Trends: What tech players want you to look out for

Tuesday February 12 2019

Developers at an innovation hub in Uganda.

Developers at an innovation hub in Uganda. Innovators should focus on localising most of the solutions that are powered by artificial intelligence. PHOTO BY ERONIE KAMUKAMA 

By Eronie Kamukama

Technology continues to change the way we live our lives and run our businesses. Last year, the tech space was all about data, internet connectivity, social media usage, Fintechs, block chain technology, and crypto currencies.
For technology enthusiasts, it was a mixture of good and bad. With 2018 out of the way, technology is tipped to get better depending on what you use it for.

Technology experts say Fintechs or financial technology will continue to be a powerful force. “We saw banks move into mobile banking. We saw Fintechs gain traction and try to raise some money for investment and some got funds from investors. The trend this year is going to be almost the same except we need to turn that potential into reality. People need to start adopting these technologies,” Mr Allan Rwakatungi, founder Xente Tech Limited says.

Michael Niyitegeka, an information technology consultant is in agreement. He doubts there will be any major disruptions in the sector but says there will be increased uptake in existing technologies. His first pick in this regard is the financial sector, with banks and telecoms taking the lead role.

“If the tax regime doesn’t come in to disrupt like it did with mobile money, we will see more integration on mobile money although MTN has tripled its mobile money to bank accounts fees. That is not a good one but Fintechs all the same will be a big player,” Mr Niyitegeka says.
His other pick is blockchain technology. He believes there could be a few pilots in companies or sectors such as agriculture but even better if attitude change towards it happens.

“For blockchain to work the way it is supposed to, the human element is still a big component. The underlying aspect of blockchain is transparency and the biggest influencer in its adoption is government. But do you think it can open up its processes and make them transparent? That is where my challenge is,” Mr Niyitegeka says.
Hive Colab co-founder Teddy Ruge says Fintechs continue to trend, with the rise of mobile money making it easier for people to move money and pay for goods and services.

“Even though uninformed government regulations threaten to strangle innovation, I believe the march towards the digital economy is well under way. Paying employees for example, can now be conducted via mobile money, helping the unbanked experience the next generation of banking on their phones,” Mr Ruge says.

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Digital payments
He says increased digitisation of payment will give rise to apps that are sector specific. For example, an app to help you find the nearest hospital with the specific services you need, where you can set an appointment, be reminded to take your medication and even pay for the medical visit, all at once or in several payments.
You cannot find that kind of flexibility in cash, he says. Another example is being able to pull up an app and find a mechanic right near where your vehicle broke down, they repair your car and you can pay via mobile money. You can even see their ratings before you call them.

“That app exists now. Imagine how much better it will be a year from now. But we will not have these solutions without a common platform. I think we are going to continue seeing the uptake of mobile phones as those get cheaper in the market and more urbanites and trendsetters continue influencing others to join the smartphone lifestyle,” Mr Ruge says.

E-commerce
Mr Rwakatungi observes that e-commerce has struggled over the year but with increase in logistics companies, it should improve.
Mr Richard Zulu, Founder of Outbox, an innovation hub in Kampala on the other hand, predicts investment in the area of data science largely within academia and industry.
“This is not an emerging area per se but it is yet to be fully harnessed on our continent in health, finance, or agriculture.

Artificial Intelligence
“Artificial Intelligence is an emerging theme within technology startups in Uganda and the African continent at large due to the need to improve their offerings,” Mr Zulu says.
Mr Neville Igasira Igunduura, business development and public relations manager at Jumia Uganda, picks on technologies some have heard but are yet to take centre stage in Uganda. Delivering computing services over the internet and creation of machines that work and react like humans (Artificial Intelligence).

“Even though working in the cloud has been around for some time, it has not been affordable for businesses due to the cost of internet in Uganda. With the drop in cost and speed picking up, we should see more businesses integrate it ranging from accounting, Google services and customer relationship management,” Mr Igasira says.
He says artificial intelligence will be needed for companies that require a lot of customer engagement. “Imagine a small shop not needing a customer service attendant and instead uses a chatting application powered by artificial intelligence,” Mr Igasira explains.
“This means better analytics opportunities, better communication lines within companies and to customers, reduction in overhead costs as they do not have to employ people to do the same thing and can now afford to offer 24 hour services.”

Changes they hope for
At a time when Uganda is split into a country with an analog and digital economy yet the trend globally has seen people spend more time and money online, Ugandans and especially business owners that are forward looking and want to remain competitive in the future must make a deliberate move into digitising their services.
“It is a matter of survival. If you are going to have your small shop with phones downtown while another person has a Facebook page and people can pay him directly, you will not survive,” Mr Rwakatungi says.

Experts envisage a year where more organisation apps will be built as part of other technological solutions. However, what they want to see on the market are solutions that speak to market needs.
“If it is an accounting package, can it take care of the guy doing Rolex? As a small shop, what kind of point of sale can I have that is able to have visibility on stock volumes and stock value? Those small things will make technology relevant,” Mr Niyitegeka says.

TURNING DISRUPTION INTO OPPORTUNITY

According the 2019 Dimension Data report, the application of game-changing technologies is becoming more pervasive, and their adoption across industries is growing steadily. Over the last year, we have seen artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, and virtual and augmented reality start to converge to deliver compelling outcomes for many businesses. This trend is set to accelerate in 2019.

The increase in adoption of these innovative technologies comes down to our improved understanding of how and where to use them. But it also comes down to better access to them.
Vendors such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are embedding these capabilities into their platforms at an affordable cost.
In 2019, profitability from the Internet of Things (IoT) will accelerate. The kind of projects that produce a concrete financial improvement tend to be those that look at data through a new lens and apply IoT at multiple points in the value chain.

Tied into this will be the growth of business-to-business digital trading platforms– a world where customers connect directly into a business’ supply chain. And beyond supply chain collaboration, we’ll see integration with customer relationship management systems featuring artificial intelligence and robotic process automation. This will allow consumers to reach right back to a supplier’s inventory through their mobile apps.

Make tech work for you

Mr Igasira says, “Innovators should focus on localising most of the solutions that are powered by artificial intelligence. For example, can one help banks and small business to integrate local languages like Luganda and Swahili into chatting applications?”
But also, since players predict increase in demand for internet services as technology becomes cheaper, the year could get better if government and private sector play a lead role in equipping people with digital skills, which increases appetite to utilise emerging and existing technologies.

Mr Ruge says since government treats new things as a threat and its response is to ban or choke usage, Ugandans will continue to see terrible decisions in the regulatory space that will continue limiting growth and adoption.
“If there is anything I can hope for is that the current examples of recent regulation that proved harmful for the market will be repealed,” Mr Ruge says.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR IN TECHNOLOGY?

With the drop in cost of Internet and speed picking up, we should see more businesses integrate it [cloud]ranging from accounting, Google services and customer relationship management,” MR Neville Igasira Igunduura, business development and public relations manager at Jumia Uganda.

Artificial Intelligence is an emerging theme within technology startups in Uganda and the African continent at large due to the need to improve their offerings,” Mr Richard Zulu, Founder of Outbox

Increased digitisation of payment will give rise to apps that are sector specific. But we will not have these solutions without a common platform. I think we are going to continue seeing the uptake of mobile phones as those get cheaper in the market,” MR Teddy Ruge,
Hive Colab co-founder

If the tax regime doesn’t come in to disrupt like it did with mobile money, we will see more integration on mobile money although MTN has tripled its mobile money to bank accounts fees. That is not a good one but Fintechs all the same will be a big player,” MR Michael Niyitegeka, an information technology CONSULTANT

We saw banks move into mobile banking. We saw Fintechs gain traction and try to raise some money for investment and some got funds from investors. The trend this year is going to be almost the same except we need to turn that potential into reality,” Mr Allan Rwakatungi, founder Xente Tech Limited

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