Connectivity has never been more critical
Connectivity remains a cost versus benefits challenge for many smaller businesses. However, these companies often don't grasp just how critical it is in a digitally transforming society.
Connectivity is a topic of discussion that has been debated many times in South Africa, and as its importance to modern business continues to increase, it is worth discussing again. The good news for the country is that there has been a lot of evolution in this space over the past five years. It is clear that connectivity has improved significantly in this period and is now much more reliable and effective.
Moreover, explains Pedro Maia, MD of IntDev, the cost of connectivity has also come down considerably. This should be of enormous benefit to the small and medium enterprise (SME) segment, he adds, since they are businesses that ultimately require the same kind of reliability as corporates, but can seldom afford such quality service.
"Remember that enterprises pay a premium for their connectivity services, but SMEs that don't have that kind of budget are left with the option of using broadband or LTE, which may be effective, but is only a best effort service and is thus not guaranteed. And an SME is likely to be hit even harder than an enterprise by business opportunities that are lost due to a failure of connectivity," explains Maia.
"Think about a plumber or electrician that needs to access his system while on site, in order to send a quote or order something. If the connectivity is not up to scratch, he could easily lose out on a job. So what is really needed for this market space is a service provider that can offer a service level agreement to guarantee such connectivity, but at a price point suited to the small business."
What is required, he suggests, is a better understanding within the SME space of the balance between cost and reliability. Like everything, you get what you pay for, and you cannot purchase a VW Beetle and expect to get a Rolls Royce.
"But, there are smaller businesses that are totally dependent on connectivity to keep their operations running, a good example here being the many bookmakers in the country, which are low value, high transaction businesses that cannot provide a service to clients without connectivity, and such organisations will thus be prepared to pay more for an SLA guarantee.
"The other thing SMEs need to consider about connectivity is that it is the foundation on which digital transformation is built. It can quite literally change the way you do business, effectively serving as a bridge to the cloud, and once you are in the cloud, you can access new services, run a completely mobile, work from anywhere office and even change your business model. Without connectivity, there is no way any of this can happen."
The answer to these challenges around reliable connectivity for SMEs lies in software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), which opens up the possibility of utilising best effort services like broadband, but aggregating multiple links, explains Maia, which will still cost significantly less than the MPLS services purchased by corporates.
"However, SD-WAN means that the solution will drive your critical traffic, such as perhaps Skype for Business calls, over the network that offers the highest speed at the time. Concurrently, it will push the less critical functionality, like e-mails and Internet connectivity, over the network with higher latency. Not only does this deliver the best possible reliability for an SME's core business functions, but in addition it offers redundancy, in that if one line goes down, the other, albeit perhaps a bit slower, can still be used for your critical business functions.
"I have no doubt that SD-WAN is going to significantly change the connectivity discussion in the SME market and is going to have a massive and positive impact on how these organisations use connected services in the near future. It will, potentially, level the playing fields between SMEs and enterprises' landscapes and could thus be a major game-changer," he concludes.