How to create sustainable innovation environment

Mobile money has been one of the technology advancements that the Kenyan market has experienced. FILE
Mobile money has been one of the technology advancements that the Kenyan market has experienced. FILE 

Innovation has been quite the buzz word this year and tales of what is happening in Kenya and Africa in matters technology have reverberated across the globe.

This buzz has been fuelled mainly by product and service innovation, where local needs have given rise to globally-recognised models — think M-pesa, Kopa Chapaa and M-shwari. This is to say that the wow factor has not been in the technology itself but more on the uptake and impact.

Relevance in a rapidly-changing space means that unless we continuously churn out products and services that can scale up and that are sustainable, they will be committed to the archives — and this I am afraid is the path we are headed to with a product or service-centric innovation model.

Why, you ask? It is that many other factors are at play in the grand scheme of things and it is hardly ever the brilliance of a product or service alone that delivers the payload.

I wish to explore another angle to innovation — that of entire ecosystems. The key to creating a sustainable innovation pipeline lies here, where we look at the bigger picture.

M-pesa grew out of extraordinary circumstances right from the idea phase through to its deployment, and this is evidenced by the difficulty other rollouts are facing trying to replicate the same. Service replication is easy, but without the alignment of other critical components, then success cannot be guaranteed.

Vision Mobile released an innovation tool box whose insights could be mapped locally to give better visibility to ecosystem innovation. The core is that there are five pillars that support this innovation: software foundations, developer communities, distribution channels, discovery and monetisation.

Software foundation’s would be where the telcos open up their systems securely via a robust set of application programming languages to allow for a larger pool of ideas to be developed. This is already happening locally with Airtel making available sixty four API sets ranging in function from messaging, advertising, location, voice and mobile commerce. Safaricom is also deploying a new service delivery platform to offer a certain level of visibility to developers. This is where we seem to have stopped.

Developer engagement needs to be improved upon drastically. Distribution and discovery can be easily sorted with a well thought out application or services store. We have USSD and SMS channels to think about in African markets.

In monetisation, we need to rethink business models around current services — such a reviews in revenue share agreements, which in Africa are skewed to the operators, and developing new models for services that did not exist.

Njihia is CEO of Symbiotic Twitter: @mbuguanjihia