East Africa’s small businesses reap from Kenya’s ICT innovations

Having an information technology management system that performs duties like accounting, payroll and employee management has not been possible for small businesses across East Africa because of high cost involved.
A trader sells shoes at Gikomba market in Nairobi, capital of Kenya. Small and medium traders can now afford open source softwares which enable them perform business processes like accounti
A trader sells shoes at Gikomba market in Nairobi, capital of Kenya. Small and medium traders can now afford open source softwares which enable them perform business processes like accounti

Having an information technology management system that performs duties like accounting, payroll and employee management has not been possible for small businesses across East Africa because of high cost involved.

Buying the enterprise software to perform such business processes would usually set back a small business several thousand dollars, money that such businesses do not usually afford.

But new application innovations built around open source software are already making it possible for businesses to afford applications that can perform such business processes, promising to accelerate the rate of automation of small businesses.

Geoffrey Kamau runs a company called OpenWorld. In his words, the company simply offers small businesses an opportunity to discard use of paper in business processes like accounting and payroll management.

“For companies with less than 30 employees, we offer a package of enterprise solutions for 7.5 U.S. dollars every month,” he told Xinhua in Nairobi lat week.

This amount affords a company several business management tools that will enable the business manage employees, payroll, accounts, online sales, tax and point of sales.

Under the platform known as OpenBusiness that runs on cloud, small business do not have to invest in anything else other than the monthly subscription.

Such solutions would previously cost businesses several thousand dollars. Benard Owuor, the founder of the NikoHapa Ventures, has come up with an innovation that enables small businesses manage their consumer royalty schemes.

Usually, it is big retailers in Kenya like Uchumi, Nakumatt, Naivas and Tuskys stores that are able to invest in technology that enables them to manage customer royalty reward scheme.

In normal practices, barbershops within the estates usually have a book where customers register and make a tick every time they come for service. Then after ten visits, the eleventh is given for free for example.

But the new innovation enables even barbershops to run customer royalty reward schemes in an automated way offering an opportunity even for the smallest of the business to use automate, a move encouraged by the government as it helps in the efforts to formalise the informal economy.

“The only investment a business will make it to register with us is to pay a nominal fee,” said Owour.

The innovators were speaking to Xinhua on Wednesday during the annual AITEC East Africa ICT Summit that opened in Kenya on Wednesday, themed “Smart cities. Smart societies. Smart enterprises.”

This year’s event has special focus on open software developers and young innovators that are using ICT to provide solutions to every day challenges.

Morris Mbesta, the Chairman of the Innovators Society of Kenya has developed a system that lets users control the security of their premises from any part of the world as long as there is mobile telephone network. The system can close doors, switch the lights and alert the premises user once there is an intruder.

Kenya’s Minister for Information and Communication Samuel Poghisio said the ministry is drafting a first ever map of ways in which Open Source Software (OSS), which is frequently free, can be used to drive regional economic development.

“The increasing shift to customizable open source software is enabling small businesses to get software that caters to their direct business needs, while building a greater need for sensitization on the endless possibilities the software provides,” said Evans Ikua of ICT@Innovation, a project that is training ICT innovators.

He said Linux operating system software, readily downloadable for free, is among the software that has in the last year been taken up by small businesses that find the costs of software licences often unreachable.

“Most small businesses are’boot strappers’with limited funding and using simple technology, making open source software the best bet for their businesses to thrive under tough conditions,” said Sean Moroney, Chairman of AITEC.

The demand for open source specialists in the region is also rising and has resulted in the formation of ICT@Innovation, a program by Free Open Software Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) and Germany’s GIZ a capacity building program, which supports small and medium information technology enterprises and aims to encourage the growth of African ICT industries.

The organisation has trained 60 trainers across East West and Southern Africa, resulting in over 3,000 open source specialists in the region 500 of which are in Kenya.

 

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