Collaboration between business and government important for success of IT industry

Yaron Assabi is the founder and CEO of Digital Solutions Group (DSG), a company that began as Digital Mall in 1998 and offered retailers a new marketing channel in e-business during a time when there was little activity in the e-commerce market in South Africa. Now, DSG is an investment holding company in the ICT sector with 12 affiliate companies and is able to provide an array of digital solutions to businesses through the use of multi-channel technology platforms. DSG’s clients include telecommunication operators MTN and Vodacom and food retailers like Nando’s and Famous Brands. The group is based in South Africa with offices in Nigeria, Kenya and Mauritius and additionally works with clients in Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, DRC, Ghana, Seychelles and Zambia.

Yaron Assabi

Assabi tells How we made it in Africa about the ICT sector in Africa, and the impact of mobile usage on the continent.

Describe some of the trends you are seeing in Africa’s ICT sector

Investors are flooding into Africa from all corners of the world as the untapped business opportunities on the continent become more apparent. Over the past decade, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were in Africa. While mining and oil remain high on investor business agendas, infrastructure investment, the consumer market, and ICT have become ‘hotbeds’ of activity.

Social media, smartphones, tablet PCs and more affordable access to remote and wireless internet connections have contributed to this converged cultural shift we are seeing in Africa and the world. Wireless technology has continued to play a pivotal role in this converged culture by connecting business and communities through such projects as the BRICS Cable, which aims to connect the BRICS countries and the United States with a 34,000 kilometre two-fibre pair submarine cable that will boost trade links and economic competitiveness.

With the undersea cable projects that are landing in South Africa/Africa that will open up an excess of bandwidth capacity, we will also see the market open up and become more competitive. Possibly one of the greatest developments we will see in line with this is an increasing uptake of cloud-hosted services across a number of business applications such as CRM, billing, email, social networking and instant messaging.

Additionally, research shows that South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria will lead the ICT sector as they have seen the most growth and investment in recent years. That doesn’t necessarily mean business development will be restricted to these countries as almost all African countries have attractive growth opportunities.

What are your thoughts on mobile usage in Africa?

We are experiencing a mobile explosion. In fact, Africa has overtaken Asia Pacific as the world’s fastest-growing region in terms of cellular connections. Africa is revolutionising how the rest of the world thinks about mobile technology by utilising every available means of mobile technology. But more research is still required to assist investors in understanding the unique needs of each of the 54 countries in Africa.

Additionally, the benefits that mobile growth has brought – and will continue to bring to Africa – will far outweigh any operational costs. Mobile operators and stakeholders from around the world are coming to invest in the continent and the benefits are slowly becoming visible.

Where mobile phones have become increasingly sophisticated featuring applications that revolutionise the way we live and work. Smartphones and internet-enabled feature phones are providing a platform for innovation and creativity that allows for new opportunities for business growth in Africa. By the end of 2012, there will be an estimated 735 million mobile subscribers in Africa.

What role do you see ICT playing in Africa in the next 10-20 years?

ICT has a massive role to play in Africa over the next decade. The success of its future lies in the collaboration of business and government rolling out the correct regulations that will increase infrastructure development as well as creating innovative business models that will alleviate Africa’s challenges such as low cost devices, remote healthcare and education. If this can be overcome, mobile operators and stakeholders from around the world will come to invest in the continent.

ICT definitely has the ability to improve quality of life in poor communities by bridging the digital divide. In fact it has already proven the opportunity to provide inexpensive access to mobile content that can offer innovative solutions to local problems.