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10 Aug 2016

Lack of services and infrastructure is an innovation opportunity

Communication Services

Collaborative communication technologies are rocking traditional foundations

In South Africa we have a dichotomy of infrastructure and services – in some cases we have First World telecommunications and other infrastructure while in other areas there is almost nothing. In some cases services have gradually withered. The postal service, for example, is currently experiencing service delivery issues as it restructures its services bouquet.

While some see the failure or lack of services and infrastructure as a business impediment others innovate.

The postal service used to be a staple of business communications. Yet the concept of trotting down to the red box on the corner and sliding a stuffed envelope through the slot now nestles in nostalgia’s yearbook. The red vans that would collect and distribute post are also consigned to history’s pages. I’ve been in some of our customers’ buildings, customers of ours who themselves have tens of thousands of customers who must get monthly statements and other communications, themselves sorting these physical letters into post office bins, tagged and marked for delivery by their own fleet of vehicles and personnel instead of those of the post office.

This situation may have sent shockwaves through a European business where many still rely on paper-based postal communications. Yet, the customer where I saw bins being sorted in their post room only communicates with fewer than 25% of its customers via paper. The rest receive digital communications either by e-mail, SMS, or a mobile app.

That type of service puts this customer at the forefront of global businesses.

Another staple of the traditional business environment is flying employees around the country, the continent, and the world for meetings. I was astonished to see that one local operation of a global, privately held business, books hundreds of flights annually for its employees to travel between Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The cost must be astronomical.

With the advent digital communication services that can be quite easily wrapped around even an ADSL Internet connection I often wonder why more businesses don’t employ them. The simple answer, I’ve learned, is that they stick with what they know. “We’ve always done it this way and it’s worked just fine.” That kind of thinking must make a person like futurologist Clem Sunter giggle. Or at least shake his head and tut, tut sadly.

With the ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, and laptops today, the ability for apps to quickly, easily, and seamlessly connect multiple device types, and the growing need to share documents and information, there’s no need to be wasting time and money flying around the country, the continent and the world. You (and your team from three different locations around the country) could be virtually in your customer’s boardroom, warehouse, factory, a mielie field, or a dusty weighbridge in seconds.

But, illogical as it may seem, some companies will have to experience fiercer competition, more dire economic woes, and more deeply echoing coffers before they’re ready to make the lives of their employees and customers simpler, better, faster.

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