Archive for April, 2012


Afrika Tikkun

Softline’s goal as a partner with Afrika Tikkun is that an investment in education today will empower the youth of our country to aspire towards uplifting themselves, as well as their broader communities, in the future.

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Afrika Tikkun was founded in 1994.  Afrika Tikkun works in some of the most impoverished communities in South Africa to fulfil their mission of uplifting and empowering disadvantaged orphans and vulnerable children, thereby developing the communities and addressing the urgent need to alleviate poverty in the townships. Afrika Tikkun has become a leader in community development in South Africa.  Afrika Tikkun actively seeks partnerships with other NGO’s, government and the private sector, thereby optimizing their impact.

www.afrikatikkun.org

- A commentary by Rob Wilkie, CFO Softline and Sage AAMEA

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Sage Business Index polls over 10,000 businesses (across Europe, North America, South Africa and Asia) in order to measure the changing mood of business. In South Africa 1,000 businesses were surveyed and the responses show that both business outlook and economic confidence is still improving, albeit at a slower rate since last measured in September 2011.

This is consistent with the views we got from a few leading SA economists. According to them, our real income is growing. This means that we have dutifully been paying down our household debt (made easier with low interest rates). Our household debt to disposable income ratio has therefore fallen. In theory this means that we have more cash available to absorb price rises in food, petrol, tolls and electricity. In addition, banks are once again lending and households are taking on more credit. Not only are we absorbing price increases but we are also buying more with buoyancy recently reported in both retail and the consumer goods sector.

In short, there appears to be some cyclical buoyancy. The next 6 months will hopefully give us a clearer view of its sustainability.  Keep an eye out for price inflation – if it starts to rise faster than disposable income, consumer spending will decline. This is referred to as demand destroying inflation and what always follows is a drop in confidence.

…. and spare a thought for those who have not been in line for pay increases, or retirees reliant on an eroding interest income? Their real income has declined and price increases are already hurting. These households are already under a lot of pressure, a precursor perhaps for what is to come.

“Ethical” Hacking

…..oxymoron or necessary business tool?

–By Grant Lloyd, CTO Softline and Sage AAMEA

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According to most national law: “Breaking and entering is the crime of entering a residence or other enclosed property without authorization and some element of force. If there is intent to commit a crime, this is burglary. Without an intent to commit a crime, breaking and entering by itself usually carries a charge of the crime of trespass”.

Whilst intellectual property and access to systems is treated differently from that of physical property in many legal jurisdictions around the globe, it is perhaps expedient to draw parallels between “hacking” a system belonging to someone else, and, Breaking & Entering (B&E).

Whilst potentially arguable, it is contended that since “White Hat Cracking” involves gaining explicit permission from the owner of the system (and perhaps even payment for service rendered) to hack a specific system or sub-system and to provide information regarding security flaws to the owner thereof, that pre-authorised, contracted “White Hat Cracking” is indeed both a service to commissioning organisations as well as ethical.

On the other hand, it is proposed that any other form of hacking: grey, black or “hacktivism” is not only unethical but potentially illegal too, depending obviously on the jurisdiction.

If one considers the relatively benign definition of “hacktivism” proposed by TheHacktivist.com, as a recombinant initiative blossoming from the joining of hackers and activists in order to refine, modify and invent computer systems and networks, one may be easily mislead.

Grey hat cracking is often intended to identify security shortfalls in an organisation with the intent to elicit either monetary compensation (for identifying such shortfalls in the systems of an organisation) after-the-fact, or, to generate awareness of such system integrity violations not only for the purposes of preventing such shortfalls in the future but also to garner credit, kudos and recognition for the hackers efforts i.e. “ego-based hacking”.

Black hat cracking is usually malicious or at least mischievous in nature and as such is potentially even less ethical.

It is however necessary to concede that it is important to identify the motives of hackers and hacktivists, on a case by case basis, in order to establish the true intent of hacking initiatives before one can simply classify these as either unethical or illegal.

However, the question which one cannot escape is the following: “If hackers (for any unauthorised reason) attempt to access private property (in the form of a business’ or individuals systems) irrespective of intent (with or without causing direct or consequential damage as a result), are they not at the very least guilty of trespassing, perhaps even B&E?”

Computer professionals and their commercial colleagues should at the very minimum be aware of the potential benefits of controlled hacking as well as the benefits of authorised hacking initiatives initiated to verify the integrity of particularly mission-critical systems.  Indeed, one would further suggest that any form of hacktivism should be replaced by transparent, visible and legal methods of addressing problems posed by the use of the internet.

For example, hacking a spam server (simply because one can) lowers the computer programmer (professional or amateur) to the same level as the spammers and does not enhance the image of the industry whatsoever.  It would be preferable to follow legal and formal means to address the problem rather than making use of the “vigilante-style” internet behaviour facilitated through hacking in anything other than its highest and most benevolent forms…..

Scroll down for graphical analysis: South African results.

Softline, part of the Sage Group PLC, today released the results of The Sage Business Index – International and Local Business Insights. Polling over 10,000 businesses across Europe, North America, South Africa and Asia, the Index shows that while confidence in the global economic outlook continues to decline, the outlook for local market conditions and businesses is improving. In South Africa, over 1000 small and medium business decision makers were surveyed by Populus, a UK based opinion and research consultancy firm.

This year, The Sage Group PLC have created an infographic to display insights from their 2012 Business Index in a visual and interactive way. For the full infographic, detailed data, graphics and country summaries, please visit The Sage Business IndexBusiness Insights microsite.

Interested in getting more of the results and insights first? Sign up for our Newsletter…

Key Findings from the March 2012 Business Index

Responses show that while confidence in businesses’ own prospects (business outlook) has marginally improved against the last Index, there has been a slight drop in the rate of growth, with 67 percent of businesses experiencing either neutral or positive growth, a drop of two percent on the results from the Index in September 2011. South African businesses’ growth rate also decreased by two percent from the Index in September 2011 to 67 percent. This can perhaps be explained by concerns around the rising costs of fuel and raw materials which is the number one challenge to growth. However, the improvement in both local economic confidence and business outlook suggests a more optimistic mood exists within individual companies.

Economic Confidence – global pessimism, local optimism

Interestingly, South Africans are slightly more pessimistic than their global counterparts about the outlook for the global economy with a 1.21 decrease in the Index score compared to the .52 decrease of global sample.

Ivan Epstein, CEO (and co-founder) of Softline and Sage AAMEA (Africa, Australia, Middle East and Asia) said: “It is encouraging to see that once again, businesses in South Africa are more confident about their own prospects. Companies are focussed on the day-to-day challenge of maintaining and improving their businesses, and Government should do all they can to harness and help the entrepreneurial spirit that already exists. We wait in anticipation to assess the impact of the latest fuel price increase on local sentiment when we conduct the annualised Business Index later this year.”

Business Confidence – South Africa

Business Confidence – World

March ’12 September 11
Index Scores Global SA Global SA
Global economic confidence 43.95 44.71 44.47 45.92
Country Economic Confidence 47.26 46.11 47.11 44.10
Business Outlook 58.86 64.44 57.88 62.58

(Below 50 is decline/less confident above 50 is improvement/more confident, 50 is no different)*

When looking at the data from a regional level the findings also mirror the broader economic news agenda. The UK and the US, who were the most pessimistic of the countries surveyed in September 2011 (with country index scores of 40.65 and 41.53 respectively), have both improved (44.97 and 49.28 respectively) while Euro-zone countries, Germany, Spain and France have all seen drops in confidence.  Malaysia and Singapore are still confident with a score of 51.53, but this is down from 53.26 last time.  South Africa showed increased optimism with an Index score of 46.11 up 2.01 from September 2011.

Business Performance and Challenges – revenues maintained, energy cost challenges

While local confidence is increasing and the rate of decline in global confidence slowing for the global sample, there are still a number of challenges facing businesses. Rising inflation and the increasing cost of fuel, energy and raw materials topped the list with all countries citing this as their top concern and locally 58 percent of businesses listed this among their top three concerns with 25% ranking it as their number one concern. Over a third of South African businesses see instability or uncertainty in the local economic market as a worry, and a similar proportion (34 percent) say the same of reduced cash flow in the supply chain.

Adds Epstein: “The Index is a vital tool for Softline and Sage in the region to take stock of the challenges and worries affecting our customers. The next six months will be telling and despite the input cost challenges that SME’s face going forward; we hope that the results indicate the first green shoots of recovery in South Africa with overall business outlook continuing to improve. As an indicator for the rest of 2012, three quarters of our respondents said that customer service has become even more important to their operations over the past year, which will guide how we will approach our business in the next six months.”

Revenue – World

Revenue – SA

About Softline

Softline is a leading provider of business software and related services. Founded in 1988 by Ivan Epstein, Alan Osrin and Steven Cohen, Softline was established during the formative years of the business software industry. Whilst Softline’s heritage is in the SME market the group also offers expertise and solutions that meet the needs of specific industries and larger organisations. In 2003 Softline was acquired by The Sage Group plc, a FTSE 100 company. Softline has a solid track record offering customers local expertise backed by the global Sage brand. The group delivers quality software solutions to make customers’ business lives easier.

About Sage

The Sage Group plc is a leading global supplier of business management software and related products and services, principally for small to medium-sized enterprises. Formed in 1981, Sage was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1989. Sage has 6 million customers and more than 12,300 employees worldwide. We operate in over 23 countries covering the UK, mainland Europe, North America, South Africa, Australia and India. For further information please visit www.sage.com.

About The Sage Business Index

The Sage Business Index polled 10,009 small and medium-sized businesses across 10 countries – US, Canada, Germany, Austria France, UK, Spain, South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore over a two week period in March 2012.  Businesses were asked a range of questions regarding such issues as business confidence and outlook, how they feel about the global and local economies and what challenges they currently face.

For the full report inforgraphic, detailed data, graphics and country summaries, as well as to read to see the full results of the first and second Business Indices, please visit The Sage Business Index – Business Insights.

Survey Methodology

Populus provided online interviews with 10,009 decision makers in businesses in the UK, USA, Canada, German, France, Spain, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Austria.  The businesses were drawn from two sources:

  • 8,575 respondents were drawn from Sage’s local customer databases across the UK, USA, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore and Austria.  Sage’s local operating companies sent an email invitation to participate to specially selected databases with a survey link provided by Populus.  In Malaysia and Singapore, customers were invited to participate via a letter which included the details of how to enter online.  All responses were collected centrally by Populus.
  • 1,434 respondents were drawn from a dedicated online panel of business people, which has 2.4 million members worldwide.  200 interviews were conducted in all markets apart from Austria, Malaysia and Singapore where research was undertaken via Sage local operating companies, as above.  A random sample of respondents whose profiles met the client criteria were invited to take part in the survey, ensuring a spread of business sizes and industries.  Respondents were then asked a screener question to ensure that they were a decision maker at their business.

*Index Methodology

As this is the third Sage Business Index, we have applied an index methodology which allows us to measure the changing mood of the businesses surveyed in relation to business and economic confidence.  The index is based on a scale of one to 100 where 0 means a significant decline, 100 means a significant improvement, and 50 means it is no different. For the business confidence question the scale translates to below 50 as less confident and over 50 is more confident, 50 is no different.

We retrospectively applied this index methodology to the countries that took place in the first business survey in February 2011 (US, Canada, UK, Germany and France) where the questions were asked as follows:

  • “Do you feel your country’s economy is recovering or declining?” and “Do you feel the global economy is recovering or declining?” Index scores have been derived from this data where answer options in this study, and their index score weighting, were: “It is recovering significantly (100)”, “It is recovering slightly (75)”, “It is no different (50)”, “It is declining slightly (25)”, “It is declining significantly (0)”
  •  “Are you more or less confident of your business prospects over the next year?” Index scores have been derived from this data where answer options in this study, and their index score weighting, were: “More confident (75)”, “No different (50)” and “Less confident (25)”

About Populus

Populus is an opinion research and consultancy firm that specialises in understanding the views of the general public, customers, businesses and key stakeholders.  Best known for its social and political research as pollsters to media organisations such as The Times, the BBC and ITV News, it conducts large, regular, research programmes for a wide variety of clients, such as large multinational companies in retailing, food manufacturing, pharmaceutical, financial services and communications sectors, to public institutions, membership organisations and NGOs.

  • Populus has significant experience in:
  • one-to-one depth interviews with senior decision-makers and stakeholders (e.g. Members of Parliament, senior business executives, investors and analysts, specialist journalists, government advisers and civil servants, members of EU institutions, and leaders of NGOs and trade associations);
  • constructing bespoke online panels for clients wishing to engage with their stakeholders, memberships, or consumers on a continuing basis;
  • employing call-centre based or access panel research both nationally and internationally for polling Business to Business groups, the general population and specific sub-samples of the public;
  • organising focus groups – including among hard-to-reach groups – to gain greater understanding of what drives opinion and motivates key audiences or to test messaging concepts and to use stimulus material.

Interested in getting more of the results and insights first? Sign up for our Newsletter…

By Steven Cohen, managing director, Softline Pastel Accounting

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Steven Cohen, MD Softline Pastel Accounting

Softline Pastel, as I’m sure you know is an ardent supporter of the development of SMEs and like all businesses we started out small. The company, which was founded in 1989 in Johannesburg, is now a leading developer of accounting and business software supplying 52 countries including 18 in Africa. The past 22 years haven’t all been plain sailing and I believe it’s worth sharing some of our mistakes and successes to highlight the fact that entrepreneurship isn’t always easy but it’s certainly rewarding.

We started out as three partners and two employees. Our strategy was to grow the business organically but also incorporate some acquisitive growth by using cash to buy smaller businesses with strong synergies. This way we slowly acquired new customers and from there, more employees.

Organic growth is slower than acquisitive expansion but is less risky in the long term as it comes from within the company and the management team can form strategic goals from which to guide the enterprise. This method also gives the company a chance to test its own business model while relying on independent finances. Purchasing other businesses has its merits, particularly in terms of gaining new customers and revenue quickly but it may come with challenges including shareholders that you don’t want. Integrating two businesses also involves streamlining different cultures, systems and work ethics into one entity with common values and goals – not always an easy task.

Naturally, we’ve made mistakes along the way but what’s important is what we’ve learned from them. During our growth phase we were constantly fraught with anxiety about the next move and about our overheads. We realised early on that running a business is stressful, but it’s imperative not to let this strangle your ideas. Think big, keep your feet on the ground and work on your emotional intelligence to be able to treat mistakes as growth opportunities! At the end of the day you’re an entrepreneur because of your willingness to take risks.

One of the worst mistakes entrepreneurs make is to become so absorbed in their business ideas that they forget to monitor day to day finances. Don’t underestimate the importance of tracking your cash flow and accounting balances all the time; financial statements are going to be your business’s lifeblood and should never be disregarded. In fact, entrepreneurs, it’s imperative that you know your financial terminology to ensure that you understand the nitty gritty of your business. And apart from balancing the books, I really recommend the use of information systems to help you track and report your daily operations – this just gives such insight into the overall state of your business.

When it comes to hiring employees, I’ve learned that it’s better to pay more money for a good person with the right overall fit for your organisation including the appropriate work ethic, rather than a person who is just good on paper. Business owners may be tempted to pay top dollar for the most knowledgeable and skilled employee without taking note of whether their work ethic and other cultural traits fit in with the business.

When managing new recruits, lead by example and let your staff make a few mistakes along the way. Make them love coming to work by giving them responsibility and keeping them informed and educated. It’s also really important to recognise the ones who go the extra mile.

And don’t forget your most valued asset: your customers. Looking after them will build your credibility so keep your promises and always get back to people. But don’t just rely on the customers you have – always work to increase the size of your customer-base.

While addressing your weaknesses is important, don’t forget to remember what you’re doing right. In our start up phase there were a number of things that I can say were right. We managed to sell our value proposition confidently and always remained ahead of our competitors and industry challenges. To do this we read, read and read but always drew our own conclusions and then shared this information with employees.

At the end of the day, invest for sustainability because your business needs to outlive you. Keep on moving forward as procrastination is the enemy of progress and lastly, give back to the community: it makes you feel good and you are growing your future customers.

By Ivan Epstein CEO (and co-founder) of Softline and Sage AAMEA 

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Ivan Epstein

In the lead up to World Entrepreneur Day this Friday, I am constantly inspired by the tremendous entrepreneurial talent in South Africa. The desire to succeed by South Africans has resulted in an entrepreneurial culture which continues to grow at an encouraging rate in our country. This growth will be vital to fuel economic development in South Africa this year, and beyond.

While people can learn the principles of entrepreneurship, I think it’s very hard to train someone to be an entrepreneur. The steps and the risks you have to take to succeed in your own business can’t be taught. Ultimately, building a successful business and constructing a legacy is about passion; having a vision and sticking to it no matter what.

Starting a business and finding the right concept and vision is a gruelling process. Here are some insights that I gained along the way:

Work with people that support your vision

Finding a business partner that you trust and who shares your common interest and a similar drive to succeed is critical to making a business idea work. In many instances you will question your decisions or the direction you are taking, but having partners and staff that support you and share your vision makes the process substantially easier.

Find the right idea

The right idea might not present itself immediately, and is likely to be the result of a lot of investigative work as well as the current situation.  Revisit your initial idea often. Look back at where you’ve come from, and how the concept might have grown, expanded or improved. Be inspired by this, and use it as a learning experience to grow.

Persevere. It just takes one

With no track record, starting a business and selling a service or product can be difficult. A stand-out piece of advice that I received was simply to persevere until you find that one person that will give you a chance. Once you have gained your first customer the second one will follow. The challenges are many to start with, but these decrease as you persevere and focus on steadily moving forward.

Making mistakes is part of the process

With most decisions it takes time to get into a rhythm of knowing what to look for and how to make an informed decision. It is important to recognise that not every decision will be a good one. Entrepreneurs make mistakes; the secret is that they need to be big enough to admit it, learn from it and move on.

Trust your gut

Many entrepreneurs look for mentors to guide them along the process. Mentors are important, but trusting your gut is just as important to succeed. Taking the advice and guidance of others on board is helpful, but most entrepreneurs will also have that basic instinct for their own businesses. It’s important to tap into that instinct.

In closing, continue to look ahead and to see beyond where the business sits today. Your interest should always lie in the future. That is, after all, where you are going to spend the rest of your life.

ITWeb software Industry Insight author, Ivan Epstein, shares his thoughts

Poll

By Jeremy Waterman, MD Softline Accpac and Sage MMD Africa

Part of the Sage Group plc

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Jeremy Waterman

Enterprise ERP and CRM solutions were historically designed for large corporations and typically come with appropriately large price tag.  Many ERP software vendors have adopted that same approach in the African market, not realising that they are entering a different playing field where the average African company is no larger than upper mid-market in size.

For a continent that doesn’t have a large enterprise ERP requirement, we have not really seen suitable mid-market solutions that have been able to establish the critical mass in the African market in order to compete effectively.  Our Sage ERP X3 and Sage ERP Accpac solutions are specifically designed to support the upper and mid-market companies, this presents a big opportunity for us to dominate the space in Africa that has been falsely dominated by large enterprise ERP players.

Due to the lack of credible upper mid-market software vendors in the African market companies have, in the past, had to compromise and buy lower mid-market products or overspend on solutions that are better designed and suited for very large global enterprises.

We are particularly excited about the launch of our Sage ERP X3 Standard Edition that is targeted at the heart of the mid-market and is delivered with a set of implementation methodologies that guarantee an effective solution in a short period of time.

The African market is hungry for technology and demands that new features are made available a lot faster than before.  We are moving into the age of intelligence and companies in Africa are well ahead of much of the world in embracing the mobile revolution.  As a result, the average African business is driving their business in the mobile direction and we need to be able to provide ERP and CRM solutions that are able to adapt and address the needs of this growing market.

Companies ultimately want the ability to ‘listen’ to everything and they want solutions that will allow them to react in real time.  How quickly and flexibly we, as product developers, can deliver that information in a usable and mobile format is the name of the game.

–By Grant Lloyd, CTO Softline and Sage AAMEA

Grant_Lloyd_MD_Pastel_Payroll_Softline

Grant Lloyd

Microsoft’s prolific marketing machine refers to Windows 8 as “Windows reimagined”.  Whilst the somewhat cynical view may be that the new OS from Microsoft, slated for release in late 2012, may only be following a trail blazed hitherto by Apple, the much anticipated event may more significantly (or even ominously for some) be the strongest indication yet that the PC era is slowly drawing to a close.

Through a necessity imposed by its predecessor’s prodigious historical desktop- and server-side successes over two decades, Windows 8 will by all accounts be somewhat schizophrenic, catering as it does to the demands of traditional desktop users with a marginally improved offering to that of Windows 7, whilst simultaneously within a single OS, embracing touch devices, new hardware architectures, mobile devices and a programming model more identifiable for having its roots in the web rather than some form of desktop ancestry, based as it is in HTML 5, CSS and JavaScript.

Propitiously (or perhaps worryingly), the last time Microsoft effectively “combined” two operating systems into one, via the release of Windows 3 in the early ‘90’s, packaging at the time both MS-DOS and a new Windows GUI on the PC simultaneously, the “event” (pun intended) heralded the ultimate demise of DOS as a broad-based PC OS of choice, ushering in the “new era” of graphic user interfaces, event-driven programming and multi-threading on the desktop…..

Perhaps Microsoft Office 15 best illustrates the earth shattering nature (at least for Microsoft) of the new OS best through its redefinition of the web, rather than Office, as the new platform for Office 15.  And, whilst fundamental paradigm shifts such as this are at the core of the Windows 8 design philosophy (look to the development environment for yet another example of fundamental design shifts, remember .net?) it is perhaps the “exactly different” natural comfort of a second major 2-in-1 OS in twenty years from Microsoft which promises the most and induces “stickiness” for existing Windows users without compromising on the “sexiness promise” and irrefutable portability advantages of an “iDevice”.

After all, would it not be comforting, at least for a while, to take a break from the relentless treadmill of mobile technology evolution and trust your Windows desktop OS with your mobile devices too?

And perhaps maybe, just maybe, this “hybrid” approach could transition a life-time of desktop investment and most importantly historically aggregated data, into an elegant, future-proof alternative embracing the best of the desktop of “old” simultaneously with the mobility and connected services of the “new”?  Oh, and I forgot to mention, through a single OS…..

So, is there an elephant in the room then, I hear you ask?

Perhaps….. but in my opinion, not likely.

Whilst paradoxically Microsoft’s greatest asset, a universally enviable installed-base of desktop users may yet prove to be its albatross, it would at least on face value appear that an expansive desktop user-base may in fact embrace the duality of this schizophrenic OS in much the same way that Windows 3 made slow yet inexorable progress in the ultimate extermination of DOS.  As Blackberry and RIM’s early innovation almost inevitably yet inadvertently gave birth to the prolific and successful range of Apple devices and iOS, perhaps too, Microsoft’s first experience at late-adoption from an OS perspective may prove the ultimate undoing (or re-niche-marginalisation) of these offerings.

So whilst I am not sure THEY can claim imagining everything about connected services and data in the cloud, Microsoft marketing is indeed correct to a point; Windows 8 truly IS “Windows reimagined”.  Don’t write of the idea of Windows 8 just yet….. it makes a lot of sense, and it really looks good too.

…..oh, but don’t go and forget about Android either!  J