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Planning Ahead For The Cloud: 5 Tips For Start-Ups

We’ve compiled a list of five cloud computing tips for strategic entrepreneurs, based on our expert knowledge of cloud trends and applications.

Prinavan Pillay

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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!

Related: Will You Be The Victim Or Victor When It Comes To Disruptive Technology?

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!

Related: Don’t Have Your Head In The Clouds When It Comes To Data Security

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.

Prinavan Pillay is a technology driven entrepreneur with a passion for building solutions that push the boundaries of African innovation. Prinavan is a founding partner and technical Director at Siatik, Google's leading Cloud Partner and Training Center for Africa. He leads the specialised consulting teams for big data and machine learning, and is passionate about adopting scalable data driven approaches to enable startups, businesses and academia with powerful cloud tools and technology. Reach him at prinavan@siatik.com.

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South Africa Seeks Innovative Solutions to Payments Systems

How to bridge the divide and bring FinTech technology and a new infrastructure of POS systems to the masses.

Harald Merckel

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News has been circulating that high-level players in South Africa are working hard to introduce structural changes in payments solutions. Some of the biggest players in the industry, including the Payments Association of South Africa, and BankservAfrica have begun work in earnest on facilitating expedited transactions settlements, by adding new payments systems and features into the market.

Financial technology, a.k.a. FinTech is powering the payments gateway to cost-effective solutions for South African businesses, consumers, domestic and international stakeholders. According to industry pundits, the payment system that currently exists in South Africa was formulated in the 1980s. At the time, it was highly regarded by world standards. However, the rampant innovation that has taken place with the Internet of things since then necessitates updating.

Various solutions have been touted, to rethink the infrastructure framework that currently exists in South Africa. The economy is rapidly changing, and mobile technology is being embraced across the board. The South African payments system is long overdue for an upgrade, as shifting priorities and the widespread digitisation of the economy take place. For starters, payments solutions across South Africa must factor in the large underbanked and unbanked sectors of society.

Related: 6 Lessons The Founders Of iKhokha Used To Launch An African Fintech Start-up

A key industry player, Bankserv which is owned and operated by Standard Bank, ABSA, and Nedbank among others is ringing the changes. Back in 2017, this financial entity processed R188.2 billion worth of ATM transactions. The total number of transactions numbered 452.6 million additionally. It processed 52.5 billion POS transactions valued at R290.9 billion in credit card authorizations in the same year. Electronic funds transfers (EFTs) to the value of R9.4 trillion were also processed by Bankserv. These are significant figures, and they point to a shift in financial transactions processing in South Africa.

Groundbreaking POS Systems to Debut in SA

The widespread innovation currently taking place in POS systems is reshaping retail industry, the food and beverage service, and other merchant networks across the board. One of the industry leaders in this regard is revel systems POS. It is fully integrated with a robust selection of features, the likes of which include superior reporting features, full kiosk functionality, and a modern kitchen display system for the thriving restaurant industry in South Africa. The technology was created back in 2010 by Chris Ciabarra and Lisa Falzone as an innovative Apple iPad point-of-sale system. It was tested in the San Francisco Bay Area and became an instant hit.

Today, the Revel POS system sports 25,000+ terminals around the world, at high profile company such as Cinnabon, Goodwill, Smoothie King and others. South African restaurants and food industry businesses can enjoy monthly subscription fees, and the software license is included in the monthly subscription fee. Flexible pricing is another advantage of using this POS system. Plus, users get to enjoy industry-specific software and integrations that can be used by quick service businesses and restaurants.

It’s ideally suited to businesses that have 500,000 SKUs, although it’s equally adept at serving smaller SA businesses. In terms of ease-of-use, this POS is intuitive for front-end use, and training videos facilitate backend learning and integration. The backend management is particularly effective in terms of training regimens, navigation, and utilisation. All that’s required to get started is an Apple iOS device, and any standard barcode scanner is fully compatible with the system.

Related: How Fintech Zoona Is Solving Customers’ Real Problems

Among the many features include the following:

  • Fully Functional point-of-sale systems
  • Real-Time Inventory control of SKUs, including cost considerations, pricing, inventory, size, colour, style etc. Digital menu boards, kitchen display systems, and kiosk point-of-sale systems are also available
  • Purchase Order Management and QuickBooks integration
  • Customer Management in terms of purchases, details and personal data is also available.

What Are the Current FinTech Challenges in South Africa?

Contrary to widespread belief, South Africa has one of the most sophisticated payments infrastructures. This is certainly a feather in the cap for South Africa’s financial and FinTech sector. Given that Internet usage is widespread, and the telecom network that facilitates Internet functionality is highly developed, South Africa ranks on par with the best of them.

There are effectively 2 parallel economies operating in South Africa – the first world developed FinTech economy, and the informal economy which dominates the outlying areas. South Africa has a challenge on its hands: How to bridge the divide and bring FinTech technology and a new infrastructure of POS systems to the masses.

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Investing In Value Creation Tools Can Help Your Business Grow

ACCA on attracting new clients, establishing and strengthening commercial partnerships and accessing external finance to help your business expand.

ACCA

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The business journey of many SMEs is often characterised by a gradual change in internal management practices which develop as the business operations grow. The subsequent recognition of the business’s value creation, across all its operations – tends to emerge slowly but surely alongside this process.

Gaining an understanding of ongoing value creation can be challenging. This is because smaller companies tend to not have access to simple and understandable data sets on everything, which is and isn’t contributing to value across the business.

For example, customer and supplier relationships, human capital and intellectual property are all common examples of activities where SMEs regularly experience difficulties in determining the real contribution to the businesses’ overall value. These are areas that are not picked up by financial reports that are a focal point of many growing businesses, hence the importance of these areas in business is not given the proper attention it deserves.

Related: Achieving Business Success: How Walter Muwandi Gained The Edge

However, by improving trust and relationships between customers and those along your supply chain, this information can be used to attract new clients, establish and strengthen commercial partnerships and access external finance to help your business expand.

Key actions to consider when capturing the value within your business include the following:

  1. Use cloud and data analytics technology to support growth;
  2. Create a business strategy which incorporates everything;
  3. Allow staff to use new technologies to innovate; and
  4. Appreciate the importance of technology in attracting external finance.

These actions will help you succeed in developing a successful business strategy.

Use cloud and data analytics technology to support growth

Purchasing relevant software packages could help you access the data you need to understand where and when value is being created. Cloud and data analytics technology can provide a real-time flow of information, offering detailed measures across workflows, whilst also complementing existing reporting processes.

More long term, this technology can provide you with greater flexibility when anticipating future periods of growth.

For example, when the time comes to up-scale your business operations, it could help your finance function adapt more easily to any additional demands being placed upon it and mitigate the risk of disruption towards ongoing operations.

At the same time investing in this technology doesn’t have to happen overnight. Software packages can be purchased in stages and tailored to meet the specific needs of your business.

Create a business strategy which incorporates everything

Business success will often be determined by how effectively you can combine the value of ongoing operations into the development of a single, overarching business strategy. Understanding of the key strategic themes by employees is critical in aiding future business expansion plans and growth. This integration can support planning processes.

By taking a short, medium and long-term view on how value creation might change across the business, you will be in a much better place to identify upcoming risks and opportunities related to your growth ambitions.

The practical delivery of this might involve regular integrated reporting across your business’s operations. The more data that is involved in this process, the more helpful it will be towards informing your management decisions.

Allow work teams to use new technologies to innovate

Companies might also want to consider supporting work teams in certain areas to come up with new ideas to enhance plans for business growth and learn from possible failures, without the personal risks that entrepreneurship entails.

Allowing employees to use new technologies could help to reduce costs and offer new revenue opportunities as your business expands. It could also help to stimulate a high growth business and to fully communicate business’s value to potential clients and commercial partners.

Related: The Rise Of Digital In Shaping Business Terrains

Appreciate the importance of technology in attracting external finance

Investing in technology at an early stage can help attract external investors, as well as reducing the cost of raising growth finance. Such investors need to be able to understand the broader strategy of your business.

Lenders are increasingly using data to build up a broad perspective on the growth potential of SMEs. If you can provide real-time information – rather than just historical data – of your business’s performance, this could greatly increase the chances of obtaining the finance you need to grow.

However, there remains a gap and potential to co-create new approaches of raising capital amongst growing businesses and in creating agreed terms of sharing risks. This could bolster the advancement of entrepreneurial houses toward creating real economic equity in long term.

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Embracing Technology For Business

The technologies that can boost efficiency in your organisation.

Greg Morris

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The world is dominated by technology. So if you haven’t yet heard terms like ML, AI, VR, and the wave of other acronyms used to address the new developments in this modern age, you will soon. Because, the era of big data is here. And resisting it is futile. We have to embrace new technologies to survive, let alone compete. Luckily, a lot of today’s tech helps make business more streamlined.

Here are a few that make all the difference:

FOR ADMIN

WebVault

WebVault is a digital ‘vault’ for securely storing documents, emails, certificates, voice files, and other data in the cloud. WebVault Achiever can even load completed trainee certificates into the vault, without your needing to vet or track them.

Related: Silulo Ulutho Technologies Tackles Tech Target Market

EFFICIENCY

Asana

Asana is a tool for managing team-based projects. It allows users to break projects into tasks, assign them to individuals, add followers, and schedule deadlines. This ensures transparency, accountability, and helps to streamline and track deliverables.

Slack

Slack is like a WhatsApp group for business. You can sort interests by topic, and use the search function for anything, including old discussions and shared files. The most notable benefit is that Slack stops back and forth email discussions, decluttering your inbox. It also integrates easily with platforms like Twitter and Dropbox.

ACCOUNTS

Wave

Wave is accounting software that offers small to medium-sized businesses access to helpful tools. Through mobile and web-based platforms, users can build and send professional cost estimates and tax invoices, accept credit cards, keep track of payments, administer payroll, and streamline expense tracking.

LEARNING

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (also known as AI) is created from technology called machine (or computer) learning (ML). In other words: by using complex networks, computers can learn without the need for human direction or oversight.

One of the most exciting ways that AI affects learning is by identifying overlaps between different industries and subjects. Connections that would take humans many years of study to discover, can now take computers less than a day to unveil, revealing complex subjects that we may never have realised existed without it.

Virtual & augmented reality

Most people learn best by getting involved. But, where the stakes are high or expensive, like the military, medicine, and mining, this isn’t feasible. By digitally influencing how learners see their environment, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) allow them to safely, cost-effectively practise the impractical.

Related: Trends To Fast Track Your Business In 2018

SECURITY

The modern technologies we’re seeing today are fascinating, but they aren’t always fool-proof. Indeed, for every new technology, there are thousands of hackers spending all of their time looking for ways to break in.

For example, consider how you can monitor your home on a device. This is convenient for you, but it defeats the point if a hacker can access the video feed. There are even organisations online that provide malware and phishing as a service.

If you’re stepping into new technological territory, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. The best protection against threats like this is to hire an ethical hacker yourself; one who can tell you where your weak points are and how to protect them. 

DISRUPTION

Blockchain

Blockchain technology is controversial thanks to its association with Bitcoin. But it is critical to differentiate the two. Bitcoin, on the one hand, is a digital currency. Blockchain, however, is the technology it uses for its distributed digital ledger.

Because a blockchain is both distributed and transparent, it allows digital peer-to-peer transactions to be executed safely and stored securely. And because the technology isn’t limited to finance, it has the potential to disrupt the way many companies do business. Notable leaders in this space include WalMart, IBM, and Nestlé, who are using blockchain technology to improve their systems.

The age of the digital innovation is here, and that means the world is changing rapidly. The best ways to be prepared are to be aware and to adapt quickly.

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