Monday, August 11, 2014

Unbalanced Access To FREE Tech Media

Access to information in South African townships is tenuous compared to historically white suburbs. Although I haven’t spent sufficient amount of time in townships of other African countries, I can confidently say that they face a similar challenge, albeit with different degrees. Access to information related to Technology or Entrepreneurship is a bigger worriment.

I’m grateful for Entrepreneurs like Alan Knott-Craig who have realized the necessity of internet access in townships and are introducing free WiFi to those that need it most.

It’s disquieting however, how marginalized South African townships remain with regard to access to free print media that could transform their lives.

What hope do we have?

This is not a personal attack on TechSmart but a message to all freemium media houses, including those outside the Technology space. Using TechSmart as an example is mainly because they’re said to be the largest in my field.


Whether to remain hopeful that we’ll see such media houses taking townships more seriously as a target audience could be rooted in the last question of this screen-capture.


As of 06 August 2014, the above question was not answered. Note that both questions were posted by non-white people and the later post was answered. We can safely say that the question being ignored is not race related. To be fair, not many of the questions on their page go answered. I’d like to think that this is only the case for the public eye. I tried to reach the person who posted this question to see if he had received a private answer. That only earned me a spot on the list of ignored persons.

I made a call to Matrix Warehouse in Soweto Maponya Mall to discover that roughly 30 copies are delivered there each month. I must have given them the impression that I work for TechSmart because they were quick to point that they hadn’t received this month’s batch.  
In June 2014, TechSmart published an article on their website with the title “The Night Light Solar Candle is an eco-friendly light designed and developed in SA”. Aside from being impressed by the invention, I was left quizzical. What audience would benefit most from reading this article? Was this article aimed at generating philanthropy, sympathy or simply educating the privileged of what products are out there for the “impoverished households and poorer communities”? Either way, there is some hope that they’re thinking about us back at the ranch.

We need to accept that such companies are not Social Enterprises and need to maximise profits. They need to attract advertisers to their affluent audience and boast such key metrics on their site
  • 85% of their readers as male;
  • 71% of their readers aged between 18 and 44;
  • 46% spent R10000 or more on technology purchases in 2013.
Alas!  "We are now paying less attention to school deliveries, while also minimising the amount of magazines left over at the end of the month," said Renier van Vuuren back in 2011, distribution manager of Smart Publishing. 

It’s not all doom and gloom though! The optimist in me sees some hope in the following item listed under their Mission statement:

“Promote reading and provoke thought”
Who needs this most? Aha!!!

An Unerring Target  Market?

To start with, TechSmart lists Living Standards Measure (LSM) 7-10 as their Target Market.
I’m not sure whether TechSmart is using the LSM10 or LSM14 model, but I’m assuming they mean to highlight the top salaried of South Africa.

In November 2012, Megan Chronis dissected this “top third of South African society” with the following points of relevance to my concern:

  • "Over the past decade, the LSM 7-10 supergroup has undergone substantial change."
  • "And with its change in size, there has also been a change in its makeup. In particular, since AMPS 2001, LSM 7-10 has become younger and its racial profile has shifted markedly."
  • "There are 149% more black people in the upper LSMs today than there were 10 years ago, while whites have declined by 45%, Indians by 20% and coloureds by 3%."
  • "The majority of LSM 7-10 falls into SAARF’s ‘At-Home Singles’ lifestage group (24.2%), with ‘Young Families’ (19.3%) and ‘Mature Couples’ (12.9%) the next two biggest lifestage segments."

Considering most black people's backgrounds, a huge chunk of these wealthy "At-Home Singles" would be in black townships. Product consumption patterns of Black South Africans are complicated but I can assure you that more than half of this group are avid readers and gadget junkies. The mapping of black diamonds into the LSM model is a complex task, but those of us from townships know that a lot of black people living in townships also consume what TechSmart promotes.

I grew up in a township in the East Rand of Johannesburg and don’t advocate all issues development-related starting in Soweto. Soweto is however the largest township in South Africa and the question posted on the TechSmart page above refers to Soweto. Soweto boasts the largest township shopping mall too. Delivering 30 copies of TechSmart in Soweto compared to the tray of copies that last for about 2 weeks in Bedforview Shopping Centre is a sign of myopia.

The lack of presence of some media houses in townships highlights the disconnection between the reality of development in South Africa and those who are meant to feed the demands that further development calls for.

Soweto was an easy example to use. It would have been interesting to investigate the situation for Indian communities like Lenasia. Such communities have histories of tycoons and a youth that is hungry for gadgets or “knowing their numbers”.

So-Where-To Next?


Digital media is the new print ink. Most companies are advised to invest less in the print direction. This article is therefore unlikely to achieve much and there’s a dwindling hope that we’ll ever decrease the gap between the haves and have-nots. The ABC 2014 Q1 report lists TechSmart as one of the Consumer Magazines showing largest decline in circulation. It does however highlight that print media will not die anytime soon and should not be seen as a competitor to digital media.

Forced to live the neoliberal myth of a “trickle down economy”


Do we create need to create our own non-white Tech print media like the route taken by the likes of Daily Sun?

Should we wait for freemium media houses to study our market segment further and hope that soon they realize the potential they’ve missed all along?

Without resources and the passion to go into freemium media myself, the best I can do is take 2 or 3 copies whenever I pop into a privileged shopping mall and circulate them amongst my circle back home. There are probably others that do the same and we’ve probably created an informal distribution network that we’re unaware of. Is this Prince of Thieves model sustainable though?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Invitation to Softstart BTI Incubation Programme

City of Johannesburg is inviting 40 Youths to join their Startups Incubation Programme. In partnership with Microsoft, they will be hosting ICT Boot Camps between the 22nd to the 24th of August 2014, and/or the 27th to the 28th of August 2014.

To qualify you need the following:
  • Tech Startup in Software Development or Consulting
  • Your Startup needs to be less than 5 years old or have a turnover of less than R5 Million
  • The Startup must be privately owned 
To express interest, please send the following to our Editors to facilitate:
  • Name and Surname
  • Identity Document number
  • Name of Company

Tefo Mohapi (Executive Editor) : tefo@iafrikan.com

Peter Peele (Startups Editor) : peter@iafrikan.com


To find out more about their integrated packages and success stories please visit the Softstart BTI website.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mineral Rich Continent Without Enough Tech Start-Ups To Match

It is well known that Africa has vast wealth of mineral resources and that the Mining Industry contributes significantly to its economy. For many African countries, Mining remains an important source of export earnings. In 2012, the Mining Industry contributed 5.5% to South African GDP and accounted for 38% of its total exports, for example. Globally, some of our mineral reserves are ranked either first or second. Botswana, for instance, is the world’s largest diamond producer by value.

In the past decade, however, Mining companies faced various challenges and we’ve seen some of its contribution to GDP decline. In South Africa for example, some of the Mining sectors saw rising costs and labour unrest. Mining overall has been under an unsustainable environment and continues to call for innovative solutions.
Goldman Sachs lists “Driving innovation via increased investment in research and development and technology” as one of the 10 key issues to address South Africa’s declining global competitiveness [1]. I would imagine that the same would be recommended for other African countries.

With the impression that Africa is a world leader in Mining and given its Technology challenges, should we not have deafening activity in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) from local Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) in this space?

ICT Adoption in Mining

We’re past the stage of convincing Africa’s Mining Industry that advantages exist from Technology Investment if applied well. We're over the period of “lack of business commitment to/awareness of IT” as an impediment [2]. ICT is seen as a strategic necessity for improvement of safety and operational effectiveness [3]. Africa’s Mining Industry invests billions of Rands per annum towards ICT and Innovation. This stems from the need for Mining companies to innovate to meet falling real prices. Between 2011 and 2013, Gold has had its steepest decline in 30 years for example.

According to “Tracking The Trends 2014” (Mining) by Deloitte, “Rather than one-off cost reductions, mining companies must embark on sustainable cost management programs to become – and remain – lowest-quartile-cost producers.” Deloitte lists some strategies to consider in these programs and one of the key elements of these strategies is Technology.
AngloGold Ashanti CEO Srinivasan (Venkat) Venkatakrishnan recently told Mining Weekly Online that technology is the “single key we have to improve productivity, which is the answer to a number of issues within the South African mining industry”.

Diminishing Engineering skills on mines means that companies have had to reduce capacity to experiment with alternative solutions in-house. They’re also looking for you, “garage inventor”.


Status Quo

We've seen a number of excellent Technology solutions come out of big Mining companies, primarily sourced from Technology companies outside Africa. For decades we had South African gold mining companies pioneering innovation through the Chamber of Mines Research Organization (COMRO) with Hydraulic Technologies, for instance.

We currently have great Innovation Research Programmes like Coaltech 2020 which involves some large corporations and research institutions. Mintek is another formidable player in South Africa. I’m by no means discrediting any of their contributions. The average South African Techie unfortunately doesn't know much about such programmes, regardless of the size of this industry.

Big companies aside, I've personally come across very few SMMEs looking at ICT solutions in this space. Besides, having only seen "repeat technologies" adopted from other continents and the lack of Invention/Innovation, I find that these Entrepreneurs are not vocal about what they’re doing or visible enough. At least not to the degree I would expect, given that Africa is a world leader in Mining.

I've seen relatively few products or discussions come out of Innovation Hub, JoziHub or Silicon Cape primarily focused on Mining Technology. Are discussions around Mining Technology ever featured in Tech Hangouts or any of the TedX events in Africa?
If we have to examine the activity of 100% black owned companies in this space, the picture becomes even more displeasing. That’s however a topic that deserves its own article.

Where’s the challenge?

I've heard many stories of employees in Mining companies writing innovative software applications to optimize existing Mining methods or processes, and having the Intellectual Property taken from them by their employer. We cannot say the capability is not there. What could possibly keep the average Techie from exploring this industry?
  • Perhaps the culture of Tech Entrepreneurship is not mature enough in Africa to be prominent in the Mining industry. Historically, IT penetration in the Mining industry has been lower than in many other industries, which is understandable given the high correlation between IT penetration and the scale/scope of the knowledge work performed by an organisation. Could it be the lack of lucidity of “Ability to Service” and the assumption that a Mining background is mandatory?
  • I think we can rule out the old belief that majority of IT spend goes towards in-house IT support and less towards development of new solutions aimed at efficiency. This has changed significantly over the past decade.
  • Recently, the South African mining industry is seen as unstable and marred with labour strikes leading to business change. Business change affects the complexity and spend for the IT landscape. This instability and, an industry tainted with corruption and unaccountable bureaucracies could be contributors.
  • Could there also be a fear of labourers and unions opposing certain Technologies that might be misconstrued as being introduced to police or replace jobs. Sabotage by the labourers is a problem faced by many companies that introduce ICT change.
There are solutions to overcome some of these challenges. For instance, the method of transparency and clear communication of change benefits has been used to overcome resistance from labourers.
The above considerations don’t warrant this amount of silence from Tech SMMEs in this industry.

Let’s Get Cracking

There is no doubt that First World countries have decades of research behind them. They’re significantly advanced in terms of Tech Development and measures taken to address problems of adoption. However, the closer you are to the problem the better a solution you can produce. Local Entrepreneurs have that advantage.

Governments and mining companies have committed to injecting billions of Rands into Technology and Innovation. We have an industry with identified needs and not enough SMME activity. Outside of what existing companies traditionally explore (mining methods, process control, etc), there are many technologies that SMMEs could be looking at (training applications, solutions using Augmented Reality, surveillance systems, product tracking systems, etc).
If you're already out there, you're not loud enough.


References

  1. Two Decades of Freedom – Goldman Sachs
  2. South African Coal Mining Industry, State of IT - Deloitte
  3. The implementation of new technology in southern African mines: Pain or panacea by A.S. Macfarlane*
  4. Mining: Tracking the trends 2014, Deloitte
  5. http://www.miningweekly.com/article/exciting-new-gold-mechanisation-achieving-more-success-anglogold-2014-02-19