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Executing business ideas is easier than ever, and it’s going to kill a lot of companies

Digital disruption, as it’s been called for a while now, has already killed a lot of companies. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Backend as a Service (BaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) are making it easier than ever to execute on a business idea. Meanwhile, A.I. and its myriad applications have already changed the economic landscape, and it’s just getting started.

If you weren’t aware of how fundamentally the transition to digital has changed things, consider the fact that 52% of the Fortune 500 list in 2000 doesn’t exist anymore. Executing on a business idea is getting easier as BaaS firms tout statistics like 90% of resources for a business application are spent on rebuilding infrastructure. Our research has shown that anywhere from 50-80% of an app is rebuilt over and over and over again.  These ‘as a Service’ companies reduce the resources wasted on those processes.

While A.I. and machine learning have already changed the competitive landscape, only a handful of big companies are really leveraging the technology. The vast majority of SMEs are not. And by vast, I mean basically none. Virtually none of them have the capability of a giant like Google to apply machine learning to their data.  And expertise is sparse, to say the least, so almost every one of them is going to be dependent on third parties when they finally get around to address their needs.

Adapting to this new landscape is the challenge. We’ve been taught for decades that owning your own IP, building it yourself and creating more will add value to your company. Those ideas about how to build value don’t make sense anymore. Digital has connected everything, making the shoulders of giants accessible to everyone. Consumers’ expectations that a new service or product is slick, knows what they want, serves them immediately, works smoothly and leaves them delighted have driven businesses into a corner. They need to execute on ideas faster than ever and deliver something that works great, because if it doesn’t, the customer is on to the next thing, or to the better executed version of the idea. There are no second chances.

We realized that we needed a way to execute ideas faster, leverage existing machine learning capabilities and build the groundwork to make it easier to apply the A.I. breakthroughs of tomorrow. Stop wasting time and money rebuilding infrastructure. Build in A.I. competence. Focus only on adding value for your customers.

This is why we built the ShareActor Platform. Starting focused on the Sharing Economy and on-demand businesses, we built modules that handle users, payments, products, orders, scheduling, deliveries, subscriptions, a dashboard and more. All of the infrastructure we saw getting rebuilt over and over? It’s done. And of course we handle all the other BaaS tasks as well. When your app is built on our platform, your data is structured in our system so you can access a recommendation engine, price optimization or complex analysis with the flip of a switch. Future custom A.I. work is easier, faster and more cost effective as we ensure data is clean, structured and linked to our data science platform.

We’ve been eating our own dogfood since we started in 2016.  Six applications in, along with independent custom data science work, we’ve tested our platform. It’s repeatedly been used to prove business validity, is driving revenue and used to raise capital for scaling and market expansion.  We’re a tiny dev team and have delivered all these applications on timeframes that compete or beat big consulting firms at prices that should embarrass them.

Executing on business ideas is easier, faster and more cost effective than ever.  For companies that adapt to this new landscape, there’s a lot of work to do.  For those that don’t, they just won’t work anymore.

Photo: Getty
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South Africa’s new dawn: How Jacob Zuma’s misrule was ended

“We are going to look back at the past ten years and think of it as a lost decade.”

On the afternoon of 13 February, as South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma was recalled by his party, the African National Congress (ANC), a popular Johannesburg radio station began receiving calls about a peculiar incident.

A truck had lost its load along the M2 highway and people were scurrying to pick up what they believed to be tiny nuggets of unprocessed gold. The highway became congested as motorists pulled over to join the search. Even for a city that rose from the dust of a gold rush, this was a bizarre scene.

The first radio caller was giddy with excitement, as was the second. The third did what South Africans do best: he made light of an otherwise confusing and anxious day in the young nation’s history. “It’s manna from heaven,” the caller said. “Zuma’s just been recalled and already the roads are paved in gold.” Nine years into the president’s disastrous rule, South Africans had not lost their sense of humour – and were awaiting a new dawn. The police cleared the scene along the M2, no one proclaimed a worthy find and the nation returned to waiting for Zuma’s next move.

Technically, the president did not have to resign as head of state, despite the opposition of the ANC, the proud liberation movement turned ruling party that Zuma led for a decade until December 2017. Realistically, he had no options left.

With an overwhelming majority in parliament, the ANC was ready to table a motion of no confidence the next day. Defiant to the end, these final hours on the eve of Valentine’s Day were Zuma’s last stand.

They called him the “unstoppable tsunami” and with good reason. Zuma damaged South Africa and the ANC in ways only history will fully capture. He wrecked a country struggling to rebuild itself under the shadow of apartheid. Under his rule, the economy stagnated, unemployment rose, poverty grew, violent crime spiked and corruption became endemic.

“South Africa was headed in the wrong direction,” says Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition, which governs in cities including Johannesburg and Cape Town. “We are going to look back at the past ten years and think of it as a lost decade,” the political analyst Stephen Grootes concludes.

Zuma lurched from one scandal to the next. He was acquitted of rape, avoided almost 800 corruption charges for over a decade and nearly crashed the economy by recklessly firing a respected finance minister. Taxpayers were misled over exorbitant upgrades to his private mansion (a swimming pool was defended as a fire-fighting feature) and his friendship with the controversial Gupta family placed him at the heart of what became known as “state capture”: the looting of state coffers through the corruption of senior government officials.

“State and independent institutions were repurposed for the enrichment and protection of Jacob Zuma,” says political commentator Justice Malala. “He went through the guts of the framework, pulled out the institutions he needed and systematically broke them down or took away their independence.”

The institutions ranged from the tax revenue service to the public broadcaster, from the police to the prosecuting authority, and from the intelligence services to crucial industries such as mining.

Although constitutionally barred from governing beyond 2019, Zuma was widely believed to have engineered a plan to hold on to power (and avoid prosecution) through his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was campaigning to take over from him. By December, when the ANC met to pick its next leader, who would go on to become the country’s president in 2019, a mood of despair and hopelessness had set in.

The race was close. In the end, 179 votes out of nearly 5,000 cast separated Dlamini-Zuma from her challenger, Cyril Ramaphosa, a former union leader and businessman who had campaigned on an anti-corruption and pro-growth platform.

Ramaphosa’s victory in mid-December was a turning point. It removed the prospect of Zuma’s continued rule, began an instant shift in political power and sparked a moment of renewed hope. Ramaphosa had his own controversies, but was viewed as largely incorruptible. He had risen through the trade unions, served the ANC and built his wealth in the private sector. 

Following Ramaphosa’s election, the extent of state capture emerged through superb investigative journalism.

Politically driven prosecutions fell away, a hugely unpopular nuclear energy deal with Russia was frozen and, as Zuma was being recalled, police cars arrived outside the home of the Gupta family.

And yet, the president refused to leave the Union Buildings quietly, prompting comparisons with Margaret Thatcher. “He was the worst possible combination of ignorance, selfishness and incompetence that could have been inflicted upon the long-suffering people of South Africa,” read an editorial in the Daily Maverick on 13 February. “Now, stripped to the bare essence of being Zuma, the final image emerges, one of the selfish man who cared only for himself.”

Journalist Richard Poplak concluded: “What is born in chaos dies in chaos.”

 Zuma’s departure allows for the rebuilding to begin. The role played by the media, civil society – which found its voice during the Zuma years – and the judiciary (particularly the constitutional court) is being recognised. New president Ramaphosa delivered an inspiring state of the nation address the day after being sworn in.

“You can survive bad leadership, but what you won’t survive is bad institutions,” Mmusi Maimane told me.

There are no delusions over the epic challenges ahead. Unemployment is at 27 per cent (and is much higher for young, black South Africans) and GDP growth is stranded at 1 per cent. However, there is optimism, too: the “lost decade” is over and the Rainbow Nation’s renewal has finally begun. 

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia