attempt to meet the growing demand for AI computing services, investment in data centres is also growing at a startling pace. Computing firms spent $27 billion in the first quarter of 2018, with most of that expenditure thought to be directed into developing data centres. Compare this with the $74 billion spent in 2017, and the pace of growth is evident.
The question is, how long can the computing firms continue to keep up with demand using the traditional datacenter model?
In an attempt to stem demand, the big IT firms are increasing their costs.
With AI services requiring massive computational power before they can go to market, the rising cost of computing risks stifling innovation, particularly for smaller developers.
Challenge 2 – Environmental Sustainability
If the only way to meet demand is to build more data centres, then this means more electricity-hungry machines. It’s reported that 2% of all CO2 emissions globally emerge from the datacenter industry — more than the airline industry.
Just this month, the United States of America’s Department of Energy reported that data centres in their country accounted for around 2% of the overall energy consumption.
While owners are investigating green energy alternatives, the fact remains that more data centres will result in higher energy consumption.
Challenge 3 – A single point of failure
Amazon famously brought down a number of large websites last year when an employee accidentally took more servers offline than intended. That event sparked a domino effect that was felt globally.
It’s natural that single points of failure raise the risk of an incident having a more substantial impact. With cloud data provided by just four companies from a limited number of data centres, that risk is always present.
A Quantum of Solace?
Chinese marketplace Alibaba is also in the business of cloud computing, albeit not yet one of the ‘Big Four’ However, its representatives have clearly stated that the company has market leader Amazon firmly in its sights.
Earlier this year, Alibaba launched its first cloud quantum computer, capable of processing 11 quantum bits (qubit). A typical computer chip is binary, meaning it can only process values of 0 or 1 at any given moment depending on its speed. A quantum computer is capable of handling both at the same time, meaning a single qubit can participate in many millions of processes.
Alibaba has pledged to continue development in this area, having already invested $15.5 billion at the end of last year. IBM is also firmly invested in quantum computing, having launched its own quantum computer last year. Quantum computers could ultimately do away with the need for centralised data centres.
From Cloud Computing to Distributed Computing
While some commentators have predicted a wait of five to ten years for quantum computing solutions to cope with demand, a few start-ups are working to meet the requirements of cloud computing on a shorter timeline. One start-up has devised a scalable solution, which it says will be up and running as early as 2019.
Tatau, which calls itself the “Uber of Computing,” has designed a platform which essentially creates a global supercomputer to harness the joint capacity of already existing GPU computing capacity.
By utilising a resource that already exists, the company claims it can offer cloud computing that is cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and more scalable than current solutions. Moreover, a decentralised model doesn’t have a single point of failure, reducing the risk of downtime or hacks.
Tatau’s decentralised network taps into the computing capacity that sits outside of data centres. The company has designed a blockchain-driven marketplace where owners of GPU hardware can sell under-utilised computing power to a buyer. By utilising latent capacity, this solution provides a way for owners of hardware to receive better returns on their investment, and provide access to reliable, cost-effective compute previously unavailable to AI developers.
The Future for AI Development
Given the growing demand for AI services, the computing sector needs to find a way to meet the need for computing services. Given the challenges inherent in the current datacenter model, it seems likely that quantum or distributed computing could ultimately take off.
The question will be, are the current ‘Big Four’ market players ready to compete on a different playing field?
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