Rajesh Jain in his blog talks about the need to create a software distribution network for SMEs (Small and Medium Entreprises) in India, to make it viable to sell affordable software packages to address the needs of SMEs and wean them away from piracy or non-consumption.
Rajesh lists a bunch of requirements for a software distribution network:
- Make software available at affordable price-points to SMEs
- Ensure regular updates and licence control so that piracy is difficult and has few benefits
- Have a national network with local presence in the neighbourhood to ensure appropriate support
- Work with existing computer distributors and resellers to bundle a base software platform with hardware
- Provide a managed software infrastructure – with auto-updates, and without the need for on-site IT staff
- Ensure regular end-user training and education seminars on how to effectively use computers
- Provide a reference enterprise IT architecture for SMEs – with a starting point and an upgrade path over time
- Show how the IT investments can pay back via improved profitability and business growth
- Create demo points in neighbourhoods so SMEs can see the software
- Get software developers to build software on the common platform relevant for specialised verticals
- Generate and publicise case studies from the early adopters
Here's an idea. Start by building a network riding on engineering/technical colleges across the country. Each college becomes a distributor covering its town/city.
- Can quickly set up a fairly good developer pool for product development and upgrades using available student talent, with a central group providing direction (along the lines of the open-source model).
- A national network with local presence in the neighbourhood can quickly be set up.
- Colleges will provide the manpower (One class of students each semester) to support local customers
- Colleges have the infrastructure and resources to run regular training sessions
- Students are available to do all this at low cost, they work practically for free with this being part of their course work like their project or summer internship.
- The colleges benefit by adding value to their students and getting a share of revenues
- Students who graduate become evangelists for the software when they go out into the world
- Students learn how to work in team and provide high quality service levels for support - will increases overall quality consciousness in the country over time
- Students learn on the job how a business works - they not only provide support, but also market the products to potential customers and get a feel for understanding customer needs and selling to them.
- Can become a breeding ground for entrepreneurs - graduating students can set up businesses to continue doing the same thing as the no.of customers grows.
The challenges (not in any particular order):
- Doing a deal with multiple institutions who will each have their own view of it. No incentive for the staff in the institutions to get involved. It's more work for them, with not much more compensation.
- Training the students to be competent in both domain knowledge and customer relationships.
- Quality control issues. Service levels to customers must be consistently good in terms of both quick response and minimal downtime.
- Perception issues: Need to overcome customers' perceptions that students won't be good enough to provide quality support.
I think it could be made to work and is worth fleshing out in more detail. What do others think?