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Tangible SME uptake of cloud services

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The uptake of cloud services in the SME sector has been growing steadily, but according to this year’s SME Survey, businesses are now realising the benefits offered by online storage, backups and services.

The uptake of cloud services in the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector has been growing steadily, but 2015 sees businesses finally beginning to wake up to the benefits offered by services like online storage and backups.

The number of SMEs using cloud services in 2015 jumped by 10% – up to 39% – from 2014, according to Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx and principal researcher for SME Survey 2015.

“For the first time, we are seeing a real take-up of cloud services, which indicates that more and more SMEs are overcoming their natural apprehensions around the cloud and are instead starting to realise the benefits this can offer,” he says.

“Of those surveyed, although only an additional 4.5% said they would definitely be using the cloud by next year, there are obvious clues that we can expect an even bigger jump in the numbers. In particular, a fifth of SMEs (19%) said their use of cloud next year will depend on business needs, and another third (35%) say they are currently unsure. We anticipate that at least a portion of these businesses will discover they either need or want the cloud. It is therefore logical to extrapolate a figure that suggests more than 50% of SMEs will be using the cloud by 2016.”

Furthermore, adds Goldstuck, there are many SMEs that are already using cloud services, without even knowing it. He points out that when the survey questioned SMEs about whether they were using particular services, such as online e-mail, some 83% stated that they were doing so.

“Services like this could be referred to as the Invisible Cloud; online e-mail is obviously a cloud-based service, yet the majority of SMEs clearly don’t see it as such.”

A further 47% of SMEs said that they made use of online backups, while 37% utilised online accounting, 27% used an online project management service and 25% had an online customer relationship management (CRM) solution. This, says Goldstuck, is a clear indication that there is massive uptake and yet a lack of understanding among SMEs as to what constitutes the cloud.

“The disconnect in the figures between what SMEs consider to be cloud services and the actual cloud-based services that many of them are already using demonstrates that there is a lack of education about what the cloud really is and what services actually form part of it.”

Clearly, discovering that many of the solutions they already use, such as Gmail and Microsoft OneDrive are part of the cloud, is a key aspect of the migration process. This is because, upon realising this, most SMEs are then prepared to go deeper into the cloud.

“While it is obvious that SMEs are becoming more technology-savvy and mature in the use of cloud – even when they don’t know it is part of the cloud – for more significant uptake to occur, the cloud service providers need to play a role in educating SMEs more effectively around the topic.”

“Ultimately, of course, the real driver will come not from whether they know certain solutions are cloud services or not. Instead, real uptake of cloud will be driven, as implied by the survey results, by selling specific applications to SMEs. If service providers are able to convince more SMEs to utilise specific solutions – like online backup, to protect against the increasing dangers posed by power failures, for example – it won’t be long before they realise the benefits. This, in turn, will make them more predisposed to adopting other cloud services that could be equally beneficial,” says Goldstuck. “The key is to market the applications within the cloud, not the cloud itself.”

Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank, agrees with this approach: “Cloud-based products can provide small and medium business owners with efficient, simple and cost-effective business management solutions, thus saving the enterprise time and money, which is vital for prosperity. For example, cloud-based HR applications are more economical than tailored in-house systems, as they involve no upfront costs and are adaptable, thus giving the entrepreneur the time needed to focus on innovation.”

Elaine Wang, Microsoft Business Unit Manager at Rectron, says: “While it is incredible to watch the uptake of cloud services skyrocketing due to the inherent benefits that it offers to SMEs, they should still consider all possible alternatives in deciding which solutions to implement as well as how to get it done. The results of the research indicates that there is a fuzzy line between consumer and commercial solutions. Therefore, SMEs need to ensure that they are taking full advantage of the security and features behind the commercial solutions, and are choosing the right partner to take them forward.”

SME Survey is the original and largest representative survey of SMEs in South Africa and, since 2003, has contributed ground-breaking research into the forces shaping SME competitiveness.

* SME Survey 2015 is sponsored by Standard Bank and Forest Technologies powered by Rectron

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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