Archive for the ‘innovation’ Category

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 ….

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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.

Uganda National ID – Alternate Strategy?

I have been thinking – some would say that is a dangerous thing, well yes I have been thinking, just what an afternoon with no distractions can do for you. Well there is a general problem in my motherland Uganda, there is no National ID. Oh yes, there is no way of uniquely identifying each and every person in the country, even tracking the babies born or the deaths. Sad but true, how has this affected the populace, to some its a great thing not to be known but to others, its a great source of discomfort since everything is just too hard to do.

What is not helping are headlines like Government suspends national ID project again and with a budget now growing to the hundreds of millions of dollars, a question pops into my head. Are there no other options to get to the same place, are there no other ways? In the words of Benjamin Franklin “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”

So again with the Snowden revelations, and potential for mis-use, there is one fact that is evident, with no National ID, the progress we are making going forward is going to be very very painful. In the software development world, there is the concept of “technical debt”, which has very high interest rates in terms of cost of addition of new feature, slowing down progress as you move along.

The high-level strategies revolve around the following themes:

  1. Frugal Innovation – how to use very little to make alot of progress
  2. Customer Value – focus on ensuring that the 75% who see the value are immediately served, to act as a tipping point for the rest
  3. Relevance – ensuring that the implementation is relevant in today’s “environment”
  4. Accuracy and Trust – the data within the system must be trusted from the word go, it should be easy to spot and very inconsistencies

So here it is:

  1. Target population – above 18 years of age
  2. Implementing body: a government parastatal & accompanying bill which is setup to manage the process of issuing the National ID numbers as the single source of truth whose mandate is to provide the lowest common denominator for citizen registration
  3. Who gets National ID numbers first? The element of trust is very important, but the need is to start with as little as possible to continuously refine over time, so the starting issuance of National ID numbers has to start from those people who are known, by different systems so that their identities can easily be verified which include:
    • Passport
    • National Social Security Fund
    • Tax Identification Number
    • Driving License
    • Voter Registration
  4. Registration of Births and Deaths: this is a critical component of the National ID system as it identifies which IDs are no-longer in use
  5. Regional Offices to ensure that people applying for IDs do not have to travel to Kampala to do it
  6. Technology/Organization:
    • Provide a means of checking the status of application by visiting authorized centers which include regional offices, SMS requests (responses to be sent to the number registered on the application)
    • Access to online verification services for authorized usage
  7. Critical Success Factor: uptake which can only be driven by the network effect of being used by multiple players within the private and public sector as the lowest common denominator for accessing services

What do you think? Where are the gaps that I have not thought through? What other alternatives are there?

Mara Foundation Business Hackathon Pre-Launch – Startup Reality Check

This was the theme of my presentation at the January 25 pre-launch event for the Business Hackathon event organized by the Mara Foundation (http://www.mara-foundation.org/) and Mara Launch Pad (http://www.mara-foundation.org/entrepreneurship/mara-launchpad.html).

This would be my second hackathon-style event after the Startup Weekend that I had participated in April 2012 (http://wp.me/pXn3W-5v) where I pitched an idea that had been cooking, baking and squirming in my head for a coupla years. When Nigel Ball (@nigel_ball) asked me which side I wanted to be on, I took the opportunity to sit at the end of the table to mentor.

So back to the prelaunch event, assembled were the following (in the order that they presented):

  1. Reinier Battenberg, @batje, Director Mountbatten and Open Source Evangelist, Drupal, mapping et al
  2. James Makumbi, @jmakumbi, Software Developer and Founder of Billable Hours Uganda, a cloud based law firm management solution, and one of the first Ugandan developers on Stack Exchange (my inspiration to join and become active)
  3. Simon Kaheru, @skaheru, Director Business Convergence SMS Media is one of Uganda’s first enterprenurs in the tech scene through SMS Media and a though leader in the mobile technology space
  4. Solomon King, @solomonking, Web Solutions Provider and Founder of Fundibots, a non profit to encourage passionate African children (and adults) grow and experiment with machines, gadgets and technology – do I hear soldering, garage workshops and Sky net development in basements.
  5. Christine Ampaire, @axtine831, Founding Team member MafutaGo, GirlGeek, Geekprenur
  6. Davis Musinguzi, @davisthedoc, Health IT Developer and Enterprenur, Mentor for the WinSenga team that won the Microsoft Imagine Cup in 2012

The first presentation (below) was a reality check on what the enterprenurs are to expect before the event, and after to provide context with regard to what opportunities are out there and what to take advantage of.

 

 

Additional lessons that were given by the other panelists are summarized below:

  1. You do not have to start a business with a product, you can provide services to customers by packaging and supporting existing software solutions 
  2. Tech startups do not have to be about software and hardware, they can provide laptop sleeves, covers, and other accessories using local materials
  3. Look at alternate revenue streams by leveraging the brand and buzz created by your core product or services
  4. Do not be afraid to pivot your business, from Eric Ries of the Lean Startup: Pivot or Reboot (http://to.pbs.org/WaCA9w) or Pivot Do not Jump to a new vision (http://bit.ly/TAFZ36)
  5. Not all the people you pitch to will have the same vision as you do, listen to them, do not give up, learn from them
  6. Leverage and use the simplest technology you can
  7. Use other people’s money, 100% of $1,000 is way less and more risky than 10% of $25,000 investment – watch the numbers, allow investors to let you  grow to sustainable levels
  8. Develop credibility – register a legal entity, track the total cost of ownership to client (licenses, hardware, warranty and support costs), have a person who watches the money (revenue and costs)
  9. You need teams of people to support your vision, you cannot do it alone
  10. Complete your education and take opportunities that arise when they do, those papers “may” help you get to the next level
  11. Get out of the office to the street and into the lives of the people who use your product – listen to them and learn from them

What are your opinions, what did we miss? Leave a comment

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