[Column] Eiji Ota: Cloud services can bring the benefits of automation to every print business

It’s frustrating for small business owners to hear about great solutions that boost productivity, streamline processes and remove unseen costs, only to find that the products in question are really targeted at larger operations, involving high upfront software costs, complex technology integrations and expensive ongoing maintenance.

Historically, production workflow automation has tended to fall into this category. It’s been embraced enthusiastically by larger commercial print houses, who are driven to scrutinise their workflows and squeeze out every operational inefficiency. Large scale online print businesses in particular have a relentless focus on automation, because it’s critical to their high-volume/low-price business model.

For smaller businesses, sites with perhaps one or two mid-range digital production devices, the truth is that automation can feel intimidating and out of reach. But it’s precisely these businesses who need to make every employee as productive as possible, to maximise the value that each individual can contribute. They don’t have the luxury of carrying extra ‘bandwidth’ for eventualities. Staffing is lean, everybody does a bit of everything and pleasing the customer is the primary driver.

The commercial reality is that even small print businesses need to look at what can be automated in their operations – not necessarily because they should be pursuing the low-cost production models of their big online rivals, but because it’s a way of improving productivity, minimising errors and waste and saving costs. 

There’s no getting away from the fact that most print businesses are now experiencing – or have already tried to absorb – a dramatic shift in order patterns. They’re having to manage many more small orders, compared with the larger runs of the analogue past. And most of these are coming in via email, creating a massive burden in pre-production, piling up the admin and prepress tasks required to bring in and check each job, get it on press and move it smoothly through to finishing and dispatch.

When margins are skinny, it’s vital not to spend valuable time on things that don’t add any value for the customer. Automating routine tasks frees up expert resources to focus on what is really going to drive the business forward – that is, doing a great job for customers and offering creative ideas and solutions to briefs.

Jo Lloyd, a Canon Ascent Programme mentor, works with PSPs across EMEA on business improvement programmes. She’s convinced there’s no business that can’t benefit from workflow automation, because even seemingly insignificant efficiency gains free up time and allow savings to be invested back into the business. 

The key, according to Jo, is to begin by seeking out ways to streamline small, time-consuming tasks and eliminate mistakes, for example with pre-flight checking software which frees your artworkers to do chargeable creative work. And if your order history tells you that reprints are cutting into your margins, then it’s not hard to see how a solution that reduces the scope for error could soon pay for itself.

So, what’s holding smaller PSPs back from reaping the benefits of automation? Talking to this type of print customer, as well as smaller in-house print departments, my impression is that resistance to automation falls into two camps – those who think they don’t need it and those who would like it but think it’s just too complicated.

Let’s start by tackling the idea that automation is difficult to implement. Without a doubt, the perception exists that automation is complex and expensive and that IT expertise is needed to integrate it successfully and make it work day-to-day. The good news is that there’s now a growing range of cloud-based workflow solutions that printers can access on a subscription model, with no fixed cost commitments and no worries about upgrades and updates, maintenance or management. For SMEs, the other advantage of cloud services is that they’re scalable, so they can grow with the business. And they don’t need any on-site technical expertise to set up configure and maintain. 

Canon customers, for example, have access to a new SaaS (software as a service) product called PRISMAprepare Go, which effectively gives them a virtual pre-production assistant, automatically onboarding jobs that the print buyer has submitted via an online portal, checking print files for errors or missing elements and processing them for print. 

Then there are the customers who feel that automation is something they don’t need. They’re comfortable with the status quo, perhaps feeling complacent that, as long as work is coming in and going out, there’s no need for it. The danger with this mindset is that they’re missing opportunities to make it easier for customers – existing and new – to do business with them. Over time, there’s a real risk that this attitude will prompt business to move elsewhere, and certainly that it will be a barrier to new business. 

More and more end customers want the convenience of ordering and submitting jobs online, for example, and suppliers who don’t offer a simple web-to-print facility will begin to look out of step. My strong advice to these businesses would be, rather than focusing only on the situation today, consider where you’re going and what buyers are likely to want from you in the future. 

With cloud services, automation is now accessible and affordable for every business, not just the online giants. Without adding headcount or other fixed overheads, PSPs can do more, cut costs, gain headspace, and free up time to deliver the best possible service to customers and develop profitable new relationships. 

Automation isn’t just about process efficiency – it’s a tool that builds bridges to customers and enables growth. With these potential gains, I’d say to any print business of any size: don’t wait to automate.

Eiji Ota is a Business Unit Director, at Canon Central and North Africa. 

[Column] Dumisani Moyo: How to use the cloud to supercharge your SME’s growth

As global economic growth slows down and many developed and emerging economies face severe pressure, the SME sector is again taking centre stage as a catalyst for job creation and growth throughout the African continent.

Small and medium enterprises are the future of Africa’s economic development. SMEs can create more jobs more quickly than their larger counterparts, can stimulate innovation, and make a significant impact on their local and regional economies. And when supported by a strong digital strategy enabled by the cloud, there is virtually no limit to SMEs’ growth and innovation potential.”

The World Bank estimates that SMEs employ more than 50% of the workforce and contributes up to 40% of GDP in emerging economies. However, SMEs typically lack the financial and human resources of their enterprise counterparts, leaving them potentially more vulnerable to changing market conditions and other disruptive events, such as the pandemic.

Cloud and other technologies enable greater innovation, which is essential to the success and even survival of SMEs. Between 1955 and 2011, it took Fortune500 companies an average of 20 years to reach a billion-dollar valuation. Today’s digitally transformed startups can reach milestone that in a mere four years.”

He adds that since 2000, more than half of companies on the Fortune500 have gone out of business, with a lack of agility cited as a key reason. 

Companies that have developed their business models and processes with technology as an enabler typically enjoy greater efficiency, improved innovation capabilities, and can more easily adapt to new challenges or opportunities in their operating environment. This improves their chances at building successful, sustainable business models that can support the business strategy in the long term while still delivering to revenue targets in the short term.”

Why SMEs take to the cloud

African SMEs seek out cloud solutions to boost revenue growth, become more efficient, open up new markets, and adapt to changes in their working environment, for example, adopting cloud-based collaboration tools to enable remote working during the pandemic.

Every SME can benefit from leveraging cloud solutions to enable their digital transformation. Companies that use the cloud effectively enjoy greater flexibility and agility, and can more readily build competitive and sustainable business models that meet changing customer demands and employee expectations.

He cites the example of SMEs leveraging templates during their digital transformation efforts to reduce complexity and lower costs while still unlocking a broad range of benefits. 

One of the major advantages of working with a global cloud provider with experience across multiple industries is that SMEs gain access to best-practice templates that have been proven effective in similar industries or markets. This can significantly cut down the time to value for new technology deployments and help ensure companies enjoy the full range of benefits of their new tech.

Tips for SME cloud adoption

SMEs have several distinct advantages over larger companies when embarking on cloud adoption or digital transformation initiatives. SMEs are by nature smaller, more nimble and can therefore move quicker and adapt more easily. However, the road to cloud adoption is not always clear, and SME leaders need to be aware of key factors that may influence the outcomes of their cloud efforts.

Based on SAP’s experience with supporting SMEs across the globe with their cloud, technology and digital transformation needs, Moyo provides the following tips to SMEs:

Identify and prioritise high-value areas for cloud

One of the most important aspects of any cloud adoption strategy is to first identify where cloud can provide the most value to the business. If your biggest challenge is managing your hybrid workforce, then choosing cloud solutions that can track and enable better productivity can deliver the highest returns in the short term.”

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to realising the value of any cloud deployment is a lack of adoption within the organisation. 

Any investment into new cloud capabilities need to be supported with a strong change management program that is driven by top leadership throughout the organisation. When employees see the value of the new capabilities and can follow the example of senior role models – especially company leadership – they are more likely to use the tools themselves. This ensures the deployment realises optimum business value and has a transformative effect on how the business operates.

Empower your teams

One of the biggest disruptors to SMEs’ business models is the pandemic, which has upended many traditional notions of work and employment. 

Today, more employees work remotely some or most of the time than ever before,” says Moyo. “This has forced companies to reengineer their employee engagement and talent retention models to suit this new world of work.

Powerful cloud tools for tracking employee sentiment, for example, can empower companies with greater insight into employee expectations and help keep the pulse of their workforce. “With so many employees working remotely, it has never been more important to use technology to support employees and help ensure the smooth running of the business.

Find and develop critical skills

Africa’s youth dividend is widely published, but the continent still struggles at times to nurture and develop sufficient tech talent to power its digital economy. 

SMEs work with other partners in the public and private sector to improve digital skills development outcomes and help ensure they have access to the requisite talent pool.

Initiatives such as SAP’s Young Professionals Program give talented graduates a streamlined entry into working in SAP-enabled tech environments, and ensures our partners have access to the skills they need.”

Africa’s young population offers enormous potential for economic growth and innovation, but they need to be supported with suitable skills development and work opportunities. “With the correct investment into skills, African SMEs can help mobilise the largest youth population on Earth to drive and support the continent’s growth ambitions for decades to come.”

Vodacom Business expands Cloud Connect offering to support business needs across Africa

The expansion of Africa’s digital economy is gaining momentum, with the potential to reach US$180 billion by 2025, about 5% of the continent’s gross domestic product, according to a recent report released by the International Finance Corporation and Google. To meet the increasing demand for digital services in Africa, Vodacom Business Africa has expanded its Cloud Connect offering across the continent.

Cloud Connect provides businesses with a secure, private, high performance, high availability connection to leading public cloud service providers, including Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services.

“Africa is experiencing a boom in digitalisation. Combined with the disruptions of COVID-19, this is driving many organisations on the continent to seek out the benefits of cloud services. Our Cloud Connect services keep businesses securely connected while providing them with operational agility and access to essential data and software applications to enhance their performance now and into the future,” says Wale Odeyemi, Executive Head of Strategic Marketing at Vodacom Business Africa.

Meeting the needs of businesses today
As the pandemic has shown, businesses need to be able to adapt to market changes, and with speed, to avoid disruptions to continuity. To help with business agility, Cloud Connect clients are able to experience the same fast switch-on flexibility of public cloud with their own WAN/network. Bandwidth choice ranges from 50Mb to 1G depending on the cloud service provider, so clients can scale network capacity to maintain performance as business needs change.

The high-performance connectivity of Cloud Connect enables periodic data migration and replication for continuity, disaster recovery and retention. The low latency connectivity is also able to support key business applications, including storage, big data, development and interactive applications, fast and in a scalable manner. For example, large data sets are quickly transferable for big data computing applications, and huge media files are streamed in real-time to and from the cloud.

In addition, the consistent performance and reliability of Cloud Connect improves application response times, so businesses can use the cloud as an extension of their data centres. High availability with dual diverse connections to cloud data centres ensures redundancy and protection in the event of a network failure.

Cloud Connect is a managed service, giving businesses more time to focus on important activities, and IT resources can be utilised more effectively, in an organisation.

How does Cloud Connect work?
Vodacom Business Africa’s Cloud Connect offers a secure, private connection without the need to redesign existing large corporate networks or experience the traditional delay of dedicated connections to cloud provider data centres. Cloud Connect works seamlessly alongside the IP-VPN and other fixed connectivity products to give organisations a total ‘Ready Network’ solution.

The service directly integrates into the branch sites of a business and is not reliant on the internet. The cloud locations are integrated into the private WAN, effectively seen as another site on the IP-VPN. Different locations in the IP-VPN then share the connectivity to access resources in the cloud.

“We are experiencing an exciting transformational period in the enterprise landscape in Africa. As a leading connectivity provider on the continent, Vodacom Business Africa remains committed in supporting businesses to take advantage of our continent’s growing digital economy and recognise real return on investment on cloud technology. To this end, we continue to leverage our strategic partner networks to provide innovative products and services, affordably, seamlessly and securely to our clients,” concludes Odeyemi.

www.vodacombusiness.co.za

[Africa Cloud Review] Simon Ngunjiri: Cloud adoption is the future of African SMEs

In our previous Africa Cloud Review report, we highlighted how cloud adoption is no longer merely an option but a necessity that promises tremendous rewards across entire organizations.

Africa is currently witnessing a revolution in new cloud and data centre capacity, with a growth forecast of 80 per cent and 50 per cent. In fact, Xalam Analytics has previously noted that African data centres are the hottest growth area in the African ICT market. 

The emergence of cloud in Africa as the Cloud Over Africa report by Research ICT Africa report notes is viewed as a natural extension of the deployment of advanced IT technologies by high-end users in both the consumer and enterprise services markets.

‘’Much of the hype around cloud computing in Africa is as a result of the adoption of high-end technology and software industries such as financial services, oil and gas; and of advanced next-generation networks by the telecommunications operators.’’ the report says.

This is of course something we have mentioned in the previous cloud review article we have published here. From fintech companies that are changing the way Africans send and receive money, to Agriculture, cloud technology has the power to transform how we work in emerging markets. 

SMEs and public services stand to gain the most from the adoption of cloud services, which provides immediate access to the infrastructure and services previously only available to big enterprises able to invest heavily in IT. 

As Soromfe Uzomah, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative notes Cloud computing gives businesses the ability to scale, cost-effectively, to new markets. This is particularly beneficial for SMEs, who often lacked the resources or infrastructure to expand before.

Pedro Guerreiro, Managing Director, Central Africa at SAP, also notes that investments into new technologies like cloud will greatly assist SMEs in the region as they adapt to a very different operating environment.

 “As one of the most important drivers for job creation and economic growth, the SME sector is vital to the region’s economic recovery. Technology will continue to play a determining role in how well the sector recovers from this year’s events, while also digitally-tooling organisations to out-perform their competitors in this new economy and enabling them to execute the business, operate, and thrive in the market,” he says.

Currently, most of these SMEs are struggling to survive in an ongoing global recession. Cloud offers many opportunities and could help companies to improve their business and use technology more efficiently. 

The Cloud Computing: Adoption Issues for Sub-Saharan African SMEs report envisages that as cloud computing evolves, more SMEs in sub-Saharan Africa will adopt it as an IT Strategy. This could positively contribute to the successes of these SMEs and consequently, contribute to the economic growth desired by these developing countries.

Bottomline, cloud platforms are the future of African SMEs. This Digital transformation is imperative for these SMEs, as it enables them to streamline back-office operations and free up time and resources to focus on their core business.

Simon Ngunjiri Muraya is Google Cloud Architect at Incentro Africa

www.incentro.com/en-ke

ContinuitySA launches cloud-based backup and replication solution for SMEs

ContinuitySA, Africa’s provider of business resilience services and a Veeam Platinum Partner, is launching Cloud Connect, a cloud-based backup and replication service for the small and medium enterprise (SME).

 The offering is particularly relevant now as companies of all sizes move aggressively onto digital platforms to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis, according to Renier du Plessis, Cloud Manager at ContinuitySA.

“The current emergency demonstrates graphically just how important a company’s ICT systems are in giving it the flexibility to adapt to today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. The shift to digital is now irreversible,” he says. “Now, more than ever, it is vital that, in the event of a disaster, companies can recover their systems and data in the shortest space of time, or risk losing customer confidence, revenue and even brand equity.

“The cloud has emerged as a key platform not only for ICT systems but for their recovery. However, SMEs have typically lacked a genuinely easy-to-use solution that will not commit them to high management costs—until now.”

Mr Du Plessis says that ContinuitySA Cloud Connect is an unmanaged service, which keeps costs to a minimum. No upfront capital needs to be committed as payment is based on a monthly fee depending on usage. This fee includes the necessary Veeam licence, unless the client already has one, plus the storage space for the backups on ContinuitySA’s world-class cloud infrastructure.

 “The Veeam console is extraordinarily well-designed and easy-to-use, so companies have full control of the backup process, from configuration through to reporting, scaling up or down, restores, failovers and configuration changes. It’s literally a point-and-click environment. This reduces costs considerably but also means that everything happens very quickly—there’s no waiting for a third party to get things done,” he points out. “And because it’s an OPEX model, it’s easy to manage costs.”

Veeam Cloud Connect thus provides a cost-effective way to tailor an effective, safe and reliable way to mitigate risks in line with the company’s risk profile and appetite. It makes it possible for an SME to follow the 3-2-1 rule for data backups: three copies on two different media, one offsite.

All data is encrypted from the moment the backup process is initiated until it’s safely in ContinuitySA’s cloud repository. As a leading provider of business continuity services, ContinuitySA’s data centres are maintained to world-class standards, with 24/7 monitoring, backup power, UPS systems, backup diesel and water, and fully redundant communications links.

With more than three decades of experience in business continuity experience across the continent, ContinuitySA has the know-how to help clients build resilience into their operations, providing executives, directors, suppliers, clients and regulators with peace of mind. ContinuitySA will help with scoping the solution and provide training on the Veeam console as needed.

ContinuitySA’s skilled and experienced support staff is available for any post-implementation help that is required—again on a pay-as-you-use basis. The company has a name for the quality and responsiveness of its support.

“Cloud Connect finally gives SMEs a way to create and manage their own, individually tailored, cloud-based backup and replication solution easily and cost-effectively, while also gaining the peace of mind of a trusted partner in ContinuitySA,” he concludes. “This is the backup solution the SME market has been waiting for.”

www.continuitysa.com

Dimensions Data and SAP partner to launch enterprise solutions for SMEs and corporates in East Africa, hopes to grow cloud business model

Dimension Data has entered into a partnership with SAP, to offer a new set of intelligent enterprise solutions in East Africa.

Aimed at SMEs, and the corporate market, these end-to-end services will help Dimension Data’s clients leverage the agility and costs advantages of managing SAP applications on existing infrastructure and moving them to the cloud. The solutions integrate intelligent technologies such as machine learning, and artificial intelligence to help manage data from multiple sources, further improving customer experience, people engagement, spend management, manufacturing and supply chain solutions amongst many other business functions.

The partnership comes at a time when SAP accelerates its move towards its flagship ERP software, S/4HANA within the region and which will see the firm cease worldwide support of the current Business Suite ERP solutions after 2025.   

“We’ve had a successful track record in enabling our clients make the most out of their SAP environments in the digital transformation era. Moving forward, we will be a critical partner in migrating clients to the SAP S/4HANA digital platform towards the intelligent enterprise era. A key gap we look to fill is continuous SAP Support services through our Managed Services. We look at helping organizations in Kenya optimize their SAP Solutions through our managed services model which not only supports implemented software but also looks at enhancing the entire SAP modules, that require new implementation or enhancements.” Said Ndung’u Kahindo, General Manager – Solutions, Dimension Data East Africa.

Dimension Data also hopes to grow the cloud business model that will enable customers consume and pay for value on the go, especially around adopting and utilizing new technology in IoT and Machine learning environments.

“SME’s and Corporates are acknowledging that operational efficiency, better decision making and continuous collaboration within their ecosystem brings value. This is not achievable without an integrated, comprehensive ERP. For this reason, SAP and Dimension Data have teamed together to build packaged solutions that uniquely meet the needs of these organizations, across people, processes and technology.” Said Joseph Kairigo, Managing Director, Dimension Data East Africa.

Kairigo added that businesses that do not have ERP Systems suffered disjointed and siloed processes which derail internal productivity and affect customer service in addition to having no insight to make better decisions around business expansion, capital investment and resource allocation.

The launch solidifies Dimension Data East Africa’s last announcement in December 2018 of plans to introduce new Enterprise Resource (ERP) and Digital Business Solutions in an ambitious growth drive for 2019 in partnership with leading global enterprise application vendors.

As a global SAP services market leader, Dimension Data offers a complete lifecycle of SAP-related services spanning consulting, implementations, upgrades, integration, applications management and automated cloud migration services.

According to research firm IDC, the global SAP market is estimated at about USD 200Billion. Dimension Data East Africa estimates the current SAP suite market size in East Africa to be valued at about USD 75 Million, with the potential to reach above USD200 Million over the next five years.

In East Africa Dimension Data serves the Public, Financial Services, Service Provider and Professional Services in addition to the Manufacturing and Commercial services sectors that are expected to achieve significant growth driven by cloud adoption, digital automation and localization of IT applications.

www.dimensiondata.com

www.sap.com