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AfriCAN insight  

Connectivity and ICT as a driver for business innovation in 2017

Ben Roberts, CTO Ben Roberts, CTO at Liquid Telecom and CEO of Liquid Telecom Kenya, examines the progress African businesses have made in embracing digital innovation.

By Ben Roberts, CTO of Liquid Telecom


In 2013, just after I moved to Kenya, McKinsey published a report ‘Lions go Digital’ in which they concluded that the internet’s greatest impact in Africa is likely to be concentrated in six sectors: financial services, education, health, retail, agriculture, and government.

Three years later and we have seen connectivity and supporting infrastructure grow through FTTH expansion, 4G rollouts, satellite connectivity, huge data centres and the creation of pan African fibre backbone networks.

I’ve spent my time working on this kind of connectivity rollout, and watching the impact and adoption of connectivity by our customers to change their business. As we end 2016, it is time to look at the progress of the digital revolution that this connectivity has enabled with African born innovation to change the way business is done in these sectors.

Financial services

Prediction: Greater internet access, digital technology and mobile will reduce costs, and bring banking services to 60% of Africans by 2025 with more than 90% using mobile wallets.

The banking sector has been partnering with or chasing after the hugely successful mobile money revolution to bring banking to the unbanked. Equity Bank launching its own MVNO has quickly taken a decent market share of mobile money, and James Mwangi, CEO Equity Bank, predicts branchless banking to be the future.

Overall the banking industry seems to be leading the way with investment in technology adoption to transform business, with some of the most talented African CIOs being attracted to the banking sector where they can best develop their skills.

Education

Prediction: Affordable tablets and connectivity are enabling greater access to content that will bring huge benefits in education, providing millions of students with the foundation for a better future.

Government procurement processes have been slow while the dropping prices of tablets has been fast. But now Kenya’s digital learning programme is underway with tablets rolling out fast. Meanwhile African innovators like BRCK have developed specialist hardware kits for classrooms, and many content developers are making local education content. The real effects of e-education will be seen when the children of today graduate to the workplace.

Health

Prediction: Technology-related benefits in healthcare could be huge and the broader social and economic impact of improved health outcomes will be far greater.

Somehow the African health sector seems to be decades behind in ICT. Bliss Healthcare in Kenya uses our data centre and connectivity to link insurance companies to clinics so that patients can verify their insurance at any clinic country wide using the mobile phone and biometrics. But huge investment in systems and skills need to be made into the health sector to deploy ICT to its full potential.

Retail

Prediction: E commerce will open up a new shopping experience for Africa’s growing middle class. By 2025, it could account for $75 billion sales in the continent’s largest economies.

Online retailers like Jumia and Kilimall are growing African internet brands, selling many products delivered to your door. But despite the ongoing digital revolution, the investment in bricks and mortar shopping malls seems to be accelerating, with huge high end malls opening in order to house mostly the same chains of stores.

While some of these store chains have their own e-commerce website, some just don’t get it allowing you to select goods and ‘request for quote’. It seems for now the middle classes like to go out and shop, rather than purchasing goods online.

The revolution in e-commerce especially through social media may end up helping the SME retailer to sell to a bigger audience, rather than taking a significant share of traditional high end retail for now.

Agriculture

Prediction: Farmers can access expertise and information on everything from weather, crop selection and pest control to management and finance. It can also improve access to markets, generating better prices for produce.

Agricultural information seems to focus around information services for farmers. For instance, Kenyan-made iCow is an app that works on basic mobile phones that many farmers may own. Each animal is registered with the service, which then sends SMS reminders to the farmer about milking schedules, immunisation dates and many other tips to enhance the cows’ welfare. But the real revolution may be yet to come with IoT in agriculture as we will see ‘connected cows’ which will tell your smartphone when they are sick and call the vet automatically.

Government

Prediction: The internet is a powerful tool to improve transparency, streamline service delivery and automate revenue collection.

In Kenya, e-government has made great steps at national and county level with government in taking a leading role in ICT.

Developments such as online visa applications to enter Kenya and eCitizien; a digital payments platform to pay for government services online, make it easier for citizens and visitors to interact with the Government of Kenya.

E-government, of course, can greatly improve financial efficiency. Yet it seems there is quickness to blame a system like Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) when a corruption scandal breaks.

The truth is that systems like IFMIS do increase transparency and will lead to a long lasting cultural change in government whereby procurement wastage becomes a thing of the past. Resistance to change will come from cartels that profit from inefficiency but the progress will continue.


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