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Got process? The 3 signs you need it

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After surviving the first few years as a start-up, things may be running smoothly. But, warns SANDRA SWANEPOEL, Vice President for Midmarket Africa at Sage, if you want to grow you will have to start implementing strict business processes.

You conduct your performance reviews over a casual lunch or coffee meeting with employees, get expense reports and payroll done on Saturday mornings and record customer information on spreadsheets. You have survived your first few years as a start-up, and business is on the up and up.

The last thing you feel like doing is complicating things by adopting formal business processes – after all, that’s what you and your employees hate about big corporations – restricted agility and unnecessary complexity.

The reality, unfortunately, is that unless you can support growth from a processes point of view, your business will stagnate. There comes a point when your customers will start having higher expectations from you. Your employees will, too.

To survive, you’ll need to have suitable software systems in place, start documenting policies and formalising other aspects of the business to ensure compliance and productivity and reduce the risk of reputational damage.

What you will gain

Done well, formalising the company’s structure and processes gives management better visibility and control of the organisation’s finances, speeds up paperwork, and helps align everyone in the company behind its values and strategy. It can be good for employee morale because people will feel confident about their purpose and responsibilities.

What you stand to lose

Resisting the need to formalise processes could harm customer service, make it hard to comply with various laws and regulations, and restrain the company from reaching its true potential in terms of profitability and revenue. It could also make it difficult to monitor your team’s performance or leave gaps for reputational risk, human error, insider fraud and other risks to creep into your day-to-day operations.

How to tell when the time has come

Here are three signs that it’s time to formalise your business processes:

1.     Your  headcount is growing rapidly

As your turnover and headcount grow, so do your responsibilities in terms of legal and regulatory compliance. The tipping point usually comes at a turnover of around R5 million and a headcount of more than 50.  For example, the Companies Act exempts smaller, owner-managed companies in South Africa from needing an external audit. The act provides a Public Interest scoring system, taking into account how many employees you have, your revenues, your liabilities and your external shareholders.

As your business grows, you may need to meet the tougher demands of an external auditor, which will be far easier if you have a proper business system and formal processes in place. Likewise, it will become subject to requirements such as the Employment Equity Act and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Codes and regulations. Compliance with these will be much easier with formal processes in place.

Quite apart from the compliance angle, a larger headcount and turnover means that managing your business by filing papers in a shoebox or chatting to employees over the tea break will become increasingly impractical. To remain in control, you’ll need to do things in a standardised and consistent manner and ensure that you can monitor financial and operational performance. Formal processes and systems are also essential to HR functions such as performance appraisals, succession planning and career paths.

2.     Your business is multifaceted

If you run an intricate, geographically dispersed or heavily regulated business – for example, certain forms of complex manufacturing or financial services – you may need to fast-track formalising your business processes. Your customers and funders will demand it and you’ll need to have the process discipline to deliver accurate reporting, ensure consistent product and service quality, and monitor performance.

3.     Your growth is accelerating

Companies cannot afford for their businesses processes, employees and management to fall behind the growth of the company. If growth is accelerating, your company is probably starting to compete with bigger companies that have economies of scale, established systems and robust business processes. That means you may also need to retool your company with formal processes and systems to boost productivity, ensure staff retention and deliver your product or service with a predictable quality level.

It’s about the right solution. If your business has survived to a point where you need more formal systems, you should congratulate yourself. Not all companies manage to survive their first few years; you can consider yourself a business hero because you are helping to grow South Africa’s prosperity. Apart from documenting standards and procedures, one of the keys to ensuring your future sustainability is usually to put systems in place to automate processes.

It is also worth remembering that just as not having the right systems in place can slow you down, so will having a system that is too sophisticated. Often these systems are also expensive and resource intensive, choose your software well, making sure that it fits the maturity of your business

The best system is one that saves time and makes you more agile, with a direct ROI that can be seen as soon as you are live on the product. This is one of the topics that we will be discussing at the Sage Summit as we seek to advise business builders how to reach the next level. The Sage Summit takes place at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg from 7-9 March 2017.

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Epic Games brings a
Nite-mare to Android

Epic Games’ decision to not publish games through Google Play inadvertently opens a market to Android virus makers, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, decided to take the high road by skipping Google Play’s app distribution market and placing a third-party installer for its games on its website. While this is technically fine, it is not recommended for the average user, because allowing third-party installers on one’s smartphone opens up the possibility of non-signed and malicious software to be run on the smartphone. 

In June, malware researchers at ESET warned Android gamers that malicious fake versions of the Fortnite app had been created to steal personal information or damage smartphones. A malware researcher demonstrated how the fake applications works in the Tweet below.

While the decision to bypass Google Play was a bold move on Epic Games’ part, it has been a long time coming for app developers to move their premium apps off Google’s Play Store. The two major app distributors, Google Play and Apple’s App Store, take a 30% cut of every purchase made through their app distribution platforms. 

The App Store is currently the only way to get apps on a non-modified iOS device, which is why Epic Games had no choice for Fortnite to be in the App Store. On the other hand, Android phones can install packages downloaded through the browser, which makes the Play Store almost unnecessary for the gaming company. 

The most interesting part of this development is that Google is not the “bad guy” and Epic Games is no saviour to other game developers. Epic Games is a company with a multi-billion dollar valuation and has resources like large-scale servers to distribute and update its games, a big marketing budget to ensure everyone knows how to get its games, and server security to protect against malware. 

Resources of this scale allow the game company to turn a cold shoulder to Google’s Play Store distribution and focus on its own, in-house solution. 

That said, installing packages without the Google Play Store must be done carefully, and it is essential to do homework on where a package is downloaded. Moreover, when a package is installed outside of the Google Play Store, a security switch to block the installation of third party apps must be turned off. This switch should be turned back on immediately after the third party package is installed. 

This complex amount of steps makes it less worthwhile to install third party apps, in favour of rather waiting for them to reach the Play Store.

From a consumer perspective, ESET recommends not installing packages outside of the Google Play Store and to ignore advertisements to download the game from other sources.

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How to take on IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming, whether you like it or not and organisations today will look to platforms and services that help them manage and analyse the streams of data coming from connected devices, says RONALD RAVEL, Director B2B South Africa, Toshiba South Africa.

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Today, we are witnessing an explosion in IoT deployments and solutions and are moving towards a world where almost everything you can imagine will be connected. While this opens the door to many possibilities it also comes with its own challenges such as privacy and security.

The Internet has become an integral part of everyday life; it has been a free for all on a daily basis. IoT is a difficult concept for many people to wrap their minds around. Essentially, nearly every business will be affected.

Managing vast quantities of data across increasingly mobile workforces can be tremendously beneficial if done well, but equally can be cumbersome and ineffective if not managed properly. This is why technologies such as mobile edge computing are becoming increasingly popular, helping to increase the prevalence of secure mobile working and data management in the age of IoT.

Unlocking IoT

The evolution of IoT, despite rapid and ongoing technological innovation, is still very much in its fledgling stages. Its potential, though, is demonstrated by the fact that by 2020, Bain anticipates a significant shift in uptake, with roughly 80 per cent of adoptions at that point to have progressed to the stage of either ‘proof of concept’ or extensive implementation. This means that technological innovation in IoT for the enterprise is progressing at a similarly fast rate with many of these solutions being developed with utilities, engineering, manufacturing and logistics companies in mind.

Processing at the edge

For IoT to be adopted at the rate predicted, technology which does not overwhelm current or even legacy systems must be implemented. Mobile edge computing solves this. Such solutions offer processing power at the edge of the network, helping firms with a high proportion of mobile workers to reduce operational strain and latency by processing the most critical data at the edge and close to its originating source. Relevant data can then be sent to the cloud for observation and analysis, thereby reducing the waves of ‘data garbage’ which has to be processed by cloud services.

A logistics manager can feasibly monitor and analyse the efficiency of warehouse operations, for example, with important data calculations carried out in real-time, on location, and key data findings then sent to the cloud for centrally-located data scientists to analyse.

The work of wearables

The potential of IoT means it not only has the scope to change the way people work, but also where they work. While widespread mobile working is a relatively new trend in industries such as banking and professional services, for CIOs in sectors where working on the move is inherent – such as logistics and field maintenance – mobility is high on the agenda.

Wearables – and specifically smart glasses – have started to gain traction within the business world. With mobile edge computing solutions acting as the gateway, smart glasses such as Toshiba’s assisted reality AR 100 viewer solution have been designed to benefit frontline and field-based workers in industries such as utilities, manufacturing and logistics. In the renewable energy sector, for example, a wind turbine engineer conducting repairs may use assisted reality smart glasses to call up the schematics of the turbine to enable a hands-free view of service procedures. This means that when a fault becomes a barrier to repair, the engineer is able to use collaboration software to call for assistance from a remote expert and have additional information sent through, thereby saving time and money by eradicating the need for extra personnel to be sent to the site.

The time is ripe for organisations to look to exploit the age of IoT to improve the productivity and safety of their workers, as well as the end service delivered to customers. In fact, Toshiba’s recent ‘Maximising Mobility’ report found that 49 per cent of organisations believe their sector can benefit from the hands-free functionality of smart glasses, while 47 per cent expect them to deliver improved mobile working and 41 per cent foresee better collaboration and information sharing. Embracing IoT technologies such as mobile edge computing and wearable solutions will be an essential step for many organisations within these verticals as they look to stay on top of 21st century working challenges.

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