Eckart Zollner, Business Development Manager at Jasco ICT Solutions
In the last few years, there have been several factors that have driven the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) market, creating shifts in the way businesses operate. These trends include the explosion of the smartphone and tablet market, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) revolution and the emergence of cloud computing locally as a truly viable technology in a host of different areas. All of these trends however are driven by one overarching megatrend – increased connectivity and a move towards always on, always connected technology. The move towards enhancing connectivity and meeting an insatiable and ever-growing demand for data capacity revolutionised the business world, and this trend will only continue, further entrenching connectivity and mobility and reaching up into Africa to help bridge the digital divide.
One of the biggest changes in recent times, and one that caused a fundamental shift in business thinking and operations, is the rapid and exponential growth of the commercial tablet and smartphone market. The battle for domination of this market has seen new models introduced by multiple players, and a host of solutions available at all different price points. This has ushered in a new era of mobility both in the consumer and business markets, and also accelerated the BYOD trend. The demand from business users to be able to use their own choice of devices in the workplace has forced businesses to adapt their processes and networks to accommodate mobile technology. With this have come security and management challenges, particularly around the protection of corporate data. On the other side of the coin, the proliferation of mobile devices and the BYOD trend have made workforces far more mobile and flexible, and this has allowed businesses to distribute information far more easily to a broader audience.
South Africa’s Internet connectivity and broadband market have also reached increased levels of maturity, with more terrestrial bandwidth availability as well as new wireless broadband technologies emerging in line with the rise of tablets and smartphones, enabling greater penetration of connectivity. The unbundling of the local loop, which has been steadily gaining traction, as well as increased rollout of LTE and other wireless broadband technologies, will enable more competitive services from a greater variety of market players, allowing further inroads to be made into connecting South Africa.
While Africa remains behind this curve, the landing of two new undersea cables will make further inroads into connectivity. The ACE cable, connecting France with the West African coast as well as South Africa, links West Africa to the world and provides unprecedented levels of connectivity, beginning at coastal towns and then penetrating into the interior. The South Atlantic Express Link will see South Africa and Angola connect with Brazil and the United States, enabling a direct connection for South Africa into South America. This cable also runs along the South African coast, connecting Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London and providing alternative connectivity for areas along the Garden Route. The landing of these cables will drive down prices and drive up demand at the landing stations, and push connectivity towards the interior of the continent. These cables not only help to connect Africa, they will have a positive impact on South African broadband prices, further driving down the cost of international bandwidth and providing direct links to more countries.
The increasing maturity of the local broadband market has also begun the successful commercial uptake of cloud services and solutions, mainly across applications. The cloud trend is only likely to accelerate as the benefits become more widely accepted and as bandwidth becomes increasingly stable and available. As the cloud market matures, tools like offsite storage, backup and recovery and even hosted voice solutions will become more common. The trend towards hosted VoIP and hosted PBX solutions has also begun to grow, and is another area where connectivity is changing the business world, enabling organisations to take advantage of advanced voice services without the need to purchase expensive switchboard and PBX equipment.
These trends, including BYOD, mobility and the cloud, present a variety of opportunities for business, along with multiple challenges. The focus has shifted from owning internal architecture and infrastructure to centralised services and outsourcing these functions in order to provide solutions and applications that support the mobile, connected workforce. Systems integrators will need to adapt their business model to meet these changing demands, focusing less on selling hardware and more on providing integrated service models. The cloud and increased connectivity offer opportunities for smart players to add value and deliver services that change the game for businesses.
These trends also present a number of opportunities for local government, particularly in the fields of education and healthcare. With increased connectivity and the ready availability of smart devices, opportunities for e-Education and telemedicine are becoming a reality. Distance learning can be enhanced using video, allowing experienced teachers and lecturers to transfer knowledge to wider audiences. Digital learning content, recorded lectures, video streaming and more can all enhance the education experience for learners across the country. Doctors can collaborate with nurses, specialists and other practitioners using conferencing and collaboration tools. Knowledge transfer and training of doctors and teachers can also be similarly improved. This will enable government to fulfil its mandate for improved service delivery without dramatically increasing costs.
Connectivity is the driving megatrend behind a host of other trends, including the cloud, mobility and BYOD. These trends are set to accelerate, and organisations of all sizes would be wise to spend their money on firstly ensuring stable, available connectivity and then adopting cloud services. The barriers to entry for advanced technology are greatly reduced with the cloud, enabling smaller and medium business to take advantage of enterprise-grade technology at an affordable price. Connectivity, mobility and the cloud present an opportunity to address the digital divide in South Africa by proliferating connectivity and harnessing the power of connected technology to deliver better services for all.