Posts Tagged ‘kampala’

Future of Software Development Industry In Uganda – 2015 Edition

These are my thoughts on the future of the software development industry in Uganda, after the official announcement of ThoughtWorks closure of the Kampala office (http://info.thoughtworks.com/Kampala-office.html).

I would like to approach this first of all by analyzing the contribution of ThoughtWorks to the Ugandan technology space, then what I see the future as.

ThoughtWorks contribution in two aspects – showing that its possible to run a pure-play software development business operation out of Kampala using Ugandan based talent, and the second providing an injection of new DNA into the local technology community. The exposure to international level processes, practices and projects have helped grow the experience of the local software development talent.

Local communities have been started & supported, included but not limited to Agile Uganda, Geek Night, Girl Geek Dinners (yay! Women in Tech), Rails Girls and Ruby Fridays. The OpenMRS community run a number of events to help grow its reach, while the Technology Radar discussions provided a continuous look into the present and future of computing. The contributions leave the local technology space different from three years ago.

What does the future look like? A tough question, and my answer is biased by over 15 years experience writing software in Uganda, my overbearing optimism, and my newly rekindled foray back into software development.

The future is bright, but can only be harnessed if the business and technology communities work hand in hand to grow the local technology capability. In this, a concerted effort to build a local technology practice with buyers pushing for a local component on all contracts leveraging open source. A good example is the Ministry of Health selection of OpenMRS (http://openmrs.org) as the EMR of choice for electronic medical records throughout the country with aggregate reporting done in DHIS2. There are lots of opportunities in leveraging technology in the agriculture and education sectors which remain new frontiers to be conquered.

I would further call upon the government entities and parastatals KCCA, URA, UMEME, NWSC to leverage OpenData approaches to provide the infrastructure for young innovators to build and monetize customer centric products and services.

Like Ghandi said, be the change you want to be in the world in this case “Coding in Uganda, for Ugandans, by Ugandans”.

Gakyali Mabaga (it is just the beginning)

Mobile Money will not die by 2020 but Evolve to Survive

Nicholas Kamazi has an interesting perspective in his article, 5 Reasons Mobile Money Is Going To Die By 2020, which I fundamentally disagree with. While he caters for challenges with Mobile Money (MM), he does not take into account who uses MM and why, which are the reasons for the pervasive nature. Rebutting each reason for the death of MM:

  1. Death of Feature phones:
    • Battery life: smartphones are no where near the battery life usage of feature phones, and in areas where there is little availability of electricity to charge the phones, this becomes a deal breaker
    • Cost: I do not see $35 dollar smartphones becoming that popular
    • Rugged: Feature phones can take alot of abuse, falls, drops, plus general wear and tear which current age smartphones cannot match
  2. Digital Currency: Africa in general and Uganda in particular, are cash economies. MM just allows people to move money from one place to another very quickly.
  3. Unnecessary Charges:
    • The cost of sending MM is usually less than transportation and time for moving to acutally deliver the money without the risk.
    • Most transactions are between UGX 50,000 to UGX 150,000 (US$20 to US$60) usually under urgent situations
    • Urgency of transfer – most transactions happen with a need for urgency for example school fees, social functions, emergencies of different nature. Which can happen at any time of day or night, until there is an option which is that flexible MM is here to stay
  4. Capital Investment:
    • MM is a defensive option for telecoms as their core business is getting eroded, and will evolve in order to remain relevant.
    • I do not see any startup having the size, and capabilities to compete with the telecoms in this market, Uganda in particular and Africa in general.
    • Even in Asia the agents are the key, however managing them is not an easy process so the incumbents will remain in play for the next 5-10 years.
  5. Business environment shift: the telecoms are here to stay, and MM will evolve along with the business environment.

Mobile Money is here to stay as it is:

  • Pervasive with 20,000+ agents and counting
  • With the telecoms opening up to 3rd parties for utility payments, diaspora remittances, merchant transactions
  • Rural-urban social dynamics which form the bulk of MM remittances within a country
  • Infrastructure challenges such as roads, railways which also provide a conducive environment for MM as an option for money transfer.

Your thoughts?

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

Samsung Galaxy Pocket Launch in Uganda – Thoughts, Coverage and Opinion

Well there I was for another product launch, this time for the Samsung Galaxy Pocket launch, for those who do not know, its one of the youngsters of the Galaxy line of phones and tablets, and hyped it has been through my social media channel, Twitter, where I got the invite. The best thing for me was that I was to meet 3 different potential partners for a work focused market assessment study I was doing, talk about mixing business and pleasure.

As is my tradition, I was there ahead of time, why so early in the morning, I have to drop off my kids to school before the traffic picks up at 6:40am, so by 7:00am I am either at my desk slaving away (I love what I do), or waiting for any morning appointments to show up. So back to the launch,  the background was a relentless video advert reminding us that the phone provides access to over 400,000 Android apps from Google Appstore, plus a faster internet connection, and great look. With all the hustle and bustle I am hearing rumors that we may actually get a chance to play with the phones and test them out.

The lounge was well done up, in Samsung blue, thankfully I was decked out in the same so we blended. I took a few photos, using the webcam of the 17″ HP Envy 3D laptop I was lugging around (now that is a review for another day) since I had no camera. While the photos were not award winning, they pretty much captured the mood for the morning.

As we waited I had a chance to catch up with Joyce Tonda, Managing Editor of Enterprise Technology magazine, whom I had not seen for quite some time. Then came another media opportunity, in walked Ernest Bazanye, one of the few Ugandan writers I admire, very witty satirical and a social critic. I asked him what he was doing at the launch, and what his expectations were, well the video is http://youtu.be/BnY1dmLDlMI

Once that interview was done the official ceremonies began with MC, Crystal Newman (https://twitter.com/CrystalANewman) intended to keep the event young, hip and energetic. The welcome note was by the head of Marketing based out of Nairobi, then a quick word by the Uganda Country Manager. This is where it became interesting, some users had got the phone a few days before and were to share their experiences:

  1. Richard Zulu (http://twitter.com/richardzulu) – enterprenur, business person  – he was happy with the battery life, available disk space, and response time
  2. Duke Danny (https://twitter.com/dukedanny4)  – chef, geek, mobile application developer – said it was snappy, did not have to charge it all the time, and could test his apps
  3. Karungi Terry (https://twitter.com/Kashweeti) – student – downloaded many learning apps, used it for entertainment, accessing social media and down right loved it
  4. Navio (https://twitter.com/naviomusic) – musician and entertainer – runs all his email, schedules contacts in one place

There were a few challenges, and winners of phones for best photo, most tweets, best rendition of a song with Navio. All in all it was an interesting launch

Obviously you did not expect me to stop there, now what is my take!! This is an interesting battle for supremacy for the smartphone bragging rights, and also for growth especially in Africa and the rest of the developing world. While only few can afford the high end smartphones, Iphone, Samsung Galaxy SII and SIII (okay I want that one), HTC One X, Motorola Droids (hmm have not heard of one in a while), the real mover and shaker for the adoption is in the $100 range which was dominated by Nokia Symbian feature phones, but is not being relentlessly barraged by the Huwaeii, ZTE and other Chinese/Asian manufacturers. The Samsung Pocket, is a baby in the family but in my opinion is a great starting point for users to upgrade to the higher end smartphones. As with all smartphones, battery life, touch issues (we have lots of dust, and dirt with little access to cleaning agents), are key.

However growing the ecosystem to add value will increase uptake, with Android the operating system and platform may be available, but useful applications in the local context are key to pushing adoption and usage. That is the one area, Samsung and Google need to cooperate with local developers, government, NGOs to develop a value proposition for acquiring and using the phones not forgetting pushing the local telecom network operators to push down data costs to make the application usage feasible.

What are your thoughts?

Mapping Adventures Day 1 – Introduction and Open Street Map

Mapping has grown by leaps and bounds, from the introduction of Google Maps, what was once the ode of cartographers and GIS experts is now available to the common folk like me 🙂

So wanting to learn how to map is one thing, getting the chance to do it is another, until well Fruits of Thought (http://www.fruitsofthought.org/) organized an exercise to update the information in Kabalagala, a local suburb of Kampala the capital city of Uganda.

The agenda was really simple, an introduction to mapping (and what we were going to do), the we were going to go out and collect the data, return for lunch after which we would upload the data we have collected to Open Street Map (OSM – http://www.openstreetmap.org).

The introduction to mapping was a simple affair, the concepts introduced where:

  •  Trace – GPS coordinates for a place, when entering these into OSM the type of feature found would also need to be described
  •  Track – the route taken to a point. The value of this was adding information on tracks, and side roads.

The GPS data collection devices were eTrex Venture HC Garminand GPS Receivers (https://buy.garmin.com/shop/shop.do?pID=8707&ra=true) and android smart phones with Open Streetmap Tracker  a simplified app that captures the GPS coordinates of a single location at a time.

Well then off we were down to the dirty collecting trace points and grabbing data for a few routes. The team I was in was on a mission and within 90 minutes we had a 4km route and 40 points of data. That was the easy part; next step was lunch then uploading to OSM.

First we had to create accounts which was pretty straight forward since it also supports OpenID so I used my Google Account, yes I am a fanboy. OSM requires a GPS Exchange format (gpx) file which was easily downloaded from the GPS receiver unit we were using.

An initial challenge we had was with Internet connectivity as for some reason it was very slow that evening so the upload of a 600K file took forever and failed later, but finally we got it in. Once the file was uploaded we could access the traces at http://bit.ly/KK15ql to start adding more information. This turned out as easy as drag a building and facility type and place it over the trace point, give it a name and details … A baby could do it in their sleep, isn’t that what we all say when we learn something?

Well after all is said and done we need to praise Google Maps for leading the charge, and so did this blogger “In Praise of Google Maps” (http://oleb.net/blog/2012/06/in-praise-of-google-maps/)

MeetMTN – MTN Uganda Executive Management Town Hall Meeting

Well 2012 is upon us, and the incubmbent US President Barack Obama, has started his battle for a second term in office, so that he can complete the change that he promised the American people. The battle for his first term was epic, first against Ms. Hillary Clinton, which intially changed from a David vs Goliath story to a battle of titans that he won. The one against the Republican was a massacre as Mr. John Mccain shot himself in the foot and head one campaign after another.

Why all this about President Obama, well one of his campaign tactics was town hall style meetings in different towns, and constitencies in order to connect with the people in the ground, and hear what they have to say directly.

Teleport straight to Uganda the Pearl of Africa, home to great beauty among other things, as well as to multi-national corporations which are running a large chunk of the core economy activities. Well these corporations have been facing a backlash with regard to service delivery over the last few years (which was terrible), the wrath of most was directed to UMEME the national power distributor due to the incessant power shortages which sort of brought the economy to its knees in 2011. At the height of the backlash, UMEME started to reach out to the populace to inform and educate the general public who did not understand their roles, challenges and strategies for attacking the rampant power problem. One of these events was a Tea Party for social media enthusiasts – bloggers and tweeps covered here https://ssmusoke.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/umeme-tea-party-quick-and-dirty-review-and-perspective/.

Well MTN Uganda, the largest telco by market share, numbers and revenues, has also reached out using a similar strategy this time called MeetMTN, where tweeps and bloggers were invited to meet the MTN executive management to discuss issues pertaining to service delivery and what is being done to work around the known issues.

Here is a summary of the major issues raised during the meeting, and responses from MTN executives who attended:

1. Provision of an API for Mobile Money and development of a partner ecosystem – information on when an API will be provided for mobile money as the largest provider and one with the largest reach. From the recently completed startup weekend, 12 of the 13 startup ideas depend on Mobile Money for payments. However no details of the availability of an API for 3rd parties were given citing a need not to commit to predefined dates. .The API is coming soon

2. Staff Attrition – there are rumours in the grapevine that there is a higher than normal attrition rate of talent over the last quarter, and whether this is one of the root causes of the recent outages and lowered quality of service delivery. The CEO mentioned that MTN leverages its regional strengths, but focuses on developing the local talent within the countries that MTN operates.

3. Service Health Dashboard – whether its possible to provide a public dashboard on the health of different services, inspired by Google approach. Also whether it was possible to spread information on service slowdowns and outages through different channels, Facebook/Twitter/Website/SMS, Radio/TV and customer service centers for extended service outages.

4. Lottery Games – there was a game which involved amassing points by answering questions for a chance to win UGX 10,000 (~US$4,000), and one of the attendees played the game using his family resources, and his wife almost divorced him. He was wondering how many points were needed to win the prizes so that he would be contented. The executives thanked him for playing and wished him better luck next time.

5. Unsolicited, Spam and Junk SMS messages plus hidden charges from content providers licensed by MTN and the company itself – There are many SMS messages for caller ring back tones, both from MTN and licensed content providers both as spam and also unknown activations which charge user numbers. We were informed of a blacklist code to enter I seem to have forgotten it, but this is not publizied … similar to US “Do Not Call Registry”

6. Does MTN Sell Customer numbers to content providers – MTN does not sell numbers to content providers, however these numbers are collected as part of normal usage for example promotions etc which may be done by friends, relatives. Ms. Maureen Agena of Text-to-Change also provided her organization’s experience with collecting targetted numbers which corroborates the information and policies from the executive.

7. Postpaid Service upgrade – customers on post paid services cannot upgrade data bundles in case they run out on a pay-as-you go service once the post paid bundle runs out. The executive informed us that the billing platform for all services is converged therefore this should be cleared in the very near future.

8. Hoax Promotions – there are cases when a promotion sale of phones or devices is announced, but they are not available because they were gobbled up by MTN staff. Management promised to look into this

9. IPV6 Migration – internal testing is in progress, but roll out to all customers is not confirmed until the services are confirmed as stable

10. SME Pricing – there seem to be no plans geared towards the SME sector as the current plans are either consumer (too expensive for SME at retail rates), or Enterprise (capex and opex costs too high for SME)

UPDATES – from Reader Feedback:

11. Simcard registration process and charges – there are claims of some agents charging for sim-card registrations, bu there is no charge for sim-card registrations. Also MTN intends to use this exercise as a “Know Your Customer” exercise and to deal with the spam/junk SMS message problem highlighted above.

12. Mobile Hotspots – the internet is not usable in a few parts of the country, and it would be better if there were hotspots at least in the urban areas, so that customers do not need dongles but just connect, and pay for usage. The technical team informed us that this was something that they were considering.

13. Internet Bundles using airtime once they expire without approval – currently once the Internet bundles expire the user’s airtime is charged which is the default option. There are ways around this and MTN intends to educate its customers on how to use these options

14. Slow Speed of the Website – the website is too slow, actually one of the slowest in Uganda, and the website self service features do not work. The website is currently being upgraded for speed and features, and a new one will be unveiled soon (BTW this is very embarrassing for multi-national telcom company).

Overall the interactions were excellent, and the available MTN staff were knowledgeable of subject matter they were discussing, which left a ray of hope that finally the behemoth is listening to its customers. Obviously the gift packs at the end made the trip worthwhile too. In closing I would like to say again as I did on Twitter:

“The only way @MTNUGANDACARE can support #startups and #enterprenurs is to provide a #mobilemoney #API #MeetMTN”

If I missed anything, just let me know …

Startup Weekend Kampala – Day 1 – Ideas, Pitches, Teams

This was my first time at a Startup Weekend or a Hackathon so I was looking forward to the experience and to see what really goes on under the hood at this event. So why was I here, well I have had this idea brewing in my head for a long time and so I decided why not take a shot at it and see what it is.

The idea was an “opendata” platform similar to Google Public Data (http://www.google.com/publicdata/directory) and lack of any government initiatives in Uganda leaves an opportunity for such an intervention.

I got to the venue at 4pm, started mingling with the people who were already there, some whom I had met the previous night at the Google Sponsored Pre-Event Bootcamp ( http://startupweekend.org/google/google-sw/) whose focus was Gaming on Android. As more people walked in the energy in the room became intense, with excitement, “geek” words flying left right and center, and a concentration of geek activities, game consoles out, rock music, movies as we waited for the “festivities” to begin.

The introductions were led by Richard Zulu, GTUG lead, and there were presentations by Ben Maina, CEO Rupu Limited who provided excellent ideas for how to manage startup growth based on lessons from a stratup then Apiyo Laboke, Mara Foundation on how startups can receive support from VCs.

Nextup were 60 second pitches for the different ideas available, well being my first time, I decided to go first with the Databud pitch. 60 seconds is a very short time and I was not able to complete my pitch, but it seemed to be well received. There were 34 additional pitches made by the end of the evening.

Next step was voting for the pitches, where each attendee was given 3 stick-it notes to place on the projects they are interested in. This was the moment of truth for the product pitches since those without sufficient votes would be whittled down … Of the 35 pitches available only 16 were selected to move forward ….

Now that the work was done, the next step was to attract teams of which DataBud attracted 3 members and we were ready to get to work …

Unfortunately we lost Internet connectivity and so there ended Day 1 … It was exciting, high tension and now crunch time …

UPDATE:
Follow the rest of the days actions at

  1. Startup Weekend Day 2 – Platform, Mentors, Coding, Product Positioning, Decisions during Execution
  2. Startup Weekend Day 3 – 60 sec pitch, Customer Validation, Business Value, Wrap Up and Lessons Learnt
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