The next market which needs to be targeted is the engine of economic growth in a nation its small and medium enterprises (SMEs). They are large in number, and provide employment for the majority of the people in a country. But, SMEs are difficult to reach and hard to market to. They also have limited resources money, staff and time. At present, most SMEs have very limited use of both computers and the Internet. Yet, these SMEs are most in need of technological solutions to make their lives simpler, take their business from the survival mode to growth mode, and make them integral parts of global supply chains.
Today, most SMEs in emerging markets have a very small computer penetration. This nonconsumption of computing needs to be the next challenge to be tackled. The next market thus becomes the non-users of computers in SMEs. To take computing to this segment which has never used a computer, think of a concept called My First Computer. What this will do is provide a computer to every employee at a price point not exceeding Rs 500 (USD 10) per month. At this price-point, if a connected computer can make a person more productive by just 10%, then the investment is justified for anyone earning a monthly salary of Rs 5,000 or more. Think of this as a Tech 7-11 in the Enterprise, but with individual desktop computers for the non-users, rather than shared access in a community centre.
This provision of a computer on every desktop in enterprises will accomplish two objectives: it will create a computer- and information-literate workforce for an investment of no more than Rs 500 per person per month, and it creates the base for building enterprise applications and other value-added information services.
What is needed next is for the software applications to go beyond just the email-Internet-documents routine, and make SMEs use the computer as a productivity enhancement system. They need given both the tools in the form of the computers for each of the employees and the set of processes that they need to follow for tasks like accounting, manufacturing, inventory control, customer management and sales management. The segment which will make this possible is the community of software developers, which needs to build solutions for SMEs, leveraging open-source and pre-fabricated components.
The focus with SMEs needs to be automating business processes in SMEs and making them real-time enterprises. Most SMEs do not tend to very efficient in the processes that they follow, with a significant manual and repetitive element in what they do. Many of these systems evolve more out of need and expediency, more trial-and-error than planning.
Today, the lack of an infrastructure of domestic users in most emerging markets handicaps software developers seeking to build solutions for the local users. As a result, enterprises at the base of the pyramid are caught in a no-mans land: the packaged software they need for improving their business efficiency is both too expensive and unsuitable for their needs since its primarily developed for the larger enterprises who can afford to pay for it, and getting software custom-developed software is not a viable alternative since it is both costly and time-consuming, and may result in automating of flawed business processes.
This is where the software developers need to come in. They need to create solutions which can create libraries of SME business processes and then customise these for specific verticals and organisations.
These are the first set of Digital Bridges Disruptive Bridges that need to be built. By targeting these segments students, Tech 7-11 franchisees, non-computer users in SMEs and software developers, we can create a tipping point of technology usage in developing countries. Taken together, they will provide affordable computing and Internet access for most of the people most of the time. It may not be a perfect solution of a computer on every desk and in every home, but it sure comes close at a fraction of the cost.
The two concepts we will explore in detail are the Tech 7-11 and My First Computer.
Tomorrow: Tech 7-11
Tech Talk Disruptive Bridges