The silver lining on South Africa's cloud
WRITTEN BY KARL REED, SALES AND MARKETING DIRECTOR, ELINGO
There has been a great deal of hype recently around cloud computing, which promises to transform traditional contact centres into nimble, flexible and affordable systems geared to cope with a fragmented multimedia communication environment. Thus far, however, South African companies have been slow to shift to the cloud, with bandwidth constraints a key issue.
Bandwidth is an important factor in utilising cloud services effectively. In South Africa bandwidth is very expensive, but new cables are increasingly coming online and the context is changing pretty fast. Most decision makers are, as a result, weighing up the benefits of cloud-based services.
Flexible and affordable
Of the three primary types of cloud services - public, private and hybrid – the most common current implementation model is the hybrid, where the company's infrastructure dovetails with cloud infrastructure and services. The hybrid approach allows an organisation to test the cloud out while retaining key data, transaction and customer privacy security elements.
One of the first benefits to emerge from the cloud is flexible costing, thanks to the pay-as-you-go cloud model. Due to the solution being hosted by a provider it is considerably more cost effective than purchasing and owning infrastructure. In addition, companies can use the technology without bothering about the functioning and maintenance of systems, or installation costs and upgrades.
Crucially, cloud services can be up and running in a matter of days. Looking beyond standard ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions, sector specialists are also able to tailor solutions that suit very specific business needs. For direct-to-market brands facing a blizzard of new communication mediums, for example, specialist contact centre providers offer cloud based IVR services; multi-channel routing and recording; outbound/blended dialling; quality monitoring; workforce management; desktop call control; unified messaging and presence management – collectively the key elements in managing the multimedia context.
While security is a commonly expressed cloud concern, in reality employees in most organisations are already using cloud applications such as Gmail, Facebook and LinkedIn from their desktops without any major problems. Ironically, security is often better in the cloud than in managed environments, thanks to the ongoing focus on the issue.
Another common concern is the idea of relinquishing control over ICT architecture. While ceding full control obviously comes with the cloud territory, the upside is that on-demand services facilitate scalability in any direction, and over very short time frames.
This appeals a great deal to decision makers seeking to manage nimble organisations. It's also important to note that while application development, maintenance, data storage and IT infrastructure are in the hands of the third party service provider, the organisation utilising the hosted contact centre still controls the people and the processes; and these are the two business components where flexibility and speed of implementation influence competitive advantage the most.
Considering our bandwidth limitations, the future of cloud computing in South Africa is bright.
A new 14,000km fibre optic WACS submarine cable system will raise South Africa’s broadband capacity by more than 500GB a second and will be available in 2012. This bandwidth burst, combined with the increasing delivery of on-demand services by industry specialists, means that cloud options will soon be very viable for local companies, especially in sectors where there are high levels of competition.
There is therefore little doubt that cloud computing in South Africa has a silver lining – one that is growing quite fast.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”