The key for a business to thrive in a post-lockdown world is to ensure you are delivering great value in whatever you do – more than ever, people will be looking for value for money.
This is the view of Afrihost CEO Gian Visser, who was speaking to MyBroadband about the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown on their business.
Visser said in Afrihost’s 20 years of doing business, the lockdown is one of the most unusual and unexpected business challenges they have faced.
Even though Afrihost, as a telecoms provider, is an essential business, Visser said: “We all moved out of Afrihost HQ and into our own homes”.
“We could have, in theory, kept everyone working from the office, but we made what we believed was the best decision to have 95% of our staff work from home.”
Visser said only their logistics and physical security personnel currently come into the office.
He said it was a big challenge to create robust systems to support their clients in a work-from-home environment.
“Fortunately, we have always supplied all of our team with free Internet so they all had the ability to continue connecting to our systems,” said Visser.
“Our PABX and support systems were already cloud-based so we managed to get everybody up and running in the week before the lockdown.”
“While it was difficult for everyone to initially adjust to the changes, we have managed to keep supporting our clients and our team through this.”
Big increase in network usage
Visser said when the state of disaster and lockdown kicked in, the usage on their network increased dramatically.
“There was instantly much more usage on our network across the day and our peak during the evening hours also increased dramatically as no one had anywhere to go except online,” he said.
On top of this, Afrihost doubled or upgraded the speed of many of its fibre clients at no extra cost.
“The fibre providers helped with this, but we also had to make sure our network had enough capacity to cope with this massive extra usage.”
There was additional load placed on all of Afrihost’s support channels – email, tickets, phone, WhatsApp, and call-backs.
“The reason for this was many more of our clients needed help as they were suddenly doing unusual or unfamiliar things from their home networks,” said Visser.
The chart below shows the bandwidth usage on the Afrihost network before and after the lockdown.
Impact on the business and finances
Visser said the response to the pandemic has led to incredible economic hardship for many South Africans, and they have lost clients as a result.
“Our client base is spread across every income level and across corporates and small businesses in all sectors so we, like every business in South Africa, have been affected,” he said.
He said the situation was aggravated by fibre operators like Vumatel increasing prices, the weak rand-dollar exchange rate and increased network costs.
“On top of that the majority of our fibre, ADSL and hosting clients pay us a fixed fee regardless of their usage which means that they are not paying us more for their increased usage,” said Visser.
“In fact, in most cases, our clients are now getting more and paying us less or the same which is wonderful for them in these tough times. However, all of this does make it challenging for us.”
The good news is that despite these challenges, Afrihost has not cut any salaries and there were no retrenchments.
“Our top priority is to make sure that there are zero retrenchments because of this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Visser.
Afrihost has also started a fund and other initiatives to assist staff who are facing challenges during this period.
Outlook for 2020
Visser said the key for any business to do well amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn is to deliver exceptional value.
He added that although many things will eventually move back to what we consider as normal, there are certain aspects of our lives that will change.
“There will be less business travel and I think there will be far more people working remotely in the future. This will lead to many more video meetings both with individuals and teams,” said Visser.
“This remote working environment will also lead to a faster move to all kinds of cloud services. An Internet connection will become indispensable.”
This bodes well for Afrihost and other Internet service providers that offer affordable and reliable Internet access and hosting services.