Mobile phones are increasingly playing a larger role in the expansion of electronic commerce (e-commerce) in developing countries, helping to improve how businesses are run, according to experts. Owing to the advent of the internet and the high rate of mobile connections, entrepreneurs are embracing the ICT revolution.
In recent years, many developing countries have seen a surge in mobile commerce. Internet penetration across Africa, for example, remains low and computers are often too expensive to purchase. However, there are currently 695 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa. This has given Africans a simple and pervasive means of sharing information and conducting business, even in spite of the fact that online business transactions can be logistically complicated to execute.
‘The future of the digital is mobile, and businesses need to familiarise themselves with the mobile platform,’’ said Tunji Adegbesan, strategy lead, Lagos Business School, in a panel discussion during the EDC 2013 SME toolkit conference with the theme: ‘Increasing Access to Small Business Solutions,’ adding that “SMEs should therefore be looking to invest in new solutions, as it allow
them to be part of global development and has the potential to fuel e-commerce opportunities.”
‘‘The future is mobile, and processes will have to adopt same. Small businesses have a role to play, by forcefully creating solutions to meet clients’ needs, beyond single value prepositions, in sync with the trend,’’ Mayowa Owolabi, partner, Dudupay, also said.
In recent years, there has been an acknowledgement in the SME sector that ICT solutions can lower overheads and improve efficiencies. This has happened because of the growing focus on providing tailor-made solutions for the sector by ICT services providers.
In a number of African countries, notably Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia, entrepreneurs are using calling and texting services to acquire locally relevant information and services. In the near future, internet-enabled phones may help to deliver the same services but more efficiently, according to a recent study by the World Trade Organisation.
With the emergence of the mobile phones, new technologies and a strong drive towards digitisation, the role of ICT as an essential component of the competitive armoury for SMEs has become even more critical. As with other advancements, the needs of customers often place enormous pressure on business to innovate, as a means not only to stay relevant, but to grow the business and improve customer experience.
Experts say that with the shift that’s currently taking place in the ICT sector, driven by a strong desire to provide customers with a better customer experience, there’s expectation that mobile technologies can do more for SMEs, as a way to stimulate economic growth and propel this important segment of most economies into a digital future.
‘‘While the mobile phone may have taken the role of a fixed line and the smartphone is quickly replacing the computer in many parts of the world, it is the adoption of managed services such as cloud computing which is certain to take the growth and improved efficiency of SMEs to new heights,’’ Farhad Khan, Enterprise Business Unit executive, MTN, was quoted as saying recently.
A recent innovation, cloud computing is basically pay-as-you-use IT. It is the delivery of hosted applications and services over the internet. This enables the delivery of communication services, remotely enabling users to access services virtually anywhere, at any time.
Analysts say SMEs, perhaps, more than any customer group are embracing digital solutions at speed, with digital now widely predicted to become the main customer relationship channel for SMEs in the next couple of years. To a large extent, this is being fuelled by the rapid advance of smartphones and tablets globally.