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How ICT can weather economic storm

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With the weak Rand and interest rate hikes, most industries are affected – and ICT is no exception. But, the economic situation provides the opportunity to look at business processes and find ways to better service customers, writes GERHARD MALAN, Financial Director at Rectron.

South Africa is in for a tough few years, if economists are to be believed. Our economy, weak Rand and recent interest rate hike are affecting industries across the board – and ICT and ICT distribution are no exception. However, our economic situation also provides the opportunity for us to relook our business processes and find ways to better service our customers.

Weak Rand results in expensive technology

A snapshot of the ICT industry in South Africa currently shows that because the majority of products are imported, the weak Rand has made technology more expensive. Since the start of the accelerated depreciation of the Rand, resellers have reported that bigger capital outlays are being delayed for fear that the currency will further weaken. And while the demand for high end equipment is still there, it has decreased to give way to a larger demand for more affordable entry- to mid-level equipment.

This trend isn’t exclusive to South Africa. Although most developed countries have not had to deal with rising interest rates, they have been dealing with a relatively flat economy, making distribution more competitive across the board. Every business trading its home currency against the US Dollar has had to relook its approach to manage its foreign exchange risk.

That said, local vendors are doing what they can to keep their pricing as stable as possible, while foreign vendors are introducing some great initiatives to help protect us against our weakening currency.

An opportunity to rethink how we do business

Simultaneously, while everyone is experiencing the squeeze, it’s a great time for the ICT industry to correct our inefficiencies and cut unnecessary expenses. When the economy is strong, it’s easy to overlook these things, but now’s the time to place the emphasis on return on investment – every expense should be able to have a measureable return. It’s also an optimal time to outperform competitors who might be missing out on the change in how the market is spending.

Of course, beyond these benefits, there is a very real need for businesses within the ICT industry to maintain cash flow. Keeping tight control over budgeted expenses and working capital should put a stop to overspending and uneconomical activities. At the same time, proper risk management when it comes to security, debtors, inventory, cash and insurance is vital. Businesses that are prudent in spend and organised in chaos will come out much stronger and grow much faster when the market turns.

Finding solutions for the customer

From the customer’s perspective, there are also ways to help mitigate risk and reduce capital outlay when the economy is weak. Resellers need to be assisting their customers to continue operating in difficult conditions by offering better advice and products that reduce their expenses or even increase their income. A product such as Rectron Finance does this by freeing up cash so that there are funds available for crucial expenses like rent, salaries, marketing and other important overheads, while ensuring the customer’s business still has access to top end technology.

It’s clear that this is a model that’s working for many businesses, with the uptake of this service on the rise. Since the beginning of 2016 we have seen a trend towards deals being processed through rentals and asset finance rather than normal cash purchases. It’s an opportunity to opt for a manageable monthly expenditure over three to four years, as opposed to a significant once-off outflow of funds at the time of purchase.

What is important for resellers encouraging customers to adopt this model is to start the conversation early. This way, approval is sped up and the customer understands that a big capital outlay isn’t required. There’s also a need to educate on the difference between a rental and an asset finance deal, depending on the customer’s needs.

Beyond these options, several ICT product solutions are also aimed at helping resellers and their customers manage their businesses in the current economic climate. For example, Microsoft’s Office 365 offering gives customers the flexibility on yearly subscriptions, which reduces cash flow. The Samsung LFD range assisted by Intel’s technology also allows resellers to build up different income streams like content management and monthly subscription services, which increases their profitability. From Rectron’s perspective, our online ordering system and our AskRectron app assist customers to reduce their time spent on admin, freeing up time to focus on their business.

ICT plays an important role in national development

These solutions link to the idea that connectivity and the use of technology to access information has an important role to play. It is the key to drive down the country’s unemployment levels through job and entrepreneur creation, as well as by stimulating skills development. In addition, our industry is vital in assisting the government in fulfilling its National Development Plan.

With that in mind, ICT is no longer a luxury but a necessity. That means that despite the challenges facing the ICT industry in light of the state of the economy, it’s never been more important to find new ways to keep technology accessible. There’s little doubt that we are in for a rough ride, but by thinking carefully about how we do business, we are in prime position to weather the storm and make it to the other side.

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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