23rd Century Systems’ Cumulus launch: Interview with the MD

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Richard Maulana

Richard Maulana, the MD of the 23rd Century Systems subsidiary, Devoted Business Solutions.

On Thursday last week, we attended the launch of Cumulus, a SAP cloud based ERP service offered by a Twenty Third’s Century Systems subsidiary called Devoted Business Solutions (DBS). The product is basically SAP for SMEs offered via the internet. SAP itself calls the solution Business One OnDemand and the proposition is a lowering of the total cost of SAP ownership by getting something that SAP designed specifically for small business.

At the event, we managed to pull Richard Maulana, the DBS Managing Director, aside for a quick interview regarding this new product. Below is our full conversation with him.

TZ: How do you think it’s going to do in Zimbabwe?
Because of our price point and what we’re are offering I think it’s going to do brilliantly. I mean what we’re giving the SME user, I will repeat this time and time again, we’re giving SME users access to the world’s leading ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solution for a US $125 a month. You can’t beat that price.

TZ: That’s per user?
Yah per user. The minimum you can sign up is one user.  So for as little as $125 you’re accessing something that the Government of Zimbabwe is using, ZIMRA is using and they have paid millions of dollars for that solution. And we’re giving it to you for 125 bucks a month.

TZ: So what typical user are you targeting with this solution?
What we’re targeting basically is someone who has had problems with their business management application. And by business management, read ERP, we’re talking your financials; we’re talking your CRM (Customer Relationship Management), we’re talking stock control. If you’re in a manufacturing business we’ve got that covered for you, If you’re in the transport business we have you covered.

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So basically any SME that doesn’t have a solution to manage their business in a way that they like. And any SME who is interested in being able to access that information from anywhere at any time even at 2 in the morning. Traditionally you have to get into a car, drive to the office, boot up the PC get into whatever accounting package you use and access that information.  Now what you can do, from home, you’re on holiday in Durban, if you’re in the UK, you can get into that information any time you feel like.

TZ: So how small or how big is the SME? Are we talking a firm that has 3 people, are we talking a 100 people?
1 person to 300 people.

TZ: I mean at what point does it get more efficient, costs effective for the SME to adopt the onsite SAP as opposed to this?
That depends on the capex, how much they can afford to put up, because your on-premise SAP installation involves quite a heavy outlay; you have to buy the hardware, it has to be powerful enough, you have to procure the software and the licenses, that’s not cheap;  and you have to have your own staff who can maintain that system. So it basically boils down to how much can that SME can lay out. How much they can afford to bleed just get this on-premise solution.  And balance it out with a yearly or whatever contract the sign up, balance that out with what we’ll be offering.

TZ: So this is going to be rolled out by consultants that work for Twenty Third Century Systems consultants? Is there any possibility of independent technology or accounting consultants pushing this product on behalf of TTCS.
We’re looking at engaging partners in different sectors of the economy.  That’s still an ongoing discussion. But we obviously have a criteria we’re going to be following in terms of your competencies,  in terms of your reputation, in terms of how you understand our product, coz we’re not going to send out someone who doesn’t know what they’re selling. At the end of the day what we’re selling is not Cumulus, or SAP Business One, that’s now what we’re selling. We’re selling a business solution. So, in my opinion, if SAP was not the best possible engine to drive this, we’d be using something else. But it turns out that SAP is the leading ERP solution and that’s the engine we’re using to drive our solution.

TZ: Cumulus is the local brand for Business One?
Cumulus is basically our vision, that’s what we see Business One as being. It’s Business One OnDemand but we’ve rebranded it and called it Cumulus as Devoted Business Solutions.

TZ: It’s the first time I’m hearing of Devoted Business Solutions. Is this a new division or subsidiary of TTCS?
It’s a company that was incorporated about 4 years ago and the mandate was obviously to target the SMEs, but due to certain factors there wasn’t that much drive behind it.

TZ: So it was acquired by TTCS?
No, it was registered, it was incorporated by TTCS as a subsidiary.

TZ: So competition in the market. Who is your competition?
Right now with this product, no one. No one has an offering like we have at the moment.

TZ: In terms of it being cloud or in terms of an ERP?
It being cloud and being accessible easily. And ERP for the SME. Look, there are a couple floating around but they are not true ERPs in the sense that I’d call it an ERP. Because what we have, we are giving you all these ERP modules in one package. The other guys will give you an accounting package on which you need to bolt on a CRM module, an HR module, and MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning) module. It’s not a complete solution until you bring in all the other bits and pieces. We’re giving it to you with everything enabled. We’re not adding or subtracting anything from it. It’s all there.

The only thing we’re doing is adding customizations for different industry actors. Like, for example,  the guy who runs a transport business, his solution is going to look slightly different from the guys running a restaurant or butchery.

TZ: To a market that someone doesn’t even know what an ERP is, doesn’t even see the need for an ERP. They are a small business like you say, and they have been relying on external accounting consultant for their accounting and ERP needs, how are they supposed to see this? What is your message to people like that?
Our message for any business user, for any business owner, for anybody who is in a position to make business decision regarding how their business is run, we’re telling them that you’re getting unprecedented levels of convenience. So, if you have an external accountant who comes in once a month, you can’t get your balance sheet or your profit and loss or all of that accounting stuff until you call him into the office.  What we’re saying to them is now fire up your iPad, fire up your laptop, stick in your dongle (internet dongle) log into the system and that information is there. So we don’t have to wait for the accountant to come in.

We’re removing that consultant driven business model. You’re driving the business yourself because you have access to the information yourself. You don’t need to rely on someone else to bring that information to you.

12 Comments

  1. tinm@n says:

    Good to see some innovation! Would serve them well if they gave more figures than just cost. Like on average, it costs $X.00 to hire an accountant, $X.00 to produce an ad-hoc accounting document. Then pitch the benefit they would have with access to all those ERP features. Figures make more sense and are easier to make a decision on.

    Also important to highlight how much bandwidth is necessary for fair-to-good performance. I have no doubt that this is useful. I just know there’s a bit of a road to convincing the SME owner.

  2. kthaker says:

    the problem with any ‘cloud’ based application, is that you need a really good internet connection to be able to access your application. especially with apps like this where you cannot afford any downtime. while this is innovative (and in theory should make applications cheaper and more accessible) i believe that your internet connection would be a major factor in this being a workable solution for you..or not.

  3. cloud says:

    This will definitely be an option as connectivity improves. Cumulus will have to compete with offerings from other vendors though…
    Oracle has a cloud-based offering: http://www.oracle.com/us/solutions/cloud/managed-cloud-services/apps-on-demand/overview/index.html
    Sage: http://www.sagecloud.ie/
    and in the open source-based ERP arena Openbravo: http://wiki.openbravo.com/wiki/Openbravo_On_Demand_FAQ

    Of these Openbravo quotes $49 per user, so there will also be healthy price competition!

    1. tinm@n says:

      That may be so, but where are these services based?

      Besides latency, people and their trust issues always make them prefer a face they know, an office they can walk into.

      Though price-wise, they could lower it subscribers scale up

    2. RMaulana says:

      The Openbravo service is hosted at Stratus5 which is not a Zimbabwean company. If there are issues with the service you will struggle to get redress. The Sage offering is not a true ERP solution. It’s different modules of the Sage solution stack offered as standalone products. It’s also not hosted in Zimbabwe either. The Oracle offering is vague. Sorry, just saying. I am after all trying to push Cumulus :-).

      1. Rob Watson says:

        Sage erp x3 is hosted in Zimbabwe and there is already a live site running from the Zimbabwean data centre hosting the sage erp x3 cloud offering. Sage erp x3 has been recognized in gartners magic quadrant for erp systems for medium and large companies

  4. Ezra says:

    Having used SAP Business One i would say if your business is big enough to warrant the use of SAP Business One then the $125 cost would not really collapse your business. The ERP features on SAP will add so much value to the SMEs so this would be a worthy investment for any serious SME in Zimbabwe.

  5. Magneto says:

    $125 per month for a system like SAP with all the modules uhhmmmm… I would not even think about it! I am sold in. Zimbos need a paradigm shift away from running “tuckshop” or “spazza” businesses. That’s why most local entities struggle to access bank funding or attract investors – No Accountability! As for the Internet question Web-Based systems do not require much dedicated bandwidth. Its better to go for the capped services with web-based services as ISPs tend to open up your bandwidth and manage you on the usage only. An Africom dongle or uMAX will get you in and out of most Internet hosted applications in a breeze… my 2cents

  6. jizani says:

    Can someone gimme an example of SME’s in Zim besides internet cafes & restaurants not that l m being funny or s-thing i m kinda puzzled

    1. tinm@n says:

      furniture manufacturers, atisans, market gardeners, small-scale livestock producers, other smallscale farmers, bottlestore owners, general suppliers & dealers, motor-machanics & car-service people, small-scale clothing industry retailers…

      just walk around town. If its not a bank or an international company or a well established big company, its SME

      1. jizani says:

        Thanks tinm@ , i know my Q was’nt clear i meant, the ones who might need this kind of Cloude based SAP business solution

        1. tinm@n says:

          I thought that’s what I was answering. Any SME that can afford and can build a viable case for such services will need this.

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