Tag Archive: SMB


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.

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.

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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