As the mobile boom takes a hold of Africa, the status of e-commerce is both growing and dramatically changing across the continent. Connectivity challenges are becoming a thing of the past and Africa is now geared up to fully embrace e-commerce. South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya and Senegal are leading the way in hardware and software, while many other African countries have also begun to start initiatives to develop e-commerce services.
However, the lack of a common African e-payment system means that difficulties associated with e-commerce remain unresolved. If Africa is to catch up with the rest of the world, recognizing Africans’ way of life and just how vastly that can differ across the land is imperative. Although the economic fortunes of African countries have improved with sustained growth experienced on the continent, economies still range from the high ranking Equatorial Guinea, right to way through to poverty-stricken countries and The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a nation recovering from two decades of decline.
In fact, it is widely believed that e-commerce should be customized to fit in with the people living in a variety of extremes in Africa. Many agree that poverty can be reduced if communication services, such as m-banking, allow access to rural and remote areas, and are affordable to the poor.
Back in March last year, a pan-African alliance on e-commerce was launched in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and was described as “a milestone in the development of electronic trade in Africa” by Urbain Zadi, Director of strategic planning at the Economic Commission for Africa.
The alliance, launched during a regional forum in Addis Ababa on Trade Facilitation and Aid for Trade, is aimed at intensifying cooperation and initiating common projects of interest to African countries and the sub-region.
Senegal, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Ghana, Libya, Kenya and Togo are among the countries that have signed with the alliance. “[The pan-African alliance on e-commerce] reflects the determination of African countries to work together in promoting international trade through the use of ICT,” Zadi said.
THE VALUE OF M-BANKING
In a bid to further understand the implications and take advantage of the mobile boom, this February, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) published the results of a comprehensive study assessing the status and potential for growth of mobile e-commerce in Senegal, Kenya and South Africa.
The publication, entitled ‘M-Banking, an African Financial Revolution’ is a fusion of reports from academics in the three African countries; Professor Meoli Kashorda on Kenya, Mme Fatimata Seye Sylla on Senegal and Dr Simon Bachelor on South Africa.
According to ECA, the publication “examines the wireless technologies deployed as well as their advantages and disadvantages, the growth potential for the mobile telephony sector and rollout plans in the countries surveyed”. It also assesses a variety of aspects of e-commerce, including the status of telecommunication and financial infrastructure and services, the state of the mobile services market, the legal and regulatory environment for m-banking, as well as security issues.
BRIDGING THE DIVIDE
On a whole, the study concluded that mobile phones had “revolutionized” e-commerce in Senegal, Kenya and South Africa and that the economic impact this has had on the countries’ rural populations had been positive. More specifically, the publication said mobile phones were bringing previously marginalized rural communities in to the mainstream of the economies by enabling them to conduct business transactions, such as banking through the phone.
Sizo Mhlanga, Chief of the ICT Policy and Development Section on behalf of the Director of the ICT, Science and Technology Division of the ECA, said that “mobile phones are an important ICT tool for development due to their ability to easily leapfrog the infrastructure barriers in remote and rural areas in Africa”, suggesting that mobiles are both an effective and adaptable tool in bridging the economic and geographic divide across the continent.
However, it is clear that concerns around the type of policy requirements needed to sustain efforts in developing the m-banking sector must be addressed in order to continue promoting economic development in Africa. And in fact the study does highlight policy, legal and regulatory challenges with respect to m-banking and issues of security, trust and confidence as being of paramount importance in conducting and promoting m-commerce activities.
The explosion of mobile technology across the continent will undoubtedly have a positive economic impact. Yet if other African countries are to follow suit, the opportunities presented by m-commerce must continue to be explored and exploited.
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.”