OPINION: Embrace technology to future-proof your business

Last year was challenging for entrepreneurs and SMEs, and some may have even revised their growth goals. The good news is that 2019 looks like a sunnier prospect, if they stay ahead of their game.

South Africa’s economy will rebound slowly this year, predicts the latest Fitch Solutions Macro Research, aided significantly if a further, anticipated fuel price reduction becomes a reality in the first quarter, and also if the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank’s decides to keep interest rates where they are for at least the short term.

Whatever the external conditions, it will be the leanest and most agile entrepreneurs, and in particular, those who keep up with and make use of technology as they evolve, who will maintain a healthy growth trajectory in 2019, according to Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub.

“Things move fast in the world of small business. Change in technology is probably the biggest single driver of disruption in this sector. New technologies make it possible to deliver at far lower cost, and to overcome geographic constraints. This creates many opportunities, but it can also be a threat if your competitors are embracing it and you aren’t. The increasing access to technology and tools that your customers probably have will raise their expectations of you, especially your accessibility,” says Retief.

A customer-centric ethos is therefore the core thinking of sustainable SMEs. “Customers will go where their needs are met, and where the experience of doing business is easy, enjoyable and comfortable, including for your most tech-savvy customers. Of course, the human element remains important - the quality delivery that made your customers love you in the first place. Technology must complement, not replace those ingredients,” says Retief.

To empower its entrepreneurs in the technology space, Riversands has invested in a new web-based system that makes it faster and easier than ever for Riversands’ SMEs to request support, while keeping everyone informed of the support being delivered on multiple dimensions. “These tools help the team to move at speed without sacrificing excellence or efficiency,” says Retief.

It is understandable to resist embracing the ever-evolving world of IT solutions, but don’t be daunted, says Retief. “You aren’t alone. With a bit of Googling and reading, or even a short course on one of the many online platforms such as Udemy or Skillshare, you will amaze yourself at how quickly you can fill your knowledge gaps. Embrace change as business as usual. Frame it in your own mind as exciting and interesting, not threatening,” she says.

At Riversands, entrepreneurs are privileged to be at the cutting edge of business trends globally, thanks to Riversands’ collaboration with local and international specialists who share the latest thinking in ideation, design, and performance systems.

For example, the Silicon Valley software start-up Koan provides a goal-setting and performance management system which allows the team to stay focused, aligning autonomous individual actions with team goals in a way that is transparent to everyone,” says Retief.

Finally, entrepreneurs and SMEs are well versed in finding opportunities, but those who do best in 2019 will go the extra mile in plugging into these opportunities, and acting quickly on them.

To this end, Riversands is focusing strongly this year on facilitating market visibility and supply chain opportunities for its entrepreneurs. “We look forward to a thriving entrepreneurial hive of activity with talented, motivated entrepreneurs who take advantage of every opportunity presented to them, growing jobs and earning opportunities for themselves and others,” says Retief.


  • Be clear about your definition of success. What does doing better look like for your organisation?

  • Actively drive and embrace change. Be the catalyst of, rather than reactor to, change.

  • Make it safe for your staff and you to get it wrong when trying new things. Empower your team to make decisions fast within whatever policy frame is needed to manage risk.

  • Position your business to quickly identify whether your innovation is making things better or not. Having key measures in place that you track regularly will also help you rapidly detect unintended consequences.

  • Keep your customers and partners front and centre in your thinking.

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