As we enter another year of uncertainty, distrust and even hopelessness, I remain the eternal optimist and believe that if we all apply ourselves to a few simple tenets – Africa can rise above the fear and become a powerhouse, or at least a force to be reckoned with.
Some thoughts on how we can all be smart.
Life seems so complicated, and yet when look at what really works in Arica, its the simple things. Taking rural people back to subsistance farming and planting vegetables on pavements in urban areas as community gardens is just one example that encourages us to share and serve local needs.
Businesses all over the world are battling with the notion of really understanding customer behaviours and serving customers on their terms. In Africa, we’ve tended to take traditional business models and apply them globally expecting consumers to fit in on our terms. This is changing and companies that keep applying rigid traditional business models will struggle in Africa. African adoption of mobile has only been as slow as the provisioning of the infrastructure. Yet the simple text message revolutionised communication across Africa. Suddenly people who were out of touch for weeks at a time could stay informed of their loved ones whereabouts and needs. This is the opportunity, there are so many unmet needs at so many levels.
As much as text messages revolutionised communications, the smart phone has the potential to revolutionise business, particularly B2C in Africa.
The smart phone is doing for Africa what PC’s and even laptops failed to do. It’s putting computing power into the hands of the consumer rapidly. Analysts thought that consumers would migrate from early generation cell phones, to feature phones to smart phones. The trend is to skip feature phones and migrate directly to smart phones with the rate of smart phone adoption exceeding expectations. Now business can engage with customers, across Africa on the their terms, at a moment in time. If you read “their” as on business’ terms, dong – you’re out. Even more so than in the 1st world, African customers will be engaged on African customer terms. Take DStv as an example. Traditional subscription terms would be a monthly commitment for a year on a debit order. In Africa, customers can consume one game of soccer at a time, if thats their choice.
This is where modernisation meets simplification. Allowing the customer to do one thing that meets their need at that moment in time. After all, isn’t that what apps do? They provide choice, convenience and a simple function to meet an immediate need. It’s an outside-in perspective.
A is for being agile
The mistake many businesses have made with mobile apps is they’ve taken functions, inside their business and tried to appify them, make them mobile for the promise of reach, rather than for simple, modern utility . Mobile banking sites are a classic example of this. They’re more difficult to navigate and use than the online banking alternatives. This is because banks think inside-out.
Being agile is about getting out there where the customer operates and understanding that moment-in-time-opportunity to simply serve. It’s also about being able to change and adapt. Chances are you won’t get it right the first ten times. And there’s always opportunity to be smarter and to make it simpler for the customer, to really serve their need.
As we saw with #feesmustfall. It’s not about politics. The Royalist agenda’s of Universities are under threat. It’s about what is fair and sustainable. Planet, before people, before profit! Old styles of competition are increasingly under threat. And since they’ve always been less relevant in Africa, its time to be more locally relevant. Not only from a regional perspective but mainly from a customer perspective. Customers in rural areas function differently to those in urban areas. Apps such as money for jam, however are relevant even in an urban context. If someone has a need and there is someone around, willing to meet that need, they can be connected and serviced for a small fee. This is outside-in thinking.
It’s about the smallest, most frequent need first. Corporates try to find the biggest need and try to serve them in a “one size fits all” way, inside-out. These big, over-engineered “solutions” are under huge pressure to change, be more agile and be sustainable. Today’s banking systems are not sustainable. They are bloated, complicated and expensive. The pressure for these to “radicalise” is huge, as is this pressure on any business that is older than 25 years. Very few have truly modernised or become agile. They always start with what they have, rather than with what the modern customer wants and needs. Their legacy debt is drowning them and the increasing economic pressure being felt globally will bring them to change fast or die.
Time for new beginnings and new opportunities. Seize the day!
Apps present the opportunity for individuals to find a niche that serves millions as much as businesses have that opportunity. Many businesses have wasted their opportunities and exploited the masses unfairly. Don’t get me started on the mobile operators. But if we are smart, we can use digital resources for sustainable growth, health and prosperity.
Africa’s time is now! May the opportunities you seize exceed your wildest dreams and expectations in 2016.