Implementing advanced IT projects across pan-Africa delivers an interesting blend of positive surprises and unique challenges. Discover Digital, currently building content distribution networks (CDNs) and content caches in countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, has learnt that implementing IT projects across Africa brings with it a broad range of experiences and insights that have ultimately resulted in tremendous internal growth and helped the business to stay ahead of the game.
Firstly, we have found that the popular portrayals of certain countries being ‘behind the times’ are quite wrong. In Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria, we have discovered that while physical infrastructure and buildings may be ageing, the actual IT infrastructure is typically new and in line with world standards. Likewise, while IT skills available in many countries may be scarce, there are some really excellent human resources who deliver advanced IT projects in these countries.
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But unique challenges do present themselves and in order to stay ahead, IT service providers need to be aware of them. A key issue we have found in our operations is that taking hardware into new regions demands careful and thorough planning. Without the right documentation at a border post, your hardware could be delayed by weeks. It is crucial to acquaint yourself with all the customs procedures and requirements, and ensure all paperwork is in order well ahead of shipping the hardware.
Unlike in South Africa, where all the necessary equipment is fairly readily available, some regions of Africa may not have stock of certain equipment, so it is important to cover all bases carefully when planning.
Another challenge that can emerge is integrating client-specific systems such as billing engines. Because many enterprises in Africa are running systems supplied by multinationals based abroad, they do not necessarily have the skills in-house to customise those systems to enable integration.
They may require development and integration support from international teams, which can then extend a project timeline. Before embarking on the project, it is crucial to assess the network and systems the project will be integrated into, to verify they can support the new technology. It is also vital to manage expectations on the client side and ensure that you have clearly defined the project, the system implications of the implementation and any implications on the client’s commercial model.
We’ve therefore built and implemented bespoke, efficient and cost effective workarounds that enable us to deploy faster, whilst billing integrations are completed.
Ensuring a successful implementation also demands a close collaborative relationship with partners and the client. Discover Digital typically holds kick-off meetings and workshops in country with all stakeholders of both teams, as part of our extensive planning on pan-African projects.
Discover Digital, On-going guidance, training and support of new systems to partners and client teams are essential. We have found that a combination of remote development and support, along with regular status meetings via video conferencing, and monthly site visits, are the best ways to ensure the project progresses as planned, within budget.
Lastly, when rolling out new solutions, we’ve learnt that collaboration breeds innovation. A true partnership yields long term success through a greater understanding of local market requirements and barriers, and being able to quickly and efficiently adapt products to meet client needs.
Why SA’s Latest Tech Start-up ‘Merge,’ Is Going To Disrupt The Current Entrepreneur And Investment Landscape
Merge aims to level the playing field.
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mergeconnect/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mergeconnect/
- Website: http://www.mergeconnect.co/
- Email: Hello@mergeconnect.co
- Number: 072 458 2182
In the world that we live in today entrepreneurs and investors are seen as the pioneers of the future. Together, they have the ability to not only shape our current society, but construct a future with endless possibilities. The problem however lies in the process of becoming either one of the two.
The current entrepreneur and investor landscape in South Africa is a bit of an exclusive club. From an entrepreneur point of view, if you don’t have immediate access to a strong personal network then you are immediately at a huge disadvantage. For investors, more often than not there is a minimum net-worth requirement to be able to join an angel network or even be considered as a serious investor. This minimum net-worth figure is usually so high that it excludes thousands of potential investors that can potentially fund or provide mentorship to entrepreneurs.
Merge aims to level the playing field.
“There are so many people in South Africa with access to capital or who can be great mentors through skills transfer. These individuals can contribute to the growth of entrepreneurship but many of them have not considered investing into entrepreneurs as they haven’t had the access to do so. Entrepreneurs and investors can contribute heavily to the economy but we want to encourage and facilitate inclusive economic growth, giving more people access to opportunities.” – Christopher Watt-Pringle, Investor and Operations Director at Merge
What is Merge?
Merge is South Africa’s latest app and web-based platform where entrepreneurs and investors meet online. Think of it as on online version of the popular television series; ‘Shark Tank’, or ‘Dragons Den’, where entrepreneurs get the chance to engage with investors to potentially secure funding or mentorship for their venture.
How Does it Work?
Much like ‘Tinder’ where there needs to be a mutual interest from both parties; entrepreneurs can add their venture to the Merge platform and then immediately scroll through a network of investors. Once they identify the right investor they can send them a ‘Merge request’.
Investors also create a profile, either as a private or corporate investor. After completing their profile, they too are able to immediately scroll through all ventures until they identify an opportunity that suits their investment portfolio. Once they have done this they will also send a ‘Merge request’ to the entrepreneur. If there is a mutual interest, both parties will receive a notification whereby they will be taken to the Merge chat feature known as the ‘Boardroom’ in order to take the discussions further.
“A lot of existing ways to find funding are very one dimensional. Normally the entrepreneur will find a website, fill out a long application form and sit and wait for someone to reply to them via email (if they’re lucky). We designed Merge to be social and more community-based for easier two way communication between investors and entrepreneurs. Being an app-based platform was also important in terms of increasing usage and making the exercise of seeking investment a frictionless daily routine with faster feedback loops” – Christopher Peters, Investor and UX Director at Merge
Who Can use Merge?
All entrepreneurs are encouraged to join Merge should they be seeking investment or want to grow their business through mentorship. Merge’s aim is not to replace current avenues where entrepreneurs can find investment, it is to use technology to accelerate the process for both parties.
“We intend to work with existing capital investment firms and investor networks to ensure that there is a strong investor presence on the platform. It’s important to have credible investors on the platform to increase the chances of success for entrepreneurs, so we will have a strong focus on nurturing these relationships and forming strategic partnerships” – Brandon Bate, Co-founder of Merge
What About the Protection of User Information?
“Protecting the interests of the entrepreneurs and investors on Merge is our number one priority. We have designed some specific features to protect information and make entrepreneurs feel comfortable with sharing their ideas on the platform. We also want to make sure we protect the investors and make Merge a safe place to for them to find investment opportunities. One example of this is in the ‘Boardroom’ where before engaging in discussion, both parties have to sign a mutual NDA in the app” – Zander Matthee, Co-founder of Merge
Watch the video for more features:
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What’s Smart About Cities? Inviting Exponential Possibilities
It is also what produces both their problems and their innovativity that needs to be considered.
Cities are intense. They are diverse, competitive and malleable – highly responsive to human and non-human action, sometimes in weird and unpredictable ways. Therefore, cities tend to be characterised by an elevated urgency, messiness and even volatility. And this intensity is what attracts many of us to them. It is also what produces both their problems and their innovativity.
What cities are not is a place to park off and wait for anything. These are energetic places where you have to be busy and engaged – light on the feet, fingers to the pulse, living in the dynamic realities and fantasies, and there are always old and new problems with which to contend. And this is exactly why innovation is often acknowledged as a largely urban phenomenon – the consequence of this intensity combined with other conditions, such as the concentration of knowledge organisations and infrastructures in urban centres worldwide.
So, whenever people ask me about smart cities, I have a standard response: “What’s smart to you?” And often what follows is a litany of tech solutions we could be deploying in cities to make them more efficient, more futuristic.
Now, I love tech as much as the next person and I am not ignorant of the exponential growth and fundamental impacts of tech in our times. However, I am also aware of another concurrent reality: that human population, and particularly in the youth category, has also been growing exponentially in Africa. And people (for now) develop tech. So, where do we locate smart or not smart?
Let’s start with some facts that we are all increasingly aware of. Today, over half of the world’s population is under 30, and two billion are classified as youth. In South Africa, already over 20 million people (35% of national population) are between the ages of 15 and 34. According to the United Nations, one out of three young people in the world will be African by 2050.
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How exciting! Notwithstanding the serious issue of planetary limits, we are looking at billions of young people who are designed to be creative and adaptive in a range of contexts and with the ability to exchange and learn. There are so many possibilities and directions imaginable! Yet when we start talking about how we innovate our way into and through the future, the focus is squarely elsewhere. Suddenly there are very few and very similar voices around the table that focus on the agency of a few and centre tech as the key driver. The agency of billions is occluded and they become the so-called entitled beneficiaries, use cases, and/or the grateful consumers.
Coming back to smart (and my assertion that I am not anti-tech) – why does this matter? Well, it matters because tech is developed and governed by people. People determine the assumptions and rules that we embed into what we encode. We en-culture tech so to speak – contrary to the simplistic claim that tech is objective or neutral.
In my view, it is not likely that technology on its own has the potential to be usefully transformative. Consider, the hyper-connected world that IoT enables or blockchain’s democratisation of not only administration, but also of traditional entrepreneurship and innovation systems. These could be transformative – but not if our processes of technological development and diffusion are the domain of the fortunate few, circumventing – or even subverting – the recognition and involvement of the billions. Barring blind faith in the benevolence of the privileged or in happenstance – the technologies are far more likely to reproduce our current structure and gaps of privilege and exclusion. This is a good example of how not to be smart: following the same old processes with new tools and expecting different results. And then not recognising it as such.
We need to get smarter. We need to activate the over 50% unemployed youth in South Africa as well as the billion who are living in slums all around the world. We need to cease thinking of inclusion only as an outcome, and instead tap into the dynamism of place and the spirit of youth to engage, play, imagine, try to mix. We need to open up to an abundance of visceral ideas and queer possibilities which speak to a multiverse of unique contexts, circumstances and considerations; which are witty, novel and generative.
This, in my view, is the essence of what we should refer to as “smart”. With this openness, there is the possibility of pursuing the idea that everything from the strategic to the operational processes and assumptions of technological change can be more relevant and transformative as processes of current inclusiveness than as solutions for a magical future destination called inclusion.
Imagine a situation where everyone was acknowledged as having ideas which any of them could pursue on the ideas’ merit and relevance, and with concomitant recognition, rather than advancement relying on arbitrarily (or even unfairly) assigned access and privilege and power? Imagine that…
“Smart” for South Africa – and for African cities – has got to be about enabling the millions and billions of youth to do what they could do best: energise and inspire. And while we may have been focusing on millennials’ poor education or non-sensibilities as the excuses for their perpetual exclusion, it is evident that even these assumptions need to be subjected to interrogation and innovation. The smart process has to be open to finding new ways of being and doing, and figure out how to make them work. The technologies will follow function, rather than vice versa.
The recently launched African Leadership Institute report An Abundance of Young African Leaders but no Seat at the Table (2018), bears a title that tells it all. According to this report, 700 000 young Africans have been exposed to some form of leadership initiative in recent years. Yet they get little opportunity to gain the experience of providing leadership and are, the report says, largely invisible.
Cities and emerging technologies are not abstract trends around us. Nor are they autonomous solutions for the future of humanity or so-called smartness. They are part of an ecosystem of which we are part, and in which we should probably be looking to enact different processes of engagement, given our challenges and desire to be smarter. We could start by inviting the transformative potential of our massive numbers of youth, drawing them out of invisibility. If we don’t recognise our real abundance – the abundance of youthful potential and possibility – then perhaps we are just waiting for a few people somewhere with their gadgets to come colonise our future with their version of what is considered to be smart, and then to specify our role in it. And that is really not very smart.
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