Utilities can Leverage Technology as a Competitive Edge

Utility companies are virtual monopolies in the sectors that they operate, however the stifling regulatory oversight coupled with fierce attacks from startup based innovation requires rethinking of how customers perceive and receive value.

Technology can provide a catalyst for utility companies to improve their service, defend their positions and develop new business models to remain relevant in the future.

read Utility Services can get a lot more smarter with these Technology hacks for more ….

The Telecom Wars in Uganda – Round 5 – 2015 and Beyond

The telecom wars in Uganda just got a new lease in life, however looking forward the next round will claim some casualties. Why do I call this Round 5?

  1. Round 1 – Oct 21, 1998: MTN comes into Uganda, after a monopoly by Celtel (now Airtel) where simcards fell to the equivalent of US$30 with a monthly service fee of $10
  2. Round 2 – 2007 to 2009: Warid and Orange launch in Uganda, the Value Added Service Provider (VAS) boom, thanks to James Oloo Onyango for pointing this out
  3. Round 3 – 2009 to 2012: Mobile Money wars
  4. Round 4 – 2013 and 2014: Airtel acquires Warid telecom, Smart Telecom & Vodafone join the fray, MTN launches voice bundles

At this point each of the telcom companies operating in Uganda have voice bundles, data and internet plans plus mobile money platforms. With international calling plans falling towards zero, currently even cheaper than local network calls, social media/VOIP/Messaging applications cannibalizing SMS revenues, the battle for survival is ever-fierce with the any mis-step proving fatal.

Looking into my crystal ball, the next round is going to be fought along the following avenues:

  1. Mobile Money Partnerships – with banks, utilities, and other commercial players to entrench mobile money transfer deeper into the economics of the country.
  2. Service Partnerships – can be seen around data & internet services, so that the telecos are not reduced to dumb pipes. The agricultural, health and education sectors will see a new push for value added services via SMS in order to keep the users captive on a specific network.
  3. Personalized Bundles – combined voice, data and SMS bundles are not yet the rage, but they will gain prominence
  4. Family Bundles – with families having more than one phone, I see a push towards shared bundles to reduce the costs of new customer acquisition & increasing opportunity cost of switching. The impact of this tactic will be further complicated by the multi-sim phones that most consumers have.
  5. Smart device leasing plans – one I have called for, complicated by lack of a national ID, but I see success for whoever nails a working version of business model first.
  6. Business Customers: Majority of the telecom usage is personal, however business customers provide an interesting selling point with a knock on effect for smart devices, family or business plans and shared bundles. Most users are forced to use a service or network convenient to the bread winner or trend setter.
  7. Quality of Service: after all that is said and done, when the costs are almost at par, the quality of service for a specific provider will become a critical deciding factor both for business and personal use.

With all this opportunity also comes great peril, from the following:

  1. Niche players – ISPs for Internet and data as the capabilities for deploying metro-wide WIFI accelerate, informal money transfer services especially under Islamic banking
  2. Regulatory pitfalls and taxes – the impact of the recent 10% excise duty on mobile money fees is yet to be assessed
  3. Mobile Virtual Network Operators – are they friend or are they foe? Partner or competition if running atop of your infrastructure?
  4. Market saturation with falling revenues per customer – the telcos need to innovate to stay atop of the fast moving market that is to render them dumb pipes and their services commodity
  5. Number Portability – when this comes, it will disrupt the players as it abstracts the underlying providers.

How do you see the telecoms responding to these threats, please share in the comments below ….

UPDATE: Round 2 includes VAS providers who saw exponential growth in revenues at this time using SMS based solutions

Agriculture in Uganda – Where Next?

On this eve of the 52nd Independence anniversary of the Republic of Uganda, I look at the future of my motherland and wonder where the one big boost will come from.

Over the last 2 years my eyes have been opened to the potential for agriculture to improve the livelihoods of Ugandans in particular, Africa in general and emerging economies or Global south in general. While its well accepted in all circles that this is the case, there are a few key areas where emphasis is not placed which I see as critical success factors, and others which are not.

Markets (important): James Wire poses an interesting question, COMESA vs EU: What market for Uganda’s products?  Due to the infrastructure challenges that we face in Uganda, the country cannot compete favorably without economies of scale (important) and agriculture as a business attitude (important) While it is important to look externally, without a strong local foundation for best practices and support, external markets still remain a pipe dream

Economies of Scale (important): These provide means of leveraging the abundant fertile land, predictable rain fall (yes 4 months a year is good enough), cheap labor (if you can use it) to improve the profitability of agribusiness. Why do I focus on profitability and not cost reduction, this is because the costs can only come down to a certain point which is not low enough to compete with other countries. Unfortunately a lot of donor based programs supporting agriculture focus on small holder farmers, who will never produce enough to feed the nation, or even export

Agriculture as a business attitude (important): The bulk of agriculture productions by the elderly and rural folk without options whose only take on agriculture to survive by meeting only their basic needs. This means that there is a shortage of innovation in business models. record keeping and core practices to ensure that agriculture is profitable in the small, leading to increased investments and focus. On the other hand, there is a growing segment of the middle class who are looking to agriculture to compliment income from formal employment, however this suffered from being relegated to a side activity without the focus needed to make it successful.

Government buy-in and support (not-important): I know I am going to get shot for this one, but there is no role for government to play over and above providing basic infrastructure, and like in Uganda policies are already available. If there is sufficient evidence that agriculture as a business is profitable, private sector has always found ways of staying ahead of government.

Focus Production Areas (important): Agriculture focused on feeding the nation is the most profitable, given that there is always a ready market for produce, within the population. Hence my thinking is to focus on staples and livestock as a core foundation for the industry in Uganda.

Infrastructure (important): Transport is especially important for getting produce to markets, however if a business approach is taken, aspects like post harvest handling and storage can provide a mitigating element to infrastructure challenges

Financing (important): I say bankers are shrewd business people, show them potential and they will flock to it like bees to honey. Its not up to bankers to prove that farmers are good clients, but rather for farmers to prove to bankers that they are worthwhile investments.

Women’s Day Reflections 2014 Version

Today March 8, 2014, International Women’s day, a day of celebration but most of all reflection on the role of women in our lives continuing from Who is a “True African” Woman?

On internal reflection, I accept that I have been blessed to meet many a strong woman in my life to-date, who have unwittingly, unknowingly influenced my life at specific inflexion points leaving me with no choice but to abide & achieve so as not to disappoint them.

When growing up, my mother of course was there, kind and unflinching, but tough in her own way tag teaming us with my maternal grandmother, a Reverand’s wife who gave her life to the Lord at 10, married at 14, had her first child at 24 (10 years later like Sarah), but who left this earth in 1996 the year she celebrated 60 years of marriage. My mother is a multi-faceted iron willed lady whose decisions are based in principle, and who ran a household with 10 kids at one time, all who were well fed and wet to school. Even up to-today, I still wonder how she managed to achieve what she did.

In Buganda, the sisters of my father, Ssenga, have the responsibility of grooming the boys, teaching them how to survive the treacherous pathways of life. Mine is special in that we are friends, colleagues, co-conspirators, partners in crime.

I always wanted to have lots of elder sisters so that they would dote on me, but having younger ones gives you a different perspective as a big brother. They are grown and provide counsel from their viewpoint of things which I appreciate and always take into account.

Professionally, I have to say that by far-and-large worked with some of most impressive women in all circles; starting from my first manager who while non-technical helped feed the flames of my technology curiosity, through colleagues that I recruited & mentored in the software shop that I practiced & horned my craft, via my NGO experience program director, through my former General Manager pair not forgetting my current regional manager who spurs me along day-to-day to scale greater heights. I will not forget those ladies I interact and work at clients & in the local and global tech community.

This post would not be complete without mentioning my friends whom I have met in my journey through life outside work and family. They totally prove the adage, educate a woman educate a nation each in their own unique way.

Obviously in closing there is my dear wife, who by and large is an extension of me creating a larger than life persona, tag-team, as we attempt to raise a family in the modern era while striving to preserve values in which we are brought up in.

A special thanks & best wishes to all the mothers out there, starting with my own (but of course), keep up the good fight because those you fight for appreciate even if we do not get the chance to tell you everyday.

To all those women who are out there, I wish you the best today, and every other day in the year, for you are the blood and spirit with which the world flows.

Tech Tip: Fixing Camera Troubles on Mac

When you use your Mac camera across multiple applications, Go-To-Meeting, Skype, Fuse, Facetime etc, you will find that it tends to not work at times and only a reboot can fix that. Well it happens because probably one of the applications did not release the camera. To fix follow the steps below:

1. Open a Terminal  (yes that black window where you can type magic commands). You can go to the Search in the top-right hand corner and type Terminal

2. Type the command below: sudo killall VDCAssistant

3. You will need to enter your password

Obviously you will ask, do I have to remember this command all the time, not really. Next time you open the terminal, click the up arrow on your keyboard and the command will appear.

Hope this helps somebody else as it does me everyday

Saying Farewell to Madiba outside Houghton Estate, Johannesburg

The world is awash in grief and sorrow over the death of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. I had the opportunity to go to his home in Houghton, Johannesburg along with other mourners. There was a lot of media coverage and people from all walks of life, even from all parts of the world. While there is a general melancholy all over the country due to his passing, there is also an air of celebration of his life and what he stood for.

My little eye caught a few sights and sounds ….

Local wrapper

Local wrapper

Traditional Wear

Traditional Wear

Full view all decked out

Full view all decked out

Candles, cards and flowers outside the home

Candles, cards and flowers outside the home

Vehicle fully decked out in ANC colors

Vehicle fully decked out in ANC colors

Hare Krishna Tribute

Hare Krishna Tribute

Many people came to pay their respects

Many people came to pay their respects

A Final Prayer

May Madiba’s soul rest in eternal peace, and may the merciful Lord give his family & friends strength to go through this trying time and all of us the wisdom to learn from the path he walked.

Amen

Service Provider Dilema – How to Choose and Live with Your Choice

The dilema and rants of “Service Provider” quality of support and services is one we go through day by day. This morning I awoke to a rant by a Tweep on the costs of certain bank services, in this case US$2.5 (UGX 6,500) for an over the counter withdrawal. I smiled because I has been hit with a similar charge for a statement on my account at US$4.7 (UGX 12,000) per month (irrespective) of the number of transactions.

So then I started thinking, yes its going to get me into trouble, how does a consumer (non-technical) but who knows what they want live with service providers. Personally I follow a couple of rules of thumb:

  1. Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
    • I cannot change the service provider however, though I can get them to listen to me
    • The service is mass market so is not optimized for my particular convenience and usage, so I may need to modify some of my behavior to suit my needs
    • If the service is not working for me I can change it, but I must be willing to pay the price for the change
  2. If you make your bed, you need to sleep in it
    • Once you select a service provider, you may need to adjust to their shortcomings in order to make the best usage of their style of service delivery
    • The cost of changing service providers is usually high, so either stick to the one you have or pay it and move on
  3. Research your service providers before committing to them
    • The reality is you never have enough time, but if you do focus on the basic service you need and your special needs (those on which you cannot compromise)
    • Most times the service provider you choose will be based on a referral or positive feedback so accept that you will not know enough when you jump in
    • Read social media on experiences (spend the time now, and you will know better later)
  4. Use multiple service providers
    • This may not always be possible hence  #1, #2 and #3 above
    • If its possible however, you need to determine what each provider is best at focus on that, and mitigate where they are weak. I use 3 different Telecom providers for mobile phone & data services, because over the three plans I am totally covered for voice and data needs.
  5. All service providers cost the same
    • Even with different service offerings, always check the exceptions which is where you will get hit the most (#3 – Research)
    • Henry Ford recommended creating a product or service that caters for 80% of the populations basic needs, leaving 5-10% who have special needs and are willing to pay extra to get it…. Pick a service where you fall in the 80% and it will work for you most of the time
  6. The best tool for the job is the one you know how to use well
    • In the new consumer driven information age, this is true, learn to use your service providers as tools, at times they change to you, other times you change to suit them

How do you manage the relationships with your service providers? How do you deal with their shortcomings?

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