“Uberisation” – Disrupt or be disrupted? What role has Africa played in the disrupter economy and what role will it play in the future?

“Uberisation” – Disrupt or be disrupted? What role has Africa played in the disrupter economy and what role will it play in the future?

The utilisation of technology and the disruption it is causing is everywhere.  It will happen in every industry and nowhere is this truer than in Africa.

When one of the leading global hotel businesses does not own a single hotel room, and one of the leading global taxi companies does not own a single taxi, no industry is immune to disruption. Think Airbnb, think Uber. Disruption is here to stay and will be part of business and part of our lives for a long time to come.

Businesses that are shaking up markets and shaping the future to their advantage will have the best business on the continent.  Disruption starts with a disruptive mindset – the attitude to constantly question and to challenge the status quo coupled with the desire to reimagine and reinvent.

It follows with a disruptive process – the ability to break and rewrite rules, to see gaps and new opportunities.

It is enabled by disruptive technologies – networks that shifts control to the users, with new capabilities and connections.

It is realised through market disruption – new business models that change how businesses work and new spaces where value can be created.

Whilst at the Super Returns – Emerging Markets in Amsterdam at the beginning of June, I heard the term Uberization for the first time.  This new word, already in the Cambridge Dictionary, means to take the business model of Uber and apply it to a business that is using technology, mainly the mobile networks and the infrastructure it provides to deliver its products or service to the mass consumer market.

When I dug into this further, I quickly realised that this formula was being used by a deluge of tech start-ups seeking to convince investors that they have the next revolutionary, billion-dollar idea.  The market and demand for these companies’ products and services is there!

With 9 out of 10 Africans under 30 years and therefore ‘technology natives’, rather than myself, as a 53-year-old ‘technology immigrant’, by default they are very high adopters of new technologies.  These are the largest group of the population, using cell phones and applications and thus are specifically targeted by disrupter technology enabled companies, for rapid growth.

Understanding the needs, preferences and buying behaviour of customers in terms of product category, payments, delivery, platforms, devices and business models whilst considering and understanding purchase decisions is critical to riding the disrupter waves.  No-one will disagree that disruptive technology is transforming Africa’s economic potential, creating new focus markets and unparalleled customer choice on the Continent.  Capitalising on these potential opportunities necessitates a complete rethink of consumer engagement and business development strategies.

Perhaps the most famous and arguably best example of a successful African disrupter is Mpesa, the mobile money invention by Safaricom in Kenya.  It has changed banking in Africa for individuals, micro businesses, small enterprises and big business alike.

Allowing the unbanked in urban and non-urban areas to transact in ways they could not have before without making a trip to the City centres has become a necessity.  This trend has spread like ‘wildfire’ across the rest of the continent.  However, Kenya continues to be the Africa’s leader in mobile money today and created a hub of innovation in East Africa for other businesses to utilise both the facilities as well as the mentor program supported by Google.

Africa’s challenges can be quite unique. The mobile money market has transformed mobile companies into banks, without having to firstly apply for a banking license. This is a disruption within the banking sector that is very much like the hotel sector and the taxi industries that I previously mentioned.  Econet has gone one step further by purchasing a stake an existing bank, rebranding it and now sell mobile products and banking products in combination, in a way that the competition cannot match…..yet.

Digital innovations are not only in the business sector, but also in agriculture, health and education.  AI in farming help farmers optimise their output using artificial intelligence which having created a data analytics platform combines satellite, drone and artificial intelligence to improve agricultural practises.

Cloud-based technologies can now do AI diagnostics for those very remote rural villages far from hospitals and VR has the potential to change industries such as mining. Leading the way in this on the continent is South Africa who train new miners using a VR mine and Namibia Polytechnic has a cell phone–based curriculum.

How African countries position themselves to harness and deploy digital technologies will determine the future competitiveness of African service and products industries and its contribution to African economies.

Africa has made its contribution to the global disruptor economy, and will continue to do so, not only in the way it presents unique challenges that need unique solutions, but with also its wealth of minerals and the unique talents of its youth.  I look forward to seeing more of the disrupters from Africa and exactly what impact this has on the economic growth of the continent.

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