South Africa Prepares For the Next Evolution in the Telecoms Landscape
South Africa’s telecoms landscape has traditionally lagged behind that of the Western world for a number of reasons, not least of which has been a lack of infrastructure. However, in the past few years there has been significant investment into this area, with several undersea cables being landed and a terrestrial fibre backbone being laid, not to mention improved mobile coverage.
As the market has become increasingly saturated, we have also seen increased momentum in terms of mergers and acquisitions between the various local fixed line and mobile operators. These factors combine to indicate that change is coming to the local telecoms market, as increased competition, reduced cost of services and changing business models pave the way for new services, new solutions and more pervasive communication to connect more users, more affordably.
The foundation for the evolution of the South African telecoms landscape is international connectivity. With the SEACOM, EASSY and WACS cables now in place, linking the country with the rest of the world and helping to drive down the cost of broadband, the telecoms landscape has opened up dramatically.
This has also been assisted by the launch of terrestrial fibre providers such as Fibreco in 2013. This network connects the major cities of South Africa with an independently owned open access terrestrial backhaul network, providing businesses with greater choice and flexibility when it comes to broadband fibre connectivity.
Along its path, it also connects smaller cities and towns to national infrastructure. In addition, satellite providers are offering more affordable rates than ever, which enables even the most remote of users to join the connected world.
Mobile connectivity, already widespread in South Africa, is seeing a boost with the rollout of 4G or LTE coverage, and wireless local loop access as well as other mobile broadband infrastructure are enabling service providers to gain easier access to customers at the last mile.
What this all boils down to is more pervasive access to connectivity, which in turn results in greater access to services, better communication links, enhanced interconnects between different operators and service providers, and the beginnings of a bridge in the ever-present digital divide. With the emergence of new service providers has come greater innovation, resulting in increased competition, which in turn drives down pricing.
As the market reaches saturation, particularly in the mobile space, another trend has also emerged; reduced growth and increased subscriber churn. The mobile voice market has effectively reached maximum penetration, which means that instead of gaining new subscribers, service providers are accessing users who are constantly seeking a better deal and greater value.
Reduced interconnection rates have helped to drive traffic volumes and make services more cost effective for the end user, but have also further squeezed the already tight margins of the service providers.
This, along with other factors such as the cost of new infrastructure, the commoditisation of voice and data services, and limited available spectrum, is driving market consolidation. Across both the fixed line and mobile markets, service providers are looking to collaborate in order to drive greater efficiency and profitability while offering more effective services to a wider audience.
The impact of the impending mergers in the telecoms space is yet to be felt, as the deals and conditions have not been finalised, but this move will without doubt have ripple effects across the entire market, for service providers and customers alike.
The impact of these changes may not become evident for another year or more, but change is certainly on its way, which will offer direct benefit to South African citizens as well as having a positive effect on economic growth.
Reducing the cost to communication and ensuring access to communication technology for all is critical in stimulating a stagnant local economy. Improving penetration of services will help to further drive down the cost of connectivity, which in turn requires a new approach – sharing infrastructure to improve services in a cost effective manner.
In addition, creating greater competition is essential, as this is the basis for a dynamic market where service providers are constantly innovating with services and solutions that better meet the changing need of consumers.
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.”