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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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Here is 2019’s tech

From AI to flexible displays, this is the tech that will shape 2019, writes CY KIM, MD of LG SA

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2018 was incredibly exciting for the technology sector which has seen myriad advancements. These include the fundamentals of artificial intelligence (AI) being established, robots helping around the house and consumer electronic innovations such as TVs that are so thin, they might be mistaken for windows, or paintings.

2019 promises to be another significant year as people’s attitudes are changing and technology becomes embedded in our lives. Smart electronics manufacturers will ensure their plans for the future match evolving consumer needs with suitable technology.

We take a look at the biggest innovations for 2019 from AI to lightning-fast internet speeds and flexible viewing surfaces, and we shed some light on how these evolving technologies will impact on how we live and work.

AI will come of age

AI has experienced a marked increase in investments and according to Forbes, 80% of enterprises are investing in AI while 30% are planning to expand their AI investments in the next three years. It’s estimated that during 2017, venture, corporate and seed investors put about $3.6-billion into AI and machine learning companies.

This investment trend has given rise to innovation in deep learning products that have the potential to change the world for the better.

Yes, AI has been around since the 1950s, but its consumer benefits weren’t visible until recently and 2019 will be the year when AI starts to really take off and become a necessity, not just in the home, but in every facet of our lives.

The potential of AI is endless as this technology goes into everything from small watches to cars and even gigantic, connected smart cities. AI is also starting to find its way into TVs, washing machines, refrigerators, speakers, mobile phones and even air cons as products adapt to human behaviour.

Lightning-fast internet speeds

Faster internet speeds enable quicker response times for business tools that we all rely on to get the job done. It will increase the efficiency of workers and will provide reliable communication tools for companies that rely on remote workers.

Given that the so-called gig economy has grown exponentially in recent years, the expectation is that the evolving workforce will contain a higher percentage of employees, or contractors who do not work in a central office.

5G has the potential to change the world the way the internet did a few decades ago. The fifth generation of wireless technology will take internet connectivity to a new level as the internet of things (IoT), will bring about the potential for everything to be connected to everything.

However, 5G is not just about faster internet speeds. It will create new possibilities in numerous sectors, including medicine, transportation and manufacturing.

A smarter world through IoT and AI isn’t possible without 5G’s speed and capacity as the system is able to carry large numbers of connections simultaneously, and is therefore crucial to the development of smart cities, autonomous cars and smart homes.

Life-enriching smart technology

Much like technological innovations, consumer habits and preferences are changing drastically when it comes to home appliances and particularly, home entertainment.

Most consumers believe that advancements in home entertainment tech is life-enriching and that their life is better with the latest tech at their fingertips as it allows them to stay indoors and enjoy quality time with friends and family.

The value of home entertainment tech lies in how it allows loved ones to share experiences, thereby bringing them closer together, particularly during big events such as major sporting events and holiday celebrations.

The potential of flexible viewing surfaces will not only change home entertainment, but also marketing techniques in shopping malls, city centres and shop fronts. With the ability to curve around any environment, this technology creates the perfect platform for signage and consumer engagement that stands out from the crowd.

LG Electronics is an established market leader in innovation and has already started to incorporate these futuristic technologies into its products, which are designed to make consumers lives more convenient. We will continue to release amazing products that utilise smart tech to connect with consumers while staying ahead of the evolutionary curve.

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AI will power IoT

A simple gesture. A world built from accessible assets that drive human convenience and interaction. This is the future that’s powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), two of the planet’s hottest topic trends right now for a very good reason. They work, says PHATHIZWE MALINGA, managing director of SqwidNet.

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They are also the fuel driving digital transformation in 2019. These are the technologies revolutionising performance, process and productivity. They are also transforming industry challenges across agriculture, retail, health and the public sector and are set to continue on this path well into 2019.

IoT has become the central nervous system of technology, allowing users to make intelligent decisions without feeling overwhelmed by choice or technology. Its ability to make life easier on every level – business, consumer, public sector – is the next step of the IoT evolution as it improves quality of life using AI and machine learning to analyse past behaviour and the insights it gleans to change the future.

This is the vision of the perfect IoT and AI future. The two technologies so intertwined and connected that they are influencing one another’s growth, development and adoption. IoT provides the ability to generate data from the changing circumstances of an asset and the infrastructure required to transport that data to where it can be accessed and analysed. Considering the sheer volume of data generated, it is impossible for a human being to analyse it at the speed required for real-time decision making. And this is why AI has become so important.

Today, it is possible to write code that can read the data generated by IoT and identify meaningful patterns at the right speed. This code can also be written in such a way that it can learn from the results it found the last time it ran. It is code that can learn, an algorithm that can self-educate. In this way, AI requires the power of IoT to generate the data it needs to learn and IoT needs AI to ensure that this data can be made meaningful, in time.

Over the next six to 12 months, it is very likely that the potential of IoT will see numerous small players emerge across all industries. They will be focused on servicing those who have yet to experience the full benefits of IoT and they will use technology to deliver solutions that are just ‘good enough’. This could potentially see the more established players being disrupted but most will likely be using the same technology to innovate and to create solutions that don’t just meet customer expectations but transcend them.  Of course, there will be some companies that will remain complacent and they will be the ones battling for customer attention out on the IoT playing field with the small, fresh players.

While on the topic of the customer, the next year is likely to introduce a lot more variety and scalability. The consistent drop in the cost of technology will allow for more choice in solution and capability and this will have a knock-on effect with regards to quality of life and the choices customers make when it comes to solution and service provider.

On the business frontier, the growth of IoT and AI offer an interesting bouquet of choices and opportunities. They allow for investment into solutions that generate better insights that, in turn, generate better products and services. Organisations that ignore this potential or think they can sidle on past what IoT and AI bring to the business are likely to be the ones that are left behind. It’s a cliché for a reason. A single look back at the companies that have emerged as big players in industries previously perceived as impenetrable proves the point. Innovation isn’t optional, it’s an essential part of business DNA and both IoT and AI are critical parts of the ability to innovate at speed, with relevance, and on time.

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