A system that is unable to accommodate rapid growth with the flexibility to adapt to tomorrow’s business world, is scarcely better than no system at all. A decade ago, larger companies were spending millions on new software systems, only for the implementation to take so long that the system was obsolete before it was bedded down. Small businesses cannot afford such costly mistakes.
Right Product Equals Good Value
The world of information technology is more prone to hype than any other. In the late 90s, at the height of the tech bubble, there were literally thousands of products jostling for attention, each claiming their solution would “future proof” any business.
In fact, they couldn’t future proof themselves, because those thousands of products have dwindled to a mere handful. The small business owner can be forgiven for being sceptical in the current climate – but scepticism is unwarranted because that handful of products today offer value for money and full scalability for a growing business. The software industry has matured and toned down the hype, and decision-making for customers has become relatively simple.
In fact, small businesses can today acquire at affordable prices those systems larger companies spent small fortunes on a decade ago. Most packages today offer ERP (enterprise resource planning) – the platform for good business management which used to be known as your accounting system, with elements such as the general ledger. Available as modules to this basic accounting function are Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Business Intelligence (BI). These provide valuable customer data as well as business data gleaned from the ERP solution. The current market seems to be investing in ERP solutions with a few looking at BI and some considering CRM solutions.
Scalable System for Growth
A business, wanting a system that will grow with it over time, doesn’t have to worry about whether it needs a CRM, BI or ERP – today, you simply choose a trusted brand, and it will offer a continuum of products that take you from an SME to multinational stage, with the front office or back office available when you need them.
The major players today are Softline, Microsoft and SAP, with each having entry-level products ranging from R500 to R5 000.
“It’s a competitive market and a good value-for-money one,” says Jeremy Waterman, managing director of Softline ACCPAC, in whose stable lies the ubiquitous Pastel and ACCPAC range of accounting packages, and the VIP payroll system.
Softline is an international software giant, focused on SME and mid-market business applications. “We have the Pastel product for smaller through to medium sized companies, and ACCPAC for medium to larger ones – and each product is scalable, meaning you just add on new users as you grow. So once you select a product, you do not have to change,” says Waterman.
All Softline products are Windows-based, meaning technical training is relatively simple.
Most SMEs are sales-focused, says Waterman, and these packages are fundamental to their competitiveness. Over time, a company may start with a simple accounting package but will want to tag on a CRM module to manage the interface with customers and invoicing, and be able to handle ever-greater volumes
Best of Breed Options
In making a choice, a company has to evaluate a number of factors, local support being one of them. QuickBooks is a huge product globally, but small in South Africa. Pastel and ACCPAC by contrast are big locally, but small internationally.
Microsoft has long been a leading global provider of software, services and solutions, but it’s currently undergoing a revolution that is changing the way it interacts with its customers. Called ‘software plus services’, this new approach is allowing thousands of small businesses the opportunity to use technology in a way that their bigger brothers have for years.
In short, this new business model offers customers and partners the power of choice in terms of payment, device and deployment. It is a major inflection point for Microsoft – and indeed, the entire software industry.
“We’ve always had an immense capacity for innovation, but what’s really important about this is the way that this innovation is making the world a better place,” says Microsoft CEO Heather Third.
In terms of support, one cannot go wrong with Microsoft: two out of every three of the 33 000 professional developers in South Africa target the Microsoft platform. Of the nearly 62 100 people employed in IT in this country, 26 000 are Microsoft-related.