Tuesday February 11 2014

TECH AND BUSINESS: How to make technology useful

By Joyce Kyeyune Tonda

I’m hard pressed to name a computing technology made in Uganda that has had a profound transformation on our society. Scathing? Like a colleague pointed out, plenty of Ugandans have won thousand dollar awards in Barcelona and other far off places but back home, where’s the impact?

Where are the successful businesses emerging out of these apps?
Universities and tech hubs throughout the country now churn out hundreds of eager young developers all bent on making “the app”. App-making is empowering. With a little bit of cram work on the code, you can actually make something that will be useful to plenty of people. No degrees required. Plenty of opportunity for accolades. The good ones will achieve fame in the inner tech circles, and the really lucky ones may even get a paragraph in the dailies, and experience the classic problem of forever being on the cusp of being the next big thing. Until a new kid appears on the block.

Inventing for the sake of inventing soon becomes old. Eventually the lack of a jackpot at the end of the tunnel will muzzle even the most eager beavers.
While success has been seen in the: “Make it and they will come”(Mobile Money, mobile phones), the challenge for many developers is invention in a silo comprising like-thinking peers who know little about the real day-to-day problems that need to be solved and more about the “cool features” that can be added.

The apps being developed aren’t solving the critical problems that the average Ugandan faces and so interest and uptake of Barcelona winning apps remains limited and eventually shrivels to zero shillings. And the cycle starts again with the next batch of graduates.
It is interesting that even after a nifty presentation, the investors on British business show Dragon’s Den will never invest in a start-up that has not acquired substantial customers. The proof is in who is putting their money down for your invention, not the standing ovations.

That young Ugandans (like many young people worldwide) can develop apps is no longer a phenomenon. Stage 2 is about the business model. Can those apps be made useful enough to make profitable techpreneurs?

To understand anybody’s problem and indeed to solve it, you must in some way be directly or indirectly affected by the problem. I gravitate toward business apps that solve critical challenges businesses in the region face. I am currently looking for a local shopping comparison app. Like plenty of mums out there, I want an app that helps me know the best vendors for all sorts of odds and bits for children. The mom equivalent of proggie.ug.

We do tend to complicate innovation. Sometimes solving the most obvious, simplest, problems is the first step towards creating some technology people are willing to pay for and recommend to their friends.

An idealistic world of futuristic invention is great for campus days but the next great app requires coming down to earth to solve real human problems.

Joyce Kyeyune Tonda is the Managing Editor of Enterprise Technology and Director in The Knowledge Management Company. jonaiga@gmail.com