This year’s SME Survey has revealed that small businesses now consider load shedding to be the biggest threat to their livelihood.
If you were to ask the owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) what keeps them awake at night, chances are that you would be inundated with shared concerns. Based on the findings of the SME Survey this year, finance, competition and crime are some of the most pressing issues. However, crime no longer claims first place. Instead, frequent and prolonged power failures rank as the most concerning issue for SMEs.
According to Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx and principal researcher for SME Survey, this year has seen a dramatic shift in what SMEs consider to be the biggest external threats to their businesses.
“With power failures cited by 71% of respondents, the issue rates at almost exactly double the importance of crime, which came in a distant second, at 36%. This category is obviously driven to a large extent by those concerns that are highest in the public mind – SMEs have in the past attributed their sleepless nights to crime, the high cost of fuel, or even interest rates. These results came even when power failures were featured in the survey during the first load shedding several years ago, but load shedding still came well below crime at the time,” he says.
“The reason we have seen such a massive jump for this category is due to the cumulative effects of ongoing load shedding. While load shedding has been punted as a temporary problem, it is clear that business fears that it is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.”
Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank, says: “While big companies have the infrastructure, client bases and capital to cope with the challenges highlighted in the survey, many small businesses, which have the potential to be active players in the South African economy, do not have the financial muscle and resources to overcome these challenges.”
Elaine Wang, Microsoft Business Unit Manager at Rectron, adds: “With the ever-looming possibility of load shedding, there is no better time for SMEs to consider a cloud solution for their businesses. Given limited capital for expensive infrastructure, public cloud offerings are a great way to ensure that SMEs are protected against loss of data and downtime. These solutions also ensure that they are able to stay up to date with the latest in technology offerings while paying on a per user or usage basis.”
Goldstuck concurs: “The impact of even short periods without power is greater on SMEs than it would be on larger companies that likely have generators and other fall-back options.”
“The rising concern regarding load shedding is probably also due to the fact that its effects seem more severe now than they did in 2008 and, at the same time, the lights are off for longer periods now. On top of this, there seems to be additional challenges, such as blown transformers that occur when the power comes back on, increasing concerns for the safety of home appliances. All of this, combined, paints a very bleak picture for SMEs,” he adds.
It is also essential for SMEs to play a role in mitigating the effects of load shedding, such as backing up data on their computers, which is integrally tied to a sudden loss of power. “Backing up any less than on a daily basis can prove to be disastrous for an SME, yet the figures demonstrate that the proportion of SMEs doing exactly this has risen from only 30.5% in 2014 to a still-low 40% in 2015,” he says.
There is no doubt that, by failing to improve their policies on backing up, SMEs are flirting with disaster, he says. In an era when electronic information is the lifeblood of a business, it is almost inconceivable that more than one out of every three SMEs only backs up on a weekly or monthly basis.
“Part of the problem is that few SMEs associate power failures with the need to back up data, and yet unexpected load shedding is one of the events most likely to lead to a loss of data,” says Goldstuck. “However, with load shedding expected to be with us for the foreseeable future, I anticipate that backing up will become far more of a priority for SMEs as we move forward. After all, there are already more than enough worries SMEs face, so the thought that one might lose vital business data to an unexpected power failure should be cause for concern for small businesses.”
Ms Nyembe says that big organisations are no longer the primary focus for growth and job creation. The biggest emerging economies today are driven by SMEs as key drivers for economic growth, innovation and sustainable employment. She is of the view that if South Africa is to join their ranks, SMEs need the necessary backing, namely financial assistance, access to markets, corporate and government support, business and skills development, and mentorship.
The 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
Money talks and electronic gaming evolves
Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.
The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.
The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games.
It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.
MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.
“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”
New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.
“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”
Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.
Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.
This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.
What is blockchain?
A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.
A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.
Each block stores:
– A number of valid records or transactions.
– Information referring to that block.
– A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.
Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.
As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.
How is blockchain so secure?
Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.
Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.
In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.
What else can blockchain be used for?
Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.
Use of blockchain in healthcare
Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.
Use of blockchain for documents
Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.
Other blockchain uses
This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.
Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.
Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.