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Prepare for platform economy

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Many companies have already taken steps to embed themselves into digital ecosystems. But, the pace of adopting new digital platforms for doing business needs to increase – especially in Africa, says WILLIAM MZIMBA, Chief Executive of Accenture South Africa.

These platforms are business models that create value by facilitating exchanges between two or more interdependent groups, usually consumers and producers.

According to the Wall Street Journal platform companies are major drivers of innovation as the top companies set the standards for the digital transformation taking place around the world. Traditional companies are challenged to keep up or risk being left behind. As platforms become the new normal for how business is done, African companies must seize this opportunity to begin to build a new digital value chain.

Already, more than a quarter (27%) of the executives Accenture recently surveyed report that digital ecosystems are transforming the way their organizations deliver value. And we found that 81% of executives say platform-based business models will be core to their growth strategy within three years. The mandate for leaders is to capitalize on new relationships, building a network of digital partners that will not only enhance their existing business, but also allow them to forge their way into newly emerging digital ecosystems.

What we are seeing is that entire ecosystems of customers are aggregating around several new digital platforms, and businesses are more motivated than ever before to take advantage of these entry points. Communication platforms like WeChat and WhatsApp, and Artificial Intelligence intermediaries like the Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri represent distinct ecosystems delivering unprecedented access to customers – and businesses are flocking to them.

A couple of examples include Hyatt Hotels, which uses Facebook Messenger to let guests do everything from booking and checking existing reservations to ordering room service during a stay, while Capital One bank developed a ‘skill’ for Amazon Echo’s Alexa, allowing people to check their accounts and pay credit card bills via the Echo device.

It is little surprise that the trend two of our Tech Vision 2017 study highlights that in the State of the Cloud survey 95% of respondents reported using public, private, or hybrid cloud technology, while the CIO Strategic Partner Index run by the IDC reports that 29% of IT leaders are spending more than half their IT budget on external providers. Each platform commitment means easier future engagement with other companies on the platform using the same infrastructure.

However, of the 176 platform companies included in a recent report, The Rise of the Platform Enterprise: A Global Survey led by Peter Evans and Annabelle Gawer and sponsored by the Center for Global Enterprise, Asia has the largest number with 82, 64 of which are in China. North America has 64, with 63 in the US. Europe is a major consumer of platform services, but its home to relatively few platform companies –27 spread across 10 countries, 9 of which are in the UK. It is concerning Africa and Latin America have a number of small platform companies, only 3 of which have met the $1 billion valuation threshold for inclusion in the survey.

More African companies need to decide which ecosystems to join and which roles to play as the technology changes are only the beginning.

How do African companies begin to close the gaps? An important way to get moving on this journey is to conduct an audit identifying how many internal and external platforms you are using and the goals for their use. Identify and address unnecessary overlaps. Determine the platforms your organization most relies on, as well as those that most depend on you.

These are the ecosystems where your organization should hold its strategic and market strengths. Over the next 100 days, look to essentially develop a comprehensive strategy to establish the foundation for your platform business model and ecosystem. During this phase you should appoint a C-suite sponsor to oversee a team that is responsible for championing your new ecosystem and digital partnership strategies. Then over the next year, leadership should have achieved comprehensive understanding of the new rules of business, developed a platform business model strategy, and started to test it with the launch of a small pilot program.

Companies should keep expanding the conversation: for instance, in the first 100 days have a strategy summit with your closest partners to understand their goals for the future. Uncover shared goals and commit to developing a strategic plan for achieving them together.

Consider your organization’s future through the lens of the biggest disruptions shaping your market, from inside and outside your industry. Craft the ideal role of your company in this future, and develop a shortlist of partners who can help make it a reality. And remember to develop metrics to quantify the results of ecosystem participation.

Many global brands are already taking the bold steps needed. The digital ecosystem is, for instance, totally redefining what automakers do. Rather than just building cars, they’re engaging with customers throughout the vehicle lifecycle, directly managing software upgrades, diagnostics, and safety. In the insurance industry, pulling down driving data from connected car platforms has enabled new services such as pay-per-mile insurance with newcomers like Google and Metromile to challenge the industry status quo. The opportunities are endless, no matter what industry you are in.

General Motors kicked off 2016 with a $500 million investment into ride-share platform Lyft. The move gave GM the inroads to launch their Express Drive service, an exclusive offering for successful, but car-less, Lyft driver applicants to rent a car directly from GM and get to work right away. The program was remarkably successful in the short term, opening a new line of business for GM: by July, 30% of new Lyft drivers were requesting an Express Drive vehicle in their sign-up. In addition to partnering with Lyft, GM also made a $1 billion-plus acquisition of the autonomous vehicle software company Cruise Automation, and another billion-dollar investment in building an autonomous vehicle testing facility in Detroit.

This shows how platforms are rapidly becoming the central hubs for the rich and complex digital ecosystems that companies want to access. Consider the fact that 70% of ’unicorn’ startups (over $1 billion) are platform companies. Other companies such as personal car-rental app Turo and group dining experience Feastly have introduced their own offerings, as have dozens of start-ups, each with their own angle and offering. LiquidSpace, which lists offerings in more than 500 cities across the US, Australia and Canada, offers a platform for renting workspaces and meeting rooms by the day or hour.

In South Africa, a good example of a company embracing the platform economy and reaping rewards is Discovery Vitality, while Discovery’s proposed bank is another example of the evolution of this concept into other exciting sectors. The retail market for consumer goods in SA received a shot in the arm in 2015 when Kalahari was merged with Takealot, with the technology platform cleverly harnessed to drive growth since then.

Remember the sharing economy brings people together through technology to exchange or rent access to goods and services, so entrepreneurs are building this economy by leveraging emerging digital technologies to meet customer needs in new and disruptive ways.

Digital and mobile technologies have combined with public support to create a host of opportunities to transform the way government manages the infrastructure it has already acquired. For instance, through MuniRent, six local governments in Michigan are already renting equipment to and from each other.

How African companies and governments react to this change brought about the platform economy will define their prospects going forward. The platforms they use will serve as the pathways to the new digital economies that will drive growth and jobs across the continent. They will form the pillars of entire value chains in the future and so African companies need to ensure they make these decisions wisely – and fast because there is no doubt that the digital partnerships African companies make today will determine how successful they will be tomorrow.

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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