Technology is evolving a new model that can finally be easily replicated in Africa without huge cost inputs. If there is any form of infrastructural growth that we in Ghana and most of sub-Saharan Africa can be deemed to be virtually in tandem with the developed world, it is in the realm of mobile telephony communication.
This presents to us more of an opportunity than a challenge. With wide GSM networks spread across large stretches of the landscape, and with the presence of 3G technology in most urban and metropolitan settlements, there is ubiquity of service on the mobile landscape. Compare that to the level of cut-throat competition in the mobile telephony space – Ghana for example has just ushered a new player into an already voraciously competitive sphere, and the result will be increased services for the consumer and better prices.
This means that the internet is now more accessible to a wider audience. Children and teens up to 18 are avid users of the internet, as are the 20 – 45 year old demographic space. Consider that most African populations in these groups constitute larger proportions of the population, it means that the benefits to be derived from the use of mobile internet and telephony services are enormous. There is a huge market waiting and wanting to be milked of all kinds of opportunities and ideas.
While the ground is fertile, it is however important to carefully determine which ideas will suit businesses better in progressing leaner models of management while deriving the higher benefits of lower costs of operations, logistics and procurement of hardware and software services that could be used to expand market share, reduce cost footprint and add to corporate versatility at the same time.
Let’s look at the data: in Ghana for example, mobile penetration is 80%. Facebook users in Ghana are over 1.1 million users, representing about 5% of the population. While this does not sound like a large figure, data shows that most Facebook users are actually accessing their accounts through mobile devices. The use of smarter mobile devices are rising among the 20 – 45 year age bracket, represented by an increasing patronage of smartphones by local players like RLG, and foreign mammoths like Nokia and Samsung.
What the challenge is for most businesses is how to harness all that into competitive advantage. How will that be possible? Most businesses need to begin to develop a mobile strategy. Statistics show that mobile device sales now top those of desktops worldwide. This, coupled with the fact that internet is now accessible via mobile networks, means that there are increased opportunities for the use of mobile devices for productive purposes.
What needs to be determined now is how an enterprise or corporate level mobile strategy can make use of hand held devices in the execution of necessary production and operational duties that were traditionally the realm of desktop computers.
Businesses that have the most to gain from such a strategy are those that handle a wide range of transactional data that requires movement of field staff, such as mobile banking, distributors, mobile marketers, and any kind of business that utilizes workers in the field.
This can be used to ensure quick decision making from the field and the transmission of real time information for the use of marketing, accounting, reconciliation or inventory management or supply. Where the vacuum is, however, is in finding tools that can work perfectly with these mobile devices to send the information back and forth in a timely manner. This can be done through the use of software interfaces for mobile devices that could be specially designed or procured.
In recent times, it is also more commonplace to have software that have mobile enabled interfaces just to handle some of these tasks. Management therefore, in devising strategy for the next wave of technology should first of all make decisions based on the kind of devices they procure in terms of hardware, software and services.
Hardware device considerations must be clearly aligned in any procurement drive to include tablets which run operating systems that enable specialized software to be designed for their companies. This can be easily done through the acquisition of tablets that run on open-sourced software such as android. They tend to be cheaper, and increasingly cheaper components and processors have driven costs to the point where some of them are comparative in price to mobile phones whiles providing almost the functionality of full desktops. Such hardware can also be synchronized with corporate email tools and note taking tools for instance and integrated with mobile phones running android. This presents to most companies and individuals a seamless transition of devices. The advantage is that now there are some of these software services are accessible even on desktops via browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.
Software acquisitions should take cognizance of the fact that there are more devices that rely on enterprise and corporate applications or enhance them. In procuring software therefore, some of the terms of reference or system requirements should be that they have connectivity with mobile device data transfer either through APIs, or their ability to consume data formats sent through mobile devices to traditional desktops. Your software vendors or systems analysts should provide management decisions based on some of these parameters.
Most software delivery models now include what is popularly termed software as a service, or SAAS. It is essential now that some of these software services utilize mobile devices such as tablets and phones to synchronize data to and from servers and cloud systems. This is very important especially for organizations that run multiple operations in different locations spread over wide geographical areas.
Going mobile is a simple step therefore, but the challenges are in finding the right mix that does not only depict a tech-savvy business institution, but also a forward looking institution that is intent on maximizing economies of scale and being pragmatic in terms of cost cutting and operational efficiency.