Kathy Gibson at SUSEcon, Prague – In just six years, SUSE has gone from just about nowhere to being an enterprise platform leader in South Africa – and the future is bright as companies under pressure to transform look to the open source platform.

Matthew Lee, sale director: sub-Saharan Africa at SUSE, says the company has clinched key deals in companies across the petroleum, manufacturing, financial services, banking, retail, government and state-owned enterprise sectors.

SUSE is best known for its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) operating system, but Lee points out that the company has been adding products and services to fill out the platform and offer customers some compelling solutions across the stack.

“SUSE has four pillars: Linux, management, cloud and storage,” he explains. “Linux still brings in the lion’s share of our revenue – but the newer pillars are growing fast.”

There has been a huge amount of interest in the software-defined storage offering, SUSE Enterprise Storage. “Storage is going to be a big growth area and we are investing skills and resources in it.”

South African and African customers are largely still testing the water when it comes to widespread cloud of digital adoption, Lee adds.

“They know that costs are a big issue,” he says. “But they know they have to transform themselves if they want to remain relevant.

“Just as every enterprise needs to have an open source strategy, everyone has to have a transformation plan in their business as well.”

This involves looking at their infrastructure, their applications, their mobile strategy, how their applications work with APIs and more.

“The main challenge is that enterprises are not used to agility,” Lee believes. “They have to break the mould of what they are used to, of their infrastructure and IT working the way it has always worked.

“To create agile thinking, companies have to move into the agile space.”

Surveys indicate that a large percentage of line of business operations are already starting to look outside of IT for their applications, and many are signing up with public cloud providers.

“This is a reality now,” Lee stresses. “We are having these conversations with customers, and talking about how to move them on the next stage of their journey.”

Africa is ready to make the move, he adds. “I am very happy at the rate at which Africa is embracing open source.

“The days when we had to motivate on the basis of cost are gone. In fact, many African customers today have an open source-first strategy.”

All of SUSE’s products and services are delivered via the channel. “We leverage and reward the channel heavily for transacting and providing services.”

The local channel has grown substantially and the model is currently being formalised, he adds.

“We don’t want to compete with our partners: instead we put the programmes and processes in place for them to be successful.”

SUSE works on a two-tier channel model, so distributors are an important route to market.

As customer needs change, along with technology advances, channel partners are changing too, Lee adds.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, the type of partners we work with is changing and expanding. For instance, we have partners coming on board now who specialise in Internet of Things and SAP HANA.”

Alliance partners are also critical, and SUSE has close relationships with the likes of SAP, other independent software vendors (ISVs) and hardware partners.

The partnership with SAP has been particularly successful, Lee says. “Because we are part of the co-innovation lab in South Africa, our customers and partners can build and test an idea in the lab before taking it to market.

Skills development plays a big role in both the channel and end user markets. “I believe in skills, and we are providing an effective programme to help people get skilled.”

Training, which is available via training partners and online, targets end user customers as well as channel partners.

In addition, a new programme aims to get Linux training and certification into the universities.

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