Giving small business the scale to succeed

1 Feb 2006

IT was not long ago that the large business applications firms barely bothered with SMEs but concentrated instead on the major public and private sector organisations whose deployments sometimes ran into hundreds if not thousands of seats. This has all changed. As the enterprise market became saturated, the likes of Oracle turned their attention to the burgeoning SME opportunity, tailoring its products to the needs of this market.

Oracle E-Business Special Edition, JD Edwards Enterprise One, JD Edwards World and Oracle Database 10g Standard Edition One are all evidence of its growing interest in the SME.

As its SME business grew, the company realised that SMEs do not have the same resources and skills levels as larger firms so it needed to make its technology as low maintenance as possible.

“Our software has become what we call self-managing in that it doesn’t need as much management as it would have done eight or 10 years ago. That means you don’t need to invest in expensive resources. So for example a partner of ours can put in a solution and until the next upgrade in two or three years’ time nobody needs to interact with it. That’s the way technology has progressed,” says Paraic Kennedy, sales manager for mid-market and channels director at Oracle Ireland (pictured).

Another key selling point is reliability. “If the solution doesn’t work week in week out, it actually holds up our customers’ businesses. But they don’t necessarily want to have the resources themselves to fix it. They want to be able to do without having to talk to the vendor on a weekly basis. So when an SME looks at it, those are the elements they need to make sure are covered.”

As well as developing its own products, Oracle also sells into the SME market though a network of independent software vendor (ISV) partners, whose products are built on Oracle technology.

“We find it a very good marriage,” says Kennedy. “They understand the nuances of each market. We provide the technology to take away any concerns there may be regarding the scalability of the technology as their clients grow.”

Ocuco, an ISV in the healthcare area, has become an important Oracle partner in recent years. The Blanchardstown firm specialises in paperless patient management systems for high street opticians and pharmacists, private ophthalmology clinics and eye hospitals. Underpinning its systems is an Oracle database, where the crown jewels — the patient records — are securely held.

Another fast-growing ISV is Wellington Computer Systems, which has developed a software package called Locus, which, sitting again on an Oracle database, enables Credit Unions to provide a range of advanced services to their members, including ATM, electronic funds transfer and bill payment.

Galway-based Traventec, which specialises in software systems for the travel industry, is another important Oracle partner. A recent customer acquisition was Aer Arann, which is running its commercial, financial and operations departments on Oracle databases deployed by Traventec.

In 2006, service industries such as retail will be a big focus for ISV activity, believes Kennedy, with technology such as point of sale and merchandising systems taking centre stage.

Business intelligence will also become increasingly important as service-based businesses look for better ways to measure their performance and that of their employees. “If you have an engineering practice, say, you’ll want to measure how much revenue each client is bringing in, your profitability per employee and so on. And to do that you need intelligence,” says Kennedy.

The demand for business intelligence by SMEs is often driven by the rapid growth of these firms in recent years. “As businesses have grown, owner-managers are one step removed from the coal face. You used to deal with customers on a day-to-day basis but not anymore. Your reliance on information, technology and reporting increases when that happens.”

Kennedy believes that the rapid growth of SMEs has worked in Oracle’s favour in another way too: these businesses need a technology partner that can grow with them and help them achieve the scale they need to survive against bigger competitors.

“These days, SMEs need to get big or get out and Oracle can help them stay in the race.”

By Brian Skelly