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Innovation

Beyond Smartphones: Mobile Innovation That Could Change the Way You Do Business

What new kinds of gadgets will we see next – and what might they mean for your business?

Amy Gahran

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Apple’s iPhone and iPad were revolutionary mobile products that changed how people communicate and access information, entertainment and services. Since then, similar slab-style smartphones and tablets have become ubiquitous. This doesn’t mean mobile devices have become boring, but it does beg the question: What new kinds of gadgets will we see next – and what might they mean for your business?

Some new smartphones, like the one Amazon is said to be working on, might have 3-D screens. But there’s more. Some devices are wearable and can be carried hands-free as glasses or even woven into the fabric of your clothing. Others are ambient, meaning they’re embedded in objects around you and interact with you and your devices via various types of radio connections or the internet.

Here are four innovative, new types of devices that have potential implications for business:

1. Google Glass
This is the first consumer “heads up” display – a small monitor that you wear like eyeglasses. Google Glass has a camera, microphone, memory, GPS and Wi-Fi built in. Right now, it’s costly (the initial version cost $1 500), and availability is sharply limited. But Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said that in about a year, Google Glass will be more widely available, although probably still pricey.

In the meantime, expect competing devices, such as the prototype Telepathy One, to emerge. Hands-free access to work-related information such as calendar reminders, inventory data, wiring diagrams or customer records could increase productivity.

Also, as the ideas generated through the #IfIHadGlass contest illustrate, you can use such devices to create vivid first-person videos that share not just stories and information, but compelling experiences. This could become hot, compelling marketing.

2. FitBit
Another wearable device, the FitBit, is one of the most popular personal data collectors. Think of it as a pedometer on steroids with wireless communication. It comes in versions that slip into a pocket or can be worn on the wrist.

Monitoring movement, sleep and calories burned, it uses wireless communication to send data to your smartphone or computer so you can track your progress toward fitness goals. Similar data collector devices can help track heart rate, blood sugar and other common health or fitness indicators.

Prices range from as little as $20 to several hundred dollars. In some cases, health insurers may reimburse consumers for part of the cost, or they may be health saving account (HSA)-qualified expenses.

Fitness and wellness are big business. Personal trainers and other health professionals might be able to review clients’ fitness data, whether from FitBit or other devices, to provide guidance on exercise programs and help clients see the relationship between their activity levels and how they feel.

In other industries, portable or wearable data collectors could help architects and real estate professionals measure buildings and enable event organizers to track their staff’s whereabouts on site.

Sensors and storage/communications for personal data collection can even be woven into fabric, such as AiQ smart clothing.

3. The internet of things
It has become easy and relatively inexpensive to add sensors and wireless communication to almost anything – a refrigerator, a pair of shoes, a bicycle or a set of car keys. If you also give each item a unique identifying address, then they can interact with each other and with smartphones and computers. Or they can even put themselves on the internet.

Objects on the emerging “internet of things” can share and receive data, issue and accept commands, and more. Such devices can help make the world around you easier to navigate. Sensors and communication in vehicles might make traffic flow smoother or shipping times shorter and more reliable. Small businesses might be able to more effectively automate inventory management, just as larger companies have been doing for years.

Cisco predicts that by 2015, 25 billion common devices will be connected to the internet – and double that number by 2020. As it grows, the Internet of things will likely spawn entirely new types of businesses and services to help people and organisations get their devices to interact with each other in useful ways.

4. Flexible or foldable displays.
What if your tablet, smartphone or computer monitor could fold up into a small packet that you could stuff into your wallet? Or what if it was as thin as a piece of paper and could roll up like a scroll to slip more easily into your purse? This kind of technology was shown in the recent science fiction film Looper.

Research is under way to create such flexible or folding displays, which could be standalone devices or displays connected wirelessly to the Internet or other devices. Eventually flexible displays should be commercially available, but as consumer products, they’re further off than Google Glass.

The main advantage, of course, would be portability, which could benefit business users and consumers alike. Such devices might also be less likely to break when dropped.

What’s more, flexible display technology could be used for innovative advertising such as video fliers or window displays. It could be attached to or incorporated into clothing and perhaps even applied to the skin to create “programmable tattoos.” No doubt, designers will find ample new business opportunities as this technology develops.

Amy Gahran is an independent writer and mobile technology enthusiast based in Boulder, Colo. Her work has appeared at CNN.com. Gahran blogs at Contentious.com.

Innovation

Why Smart Business Growth Means Smart IT Budgeting

(…And how to do it)

Colin Thornton

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For any business today, no matter its size or sector, getting the IT budget right has become a critical part of success and sustainability.  The difference between a three-device network and a fifty-device network has significant ramifications for your IT spend and your overall budget outlook.

Let’s take a closer look at several potential costs and how to plan for them…

Network: The driving force

Essentially, the network is the backbone/core of your IT infrastructure. It needs to be reliable, fast and efficient. Often, a young and growing business will have a piecemeal network in place, bolting on new sections over time. This can lead to the network becoming inefficient and slow.

The important thing to note is that when you have reached capacity on your current network, is it’s sometimes better to start from scratch and also leave room for expansion down the line (rather than adding to the existing network as a quick fix).

While it may appear more costly (and scary), the end result is a reliable network that you won’t have to worry about revamping for many years.

Related: How Dial A Nerd Managed To Dial Up Profits

Licensing: Pricey but critical

Software licensing often comes as an unexpected (and unpleasant) cost to many business owners and their financial teams. Indeed, purchasing legal software can be pricey if you aren’t prepared for it (and don’t understand how it all works!). However, if you buy software licenses in bulk, or commit to a longer term, they can cost far less…so again, budgeting intelligently for your business growth can save you money in the long term. Also remember that many software licenses nowadays can be rented on a per user per month basis so its flexible and always up-to-date.

Maintenance: Be realistic

As the business grows and expands, so too will your IT maintenance needs. The key factor to note is to carefully consider the potential costs of IT failures and hardware issues. You need to take into account that you will undoubtedly have to spend money on maintaining your computers and overall network – and breakdowns can be extremely costly in downtime and lost productivity.

Some businesses find that it makes good financial sense to employ someone to be an IT technician in addition to taking on other responsibilities – but this person may not have the right expertise and experience to manage everything. The other increasingly popular option is to outsource your IT management.  With flexible pricing options now available to businesses, this is becoming a viable and often much more flexible route to take.

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Company Posts

Think Beyond The Box

With a holistic view of your business finances and admin in place, Sasfin’s new digital banking platform is engineered to help you grow your business.

Sasfin

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Welcome to the banking platform designed to support your banking needs. In response to more than 50 years of financing and supporting SMEs, Sasfin has launched a digital banking platform, B\\YOND, to help address the pain points and pressures that business owners face in South Africa.

“We’ve spent decades understanding what makes SMEs succeed or fail, and a lot of it begins with how well a business owner understands their finances,” says Sasfin CEO, Michael Sassoon.

“Failed SMEs often tend to either neglect or become completely consumed by their finances and admin. We wanted to create a platform that could help them take control of these factors, and give them a full 360-degree view of their businesses.”

B\\YOND was built to enable businesses to attend to their finances and admin seamlessly, thereby ensuring that entrepreneurs can focus on their clients — driving revenue and enhancing their products and services in the process.

Related: What To Consider When Investing Your (Hard-Earned) Money

Everything you need on one platform

According to Sassoon, entrepreneurs on the B\\YOND platform will never need to set foot in a branch again. The sophisticated technology incorporates many value-added services at no additional cost, including:

  • B\\YOND online applications: Businesses with multiple shareholders and directors can apply online, by uploading documents and signing the application digitally.
  • B\\YOND payroll: A simple-to-use and SARS-compliant payroll function enables business owners to perform their own payroll management.
  • B\\YOND invoicing: Businesses can create and send personalised quotes and invoices directly from the platform.
  • B\\YOND insights: Smart dashboards generated through clever account and transaction classification and tagging helps manage revenue and expenses, and keep track of projects.
  • B\\YOND integrations: Direct-feed integration into Xero ensures that small businesses and their accountants can safely and seamlessly connect their Sasfin Bank transactional data with Xero, the fastest growing cloud-based accounting software provider in the world.

Serving the entrepreneur

While there is much in store for the next versions of B\\YOND, the platform currently offers business leaders the basic tools they need to run their businesses smoothly in one place at no additional cost, with the ability to bank at their convenience.

“Sasfin has always existed to serve the entrepreneur and investor, the two key drivers of the South African economy and it bothers us that there is such a high failure rate of entrepreneurs in our country. We have spent the last three years building B\\YOND — a future-fit digital banking platform to help these entrepreneurs,” says Sassoon.


Engineered for success

Sasfin has gone above and B\\YOND to bring you a new digital banking platform that gives you the tools to make managing your business simple and profitable.

B//YOND is a value-add to all Sasfin Transctional Banking clients

Bank outside the box

The Sasfin Transactional Banking Business Account is designed for SMEs who want to focus on what they’re most passionate about — their business — while their banking platform not only sweats the small stuff for them, but helps manage and grow their business.

  1. Do you spend unnecessary time on banking?
  2. Does your bank pay you market-leading annual interest rates?
  3. Does your bank give you easy cash management in real-time?
  4. Would you like to manage your payroll and invoicing from your bank account?
  5. Does your bank help you keep track of your cash flow, manage your admin, and provide you with the set of tools you need to help run your business successfully?

Sign up today and have access to a whole new world of banking better for your business.

Visit: www.sasfin.com/bank/byond/

Call 0861 SASFIN for more information.

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Innovation

A Short Cut For Corporates To Digital Innovation: Start-ups

Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

Charlie Stewart

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If there is one anathema in corporate culture, it is failure. With profit to be made and share prices to increase, failure is simply not an option. And yet, when listening to stories about success in the digital space, failure is there to put one on the right path to success. The phrase ‘Fail fast, Fail often’ is often bandied about, and innovation can be seen as a constant process of iteration, test and failure, repeating this until a well refined service or product is on the table.

Many corporates are waking up to the uncomfortable fact that at a structural level, the type of innovation required to grow in today’s digital landscape, is out of their reach, at least when trying to come up with it internally. So what to do? Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

1. The start-up solution

Corporates comfortable in the digital space – Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon – have been buying startups for years, and now companies are realising that when it comes to Blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning, they need to turn elsewhere. And they are. Matt Garratt, Vice President of Salesforce Ventures noted that of the roughly 1500 tech acquisitions Stateside in 2016, half of them were bought by non-tech companies, showing that buying a start-up is a quick way to acquire new technologies, skills or patents.

Related: Why Optimism Isn’t Enough – You Need To Also Accept The Brutal Facts

But purchasing a company with a fully developed product can be an expensive and often risky play. Instead we are beginning to see a trend where corporates are framing agile startups as solution providers, offering them seed funding to come up with answers to digital headaches.

In the US, defence contractor Lockheed Martin has turned its investment strategy around, focusing on young startups instead of more mature companies. In the region of $20 million was ploughed into startups in 2017, helping Lockheed Martin to get a slice of the pie in fast moving spaces such as cybersecurity, autonomous vehicles and nanotechnology.

2. Outsourcing the problem

For corporates turning to start-ups, there are two benefits. Firstly, by doing so companies are casting their net a bit wider, with not only more eyeballs on the problems but, importantly, without the restraints of the corporate boardroom. There is more out-of-the-box thinking involved, no internal politics to worry about and far less of a threat of somebody’s career being jeopardised.

Secondly, if a start-up comes up with a solution, investing in the fledgling company can be cheaper than purchasing one with an established solution. If a buy-out is on the cards, it is less risky too since the due diligence process has been worked through and cultural challenges have been ironed out.

But not all start-ups actually want a buy-out. Some rather prefer access to market and skills transfer, especially around the commercial side of business. Yes, they do need investment, so companies can provide them with a proof of concept to take their idea forward, or potentially a more structured form of investment in their business. 

3. Cape Town: the start-up hub of Africa

Locally, Cape Town can be seen as the tech start-up hub of Africa, and is certainly a good place for corporates to start sniffing around for that digital innovation golden ticket. Events such as last year’s AfricArena conference proved that Cape Town can be a fruitful hunting ground. 80 start-ups from across Africa attended the inaugural event, and were tasked to find solutions to problems provided by corporates beforehand. Air France, for example, was looking for innovative mobile solutions, the City of Cape Town wanted to see how technology can be used to improve the tourism industry, while RCS asked for a loyalty programme to match a new credit programme.

Related: 7 Ingredients Of Small Business Success Online

By all accounts the event was a major success, connecting start-ups with corporates and investors, both attending the event and dialing in. The winner of Air France’s challenge, mobile payment solution provider WeCashUp, received multiple offers of investment and the project has moved on to the proof-of-concept phase.

4. The start-up lifeboat

Many companies need to face up to the fact that the current corporate structure they are working within does not allow for the type of innovation required to adapt to, never mind thrive, in a digital world. South African companies were perhaps sheltered from the digital tsunami that has eviscerated the analogue business world, but the wave has hit our shores. If it is innovation that is needed, it is time to turn to agile startups, far better adapted to a sink-or-swim digital environment, to come up with the solutions.

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