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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

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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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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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