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Can technology provide stability in South Africa?

Some countries get all the luck. Others don’t, or do they just get it in a different way? Ravaged by economic sanctions resulting from the Apartheid era, struggling to lure significant investment since and hobbled by rampant social inequality, South Africa hasn’t had an easy ride when it comes to business over the last three decades.

It’s part of the reason so many people had hoped for a change in the recent national elections.

But this year’s elections proved how many other voters still prefer the status quo, despite the major monetary and administrative challenges.

Life for business owners worsened with the recent policy of load-shedding on the part of the national power company Eskom, whereby planned blackouts were enforced to stabilise the grid due to bad planning and a severe lack of maintenance in the past.

This action had a devastating result on local business specifically small business, which do not have resources to mitigate such challenges. Infrastructural inefficiencies plagued by misappropriation of funds are crippling many businesses. By admission, president Cyril Ramaphosa recently spoke about how “Eskom’s financial position and load shedding “Is one reason for the economy’s week performance (Sona 2019)

Meanwhile, the tightening of labour laws is seen by many as a headache, with preparation for and training in these refreshed regulations far from ideal for cash-strapped companies.

Thankfully, though, innovation may hold the answer in these uncertain times.

“Opportunity is born out of adversity, and South Africans are resilient and opportunistic by nature,” says Nigel Ritson, COO of Roubler, which specialises in developing innovative business software solutions leveraging technology to assist business with tasks such as employee lifecycle management and smart workforce planning and plan to pay processes.

“The recent issues with electricity have led to two South Africans identifying a problem and delivering a solution available to all to meet that need.”

He’s referring to EskomSePush, a push notification app that alerts users to when power outages are due to take place so they can plan around the cuts. In February it went from 4,500 active users to more than 400,000, becoming South Africa’s most downloaded app – perhaps unsurprising since around that time some 20% of the country was being left without power as Eskom put 1/3 of its 45000MW capacity offline amid the first use of stage 4 load shedding in history.

Another key example is the launch of Sweepsouth, an employment matching platform for domestic workers in the informal sector. Today the application is considered the ‘Uber’ of cleaning services – with revenue of over R100 million in the past year. More importantly, it provides gainful employment to over 11,000 domestic workers.

When it comes to new legislation around worker’s rights, clearly from an ethical standpoint employees and employers alike should welcome greater protection against exploitation and poor conditions. Nevertheless, no business wants to increase expenditure, especially on training and set-up costs to meet new legal requirements, even if those costs could save money in the long run through streamlining and clarifying processes. Companies need to find creative ways to reduce wastage.

Cloud-technology is an avenue that Ritson believes has the potential to address the impact of both load-shedding and compliance issues. Cloud technology also has a direct benefit of being available everywhere at any time. the ability to consolidate masses amount of data coming from many different data inputs leverages the ability for real-time awareness and quicker design making processes.

“The workplace is moving so fast today that the quicker the response, the better ‘is always a good rule “(Richard a Moran, frost and Sullivan)

With South Africa being a traditionally labour-intensive country, being able to consolidate information on labour cost in real-time and being able to make decisions on the spot will add to the market competitiveness of the South African landscape.

“Workforce management software that is designed to help businesses stay compliant through rostering, timesheets and payroll is a huge step in the right direction but isn’t useful if the power goes out. Using cloud-based technology, as Roubler does, means that managers and owners can still run their businesses from their mobile phone or laptop with a data connection.”

“Changing from paper-based processes can be viewed as overwhelming change for some businesses, but this is the level of innovation that’s needed to strengthen South African businesses and create competitiveness for the economy as a whole,” Ritson says.

Ritson believes the only feasible approach to maximise benefit and minimise impact is to focus on businesses who are working on genuine solutions.

“Do not listen to the noise. Find companies who clearly understand the demands related to changes in legislative and statutory requirements and have designed tools to keep you compliant,” he explains.

“As they say, ‘stay true to your knitting’ and stay true to your core business. Find innovative tools designed by people who know the compliance landscape and who know the challenges you face.”

“Partner with providers and vendors that develop platforms that enable you to focus on growing your business, partners who’s core business is to remain compliant and up to date with legislative and statutory changes for their survival.”

It certainly makes perfect sense. In 2019, whether you’re in South Africa, South America or south London, the way to deal with major economic changes, developments and uncertainty is by tackling the situation head on. Anything else and you’re on route to non-compliance, which can be costly to both reputations and bank accounts.

But the best way to deal with such challenges is to not just tackle it head-on, but with real pragmatism and innovation, too, turning a demanding period of time into something far more positive, and packed with opportunity.

South African business needs to align with international trends in order to become competitive in the landscape of people management. The recent state of the nation address mentioned job creation as a government focus in the next 10 years is not practical if we do not make our people productive and competitive first in order to draw investment and economic growth in the first place.





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