Enterprise software - finding a solution at a price to suit Africa

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   Enterprise software is designed to bring together all the different applications that an organisation is using. It seeks to make (with suitable security) information available across the organisation in ways that will benefit a company's customers. A database of available information from all the different functions within a company should help speed up and automate processes that might still be time-consuming or manual.

  It sounds like an absolute "no-brainer" for African organisations where administrative processes - particularly in Government - are laborious and slow. It can also help deliver financial transparency for organisations like banks that have report on complex financial management processes. So where's the "but" coming in the sentence?

  Buying enterprise software is not cheap in developed world countries and although pricing is being adopted to fit new markets in developing countries, it can be expensive. Because each organisation is different, there is no easy way of making transparent price comparisons. News Update has heard of a case where two broadly similar companies implemented enterprise software systems and one paid almost five times as much as the other.

  The two most prominent enterprise software vendors on the continent are Oracle and SAP, both of whom are selling products that have a considerable track record in the developed world. Implementation is often driven by the need for a subsidiary of a multinational to be able to deliver information back to its corporate headquarters.

  The difficulty for African companies is that the level of investment and the pay-back period can sometimes be far greater than an African market can cover. For governments, it raises issues of what it might do if process re-engineering actually delivers staff savings: do they redeploy or actually cut the wage bill? Because of this, there has been a small but steady growth of linux-based server applications. These have crept in almost unnoticed as part of back-room support applications. Nevertheless they have made Microsoft - which is seeking to come up from the bottom end of the enterprise market - sufficiently nervous to have it start offering a reduced price starter package of its enterprise software. Sun Systems has also weighed in with a per-citizen pricing model (see Computer News below) aimed at capturing software market share in the fields of health and education.

  Below we look at four organisations that have installed enterprise software and the types of problems they have sought to tackle by using it: