Tag Archive: Ivan Epstein


South African businesses are confident about their own prospects, but they are worried about the country’s economy. That’s one of the key insights to emerge from the Sage Business Index for 2013, an annual survey of more than 11,500 SMEs around the world. More than 1200 South African SME’s also participated in this survey.

Business partners , media and Sage staff joined us on 18 October at our Woodmead offices to hear the local results of this annual survey. In addition to presentations from Sage’s Ivan Epstein and Rob Wilkie, Alec Hogg presented a very encouraging view of South Africa’s economic future. Pavlo Phitidis also led a fascinating panel discussion about the future of small business in South Africa.

Delegates heard that global scores this year were the highest since the Business Index began in February 2011, suggesting that business confidence is returning worldwide in the wake of the global economic crisis. But South African companies, on the whole, were concerned about conditions in their own country.

Some 23% of South African businesses say their biggest challenge is the preponderance of bureaucracy and business legislation. And 15% name the government’s handling of current economic challenges as an obstacle.

Close to half (48%) argue that skills development and education is one of the most important things the government could do to boost confidence, followed by bringing stability to exchange rates (47%) and reducing bureaucracy and business legislation (42%).

For more findings from the Sage Business Index look out for future posts or visit businessindex.sage.com

Softline, a provider of business management software to small and medium sized companies, today announced that after months of planning they will be rebranding and will be referred to as Sage  South Africa, effective immediately. Softline is the holding company for prominent South African software products such as Pastel Accounting and Payroll, VIP Payroll, Sage 300 ERP (Accpac) and Sage ERP X3. Softline joined the Sage Group plc in 2003 after delisting from the JSE and is the central team of the Africa, Australia, Middle East and Asia (AAMEA) region, a grouping of territories headed by Softline co-founder and CEO of Sage AAMEA Ivan Epstein.

The Sage Group plc, a FTSE 100 company, is a leading global provider of business management software to SMEs with over 6.5 million customers in 24 countries. Epstein attributes the rebranding in South Africa to the alignment with Softline’s parent company, The Sage Group plc. in the continued pursuit of a global brand. “Softline has been part of The Sage Group plc for many years and over this time we have continued to grow in prominence.  To move forward we believe that it is now time to leverage the global power of The Sage Group and align ourselves fully with the brand.”

Softline was founded in 1988 by Ivan Epstein, Alan Osrin and soon after joined by Steven Cohen. The company was established in the formative years of the business software industry in South Africa, and soon became a leader in the provision of business software and services to SMEs.  The move to Sage will bring about name changes across all of the divisions including Sage VIP (formerly Softline VIP), Sage ERP Africa (formerly Softline ACCPAC), Sage Pastel (formerly Softline Pastel) and Sage Netcash (formerly Softline Netcash) as well as the newest edition to the stable, Sage Alchemex (formerly Alchemex).  “Our current and future customers will continue to enjoy the benefits of our locally and globally developed products that they have come to know and trust, whilst this alignment creates further opportunities to leverage global insights and collaboration.”

Epstein says that while the company’s branding will change, it is business as usual for Sage South Africa. “Our continued vision in South Africa, and globally, is to be recognised as the most valuable supporter of small and medium sized companies, by creating greater freedom for them to succeed,” says Epstein. “This vision supports the path of providing local expertise and leadership combined with global learnings and experience of Sage.”

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.

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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.

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

Image

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

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

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

85 Percent of small-to-medium sized businesses surveyed opt to host payroll or accounting software on PC’s or local servers rather than in the cloud. This according to the Sage Business Index, which surveyed over 2,000 South African SME’s in late 2011. “The concept of the cloud, and the benefits thereof, are not yet widely understood by small business owners in South Africa,” says Ivan Epstein, CEO of Softline and Sage AAMEA (Asia, Australia, Middle East and Africa).

Nearly half of the Index respondents say that they have some of the organisations software in the cloud, and Epstein says the main factors for the gradual move are broadband penetration and security concerns. “Companies are concerned about losing control when moving their data into the cloud, so it is clear that trust, transparency, understanding of the cloud and the options available, are key education and information points for our customers.”

According to the Sage Business Index, the two biggest reasons for introducing new technology in an organisation would be to help improve efficiency (64 percent) and help provide a better customer service (54 percent). Further to this, 38 percent said they would adopt new technology to save costs. “In any size business there is always a drive to reduce service and infrastructure costs and cloud based products and services offer this benefit. Rising cost pressure might force the hand of some business owners to adopt web-based solutions, but I believe that once they have made the leap they will be pleased with the result,” says Epstein.

In November 2011, the IP EXPO Corporate Cloud Survey 2011[1], a report by World Wide Worx commissioned for the IP EXPO technology trade show, stated that out of 100 large JSE-listed corporations interviewed, just under half (46 percent) were already using cloud computing. Interestingly, almost the same percentage of SME respondents in the Sage Business Index said the same. “Small business is not far behind large enterprise when it comes to technology adoption, but unlike larger companies, the expense to replace existing technology or systems is a barrier for SME’s (53 percent of respondents cited this as the biggest obstacle).”

Epstein says that web strategy is a big focus for Softline and Sage in 2012, “We are pursuing a two-pronged strategy based on ‘Connected services’ and ‘Online business solutions’.  Connected services bring the benefits of the web to existing users of desktop-based products by connecting and extending their desktop software and increasing their lifetime value. “The benefit for SME’s is that the deployment is swift, seamless, affordable and secure,” says Epstein.
‘Online business solutions’ have been developed to address a new way of working, either through new products designed purely for the web or adapting existing products to live online. “The strategy combines best of both worlds by offering the reach and convenience of the web with the richness, control and resilience of desktop solutions. It offers our customers a choice of solutions best suited to their needs,” comments Epstein.


[1] The full results of the IP EXPO Corporate Cloud Survey 2011 and analysis of its findings were presented at the IP EXPO conference on 15 November 2011. The research was conducted with 100 JSE-listed companies each employing 200 people or more. Download the presentation by clicking here.

Ivan Epstein, CEO, Softline, says that irrespective of the nature or size of your business, selecting the right business software is important for streamlining financial management and business processes. Having a handle on your accounting, inventory control, customer data and the availability to generate powerful reporting are useful when meeting the challenges of today’s business demands.

Opportunities for both web and non-web based solutions continue to abound inSouth Africaand Epstein believes we’re in a good position to embrace our emerging markets, in which the SME sector continues to show strong signs of growth.

“The increasing reliance on systems by businesses of all sizes is driving fundamental change in the way business software is being provided to the SME sector. No traditional software application is immune to web-based competition, so it stands to reason that adopting web application technologies and business practices are an area that local vendors and customers are continuing to adopt.”

Vendors have seen a gradual move in the industry over the past few years, Epstein says. Customers are more frequently adopting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models wherein web-based applications are explored as an alternative to traditional desktop applications. For the small business owner, perhaps one of the most challenging aspects is simply deciding which application is most appropriate for their business, as well as sourcing reputable options.

“In the past, SaaS offerings were limited to applications such as ERP, CRM, and the like. Today companies, of all sizes, are also looking at online infrastructure services – applications such as backup and storage. Online backup can help small businesses deal with the challenge of exponentially growing data volumes. It presents a new opportunity for small businesses by giving them all the benefits of enterprise-class backup without the associated management complexity and cost. Better yet, as more mature backup vendors start to offer their software through an online delivery model, small businesses can be sure their data is safely in the hands of proven experts.”

The challenge, however, for SMEs in South Africa which are interested in web-based solutions is the country’s bandwidth challenges “This will continue to improve over time”. Also, Epstein says, some businesses, particularly SMEs, are simply not comfortable giving their sensitive data to others to manage. Others have found that a web-based solution may actually be more secure than their current configuration.

“Either way, I would advise business owners to carefully investigate the issue of security in more detail if they’re exploring the benefits of web-based solutions for their business. Leading web-based vendors realise that this is a critical issue, and they have taken significant measures to ensure the security of their customers’ data files. Vendors must provide a secure data environment for their customers,” Epstein concludes.