Tag Archive: how to business


Most BI thought leadership articles these days include a fairly significant section on mobile data consumption, and how trends are heading in this direction. The predictions from analysts suggest that by 2013, as much as 33% of business intelligence functionality will be consumed via handheld devices.

This inherently sets out to challenge the thinking of traditional BI vendors in terms of how their solutions become relevant in the mobile space. It can be tempting to re-invent the wheel in an effort to lead the charge with something really cool, something that demo’s well, without carefully thinking about what device the majority of customers are likely to use, and how they will consume or interact with the data on this device, and of course, what makes practical sense to add value to their day to day operations and decision making.

Vendors need to understand their customers’ needs implicitly before investing in a mobility strategy so that the right type of information is staged for a particular device, and that the right device is used for that purpose, otherwise it just becomes another useless trend/fad that doesn’t really serve its purpose.

Another key consideration is whether to create an interactive proprietary app that is native to a specific device, or to stage static data to the cloud that can be consumed agnostically on a wide variety of mobile devices. In most cases the former provides a richer user experience, but is this practical in light of how fast the mobile device market is moving?

One could argue, at this stage of the game,  that 80% of consumer needs are satisfied by staging static data via the cloud because it is so much more than what they are accustomed to getting anyway. The reason I say this is that in my experience in providing BI solutions to SMB customers over the last decade, I have seen that sophistication sells, but very seldom does it get implemented to the same degree. Sad but true.

The end of the year is in sight and companies face the administrative burden of making the complex calculations related to determining the correct leave pay due to individual employees.

The process is governed by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) which sets out the legal structure of all employment contracts and the rights of employees to ensure they are fairly treated in terms of annual leave and severance or notice pay.

Many of the calculations for leave pay are quite complex and arriving at the correct allocations manually or on spreadsheets is a time consuming exercise.

“All of these calculations have to be correct or the company will breach the provisions of the BCEA,” says Phil Meyer, technology director of payroll and HR software specialist Pastel Payroll, part of the Softline Group and Sage Group plc.

The BCEA aims to ensure that leave pay is fully representative of individual employees’ actual earnings and Meyer says the calculations have to take into account variable income types and must be based on the average earnings of each employee over the 13 weeks preceding the date upon which leave becomes effective.

“There are many elements that affect the calculations such as overtime, commissions, allowances and other payments. The bottom line is that they lead to fluctuating income so each employee’s income has to be calculated individually. It can be a nightmare to execute this manually or on spreadsheets.”

Automated payroll and HR software retains detail of all of the variable income paid to each employee so that the calculation for the average income over the 13 weeks preceding the leave is not only accurate but is available immediately with a few key strokes.

Circumstances may lead to some employees benefiting from higher variable earnings during the three months prior to the leave date. For example accounting staff may take leave when company financial year-end audits are completed, thereby benefiting from the overtime payments they may have received during the preceding 13 weeks.

Similarly, people employed in the construction industry which usually shuts down in mid-December, are also likely to have worked overtime to ensure contracts are completed before shut-down and therefore their leave pay calculations will be affected.

“In consultation with management, payroll administrators can establish parameters that the software will automatically follow so that calculations of average earnings are always consistent with the requirements of the BCEA and fair to all concerned,” said Meyer.

Users of automated payroll and HR software also benefit from the fact that the software developers monitor amendments to the BCEA and provide updated versions whenever new legal requirements are promulgated. “The automated payroll and HR software therefore always operates in full compliance with the Act, ensuring also that the BCEA leave payments are not subject to basic finger trouble, interpretation or even fraud.”

In addition, automated payroll and HR software solutions offer functionality that enables the user to give the entire company an increase, based on either a set value or a specific percentage as well as process a production bonus or commission using only one screen. This not only saves time, it allows global changes to be made to any transaction within the payroll system for all, or a selection of employees.

Employee Self Service (ESS) is a web-based self-service tool that enables employees to manage and maintain their own information online as well as submit leave online to carry some of the overall HR administration burden. This saves the Payroll Administrators time and eliminates manual leave applications and capturing. In addition, companies can view a leave summary of their teams according to leave types (annual, sick, family, unpaid) and leave status (approved, applied, declined) for easy leave management and skeleton staff planning over December holiday times.

By Gerhard Hartman, Head of the Africa Division at Softline VIP, part of the Sage Group plc.

Gerhard Hartman

Gerhard Hartman

The African continent has enjoyed its best growth decade on record and is currently one of the world’s fastest growing regions, with six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world. It therefore makes business sense for South African firms to look at expanding into Africa and opening branches in other parts of the continent.

Companies expanding into Africa either need to send South African staff into these countries as expatriates or need to open an operating entity in that country that comprises of local staff members. Either way, companies face challenges in expanding into Africa, especially in setting up their auditing, taxation, accounting and payroll systems that are accurate and compliant with the local legislation of that African country.

In response to this trend, and in an attempt to aid local companies with their expansion plans into Africa, Sage VIP Payroll has partnered with BDO Audit – Advisory and Tax services – and Sage Pastel Evaluation to provide local companies with everything they may need to enter a new country of operation, with confidence.

One of Sage VIP Payroll’s main strategic goals is focused around expansion into Africa with the company currently being operational in 24 African countries. The VIP Payroll Africa Division holds offices in Gaborone, Windhoek and Nairobi; with active alliance partnerships in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana, DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Angola, Mozambique and Rwanda.

Companies in Africa are starting to realise the importance of automation and how VIP Payroll can help them make more informed decisions, creating more efficient environments for company growth and return on investment. Salaries continue to be one of the biggest expenses in any organisation while the market for employment is becoming more competitive, making HR an essential part of any company’s strategic advantage. VIP Payroll provides an integrated solution for any size business to manage salary payments and HR strategies effectively. The system enables statutory compliance with authorities in African countries and local support is provided through alliance partners in the country of operation.

BDO has a large amount of experience servicing multi-national companies from across the globe. The organisation aids companies to build a country specific business model for operations in Africa. BDO also has contacts and alliance partners in every country in Africa, except Somalia, making it the best business to partner with when expanding into Africa. BDO’s three phase process includes advising companies on the implications of doing business in another African country, implementation of licensing, permits, registrations and applications in that country, and setting up compliance and business controls for payroll, auditing and accounting.

Common mistakes that companies make when expanding into Africa include not having sufficient knowledge of the country and a lack of operational planning. Preparation is essential as is a solid understanding of the local tax laws and company legislation. Companies also need to educate themselves on the foreign exchange regime, economic environment, legal system and the foreign company processes in each country.  This is where BDO is able to aid companies with relevant information that will adequately prepare them for their new venture.

Pastel Evolution has been operational in Africa since 2001 and has offices in South Africa and Kenya. The organisation has over 2500 corporate customers in Africa and over 70 business partners on the continent, as well as 15 project implementation consultants and 50 call centre support staff. Pastel Evolution empowers business management through finance, inventory management, relationship management, payroll and business intelligence. These systems streamline business processes and enable employees to make informed decisions.

Many companies make the mistake of purchasing systems for accounting, HR, payroll and auditing to be used in their new African venture, that do not offer the in-country support that is needed to implement the software, nor is it compliant with the local legislation.

VIP, BDO and Pastel have a support base of local partners that are more than able to provide tried and tested advice in addition to on-site support to African businesses. All VIP, BDO and Pastel software is customised to comply with local legislation, which effectively takes the hassle out of setting up branches in other countries.

Hard Facts about Africa

  • The 1 billion people that live on the African continent comprises 14% of the global population, half of which are under the age of 35 and nearly half live in cities.
  • The African economy of $1,6-trillion is expected to grow to 2,6-trillion by 2020.
  • Since 2009, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and DRC have been top investment destinations.
  • In 2012 Ghana is expected to show the strongest GDP growth, with Nigeria in fourth position.
  • New investment destinations also include Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Madagascar, Gabon, Cameroon, Mozambique, Liberia and the Congo.
  • The main sectors for investment in Africa include mining, construction, property development, retail, supplier services to the oil, gas and mobile telephone industries, ICT, security, agriculture, tourism and hospitality.

Doesn’t it make absolute sense to invest in Africa?

Saving to grow?

by Rob Wilkie, CFO Softline and Sage AAMEA

Rob Wilkie

Rob Wilkie

I read a few interesting statistics in a MoneyWeb article posted in June ‘12.

  • South Africa has a net saving to GDP ratio of 16.5% mostly thanks to savings by our large corporates. This implies that small businesses (like households) have saved negative amounts, borrowing more than they save and earn.
  • In China the ratio is 50% and in India it is over 30%. With the exception of South Africa, the level of savings in BRICS countries is trending upwards.

Three primary reasons are commonly given for why saving levels in South Africa are so low.

  • An emerging middle class previously without access to consumer goods and financial services are borrowing for consumption instead of saving in order to bridge the lifestyle gap.
  • The state offers a small pension reducing the incentive to save for retirement. In China there is no state pension and the Chinese therefore have no choice but to save for retirement.
  • Interest rates are at a 30 year low. Being lower than the inflation rate, the real return of putting your money in the bank is negative.

Savings are important when a business needs to accelerate growth; they are the most important and reliable source of investment to boost growth. The alternative to savings as a source of investment is borrowings; this source however is costly and less reliable.

In 2008 when the global financial crises hit, the SA government was forced to borrow in order to support the economic downturn through government spending and infrastructure investment. The result was a budget deficit (previously a healthy budget surplus) and accumulated debt on the country’s balance sheet (debt as a % of GDP increased from 25% to 40%).  The implication has been a deterioration in our fiscal environment and outlook which in turn has precipitated a downward revision to SA’s credit rating and a threat to government borrowing costs. The country needs to invest more to boost growth, but ratings agencies have made it clear that they don’t want to see SA taking on further debt. It therefore has no choice now but to boost domestic savings as a source of investment.

The same applies to businesses who have borrowed excessively in order to boost their historic growth. In the existing climate banks are hesitant to lend further and many now face a cash crunch in a slowing economic cycle. It is precisely at this time that businesses need to invest in order to sustain and protect their earnings growth, however without a savings treasure chest or the capacity to borrow further they are forced into survival mode and will likely lose their competitive edge.

by Darryl Smith

Darryl Smith

Darryl Smith

This is a difficult topic to discuss, particularly as I am a passionate employee of a Business Intelligence (BI) software vendor. So of course Alchemex is the best solution, but seriously in the interests of fair blogging and not to market our own product, I will try to be as objective as I can and keep away from naming vendors.

I was in a meeting in Europe last week and in the meeting there was a person from a large ERP vendor trying to make a selection from a set of BI tools. They were evaluating from a list of 250 BI products! And a large portion of these were developed in just one country, Germany.  I was quite amazed. 10 years ago or so there were only a handful of BI vendors to choose from. Wow things have changed.

These days none can really answer the question “which BI tool is best for SMB’s?” as it is very general. The good news is that in this time the set of technologies, solutions and practices that sit under the BI banner has expanded vastly creating more specific niche areas within that BI banner that individual vendors can choose to excel in and then to eat their piece of an ever expanding pie.

No BI vendor can be the best, or realistically even do well, at any one time in all areas. Those that specialise well for the market segment they serve will continue to thrive. This still does not mean that the task of selecting a BI solution is not daunting for the end customer (SMB customers for the purpose of this blog). They are generally not IT savvy and the BI jargon and technologies can take years to fully understand. It is like being English and being in a foreign country ordering food off a menu with no English translations.

But perhaps a way of simplifying it is not to look through the vast menu of BI vendors and then the non-trivial menu that each of these provide for the components in their stack, but rather to identify what the business needs most and through this trying to quickly eliminate the majority and then spending more time looking deeper into a refined list. Kind of like arriving at a restaurant having a good idea of what you would like to eat and then zooming in on that area.

I am going to generalize as an example but some of the generalizations would probably ring true for customers in the SMB space. Assumptions….

1.            I am an SMB with only an ERP system

2.            My primary areas that I need insights into are around Financials

3.            Understanding my sales is also important to me

4.            I am interested in other information in my system to but these are less critical to me

5.            My ERP system is desktop based (bear in mind that ERP SAAS offerings are still a small part of the market today although this is changing)

6.            I don’t have a complex IT infrastructure

7.            I don’t want to spend large amounts of money on implementation, consulting and support

8.            I don’t want to pay large license fees

Immediately criteria 6, 7 and 8 eliminate ALL enterprise level vendors, criteria 5 and 6 eliminate Web based solutions and criteria 7 eliminates any solution that does not ship with reports for your specific ERP system out the box.

So in this generalised scenario one would be left with more commoditised affordable desktop solutions that target the ERP system with bundled solutions. This should narrow it down to a handful of product options and that is when it is important to  really start looking at the finer detail of a business’s needs.

And if one wants to get information in a familiar environment like Microsoft Excel, the choices are narrowed down even further.

Over the last few years most ERP vendors have acquired the BI solutions that they feel work best for their market. And you may find your ERP vendor is one of these that provide a bundled solution. This could eliminate many costs of ownership for you and the single point of ownership from the vendor can eliminate a lot of pointing fingers when you do require support.

By Karen Schmikl, Legislation and Liquid Product Manager at Softline VIP, part of the Sage Group plc. 

Karen Schmikl

Karen Schmikl

When Softline VIP launched its first online payroll system, Liquid, we never dreamed the uptake of the product would be so astonishing.  One year later, we have 900 clients that have signed up to Liquid, servicing around 8 200 employees.  Liquid is experiencing tremendous growth for a young system and serves as a good example of the increasing shift in the industry towards an online mindset.

At the heart of Liquid’s design, was the development of an online payroll system that is user friendly.  We wanted to make sure that the user did not need a trainer or a consultant, negating the need for human intervention to a large extent.  The fact that a score of clients signed up – online – without even contacting Softline VIP, speaks volumes for the product.

I believe that online offerings will be playing an increasingly larger role in all markets across the board.  The cloud is however far from replacing desktop applications and greatly compliments any desktop offering at present.  The demand is certainly there with clients increasingly showing interest in the use of desktop solutions in the cloud.  A solution that provides more accessibility and something that is not bound to a desk that can be used from anywhere, fits the description of what the market wants.  New technology, such as the launch of HTML5 will further enhance this thinking by making online offerings platform friendly, further mobilising the market to use any device, anywhere.

The beauty of using an online solution is that you don’t need to be a technical IT guru to use the programme, you simply log on.  You actually need to be more tech savvy to load a software programme on your desktop machine or laptop.  Some of our users find themselves in rural areas and having access to a consultant or IT support is challenging, whereas an online offering eliminates the need.  Connectivity does however remain a concern with many outlying areas only having access to 3G, if at all.  Despite the fact, many still prefer an online solution as it makes financial sense.

If you had to look at an online offering purely from a software perspective, you would however be forgiven to think that it is the more expensive option.  But when you consider the bigger picture, it may not necessarily be the case.  Users do not have to worry about antivirus programmes, upgrading hardware, loading software, the running of a datacentre or making back-ups.  It is part and parcel of an online offering in addition to a telephonic support centre for added peace of mind.  It just makes financial sense, making it the ideal vehicle for SMEs who do not have the initial cash flow to afford the software infrastructure needed.

A year ago, very little people knew about online payroll systems.  The enormous growth that we have experienced with our online payroll solution, clearly indicates that the market is considering different ways of doing their business.  The demand for online solutions will continue to accelerate, slowly but surely closing the education gap and the fear of the unknown.

By Charles Pittaway, Managing Director of Netcash, part of the Sage Group plc.

Charles Pittaway

Charles Pittaway

Connected Services is a buzzword in the industry at present, though many people are still grappling to understand just how important it will become.  I strongly believe that any business or personal solution simply cannot afford to operate in isolation.  In order for software, handheld devices and hardware to offer something of real value, they will have to be developed to interact with one another.

In the face of the information explosion that is changing the way that we communicate at core level, I feel it necessary to take a step back and investigate where it all started.  When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it was initially intended as a voice communication tool.  The realisation that the telephone was able to transfer data set the wheel in motion for the evolution into the telex and faxing sphere.  The connection of the humble telephone into cellular networks ultimately formed the foundation for the internet, which was the big game changer.

We now had the ability to transfer information and data across multiple platforms, which has had a tremendous influence on how we do business.  An example is internet banking, which essentially allows two different banking systems to connect in order to perform a transaction.  The user then receives a notification via SMS or e-mail, which brings two additional platforms into the equation, beautifully illustrating the concept of connected services.

The question however remains as to what further evolution may be on the cards for connected services and the ramifications it may have.  There are currently two very different schools of thought in play.  The advent of the cloud led to the creation of Software as a Service (SaaS), which essentially allows us to utilise software such as accounting and payroll solutions through the web on a pay per use basis.  The traditional business model is however application based, where the software is downloaded onto a personal computer and utilised from your desktop or laptop.

I foresee these two schools of thought merging in the next five to ten years into hybrid solutions.  In order to evolve into true connected services, both online and offline solutions will need to change its platforms to allow inter-changeable communication to take place.

The international business economy was non-existent 20 – 30 years ago.  Countries were isolated and restricted to trade within its own borders.  It has since developed into a global economy that is interlinked:  Whatever happens somewhere in the world has a knock-on effect elsewhere.  If you bring that same analogy back to connected services, then hardware, the internet and software has given rise to a global economy of technology.  All the different vendors cannot operate in isolation and truly successful vendors and service providers will be the companies that get that right.

Inter-operability is already well on its way to becoming the next buzzword, paving the way for strategic alliances and agreements that will allow every application or software solution to be accessible from any device.  Business Intelligence (BI) will become a key aspect in the process of collating all the available information in such a way that it will assist users to make intelligent decisions about their business.  Imagine if you had your order system, warehouse, banking, accounting, distribution and every other aspect you can think of, connected with one click of a button?  The vendors that can ultimately get all the links in the chain connected, will be king.

Connected Services allows for transactions to be owned by various vendors, whether it is a banking system, order system, e-mail or SMS.  It is ultimately not about the number of systems to be linked in a supply chain, but how these systems interact to automate a total solution.

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.