Is your start-up at the stage where you’re just starting to consider moving to the cloud? Or, if you’re one of the lucky ones, perhaps your business is growing so fast that you’re worried about how to scale up? As we move into 2018, businesses are turning their attention to how they can use tech and the cloud to accomplish their business objectives.
We’ve compiled a list of five cloud computing tips for strategic entrepreneurs, based on our expert knowledge of cloud trends and applications.
1. Don’t shell out millions
Today the cloud offers unlimited, on-demand storage and computing power at extremely affordable pricing. Back in the day, your business had to have deep pockets to the tune of hundreds of thousands of rand, and probably an outsourced IT team too. Today, you can pay a fraction of the price to get exactly the same service, with none of the overhead stresses that come with installing servers, managing server rooms, hiring IT consultants, and securing your systems. From a cost perspective, there’s no better time to be building a business!
2. Understand both your current needs and long term goals
The full a la carte offering on cloud can seem daunting, especially when presented with an endless list of options when choosing provider, data warehouse, dev environment, storage types and other architectural components. A good starting point is to assess your current business and technical problems that can be addressed with cloud, and aligning this with your future goals and strategic objectives. When using the cloud you will reduce your cost per transaction but, depending on the size of the cloud system you use, this cost can vary.
Early on, it is important to keep your overall compute costs low. Once your business starts to expand, you can access more expensive compute to do heavier lifting. It is critical to plan this growth and investment.
When you get the architecture right from the start, you can then let the system evolve independently into a fully scalable, automated engine that drives your productivity down the line. For example, your business’ immediate requirement might be a vision analytics solution that analyses facial expressions associated with a product you sell. It’s important to consider both the tool that achieves this immediate requirement, as well as the scalable storage structure to house the data collected when performing smart predictions based on 5, 10 or 50 years worth of aggregated facial expressions.
3. Cater for scalability
Living in the age of viral apps and millions of followers, overnight sensationalism has become the norm and with it comes the desperate need for scalability. At the height of your viral trajectory, getting a single 404 page or failed payment gateway is a deadly dagger to your start-up, which can be irrecoverable for your business.
The cloud provides various options to cater for scaling up – your initial traditional architecture can be made to be easily scalable so that you can cope with the load when it comes. Always keep scalability at the forefront of your architectural requirements, and make sure that the engine under the hood is powered by platform-as-a-service, containerisation and other automated scaling services that cope with your load as you soar to millions of downloads!
4. Machine Learning can help you grow your start-up even quicker
The cloud is no longer just about storage. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and other words that sound like they’re from your favourite Sci-Fi movie are now a part of your toolbox. And that doesn’t mean you need a PhD in computer science to use them.
Cloud providers have invested billions into research teams to build out programming interfaces to easily do vision analytics, natural language processing, speech to text and other off-the-shelf machine learning products. Machine learning is redefining the way we think and do business, and it’s imperative to incorporating smart analytics into your business roadmap.
5. Take security seriously
2017 Made a name for itself as the year of more cyber attacks than any other in history, and unfortunately South Africa ranks the 31st most attacked country in the world, with businesses losing some R50 billion in the process. Having a data and application back-up and recovery plan is vital. The great thing is that the cloud makes this seamless, pain-free and affordable.
Most startups take the approach to backup like one would backup their music or pictures to a external storage device, with regulation and governance now a must for startups to compete against the traditional players they too need to be compliant, but with Backup and disaster recovery becoming accessable and easy to manage. This is a no brain to keep your licence to operate., with military grade encryption standards, smart data centres, and stacks of ISO certifications to address all your data sovereignty, confidentiality and disaster recovery requirements.
Small Business Owner? Why You Need Computer Skills
Having computer skills is vital to all of these aspects, and taking IT courses can help to equip you with these much-needed skills.
Being the owner of a small business means that you need to stay (way, way) ahead of the curve if you want to beat your competition. This means that your marketing strategies need to be fresh and unique, your customer service should be stellar and you need to be up-to-date with technology. Having computer skills is vital to all of these aspects, and taking IT courses can help to equip you with these much-needed skills.
It supports entrepreneurship
The whole world is literally at your fingertips, including valuable resources for entrepreneurs. Being computer literate by taking one of the many IT courses in South Africa means that you will be able to experience new ideas, build your self-confidence and help you to innovate in your own business.
To grow your small business, all you need is a PC or laptop and an internet connection to put you miles ahead of your competition. Entrepreneurial minds in the twenty-first century are finding it easier to innovate in their business and in the SME community. The resources you will find online will help you to grow your business, but you will need to have the skills to do online research and networking.
Communication skills will improve
The world is digital, there is no getting around it, and consumers today expect to be able to communicate with any business in a digital capacity. Not having the right computer skills for effective online communication means that you are already two steps behind the competition.
If you take one of the IT courses in Durban, you will be taught effective communication skills, including how to type up, send and receive emails. This is arguably one of the most vital computer skills for small business owners,as email, IM’s and other messaging platforms are how your customers will be getting in touch with you regarding products and services. Your own communication skills will also improve as you continue to use email and instant messaging on a daily basis.
Work performance will increase
Being computer literate will enable you to work efficiently and effectively, which improves your work performance. Notes from client meetings can be taken via laptop or speech-to-text programs and you can use spreadsheets to effectively display ideas and budgets for clients and partners.
IT courses equip you with basic computer knowledge, and if you practise these skills on a daily basis, your work performance will increase and improve as well. If you work on your computer on a daily basis (and in this digital world, who can afford to run a business that is not online?) then you will need to be able to work quickly and without too much delay in customer service replies.
Business processes are streamlined
Owning and running a small business takes time and effort, but with computer skills, you will be able to streamline your business process in order to save yourself from spending hours answering emails and drawing up invoices.
If you sell products, sending someone your banking details for a payment is as simple as sending an email or setting up a Paypal account. If you have employees, nowadays you do not have to go around the office with a physical, written-out memo for them to sign, you can simply email it to them or send an IM that there is a meeting that day, cutting down time spent on unnecessary communication. If you have customer service to deal with, you could build a chatbot for your website to deal with simple requests that will then be passed to you for a final response.
Related: A – Z Easy Small Business Ideas
Social media marketing can improve
Anyone in business knows the power of social media marketing, but not all of them understand how to do it. The larger companies will often hire social media marketing experts but as a small business owner, this may not be a feasible expense for your situation, which is where computer skills can come in handy.
You will be able to use Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to reach your audiences in a more effective way, engaging in a conversation with them that builds brand trust and leads. Without the knowledge of how to operate a computer, you will not be able to log into your social media accounts to create posts and build traffic. You will also learn that you cannot simply post about what you sell or the services you provide, but you need to give consumers relevant and exciting content.
Technology is the future
Small business owners need computer skills to stay in the game. If you are not up-to-date with all the latest business trends, you will fall behind your competition and lose out on consumers who prefer working with digitally aware providers. Embrace technology and use it to your advantage. You will see your communication skills improve, as well as your business performance, both of which contribute to a better customer experience.
GDPR Is Coming – And SA Firms Are Not Ready
SA SMEs face fines of up to R300m for poor customer data management processes under new EU law.
On 25 May this year, a new piece of legislation comes into effect in Europe that could have severe consequences for non-compliant South African businesses. The General Data Protection Regulation – or GDPR for short – is a regulation under European Union law that aims to give control over personal data back to EU citizens.
The regulation applies to any organisation that collects or processes data from EU citizens, even when that citizen or organisation is based outside the EU. The European Commission defines personal data as “any information relating to an individual, whether it relates to his or her private, professional or public life”. This includes names, home addresses, photos, email addresses, bank details, social media posts, medical information, or even a computer’s IP address.
The fines for non-compliance are severe and could spell the end of a business practically overnight: the maximum fine is as much as €20-million, or nearly R300-million. What’s more, the regulation is far-reaching: any company with an EU citizen among its workforce, or a customer based in the EU, or even if only one of the subscribers to a company newsletter is based in the EU, that company can be held liable under GDPR. Few if any mid-sized South African firms could afford such a steep sanction, and legacy issues compound problems around compliance, increasing their risk and potential liability.
In response, local firms are taking unprecedented steps to ensure they and their customers remain within the confines of the new regulation, especially considering the volume of trade and collaboration between African countries and their European counterparts.
Legacy processes add complexity to compliance
Most mid-sized firms have deliberately or inadvertently built up internal siloes related to how customer, business and other operational data is stored. For example, in a typical retailer’s marketing department, the data storage systems that processes newsletter subscriptions via email may be entirely removed from and non-integrated to the WhatsApp number where much of the customer communication takes place.
This means a customer that unsubscribes to a newsletter via WhatsApp may still receive the newsletter until such a time as the retailer can integrate the two sets of data.
When GDPR comes into effect, companies will not only stand liable for fines should the above scenario play out, but they need to be able to provide customers with complete clarity on how their data is stored and managed at any point in time. Any costs incurred in the process of showing how customer data is stored is also for the company’s own account, which adds not only complexity to standard business processes but also potentially additional costs.
Considering the prevailing trust deficit between consumers and brands, the potential of being exposed for treating confidential customer data poorly is immense. Once trust is breached, affected customers are unlikely to engage with the brand again, and will leave a searchable and public trail of comments on social media for all to see. The recent case of Facebook – which now faces a fine of as much as $2-trillion – has brought this to the forefront of consumer consciousness, but other examples of poor customer data management abound. Closer to home, the leaking of 31 million records at the Master Deeds Office revealed the ID numbers, addresses and income estimates of millions of South Africa citizens.
On the basis of consent
For South African businesses, however, new technology tools could play an invaluable role in mitigating risks associated with GDPR and its South African counterpart, POPI. A recent investment by SAP into Consent is simplifying the business processes associates with creating trusted digital experiences within the limitations of GDPR and POPI compliance.
Part of the SAP Hybris suite of applications, Consent enables SMEs to centrally manage customer preferences and consent settings throughout their full lifecycle, while putting them in control of their own data. Consent enables companies to be transparent, gain loyal customers and protect their business from costly fines as well as potentially disruptive business processes related to proving to customers how their data is being stored and managed.
In line with modern business demands, Consent is also provided in the cloud, making it quick to implement and easy to prove ROI. Every time a policy changes, customers can receive an automated notification that they actively accept, with a record of such forms of consent stored centrally to allow SMEs to quickly and accurately prove responsible customer data management.
Whether you run an online retailer with customers around the world, or a news website where a European citizen may occasionally offer a comment on an article, GDPR holds inherent risks to your business. But with the correct technology tool, a potential R300m liability can be transformed into a competitive business advantage that furthers the cause of trusted and trustworthy digital customer experiences.
Here are five immediate steps South African companies can take to limit their GDPR risk:
- Educate staff: Make sure everyone in your company understands what GDPR and POPI means and what is recognised as personal information.
- Understand the current state: Ensure you understand what data is being stored – and where it is stored.
- Inspect the data: Get to grips with exactly what personal information is being stored where. Categorise data (for example names, email address, ID numbers) and delete data that is not needed.
- Implement processes: Put in processes and systems to handle all data, including acquiring, accessing, maintaining and disposing of information.
- Improve reporting: Regular audits will be needed to ensure the processes are being followed, and to know at all times where data is being stored, who has access to it, and how a potential breach of data will be handled.
The Role Of Trust Now And In The Future
How will technology, such as blockchain, impact contract and business?
The basis of our entire legal system has been that people who contract with one another do so inherently based on the existence of trust.
It is true that in order to conclude a legally binding contract, certain requirements must be met:
- Consensus between the parties;
- Intention – offer and acceptance;
- The parties must have the legal capacity to contract;
- Certainty in the contract;
- Formalities must be met;
- Lawfulness; and
- Possibility of performance.
Underpinning all of the above is the aspect of trust. The fact that we have, in practice, seen contracts, that comply with all the requirements, being breached is testimony that without trust, there are no prospects of full uninterrupted performance.
Some underlying theory of the causes of breakdown in trust
Over the years, many theories have debated why exactly trust lacks even when it seems that trust is resent. Many experts including Dr. Demartini, has stated that it is all based on shared values or in the case of trust never being present in the first place or where it lacks, the lack of shared values. In essence, where people consider the same things as important, they will collaborate in a mutually acceptable manner to achieve the joint contracted and desired outcome, whether it be in the employment space, ownership or between customer and supplier or stakeholders.
How does technology build or reward trust
Be that as it may, maybe these notions and the recipe for failure or achievement is something of the past. With the introduction of blockchain and similar technology, many experts are of the view that trust would become superfluous. Technology such as blockchain creates an irrefutable, uneditable record and therefore provides that trust whether present or not can no longer adversely affect the performance of agreements.
So, the human question remains – will this make us more or less ethical in our behaviour? Will this make our relationships less or more value driven?
The supporters of token-based incentive schemes, would say that one of the inherent aspects of this technology and blockchain is that it is all reputation based and that users are motivated by points-based incentives. Incentives and point scoring based on good behaviour and reputation. Taking the concept of reputation capital to another level.
In my view, technology could be an enabler rather than another reason or diagnosis for the breakdown in trust and therefore, in contract. Legal practitioners and businesses should, in my view, closely monitor the developments in this space and embrace it as it becomes more developed, familiar, regulated and accessible.
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