Friday, December 7, 2007

Software in your Stocking

As a busy year draws to a close, everyone's thoughts seem to be turning to the holidays. So what software should you ask Santa to put in your stocking?

I'm sure software vendors are smiling. Budgets are now becoming available to buy the latest greatest software. Let's face it there's lots of super duper new software about and the old software dogs have many new tricks up their sleeves. My fellow software junkies and I would love to play with all the new toys about, but the last thing the world really needs is more software.

Are companies using what they have to full potential? I would argue that more can be done with what we already have in place. So rather than considering what new software to buy, perhaps CIO's should think about existing features available in the software they have already implemented. They are likely to find that quicker and cheaper results will follow, that could have a huge impact on their company performance.

Just as we only use 3% of our brains, we leverage a fraction of the potential that our enterprise software offers. It's time to start working smarter. A good way to begin is to identify the constraints in your company. Is there duplication of effort? Are there manually intensive processes? Where could you still cut costs or improve efficiencies? Is there a gap in the market your competitors have overlooked? Then re-look at software already being used in your business to see whether features exist or can be configured to meet your needs.

Why re-invent the wheel when it's already turning? Your wagon may have a steam engine hiding under the hood if only you would look.

The future of Software as a Service in SA

The potential of software as a service/hosted application services is huge. And the market is growing rapidly. nFold's local software research so far shows that almost 30% of companies now prefer to rent, lease or subscribe to software as a service - double the percentage in 2005. Most of our survey respondents agree that this trend is very important, but few have implemented it. The reality in South Africa is that our high cost of bandwidth is preventing local companies from keeping pace with their international counterparts. Ironically, affordable Internet connectivity services to the SOHO market, such as ADSL and HSDPA, have meant that smaller companies are adopting software as a service more rapidly than corporates.

So locally, we tend to see smaller companies able to streamline their operations using robust technology that would have been unaffordable to them a few years ago. This makes it possible for them to conduct business anywhere, anytime. There are no limits to the type of applications that can and are being offered as a service - from the simplest RFP automation system to the most complex ERP system. Current software licensing models are inadequate. Enterprise software suppliers need to partner with hosting companies and may need to redevelop or re-align their solution to suit this model. Many shy away from taking a bigger up-front risk than they have in the past, for the promise of more predictable subscription based revenues instead of purchase and support revenues. Software suppliers ignore this trend at their peril.

nFold has predicted since 2006 that "Anywhere Anytime" and "Payment Flexibility" are important trends in the local software industry. Software as a Service (SaaS) taps into both of these concepts. While the adoption of SaaS is constrained by the high cost of bandwidth in South Africa, the global market seems to be exploding. And according to our software research, local adoption is growing rapidly. SaaS solutions already available vary from point systems (like survey or proposal services) to enterprise systems (such as ERP or CRM services). There are new entrants well-poised to tap into this market, so incumbents in the software world need to beware. I would agree that for the moment incumbents should hedge their bets by offering software services over the Internet as well as more traditional download/install options. Most companies still prefer tradition.

Friday, November 9, 2007

IT Skills: Shortage or Commodity?

Everyone has been agreeing for many years that there's an IT skills shortage. The IT managers we are interviewing for our software survey agree too. Yet I've been hearing some interesting new perspectives on this old story in the last few weeks. Enjoy...

Alas! the shortage is real

One CIO went so far as to say that this will be his most significant challenge in the future. The Companies increasingly seem to be training up people to meet their own needs, rather than relying on tertiary institutions. Unfortunately, as soon as people have valuable skills they hop jobs. ITWeb Salary Survey 2007 reports: "A severe shortage in experienced IT skills fuels job-hopping, with over 50% of respondents having looked for a new job in SA, and about 5% ready to take up an overseas offer." In an effort to keep these rare gems, companies offer higher salaries, resulting in a downward spiral.

Inflated salaries are harmful

The rules of supply and demand are at play. A scarce resource is worth more money than one that's abundant. There's resistance from business to the unrealistic salary expectations of IT staff. Ultimately, IT needs to demonstrate value to organisations that exceeds its costs. It's no longer so easy to maintain the illusion, as IT costs soar and the value to business seems nebulous. And yet the value is real. But perceptions are negative.

Insourcing combats shortage?

An interesting view is that keeping strategic IT skills inhouse reduces risk: dependence on suppliers suffering from a skills shortage of their own. The outsourcing-insourcing pendulum is swinging again. Current plans to combat the skills shortage seem to be half-hearted. Some dramatic action is needed. And yet the demand for skills continues to grow and the shortage remains a reality.

Welcome to the house of fun.

Until IT becomes a fun place to be again, at the forefront of innovation as it once was, the only attraction to young professionals is money. And there's more of it to be had in other careers. We've lost sight of fun on our way to becoming a mature industry. Perhaps we need to remember the addage "Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional". If we remain a young industry at heart, rather than taking ourselves too seriously, we will attract talent.

Read more about it...

- ITWeb Salary Survey 2007
- My Digital Life: IT skills shortage choking SA business, August 2007
- IOL: IT Skills Shortage Likely to Balloon, July 2006
- ITWeb Skills Survey 2006
- Mail&Guardian: Shortage Confusion Mismatch Surplus, August 2005

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Have your say…again…and again…and again...

In response to our last minute on making virtual friends, someone asked me to turn our marketing newsletters into an RSS feed. Huh? I had seen the RSS button on lots of websites, but was a bit hazy on the details. Nor was I so keen on the idea of adding yet more weight to the information overload all of us experience. Now that I’ve done the research and tried it out, I’m sold on the idea and ready to convert others. So brace yourself!

I’ve said it once in my newsletter…
Like many workaholics I get sooooooo much email that I respond mainly to the urgent ones. Contrary to Stephen Covey’s advice and my own desire, I tend to ignore the important things like news and personal emails. And yet, I write a newsletter using More surprising – thousands of people subscribe and some even read it. And a handful of friends love me for the poor correspondent that I am.

…I say it again on my website…
We archive all our newsletters on nFold’s website for posterity. Sometimes people interested in our impartial advice or niche software will browse the site and can catch up on all the fun over some coffee. Or journalists wanting to quote someone not so rich and not so famous but mad about software, will check out the results of our crystal-ball-gazing and cheeky comments about the state of the software world.

…and I say it again in a BLOG…
This BLOG business has taken the world by storm. Everyone and his dog can write whatever they want whenever they feel like it and share it with the world. The infrastructure is free, courtesy of But anyone interested in reading your thoughts will need to know your BLOG exists or find the proverbial needle in a haystack. And when you add another thought?

… now I can say it again on RSS…
I was gratified to discover, at the END of my RSS research – thanks Murphy! – that we already have an RSS feed. If you browse to our BLOG address your browser’s “Feed” button should magically light up. When you click it, it takes you to a specially formatted page

But it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. Now that you have the address of our feed, you need to add it to a feed reader like the one you can download for free from It hovers in your computer’s task bar and pops up a window every time one of your “feeds” is updated with new content. Hey presto! News that you’re interested in reading arrives on your desktop.

…and the final word can be mine.
Our next step in the new technology adoption lifecycle is to follow in the footsteps of one of our software suppliers. Tom Sant is rated one of the world’s top 10 sales trainers and writes an award winning newsletter called “Messages that Matter”. No really! There IS an award for newsletters in the US where everything is bigger and better – as we all should know. He “podcasts” his messages so that you can listen to him have the last word on Now that’s what I call spreading the word!

Niche Software

Over the years I have had cause to ponder the meaning of niche software time and again. Since I've heard the phrase a lot recently, I thought it might be worth a minute of your time. When I started nFold 6 years ago, my vision was to assemble a portfolio of niche software solutions. They had to be affordable, quick to deploy and meet a specific need. Now that we also offer impartial advice on mainstream software, we have to be clear on the difference between the two.

Niche in a Nutshell
My definition of niche, is software that is narrow in function and hasn't yet achieved widespread market adoption. So it can be widely applicable to different market segments and decisionmakers, but it does one thing really well and chances are...Microsoft hasn't built one or bought one yet.

Not Niche
In my opinion, all the acronyms you probably recognize, such as ERP, CRM, SCM, MES are NOT niche. There are some applications that started out as niche and have become mainstream - such as accounting, payroll and business intelligence.

Sample Niche
The best way to explain is by way of example. One of our niche products is called Sant Suite. It automates the creation of proposals, tenders and presentations. Nothing more, nothing less. It's relevant mainly to healthcare, financial services, high tech, engineering and services companies. We mostly work with sales and marketing managers to help them improve their sales productivity and win rates. See or subscribe to Tom Sant's newsletter below.

Building a Community
nFold has pioneered this niche in South Africa for the last 5 years. We're slowly gaining critical mass in the financial services and high tech industries, although we're a few steps behind the international adoption of this type of solution. You may have noticed that we've made a huge effort recently to grow the community around this niche. We've become involved in the local chapters of UPSA and APMP (for sales and proposal professionals respectively). We are making editorial contributions to publications such as SalesGuru, Succeed, Business Brief, BusinessIT, and CIO Africa. We regularly conduct online web sessions and on 17 April, we will be hosting a best practice bid management seminar. Watch this space! Maybe next month we'll be speaking to Microsoft.

Build vs. Buy

At a round table discussion hosted by Brainstorm recently, the eternal question of whether it is better to build or buy software came up again in passing. The table had no corners, but the room did have opposite ends. nFold sat squarely in the "packaged software" corner, arguing that if packaged software meets 60-80% of your needs and can be configured, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. In the "bespoke software" corner, sat Malcolm Rabson from Dariel Solutions, whose experience has been that customers don't want to pay for 100% when all they need is 5% of the functionality that comes off the shelf. He has a point. Although the packaged software response is to modularise or tier the software to different groups of requirements.

Dariel & nFold both agreed on one thing: regardless of whether the software is packaged or bespoke, a mature approach is needed to ensure the success of your project. Contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to deliver software projects in time on budget and according to specifications. Usually, that means spending more time up front, following the old adage that if you fail to plan you are planning to fail.

Another eternal question (or is it an excuse) came up in the discussion, namely the IT skills shortage; a convenient reason to buy rather than build. The word on the street is that software development environments and standards are evolving so rapidly that we now need a new kind of specialist. To make matters worse, the curriculum at higher institutions of learning has allegedly not kept up with market demands. When will our industry demand the levels of professionalism & skills accreditation already adopted in countries such as the UK?

I eagerly await the article Paul Furber has written in Brainstorm to see his take on these matters and the broader subject of Independent Software Vendors; and of course to see my name in quotes and the - no doubt - unflattering photo.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Making virtual friends? Ag shame!

For the longest time I have been reading about the social revolution happening on websites such as and I have also been wondering what all the fuss is about Blogs? Finally, I decided to take time out from my (rather busy) first life to find out more.

Technically speaking, you are now experiencing my first blog It took me all of 5 minutes to register on and start WABing - for the un-initiated that means I am now indulging in Work Avoidance Behaviour. In the spirit of the moment I have explored Blog aggregators such as for local Blogs. I have joined virtual networks such as for entrepreneurs. And I've been growing my business network on

Rumour has it that companies screening job candidates have started checking out the profiles of their potential employees on sites such as facebook. So watch what you say about your secret hobbies if your career means anything to you. I was a bit disappointed at how difficult it is to find and join an existing network on facebook. But it seems easy to make friends and invite people from your own address book to join your own networkssssss. Go wild! Have a dozen. Invite everyone you know or would like to know. Look up long lost friends. But be could be "poked" by someone you wish would remain lost.

You need a lot of time and patience to live a second life. As an ardent sci-fi fan, I'm not phased by the lingo. I know about "avatars" and have chosen Opin Dawes as my virtual name. But appealing as it may be to explore a whole new world peopled by 8 million other people who are responsible for 12.5 million transactions per day in this not quite virtual economy, I prefer to meet real friends for real coffee in the real world - even if it costs real money.

I guess all of these social networking mechanisms have business potential if you're willing to get creative. No doubt someone may even be willing to pay you to lead a second life in the hope of financial reward. In my view, facebook, linked in and blogger have the most immediate business potential. Meanwhile, having registered for a whole bunch of virtual networks, I am gritting my teeth in expectation while waiting for the to spam hit the fan.