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Load shedding biggest threat to SMEs

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This year’s SME Survey has revealed that small businesses now consider load shedding to be the biggest threat to their livelihood.

If you were to ask the owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) what keeps them awake at night, chances are that you would be inundated with shared concerns. Based on the findings of the SME Survey this year, finance, competition and crime are some of the most pressing issues. However, crime no longer claims first place. Instead, frequent and prolonged power failures rank as the most concerning issue for SMEs.

According to Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx and principal researcher for SME Survey, this year has seen a dramatic shift in what SMEs consider to be the biggest external threats to their businesses.

“With power failures cited by 71% of respondents, the issue rates at almost exactly double the importance of crime, which came in a distant second, at 36%. This category is obviously driven to a large extent by those concerns that are highest in the public mind – SMEs have in the past attributed their sleepless nights to crime, the high cost of fuel, or even interest rates. These results came even when power failures were featured in the survey during the first load shedding several years ago, but load shedding still came well below crime at the time,” he says.

“The reason we have seen such a massive jump for this category is due to the cumulative effects of ongoing load shedding. While load shedding has been punted as a temporary problem, it is clear that business fears that it is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.”

Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank, says: “While big companies have the infrastructure, client bases and capital to cope with the challenges highlighted in the survey, many small businesses, which have the potential to be active players in the South African economy, do not have the financial muscle and resources to overcome these challenges.”

Elaine Wang, Microsoft Business Unit Manager at Rectron, adds: “With the ever-looming possibility of load shedding, there is no better time for SMEs to consider a cloud solution for their businesses. Given limited capital for expensive infrastructure, public cloud offerings are a great way to ensure that SMEs are protected against loss of data and downtime. These solutions also ensure that they are able to stay up to date with the latest in technology offerings while paying on a per user or usage basis.”

Goldstuck concurs: “The impact of even short periods without power is greater on SMEs than it would be on larger companies that likely have generators and other fall-back options.”

“The rising concern regarding load shedding is probably also due to the fact that its effects seem more severe now than they did in 2008 and, at the same time, the lights are off for longer periods now. On top of this, there seems to be additional challenges, such as blown transformers that occur when the power comes back on, increasing concerns for the safety of home appliances. All of this, combined, paints a very bleak picture for SMEs,” he adds.

It is also essential for SMEs to play a role in mitigating the effects of load shedding, such as backing up data on their computers, which is integrally tied to a sudden loss of power. “Backing up any less than on a daily basis can prove to be disastrous for an SME, yet the figures demonstrate that the proportion of SMEs doing exactly this has risen from only 30.5% in 2014 to a still-low 40% in 2015,” he says.

There is no doubt that, by failing to improve their policies on backing up, SMEs are flirting with disaster, he says. In an era when electronic information is the lifeblood of a business, it is almost inconceivable that more than one out of every three SMEs only backs up on a weekly or monthly basis.

“Part of the problem is that few SMEs associate power failures with the need to back up data, and yet unexpected load shedding is one of the events most likely to lead to a loss of data,” says Goldstuck. “However, with load shedding expected to be with us for the foreseeable future, I anticipate that backing up will become far more of a priority for SMEs as we move forward. After all, there are already more than enough worries SMEs face, so the thought that one might lose vital business data to an unexpected power failure should be cause for concern for small businesses.”

Ms Nyembe says that big organisations are no longer the primary focus for growth and job creation. The biggest emerging economies today are driven by SMEs as key drivers for economic growth, innovation and sustainable employment. She is of the view that if South Africa is to join their ranks, SMEs need the necessary backing, namely financial assistance, access to markets, corporate and government support, business and skills development, and mentorship.

The SME Survey is the original and largest representative survey of SMEs in South Africa and, since 2003, has contributed ground-breaking research into the forces shaping SME competitiveness.

* SME Survey 2015 is sponsored by Standard Bank and Forest Technologies powered by Rectron

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AppDate: Shedding light in our times of darkness

SEAN BACHER’S app roundup highlights two load-shedding apps, along with South AfriCAM, NBA 2K Mobile, Virgin Mobile’s Spot 3.0 and SwiftKey.

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Load Shedding Notifier

With all the uncertainty about when South Africans will next be plunged into darkness by Eskom, the Load Shedding Notifier tries its best to keep up with Eskom’s schedule. The app is very simple to use. Download it, type an area in and click the save button. The app automatically tells you what load shedding stage Eskom is on, the times you can expect to start lighting candles and for how long to burn them.

Multiple areas can be added and one can switch between the different stages to see how each one will affect a certain area.

A grid status is also displayed, showing how strained the country’s electrical network is.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

EskomSePush Load Shedding App

EskomSePush does much the same as the Load Shedding Notifier, but allows multiple cities to be tracked. However, they may just want to rethink the name of the app if they want wider respectability.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

South AfriCAM

South AfriCAM enables users to add branded stickers and frames from popular lifestyle magazine titles to their posts, including Huisgenoot, YOU, Drum, Move!, TRUE LOVE, Women’s Health and Men’s Health. 

In the process, they can earn JETPoints for their social influence: through the app’s built-in JET8 social currency, users are rewarded for their engagement. For every in-app like, comment, and share, users earn JETPoints, which can be used to redeem products online or over the counter across more than 2 500 retail stores in South Africa. Users are additionally awarded JETPoints for cross-posting onto external social media networks.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

Click here to read about console quality graphics on a mobile phone, Virgin Money payments made easier, and an app that redesigns the keyboard.

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Drones to drive
Western Cape agritech

Aerobotics is set to change how farmers treat their crops by using drones and machine learning, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Western Cape is poised to be a hotbed of innovation in the agritech sector, with drone piloting set to playing a major role in in the tech start-up scene.

This is the view of Tim Willis, chief operating officer of pioneering drone company Aerobotics, a Cape Town drone company recognised as a world leader in agritech.

“Drone piloting is a key skill that feeds into the value chain of the budding 4th Industrial Revolution,” said Willis. “Cape Town and the Western Cape is uniquely positioned to be the melting pot for innovation in the agritech sector, as a leading agricultural exporter and a hub for creative tech start-ups.”

He was speaking at AeroCon, a drone expo organised by Aerobotics and held in Johannesburg this week aimed at providing opportunities for drone pilots to apply their skills in South Africa, and to show how drones are being used to collect data on crops. 

The event was supported by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), Wesgro, PROMMAC, MicaSense, and Rectron, among other

“We’re starting to sign up farmers across the country,” said Willis. “It’s exciting because farmers are starting to use drone technology on their farms. When a farmer wants a drone flown, they want it flown [now] so it’s important for us to capture that data as quickly as possible to show that drones are fast and effective.”

According to aerobotics, drone technology can help farmers reduce pesticide use on their crops by up to 30%. The result is environmentally friendly farming, reducing stressed crops and a healthier harvest. 

“We use aerial imagery from drones to recreate a 3D model of every single tree on a farmer’s orchard,” said Willis. “We’ve done this for millions of trees and it starts to give the farmers metrics of what they’re doing. We provide them with the health of the trees, the height, the volume, the canopy area, which enable the farms to make decisions on what to do next.”

Click here to read more about AeroCon and what it offers to those wanting to get into the drone industry.

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