EOH Softworx MD Jane Thomson on the vendor`s growth, new business nd near-term future

WHEN JANE THOMSON joined Softworx 10 years ago, it was a typical software vendor with a "bad rap", as she calls it. A year later the company was bought by IT solutions provider and since then Thomson and her team have focused on transforming Softworx into a leading provider of business applications, with about 10% of the South African market and a team of about 100 people.

"We wanted to make a real difference to our clients, we wanted to deliver to them, no matter what it takes," she explains, apologising for sounding corny.

Softworx is essentially a local reseller for Infor, which although it was established only eight years ago, is already ranked as the third largest enterprise software provider in the world, with a $2.1 billion turnover for the 2009 financial year-end.

"We started life in ERP [enterprise resource planning] solutions, but now we also provide performance management (PM) solutions, which have been a big growth area, especially in the last two years, in addition to supply chain management solutions."

Given the customer demand for enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions, Softworx is also in the process of setting up this solution offering. "A lot of companies are very asset intensive, particularly the mining houses and big manufacturing concerns. They have big, expensive equipment that needs to be maintained regularly or risk failure. EAM helps you manage that, from bringing new assets in, to scheduling their maintenance and planning production schedules accordingly, while meeting your governance requirements," explains Thomson.

Another brand new initiative for Softworx is Infor`s Fast Start programme for its ERP LN offering. This implementation programme designed to facilitate the rapid implementation of an ERP system. "You get everything that manufacturers with limited time and budgets need to smoothly implement world-class ERP for improved processes, increased profitability, and greater competitive advantage - at a low total cost of ownership," says Thomson.

She explains that the concept behind Fast Start for Infor ERP LN is the 80:20 rule, which means 80% of the configuration and documentation is provided while allowing flexibility for the 20% needed to support a specific business. Moreover, a structured programme of user involvement and training equips the project team with the knowledge to execute the implementation.

As for Thomson`s goals for Softworx for the year ahead, she says she hopes to continue to deliver solutions that are good value for customers, but to be cautious. "We still have to deliver for EOH, by delivering growth of 20% on our top and bottom line, while providing our people with a good home," she notes.

"The effect of the recession has been that people didn`t have money to spend, projects were put on hold and buying cycles ground to a halt. We are seeing customers starting to buy again, but with a difference: customers are being a lot more focused on where to put their investment rand. Customers are also being a lot shrewder about their software purchases, and they`re expecting the vendor to put a lot more into the equation," she adds.

And, while there are signs of an economic recovery, both in South Africa and abroad, Thomson says her jury is still out on whether the recovery is sustainable.

As for Softworx`s biggest challenge: "To some extent, it mirrors South Africa`s biggest challenge, which I don`t think is crime, but a lack of high-quality education. All EOH`s corporate social investment initiatives are around education. If we are to achieve true transformation, it`s imperative that we find good skills, and that means developing young black graduates into good consultants," Thomson elaborates.

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