Archive for March, 2012


At Softline we believe that the corporate sector has an obligation to handle the skills shortage responsibly and, in line with this, invest in development and mentorship programs which can turn mediocre skills into valuable assets.

Life College is a not-for-profit extracurricular institution which focuses on developing emotional intelligence, entrepreneurship and leadership in South Africa’s youth, specifically targeting secondary level learners. Life College delivers engaging, innovative and effective life skills programmes that teach students to think differently, improve their readiness for life and instil a champion mentality.

Life College promotes the development of entrepreneurial skills amongst their students, via an annual competition called The Life College Xchange. The Xchange provides an environment in which future entrepreneurs can meet and listen to the wisdom of successful business people who generously contribute their time to the initiative.

It is truly rewarding for me to be involved with such an astute project and to hear students describe their interactions with successful industry leaders as unforgettable and life-changing,” – Ivan Epstein

Visit www.lifecollege.org.za

Rob Wilkie

Corruption has become endemic in both the private and public sectors. Perpetrators have little regard for the law and openly flaunt their gains. Each day we hear about tenderpreneurs, a term used to describe those who win tender contracts based on personal connections and corrupt relationships.

Where did this all start? Perhaps the big BEE transactions done by some of our blue chip companies set a precedent? Board room deals, financially unsustainable, benefitting a few elite and politically connected persons. Fronting and buying favouritism; this is corruption.

BEE deals were meant to compensate the previously disadvantaged but sadly have only widened the gap between rich and poor.

Small business can make a difference. If you’re contemplating BEE, do it for the right reasons. For if it is to work it must make a meaningful contribution to uplifting employees and the communities’ in which they live. Run an internship program, adopt a school, sponsor an entrepreneur, set up a community forum that holds local government accountable, lead a litter “clean-up” campaign. And even if you are not contemplating BEE, do this anyway. As Ghandi said “we must become the change we want to see in the world”.

- By Rob Wilkie, CFO Softline and Sage AAMEA

Second part of Ivan Epstein’s interview with Alec Hogg from Moneyweb, broadcast on SAfm on the program Upper Echelon on 23 Feb 2012

Ivan Epstein’s interview with Alec Hogg from Moneyweb, broadcast on SAfm on the program Upper Echelon on 23 Feb 2012

By Steven Cohen, Managing Director, Softline Pastel Accounting

Did you know that only 53% of professional accountants would recommend an online accounting product to their SME clients?

This statistic comes from independent research we recently conducted relating to accounting and business solutions for the SME sector. What was interesting for me was that a lack of understanding and experience is one of the main reasons preventing the uptake of cloud-based services.

Accounting in the cloud is exactly the same as the accounting we’re all used to; the core difference relates to where the software application is hosted and where the client’s data is stored. So, when we refer to the cloud, we mean that the accounting program is hosted on the web and not on your computer. It’s the same as your Facebook account where all your information is stored ‘somewhere on the internet’.

Accounting in the cloud will not fundamentally change how the core business process is conducted but it will certainly make it easier for businesses to manage their accounting processes, particularly with an increasingly mobile workforce and the growing number of external corporate consultants. Accounting in the cloud gives accountants and business owners alike the ability to conveniently access records and transact from remote locations with little or no advanced setup.

But working online is about far more than just accessibility; the cloud makes the lives of users considerably easier. It removes the need for manual program installations, and the associated hassles. It also means that users never have to worry about upgrades or backups as the system will automatically be the latest available version that is, by its nature, backed up as information is saved.

So for those willing to embrace accounting in the cloud, the result will be a streamlined book keeping and accounting process across the business that feeds into a central database and minimises the risk of data errors, or worse, losses. The more tangible benefits are felt when new legislation or tax rate adjustments, for example, simply feed into the system without the cost or aggravation of having to buy and install new programs.

Our survey also tells us that security concerns are the other major driving force preventing the uptake of cloud-based services amongst SMEs. I hear this kind of commentary from our clients all the time. And I repeat myself at every opportunity that security concerns shouldn’t deter users from embracing the cloud because service providers in this space probably offer better security than regular IT vendors, leaving your vital business information safer in the cloud than on the local network.

For example, the security for our online accounting solution, Pastel My Business Online is iron clad. It includes physical armed security and restricted access to our data centres. We have firewall and intrusion detection with ongoing system reviews to identify possible weaknesses and new vulnerabilities. We have technologies in place to ensure that if server errors do occur, we can minimise downtime. And we also back up data daily and store that information in two separate locations.

But users remain apprehensive about all of their data and activities taking place in what they consider to be cyber space. So, I’ve started recommending a hybrid approach, where certain applications sit on the actual server while others run in the cloud. This means that users can still feel in control of the majority of their work but can slowly familiarise themselves with the way online services work.

I would suggest that there is one of two ways to split the application locations. The cloud is either for the mundane yet necessary activities that end users spend disproportionate amounts of time getting right on their own or for highly specialised services that require outside expertise. The heart of the system –client and financial data – should sit on your mainframe in the office.

In this article, Grant Lloyd, Chief Technology Officer Softline and Sage AAMEA reflects on the impact of managerial style on Agile Software Engineering initiatives.

Grant_Lloyd_MD_Pastel_Payroll_Softline

Grant Lloyd, CTO Softline and Sage AAMEA

Growing application complexities, drastically curtailed project delivery schedules (schedules being halved every 2 to 3 years in practice), a general intolerance by commercial users of software defects, and, greater integration, interface and interoperability requirements are principle drivers of software engineering in the present day.

Simultaneously, functional requirements have amplified and project funding apportionments have declined.  Where a project manager was previously able to trade one component of the project triple-constraint: time, cost and quality, against either of the others to reach a reasonable compromise, the more recent challenge has become improving the performance of all triple-constraint aspects simultaneously.

This compounded vigour in user demands and commercial priorities is demonstrated by frequently developing customer requirements which have given rise to agile software engineering models.  Principally directed at focussing software engineering on tasks and activities adding direct value to the ultimate deliverable i.e. functional software, the approach eliminates “non-value-adding” activities from the project whilst embedding the principles of constant change, trust, courage and independence at the core of the initiative and team.

A significant differentiator between agile and traditional approaches is that each requires very different management styles.  Traditional methodologies require more management and less leadership, whilst the agile approaches require more leadership and less management.

As a process-based approach, the traditional methodologies focus heavily on what is supposed to be done, in what order, with what inputs, processes and outputs, and, with a desired deliverable as overriding goal.  On the other hand, the agile approaches are completely outcomes-based.  The sole goal of the agile approaches is to deliver software that exceeds customer expectations with little or no concern with interim processes unless these processes add directly to the final outcome of customer satisfaction.

If one considers a highly simplistic continuum of management styles from [controlling to directing to visionary to anarchic] it is apparent from the style of the traditional approaches that a blended management style, somewhere between controlling and directing would be most suited for traditional methodologies.

On the other hand, the optimum leader of an agile approach project would have a very visionary outlook, would be directing at times (when needed) and would most certainly not be uncomfortable with phases of anarchy during the project – even in times of trouble an agile leader needs to avoid operating at the controlling end of the spectrum at all costs, as the basis of agile development leadership is courage, empowerment, trust and a focus on the customer’s needs.

This is clearly not to say that one approach is subjectively “better” than the other – I believe that not only are both approaches applicable under very different circumstances, but they are equally suitable to different leadership styles at different times.  Care should be taken when selecting agile versus traditional methodologies to not only match the project with the approach, but also the people with the approach.

Personalities of individuals on the team, specific project requirements and indeed corporate culture as well as the risk profile of each project should be used to determine the optimal type of methodology being deployed on any given project.

Whilst the purists may disagree with this assertion, the real power of software engineering, I believe, lies in a sensibly “blended” approach for optimal results and performance as well as team wellness, motivation, energy and courage in the face of some of the largest challenges this planet has ever seen i.e. engineering modern-day software systems.

Where the agile approaches are of less benefit is where the application being constructed is mission-critical, high-risk and specifically where requirements of the system are clearly specified and unlikely to change rapidly over time.  For example: space shuttle mission-control systems, aeronautical embedded systems, healthcare applications and the like…..

When agility, responsiveness and high levels of flexibility and change are present (together with active customer commitment and involvement) in a project, the agile methodologies such as XP and SCRUM can provide empowering alternatives to the more rigid waterfall model regardless of project size and scope.

Whilst I am personally an ardent fan of the agile approaches (particularly SCRUM and XP) in the ERP and line-of-business industry, they do indeed have many detractors one of whom is Steve Yegge who presents a light-hearted yet scathing critique of agile on this link: http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/2006/09/good-agile-bad-agile_27.html

Of all the elements that need to be considered if a company is to be able to select the best candidate for a specific position, the most difficult to gauge or judge correctly is the culture fit.

“It’s also one of the most important elements in any evaluation of potential employees,” says Grant Lloyd, managing director Softline Pastel Payroll.

Companies need to have a feel for and have an understanding of the company culture. Lloyd says culture is usually driven from the top down and is established by the upper echelons of management. However, it is never cast in stone and can change with the appointment of a new CEO or management team.

“There are many influences on company culture, including the alignment of the company vision, the business objectives and the business ethics,” says Lloyd. “Whoever is conducting the recruitment needs to have a feel for the company vision, objective and ethics because they not only shape the company culture but also the various job descriptions and purposes aligned to them within a specific department.”

Key performance areas (KPAs) and key performance indicators (KPIs) are also important in assessing the culture fit and ensuring the candidate will be able to deliver what the business needs.

“This is complicated by the fact that not all companies have integrated the business culture and the company values with their KPAs. While these historically were used to measure individual performance, the process is now open to much wider interpretation,” adds Lloyd.

“Employers need to clearly understand the purpose behind each individual recruitment and employment process. The information for this understanding must come from the person that the new recruit will be working for.”

People involved in the hiring process often sway towards taking on someone with a similar personality to their own, which is not necessarily the best fit and hence it is important to also involve line managers and team leaders to provide another perspective.

He adds that people often perceive themselves incorrectly and that the characteristics most sought after in recruitment are trust, respect, honesty, accountability, integrity and consistency.

Honesty throughout the recruitment process is paramount because it saves time and money for both parties. The company should state exactly what it is looking for and the applicants need to present themselves honestly. A complication is the fact that divisions within companies tend to develop sub-cultures and the candidate fit has to match.

“Personality traits also need to be examined, and this is a whole science in itself. But it is an important area and it is very useful to know a candidate’s personality as it is invariably a strong indicator of suitability and culture fit,” says Lloyd.

The Team Captains Ivan Epstein and Rob Wilkie

Team Softline Sage did it! We participated and completed the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge last night, 8 March 2012. A capacity crowd of 12,839 entrants from 278 companies lined the leafy Venus Street starting line and their joy of accomplishment was seen at the Wanderers finish line and in the hospitality marquees. It was a truly festive event and a great team building exercise for Softline Sage. We are glad to say that each of our top class athletes made it over the finish line. We will be back in full force to take on the  2013 challenge.

Softline Pastel recently launched its one-stop Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) portal, BEE 123. It offers the complete range of tools, software, directories, news and BEE network partners to assist businesses of all sizes to understand and implement their BEE requirements.

“BEE compliance is a real factor in winning and retaining business, and is actually far simpler to implement than most people think,” says Saul Symanowitz, BEE 123 divisional director.

BEE123 includes Scorecard Software, which calculates empowerment scores. Users just have to enter the business’s data for each of the seven BEE elements without having to understand complex codes and formulae. Scenario planning is also possible in the software and its embedded help functionality explains BEE in simple English.

Proposed amendments to the BBBEE Act and the new PPPFA regulations which came into effect in December have elevated the necessity for BEE compliance, making it an essential for securing business. “A BEE certified company is able to access and generate new business because its clients will earn points by using them as a supplier,” says Mr. Symanowitz.

The directories within BEE 123 make it easy for users to find BEE certified businesses. The Suppliers Directory has thousands already listed and enables certified business to list themselves so that others can find them. According to Mr. Symanowitz: “For businesses that have gone to the effort and expense of obtaining their BEE certification, the BEE123 Suppliers Directory provides an unparalleled platform for exposure.”

The Socio Economic Development Directory lists all pre-vetted and qualifying charities and socio economic development support associations that will earn points on the BEE scorecard. An Enterprise Development Directory also lists registered development service providers and support organisations.

To provide a valid BEE certificate, Pastel has established a Verification Partner Network in conjunction with South Africa’s leading SANAS accredited verification agencies. This network will assist all businesses in obtaining their certificates. For Exempt Micro Enterprises – those with a turnover lower than R5M per annum – BEE certification is particularly simple. These businesses are automatically deemed to be BEE compliant and can obtain their BEE certificates directly through the BEE123 portal quickly, cheaply and easily.

Other features include a news section, FAQs, glossary, relevant BEE legislation documents and access to hands on training sessions on practical BEE knowledge and Scorecard Software.

“With the growing consensus amongst private sector businesses that empowerment is vital to trade and an important tool for economic growth, there is nothing to stand in the way of all enterprises becoming compliant. And now BEE 123 offers a one stop solution.” concludes Mr. Symanowitz.

Visit  www.bee123.co.za for more information