In this exclusive interview, Mark Schoeman, the principal of C0DE (the Centre of Digital Excellence), talks about the challenges facing digital growth in Africa and what businesses can do to develop resilient digital strategies.
If there’s anything the past two years have taught us, it’s that being available digitally and providing digital access to your services is crucial to survival. But how does this look on a continent like Africa, where digital infrastructure is poor?
We spoke to Mark Schoeman, a truly impressive digital strategist, about this and other digital issues and digital growth across our continent. You can watch him talking about his work here, but to summarise, he’s the Principal of the Centre of Digital Excellence (C0DE) at Genesis Analytics, and is a technical advisor to Uganda’s Presidential Task Force on the Fourth Industrial Revolution where he is co-creating the country’s national 4IR strategy. He led the formulation of a digital economy master plan for South Africa and led the teams developing national digital economy strategies in Malawi and Tanzania. He also manages the South Africa in the Digital Age initiative which developed a job creation plan for the digital economy and is now working with the Presidency to action the strategic imperatives.
The below video is our interview and as you’ll see, Mark is fascinating and has many insights about these and other topics. If you don’t have time to watch the interview, you can download the transcript here.
My key takeaways from our discussion:
- More than ever, the customer really should form the core of your business! As Mark says, “it's about putting the user at the center of the process, understanding what their pain points are, what their experience of using the technology is, and making sure that you design with all of that in mind, so that you don't end up with the solution that ultimately is not going to be used, it's not going to deliver value, and that is not going to give you the results that you're hoping to get.”
- Shift your focus: don’t focus on the “cool technology”, rather focus on the problem you’re trying to solve. Mark calls this “technology chasing a problem”. He explains in more detail, but a key quote is, “The most important thing is figuring out where there's a problem searching for technology. So any corporate, any organization must have a very clear view of what are the bottlenecks, the problems, the blockages to growth that that organization is experiencing. And then look for the tech solutions that are actually going to fix that.”
- Technology is helpful, but that doesn’t mean people and humans in your business don’t matter. Remember the customer experience when adopting technical measures like AI, machine learning and chatbots.
- Think about how technology impacts your customers, but also your staff! Mark explains, “We should think through carefully how we take everyone along with us on this journey - in a way that includes them rather than excludes them.”
- The pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns have helped businesses grow in Africa, and forced some creative adaptions of technology. Mark says, “It's been amazing to see even before the pandemic, how the use of even feature phones, which are quite prevalent in Africa now, have given rise to an amazing ecosystem of digital tools and business models that help everyday citizens and organizations to do tasks that they need to get done better, more cheaply, more efficiently.”
- It’s important to overcome the digital divide, and keep the digital divide in mind when developing your business’ tech solutions.
- Digital literacy is also pivotal to digital solutions, but this involves more than understanding the tech - do people understand their rights when it comes to their data and what they’re agreeing to when they sign up for a platform?
In short, though the world is changing rapidly, some fundamentals remain true when planning for resilience and growth.