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Innovation

The Move to the Cloud: Hype or Not?

Cloud computing, cloud storage, cloud backup, cloud email, cloud servers, cloud this and cloud that – can’t I just stay on the ground?

Rapelang Rabana

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The reality is that we have been using cloud services for years without knowing it, without calling it the cloud. Anyone who has ever signed up for Gmail, Webmail or Yahoo! email account has used a cloud-hosted email account – where your email service is not stored and kept primarily on your computer, but accessible on the internet wherever you are. And if you think that didn’t apply to you, don’t forget that your Blackberry is also a cloud-hosted email service stored and kept on one of Blackberry servers. The cloud is far from new – it’s been here for a while already and is spreading to all areas from data storage to office telephony and communications.

How did we get here? Why are here?

Way back when, with the advent of computers, it was the companies that wanted to get ahead, that invested in information technology such as computers, word processors, internet, servers in the back room, email for all staff, because the extent to which the business could use IT in order to operate more efficiently and quickly was a crucial differentiator. At that stage, you could make your company more competitive by applying technology to your various work processes and gain a march against your competitor who didn’t do the same.. This is no longer the case.

Now that IT services are much more readily accessible, it is no longer a differentiator but rather an essential cost of doing business. It’s now a commodity service like having running water in a building. And this is how the winds of change blew in the ‘cloud’. As with anything that becomes commoditized, the focus shifts to how the service can be improved – to be more efficient, and be better and even at lower price points.

We have seen this before

These kinds of shifts have happened before. As Nicholas Carr pointed out his book, The Big Switch, about a hundred years ago every business had to produce their own electricity to power their operations – this enabled them to get ahead of any other business that was using more primitive sources of energy at the time. Eventually, there were industrial advancements that enabled electricity to be transmitted over long distances and you didn’t have to create electricity in your backyard to have access to it. Major electrical companies emerged to provide this utility and it ceased to be a differentiator and it became a commodity. Businesses didn’t have to do this for themselves and it ultimately made them more efficient as they could focus on their core business instead of worrying about how to generate more electricity – if you are making clothes or furniture, why bother being an electric company for your own needs and build expertise in that if you don’t need to?

The impact of this shift was profound. Not only could businesses focus their resources on their primary business, but it also opened the door for smaller-scale businesses that had previously not been able to generate their own electricity. And then products and services that exploited this easy access to electricity became commonplace over time – televisions, vacuum cleaners, photocopiers and almost everything you can think of. This created whole new industries and ushered in the modern world as we know it.

The new kind of power plants

In the shift today, we see a new kind of power plant emerge: computing plants that will ‘power our information age the way electric plants powered the industrial age’. Computing power and utility can be generated in plant-like data centres – the cloud – and delivered to business and individuals through the internet. Just as the shift to centralized power plants did, cloud-based services will enable us to operate at greater levels of efficiency than ever possible before, making computing applications a ‘cheap and universal commodity’.

We have already noted the use of email services in the cloud as an example. And it doesn’t end there. It is no longer necessary for companies to have back rooms to host large servers on their premises; servers of even greater power are accessible on the cloud through services like Amazon’s EC2. We can back-up all the data on our computer through cloud services like Dropbox that perform the back-up automatically.

Before the cloud, the only way to manage office communication and calls was to buy a big box PBX system – now an entire PBX service can be hosted in the cloud and easily manageable online, with only a phone connected to the internet in your office or home to make and receive calls. Even office telephony will be significantly improved through the cloud; from the portability that comes with the cloud (accessing your office telephony system wherever you are, connecting multiple branches, home and mobile workers); to the lower entry barrier where any business no matter how small can access a full featured PBX service without a high capex cost.

The cloud is not hype as it is already self-evident and motivated by factors that are almost unstoppable – the efficiency of operation being primary. Why bother maintaining a server room or a telephony system when it is not your business’s core function? Surely the only services that should be maintained in-house, that a company should take on the cost of ownership for, should be those that give a business its competitive advantage over others – and not support services like email, telephony, data storage, servers and such like? In answering these questions, cloud-based services will undoubtedly shunt us into next age.

Rapelang Rabana is the co-founder and CEO of SA based software development organisation, Yeigo. She oversaw the company’s integration into the TelFree Group of companies in 2008. Now as Global Head of R&D, she and her colleagues in Cape Town continue to ensure that the telecommunications pioneer remains at the forefront of alternative communications through highly innovative software applications across the telecommunications spectrum. Visit http://www.telfree.com and http://www.officeconnection.co.za for more information.

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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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