Ict@innovation: Free your IT Business in Africa/2-1
Module 2.1 The OpenWorld Ltd Experience edit
Registered Name: OPENWORLD LTD
Staff Strength: 7
Type of business: FOSS development and Training
OPENWORLD LTD is community-centric company, which offers a wide range of professional and technical services using exclusively open source technologies. The company's vision is to be a market leader in the provision and support of open source to various public and private enterprises, government and SMEs in Kenya and across the wider East African region. The company was founded in 2004 and currently employs 7 people.
OPENWORLD LTD started from the owner's savings and prior investments. The company's capital base has grown over time through revenue generated from consultancy, open source software solutions development and sales, and training in various open source courses. Any profits realized are re-injected into the company to spin innovation, improve development and delivery of services to clients. OpenWorld's strategic move was to start small, encourage partnerships and outsource non-core services related to some aspects of the company's operations. By adopting a service-model for the company, capital expenditure was brought down as well.
OpenWorld's survival and an attempt to gain a competitive advantage in doing business around open source software reflect the realities of the local market in Kenya. Some of these challenges come the way of any company, be it open source or proprietary. Building a client base has meant thinking out of the box and going beyond traditional practices of “waiting for customers to come to you”.
On the infrastructure, the company had to bid to get its current office space. In getting necessary registration and company documents, contracting a law firm and an accountant to assist with the processes was a must for OpenWorld Ltd.
Hiring employees also has meant defining the company culture from scratch as well as training people and inculcating the company's vision of open source and openness.
FOSS Business Focus edit
By offering open source training to their clients, conducting regular workshops, taking part in invited talks, etc. the company's representatives managed to inform other companies and executives who were not familiar with open source about the benefits of switching to open source. In the event, they are also able to advertise the services and products they offer.
OpenWorld offers various service to its clientèle in the following categories: Consultancy, Training, Product development and Support. The latter three (described by the company directors as Trainings, Systems and Applications) bring in roughly equal shares of revenue for OpenWorld Ltd.
The company deploys and supports over 11 corporate solutions, ranging from servers (mail, list, file, print, database, etc.) to Firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems and web hosting. For all its solutions, OpenWorld adopts open source software and the open source model. Most of the applications are web-based and are built on the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl, Python or PHP) or the Zope application Server framework. The company's platform infrastructure is always based on UNIX or Linux. But to serve the needs of their clients, OpenWorld Ltd strategy is to go for integrated services as most of their clients are looking for total solutions or one-stop-shops.
The company's products and services are marketed through direct sales, advertising in local media, referrals from other clients, awareness campaigns, and training and through local events (e.g. ITC fairs).
Lessons learned edit
There might be other companies in and outside Kenya who may be offering the same services and products as OpenWorld. However, what has worked well for the company over the years, as the company director puts it, is “Trying the untested, and always be ready to do things differently in terms of responding to client requests".
One thing the company is passionate about and would like to do in the distant future is localization of its products. The managing director commented that “OPENWORLD is not working on any localization for now. I will not rule it out in the future but it's not an activity within our immediate plans. However, I am passionate about localizing in my local language and if time allows, I may engage in such an activity at my own time”.