On the Cover

SA`s software opportunity THE LOCAL SOFTWARE development industry has reached a critical junction. The opportunity to firmly establish SA as a global outsourcing destination is clear, but the development community, large enterprises and government must present a united front to deliver globally relevant, enterprise-grade applications, to compete with giants like India.

Professor , academic director at the newly established City of Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), begins: "We`re certainly at a crossroads. We could expand and grow into global leaders - we have so many of the critical success factors already - a comparatively well-established infrastructure, the right language, European time zones, skills and industry experience. But we`ll have to work very hard to ensure we don`t lose it all. It is a critical point, but I think we will seize this opportunity in time." The model of offshore outsourced development has rapidly gathered momentum in the last year, thanks largely to the efforts by developing markets to show they can provide a global solution, using affordable local resources. This has created an astoundingly bullish global development market.

South Africa has already successfully established itself as a leading player in outsourced call-centre operations, generating strong revenue. The focus now has to shift towards software, which has a wealth of opportunity, provided resources can be properly harnessed and nurtured while actively building a larger skills base in the country.


Before trampling the in this massive global market, however, first there are issues to be addressed. Although a very talented pool of development skills exists in SA, it is of limited size and needs nurturing for future success.

What`s more, large local enterprises and government must align themselves with the objectives of the development industry if our ambition of competing credibly is to be achieved.

Sean O`Connell, who until quite recently spearheaded the development efforts of Software Futures, has with his new company Airborne Consulting remained in the development game. "I`m optimistic, and I see enormous opportunities in this space. But we must be careful to not go out hunting with shotguns. Instead, development houses should consider specialising and swatting those problems that fall into their own areas of focus - with the world as the market."

He continues: "It starts with government - the catalyst in other developing markets has largely come down to government actively charging organisations to pursue this goal, making funds available and charging the academic sector with building a powerful and relevant curriculum to accelerate the creation of a large base of skilled resources."


, Vistar strategist and another ex-Software Futures expert, agrees that government could do more to stimulate the industry, but is concerned about the status of the local skills pool. "Labour costs are far higher here than in India, because of the limited pool. We don`t really have enough skills to satisfy the requirements of the country, let alone international customers," he says.

"It comes down to fundamental schooling. We are currently providing the wrong skills set for building a powerful development resource pool. Twenty years ago the government recognised this opportunity in India and drove maths and science in the classroom. In SA, the lack of focus on these subjects and the high rate of school leavers coming into the marketplace could be the death knell of a burgeoning software development industry," he warns. According to both Hughes and O`Connell, the time for tangible intervention is now. Strategies formed behind closed doors will not cut it. "We need to see a real budget with real access to it by industry players. Although the barriers for entry to this market are perceived to be low, I can tell you there are easier ways of making money as an entrepreneur. To be successful right now requires that you drive this success entirely on your own," says O`Connell.

Marketing successes

Softstart is an organisation involved at the basement level of development. As an incubator for the ICT industry at large, it has seen the market from various viewpoints.

Neil Croft, software technology coach at Softstart, believes that although skills are limited, extremely talented developers exist in SA. It is the marketing of our world-class solutions that has fallen behind, he says. "The PayPal system, for instance, was developed by a Pretoria-based programmer, which is something you never hear about. The skills are here and increasing, but we need to get these stories out."

One method of marketing local capabilities is through formal, globally recognised certification. The development companies in India have dominated through the use of this model, and more than half of the CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) 5 level developers in the world work in India. CMMI delivers technical benefits, by teaching the difference between developing software and developing mature enterprise solutions, but also tremendous marketing benefits. Advertising these skills to a customer sitting on the other side of the world inspires confidence and makes winning offshore contracts far easier.

Traditionally CMMI has not been required in the SA development sphere. Moreover, the dedication and funds needed to achieve level 5 are significant. These barriers are being alleviated, however, through initiatives like the JCSE, which intends making CMMI 5 locally available with local pricing structures - just one aspect of the good work it is doing, favouring the industry at large.

Tags: Cover  Story