A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. ― Winston Churchill
Small and Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs), the growth engine of India, are on the threshold of a tremendous opportunity. Globalization of trade and the rapid proliferation of computing and communication technologies are affording them a platform to expand their reach to national and global markets and compete head-to-head with global players. But on the flip side, those SMBs that do not recognize and capitalize on this wave quickly are likely to be swept away by the stiff global competition. If SMBs are to successfully counter global competition in their own backyard and elsewhere, they need to adopt software technology on a large scale, enabling them to run their businesses efficiently and effectively. But, few SMBs have the financial muscle or the technical know-how necessary to implement customized software solutions. Therefore, the majority of 13 million SMBs would count on standard business application software that requires minimum upfront investment and ongoing maintenance, to fuel their growth. Such software is distinct from the software deployed in large corporations and I refer to this as ‘Small Business Application Software (SBAS)’ to distinguish it from large enterprise application software.
Business application software (SBAS) such as accounting software, ERP, CRM etc., offers multiple benefits to SMBs –
- As shown by research, SBAS significantly enhances the internal productivity of SMBs as well as their ability to manage relationships with vendors and customers, leading to superior firm performance.
- It forces SMBs to adopt standard processes and best practices, moving them rapidly up the quality and value curve.
- Most important of all, by streamlining day-to-day operations, it not only frees up the entrepreneur’s time for strategic planning but also assists her with the tools needed to make informed strategic decisions.
The question now arises – How can Indian SMBs get the right fuel for their growth? This is where a vibrant Indian software product industry plays a critical role. Indian SMBs cannot realize productivity and performance gains from software that is designed for developed markets. This is because the business environment in India (and other emerging markets) is substantially different from that of developed markets. It is volatile, with frequent regulatory changes, and rife with institutional and infrastructural challenges. For instance, there were 340 updates to Indian tax laws last year. That’s more than one tax law update every business day! Therefore, SMBs need software products that can buffer them from such volatility and help overcome the challenges associated with operating in this unique and dynamic environment. This is possible only when products are designed specifically for the Indian SMBs – and this is best done by a strong indigenous software product industry.
Indian software product companies are better positioned than foreign firms to support the Indian SMB market. This is because,
- They have lower cost structures which allow them to meet the stringent price-performance expectation of Indian SMBs.
- Further, because of their familiarity with the operating environment, they can build effective channels to drive software awareness and adoption among Indian SMBs- remember that Indian SMBs are more like enterprise customers than individual buyers in that they expect suppliers to sell to them.
In summary, there is a symbiotic relationship between SMB growth and a robust software product industry in India. SMBs need the software product industry to power the next phase of their growth and make them globally competitive. At the same time, the Indian software product industry, having missed out on the individual productivity and communication software wave, can leverage the large SMB market in India to establish itself as a global leader in the SBAS space. In other words, software product industry is the fuel for the SMB engine and the SMB engine can drive the Indian software product industry towards SBAS leadership. By moving in lockstep and moving quickly, India can create a competitive SMB sector and a vibrant software product industry.