10 gems of wisdom for delivering service through mobile [Tech4Africa]

Gustav Praekelt and Sebastien Lacour show two very different solutions to the same problem – delivering services to people via mobile when the Web was not a viable option. One was for a philanthropic and social awareness-based project and the other involved a for-profit company. Both show, however, that poor quality bandwidth needn’t be an obstacle to improving the lives of people in emerging markets.

Praekelt’s project concerns the metaphorically powerless (poor and youth), while Lacour’s deals with the actually powerless (people’s whose pre-paid electricity supply was cut).

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Praekelt is the man behind the Praekelt Foundation, a philanthropic organisation that aims to help people in emerging markets, using mobile technology. His current big project is Young Africa Live. This is a mobi-based social network and information platform to reach out to young people who have — or could contract — HIV.

Lacour is from Powertime, a South African-based company whose goal is getting power to people more easily. Little known fact: South Africa is a world leader in prepaid technology and provides an example to other emerging markets.

The country has 10-million prepaid electricity consumers, with 250 000 new prepaid users per year. This translates into R800-million every month transacted. This is one of those African solutions for an African (and increasingly global problem)… letting people pay for a commodity as they need it, without the debt risk and management overhead of post-paid systems.

Here are ten gems of wisdom gleaned from both following their talks at the prominent Tech4Africa conference in Johannesburg.

  1. The battle for communication in Africa is won and done. One billion people, 600-million phones. They can be reached. All you need to do now is build the service.
  2. Some audiences in Africa will never use a desktop. Systems for them will have to be designed from the ground up to be usable on mobile phone.
  3. Your audience may be very concerned about the cost of accessing the service or sending messages — Some audiences don’t, for some it’ll be a deal-breaker.
  4. Online you have to worry about latency – If the site is slow, your user uptake will suffer.
  5. For social-network focussed services, having a balance between male and female makes a very big difference (i.e. you need to know who your users are).
  6. Users don’t want to use their real names online when talking about sensitive topics.
  7. Try be as One Click as possible — Go for App Store approach. This means storing credit card details in a PCI-compliant vault, single sign-on, etc, to minimise actions from the users.
  8. Give value beyond convenience — Make it easy to use (super-critical), but have additional functions.
  9. Think carefully about your go-to-market strategy — If you are developing an app, choose which handsets to serve first: look at size of the market, but also size of spend (in Powertime’s case, iPhone was not the biggest number of users, but definitely the biggest spenders).
  10. Mobile people like apps — If they can have them, they’ll use them in preference.

Image: Afripol

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