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How ICT can weather economic storm

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With the weak Rand and interest rate hikes, most industries are affected – and ICT is no exception. But, the economic situation provides the opportunity to look at business processes and find ways to better service customers, writes GERHARD MALAN, Financial Director at Rectron.

South Africa is in for a tough few years, if economists are to be believed. Our economy, weak Rand and recent interest rate hike are affecting industries across the board – and ICT and ICT distribution are no exception. However, our economic situation also provides the opportunity for us to relook our business processes and find ways to better service our customers.

Weak Rand results in expensive technology

A snapshot of the ICT industry in South Africa currently shows that because the majority of products are imported, the weak Rand has made technology more expensive. Since the start of the accelerated depreciation of the Rand, resellers have reported that bigger capital outlays are being delayed for fear that the currency will further weaken. And while the demand for high end equipment is still there, it has decreased to give way to a larger demand for more affordable entry- to mid-level equipment.

This trend isn’t exclusive to South Africa. Although most developed countries have not had to deal with rising interest rates, they have been dealing with a relatively flat economy, making distribution more competitive across the board. Every business trading its home currency against the US Dollar has had to relook its approach to manage its foreign exchange risk.

That said, local vendors are doing what they can to keep their pricing as stable as possible, while foreign vendors are introducing some great initiatives to help protect us against our weakening currency.

An opportunity to rethink how we do business

Simultaneously, while everyone is experiencing the squeeze, it’s a great time for the ICT industry to correct our inefficiencies and cut unnecessary expenses. When the economy is strong, it’s easy to overlook these things, but now’s the time to place the emphasis on return on investment – every expense should be able to have a measureable return. It’s also an optimal time to outperform competitors who might be missing out on the change in how the market is spending.

Of course, beyond these benefits, there is a very real need for businesses within the ICT industry to maintain cash flow. Keeping tight control over budgeted expenses and working capital should put a stop to overspending and uneconomical activities. At the same time, proper risk management when it comes to security, debtors, inventory, cash and insurance is vital. Businesses that are prudent in spend and organised in chaos will come out much stronger and grow much faster when the market turns.

Finding solutions for the customer

From the customer’s perspective, there are also ways to help mitigate risk and reduce capital outlay when the economy is weak. Resellers need to be assisting their customers to continue operating in difficult conditions by offering better advice and products that reduce their expenses or even increase their income. A product such as Rectron Finance does this by freeing up cash so that there are funds available for crucial expenses like rent, salaries, marketing and other important overheads, while ensuring the customer’s business still has access to top end technology.

It’s clear that this is a model that’s working for many businesses, with the uptake of this service on the rise. Since the beginning of 2016 we have seen a trend towards deals being processed through rentals and asset finance rather than normal cash purchases. It’s an opportunity to opt for a manageable monthly expenditure over three to four years, as opposed to a significant once-off outflow of funds at the time of purchase.

What is important for resellers encouraging customers to adopt this model is to start the conversation early. This way, approval is sped up and the customer understands that a big capital outlay isn’t required. There’s also a need to educate on the difference between a rental and an asset finance deal, depending on the customer’s needs.

Beyond these options, several ICT product solutions are also aimed at helping resellers and their customers manage their businesses in the current economic climate. For example, Microsoft’s Office 365 offering gives customers the flexibility on yearly subscriptions, which reduces cash flow. The Samsung LFD range assisted by Intel’s technology also allows resellers to build up different income streams like content management and monthly subscription services, which increases their profitability. From Rectron’s perspective, our online ordering system and our AskRectron app assist customers to reduce their time spent on admin, freeing up time to focus on their business.

ICT plays an important role in national development

These solutions link to the idea that connectivity and the use of technology to access information has an important role to play. It is the key to drive down the country’s unemployment levels through job and entrepreneur creation, as well as by stimulating skills development. In addition, our industry is vital in assisting the government in fulfilling its National Development Plan.

With that in mind, ICT is no longer a luxury but a necessity. That means that despite the challenges facing the ICT industry in light of the state of the economy, it’s never been more important to find new ways to keep technology accessible. There’s little doubt that we are in for a rough ride, but by thinking carefully about how we do business, we are in prime position to weather the storm and make it to the other side.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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