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Digitalisation in Africa

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The increased access to mobile devices and information through the digitalisation has led to some revolutionary thinking in business, and what better place to start than Africa. Access to information by larger numbers of consumers has led to the reviewing of older business models.

Interacting with consumers is a two way process – the business wishing to access their consumers, can do so readily now with the collection of Big Data – the ability to quickly assess customer needs, movements and activities, and therefore tailor their products or services to better meet those needs.

The other side of the coin is that consumers – through the use of social media – can very quickly and easily make or break established brand reputations. Online customers, more often than not, make decisions based on other customer reviews of the products – Amazon is a great example of this. Company inefficiencies are highlighted much quicker online than any other way.

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This means that companies and governments need to start thinking of the “bottom up” approach. They need to consider the needs of the growing market of smart consumers and the public. Inclusivity is currently the name of the game – and a new business opportunity has been identified – that is the “non-consumption” opportunity.

For example – if you are in the financial services sector, you can’t do business excluding a huge group of consumers because they are at the bottom of the pyramid. There are products and services that will address that market, and these need to be explored to ensure a growing market. Not doing so leads to you being left behind in the digital world.

What am I talking about? I am talking about using technology not just as an enabler to provide existing business models, but also to assess the existing and future market and innovate to grow the business. This innovation is what will create the successful companies and countries of the future.

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In the old days, market research was carried out by snail mail or companies sending representatives out on the street to sample a representative proportion of their chosen market. The digital world has changed this. Studies of social network activities have shown that consumers are less protective of their personal information, and more inclined to share good or bad experiences with not only friends and family, but the public.

This creates an opportunity for companies to harvest accurate information about the needs of their consumers. Governments and service providers are better able to understand the needs at grass roots level and tailor their services accordingly. A quick glance at any of the social networks will show that many companies seek to establish an online presence.

However, it is only the innovative companies that engage with and ask questions of their “followers” and amend their products accordingly. From Facebook , we all know that Malawians are a vociferous people – quick to air their grievances and petition for changes to legislation as well as able to drive trends in fashion and music for example.

Some people may say that Facebook users are in a minority in Africa. I fully agree, but following the recent introduction of free Facebook data services in many African and South American developing countries, together with the increased availability of affordable smartphones to the general public, it would be foolhardy for any organisation to ignore the impact on their businesses and services.

Technology that exists today is enabling rural connectivity and bringing power to people that have been until now – off the grid. Government, people and businesses have to adapt to change, to review their processes and how they engage markets and customers.

At the same time, governments have to apply policy and regulation to create enabling environments conducive to sustainable business. Inclusivity and collaboration are key words in this activity. The time has come when listening and adapting from the bottom up will become more important than the parochial top down approach that currently exists. Bottoms up to digitalisation!

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