TECH TALK: Alt.Software: The Approach

In putting together the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) software stack, a number of factors need to be kept in mind:

Linux Base: Linux offers an alternative to the Microsoft platform. Besides being free, Linux offers the potential to engage the developer community worldwide in building or even customising portions of the software stack. For countries like India, the cost savings using Linux can be significant. But to make this happen, Linux needs to be adopted even at the schools and colleges level, thus creating engineers who are trained in its use.

Amazing Price: More than anything, the price is going to be the critical success factor. The price point for the entire suite of applications should be in the range of Rs 250-500 (USD 5-10) per user per month. Thus, a 20-person SME pays an aggregate cost of Rs 60,000-120,000 (USD 1,200-2,400) per annum for all its software needs.

Standardisation: The emphasis should be using a standardised code base, rather than customisation. It is all too easy to get caught up in creating many specialised versions for different customers, but that is not a scalable approach. For SMEs, it will be a trade-off between engaging a small software company to create applications that it needs and purchasing the eBusiness software suite which may take care of perhaps 50-70% of the needs of the SME. In many cases, it is not easy for SMEs to even specify what is needed. Using a standard product may entail some sacrifices in features and even changes in business process. This is more than offset by the advantage of not deploying additional IT staff to supervise the deployment process, the low price points and the instancy of use.

Whole Solution: What the SME needs is a whole solution. The SME software stack takes just that approach by offering a complete package of the applications needed, thus minimising the number of vendors that the SME needs to interact with.

Smart Integration: One of the critical success factors (besides price) is the ability to integrate data across the various silos, such that an SME needs to enter data only once. This is the integration that is offered (very expensively) by the enterprise software packages of companies like SAP and Oracle. Integration is the key building block for the “real-time enterprise”, which is what SMEs should aspire to be.

Intelligent Cloning: SMEs do not need the complete feature set that is available in the high-end enterprise applications that are available today. What is needed during development is the ability to intelligent pick and choose the subset of features that are going to be most important for SMEs. This not only speeds up the development process but also eliminates the “feature overkill” bane of many packages.