Connectivity is the central nervous system of any modern business, writes Greg Hatfield, Executive Head: SDN & Internet at Internet Solutions. There are already certain countries in the world, like Finland, that view access to broadband as a fundamental human right, and business is broadly moving in this direction too.
It is critical to look at connectivity in terms of the types of businesses, and their unique needs – the needs of an informal business will differ vastly from those of a multinational, for instance. But connectivity is beginning to impact business even at the most basic level.
Take the example of a food truck at a school sports day using Snapscan or Zapper as a payment method. In this simple way, connectivity is addressing issues of security, convenience and cash management, and showing the value of being connected. As businesses become more complex and multi-faceted, like corporates, connectivity becomes foundational and fundamental to their very ability to do business and communicate both internally and externally.
This indicates just how pervasive connectivity truly is. The challenge for South African businesses is that they are commercially constrained because connectivity remains an expensive commodity. Because of the high cost base, enterprises have to squeeze as much productivity and capacity out of what is essentially narrowband connectivity, which continues to present a challenge.
The top end of the market typically requires high-speed dedicated bandwidth – or bandwidth on demand, which is out of reach for most South African businesses because of its cost. Whilst broadband’s speed is variable and not always reliable, it remains a boon for the lower end of the market because of its ability to meet less complex connectivity requirements.
Affordability, reliability and speed remain the key challenges for businesses in terms of connectivity, because it is possible to get a connection that is reliable and fast, but that is expensive, or that is cheap and reliable but not that quick. It’s possible to have two of three factors, but not typically all three.
To overcome these challenges and move to faster, more affordable and effective connectivity – particularly mobile connectivity – will take a major shift in the current digital landscape and greater understanding of unique business needs.
Connectivity as the ‘green button’ to kickstart digital transformation
Connectivity as it stands in the South African context isn’t driving or enabling digital transformation at the pace it is in other, more developed markets, and this is going to have to change if organisations in the country hope to experience a tangible difference in their digital capabilities. Businesses will also need to invest in reinventing themselves and conceptualising digital strategies that will meet these advanced capabilities.
The future of digital lies in areas such as cloud, IoT and virtualisation, all of which are inherently underpinned by connectivity. Connectivity acts as the green button that starts the digital transformation journey, so if businesses want to move out of the starting blocks, they’re going to need to begin investing more heavily in connectivity that is fit for purpose.
One of the most effective ways for businesses to invest in connectivity that is fit for purpose is to use an aggregator to deliver connectivity solutions. This will help ensure that enterprises can make the right choice to cut down on complexity and risk, as well as get the right service level from their vendor.
Getting the best possible connectivity by partnering with the right aggregator provides several opportunities for organisations. Geographic expansion is perhaps the main opportunity, as connectivity enables mobility and the ability to work remotely. It also allows businesses to simplify because there’s no need to replicate applications and systems.
Connectivity will further enable greater work-from-home capabilities through virtual teams and online collaboration, but this will only become more of a reality in the long-term because of the ongoing issues of affordability, reliability and speed. These capabilities will be unlocked as these issues are resolved going forward.
The opportunities available illustrate the potential of connectivity to make a real difference – for businesses of all sizes. In a country like South Africa, where unemployment is high and micro, small and medium businesses act as engines of economic growth and job creation, connectivity represents an opportunity for businesses to scale their operations. The same affordability, reliability and speed constraints apply, but if those can be overcome, there is the real possibility of connectivity acting as a driver of change.
Ultimately, the connectivity landscape in South Africa is complex – and is only set to become more multi-faceted and dynamic as enterprises look to invest in improving their capabilities. Because connectivity is fundamental to running workplaces of the future, dependence on it will undoubtedly grow, so businesses will need to find the right partner or aggregator, as well as truly understand their business needs to ensure they are able to put the right connectivity solution in place.