With smartphone use in Africa skyrocketing, companies on the continent are taking heed and employing mobile enterprise applications to streamline business processes and mobilize their workforces.
Mobile enterprise apps let companies manage resources such as inventory and their supply chain using mobile phones, either through SMS or Web-enabled applications. Fueling the trend is the steady increase in the number of mobile users on the continent. Africa will have approximately over 300 million smartphone users by 2017, about 30 percent of the population, according to research from Informa, Telecoms and Media.
Magic Software, an enterprise software provider with headquarters in Israel and offices in South Africa, offers applications including enterprise resource planning software (ERP) and has a keen interest in the growing Africa mobile market.
"Enterprise mobility will enable African businesses to leapfrog their developed world counterparts," said Lindsay Britz, Magic Software regional marketing manager. "By developing for mobile first, African businesses can streamline their business processes from the start, speeding transactions and processes, improving customer service and satisfaction and increasing operational efficiency."
Mobile enterprise application company access.mobile sees opportunities for the healthcare market. The company, with offices in Uganda and the U.S , offers mobile Web applications designed to help hospitals manage patient records and drug inventories.
The company currently has 10 employees and a local software and user support/experience team based in Kampala, Uganda.
Access.mobile realized its potential in the market when the company was asked to collect data from 70 healthcare institutions in Uganda in 2012. The work involved translating their paper-based information into a digital framework. Kaakpema Yelpaala, CEO and founder of access.mobile, says that its application solves many issues that hospitals have faced in the past.
"In the health sector, we see more and more hospitals looking to manage their operations electronically, particularly private health facilities in urban centers," Yelpaala said.
"With increasing competition in the private health sector, our market research shows that facilities aim to build strong relationships with their patients and more effectively manage their operations through technology solutions tailored to their needs," he added.
The company's ClinicCommunicator is a mobile-Web platform that helps health practitioners communicate with their patients, making access to information easier in urban and even in rural Africa. The application was launched in July this year.
"The app includes appointment reminders, to reduce the number of missed appointments and minimize long queues in the waiting area; medication reminders, to remind patients to take their medication, with particular relevance for chronic conditions such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS; and real-time engagement, to alert patients to new health threats, such as Ebola, and supply other important health information," Yelpaala said.
The mobile application was tested at the International Hospital Kampala, and is getting uptake throughout the region.
Locally developed solutions such as ClinicCommunicator are becoming increasingly important for the improvement of local healthcare delivery services, according to Ian Clarke, a doctor who is chairman of the Uganda Healthcare Federation.
"Like many countries in East Africa, Uganda's fast growing economy is increasing demand for private sector health solutions and the professionalization of healthcare services," Clarke says. "Solutions like access.mobile's patient engagement system ClinicCommunicator are playing an increasingly important role in improving the ability of patients to connect with their healthcare providers outside of the hospital setting."
But there are challenges of introducing software-as-a-service in this virgin market.
"Software-as-a-Service is new in many African markets; it can be a challenge for the market to shift from the custom software build, one-off payment model, to paying subscriptions (monthly or annual) to a vendor to use a technology, even if the price point ends up over the long term being cheaper than custom building software from scratch," Yelpaala said.
"We have found from our work that a strong focus on product usability is important," he added. "We see that in many cases the core challenges to adoption are related to tailoring solutions to user needs and not just technological bottlenecks. Additionally, we find it critical to continually generate user feedback and respond to that feedback quickly to gain momentum."
Lindsay Britz from Magic Software suggests that having a skilled workforce could increase the spread and use of enterprise mobile applications. "Often, developing multi-channel apps require multiple developers with specialized knowledge of the coding language of each operating system and device as well as best practices for mobile UI and UX issues," Britz said. In many cases acquiring such talent can be an uphill task.
Africa's young infrastructure also poses challenges to enterprise software solutions. "The major point of providing mobile enterprise apps is to empower employees, customers and partners to work when and where it's convenient, so they should be able to continue to work even if they lose internet connectivity," Britz adds.
But even so, the future for enterprise mobility and software as a service seems bright in the growing tech scene in Africa.
For access.mobile, Africa is a great canvas to spread their solutions. "We aim to continue to find partners to utilize our product ClinicCommunicator and expand the product's reach in East and then West Africa," Yelpaala said. "We believe that decision support and analytics features are increasingly important to help our clients better manage their facilities and interactions with patients. We also expect that our platform can be utilized in other sectors, though our current focus is on the health sector."