Decades of overblown promises have led most South African companies to lower their expectations of what IT systems can achieve, says Johani Marais of HansaWorld SA – but a new generation of integrated systems is finally turning the tide.

“Most South African companies have so many different systems it is quite amazing that they are able to maintain them all successfully,” says Marais. “But that’s what people have come to expect: their point of sale systems, accounting systems, logistics systems, client databases and so on are all supplied by different vendors.”

This patchwork approach is expensive, time-consuming and limited, says Marais. “For starters, each system has a different look and feel, so every time people move between roles or departments they need to be retrained.”

Secondly, says Marais, “the systems aren’t designed to communicate with each other, so there’s a small army of consultants in most South Africa corporates writing interfaces between different applications. The task is never complete, because every time one application issues an upgrade the interfaces need to be rewritten. "

Finally, she adds, interfaced systems tend to be slow and bug-ridden, draining productivity and harming the customer experience. They limit the organisation’s ability to access accurate, real-time information.

“Every business nowadays needs a fully integrated system that manages everything from production to logistics to the point of sale to credit control to email,” says Marais. “That means it must have been designed from the bottom up to be integrated, not cobbled together out of disparate elements using interfaces as the glue.”

“A truly integrated system means every employee has all the information they need at their fingertips, in one system,” says Marais. “For example, the HansaWorld customer status report, which is updated automatically in real time, is linked to every email, invoice, order, quotation, appointment and project connected to that customer. It’s quick and easy to see each customer’s turnover and payment history.

“If there’s ever a query it’s also quick and easy to resolve. Take an example where a customer calls to complain that he is not on a special price list. With an integrated system, your debtor’s clerk can see the sales rep’s note that an agreement must be signed before special pricing can be offered, access the agreement and fax or email it immediately, all from the same system while the customer is still on the phone.”

Marais says that although HansaWorld started as an accounting package, “it has evolved over the past 19 years of us listening to our customers. We now have 45 modules and we’re still investing heavily in research and development.

“Many companies have lowered their expectations and accepted that there is no grand solution,” adds Marais. “But when we show them this they get genuinely excited. We need to raise expectations again.”