Must our CEO’s and govt leaders re-train for Africa’s digital future?

By: Amma Gyampo

There has been much discussion within the Tech community about the apparent lack of fundamental understanding by our government and corporate leaders of how to implement IT projects effectively. To address this seeming gap, one begins to wonder – should re-training come as a possible remedial tool?

When I say “re-train” I am not talking about a traditional Doctorate or MBA. I am referring to a conscious effort to understand the new digital business revolution and the underlying catalysts and trends already transforming a multitude of disciplines.

Having managed global product development and launch programmes for BlackBerry and Public Sector IT projects, the following 4 things are what I’ve observed as necessary to underpin any successful IT project implementation:

– Business Processes

– Customer Requirements 

– User Experience

– Strategic Champions

If the technology does not understand the Business Process Engineering and flows, the project is doomed. The Customer Requirements must be captured and understood in immense detail before the Tech is built or configured to meet that suite of needs.

User Experience should be integral to the product design and service delivery. There are many examples of clunky solutions that have been rolled out and offered to customers.  Resolution at first point of contact, minimal steps in processing customer requests for service and iterative improvements are just some of the things organisational leaders and company’s should be measuring routinely for each of their business processes.

We can all recall occasions where a local company or organisation claims they have an “online” form for your “convenience”.  Only to go online and realise the form needs to be printed out and filled manually. To boot, the form will most likely be repetitive in its nature, very poorly designed and unnecessarily lengthy. This becomes in an inconvenient, time-wasting task instead of the desired end-to-end, process-driven customer experience that technology and innovation should in-fact deliver. For new products, profits come from broad adoption, but customer education and experience should be paramount; considered as an essential piece of go-to-market plans.

Strategic Champions must be the organisational, political, legal, academic or business leaders who carry significant respect and goodwill, as well as a fundamental appreciation of what I see each day: a movement with an army of innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, creative artists and data scientists in the Tech ecosystem devouring new skills and developing models that could change Africa.

Africa’s top entrepreneurs, and most innovative companies, understand Business Process, Customer Requirements, User Experience and the need to be at the heart of everything they do.

I believe there is scope for a significant proportion of our Boards, more traditional corporates, government and public sector leaders to re-condition themselves and revolutionise the way they do things if they are going to make the broadest impact on all their stakeholder groups. Politics is always going to be a labyrinth of self-interest and hidden deals, but our continent is positioned for change and we can do so much more with far less than traditional rules used to permit. Many leaders claim they are up to date but only pay lip service to Tech and Innovation.

“A (person in) power cannot acquire greater reputation than by discovering new rules and methods.”  – Machiavelli

Specialist Skills Development & Outsourcing

Through my work, training and consulting on skills development projects, internship programmes and knowing how difficult it is to find and retain talent with the right attitude and skillset, I have a soft spot for entrepreneurs and businesses in this space. Andela, the poster child of tech, African venture funding and skills development, prides itself on the fact that it is more difficult for applicants to get accepted into its programme than to get into Harvard. The company’s raison d’etre is to create opportunities for young software developers through highly selective recruitment and training.  Once their developers are fully trained, Andela matches them to work projects with global clients including Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and Tech start-ups globally.

Developers In Vogue, Soronko Solutions and Mint Innovations are also blazing the trail inculcating coding and robotics skills training specifically targeted at women and children – the future of Africa.

Aggregation and APIs

Aggregators essentially bring everything together in one place for the convenience of the buyer or end user. The trend of aggregation cannot be illustrated any better than by the proliferation of tech aggregators disrupting the financial services space. Fintech such as Ghana’s Zeepay, not to mention the colossus that is MFS Africa, the largest mobile money inter-operability hub in Africa, that connects mobile network operators across the continent through a single user interface or APIs (Application Programming Interface). At its core, their technology enables more people and businesses to send money across borders at greatly reduced cost. The company processes transactions between telco operators, banks, businesses, utility providers and employers to deliver payment services.

The elegance of these aggregated solutions stems from the immense network of partnerships and co-dependencies that offer a well-designed, end-to-end, business process-driven and convenient customer experience.

Big Data                                              

The lack of reliable data in Africa adversely affects investment, government policy making, business planning and growth.  Gro Intelligence’s software specialises in collating and updating agriculture data from sources, including satellite imagery, government, business and farming reports and weather forecasts. Gro Intelligence’s users are able to access up to the minute reports, for example, on weather, prices, demand and crop yields.

The global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, runs a big data project with Wonderbag, the social-enterprise that offers women in underdeveloped communities an insulation solution which reduces their exposure to harmful fumes, as well as the time women and girls spend gathering firewood. The company deploys dedicated teams to capture targeted data on this segment of consumers, their household, spending, lifestlye and health data.

It would be remiss of me not to mention other Top African innovators providing datasets and samples to feed the voracious demand for data in Agriculture, such as Ghana’s Farmerline which digitizes farmer maps and profiles and, also, We Farm, which offers a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform for smallholder farmers.

Data has the power to boost business, inform strategy, track relevant trends and improve product/service development and ultimately customer experience.

By the way, have you read Kuenyehia on Entrepreneurship by Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia? I highly recommend that you do. It is a book packed full of local context and anecdotes. Being an entrepreneur or business leader is tough anywhere in the world, but it is quite frankly, chaotic and baffling doing this in Africa. All the more reason for you to read this book. You will relate and learn from some of the many real-life examples shared. In this marketplace, we learn as we go. There is no blueprint or manual for doing business in Africa. We can only share and learn from each other.

Lastly, to corporate and government leaders

Adopt solutions that have been rolled out and proven on the continent by our best young minds. We are here already. Re-inventing the wheel and implementing half-baked tech solutions will only undermine our collective progress. Embracing APIs and strategic partnerships with aggregators, big data businesses and agencies should be at the very least, the starting point of strategic innovation strategy and decision making.  Designing public policy and services, as well as consumer or business solutions around these emergent concepts will deliver the change we all want to see while making sense to everyone’s bottom line.

GB&F Magazine

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