How connectivity is opening up infrastructure across Africa
Accessing utilities in the Western world is relatively straight forward. For instance, if you want to connect a phone line to your home, you contact a local phone company, give them your address, bank details etc. and the provider runs a credit check on you and if you pass, connects you to the network.
Phone companies understand you have credit in place to pay for the service in advance, as you have an address and are associated with a bank, and have a measurable credit rating. However, if you are one of the millions of people across Africa who are ‘unbanked’ the process is not nearly as easy.
Without credit how do you show a provider it is worth building a phone line and connecting you to its service? How can you guarantee its investment in you and in your phone line is going to pay off?
More importantly, it is staggering to see how this system for phone connectivity is the same as issues faced when looking at essential infrastructures such as water, waste disposal, electricity, or any utility the Western world now takes for granted.
Forced to innovate
If this problem was faced in the UK, various organisations would compete to build roads, infrastructure or whatever was required to allow the service to be sold and delivered. However, across Africa, organisations don’t have this option. Instead they are forced to find alternative solutions to solve the problem and drive innovation as they do so.
Most are turning to the one universal infrastructure that exists across the world; the mobile network. As with the mobile expansion across Europe in the 90s, Africa saw the same expansion, giving the continent its only universal utility service. In fact more than double the population in sub-Saharan Africa has mobile phone access compared with access to paved roads.
Therefore businesses looking to deliver utilities in African countries are surpassing their Western world counterparts; maximising the mobile network to deliver innovative utility services to millions.
Come to the light side
One such business delivering utilities in innovative ways is M-KOPA.
M-KOPA has provided light to more than 400,000 homes across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda by offering solar-power home systems for low income and rural residents without electricity.
This is achieved by building mobile connectivity into its technology. This then allows customers to light their homes by paying for the device through mobile money transfers.
After finishing the payment plan, the customer owns the product and can then access more cost-effective financing for a range of products, including more lights, television sets, cooking stoves, smartphones, and water storage tanks.
Therefore by utilising the mobile network, M-KOPA is delivering services to ‘unbanked’ people; people who would have not had access to finance services.
M-KOPA isn’t the only business successfully innovating in Africa. EWaterPay in West Africa for example has developed a sustainable solution which allows local water distribution schemes to become self-sustaining. It’s a business model which also has the potential to be implemented on a wider scale across the continent. Mobile Money, NFC (Near Field Communications) Secure RFID tags and cellular communication all play a part by allowing secure financial transactions, the delivery of clean fresh water and trained local engineers paid to manage and maintain the system.
Innovations such as these, are allowing mobile connectivity to have a wider impact. By ensuring people have access to credit and services, organisations can open further access to infrastructure, increase job opportunities and deliver a boost to local and national economies.
Africa is therefore at the beginning of its own industrial revolution. A revolution that will not be driven by steam and coal; but by mobile and innovation.
Paul Marshall is from Eseye, a leading global cellular machine-to-machine connectivity provider for Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”