ADSL boosts small concerns in race to top

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Tebogo Khaas

Tebogo Khaas

Our national discourse on small business development over the past few years has focused on the role of small business, its ability to create jobs and to contribute to higher economic growth rates.

"A society where entrepreneurs are highly valued and supported, where small businesses flourish and where young people can put their energies into starting a business because they see it as a viable ... option will be a society where more people see options other than crime," says Martin Feinstein, chief executive of Enablis Global Exchange.

"At the heart of this is tackling the challenge of access to information and affordable technological infrastructure [for] small businesses. Our single biggest telecommunications challenge is getting Internet access to the masses."

That is why it is so disconcerting that the recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report listed South Africa slipping from 20th of 34 countries in 2004 to 30th of 42 countries last year. Clearly policy and attitudinal issues need attention.

"I have come to rate access to information as one of the key areas that would contribute to the success of any business - certainly that of my medical practice," says Don Pupuma, director of First Care Medical Centre in Soweto.

"In my environment I need access to the Internet for research purposes, such as when I quickly need an opinion on specific medical conditions for the benefit of my patients. Through the Internet I am able to access medical websites both locally and internationally," says Pupuma.

Pupuma regards access to information communication technology (ICT) as an integral part of his business. Key advantages from using ICT range from being able to communicate speedily and efficiently with patients, pathologists, fellow doctors and medical aids, to being able to store and retrieve patient records with ease.

One of the new breed of technologysavvy doctors, Pupuma used computer systems at his practice from the beginning.

He first used a dial-up modem to communicate with stakeholders. Though this was much better than doing things manually, the system was often slow and cumbersome. That meant most administrative work such as submitting medical-aid claims had to be done after office hours - at the expense of family time and rest.

"We would wait much longer to submit claims electronically because of the low speeds obtained through a dial-up connection," says Jeanine Khumalo, administrative clerk at First Care.

Pupuma installed a Telkom ADSL broadband Internet connection just over a year ago.

"I have realised at least a 15percent productivity increase in my practice and significant cost savings on my telecommunications bills since we installed ADSL in my practice," he enthuses. "With ADSL broadband connectivity we enjoy a much improved quality of service [for] Internet connectivity.

"Most importantly, we are always connected with our stakeholders and ... realise much faster data transmission rates. Most significantly, with ADSL broadband we are now able to confirm patient medical-aid funds' availability and to submit claims instantaneously.

"This has translated into greater efficiencies and better turnarounds from medical-aid schemes.

"Since our claims are submitted and processed quickly, we also get paid much quicker by medical-aid schemes than others and our bad debt writeoff rate has also plummeted.

"Our next assignment is to deploy Telkom's SMS-based technology, which will enable us to send important reminders to our patients, such as when they are due for follow-up visits or to remind them to take their chronic medication.

"No doubt First Care's competitive advantage is enhanced through the use of telecommunications technology. I can now afford to spend more time with my family and also enjoy my biggest passion - golf", he says.

What does he think of small businesses that have not yet installed broadband telecommunications?

"I strongly believe that those businesses are being held back because they will not be able to compete effectively and survive in today's cut-throat competitive world," he says.

Clearly it takes a level of business acumen to realise the importance of high-speed Internet connectivity to the success of any business.

Access to information, a key ingredient for small business's competitiveness, is made possible thanks to technologies such as ADSL.

The main reason small businesses choose ADSL broadband over dial-up connections is the significant cost savings and the quality of the service. Little wonder this is just what Pupuma ordered for his business.

l Tebogo Khaas is founder and president of the SA SMME Forum and is convenor of the Small Business Excellence initiative.