Zoho has opened its flagship African office in Cape Town in a move to bolster its sub-Saharan operations. The Indian multinational technology company, which offers a full range of ERP products, sees an increasing number of companies in sub-Saharan Africa looking for user-friendly and affordable business software applications.\nTraditionally larger, more expensive software vendors haven\u2019t paid as much attention to Africa as they have to other regions because the market doesn\u2019t contribute much to their bottom line, said Hyther Nizam, president for Middle East and Africa at Zoho. \u201cWe are very bullish about this market. This is why we\u2019ve made the commitment to set up an office, to hire local people and to upskill our partners and customers.\u201d\nWe talked to Nizam and Andrew Bourne, regional manager for Africa at Zoho, to find how they\u2019ll be tailoring their solutions for African customers, what their 'transnational localism' approach means, and to hear more about what they\u2019ll be doing to find the right tech talent.\n\u00a0CIO Africa: Why Cape Town?\nNizam: Africa is actually quite similar to India. In India, we have what we call \u2018hub\n Zoho\n\nHyther Nizam is president for Middle East and Africa at Zoho\n\n\noffices\u2019 located in more urban, densely populated cities, like Cape Town. And then we have what we call \u2018spoke offices\u2019 in more remote locations. These offices aim to serve more rural communities where people don\u2019t have access to the same resources as those living in larger cities. Today, close to 10% of our workforce is working from our rural offices so we see value in being where no one else is. We have a similar strategy of opening various hub-and-spoke offices in mind for urban and rural businesses across Africa.\nBourne: And where we don\u2019t have offices in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, we do have a network of partners. We appoint IT partners who have a good understanding of the local business environment and of Zoho, to sell our products. So we\u2019ve actually got a lot of people on the ground across sub-Saharan Africa. The Cape Town office was opened to support these partners, to boost sales and give us a presence in the region and to provide a space where our partners can come to train their customers.\nCIO Africa: Your growth strategy is all about 'transnational localism'. What does this mean?\nNizam: Zoho has been around for about 25 years. For a long time, our business has been concentrated in India. When we expand to different markets, we want to send people to these new regions who have been with the company for a long time and who will carry the Zoho culture to the customers we work with in these new markets. Transnational localism is about being \u2018routed\u2019 and \u2018connected\u2019. So we are routed in that we have a local team, who understand the market, serving our local customers. But, we also need to be transnational, which means that we need to watch what\u2019s happening in other parts of the world and then use our successes in other markets to succeed in new markets.\nCIO Africa: What challenges do you see in Africa for your target SME market?\nNizam: What we have seen is that most business owners in Africa can\u2019t afford expensive software. It\u2019s simply inaccessible to them.\nCIO Africa: Does the range of apps you offer in Africa differ from what you offer elsewhere? \nNizam: All of the apps that we offer to our global customers are available for the African market. But we have localised these apps so that it\u2019s easier for local businesses to use our products to do business. For example, we\u2019ve got local payment gateway integration, local bank integration and local VAT support.\nBourne: Zoho is highly customisable. It\u2019s actually why I chose it for the business I ran\n Zoho\n\nAndrew Bourne is regional manager for Africa at Zoho.\n\n\nbefore I joined Zoho. So you can easily mould it for a South African business environment. We are in talks with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to integrate Zoho Books, our online accounting software, with SARS eFiling, South Africa\u2019s online tax submission platform. We\u2019re also working to incorporate our software with a local courier service so that businesses can use it to improve their logistics. When someone purchases a product, there\u2019s an automated process that issues a tracking number so that the customer can keep tabs on their purchase and that arranges for product collection and delivery. \u00a0\u00a0\nCIO Africa: How about pricing \u2014are you offering anything different to the local market?\nBourne: We are one of only a few international tech companies who fix pricing in a region\u2019s local currency. This is a huge benefit to local customers because they don\u2019t have to worry about exchange rate fluctuations.\nCIO Africa: Does Zoho intend to hire locally and do you have specific plans to upskill local talent?\nNizam: We want to be rooted in this region so our mandate is to hire locally. We already have 10 people in the Cape Town office, with the plan to double this in the coming months. In terms of upskilling, we have two strategies \u2014 upskilling our partners and upskilling young people. For our partners, the new Cape Town office has a training facility that can cater for up to 40 people. And we\u2019re also keen to \u2018catch them young\u2019. We\u2019re already running a free upskilling programme in partnership with the UCT (University of Cape Town) Developer Society, which students can join to get a certification for popular Zoho apps.