In our previous articles about ERP solutions, we explained how ERP systems provide an integrated IT solution, particularly in the manufacturing and logistics industry. We also discussed what approach is best to choose to implement ERP, and what risks to avoid. In this article, we shall look at African businesses and how ERP can help them.
Businesses in Africa face many challenges that are unique to the market. ERP providers promise a lot: the integration of information flows of the entire organization in real-time and consistently, allowing management to be constantly supplied with the right information to make decisions. In Africa, common challenges have implications for ERP requirements:
The African continent, despite improvements in the last decade, still has slow and unreliable internet connections as a major challenge to the digital transformation of businesses. While cloud services are a key recipe for 21st-century success, an ERP provider is expected to deal with internet quality issues and should provide a hybrid solution. The hybrid solution allows customers to have the software locally on their server and sync to the ERP solution provider’s main server using the internet. This resolves the challenge of internet downtimes and keeps businesses always operating for the owner.
In Africa, software pricing remains a very sensitive topic. Price and mode of payment heavily influence the decision of most businesses regarding the acquisition of an ERP solution. Because of this, most European and US ERP vendors are simply a no-go. Most businesses turn to cheap applications from organizations and individuals who lack the capacity and capability to continue maintaining and providing support to their customers. This is no “value for money” either. In a SaaS (Software As A Service) model, payments are simply made by a monthly subscription. No heavy investment upfront is needed and all responsibilities, like hosting, upgrades, and support, are placed at the doorstep of the ERP solution provider.
Affordable SAAS ERP may be solutions such as Salesforce (affordable for smaller numbers of users), Odoo (open source with various implementation consultancy firms in Ghana), Kjerner (low-code platform), and Webbermill (Ghana-based, currently for the transport and construction industry).
Total Information Technology Service
Typical potential ERP customers in Africa are the small and medium enterprises which typically employ 1-250 people and makeup 80% of the private sector, many of them taking the first steps into digital transformation. Rarely they will have their own IT department. These SMEs require additional services, such as procurement of technological devices, IT support management, IT infrastructure management, IT consultancy, IT outsourcing, and staff training. By becoming a total information technology service provider, you are the one-stop company that the customers need for their digital transformation.
ERP solutions for the African market must have flexibility at the core of their model. As SMEs make up the overwhelming majority of the market, it is important to focus on the make-up of these businesses and their needs regarding ERP solutions.
Research conducted by Webbermill Limited shows most SMEs in the region do not need a full ERP solution as most of its features will be redundant. They further indicate that ERP solutions must make room for them to start small, with a limited number of modules, and expand as they grow.
Ease of use
Digital literacy is a key fundamental building block to the digital transformation of any country or business.
Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.
We can draw a direct link between digital literacy and digital inclusion. Digital inclusion is defined as the ability of people to use and access information and communication technologies, be able to do administrative procedures online via e-government services, make payments and financial services using technology, etc.
Technology is the backbone of the global economy influencing health service delivery, education, social life, and leisure activities and with the introduction of 5G, technology’s impact on how things are are done will continue to grow. Digital literacy is therefore no longer an option but has become a fundamental requirement for people when going about their daily lives.
Digital literacy remains a basic challenge developing countries of Africa face amidst other challenges, therefore ERP solutions meant for these markets must be relatively easy to use and must not require a huge amount of training to get used to.
Salesforce or the Ghanaian ERP company Webber Mill Limited employ simple designs suitable for everyday African reality, while OODO can be more complex to use.
Frequent power outage is a common problem faced by most African countries, emanating from many factors. The frequent power outages impact businesses negatively and in fully digitalized firms, power outages will mean a loss of data. This makes Auto-save a compulsory feature for the African market, as it helps users recover their data or work when back online.
In conclusion, small and medium-sized companies in Ghana are encouraged to use simple ERP modules that help them with their digital transformation, improving business processes while digitally attracting new talented and digital savvy African youth into their workforce, onsite or remotely. Then, step by step, new ERP modules can be added to complete the ICT support of all business processes.
Authors: Diana van der Stelt (Member, Institute of ICT professionals Ghana) and Charles Kotoko.
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Diana is the sales director for Trinity Software Center www.trinitysoftwarecenter.com in Kumasi and director at Maxim Nyansa IT Solution training center for IT professionals in Accra www.maximnyansa.com
Charles Kotoko is Creative Director of Webber Mill Limited in Adenta, Accra https://webbermill.com