Regional Focus: Accenture's View from" South Africa
The Accenture "view from" series of blogs will take us to a different country each month, giving a light but enlightening insight into those markets' characteristics and daily challenges when it comes to implementing mobility across enterprises.
Mobile is Key for B2C Outreach in Africa
In the last six months, there has been a notable and exciting shift in discussions around mobility in Africa as a whole, and in the perception of South Africa as a gateway to the rest of the continent. We've been speaking to a number of large consumer goods companies who want to reach their customers via mobile channels as the potential for growth and investment across Africa in countries such as Nigeria and Angola is becoming clear.
With every mobile campaign that is planned, it's necessary to start with engaging people over feature phones through services such as USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) and text message, but there must be a strategy in place as to how those campaigns will scale up to smartphones through apps or mobile websites in order to reach the widest possible audience. We're seeing tactics popular in the rest of the world such as gamification being put to use here, and I'm confident that in the coming months and years, some of the most innovative and effective mobile outreach campaigns in the world will stem from South Africa and our African neighbours.
Mobile Business Tools
In some areas, South Africa is ahead of developed markets. For example, in using mobility and location services to track vehicles, we have had many years' experience due to the pressing need to solve the problem of tracing stolen cars. On the flip side though, even as we see options increase with regards to devices and services available, businesses are really only now starting to employ mobility in their field force management, but for the most part we're still in the discussion phases and almost all enterprises with employees in the field are still entirely paper-based.
However, the use of applications in South African enterprises is on the increase, although they are different types of apps to those being adopted in developed markets where we are seeing the mobilisation of large business-critical applications such as CRM or ERP. When we talk about collaboration applications in South Africa, for example, we are likely to be referring mainly to services like voice calls or WhatsApp. As a free-to-use service that's easy to access, simple to set up groups with and to share images and other content over, the fact that it works across all operating systems makes WhatsApp a key element in many enterprise projects today.
There's also a South African social network called Mxit, which has 6.5 million monthly active users in the country. Mxit aims to act as a gateway to functions that aren't available on all feature phones - specifically chat functions - and it currently works on over 8,000 different mobile devices. Accessibility for feature phones is a key element of all projects that include a mobile aspect in South Africa, as while smartphone sales are rocketing, penetration is still relatively low. In fact, the average life of a mobile phone in Africa is around 10 years, so one can still see early versions of Symbian on the streets, and Nokia 'candy bar' phones without colour screens that are hardy enough to have survived daily use over the years.
It is the wide use of feature phones that means USSD is still one of the biggest channels for enterprises looking to use mobile to reach employees or consumers. For example, in banking USSD is used right across Africa, because with each message sent a 'session' is started, which creates a circuit switched connection allowing for a two-way exchange of information over cellular networks, not requiring any data connection. This technology also works on all mobile phones and platforms regardless of its operating system, form factor or age.
The Costs of Connectivity
In South Africa, mobile connectivity is still relatively expensive with some 'unlimited' voice contracts coming in at up to US $200 a month. Unlimited data is not an option and high-end packages are usually capped at 3-5GB. In any market that's expensive, but for an emerging market it's almost unreachable. It's one of the reasons why, compared to other countries, South Africa has been relatively slow on the uptake of mobile technologies within enterprises. In the recent Mobility Insights Report Accenture launched, only 29% of South African businesses said that they had effectively adopted and deployed mobile technologies, compared to a global average of 47%.
We were relatively early to roll out 4G networks in South Africa, but still have a way to go in terms of creating a stable network that is compatible across all platforms and device types. The coverage of cellular networks here is very strong, but there is a real demand from users to get faster, cheaper, more reliable access to data. A large majority of major telco providers around the globe are investing heavily in next generation networks, expanding capacity while simultaneously under pressure to reduce mobile rates, and South Africa is no different.
For businesses, cost is still a major barrier to adoption of mobile strategies and technologies, but it's not only down to the networks or contract prices, but to employee behaviour as well. There are tax implications if employees are provided a mobile phone, so BYOD is often the norm. In some cases, people are given a phone allowance by employers at the start of each month to cover this, but for every call made there is paperwork to do, so individuals tend to use their personal mobile devices for work as an accepted cost of employment, rather than receiving handsets and contracts with their jobs.
SIM penetration here is over 100%, but when it comes to mobile we are very much a pre-pay nation. South Africa is a society with clear economic splits, and while the top 30% are able to access credit and live above a $1,250 per month per household threshold, the vast majority of the population doesn't have regular access to PCs with internet connectivity, and struggles to get the credit for anything with contracts. Pre-pay mobile device access is beginning to act as a bridge to the digital divide in society, and we're seeing the same in most sub-Saharan countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana.
Accenture recently developed an app for a public sector client, and we saw access from mobiles spike heavily as young people got home from work. The impact this use of mobile devices for internet access will have on businesses over the coming years is starting to show itself in ways that might not have been considered previously; for example, if you ask a young person to type on a traditional PC keyboard the results are slow. Put a tablet in front of them though, and they're incredibly productive.
It is clear that enterprises will continue to meet the challenges of cost and connectivity to implement mobility across their businesses, in order to reap the benefits of greater collaboration and productivity in the years to come.