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How small and medium businesses buy high-tech

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Small and medium enterprises are seen as a gold mine for technology vendors, but there is a secret to how they buy high-tech, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

There are more than 650 000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in South Africa, making the sector a major target market for vendors of almost any type of product aimed at other businesses. High-tech products, solutions and services rank high among these, with SMEs seen as a gold mine for those who can crack the code of how to sell to them.

The problem is that there isn’t really a code, but one very simple secret: SMEs will only buy high-tech solutions when they’ve become a “no-brainer”.

That attitude goes hand in hand with what is to some an unpalatable reality about SMEs: they are notoriously slow at adopting new technologies.

However, that does not mean there is no hope in selling to them. 

SME Survey 2018, a research project conducted by World Wide Worx in partnership with Intuit QuickBooks, showed there is one clear exception: the Internet of Things (IoT). Interviews with 1400 SMEs revealed that 83% of decision-makers expect to be using IoT in their business within five years.

The reason for this enthusiasm? Many of them have been using IoT all along, in particular with fleet- and vehicle-tracking systems, and asset management. The SIM cards hidden in vehicles to allow them to be tracked are in fact part of IoT. They act as sensors that report vehicle positions to base stations, and that information can be aggregated and supplied to live mapping services. In fact, it is just that technology that makes Google Maps so effective for navigation.

However, when it comes to more futuristic technologies, SME enthusiasm vanishes. The next highest-ranked high-tech options were artificial intelligence and Big Data, but they are expected to be adopted by only 29% and 27% of SMEs respectively.  Just 21% of SMEs expect to use 3D printing, while crowdsourcing drops to 16% of respondents. 

Right at the bottom of the list came Bitcoin, the technology underlying Bitcoin, at 9%, and Virtual Reality, at a mere 8%.

The reason is simple: Blockchain is so new, its value proposition remains a mystery to SMEs. Not only that, but it is strongly linked in the public mind with Bitcoin. The massive fluctuations in the value of the cryptocurrency makes it too volatile and risky for the cautious SME decision-maker.

While virtual reality doesn’t suffer the same bad press, it is still regarded as a toy, and falls far short of the no-brainer status SMEs require of technology.

Even the technologies that fare a little better, like artificial intelligence, are still far off the mark for SMEs. Because they require large amounts of data, which are typically generated by large customer bases, they tend to make sense only to large organisations. Further, it requires a new way of thinking, and adoption requires a mindset change, something that is not even on the radar for most SMEs.

The annual SME Survey has shown again and again over the years that decision-makers are generally only willing to embrace a new technology if there is a clear business case.  So, for example, when the massive technology shift from dial-up to ADSL happened between 2003 and 2009, it was not because SMEs were attracted by higher speeds. Rather, it was a combination of speed, cost-effectiveness, efficiency and the ability to connect multiple users to the same connection, at a lower price. In short, it was a no-brainer.

Now, we are witnessing the beginning of the decline of ADSL, for the very same reason. High-tech history is repeating itself as ADSL is replaced by fibre to the home or office. 

ADSL usage peaked at 73% of SMEs in 2009 and remained at this high until 2015, when fibre arrived. SME Survey 2018 indicates that ADSL usage has now dropped to 59% among SMEs, while fibre has increased to 25% – meaning adoption of fibre is taking place even more rapidly than ADSL did 15 years ago.

This is partly due to the rapid rise in availability of fibre across urban areas, coupled with the falling price of the technology. In conjunction with this, the increasing uptake and use of bandwidth-intensive technologies by SMEs has resulted in a perfect storm that is driving a need for technology replacement. In other words, it’s a no-brainer.

When SMEs see such a clear value proposition, they are ready to embrace it rapidly. On the other hand, when it has to be explained or demystified – as originally occurred with the concept of cloud computing – they tend to stay clear of it for far longer. However, the fibre value proposition is so obvious, that SMEs are clear about how it will improve their business, and so adoption is taking off.

A key benefit SMEs obtain from switching to fibre is that it enables SMEs to operate online without the performance and quality constraints they faced before. This means that their communications are significantly improved for  solutions like video-conferencing and social media. It also gives them more confidence in transacting online, thanks to the quality and speed of the connectivity.

Those selling gadgets and other high-tech will probably take courage from one particularly startling finding in SME Survey 2018: that 70% of SMEs are ready to embrace new technologies.

However, it is clear that, while the willingness is there, they will only embrace something new if it makes sense for their business. In other words, just because SMEs say they are ready to embrace new technology, it doesn’t mean that they will buy just any new technology.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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How tech is keeping us young

Research by Lenovo revealed people who use tech feel, on average, 11 years younger.

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Technology is making the world feel younger, healthier and more emotionally connected, reveals new research by Lenovo, suggesting a growing relationship between technological innovation and wellbeing.

The research, which surveyed over 15,000 individuals from around the globe, from the US, Mexico, Brazil, China, India, Japan, UK, Germany, France and Italy, not only found 40% of global respondents feel “a lot” or “somewhat” more youthful thanks to technology, but on average it made them feel younger by 11 years.

This rings most true in China, where 70% of Chinese respondents said technology made them feel more youthful, which could be perhaps due to technologies ability to build connections between generations, especially those who might have once felt disconnected from tech-savvy youngsters. For example, grandparents are now able to better communicate with their grandchildren via smart technology due to its growing ubiquity and ease of use.

The research suggests that this sentiment is felt world-over, across genders and ages. “To know how to operate newer technology makes me feel younger” one US woman, said.  Another woman, from France, also stated, “Compared to the younger generation who are born with all these technologies, my adaptability makes me feel younger”. On the other side of the globe, one female respondent in India cited tech as making her feel like she “can do anything with it which any youngster can do,” and one Chinese male respondent said: “It helps me catch up with the times – not only gaining more knowledge, but also feel that I’m on-trend; I feel younger”.

The research generally revealed that many older generations think using technology helps them to connect better with younger people as well as feel livelier and more knowledgeable. This is especially evident when it comes to the role smart devices (from PCs, tablets to smart home assistants and more) play in terms of relationships with family and friends. When asked to compare technology today to those of 20 years ago for giving them the ability to feel connected to what is going on in the lives of the people they care about, 65 percent answered it’s “getting better”. While 75% also said technology is improving their ability to stay in touch with family and friends who live far away.

The global research also revealed that tech is helping people when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, offering emotional gains, particularly in parents. Over three-quarters (78%) of working parents stated the ever-connected nature of technology helps them feel more emotionally connected to their children, even when they are away from home. An even larger portion (83%) of working parents agreed that emerging technologies are making it easier for them to feel confident that their kids are safe and secure while they are at work.

Over two-thirds (67%) of respondents in the survey stated they were optimistic about the future of technology and the role tech can play in our lives and society, especially in wellbeing, with 67% believing devices are currently having a positive impact on the ability to improve their overall health. And that’s hardly surprising, considering 84% also said tech has empowered them to make improvements in their lives overall.

Take for instance how one respondent, a 51-year-old woman from the US, highlighted how science is using technology to do great things for amputees, and enabling those suffering from mental illness to better connect with people from all over the world. “I think that the medical breakthroughs we’ve had are a tremendous statement on how we can have a positive relationship with technology,” she said.

The recognition that tech is helping to improve the quality of life could also be a result of the time it tends to save people. Half of respondents across all markets (50%) feel their smart devices save them 30 minutes or more a day by helping them do something faster or more efficiently. Similarly, over half (57%) agreed smart devices, such as computers and smart home devices like smart displays and smart clocks, are making them more productive and efficient, the highest perceptions of which were seen in China at 82% and India at 81%.

In terms of personal health, 36% of respondents said smart devices have made it easier for them to access health care providers and make doctor’s appointments, and a further 39% of those under 60 years of age stated modern tech makes it easier for seniors to contact emergency services.

A 23-year-old woman from India, for example, expressed her belief that the technological advancement of medical science is helping people better fight diseases and potentially cure them. “Lives of people are better off nowadays because they know ways of curing such health hazards,” she said. “Through technology, increasing the life span of an individual is very much possible.”

Psychologist and founder of Digital Nutrition, Jocelyn Brewer, said: “Keeping up with advancements in technology can feel like a full-time job, but it can have positive impacts on people’s sense of themselves and their age. While older people are stereotyped as being techno-phobic or inept at staying on-trend, this research points to the fact that maintaining currency in the digital space helps people feel more youthful, more connected to young people and youth culture, which in turn is a social currency for feeling valued and a sense of belonging or in ‘the know’.

“It’s this tech knowledge that drives the perception of feeling younger, without having to revisit the angst of our adolescence!

“Staying connected to the people we care about is a wonderful feature of technology. And while it is no replacement for face-to-face connection, it is a valuable supplement to communication for those who might be geographically divided. Parents can manage a range of responsibilities and provide increasing appropriate autonomy to teenagers through a variety of communication tools, reminders and systems that can help take the struggle out of the daily juggle.”

Dilip Bhatia, Vice President of User and Customer Experience, Lenovo, said: “There is a growing relationship between innovation and wellbeing as smart technologies are not only helping people globally to stay more connected but aiding wellbeing in the form of compassion and empathy by building better connections between them.”

“Technology has a transformational ability to unite people across generations and walks of life around the world, with the potential to help them to live healthier and more fulfilling lives. At Lenovo, we passionately believe in creating smarter technology for all, which is why we focus on making our technology accessible, blending into the everyday lives for the benefit of more people.”

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Advanced traffic management tech market hits $1bn

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A new report from Navigant Research analyzes the ongoing transformation occurring in the traffic management industry, providing global market forecasts, segmented by region and technology, through 2028.

Advanced traffic management systems (ATMSs) such as adaptive traffic control (ATC) are enabling greater efficiencies in the traffic management ecosystem and can help integrate the expected growth in vehicle populations without overwhelming existing infrastructure. ATMSs are also enabling the development of smart intersections, which are emerging as one of the most important data-driven backbones needed for solving core city challenges. Click to tweet: According to a new report from Navigant Research, the global market for advanced traffic management will be worth more than $1.1 billion in 2019. Annual revenue is expected to grow to nearly $3.8 billion by 2028, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.2%.

“The global advanced traffic management market is expected to more than triple by 2028,” says Ryan Citron, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “Over the next 10 years, the market is expected to achieve gradual but accelerating growth as cities prioritize reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, make improvements in safety and livability, and integrate ATMSs with other smart city initiatives (e.g., smart street lighting).”

Currently, cities vary in their level of maturity in using ATMSs. Collecting traffic and vehicle detection data is often the first step toward advanced traffic management. Then, in-depth traffic analytics enable traffic managers to develop mitigation strategies and make operational improvements to existing traffic signal timing systems. In cities with mature traffic management solutions, ATC technologies enable traffic signals to adjust based on real-time traffic conditions, traffic data is sent from traffic lights to connected vehicles, inter-agency data sharing is on the rise, and transport platforms are used to manage mobility ecosystems.

The report, Advanced Traffic Management for Smart Cities, analyzes the ongoing transformation occurring in the traffic management industry. The study focuses on ATC, traffic analytics, artificial intelligence, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, and vehicle detection technologies. Global market forecasts, segmented by region and technology, extend through 2028. This report also explores regional trends in advanced traffic management strategy and highlights city case studies where innovative projects are being deployed. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the Navigant Research website.

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