The MD/CEO, Matt O’ Bell Ltd, Dare Ojo-Bello, spoke with Emma Okonji on the need to develop tailored-made software applications that will drive growth of small businesses and make them globally competitive. Excerpts:
Matt O’ Bell Limited just launched a software application called OdooSME that will support growth of small businesses in the country. What value will it add to small businesses?
OdooSME is an object oriented enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution designed specifically for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). It is simply a business application that allows SMEs to run their businesses more transparently, efficiently and ultimately helping them improve productivity and profitability.
OdooSME is coined from two names: Odoo and SME. Odoo is a business application that was initiated over 11 years ago, and SME, means Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.
Traditionally, organisations have followed after accounting-centric software such that the activities in the various departments and units, are reported in a computerised accounting system. So you have sales, procurement, warehousing, human resources, marketing, manufacturing activities feeding into an accounting system. While the accounting system was computerised, the individual operations were not. Overtime, it became necessary to computerise procurement, warehousing, manufacturing, inventory, marketing operations, among others and the result was that we then had several individual computerised operations but which still had to provide inputs manually to the accounting system because those individual systems were not directly connected to the accounting system. The benefits of computerisation could not be realised under this scenario as the accounting system was unable to report transactions on real time and accurately too. This was what gave birth to ERP solution, a single database that integrates all the functions and strategic business units of an organisation.
Unfortunately, ERP by design was not originally built for SMEs due to their complexities, steep learning curve, huge cost of deployment and the time required to implement the solution. With improvements in technology, several ERP solutions have emerged specifically targeted at SMEs and Odoo has been a clear leader in this market for over a decade, bringing affordable yet robust ERP and business productivity tools in one single application to SMEs.
The pricing model for OdooSME comes relatively cheap. Can this be sustained over a long period of time?
Yes the pricing model for OdooSME solution is very cheap and the reason is obvious. We want to be highly competitive and we have looked at retail solutions that are not ERP based, yet they are quite expensive in the range of N50,000 to N60,000 per annum, for 10 users, which is about N5,000 per month. But Odoo solution, on which OdooSME rides on, is doing about $8 per user in Africa, which is about N2,400 per user, and we are offering OdooSME to our Nigerian SMEs at N500 per user per month.
We are sure of sustaining the pricing model because we are offering the solution as Software as a Service (SaaS), which is a scalable solution.
Do you have the capacity to withstand the expected surge in terms of traffic that will be generated by the time SMEs begin to rush the solution because of its low pricing model?
We have the capacity to withstand sudden surge and large traffic that will be directed to our website. This is true because our solution is scalable and allows users to always scale up and increase capacities based on demand. Resources can be expanded from the server angle, but beyond that, we have multiple servers that can be distributed, such that if one server has redundancy, the next server automatically picks up without delays, and the user will not notice ant hitch in operation. So the infrastructure cost, which is huge, will be part of our investment into the business, and we are not desperate at recovering cost from day one of the business, because it is a long term business plan.
Our motive is to accommodate as many SMEs as possible and help them boost growth and become globally competitive. So our calculation is that as the users increase in number with time, the cost of infrastructure and maintenance will keep reducing. Beyond the hosting of our servers in the US, we do not have any offshore cost, so we are sure of maintaining the low pricing model of our solution.
Does the solution allow for interoperability and integration?
Yes, our solution gives room for interoperability and integration with other software apps. Most organisation may be running a particular ERP solution and wants to have a handshake with OdooSME for specific modules. Our solution can perfectly integrate with existing solution. Some clients want legacy system and do not want to discard the initial solution, even when the client is asking for another solution. In such situation we will not be able to offer such integration as a solution but we can do it through consulting, where we will propose a project for the client. For us to sustain OdooSME at its low pricing model of N500 per user per month, we must dissociate from those kinds of special projects.
What could be responsible for the failure of most SMEs that tried to come up in the past?
The major reason why SMEs fail in business is lack of information, and that is what OdooSME has come to address. There are prospective clients that have good business ideas, but do not have business information on how their businesses are supposed to be run and this becomes difficult for equity position takers to take decision on that kind of business.
Small entrepreneurs need to take advantage of technology to drive SME business. What makes advanced countries thick in their economy is SMEs, so there is need for Nigeria to support SMEs growth and our solution will enhance such growth and make them succeed in business.
How can your solution assist government in repositioning SMEs for economic development?
By the time SMEs embrace the solution, it will address those issues that make them go under incessantly. We are aware that most SMEs do not last long because they do not have the right information to grow their business, and this of course will discourage venture capitalists and Angel investors from investing in the business. Investors use information from data to decide whether to invest in a technology startup or not. Government is beginning to be interested in supporting SMEs with seed funds, but government also wants to see traces of judicious use of the money made available to SME. So government will like to release money in tranches and will not provide additional money without having records of how the customer spent the money in the first tranche. Based on best practices that are built into ERP solution, the SME using OdooSME would be at advantage position to generate relevant information that will boost business growth. So when government has such information, it will be able to provide funding for the next level of the SME business.
What percentage of local content development is in OdooSME solution?
OdooSME is a locally developed software for SME and it is an off-shoot of Odoo software, which is a foreign software developed in Belgium, with presence in other countries like India, Hong-Kong, and the United States. Odoo has about 700 partners across the globe. So OdooSME is one of the leading partners of Odoo in Nigeria. We use the tools available to Odoo to build the OdooSME platform, which is our local solution that we sell to SMEs in Nigeria.
How will OdooSME solution address issues of corporate governance in the country?
A lot of corporate organisation use ERP solution because it enforces corporate governance, best practices and control of the business, and OdooSME is an ERP solution for SMEs, with all the qualities of ERP solution. The OdooSME solution addresses the challenges of multi branches and locations of any business. So it uses one database seated in a particular location, and monitor the operations of all branches of an organisation. Again, the OdooSME can address a situation where a company has several other companies that are not in the same line of business.
What has been the market response to OdooSME since it was launched?
OdooSME was launched on June 6, 2016, and since then, it has generated a lot of interest among SMEs, because ERP solution used to be specifically for big organisations because of its several features, but today we are using OdooSME as an ERP solution, to offer the same quality for SME operations. We came up with this solution, because most banks had approached us, asking us to build ERP solution for the SME platform. We spent about nine months to successfully build the solution. Since the launch there has been a lot of interest from people who really want to confirm that ERP solution could be deployed for SMEs. So what we did was to offer prospective users 30 days trial to experience how the solution works and many of them decided to implement OdooSME solution after the 30 days trial.
How can OdooSME help to bridge the gap between SMEs and big corporate organisations?
The software tools that have made big organisations great are not affordable by SMEs, and this has been one of the reason why huge gap exists between SMEs and big organisations. The situation had always placed SMEs at disadvantage position from the inception. Again, SMEs do not have information that they could use to benchmark market competition and this has helped in widening the gap between SMEs and big corporations. So the OdooSME solution, which we are introducing, can bridge the gap between SMEs and corporate organisations. The ERP solution we are offering to SMEs will provide them the information that they need to grow their business.
So the OdooSME is cheap and affordable and it is easy to use because the user interface is very friendly. Information drives profitability for SMEs and OdooSME enables SMEs to generate business information. A good ERP will provide accurate inventory of stocks and ensure that the business owner does not go out of stock for any reason.
You currently launched the solution in Lagos. Are there plans to launch outside Lagos?
We have a website, www.odoosme.com and people can log on to the site from any part of the county, because it is a web-based solution. We have clients in several states. We are into social media campaign as well, using Google, Facebook, and we have email marketing platform such that people can send us mail and we can engage them until they buy into the solution. So because the solution is web-based, anybody can sign on to our website from any location within and outside the country and get connected to the website.
Do you intend to have any partnership with government?
For now we do not have any partnership with government. And again, the solution is new in the market and specifically designed for SMEs. We have, however, made the solution known to Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (SMEDAN), which is an agency of government that supports SMEs.
The software industry in Nigeria is still searching for opportunities that could launch it into limelight. Do you see that opportunity coming soon?
When you talk of making use of opportunities, you must not forget that opportunities are only meant for the prepared. There has been huge clamour for government support for local software industry, but my take on that is that we need to reach a point where we need to know that creating enabling environment is more important than supporting the industry with seed money. In India, for instance, every family knows about one programming language, and this is so because government has created the enabling environment where people were given opportunities from the beginning to support their careers. So today China has a cheap labour in software because virtually all families have knowledge of software programing. So the idea of people calling on government to shut out the inflow of foreign software into the country, is not necessary. What matters for us is about capacity building. When several people are well trained in software development, there will be competition even with the foreign software.
So how can government drive software development in the country?
Most software in the financial sector are foreign software, even most government organisations run foreign software, but the best way to discourage this is to build local capacities and encourage increase in local content practice in the country.
How secured is your network when it comes to vulnerability?
Security is the key but could be easily compromised when people are careless about it. However, our network is robust with strong security features around the infrastructure. So we are one step ahead of attacks and we have systems that are proactive and we have security team that constantly sends information on patches that could prevent cyber-attacks on data and the server. We also encrypt all transactions that take place on our platform, and this makes it difficult for people to read transactions on the platform.