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Some cloud solutions to load shedding

As load shedding threatens businesses and their livelihood by causing them to turn customers away, TRACEY NEWMAN believes that many can turn to cloud-based services to keep themselves operational when the lights go out.

As the scourge of load shedding once again threatens to cause havoc amongst South African businesses by plunging restaurants into darkness during peak lunch time hours and causing clothing retailers to turn customers away during profitable weekend shopping hours, what measures can local companies take to minimise the impact of blackouts on their business?

According to Tracey Newman, SMB Lead at Microsoft South Africa, the answer, especially for companies that cannot afford to adopt green solutions and expensive UPS’s, may lie in the cloud – that is for businesses to adopt cloud-based services.

Besides leaving a business in the dark, power outages also breaks the line of communication organisations have to customers, partners, and service providers. Here, cloud-based services can keep that line open after Eskom closes the power taps. Unlike PABX lines, solutions like Skype for Business will enable a company to make or answer business calls and have conference calls with clients or video calls with employees in the field during power outages.

Staying productive during outages & out of the office

With cloud storage, there is no longer a need to have expensive UPSs running the company’s server during load shedding times since data is stored online and can be access from anywhere, any time, and using virtually any device. The organisation’s crucial business data remains accessible during power outages, since employees only need a connection to the internet like a 3G dongle plugged into a laptop or even a smartphone acting as a Wi-Fi hotspot for instance.

In fact, cloud has advantages for business with UPS’s as well since the network, computing and storage equipment takes around 40% of the power, while 35% is allocated to cooling the equipment, and only 5% goes to lighting as well as other ancillaries. This means that the cloud can offer significant cost and reliability advantages for businesses relying on UPS power during power outages.

Cloud-based services also make it possible for staff to work from home, where they can utilise soft phone (VoIP) capabilities and presence information to answer calls and attend meetings. Companies that are expanding quickly can utilise these services to instigate a telecommute programme for employees who do not need to be office bound all day to reduce office space costs as well as the impact of power outages. The added benefit of initiatives like these is an improvement in employee retention since workers have the flexibility to work from anywhere.

Providing secure access to the data you need most

A common barrier preventing organisations from moving forward with the migration of their data to the cloud is concerns over security and privacy. At Microsoft South Africa, the protection of user privacy and their personal data is as important as fostering innovation. We understand that our customers will only use technology that they trust and that is why we work hard to strengthen privacy and compliance protections for our customers in the cloud.

“Some of the fruits of our labour in this regard includes the fact that Microsoft has become the first major cloud provider to adopt the world’s first international standard for cloud privacy, namely ISO/IEC 27018. This standard was developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) to establish a uniform, international approach to protecting privacy for personal data stored in the cloud,” says Newman.

She added that, “Our adherence to the standard ensures that we only process personally identifiable information according to the instructions that customers provide to us. For enterprise customers, our adherence also reaffirms our commitment not to use enterprise data for advertisement purposes.”

NSBC is always connected thanks to the cloud

For an organisation like the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) being constantly connected to its data and services, even from remote locations is important. The NSBC needed a solution that could support the growing Bring Your Own Device phenomenon amongst its employees and offer mobility as well as access to email as well as documents from anywhere and consequently migrated to Office 365.

To date the NSBC has enjoyed several benefits as a result of migrating its legacy on premise business tools to Microsoft Office 365 including access to unlimited email storage space, which was a constant internal challenge at the NSBC. In addition, the solution automatically backs up the organisation’s information to a remote location, keeping data safe in the event of break-ins or fires.

The move to the cloud has become imperative to the survival of the SMB, not just because of the resulting isolation from the effects of power outages, but also because it is secure and provides flexibility for employees who are empowered to be productive for their company from wherever they find themselves.

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Loadshedding keeps small business from the cloud

New research shows nearly half of South African small businesses struggle with internet connectivity

New research reveals South African small businesses aren’t able to adopt cloud technology because of their connectivity problems. The third annual State of Small Business report from accounting software firm Xero, conducted in partnership with World Wide Worx (WWW), shows that over half (53%) of small businesses haven’t adopted cloud technology yet, due to connectivity problems.

Over half (59%) said that scheduled power outages by the national supplier posed a significant challenge for their business. In addition, more than two fifths (43%) said that their internet connection was ‘OK but not 100% reliable’. Other challenges cited include new technologies entering the market (29%) and compatibility with customers (45%).

The research represents the opinions of 400 South African small business owners and 200 South African accountants. Almost half (47%) said their staff were highly tech-literate, but more than two thirds (67%) don’t allocate budget for training employees to use the software provided.

Colin Timmis, General Country Manager, Xero SA and professional accountant said “Our most recent State of Small Business report gives a real insight into what it’s like on the ground for small businesses in South Africa. In uncertain times like these, technology can provide stability. For example, cloud software can help overcome issues with connectivity. It helps to make your business more agile, meaning you can work from anywhere at any time. Being able to move when there are scheduled power cuts or patchy internet is crucial to keeping your business running.”

Nearly all who had adopted cloud technology said that they noticed an increase in profit (98%) and an increase in efficiency (99%). More than half (51%) suggested that it had improved their ability to work anywhere, and a quarter (25%) said it had improved security.

In addition, nearly two fifths (38%) said their IT set up was ahead of the curve. Over half (56%) said they use basic automation, whether in operational or accounting tasks. A quarter (25%) said they were using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, followed by cloud computing (19%).

“It’s great that South Africa’s small businesses are seeing the benefits of adopting technology. But there will be a learning curve for anyone using new software and employees shouldn’t be expected to self-teach. Because people are more tech-savvy than they used to be, training normally only takes a few hours. It could make all the difference in getting return on investment on the technology that you buy”, said Timmis.

Other key findings from the research reveal:

  • Three quarters (79%) of small businesses claim that accounting software support is very important
  • Three quarters (78%) of respondents use accounting software to manage financial records and over half (55%) are using desktop solutions.
  • Only one fifth (22%) are using cloud accounting tools and nearly a quarter (23%) still do their books manually.
  • Only a tiny proportion of respondents (0.25%) are using AI and machine learning.

Download the report in full here.

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Uberising solar energy

A team of students from Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya on Thursday walked off as winners with R20 000 in prize money for an innovative concept to provide equitable energy access to remote villages based on, among others, “Uber(ising) solar energy.”

The team was one of four university teams participating in the African Utility Week and Powergen Africa conference and exhibition’s first ever Initiate! Impact Challenge. The 19th edition of the event gathered thousands of power, water and gas industry experts in Cape Town this week and ended on Thursday.

Student teams from Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand also took part in the three-day challenge sponsored by the Enel Foundation, the Innovation Hub, Lesedi Nuclear Services and the Russian Nuclear Agency Rosatom. The Initiate! Challenge aimed to create a platform for students and start-ups to drive innovation and share ideas for the energy sector.

Strathmore University’s winning team: (left to right) Fredrick Amariati, Ignatius Maranga, Raymond Kiyegga and Alex Osunga.

The Strathmore University team included engineering students Ignatius Maranga, Raymond Kiyegga, Fredrick Amariati and Alex Osunga. One member of the team will also have the exclusive opportunity to join the 5th annual student fact-finding mission to Russia to visit several state-of-the-art nuclear facilities and dedicated Russian nuclear universities. Maranga said the team is happy and humbled especially because they competed against some of the top universities on the continent. He said the teams’ winning idea is rooted in real life challenges that Kenyans in rural areas face. “The solutions offered so far to expand energy access are not solving these problems as many are not financially viable.”

The team’s idea is to put a solar panelled container in rural villages that will also house a clinic and a knowledge hub like a school for vocational training to teach people about the use and benefits of solar energy. It will also include a shop where villagers can buy daily essentials like milk.

Maranga said: “The school will help with capacity building as villagers will see and learn benefits of electricity and as the business grows, they will want to have electricity in their homes and when that point comes, we will have solar powered tricycles. These tricycles will carry and deliver batteries like Uber does passengers to villagers in more remote areas. The system is modular so we will add another container to charge batteries. These batteries are ferried on trikes, so villagers in more remote areas can request a number of charged batteries on their phone.”

Maranga explained that it is common cause that Africa is big, and many people live in remote rural villages. “So, it is not always possible to extend the power grid to these areas as it is very expensive. So, what do we do instead? Most people own a cell phone, and everyone needs electricity, so you take it to them. They cannot exactly carry a battery for two kilometres so why then not Uber a battery?” Maranga said their company Kijiji, (Swahili for village) will now look at commercialising their idea, optimise it and do market tests. “If accepted we want to roll it out depending on funding.”

The team’s idea appealed to the judges because it was a simple idea that is easy to replicate beyond Kenya to the rest of the continent. Chief executive officer of Rosatom Central and Southern Africa, Dmitry Shornikov, said: “We are very pleased with the solutions presented by the students. The maturity and depth of their research gives us great hope and proves that young Africans really are devoted to solving Africa’s energy challenges.”

Business Development executive at Lesedi Nuclear Services, Shane Pereira, in an earlier interview said the company partnered with Initiate! because it is dedicated to the youth that will be the leaders of tomorrow. “The growth and development as well as training, coaching and mentoring of the youth is critical to the success of our future economy.”

The ideas of the other three teams focused more on mitigating the risk of climate change and came up with ideas ranging from vertical farms to energy boxes.

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