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Opportunity in disruption

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When people talk about ‘digital disruption’, they tend to focus on disruptive opportunities for start-ups, but SMEs should also be thinking about what a wave of unprecedented technology change could mean for their companies in the future.

Smaller businesses are as exposed to the risks and opportunities of new technology as larger companies – if not more. Savvy small business owners should thus be looking at their own markets to anticipate how technology will change their operations and the ways their customers behave in the years to come.

Disruption occurs when a new player comes into an established market with an innovative way of doing things that changes the game for everyone else – usually driven by clever use of technology. For example, the entertainment industry was disrupted when music and movies turned into digital products (downloads) and then into services (streaming).

This trend has already had a major impact on many smaller businesses – for example, family-owned bookshops and video rental stores have needed to create new opportunities for themselves. Overall, digital technology creates some wonderful new ways for Small & Medium Businesses to reduce costs, reach new markets and grow revenues.

Here are some ideas about how Small & Medium Businesses can use disruptive technology:

1.     Fintech revolution – new solutions for small companies

Financial technology (fintech) companies use technology to make financial services more efficient. For example, companies like Sage Pay make it easier and more affordable for Small & Medium Businesses to transact securely online. This, in turn, means that it is simpler and more convenient for small businesses to trade nationally and internationally.

2.     Entrepreneurial opportunities built on other organisations’ platforms

One exciting trend is the way that companies like Uber and Airbnb help people to create new businesses opportunities for themselves, often with little investment than some of assets that they already own.

For example, you can become a driver for a ride-hailing company or rent out a spare room in your house via the Internet. If you’re pursuing another dream business idea, this can help you bring some revenues in while you are still busy building your company. It can also become a business in its own right.

The platform companies do the marketing, provide the website and transactional system, vet customers and suppliers, and connect entrepreneurs with people who need their services. The barriers to entry are quite low and the profits can be attractive.

3.     Low-cost, high-impact technology

Cloud (online) applications make software like accounting systems, CRM packages and payroll solutions more affordable to Small & Medium Businesses. Essentially, they turn what used to be a large upfront capital cost into a small monthly expense and give smaller businesses access to secure, world-class software.

But the cloud also makes it faster to put great technology in place for your business and gives you more flexibility to add users and functionality as your business grows. Cloud computing allows you to work anytime and anywhere – just so long as you have an Internet connection and a device with a modern web browser. It also promotes collaboration.

4.     Ways to shave expenses

In a tight economy, Small & Medium Business owners welcome any way to reduce costs without compromising on quality and service. Many technology services allow them to meet this goal. For example, fintech can make it cheaper to take and process payments, ride-hailing services are an affordable alternative to taxis, and even accommodation sharing sites have more affordable properties that are suitable for business travel.

5.     Driving down marketing budgets while keeping the personal touch

Social media and search are changing the ways that big brands do their marketing, and entrepreneurs are also starting to catch on. Twitter, Facebook, Google and other online services offer a range of affordable and even free ways to promote your goods and services. They also offer you easy-to-use analytics tools so that you can track your performance.

We’ve seen many small businesses, such as restaurants use Instagram to show their delicious dishes to potential customers. A DIY store can shoot some simple videos with a digital camera or even a smartphone to show people how to install a shelf. The beauty of this is that you’ll get instant feedback and find new ways to create customer relationships by interacting with people online

Closing words

In a time of seismic technological change and digital invention, our smart people are using the smartest technology to reinvent and simplify business accounting. Our research teams are working on making concepts like the Internet of Things, machine learning, blockchain and data sciences into a reality for African businesses, accountants and partners.

Small & Medium Businesses that see these technologies as an opportunity to create new services, markets and processes will position themselves for strong growth in the future.

* Anton van Heerden, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director, Sage South & Southern Africa

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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