Editors note: This is a 2 part series. See 1/2 here.
According to previous of Ovum analysis, enriching their core product with services acting as a shield for the network, has come to the fore for Telcos.
Strategic domains to embellish the network are commonly shared: they have names such as Rich Communications (Joyn), Broadband access (LTE, Fiber), Cloud services, Big data, NFC, Mobile Financial services, Identity and privacy concerns, Multiscreen experiences, Intelligent Things, Smart home / city / car / retail, Context aware services, Wearable devices.
Selecting the Smart services where Telcos have to commit directly is not so easy. The criteria of ‘using the network to drive innovation activities’ helps significantly: screening and prioritizing your ideas, you can ask yourself:
- which ideas are closely tied to the network ownership,
- which can be accelerated and scaled thanks to the network features,
- and reversely which ideas reinforce the role of the network as a differentiator.
When shaping an innovation ecosystem, one has to think one step ahead: the role of the innovation manager is here to create platforms and toolkit that will help others to design, to provide a toolbox for design, a ‘features-generative’ platform.
Because the process is more complex than mechanically deriving an enabler from the network domain, we speak of ‘API Design Thinking’. In this process, the key user is the developers’ community as shows Vision Mobile scheme.
‘API Design Thinking’ involves meaning, target, expandability, scalability, and inspiration:
- Meaning: API is not such a sexy word that it drives crowds to get up in the morning: we need an enticing vision! Shallow intention won’t last: market trends, user observation, interactions with customers, one must forge a lasting conviction, and define “a reason why”;
- Target: identify who your customers and the end-users are, and listen to them, also once the service is alive, focus on user, not yourself; from the start you have to imagine the best methods, data and formats to deliver to your business partners and developers’ community, extrapolating the end-user services they will initiate; go for plurality of data formats, and differentiate access depending on type of customers;
- Expandability: ‘Do as little as possible now (but no less) to ensure room for extensibility in the future!’ claims Brad Abrams, Microsoft architect and Google product manager. Let space for disjunction and creativity to shape new relationship between API functions, actions on the App, and properties;
- Scalability: no one is immune to success: the more customers your innovation seduces, the more additional features will be required, the more workload will support your servers; prepare your platform to experience solid organic growth, being able to add millions of users without any interruption of service;
- Inspiring Developers’ Community: crossing the chasm requires making an appropriate exposure of the API, streamlining subscription process, and staging the API with a “killer demonstration-app”: develop multiple use case scenarios; accurate documentation makes your API hard to misuse, explicit error message suggest parameters values. Look-up for rewards and motivation in the domain of social appropriation of technology: pride, fun, search for elegance. Keep your API a living innovation welcoming creative apps, leading to new features and cross-fertilization among your customers.
Crafting an efficient API platform, and growing a community of users-developers-designers clearly relies on a conductor with high technical- and use- competences.
Out on the edge, African ‘street-innovation’
For international Telcos, the challenge of embellishing the network with services and APIs becomes all the more difficult when operations and innovation labs occur in different countries: looking for cooperative innovation across borders, you really need someone to bridge the gap.
Let’s take the example of Africa: everything you’ve always taken for granted regarding mobile use might prove to be slightly different there. Safaricom’s MPesa is a mobile money service, an unexpected use of a mobile: it lets people tranfser money via SMS from mobile to mobile, the amount of money is stored on the SIM card. It has met phenomenal success in Kenya and now disseminates across Africa: ‘Orange money’ offers mobile payement with stores or M-Sente, Uganda Telecom’s mobile wallet offering.
Jan Chipcase, Executive Creative Director of Global Insights at Frog is a tireless traveller in search of nuanced patterns in human behaviour: ‘When it comes to cutting-edge technologies that haven’t yet been implemented in the community or country you’re interested in, it helps to go elsewhere, to the early-adopter places. They aren’t always the most tech-savvy cultures, just the ones that took a particular step first. Thus, for mobile money services, Kenya provides the dominant model’.
He unfolds a few surprises about mobile use in developing countries in his Ted speech:
- ‘What do people carry? Keys, money, and… mobile phones!’;
- ‘Bank account are not a widespred mean; for people with no bank account, storing your money in a phone is a safe way to keep your money’;
- ‘Illiteracy: how do you access and manage your contacts when you can’t read? one uses delegation and gets help from friends and family’;
- ‘Street innovation: fixing and repair shops have multiplied in the streets of India, it challenges the way we design things’;
Jan expresses some key lessons for design: ‘Understanding the immediacy of ideas and objects that mobile is bringing, designing toolbox for street innovation, following conversations and developing ability to listen, are fundations to build relevant mobile innovation’.
At Netexplo Digital Awards, Amadou Mahtar Ba, Co-founder & Chairman AllAfrica, shared a few insights :
- ‘Digital pattern in Africa: when a lady touches her hair 20 times a day, an African citizen touches his phone 84 times a day’
- ‘One key economic lever stays in greater connectivity to collect, visualize, interpret, and improve social and human life’;
- ‘Kenya is leading the innovation in digital media, way before South Africa, thanks to positive regulation’;
And Yoza Cellphone Stories, a Netexplo laureat, added: ‘Mobile data is cheap and reliable in Africa. Mobile unleashes infinite possibilities for creative services’.
Mobile connectivity is paramount: in some Africa’s refugee camps where there is no water nor electric power, there is a generator to recharge your mobile battery, says Claude Guibal, journalist expert of Africa. Rural African families tend to send their chidren to urban universities more and more. Why? Because once the children find a job and earn money, mobile money makes it easy to send some back to the villages .
For Mickael Ghossein, Orange Kenya, CEO, ‘Future of mobile is data’. His assumption might turn real quite fast, as Mozilla and Foxconn are partnering to produce Smartphones priced below $50.
Recently Orange opened access to a large dataset from its network in Ivory Coast: 2.5 billion records, calls and text messages exchanged between 5 million anonymous users were shared with researchers worldwide. D4D (Data For Development) Challenge showed tremendous projects, and surprising findings, correlating for example phone calls activity with pandemic spread.
Getting the right start for your API platform requires an in-depth understanding of developers local uses: think of the ‘street innovation’ anthill of activity.
Innovation hubs are surging: in Kenya incubation places and accelerators such as iHub and 88MPH are paving the way of a Silicon Savannah.
It’s time to go in the field and meet with Africa’s mobile app makers and entrepreneurs.
Observing usage patterns, capturing innovation trends and dataset needs, connecting to innovation Labs, and specifying bespoke ‘toolbox for design’ and purposeful enablers for mobiles apps, developing, testing, learning and relentlessly iterating with entrepreneurs-developers community, are the ingredients of the cutting chase and agile formula.
image credits: joniniemela.com, pandorasotherbox.com, JanChipchase.com, VisionMobile.com, Frenchweb
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Nicolas is a senior VP at Orange Innovation Group. Serial innovator, he set-up creative BU with an international challenge, and a focus on new TV experiences. Forward thinker, he completed a thesis on “Rapid Innovation”, implemented successfully at Orange, and further developed at nbry.wordpress.com. He tweets @nicobry