IT vendors are guilty of pressuring SMEs into buying hardware and software solutions they may not need.
But SMEs shouldn't allow themselves to be intimidated by into thinking that if they don’t have what IT vendors are offering they will be less productive or profitable, says Steven Cohen, MD of Softline Pastel, speaking at a recent ICT for SME conference.
“While it is true that, in South Africa, up to 80% of SMEs fail and, with the economy tightening, the SME Survey 2007 Research Report shows that some 200 000 South African SMEs are facing difficulties, buying IT you can’t use because it’s too complex or won’t use because, frankly, you don’t need it isn’t going to make things better.
“In a difficult environment, when you’re frantically looking for a way to save your business, it’s easy to be brow beaten into thinking mobile technology or Software as a Service (SaaS) or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution is going to turn your business around.
“But, in the process of scrabbling for that salvation, you could end up having to learn bookkeeping, for example, because your accounting software is so complex you simply can’t use it without learning entirely new skills.
“In other words, if you mindlessly follow the headlong drive for technology, you will end up dancing to the tune of IT vendors, most of whom expect you to acquire a high order of computer literacy to be able to run their programmes," he says.
“All of which takes your eye off your business. And none of which solves your problem. It makes it worse.
“The real answer is to get easy to install, easy to use solutions that are designed with a small business in mind and therefore automatically give you the information you need with the minimum amount of effort on your part."
Cohen also debunked some of the hype surrounding software solutions like BI and CRM. “Where there’s mystery around a solution, there’s profit for the vendor. So, remember that BI is just a way of summarising and presenting the information you already have in your accounting system in ways that are relevant to your business.
“And CRM is just a way of ensuring that the fact that every one of your employees is a marketing touch point, even if they don’t actually work in marketing, works to your advantage. Also, research done by the UK-based mid-market software company, Sage, shows that 26% of employees deliberately withhold information from their colleagues.
"With a CRM system you can avoid that, especially if you link it to employee performance contracts. That way you guarantee that all the information about your company is centrally held and remains with your company when employees leave.
“The point being to use technology not simply to tell you in more efficient ways what you already know because you have a legal duty to balance your books but to use that information creatively to make your business sustainable.”
Cohen also believes that the responsibility for technology-enabling SMEs lies with the IT vendors. “It’s arrogant and disrespectful for IT vendors to expect customers to skill up to use their offerings. That’s why I always advise SMEs to make the vendor do the work. Get what you want, not what the vendor wants you to have.”