This interview with South Africa’s Simon Griffiths takes the SAP Global Survey to its fourth continent, one where lagging broadband adoption makes social media adoption unlikely in the short term. But Simon, a veteran enterprise consultant for more than 25 years sees change being spawned by younger South Africans and he has some interesting comments and suggestions for the sponsor of this survey.
1. Like many readers, I am fairly ignorant of what’s going on in South Africa regarding technology. Can you paint a few broad strokes on how many people are using computers and the Internet relevant to the total population? What segments of the population have Internet access? Are broadband and wifi available and at what cost?
According to a recent survey, there are about 4 million South Africans who have access to the internet, out of a population of about 45 million; the growth rate is about 3 percent. Broadband is now taking off, but only about 25% of Internet users have broadband access. Wifi is established in pockets only – among business, in certain shops and restaurants as well as airports, but has only been implemented as a public service in the town of Knysna.
The cost of internet access is regarded as very high, in comparison to other countries at a similar stage of development, due to the continuing influence of the government-owned telco monopoly, Telkom SA Ltd. Despite the introduction of second fixed line operator, competition in the telco and Internet space remains restricted despite the huge
growth and competition that has occurred since 1994 in our mobile phone sector.
2. Let’s turn to social media. How do people use social media in South Africa? What tools are most popular? Are social networks taking off, if so, which ones?
There have been two major developments in social media in South Africa in recent years, one in the mobile arena and the other in the Internet. The mobile development has been an incredibly popular service used mainly by the younger population, MXIT, which provides a very cheap service for sending text messages and chatting via cellphones. The other
is the rapid growth of South Africans on Facebook – this has been big enough for some South Africa companies to start blocking it.
3. Tell me about the enterprise in South Africa. What are the largest companies and how many employees do they have?
From statistics provided by Microsoft on South African companies: Small-to-Mid size enterprises:
1-49 employees, 578,000; 50-1000 employees, 19,000; 1000-5000 employees 200; over 5000 employees, 50.
So while our largest companies might be known – Anglo American, South AfricaB Miller, BHP Billiton, Barloworld – the focus is actually on the mid-market.
4. How are the social media being used by the enterprise and by business in general?
The simple answer would be ‘quite poorly at the moment’. Some marketers have started tapping into the social media but the vast majority of business seems to be hardly aware of it, or regard it as a productivity threat. A local success story has been that of the wine maker Stormhoek, which uses blogging as a means to market itself in Europe and the US. Some companies, such as ours, have started to experiment with wikis and collaborative web sites, but we are in a minority.
5. As an ERP reseller, who are your partners and who are your customers?
The company I work for, ProActive Integrators resells the ERP solution from SYSPRO , which has been very successful in developing economies as well as the US, UK and Australia; Microsoft’s Dynamics AX and CRM; and Maximizer CRM. We focus on companies with complex manufacturing and distribution requirements. In South Africa, we have over 100 customers. My area in the company is the business unit that has developed specialised applications in the manufacturing space for project management and factory data collection.
6. A while back you posted on your blog that both Microsoft and South AfricaP were "clueless" in dealing with ERP vendors such as yourself. You wrote that SAP’s BizOne lead generation was "rigid and anti competitive." Can you expand on what you meant?
What I was saying in that post was that, from what I see, Microsoft South Africa doing about marketing the Dynamics ERP range makes me really think they are clueless as to where, how and who to market to. SAP does it much better here. My belief is that Microsoft doesn’t have people in Dynamics (in South Africa) who understand what ERP means.
As for SAP, the comment came from a conversation I had with an SBO partner who complained about SAP’s lead generation logging procedure. He was upset that a company that had come to him for Business One (referred by a customer) was told by SAP that another reseller had logged the name and therefore the company had to use that other reseller.
7. What would SAP have to do to improve your impression of them as a business partner?
My experience with SAP in the small-to-mid market is in dealing with them as a competitor, but I think they might need to be more adaptive to the local country ways to doing things. (I hope Simon Carpenter of SAP South Africa doesn’t think I’m being too unreasonable!)
8. How can SAP use social media to improve its products, services, customer relationships in South Africa?
I think by educating business managers and leaders about what social media can do, and taking away the stigma that it seems to have got in some quarters (eg, block Facebook). The older generation who runs the businesses might not be able to see what social media can do, but they are employing Generation X and Y (what we call Mandela’s Children) who definitely do know how to get value from social media in various forms. SAP has a great brand name in the enterprise software space in South Africa, and could use that to make social media better understood and appreciated as a business tool.
9. Let’s speak about South African culture. How, if at all, is social media impacting it? How do you think social media will change South Africa over the next few years?
At the moment the impact is minimal, or is restricted to a small clique. With only about 10 percent of our population on the internet, it is going to take some years before technology like social media is being used widely enough to impact on South Africa culture in a broad way. It will however impact certain population segments significantly, and I believe these will be the younger age groups and the technology platform will probably be based on mobile technology rather than the internet per se.
Government legislation makes provisions for a special low ‘e-rate’ for providers of technology infrastructure to schools, but the penetration of computers and the Internet in South Africa is strongest in urban areas, which leaves the majority of the population in rural areas still without good access.
10. Additional comments
As your first question showed, there is a big gap of understanding between the developed ‘north’ economies and the developing ones of the ‘south’ when it comes to technology. In this part of the world I know of very few people (eg, Phil Duff of SYSPRO and Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu fame) who appreciate how to create and use technology in a way that is applicable to
the developing world.
Technology creators in the developed ‘north’ need to spend more time in countries like South Africa to see how their technology should be adapted to the way we live and work here. The reason I started my blog was to try and put the case for enterprise software from the developing world perspective.