TECH TALK: Emerging Enterprises and Emergent Networks: Software for USD 5 per month

There used to those travel books I remember reading when I was young which talked of US (or Europe) for USD 5 a day. How about providing SMEs with all the software they need for USD 5 per person per month to complement the USD 150 computer? Taken together with the hardware, this provides SMEs with a state-of-the-art technology infrastructure for no more than USD 210 per annum (assuming they decide to keep upgrading their computer every year, which may not even be required).

The approach to building out the software infrastructure for SMEs should focus on having a thick server (the Enterprise Server) and thin clients, all running Linux. The server is where the applications will run, and where all the files, mails and preferences will be stored. It is like an ASP (application service provider) model, but running off the LAN rather than the Internet. Software updates can be pushed out to the Enterprise Server on an ongoing basis.

The older PCs become the desktops. My view is that for serious work people need a proper full-sized keyboard and at least a 14-inch monitor. Devices like the PDAs and cellphones can at best be adjuncts to the primary desktop. These desktops need not have a hard disk or CD drive, since all storage will be centralised on the server. This makes the desktops inter-changeable and easy to manage; in case of a problem, a desktop can be easily swapped out and replaced by another.

The desktops will boot off the server, and work like Linux Terminals, running KDE or GNOME desktop environments.

The applications they need to support are Email, Instant Messaging, Internet Browser, office productivity applications (a word processor, a spreadsheet and a presentation application, with file format which would be compatible with the MS-Office suite), and Acrobat for viewing PDF files. For most people in the organisation, this collection would take care of all of their needs.

The next step would be to create the enterprise software applications necessary within for the SMEs, incorporating ERP, supply-chain management, customer-relationship management and other applications. Most SMEs need only a minimal functionality, but need an integrated suite where data needs to be entered only once and is available across the enterprise.

The pricing should be done such that it becomes attractive to ensure that everyone in the company has access to all the applications. This is like a “thali” approach – fixed price, use as much as is needed. Over time, various software vendors can build on the base platform to create industry-specific vertical applications. By taking a mass market approach, it should be possible to keep the price point for the software subscription at USD 5 per person per month.

By providing a connected computer on every desktop, it now becomes possible to think very differently of how information and knowledge can be shared within the enterprise. The killer app for the SME is likely to be not email or the browser or the enterprise software suite but the weblog.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.