Alpha7 kicks off ‘COO-as-a-Service’ offering for SMEs
By Keith Liu January 22, 2015
- Selection of cloud-based applications from 50 enterprise solution partners
- Plans to spin it off as a different entity in 1H 2015
SINGAPORE-based tech consultancy startup Alpha7 has launched a cloud-based computing platform to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) deal with the increasingly complex and costly nature of running a business in Asia Pacific.
Called Chief Operating Officer-as-a-Service (COOaaS), it offers SMEs a number of technology solutions to manage or even outsource their end-to-end business operations.
This includes back-end processes like business intelligence and inventory management, shared services like human resource (HR) and finance, and even front-end activities like customer relationship management (CRM), sales tracking and marketing.
“It’s a solution and services platform that mixes and matches the people, processes and technologies with the priorities, constraints and budgets within an organisation,” Alpha7 founder and chief executive officer Lynette Seah told a media briefing on Jan 20.
A former vice-president at cloud computing pioneer Salesforce.com, Seah believes that many SMEs struggle to find a balance when it comes to IT adoption. “If they only need a bicycle, you don’t need to get a car,” she quipped.
Having worked with 16 clients throughout the past year on strategy and business processes (including Singapore Exchange-listed Boardroom and medical services provider Parklane Medical), Seah said there have been numerous requests for Alpha7 to provide an end-to-end solution that aligns the areas of finance, IT and operations.
This was especially crucial for companies where the majority of decisions are made by an individual business owner.
As such, the platform is aimed at providing the expertise of an outsourced ‘chief financial information operations officer,’ a role coined by Seah to describe the multifaceted requirements to effectively run a small and medium-sized business in today’s technology-driven, global environment.
COOaaS acts as a central hub that links clients to different selections of cloud-based applications from at least 50 enterprise solution partners, including business software makers NetSuite and YGL; CRM software providers Salesforce.com and SugarCRM.com; as well as accounting software vendors Xero and Intuit QuickBooks.
Clients can pay on an outsourced, part-time, retainer or project basis.
While it is possible for the SMEs to sign up with these vendors directly, Seah believes the platform helps to identify the right mix of solutions among the plethora of choices.
“There are plenty of applications out there addressing niche issues, but how do you align it across industries, let alone functions? Looking for partners and collaborating with them is key to COOaaS,” she said.
The platform will group together applications and services to match budget requirements, functionality needs, and industry segments. It is being targeted at around 30 to 35 different verticals.
Still, not all SMEs are ready for cloud-based services. According to Seah, clients do get concerned over data confidentiality and security issues.
In response, Alpha7 would cite a wide variety of successful cases to allay their fears. These days, Seah said she even avoids using the word ‘cloud’ in her conversations, and instead focuses on ‘new technology adoption.’
Venture capitalist and Alpha7 board advisor Anurag Srivastava believes the barriers to such adoption have come down significantly.
“The whole world of SMEs is changing because technology solutions are easy to buy, and easy to deploy, and you can buy products from anywhere,” he said.
Market forces will also shift SMEs towards new technology, as “there’s a huge trend where … your clients want you to be digital,” he added.
For Singapore, this is an important development as 99% of all enterprises in the city state are SMEs, contributing to nearly half of the national GDP (gross domestic product). This is according to government standards board SPRING Singapore, which provides SMEs with financial assistance and incentives to raise their productivity.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA), K.H. Lam, the director of the SME Committee at the Singapore Business Federation and a former SPRING Singapore director, said such a service would be useful as “most of the SMEs would tend to outsource some of the HR, finance, IT services … as they don’t have proper systems.”
However, he said he believes the role of the COO goes beyond finance, accounting or operations. They play a crucial role in the company’s strategy development as well, and confidentiality is of the utmost importance.
This could potentially pose a challenge for advisory consultancies like Alpha7, should they serve clients who are competitors in the same industry.
The company said such concerns haven’t surfaced, as their consultants operate within the customer’s site.
In the meantime, Seah wants to take COOaaS to the next level and expand to countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Australia.
Her goal is to eventually spin off COOaaS as a separate entity within the first half of 2015, with a target to raise Series A funding of between US$1.1 to US$2.3 million.
Alpha7 said the investment would be used to fund product development, marketing and recruitment. No word, however, on whether it would hire a real COO in the process.
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