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The anywhere, anytime channel

Some local channel players are showing commitment to the concept of flexible working. Selling the toolsets to make remote working possible is a large and growing market for channel players, from those who create the productivity platforms, like Microsoft, to those that provide integration and support, or connectivity. The question is whether these and other channel players are themselves making use of the remote or flexible working models.

 

The answer seems to be yes in principle, but many channel players seem to be only at the beginning of the journey towards anywhere, anytime working.

Uriel Rootshtain, application and services business lead for Microsoft South Africa, points out that the company is a global multinational, so its employees are habituated to being part of a distributed workforce. In his experience, one of the most important enabling factors for successfully managing such a workforce is an effective performance management capability.

Outcomes-based performance management allows employees to manage their own time, for example taking time off during “working hours” to balance time spent sorting out a customer problem on Sunday evening.

“The decision to adopt this style of working is a strategic one – you can’t just typecast roles as being suitable for it or not,” Rootshtain observes.

An extreme example

Rootshtain says that Microsoft offers an extreme example of how its collaboration technology can be used. Its local channel partners are also customers and are all at different stages on the journey towards fully exploiting collaborative technologies. “There’s a very broad spectrum across the channel,” he says.

Systems integrator Integr8 is one of those for whom principle has become practice. It sees flexible working within the context of providing increasingly better service to clients. “One of our core values and strengths is the expertise we have on board. So, we specifically target our technical staff and engineers with the resources and solutions to address all service requirements,” says joint CEO Lance Fanaroff. He notes that Integr8 has been on this path since 2001.

Vodacom, by contrast, seems to be less far along the track. Tshepo Ramodibe, executive head: corporate affairs, says while most of its employees work in teams within the office environment, the company provides tools to work from home to those who cannot come into office for personal reasons. However, field engineers and technicians, although part of deskbound teams, are necessarily mobile.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that much of the channel is at this stage, with technical and sales staff fully mobile and the rest remaining office-based.

Fanaroff makes the point that a mobile workforce demands particular support. An engineer in Sandton might be supporting a client’s office in Polokwane, with Integr8’s network and Nerve Centre technology hub providing the platform to do so. “We regard it as critical that our technical support staff and engineers have the capability to tap into, source, acquire and implement any of our products and services at any time, at any place—our network has to be able to support this level of service delivery,” he says.

All about the people

More fundamentally, technology is only as good as the people using it. Keeping up with the fast-paced change in technology is one issue—standards and quality assurance are thus both vital. At the same time, says Fanaroff, employees have to be “skilled, trained, experienced and passionate”, combining commitment to the company’s brand with their own personal brand.

In his experience, ambitious and enthusiastic work-seekers are drawn by the opportunities offered by flexibility.

“Organisations and businesses that are geared to offer these types of arrangements will attract the ‘hot, young talent’ and sought-after skills,” Fanaroff says.

Microsoft’s Rootshtain puts it slightly differently. In his view, only companies that are flexible will prosper in an age of digital disruption: talent will be drawn to work for such companies.

Against this must be put the trend at companies like Google and Yahoo that insist on employees spending at least some time at corporate offices. Perhaps the key point is that workplaces and work habits need to be flexible in today’s world. 

Creating jobs?

A survey by Citrix and the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggests that remote working via the internet could add just under 0.5% to South Africa’s gross domestic product and cut commuting costs by R39.5 billion. 
In the process, new jobs could be created for housebound parents or those who cannot find formal jobs. Sites like Crossover or, locally, Money4Jam, provide Uber-like platforms to connect those with skills to those needing them.

Seems like this would be a perfect way for an ambitious techie to set up shop, and offer remote support to home offices, SMEs or even farsighted corporates.

If Floyd Mashele’s experience is anything to go by, South Africa has some way to go. Mashele ended a contract with Gijima and decided to try going it alone, offering application support from home. “The potential is there, but you have to have the backing to spend the time networking and building your customer base,” Mashele says.

He believes that platforms like Crossover offer the best opportunity to turn flexible working opportunity into a career. “South African businesses want traditional IT service providers,” he says.

Integr8’s Fanaroff says the company is experimenting with this model to drive its expansion strategy, particularly into Africa. In this way, it can build partnerships in regions where it sees opportunity.

However, it still needs to make the investment in setting up operations, including providing skills and the technology platform.

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