Robin Beetge, Managing Director ReadSoft Southern Africa: Improving the yield from the green fields of Southern Africa's business

If I had to use one word to sum up the Southern African region right now it would be optimism. It is incredibly encouraging to see the growth in the region, driven by an expanding economy, and this is translating into a market with strong international reach and growing opportunities within corporates and governments alike. As a leading global provider of software for back office process automation, ReadSoft already has a presence in more than seventy countries, on six continents with seventeen subsidiaries, but it too has turned its attention to Southern Africa as a key market for development. It has worked with partners for more than eight years in the region, but in 2012 ReadSoft Southern Africa was officially incorporated with new offices located in Johannesburg.

ReadSoft's strategic goal for the region is to improve businesses by streamlining their processes, and centralizing financial systems providing faster, better managed and more compliant systems. This gives companies the agility they seek to transform optimism into real business growth, and in the process reduce costs.

ReadSoft is setting about achieving this in three ways: by introducing automated document handling; enabling more efficient outsourcing of business processes; and for large corporates, rolling out integrated document process and workflow software for SAP.

Many regional customers have already signed up and are using ReadSoft software to automate financial processes and other document driven processes, including many large organizations integrating ReadSoft with their SAP systems. About 50 per cent of current customers are government or parastatals, like Gauteng Provincial Administration, Namibian Planning Commission and the research organisation Statistics SA. Other clients are active in financial services, FMCG, and petrochemical industries. Paper and pulp company Sappi also recently installed ReadSoft solutions which now automatically manages almost 90 per cent of their finance processes.

It is all about bridging the gap between finance and procurement. A ReadSoft team will normally be able to screen an organisation in a matter of hours, which is generally enough for us to come up with initial recommendations for them. Then again, in some cases it has been a matter of just an hour-long conversation with a CFO to identify a common issue which we can be swiftly rectified, either through technology implementation or, in some cases a simple change in the organisation.

When working with larger organizations seeking to add value to prior investment in SAP and 'accounts payable' ReadSoft will concentrate initially on South African customers. But we recognize that there are a number of key markets in and outside of Southern Africa, where we can provide specific solutions at low risk to the companies concerned. In these cases we see the installation of software generating massive added value for the customer, so ReadSoft will be looking to roll out its software and services on a broader regional basis.

There are challenges though, especially amongst the small and medium-sized enterprises, where we see a strong need for education still. At ReadSoft we have done a lot of benchmarking, utilising business best practices and implementation insights from more than 5,000 companies globally to be able to quickly define 'world-class' performance. We see a growing interest from companies we speak to about these benchmarks and what it will take to enable a business to operate on equal terms with global leaders in their field. In Southern Africa, the biggest issue we commonly see is organisations still operating in a very disparate manner. Where invoicing is sent to a variety of satellite offices and packs of documents literally move around the country, or even the continent. That just does not work if you want a business to be competitive, and it is resulting in a drive by many companies to address the problem by developing shared service centres, and that is something that ReadSoft has global experience with and products that can be part of that solution.

The other great challenge remains that of fast, reliable internet for web-based applications. There is no doubt that the Cloud will be as, if not more transformative for businesses in Southern Africa as it has in other areas of the globe. There still remain big local bottlenecks around bandwidth, and this means it is going to be harder to move to the 'Cloud' in the short term. But if government gets behind the drive towards cloud, many organisations will be able to sidestep the frustrations they currently face when delivering new back office projects, as well as avoiding the strain of juggling internal resources to find capital expenditure for new on premise solutions which even in the best of business cases can take time.

We see Africa as a 'green field' economy. There is huge potential for growth and development and we are eager to be involved in supporting Southern African businesses explode onto a wider international business stage.

In the picture: Robin Beetge, Managing Director ReadSoft Southern Africa, Alex van Groningen, Director CFO South Africa and Melle Eijckelhoff, Director CFO South Africa.

If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, please get in touch with us to arrange an interview. Please contact Jurriën Morsch on [email protected].