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Apps drive work democracy

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Apps have made just about anything possible and are broadening service providers’ access to their customers. Also, anyone can now start an enterprise, thereby brining in more competition and offering better prices and more choices than ever before.

In the evolution of the digital world, apps have made just about anything possible by broadening the access that service providers have to customers. Ultimately, it can be said that digital has democratised business by enabling anyone, even those operating on shoestring budgets, to start an enterprise of their own and exceed their wildest dreams. For consumers across the globe, this new world means more choice and better prices than ever before.

So says Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank, who points to the success of Uber, the innovative app that connects riders to drivers through smartphone technology. It has revolutionised the transportation industry around the world, and is presently making waves on South African shores.

The change Uber is bringing to the transportation industry, and the inspiration it provides to entrepreneurs looking for a new niche for their ideas, was illustrated in a recent episode of The Growth Engines, supported by Standard Bank and aired on Business Day TV. The series examines how innovative small and major businesses can collaborate to innovate in their markets.

“By using an app to create a connection point between transportation providers and passengers, Uber has changed the way that people move across 300 cities around the world. It has also boosted the earnings of taxi drivers who can use the technology to be connected to a new base of riders across their cities – thus reducing the ‘dead return time’ that normally occurs after a fare is dropped at a destination.

What is particularly interesting is that fitting the modern app-driven convenience of mobile technology into an established, traditional business like driving a taxi has involved some compromise on the part of Uber. Innovation has won the day, but collaboration between the old and the new is what is making the concept work,” says Ms Nyembe.

“The app has become the middle-man, bringing the essentials of democratisation to the transportation business. By bringing efficiency and accessibility to the fore, it has simultaneously empowered drivers to transform the way they do business,” says Alon Lits, General Manager: Uber (Gauteng and Durban).

In its six years of existence, Uber has transformed the way that people move around the world’s major cities. Commuters use the app to request a driver close by, are collected by the vehicle, and are billed through Uber, making the service seamless and easy.

“The birth of the Uber service was spurred by the founders walking through the snow in Paris trying to find a taxi. Both, already entrepreneurs in their own rights, returned to San Francisco and developed the app,” says Mr Lits.

Uber does not employ drivers or own any cars, but partners with the drivers. The drivers, in return for being able to access customers through Uber, pay a fee for the lead generation software every time they pick up an Uber rider. Security, however, dictates that drivers must have the necessary public professional driving permit, commercial insurance, roadworthy certificate, and spotless character references before they can join Uber.

It is at this point that the new way of doing business couldn’t succeed without the traditional, concedes Mr Lits.

“We looked at the system in South Africa and saw drivers coming through who had criminal records. We instituted additional screening practices by partnering with EMPS (Employers’ Mutual Protection Services) to clear prospective driver-partners.”

Says Kirsten Halcrow, Managing Director: Employers’ Mutual Protection Services, whose company uses the services of the South African Police Service (SAPS), Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), and other South African institutions to ensure that people who apply do not have criminal records and that they do in fact have the qualifications and experience they claim:

“We are constantly examining technology and what value we can add to our clients’ recruitment processes. This is particularly important in the present socio-economic environment where it is tough to get jobs and individuals are looking for easy ways of getting employment – many will use fake qualifications to achieve their ambitions.

Individuals who have criminal records do not admit this on application forms. For Uber specifically, we look for fake driver’s licenses, permits and examine all partner-drivers’ references. Unfortunately, to trust what is on a CV or driver application will not help anyone.”

A more challenging problem for Uber has been the failure of regulations and legislation to keep pace with the changes that have taken place with the emergence of the app world. An alleged contravention of permit bylaws in Cape Town recently saw 60 Uber operators running foul of the law.

“We continue to engage with regulators at city, provincial and national levels to ensure that our partners have a clear route to licensing. At the end of the day, we are dealing with a case where regulation is lagging innovation. It doesn’t make sense to step back and wait for regulation to catch up.

This is especially so in the context of South Africa. How can we sit back and let outdated regulations stand in the way of job creation, and safe and reliable rides that can transform the taxi industry?

We see Uber as not taking away business from traditional metered taxi drivers, but assisting them by taking away their down-time. It is not about them losing existing business, it is about adding to it. Even though Uber fares are lower, we are being told by drivers that they are making more money and also managing their time better,” says Mr Lits.

“The path to innovation and democratisation will never be totally trouble-free. In a fast-moving world, it is becoming increasingly common for entrepreneurs to identify a need and do what they can to supply solutions. It is inevitable that from time-to-time, entrepreneurs will conflict with entrenched interests and regulators.

Inevitably, the needs of customers and the opportunities offered to people to find gainful employment by using apps and digital services will win out,” says Ms Nyembe.

The Growth Engines can be viewed on Business Day TV (DSTV channel 412) on Tuesdays at 9:30pm, with repeats on Wednesdays at 10:00am and Thursdays at 2:00pm. For more information and to view in-depth articles on the key themes explored on the programme, log on at bizconnect.standardbank.co.za or bdlive.co.za/indepth/growthengines.

 

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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