Six learnings around IT in Africa
Africa is hungry for the tech advancements that SA is benefiting from, and it's open for business, says Andrew Dawson, commercial director of Solutions in Hand.
Deployment of any type of technology in Africa faces unique challenges, which vary per country and per region. But, equally, there are opportunities too. Solutions in Hand Commercial Director Andrew Dawson shares some of the characteristics that make Africa unique, particularly when it comes to deploying distribution management or sales force automation solutions on the continent.
Dawson starts out by cautioning: "Don't assume that because it's Africa, you'll face lack of infrastructure and IT skills. This may well be the case for the smaller businesses, but the majority of mid-tier and bigger companies have enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations and some level of digitalisation in place."
1. Acceptance of new tech
It's all well and good to deploy new or updated software in a business, but will the users be open to new technology and use it properly? In any software deployment, the process by which the change management in the company is managed will impact significantly on the ability and willingness of the people on the ground to be trained. Training needs to be hands-on and tactile, it needs to be in the trade with live working examples of how the software impacts and benefits the user. This will significantly increase the likelihood of the software being used to its maximum benefit, instead of users reverting to legacy technology because they're more comfortable using it.
2. Data connectivity dependence
Data connectivity in most African countries is good in the urban areas and declines as you move into more rural areas. The key to any mobile deployment is to make sure the user has access to good connectivity at the start of the day to ensure an update of data, pricing, promotions, product changes, etc, and thereafter the solution must be able to run completely independently of the network, ie, it must have the capability to run offline. The user would simultaneously need to be able to access some sort of connectivity at the end of the day to ensure that day's updated information is fed back through the system.
3. Many sales-based operations are still paper-based
This is still prevalent in many countries, mainly because of the cost involved in replacing manual processes with automation. However, a shift towards automation and digitalisation is being driven by companies coming under pressure to maintain volume growth and profit lines. Businesses are looking to internal efficiencies and market line of sight to improve the bottom line. Sales force automation programmes using mobile applications have proven to automate a large portion of these paper-based services, enabling the organisation to streamline business processes and make them more efficient.
4. Some businesses don't make the most of their data
Businesses in Africa are starting to realise the benefits of using business intelligence and are moving towards managed IT services and analytics. They're realising they can create significant growth for their business if they use their data to gain insights into the business and its customers.
5. A plethora of cloud-based partners
Telecoms and ERP providers alike are working hard to offer cloud-based solutions to companies on the ground. These providers are seeing massive opportunity in Africa and there's a major drive to engage in this space. The undersea cable systems are opening up huge opportunities for network connectivity and capacity to run cloud-based ERP solutions. Africa is regarded as one of the few untapped markets with massive potential, soon to become one of the most heavily contested cloud spaces.
6. Strong growth in IT knowledge
There's a strong influx of expats and returning locals (who were educated or worked overseas) into the African market that are currently sharing their knowledge with local IT specialists. IT departments have had to hustle to provide internal solutions and have a very operational IT view. This is expanding as the possibilities and options that are available to companies based across Africa grow.
With the increased focus on Africa by cloud suppliers, new mobile and ERP innovations, and increased and improved network accessibility, this sector of the market will continue to grow from strength to strength.