The COVID-19 outbreak has been devastating global markets since the Coronavirus spread to the rest of the world in mid-January. Now with more than 170 countries reporting infections, many market signs are pointing to an economic downturn, similar or worse in scale to that of the recession in 2008. We’ve been thinking about the future of our business, the role it plays in the South African IT community and the impact Coronavirus has on not only us, but our people, clients, partners, and the market as a whole. Our DNA has always been open source, not because it’s in vogue (we’ve been doing OPEN for 20 years), but because we really believe in the model and the benefit it can bring to business and society at large.
What you can expect in months to come
During the 2008 recession, we saw many businesses under immense financial pressure. LSD saw a huge uptake in customers looking to open source to address their problems. If you remember that period, the ZAR was performing terribly against the USD, which is the currency most expensive proprietary software solutions’ price tags are linked to. Tools that were affordable and in budget six months prior just were not feasible for South African businesses anymore – and that’s where demand for alternatives like open source started to surge. We are in a similar position today with the global shutdown really only heading into effect, with certain sectors and industries like travel, leisure, tourism, retail and entertainment, put massively under pressure. We’ve seen a collapse in the oil price and equity markets, as well as being back to USD /ZAR exchange rate levels last seen in 2008 (you can have a look at historical exchange rate data HERE).
What are your options?
With continued tough times expected, it typically means that your expenses stay the same (or in some cases increase) and the money coming in, due to the recession and various other factors, may decrease. Cash flow and the management thereof becomes critical. The logical reaction of businesses in this situation is to look at cutting costs, where often the salary bill is one of the highest. The risk to any business is cutting costs in the wrong places, like letting valuable people go. Many businesses understand that their IT software and tools are critical to delivering business, but also form a large part of the costs, which is why so many people don’t consider alternative software in the first place. Ask yourself what your annual renewal with a locked-in vendor will look like if it happens in six months from now and the ZAR took a turn for the worst. Either you pay up, or your work tools and everything you’ve invested in gets lost.
Other businesses saw the gap to own their environments, building exactly what they needed, with open tools that didn’t keep them at the mercy of the exchange rate or vendor lock-ins. Go into almost any development or IT department and ask if there are running instances of MySQL, Kubernetes, the Elastic Stack, Ansible, etc., and we are certain that at least one of those tools will be in use. The clear winning option in this scenario is open source.
The role of open source in the current environment
Open source has been around long enough to not warrant an introduction, but what is needed is some clarity on how it will play an important part in rebuilding our economy and the businesses that form a part of it. We have helped customers save millions by shifting from expensive proprietary software to open source. Some customers are concerned with the support around community open source (which companies like ours can help with), but there is also enterprise open source. Consider postgreSQL, a great open source community database which is often used as an Oracle Database replacement, as well as EnterpriseDB, the company that provides an enterprise supported option at a fraction of the proprietary cost.
Businesses are finding smarter ways to do their work with free and open software solutions. There are open tools out there to do just about everything, and you are in control of the source code which provides great flexibility to change or extend the software if needed. Consider where your expenditure ends up – expensive USD denominated proprietary software tends to take money out of the South African economy. Using the open source alternatives, you will be able to build what you need using skilled, local resources, thereby keeping trade flowing in our local economy. The more businesses adopting this model of supporting local will mean that more service providers will stay afloat and bring some stability to a very tumultuous environment. This is the exact reason that the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) policy was adopted by the South African government in 2003, but sadly it has lacked the implementation and oversight to derive the massive benefits.
One crucial aspect where open source is leading the way is innovation. Most of the modern emerging technology today (Cloud, Kubernetes, Kafka, and many others) are all open source projects. Interestingly there is very little new innovation actually coming out of the commonplace last century software giants. There is an 80/20 line of thought that says underlying software is typically the same. This isn’t where you should be spending your money. Rather leverage open source and spend money on the 20% which is your unique business value.
What’s next for us?
The virus has caused everyone to socially distance themselves, but inadvertently has sparked new ways for people to be even closer. It has accelerated new business models and alternative ways of doing business. You can expect open source to become more prevalent in the foreseeable future as business starts to take advantage of it. Open as an interconnected way of being and working will become the norm, as we realise the way through any crisis is to share, be that ideas or source code. We are very excited you’re here. We have been expecting you. Open your world and join us
LSD Information Technology is synonymous with nice people, open and out of the box thinking. LSD is a part of the iOCO and continues to innovate in the open source space.
If there are any companies delivering an essential service during this difficult period that may need help with critical infrastructure at scale, particularly with technologies like Kubernetes, please let us know how we can assist and do our part in looking after our people and country.
What we’re doing to flatten the curve
In light of everything going on with regards to Covid-19, LSD created a Covid-19 action plan last week, and we thought it would be good to share to the rest of the family.
For those not too familiar with our business unit, we fall under #OpenDigital and work on amazing open source solutions. We work out of the Waterfall office in Midrand and have multiple resources deployed on customer sites. This is how we are approaching Covid-19 with our action plan. Feel free to copy, modify or use this plan for your own unit.
The starting point was to figure out the trigger conditions for the plan to kick into effect. The number of cases in the Western Cape and Gauteng-area was the most logical indicator to use as a trigger and using a model, which you can find here, it became apparent that the magical number was 16. This condition was hit over the weekend, which according to the model meant that LSD would work from home from this week.
LSD is going to work on the following plan:
LEVEL 1: Work from home for 5 business days (the whole business week), re-evaluate at the end of the week whether to go back to working in the office. The evaluation will take into account the information being fed to the public by the Health Ministry, and the NICD. Should we work remotely for two consecutive LEVEL 1 week, we escalate to LEVEL 2.
LEVEL 2 is a two-week work from the home stretch, which keeps our resources working remotely for an entire month by the end of the process (L1+L1+L2), keeping us out of the office and away from possible infection at the office. This is a contingency step that assumes the situation does not improve during the initial two week period.
The following measures are also in effect:
- Remote work on customer projects instead of going on-site;
- Virtual meetings, including sales meetings;
- Daily morning stand-ups between our people (divided into teams, according to function). We use this to lay out what we want to achieve that day.
- Daily afternoon feedback in a Rocket.Chat thread. No need for a second call, but a quick update at the end of the day on what you achieved since the morning stand-up.
Overriding everything in this plan is when someone feels sick and might need to get treatment. In that case, self-isolation for 14 days and medical treatment is recommended (standard treatment procedures recommended by the Health Ministry on Covid-19).
Loadshedding also factors into the ability to work remotely. Some of our people do have back-up systems in place, but for those who don’t, we recommend working from the office. Coffee shops and other venues are out of the question considering the circumstances, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) thankfully loadshedding schedules vary, reducing the chances that everyone would need to be in the office at the same time.
Additionally, we’re also supporting our people with additional paid family responsibility leave if a family member is infected during this period.
With regards to tools, LSD is equipped with the following for remote working:
- Primary communications platform: Rocket.Chat. It has a community-like feel to it, and LSD has been using it for a few years as our chat platform. The same can be achieved with Microsoft Teams, which many in the family already use.
- Meetings and general voice chat: Zoom. LSD has two lobbies set up which any of our people can jump in/jump out from to have a quick conversation and stay in touch. For 1-on-1 meetings, a meeting room on Zoom can just be spun up as needed.
- Collaboration and file sharing: GSuite. (The rest of the family use the corporate Sharepoint with OneDrive and Office for the same effect). This is self-explanatory.
- There is also constant chatter on Rocket about online community-based tools for having fun. Group drawing tools, online gaming sessions, etc. We aren’t known for ‘Funnalism’ for nothing.
That is how we’re trying to flatten the curve and protect our people from the virus. We are privileged to be able to do this, many others are not in the same situation. Consider looking at remote options for your own business unit, and let us know what you came up with! This is also a gap for innovation, and the more heads we have thought about this process, the better!