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The art of the app

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Developing an app is easy, clearly seeing as every business is doing it, however understanding the purpose of the app is a different story all together. BRADLEY ELLIOTT, MD of Platinum Seed explains the essentials of an effective app strategy.

The proliferation of smart phone and tablet apps has transformed the way consumers interact with brands and service providers. This presents a huge opportunity for companies to deepen their relationship with customers. Bradley Elliott, MD of Platinum Seed explains the essentials of an effective app strategy.

The number of apps that enjoy ‘viral’ popularity is narrowing, but the amount of time users spend engaging with them is growing. This was confirmed by a Gallup Panel survey across the US which found that nearly three quarters of users check their smart phones every hour.

What’s more, according to research by the Japanese IT giant Nomura, app downloads in the US dropped more than 20% between May 2015 and May 2016, and US market intelligence firm Sensor Tower says that, apart from the biggest apps such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Twitter and Gmail, most consumers aren’t looking for any more.

This all means that that brands setting out to engage with their customers via a mobile application need to make sure that their strategy is on the money, and its execution is top notch if they’re going to reap the returns on their app-dev investment that they hope to.

Apps require a meaningful investment, before, during and after the development process, especially in South Africa where the necessary skills are in short supply. A developer with the combined knowledge of the various programming languages in use today is also rare, adding complexity to the development process. The variety of devices on the market means different sets of programming code need to be developed (mainly iOS and Android) for different manufacturers, which means double or even triple the work.

What steps should brands take before they take the leap from web to mobile device, moving their relationship with their client from a more distant and larger format one, to an intimate, hand-held engagement that moves with the consumer wherever they go?

1.            Brand strategy

The brand strategy is the most important step and should be thoroughly interrogated from the onset of any development project. Out of this phase, it will be quickly determined whether an app is even the right tool for the brand in the first place.

The brand strategy should, in turn, be closely tied to the overall business strategy – users must always feel a strong connection between past experiences of the brand and the app. The strategy is the blueprint for the development of the application, ensuring that every business objective is matched to the technical functionality – the essential is emphasised while the superfluous is discarded.

2.            Who are the users?

Notching up millions of downloads can be impressive on a performance report, but the risk of managing millions of irrelevant people can easily detract from the ultimate business goals.

3.            Add value to consumers

More than anything, apps need to add value to the end user. Just like having millions of downloads is meaningless unless the right people download an app, having millions of users who never engage with it is also pointless. Apps with the highest level of active engagement are often the ones that enable their audiences in a critical way.

This need not be in the form of money or giveaways – if it isn’t personal information, opt-ins and sales promotions, apps often will just simply eat up time and space – but immediate and useful features that users can make people’s lives easier in some way.

4.            Be functional

Apps need to be functional and integrated directly into as many transactions as possible. It would be pointless to create a beautifully designed, entertaining user interface while the functionality fails to deliver real, lasting value to the user.

In the end, an app must be evaluated, not just on its beauty, but on its ability to meet business and consumer needs. Poorly designed and developed apps that don’t add value will simply never be downloaded, or, if they are, they’ll just damage the relationship between the consumer and the brand, scoring an expensive own-goal.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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