Technology For South African Businesses - an Interview with Paul Wilson

An interview about the latest technology and the best investments for South African Businesses with Paul Wilson, Technical Director, DSL Telecom.

Paul has expertise in most industry’s in South Africa due to the range of projects he has worked on. His primary focus is on helping you make smart technology investments that ultimately save your business time and money.


Andrew: Hello good day and I welcome everybody on Zoho live episode. I'm joined today by Paul Wilson from DSL Telecom, Paul welcome.

Paul Wilson: How’s is it Andrew? Thanks for having me.

Andrew: Ok Paul, let's get into it. So I’ve got a few questions for you, ‘How long have you been a Zoho partner?’

Paul Wilson: So, we've bought this since about September 2012 about eight years now, yeah I’ve been venturing onto ten years.

Andrew: Okay brilliant and how long have you been using Zoho’s technology.

Paul Wilson: So we’ve been using the products since the end of 2010, early 2011. We started using the CRM system in our own business, we also sell this or telecommunications products—phone systems to businesses, and we started using the CRM product and the Desk product from a support perspective. And after seeing that, the change that it gave us in our business we thought it was just too good not to share with the rest of the country and in the rest of hopefully Africa.

Andrew: Yes, no definitely! And which type of businesses have you helped implement Zoho's technology or various technologies.

Paul Wilson: Okay wow! So it's been such a long time we've been doing this since 2012, so also in the South African market we've been sort of predominantly the only Zoho partner—so we've helped a lot of businesses. We’ve helped various industries from education, construction, people in the transport industry, finance, you know various industries we've looked at and all sizes of businesses, you know companies of 1 person, companies of 280 people. I’ve always said from a technology perspective sometimes the smaller guys, the guys with fewer people need more technology than the big guys.

Andrew: Yes, yeah completely agree with you, and so you've been a partner since 2012, ‘Which has been the best Zoho product that has been created?’

Paul Wilson: So since that time you know in the last eight years there's been a lot of advancements. I think anyone who's been working Zoho, using Zoho for a long time would have seen this. I think back then there were about 25 applications available and I think today you can correct me if I'm wrong I think there are about in the region 50 to 60 apps available! We've seen your apps come available every time, so if I had to try to really pinpoint down to one product it's a tough question, but I'd have to take Zoho One. Zoho One being a bundle of products it's the grouping of all applications together at a single price point and it is less than a change in the South African market. I think from the South African perspective, costs have always been an issue and with the rent dollar exchange most applications in the industry relying on this rental dollar exchange of cost have always been an issue and Zoho One eradicated this. Having a bundle of products at a single price point really changed the game, and also having those applications at your fingertips having them available to work with and to use, really it's a big difference. So I think if I had to choose any particular product it would be Zoho One, and I'm sure many people will agree with that.

Andrew: Definitely, I totally agree with you. Okay, let's get into the business, the South African business-focused questions. So a lot of South African Businesses are having to implement business continuity planning now. What is your advice to business owners needing to implement technology to allow their staff to just work, collaborate, and communicate during this time?

Paul Wilson: Obviously it's been a trying time for everyone. We deal with a lot of businesses, we work with a lot of people in different industries and we've seen how some industries have thrived and some people have suffered, but one of the sorts of the golden thread that we've seen through that is that—companies have been able to use technology as a crutch or as a tool to advance. So in terms of business continuity, technology, I think it's important to remember that change is important. Change is going to happen whether we enforce the change or whether it's enforced on us—technology can be used to excel through these times.

So we've seen it you know having Zoho One platform and our customers, most of our customers working with Zoho One platform and having tools like Zoho Cliq, Zoho Meeting cloud-based telephony systems—really has made a difference in allowing companies to power through this time. And I think it's important to note that it is not about this time, we can talk about COVID and saying that I would typically want to steer away from, because you know things happen and it's going to happen again. It's not just now that we're dealing with it, sure it's been a trying time but it's going to happen again, and if we did not prepare for it as a business and from a technology perspective we're going to feel it. People will feel it and if they're not prepared it becomes a problem, where it can actually become a tool and something that we can use to thrive off especially in South Africa—what we see in South African market our customers that have had the ability to change and adapt using technology, or the other guys are coming out on top because they're just so much more advanced and their competitors are almost doing nothing. So yeah a lot of changes and technology being at the forefront of that.

Andrew: Definitely, I completely agree with you. I’ve seen a lot of companies as well, that have been prepared and in some that haven't been prepared. And I think it's not something right now, it's something that's going to happen in the future and also the technology advancements are allowing businesses to be able to have their staff work remotely if the need comes along. So one other question that I have for you is ‘How do business owners get their staff to accept this change with new technology that they might not be familiar with?’

Paul Wilson: That's a good one Andrew. It's probably you know when we talk about change and change management throughout technology implementation, that's probably one of the most important things. When I say important things it is one of the biggest issues or hurdles we deal with—is getting people to change, because we all know with technology and with data you know the software is only as good as the person using the software, it's only as good as the data that's inputted into it. If it's not there and it doesn't happen then the technology you know takes seconds to seat and it becomes almost worthless. So getting people to change is something that's very important and a saying that we take very close to heart when it comes to implementing these products for customers.  

It's where a lot of our focus lies. Our first and foremost, one of the most important things is from business owners and directors and managers are we choosing the correct software, first of all, does the software or the technology suit the need. If we can answer that question correctly then we should have a higher uptake and change is going to be easier, but then secondary to that we look at the staff and the users, they're potentially the most important part of this puzzle. If they don't fit the technology doesn't fit right, and there are two sides to the coin, we will always look at it from two angles. One way is we've got to force people to use the technology, so we always look at the stick and the carrot. So the sticks will force people to do it—we're going to take things away if they don't use it correctly, and the second is the carrot. The carrot is training, we've got to train people and teach people that the software is not there to make life harder it's not there to change the way things are done, but always for the better and it's there to make your life easier. And I think you know often from the surface of technology changes, change is hard for people inherently and if we can teach people the power that it gives them individually, we definitely see a better uptake, better usage from staff, from employees, and in turn definitely better productivity and growth from the technology itself.

Andrew: Yeah, I completely agree with you. I mean if the staff on using the technology becomes maybe more of a hindrance to a business instead of a benefit. The next question I have for you is, ‘How can South African Businesses differentiate themselves from their competitors by using various types of technology?’

Paul Wilson: It’s an interesting one. I think all businesses understand that technology is a necessity. It's not a nice-to-have any more, it's definitely a necessity. The guys that aren't using technology are definitely going to fall behind and we're seeing that in the marketplace, we're seeing that the people using technology definitely are excelling and moving forward. I remember we were doing this since 2012 working with customers and technologies in their own businesses, and you know in those days the pen and paper were the preferred methods of storing data and storing information. Things have changed dramatically, I think as the younger generation has come through and started businesses—the idea of technology these people have grown up with is certainly embraced more. So we're seeing a lot of young CEO’s, younger managers, younger business owners embracing technology and seeing advancements and competitive edges over the competitors.  

If we had to look at elements of technology that make a difference in business it really comes down to customer service at the end of the day, I think a happy business has happy customers. If we can use technology to keep our customers happy, we're definitely going to have a competitive advantage and we've seen things like customer portals, defined process flow where data's kept and accessed easily so people can monitor if it is a complaint or if a customer needs anything they can have quick access to this data. Obviously, the pen and paper, and the diary method never really worked for this, it always took time here to page back and that follow up with the customer and track from a sales perspective or from a customer service perspective. Being able to track where that deal is and making sure that communication and relationship are both upfronts makes a big difference, so CRM systems are obviously one of the primary serving products we see out there—we've definitely seen this to be one of the major competitive edges of customers using them versus customers not using them.  

For a business to understand the value of data, I think this is important. If we had to look from a business perspective and it's an African industry anyway, but probably in the worldwide industry the businesses two biggest assets are—one it's staff so the people that operate and second, is the data—if the data's looked after, if it's cared about and updated regularly we definitely have more value within the business. And I think the guys that are doing this and using technology to do this or definitely a couple of steps ahead of the rest. I think from a data perspective that's where we stand—advancements.

Andrew: Yes definitely, the next question I have for you is, ‘When looking for various technologies we're looking at a technology solution, what is the most important thing for South African Businesses just to look out for?’

Paul Wilson: Yeah, I think everyone in South Africa who’s watching this right now will agree with me—I think the cost is a major one, cost always has been a major one. Cost is very important, a business will always look at costs first and foremost. Somehow Zoho has been solid in costs and pricing, and this new release of the South African pricing really is making difference, and we see people make that decision of technology a little bit easier now that it's not linked to the dollar and exchange rate. So costs were always at the forefront and second, technically is security. Again like I said previously is that data's important and data is valuable. So it's not good security or we can't manage users correctly, it's definitely something that South African businesses lookout for, our data is valuable and should it get into the wrong hands it can become a problem, and then integrations! So as we grow and technology becomes used more widely in business, what we've noticed is that different departments, different sectors in the business start to define apps that they need to use, and having these apps talk to each other and integrate with each other is definitely something that we need to look out for.  

I suppose that brings me back to the Zoho One, why Zoho One was my favorite because it just gave the power of these applications to the business. You wouldn't have to go and look for an application to do another job, your support team would have Zoho Desk available for them, your sales team and the company has Zoho CRM, with those digital signing tools, the Cliq for internal communication, things are available that easily integrate to each other—certainly makes a big difference! It's something that we've seen probably only in the last year, with businesses have changed the dynamic-looking for a software application to patch a hole, to patch a gap, where we now actually progressing towards the software suite—the suite of applications as a platform, to run a business rather than individual departments or sectors using their own apps and their own little tools.

Flexibility—one of the things within South African business is every business likes to be themselves, they like to put their own mark on things. It's quite interesting because we go in for implementations often in sales environments and every business owner they want to do it their way, they've got their own way of doing it. I always sort of play devil's advocate and I say to them but you're selling a product to service it's the same as everyone else, it is different right. So everything they put their mark on it they like to do things their own way, so from a technology perspective flexibility is important—it's important to adapt and to build a system to manage your flow, your process, and to put your own mark on it.

Andrew: I completely agree, a lot of South African businesses are very unique and I think the one thing you know is that you can customize the solution to fit your business which is, it's a really good thing for businesses to look out for. I want to find out from you what type of features, like technology features are most requested by the South African market.

Paul Wilson: It's an interesting question we obviously worked in many many sectors, so we worked on many industries and every sort of industry or sector has a specific request and the way they want to do things, and they want things done in a certain way which is a natural right, that's going to happen. If I had to look at the overarching features or requests probably things like payment gateways or integration to a payment gateway where they can streamline their payments and collections. So David orders there is other subscriptions' products been you know and look people have looked for it and wanted to use this type of application a lot in the past but not having that David collection integration has been a hindrance in this. I know we are working on payment gateway integrations and we're hopefully going to have it soon, but definitely payment collections have been a request that we've seen a lot for. And then telephony integration, and I think telephony integration is one that I personally hold very close to my heart because I’ve been working on it for the last two years to try and get a good South African phone system that integrates to the software products or to CRM products in specifics right and we as do significant finally have one of these products that sit in South Africa so we don't have any voice quality issues. It integrates with many products of being one of them but it also integrates with other CRM systems in the market, but we've seen it's made a big difference to customers that have taken it in and started using it.

What we've seen is that with technology and working remotely being able to monitor and be able to understand how people are operating is very important, and I think integrating something like telephony has made all the difference, because not only can we see their people on phone calls and work remotely from a cloud-hosted or cloud based system, but we can also report on it. We can see what phone calls have been made to what customers at what time, how long that call has been made for, we can start to look at the data and we can start to dig in the data. One of my managers came to me the other day and he wanted to know when was contact ability the best and because we have this integrated phone system, we could build a report and we could understand what time of the day do we have the best contact ability, what times the best to call customers.  

So yeah telephony is definitely one that's been requested throughout the eight years that we've been working with Zoho. It's something that we've had available for probably about three months now! It has a couple of teething issues but now I'm happy to say it's a hundred percent ready, we're ready to roll it out! So it's been two years of working and a lot of customers are asking for these things and a lot of want and need, other than that if we move back to talk about the process and how customers want their own process. I think one of the features that stands out not necessarily that's been requested but that has been used the most since it's been implemented is the Blueprint. So Blueprint readily allows customers to put their own mark, their own process, their own flow onto the system and it helps with their change management we talking about earlier—it defines the process to find the flow. And then again on top of that, there are various requests that we get but most of them are sort of specific to that particular business so those two or three really stand out amongst the rest.

Andrew: Yes, now I can completely agree with you! The Blueprint feature is a really good feature for businesses to make use of and I think also have a demo video of your telephony integration into Zoho CRM and people can find that on the DSL telecom YouTube channel if I'm not mistaken, so people can go and research it today.

Paul Wilson: And also if anyone wants an in-person demo we can organize that too!

Andrew: That is great! Okay, and we have noticed like what has been like the biggest hurdle for South African businesses in the onboarding process, to onboard the technology and the products into their business.

Paul Wilson: So yeah it's interesting and as I said earlier at the beginning of this session, we've worked with multiple companies multiple industries, one user to two hundred and eighty users, and there are various hurdles that different businesses or sized businesses or types of businesses have when it comes to implementing the software. So the first hurdle obviously is choosing the right software. So we've got to make sure that it is the right fit, the first thing I say to when we go sit down with a customer and we talk about the products and how we're going to implement and how we can implement, the first thing I ask them is, ‘You’ve got to be a hundred percent sure that this is the right product that's going to work for you guys because if it's not, then you are wasting your time and I'm wasting my time and we might as well stop right here'. It's quite a harsh thing to say and maybe it comes across as if it's not what the customer necessarily wants to hear but it is important that the choice is made correctly from the beginning.

And then when it comes to after that, with the implementation moving forward and different businesses have different problems. I mean cost is definitely one of them, and then time is another one. We look at the time and cost sort of together you know the smaller guys cost is a big issue and for the bigger guys time can be a big issue. To do an implementation can often be quite a costly exercise and it takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of time to get things right. We’ve sort of over the lot eight years we've looked at this and we've tried to develop different ways to assist different businesses and we've tried different things you know and some work and some haven't worked, but what we've done now was—we've tried to create products that accommodate South African businesses of all types.  

So we've got training where we can go in and give administrative training for customers to learn how to do it themselves. One of the beauties of the Zoho products is the fact that it's not rocket science to go and put this in for yourselves, to implement the system it is not rocket science, but to implement it properly just takes the know-how. So we got the training that gives the customers the know-how and lets them understand how to do it. We've got full implementation products where we partner with multiple development firms which we can do anything you know the sky is really the limit, and for complex implementations, this is often what people choose. So with a full implementation, we got the training and then I think one of the biggest hurdles which we talk about it's not necessarily the implementation or getting the software in—that's almost the easy part, that's the easy part—the biggest hurdle is probably actually utilizing the system thereafter, so progressing it throughout. These technology products we are talking about it's not a one-shot implementation it is often perceived to be—they're going to set the system up, and then it's going to be perfect for the rest of the time.

These products are certainly evolutionary they need to grow with the business. Businesses change all the time, I think we've all seen that in the last eight weeks. I think everyone's here in business listening will attest to that, that things change whether we wanted to change, whether we forced to change. So these products being an evolutionary thing, growth is important and that comes with training and teaching and understanding. So we've at DSL telecom have also put together a sort of what we call customers success packages. It's not a support package, these people often say the word support, it's not supported at all or success, and it's about driving system success and especially when we're talking about a suite of applications. It's important to get the value out of that, you know something as simple as Zoho Lens, many people listening probably don't know what that is. It's a smaller product but it can be used very effectively, and having someone as a partner or someone to work with, that really understands these things and understands your business we found makes a big difference.

So we've got these customer success packages that we fit together, we find them really making a big difference to businesses and implementing these products. And then over and above that, sometimes you don't need that sometimes you can do it yourself, you don't need a partner to help you, and sometimes what you need is just a sounding board. So what we've also done is as customers come across, we link up with customers and help them make the right choices in terms of technology, and we also do give them advice and sometimes just tell them that their ideas are bad and it's not going to work, or to tell them that it's a great idea. So that sounding board we feel makes a big difference to successful implementation and one of the hurdles I guess the biggest hurdles is people just don't know what the possibilities are, and often we see with technology people implementing technology themselves in abusing about five to ten percent of the availability of tools in the technology and obviously, there's a lot more available.

Andrew: Yeah, just exactly as what you said I’ve seen so many people get the technology and they can do it themselves, but the thing is that they're not experienced like yourself, so they might get through it, might take them like quite a few months or maybe even years to kind of get the system to work how they really need to work, whereas if they come to you—with all your experience you kind of point them in the right direction because the system can be coded in so many different ways. You can have it flow in so many different ways and I think it is actually vital that a business goes to somebody like yourself who's got the knowledge to kind of say to them ‘listen you know you can't do it that way but I’ve found in my, you know 10+ years of experience that this is a better way to do it’. So definitely, completely agree with you that it's something it is a hurdle when you know a person takes the system and tries to build themselves and then eventually realizes that it's not working. So no that's definitely not advisable and I'd like to thank you for coming on live with us on Zoho Live and sharing your insight and your knowledge and experience with us and the viewers, and yeah it's been very insightful and just really thank you.

Paul Wilson: Yeah thanks for having me and just desire to keep doing what you guys are doing. It's great to see the advancement and it's great to see everything happen quickly and giving the customers what they need, so thanks for having me thanks for giving me the opportunity to share a bit of knowledge. I hope people can learn from it and I hope it makes a difference.

Andrew: Perfect thank you so much, Paul.


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