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Cloud coming to SMEs

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With the arrival of uncapped and affordable ADSL products for SMEs, cloud computing is set to transform the way that businesses consume ICT services within the next two years, says TIM WALTER of Nashua Mobile.

The high price and erratic quality of bandwidth in South Africa are the two of the major factors that have held back cloud computing. With the arrival of innovative and affordable data products such as uncapped ADSL products aimed at SMEs, this picture is rapidly changing.

Cloud computing allows SMEs to access technology applications as online services provided by telecommunication service providers rather than needing to install them on their PCs and servers. These services are billed for per-user, per-month.

The benefits of cloud computing are hard to ignore since it can drive down IT operational and capital costs for small businesses while giving them richer functionality and more business flexibility.

Many small businesses are already using some cloud services such as hosted email, hosted mobile messaging services such as the BlackBerry service, and cloud storage solutions like Dropbox without being aware of it.

But in the next phase of the market’s development, they will start moving large and more complex applications to the cloud as they seek ways to improve efficiency and save money. Examples may include line of business applications and hosted PBX solutions.

Cloud computing is irresistible for a small business because it turns something that used to be capital expenditure into a running cost, freeing up precious cash for other uses. It can also help them to reduce the amount of money they spend on IT support from internal staff or external service providers.

Because the applications are hosted on a service provider’s infrastructure, the SME may not need to buy and run its own servers anymore. What’s more, it will be freed of the headache of keeping applications patched and up to date.

Another benefit lies in the fact that they can expand their use of cloud services when they need to. They don’t need a lot of server capacity that sits idle outside of month-end and they can easily add more users to the system as the business grows.

With the trend towards remote and mobile work, the fact that applications and data stored in the cloud can be accessed securely from anywhere in the world is another plus, Walter notes.

Mobile workers can plug right into the data they need while they’re at a customer’s site and capture data or orders without coming back to the office.

In many cases, a cloud-based service will be more secure and feature-rich than a system a SME could build itself. The reason for this is that the costs of the infrastructure are shared across the customer base, meaning that the service provider can afford software and hardware out of the average SME’s price range.

Nashua Mobile believes that cloud computing will become mainstream in the SME market within the next year and is working to offer a range of hosted products in the second half of 2012.

With mainstream software vendors like Microsoft aggressively pushing the cloud, it will be the computing model of the future,‚ he adds. According to market researcher, IDC 63% of South African organisations are already investing in some form of cloud technology or plan to do so in the near future.

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Telcos want one face

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The investments that telecommunications service providers are making in reshaping their online properties into customer-centric portals reflects the growing maturity of self-service and Internet uptake in the industry, says KEVIN MELTZER of Consology.

Many telcos around the world are overhauling their websites to offer customers more holistic portals that give them a single point of entry into the organisation.

They are doing so because they recognise that service will be a key point of differentiation for their businesses in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. They have also realised that they have a major opportunity to shift customers away from expensive contact centres towards low-cost electronic channels.

In the past, most telecommunications operators ran multiple sites across multiple domains and subdomains. These web-based properties were built around the way that telcos structured their own businesses rather than around the needs of the customer. But we are now seeing the leading operators take a more user-centric approach to the way that they design their web and mobile sites.

This coincides with a change in the industry from slicing customers into numerous segments and then serving them across a range of functional and product areas. For example, many operators split customers into prepaid and postpaid segments or voice and data users, distinctions that are becoming less meaningful in a world of technology convergence. They now want to present a single face to the customer rather than servicing the subscriber through silos.

These changes are starting to percolate through to operators’ customer service and sales strategies. Telcos are starting to pull together disparate products and services that once resided across multiple sites into customer service portals.

These sites put a wide range of information at the subscriber’s fingertips, he adds. Increasingly, for example, subscribers can log directly into their accounts from the operator’s homepage and then access a wealth of services and information. This marks an evolution from the fractured and inconsistent customer experience of the past.

Leading operators are even thinking about how their Self-Service platforms should be integrated with social media strategies to allow customers to pay their electronic bills or top up airtime with a single click from within a social network.

Whereas Self-Service portals on telco sites were once purely about account management functions, they increasingly offer far richer functionality. In addition to allowing subscribers to pay their bills and check their account information, they are also increasingly becoming the first stop for service and commerce.

Operators have started to recognise that splintering their e-commerce, service and account management functions simply makes no sense. Customers want to be able to do everything through one interface rather than needing to visit two or three Web sites, or eventually possibly needing to phone a call centre or visit a store for certain transactions.

Integrated and easy to use online customer service channels will be central for telco operators who want to be competitive in the markets of tomorrow. They form an advantage in an industry where it will be customer relationships rather than cost or service that drive loyalty and purchasing decisions.

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Talk for less with MWEB Talk

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Today, MWEB announced its consumer VoIP package called MWEB Talk, which allows users to make free network calls and get discounted rates made to landlines and mobile phones.

MWEB, today launched its new Voice over IP (VoIP) offering to South African consumers. The service, MWEB Talk, will offer users’ free on network calls to fellow MWEB Talk users’ and cheap calls to landline and mobile phone numbers. This follows the success and demand of the ISP’s existing VoIP products in recent months.

‚”We have seen a noticeable transformation in users’ Internet behaviour with consumers wanting services that complement their ADSL connectivity solution. We have seen phenomenal growth and by the end of the year will deliver over 100 million minutes on our VoIP platform,‚” says Carolyn Holgate, General Manager of MWEB Connect, the ISP’s Consumer and Small Office/ Home Office Division.

MWEB has made significant investments in its infrastructure and VoIP has been prioritised on its network to ensure performance and stability of the MWEB Talk service for both businesses and consumers.

‚”In addition to the high quality of the service, MWEB Talk is also simple to set-up and users’ should experience a significant reduction in their telephone bills. By implementing a VoIP service consumers and small businesses can cut their monthly telecommunication bills by up to 55% to landline and mobile numbers,‚” says Holgate.

With no subscription fee, existing MWEB customers can log into their MWEB account, register for the service and download the application for PC and Mac as well as mobile applications that turn an iPhone, Android, and Nokia smartphone into a VoIP phone. Customers will also be able to purchase a Desktop VoIP Handset for R99 which will be HD voice ready and will support multi-extensions.

‚”We believe that VoIP is the future of telephony in South Africa and we are extremely excited to see the consumer market shift into the VoIP space,‚” concludes Holgate.

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