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Power outages shake SMEs’ confidence and stability

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This year looks set to be another one where South Africans are made to come to terms with load shedding, writes Brandon Bekker, MD of Mimecast South Africa.
Amazingly, the looming power cuts have replaced crime to become the number one threat SME businesses fear – this is according to the SME Survey 2015.
Does this mean business is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to keeping afloat? Heino Gevers, Customer Experience Manager at Mimecast, uncovers the financial and other implications of load shedding and outlines how this is having an impact on customers.
Earlier this month Eskom announced that the supply of electricity to parts of Gauteng will remain erratic over winter, with illegal connections and the continued roll-out of smart meters contributing to the issue. If we think back a year ago, resources and maintenance were the main causes of the load shedding and unplanned outages.
Now, Eskom has been working towards stopping illegal connections to substations by installing smart meters and building bigger substations to monitor this – a project that will take between three and five years. While this roll-out is set to decrease illegal connections and increase the ability to monitor usage, it will take some time to come to fruition. In the meantime, these outages and power cuts are sure to keep SMEs on their toes.

Sky-high financial implications
According to Eskom, load shedding can cost the South African economy anything between R20-billion and R80-billion a month. The main reason why load shedding and unplanned outages are becoming a significant concern for SMEs, is that these outages are now lasting longer and becoming more frequent.
SMEs are feeling the pressure as – unlike bigger businesses – they don’t have the backup power and resources to work through the outages. This means that without a proper continuity plan in place, productivity levels will decrease and customer experience management will take a major hit, leaving customers frustrated. And while customers are also personally affected by these cuts, they are less likely to be understanding if they cannot get the service they require from a business.

Data loss
One of the biggest effects of load shedding is data loss. Now more than ever, regular and ongoing data backups are crucial. According to Arthur Goldstuck, the principal researcher for the SME Survey, backing up less than daily can prove disastrous for an SME. Without a proper archiving and backup system, SMEs could stand to lose highly important information, which includes precious customer interaction data. When it comes to customer experience, data is everything.
Knowing what customers want before they tell you is important. If a business doesn’t have this information, they lose their competitive edge. Email and data continuity services, such as Mimecast’s Mailbox Continuity, are crucial ways for SMEs to ensure that emails are archived and easy to reach, even when the lights go out.

Office 365 to the rescue?
Ever considered the benefits of moving your workforce to Office 365? Many businesses are doing exactly that, giving their employees the ability to work from home in the event of a power outage and still have access to rich data pertaining to their customer base.
It’s important to support cloud-based services, such as Office 365, with add-ons aimed at data archiving and protection against service outages, to safeguard uninterrupted employee email access. These add-ons will ensure that workforces are able to get work done from wherever they are and on any device. While Office 365 offers all of the above, Mimecast adds the all-important safety net needed to keep businesses protected in the cloud.
A multi-purpose approach to cloud management gives businesses the peace of mind they need that when downtime hits, their data is safe onsite as well as offsite.
With SMEs being the key drivers for economic growth within South Africa, it is crucial for these businesses to take action now and put safety nets in place, before the power is cut. Whether this means investing in a generator, securing data in the cloud or making sure employees can work remotely.
Doing so will ensure that business runs as usual and importantly, can prevent any drastic drops in profit margins and customer interaction in the event of longer outages.