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How small and medium businesses buy high-tech

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Small and medium enterprises are seen as a gold mine for technology vendors, but there is a secret to how they buy high-tech, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

There are more than 650 000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in South Africa, making the sector a major target market for vendors of almost any type of product aimed at other businesses. High-tech products, solutions and services rank high among these, with SMEs seen as a gold mine for those who can crack the code of how to sell to them.

The problem is that there isn’t really a code, but one very simple secret: SMEs will only buy high-tech solutions when they’ve become a “no-brainer”.

That attitude goes hand in hand with what is to some an unpalatable reality about SMEs: they are notoriously slow at adopting new technologies.

However, that does not mean there is no hope in selling to them. 

SME Survey 2018, a research project conducted by World Wide Worx in partnership with Intuit QuickBooks, showed there is one clear exception: the Internet of Things (IoT). Interviews with 1400 SMEs revealed that 83% of decision-makers expect to be using IoT in their business within five years.

The reason for this enthusiasm? Many of them have been using IoT all along, in particular with fleet- and vehicle-tracking systems, and asset management. The SIM cards hidden in vehicles to allow them to be tracked are in fact part of IoT. They act as sensors that report vehicle positions to base stations, and that information can be aggregated and supplied to live mapping services. In fact, it is just that technology that makes Google Maps so effective for navigation.

However, when it comes to more futuristic technologies, SME enthusiasm vanishes. The next highest-ranked high-tech options were artificial intelligence and Big Data, but they are expected to be adopted by only 29% and 27% of SMEs respectively.  Just 21% of SMEs expect to use 3D printing, while crowdsourcing drops to 16% of respondents. 

Right at the bottom of the list came Bitcoin, the technology underlying Bitcoin, at 9%, and Virtual Reality, at a mere 8%.

The reason is simple: Blockchain is so new, its value proposition remains a mystery to SMEs. Not only that, but it is strongly linked in the public mind with Bitcoin. The massive fluctuations in the value of the cryptocurrency makes it too volatile and risky for the cautious SME decision-maker.

While virtual reality doesn’t suffer the same bad press, it is still regarded as a toy, and falls far short of the no-brainer status SMEs require of technology.

Even the technologies that fare a little better, like artificial intelligence, are still far off the mark for SMEs. Because they require large amounts of data, which are typically generated by large customer bases, they tend to make sense only to large organisations. Further, it requires a new way of thinking, and adoption requires a mindset change, something that is not even on the radar for most SMEs.

The annual SME Survey has shown again and again over the years that decision-makers are generally only willing to embrace a new technology if there is a clear business case.  So, for example, when the massive technology shift from dial-up to ADSL happened between 2003 and 2009, it was not because SMEs were attracted by higher speeds. Rather, it was a combination of speed, cost-effectiveness, efficiency and the ability to connect multiple users to the same connection, at a lower price. In short, it was a no-brainer.

Now, we are witnessing the beginning of the decline of ADSL, for the very same reason. High-tech history is repeating itself as ADSL is replaced by fibre to the home or office. 

ADSL usage peaked at 73% of SMEs in 2009 and remained at this high until 2015, when fibre arrived. SME Survey 2018 indicates that ADSL usage has now dropped to 59% among SMEs, while fibre has increased to 25% – meaning adoption of fibre is taking place even more rapidly than ADSL did 15 years ago.

This is partly due to the rapid rise in availability of fibre across urban areas, coupled with the falling price of the technology. In conjunction with this, the increasing uptake and use of bandwidth-intensive technologies by SMEs has resulted in a perfect storm that is driving a need for technology replacement. In other words, it’s a no-brainer.

When SMEs see such a clear value proposition, they are ready to embrace it rapidly. On the other hand, when it has to be explained or demystified – as originally occurred with the concept of cloud computing – they tend to stay clear of it for far longer. However, the fibre value proposition is so obvious, that SMEs are clear about how it will improve their business, and so adoption is taking off.

A key benefit SMEs obtain from switching to fibre is that it enables SMEs to operate online without the performance and quality constraints they faced before. This means that their communications are significantly improved for  solutions like video-conferencing and social media. It also gives them more confidence in transacting online, thanks to the quality and speed of the connectivity.

Those selling gadgets and other high-tech will probably take courage from one particularly startling finding in SME Survey 2018: that 70% of SMEs are ready to embrace new technologies.

However, it is clear that, while the willingness is there, they will only embrace something new if it makes sense for their business. In other words, just because SMEs say they are ready to embrace new technology, it doesn’t mean that they will buy just any new technology.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Bring your network with you

At last week’s Critical Communications World, Motorola unveiled the LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. It allows rescue personal to set up dedicated LTE networks for communication in an emergency, writes SEAN BACHER.

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In the event of an emergency, communications are absolutely critical, but the availability of public phone networks are limited due to weather conditions or congestion.

Motorola realised that this caused a problem when trying to get rescue personnel to those in need and so developed its LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. The product is the smallest and lightest full powered broadband network to date and allows the first person on the scene to set up an LTE network in a matter of minutes, allowing other rescue team members to communicate with each other.

“The LXN 500 weighs six kilograms and comes in a backpack with two batteries. It offers a range of 1km and allows up to 100 connections at the same time. However, in many situations the disaster area may span more than 1km which is why they can be connected to each other in a mesh formation,” says Tunde Williams, Head of Field and Solutions Marketing EMEA, Motorola Solutions.

The LXN 500 solution offers communication through two-way radios, and includes mapping, messaging, push-to-talk, video and imaging features onboard, thus eliminating the need for any additional hardware.

Data collected on the device can then be sent through to a central control room where an operator can deploy additional rescue personnel where needed. Once video is streamed into the control room, realtime analytics and augmented reality can be applied to it to help predict where future problem points may arise. Video images and other multimedia can also be made available for rescuers on the ground.

“Although the LXN 500 was designed for the seamless communications between on ground rescue teams and their respective control rooms, it has made its way into the police force and in places where there is little or no cellular signal such as oil rigs,” says Williams.

He gave a hostage scenario: “In the event of a hostage situation, it is important for the police to relay information in realtime to ensure no one is hurt. However the perpetrators often use their mobile phones to try and foil any rescue attempts. Should the police have the correct partnerships in place they are able to disable cellular towers in the vicinity, preventing any in or outgoing calls on a public network and allowing the police get their job done quickly and more effectively.”

By disabling any public networks in the area, police are also able to eliminate any cellular detonated bombs from going off but still stay in touch with each other he says.

The LXN 500 offers a wide range of mission critical cases and is sure to transform communications and improve safety for first responders and the people they are trying to protect.

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Kaspersky moves to Switzerland

As part of its Global Transparency Initiative, Kaspersky Lab is adapting its infrastructure to move a number of core processes from Russia to Switzerland.

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This includes customer data storage and processing for most regions, as well as software assembly, including threat detection updates. To ensure full transparency and integrity, Kaspersky Lab is arranging for this activity to be supervised by an independent third party, also based in Switzerland.

Global transparency and collaboration for an ultra-connected world

The Global Transparency Initiative, announced in October 2017, reflects Kaspersky Lab’s ongoing commitment to assuring the integrity and trustworthiness of its products. The new measures are the next steps in the development of the initiative, but they also reflect the company’s commitment to working with others to address the growing challenges of industry fragmentation and a breakdown of trust. Trust is essential in cybersecurity, and Kaspersky Lab understands that trust is not a given; it must be repeatedly earned through transparency and accountability.

The new measures comprise the move of data storage and processing for a number of regions, the relocation of software assembly and the opening of the first Transparency Center.

Relocation of customer data storage and processing

By the end of 2019, Kaspersky Lab will have established a data center in Zurich and in this facility, will store and process all information for users in Europe, North America, Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea, with more countries to follow. This information is shared voluntarily by users with the Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) an advanced, cloud-based system that automatically processes cyberthreat-related data.

Relocation of software assembly

Kaspersky Lab will relocate to Zurich its ‘software build conveyer’ — a set of programming tools used to assemble ready to use software out of source code. Before the end of 2018, Kaspersky Lab products and threat detection rule databases (AV databases) will start to be assembled and signed with a digital signature in Switzerland, before being distributed to the endpoints of customers worldwide. The relocation will ensure that all newly assembled software can be verified by an independent organisation and show that software builds and updates received by customers match the source code provided for audit.

Establishment of the first Transparency Center

The source code of Kaspersky Lab products and software updates will be available for review by responsible stakeholders in a dedicated Transparency Center that will also be hosted in Switzerland and is expected to open this year. This approach will further show that generation after generation of Kaspersky Lab products were built and used for one purpose only: protecting the company’s customers from cyberthreats.

Independent supervision and review

Kaspersky Lab is arranging for the data storage and processing, software assembly, and source code to be independently supervised by a third party qualified to conduct technical software reviews. Since transparency and trust are becoming universal requirements across the cybersecurity industry, Kaspersky Lab supports the creation of a new, non-profit organisation to take on this responsibility, not just for the company, but for other partners and members who wish to join.

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