Category Archives: Service Design

Posts related to the design of mobile market services.

Mobile Phone Practices & The Design of Mobile Money Services for Emerging Markets

This paper by Jan Chipchase applies the lessons learned from of a number of qualitative research studies into communication practices, mobile phone use to the design of mobile money services.

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Searching Where Google Can’t

by Ken Banks, IDG News Service

Wednesday, July 08, 2009 9:40 AM PDT

We read a lot about the delivery, and popularity, of SMS services such as market prices, health advice and job alerts in developing countries, information there is clearly a need for. Only last week Grameen’s AppLab initiative, in conjunction with Google and MTN, launched a suite of SMS services in Uganda. These are the services you’ll get to hear most about when you search the Web, trawl the blogosphere and attend various conferences on the subject. It all seems pretty sewn up on the content side — I mean, what else could people earning a few dollars a day at most possibly want?

I remember my days back in Nigeria, where I worked for the best part of 2002 at a primate sanctuary in Calabar. The mobile phone networks weren’t quite operational yet — there was sometimes a signal and sometimes it worked — but the number of Internet cafes was on the rise. I remember going in during the evenings, usually to find people generally entering competitions to win cars or holidays, looking at females (and males) in varying degrees of undress, trying to find a partner on a dating site, or sending and receiving e-mail. Clearly, this wasn’t the only use of the Internet in Calabar, but nevertheless it interested me to see what people did online once you gave them the opportunity to get there. Let’s put it this way, few people were doing their homework, looking up university education options, checking the price of matoke or learning how to stay fit.

A couple of years ago during my time at Stanford University, I met Rose Shuman, a young entrepreneur living in Berkeley, California. With a background working in developing countries and a masters in international development, Rose had developed a clever “intercom” style box which, when placed in a rural location, allowed people access to the information they sought in a slightly unusual, but innovative manner. It was a one-step-removed type of Internet access.

It works like this: A villager presses a call button on a physical intercom device, located in their village, which connects them to a trained operator in a nearby town who’s sitting in front of a computer attached to the Internet. A question is asked. While the questioner holds, the operator looks up the answer on the Internet and reads it back. All questions and answers are logged. For the villager there is no keyboard to deal with. No complex technology. No literacy issues. And during early trials at least, no cost. Put simply, Question Box, as it’s called, provides immediate, relevant information to people using their preferred mode of communication, speaking and listening. I thought it was great and offered to help.

When I first met Rose she was testing her first Question Box, which had been placed in Phoolpur village in Greater Noida, close to New Delhi, in September 2007. These early prototypes used landlines to connect the Box to the operator, and this has proved to be the weakest link in the technology chain. A reliance on landlines also severely restricts the location where a Box can be placed. It was clear she had a fixed-line problem waiting for a mobile solution — expect to see these rolling out soon.

Since I met Rose in 2007, a lot has happened. A number of shrewd appointments have seen African technology gurus such as Jon Gosier, of Appfrica fame, brought on board. This week Jon launched a very interesting Question Box-related Web site, “World Wants to Know“, which displays the questions being asked in real time. As Jon himself put it, it’s allowing “searching where Google can’t.”

Because many users are, to all intents and purposes, off-grid, some of the data Question Box has been collecting is priceless. When you allow rural people in developing countries to ask any question, what do they ask? What’s important to them? Does it follow our health information model, or market prices idea, or an anticipated need for paid employment? Rose, Jon and the team continue to work through the data, but I can tell you that the results are not only cool, they’re fascinating.

Sure, there are a few of the more likely suspects in there — people asking for exam results, health questions, inquiries about land rights and food commodity prices. But there is also a demand for all sorts of other types of data, much of which I’d never have anticipated. Keep an eye on the Question Box Web site for more.

All of this leads us to a wider, more fundamental issue. Often when we plan and build mobile solutions for developing (or emerging) markets, we forget, neglect or are just plain unsure how to ask the users what it is that they want. The irony might be that, here at least, Question Box might end up being the answer we’re looking for.

via Searching Where Google Can’t – Business Center – PC World.

Talking about Movirtu’s MXShare

On Friday, 23 May Mr. Guy Collender  published through the Guardian, Society an opinion piece considering how mobile technology is benefiting some of the world’s poorest. Left at that, this is not a rare piece of writing to come by these days. But what made the story “Talking about a revolution” conspicuous for me was the fact that it featured Movirtu‘s MXShare — a fascinating technology I came across recently at the Africa Gathering in London.

Katine farmer Dan Ekongu with his mobile phone, which he uses to communicate about agriculture via Talking about a revolution. Photograph: Dan Chung.

I completely agree with Mr. Collender that, “At first glance it is a peculiar and nonsensical idea: owning a mobile phone number, but not a mobile phone.” And even though the immediate benefits of the idea are that it could enable the bottom billion (i.e. the 1 billion people living on less than $2 a day) “to enjoy the benefits associated with a mobile phone number, such as receiving messages and remittances,” I think it could have much wider and far-reaching consequences.

The MXShare concept, installed in the core of a mobile network, enables individuals to share a mobile phone while maintaining separate identities, including a phone number, list of contacts, etc. MXShare makes this possible by creating a virtual mobile system, embedded within an operator’s switching centre.

MXShare’s obvious caveat is that it is not operator agnostic. Many people working in development would consider this an insurmountable drawback, particularly because mobile phone information systems tend to be implemented on a fairly small scale, by NGOs and development organisation, who find it a challenge to get the interest and collaboration of large (read popular) GSM operators.

Although I can see MXShare’s operator dependance as a hindrance to its adoption, I personally am much more intrigued by the possibilities and challenges which the technology concept opens up.

The possibilities stem from the prospect of attaching a fixed identity to mobile phone users. Identifying people is still a challenge in the online world of the Internet but increasingly users of various online services are identified only by their email address and a password. Movitu’s MXShare opens the door to similar solutions to the identification problem in the world of mobiles, a world which is currently hyping about mobile-Web integrated services. Besides allowing people who live on less than $2 a day to receive remittances, the technology can be used as a gateway for the introduction of mobile-Web enabled devices in the developing world. And needless to say, alongside the better devices will come the better services — better m-health, better m-learning, and last but not least, better m-commerce.

For mobile market information services, particularly ones relying on user-generated content, the possibilities offered by identification are considerable. The ability to trace back to its author content of the “classified ad” style, submitted to user-generated content services will increase their appeal. Moreover, it could lead to improvements in the legal framework which would give legitimacy to agreements reached via mobile phone.

Kenya’s Safaricom takes a pasting. Has economic contagion finally reached the booming markets of Africa?

Below I am reprinting a news report by Martyn Warwick , published at TelecomTV | News on 22 May 2009. The report covers thereduction of profits by 23%, announced by Kenya’s and Africa’s biggest mobile operator Safaricom. Alongside with the reduction in profits, the story mentions the significant annual growth in the number of registered users for Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money transfer service. The number of registered users for M-Pesa increased from 2.1 million to 6.1 million. Both of these news from Safaricom in Kenya indicate the relevance and timeliness of the revenue opportunities offered to African mobile operators by mobile market services.

safaricomlogoMore evidence today that the recession is a truly global phenomenon. While in the developed economies of North America, Europe, Japan and Australasia ARPU has been falling and sales of handsets are in decline, over in the burgeoning markets of Africa, (Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, for example) the mobile industry has continued to roar ahead -until today. Martyn Warwick reports.

But today comes news that, for one carrier at least, the economic downturn has now hit home and profitability is on the wane at Safaricom of Kenya, Africa’s biggest mobile carrier.

Mobile penetration in Africa has roared ahead in recent ayears and some industry observers had opined that companies like Safaricom might continue to grow despite the recession. It seems now that this has more to do with wishful thinking than dispassionate analysis.

Figures released this morning show that Safaricom’s full-year profits slid by 23 per cent – mainly because of the prevailing economic conditions but increased competition and increased costs of servicing debt have also played their part.

For the financial year ended 31 March Safaricom made a profit of 15.3 billion Kenyan Shillings – that’s about £126 million Sterling. For the previous year ended march 31, 2008, the company made 19.9 billion Shillings in profit.

Perhaps more worrying is that although the operator’s total revenues were up 15 per cent year on year, ARPU (globally accepted as being a major indicator of performance) is in serious decline have fallen by a massive 23 per cent to 475 Shillings a month.

Over the past 12 months Kenya has suffered remarkably high inflation as the national currency has weakened and the costs of basic foodstuffs, fuel and transport have rocketed. Kenyan consumers, the vast majority of whom are far from wealthy, have less disposable discretionary income than they did 12 months ago and they are using their phones less.

Confidence was also severely dented by the ethnic violence that followed the results of the disputed 2008 general election and that has had a long-term effect on the economy.

Safaricom has been one of Africa’s great success stories. It is the biggest company in East Africa, is valued at in excess of £1 billion, has 2,300 employees and 13 million subscribers. The company is 40 per cent owned by Vodafone, 25 per cent by both private and institutional investors and 35 per cent owned by the Kenyan state.

It has a market share of 79 per cent and has increased its customer base by 31 per cent over the course of 18 months.

However, the market is changing and Safaricom faces increased competition from a raft of rivals including Essar telecom’s “Yu”, Zain of Kuwait and the Orange network of the incumbent, Telkom Kenya. As a result of this intense competition mobile tariffs have fallen by 40 per cent in just a year.

mpesaCommenting on the results, Safaricom’s CEO, the amiable and approachable Michael Joseph said, “It was probably our most challenging year in terms of operating environment. But it’s not all gloom, we have delivered strong results despite the difficult economic conditions and there has been strong growth in the popular M-Pesa money transfer services, with 6.2 million registered users now compared to the 2.1 million of the previous year.”

The CEO added that Safaricom will continue to invest in its network and will also look to acquisitions to maintain its strategy for consistent growth. Mr. Joseph said, “Our capital expenditure is expected to remain high over the next few years as we continue the roll out of our data infrastructure and continue to invest in the capacity, coverage and quality of our network.”

Meanwhile, Richard Hurst, a senior telecoms analyst at research house IDC commented, “In the past, Safaricom has been quite a solid operator, usually coming up with some decent numbers, so it is a bit of a surprise,” and added that Safaricom will have to spend big money on enhancing and expanding its infrastructure if it is to fend off competition and maintain its Number One position.

Hurst believes though that the overall African telecoms will continue to grow at rates higher than in other markets. He says, “We’ve still got some quite substantial growth to go, it’s [the African market] not as saturated as the European, North American or even Asian markets. I think this is just a blip.”

Let’s hope so. New figures from Nigeria expected to be published in the coming weeks may show whether this is indeed a “blip” confined to one company in one country or if the malaise is spreading across Africa.

Market Information System for Ethiopia

News regarding current work on the implementation of a market information systems in Ethiopia, released by Wageningen University and Research Centre (Wagenigen UR – LEI) on 24 Feb 2009.

From 24 to 31 January, Olga van der Valk and Monika Sopov (Wageningen International) visited Ziway and Meki, two villages in the Rift Valley south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Their goal was to develop a Market Information System (MIS) for small-scale outgrowers of green beans, whose production is contracted by an exporter to Europe. The design of an MIS was requested by a project with CFC funding aiming at promoting small-scale growers’ participation in exports. In a workshop with local stakeholders, the findings of an earlier assessment on market information sources and communication lines were discussed.

An MIS is an instrument to reduce market insecurity by providing more transparency in the market. Other instruments are the implementation of (innovative) technology and horizontal and vertical market coordination to strengthen market position and to combat seasonality. To further define the MIS, stakeholders were asked to prioritise their demand for information: whether related to export or domestic markets; whether on daily-changing information such as prices and supply or on market-technical data for the development of marketing strategies.

Neither stakeholders nor farmers currently work with or have a view on long-term marketing strategies to develop the small-scale horticulture sector. This makes it difficult to prioritise the marketing information needed to design and operate an MIS. The proposal by the workshop stakeholders was to enter into dialogue with the Ethiopian government to improve its centralised MIS used for statistical purposes, and to make it more accessible to farmers. The recommendation by the Dutch experts was to set up a business service centre to collect available historical data, including surveys and statistical information, and use this information in the development of marketing planning skills among small-scale farmers and governmental officers. This will enable farmers to efficiently use and sustain the technology currently in development.

Collaboration@Rural in South Africa

Collaboration and Rural (C@R) is an EU project aimed at enabling the participation of European rural dwellers in the knowledge society. The methodology of the project involves the testing new technologies developed by the C@R consotium within 7 Living Labs, including the Sekhukhune Living Lab in South Africa.

Below is a video material presenting the technology developed by SAP to the benefit of SMEs and micro enterprises, within the C@R project. The featured procurement technology is focused on realising benefits through the aggregation of rural demand for manufactured goods andprocessed foodstuffs. The savings are realised due to the lower prices, achieved by a coallition of buyers who manage to order together greater quantities via mobile communication.

The main beneficiaries of the system are Spaza shops which are scattered all over the area and ensure the supply to the rural community of bread and other items such as soap, detergent, clothes etc. Stock replendishment is a challenge to Spaza shop owners because goods need to be sourced from the nearest town, which involves a transportation cost and the opportunity cost of day’s work. Ms. Sesina Mabuza, a Spaza shop owner recounts the financial constraints she faces in re-stocking her shop. Ms. Christina Zikhali, a Spaza shop owner in a very remote village explains the variability of the transportation costs incurred by using shared taxi services.

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Consistent with New Institutional Economics, C@R seeks to reduce transaction costs through vertical integration. The system implemented by SAP facilitates the establishment of virtual buying cooperatives, consisting of a number of Spaza shops and coordinated by local information service providers, known as “nfopreneurs”. The video presents the example of bread supply. Retail shop owners are enabled to order the bread they need via SMS. The messages retailers send to the “infopreneurs” consist of the name of their shop, a PIN number verifying their identity, the amount they are ordering and the code of the product. The SMS messages are aggregated by the “infopreneurs”, they are bundled and transmitted to the suppliers of the product. The system is of benefit to the suppliers by allowing them higher visibility of the market for their product. Mr. Hansie du Plessis, Manager of Tubatse Bakery in Sasko testifies to the benefit to suppliers. The savings realised are used for the delivery of the products to the Spaza shops.

The video suggests that in the future the entire basket of items carried by Spaza shops might be available through the C@R procurement system implemented by SAP in the Sekhukhune Living Lab. I think that this is a truely exciting prospect.

Warehouse Receipt Systems

Here is a very informative educational documentary on Warehouse Receipt Systems produced by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACO-EU (CTA), Agence Français de Développementé (AFD) and the Natural Resources Institute (NRI).

The film documents a study visit to Tanzania and South Africa. Even though the film provides plenty of useful information, its authors make sure to note:

“The examples presented in these two countries are typified by particular experiments and contexts and cannot simply be transposed to other cases. Nonetheless there are a great number of lessons to be learnt and which could provide guidancefor certain aspects of orientation and initiatives in your respective countries.”

I personally think that the documentary illustrates theoretical issues which are encountered the world over, and are not specific to any particular context. The film raises questions regarding trust, confidence, contractual completeness, regulation, product quality and standardisation. Even though in this documentary the issues emerge with regards to warehouse receipt systems, they are intrinsic characteristics of any market negotiations (and eventual transactions) taking place without the double coincidence of time and place. The film focuses on futures markets i.e. transactions without coinsidence in time. Conversely, market negotiations carried out via mobile phones, or other ICTs exemplify transactions without coinsidene in place.


Warehouse receipt systems were developed in the 1990s as a response to farmers’ income instability due to price fluctuations resulting from liberalisation. Since prices tend to be low during harvest periods and to subsequently rise, warehouse reeipt systems provide a solution by storing commodities for the suration of the low price season. Price volatility and lack of quality standards are attributed to market liberalisation in the agricultural sector.

Warehouse receipt systems operationalise the food supply chain and involve the following stakehoders:

  • farmers (individuals or cooperatives)
  • warehouse operators
  • financial institutions
  • exporters, traders

Tanzania

The warehouse receipt system was introduced in Tanzania in 2005 with the pilot crops of coffee and cotton. It enables farmers to receive loans and assure the quality of their produce. The system allows coffee producers (individuals or cooperatives) to store their coffee in a silo. Upon the receipt of the coffee the producers are issued with 2 certificates: certificate of title for them to keep and certificate of pledge to provide to third parties. These are normally cooperative or commercial banks participating in the system. The certificates of deposit allow farmers to induce confidence in the financial institutions. They also enable the banks to reach a new set of customers for financial services.

The warehouses also ensure the transparency of the commodity marketing system. Commodities are classified according to quality and offered for sale at regional and sub-regional markets. For example, coffee is graded and offered for sale at auctions administered by a public organisation.

Producers in other sectors, such as the Chawampu rice growers cooperative, have followed suit. Representatives of the cooperative introduce a model whereby they are able to offer 70% of market value of deposited quantities of rice. Subsequently, after selling the crop and substracting the administrative costs the cooperative, they provide a second payment to the members of the cooperative. Farmers use any additional income in order to buy seeds, fertilizer and to develop off-season activities.

The warehouse receipt systems functions well due to the high price differentials between the post-harvest season and the hungry season. The main challenges to the warehouse receipt system remain:

  • providing adequate infrastructure
  • ensuring warehouse security
  • reinforcing producers’ organisations
  • increasing the number of quality control specialists
  • reducing operating costs

South Africa

South Africa presents an advanced example based on the warehouse weceipt system because it has a functioning futures market in agricultural commodities. The SAFEX was established in the 1990s during an intense period of market liberalisation.

The advantages of South Africa include its good financial infrastructure for the settlement of deals and the quality of  its physical infrastructure enabling the trading, warehousing and transportation of the commodities. Critical is the legal enforcability of contractual rights and of legal receipt rights. Thereby, people are able to take the necessary steps and to manage their post-harvest risk well in advance.

SAGIS acts as an information intermediary for the South African commodity markets. It collects and distributes local consumption and up-to-date market information. The agricultural marketing giant SENWES provides mobile phone access to hourly prices of grain via SMS. Even though it is not typical of Africa in favouring large scale farmers, the South African warehouse receipt experience provides a useful benchmark for implementations elsewhere.

Market Data Collection and Location Information via Mobile

From my own observations, namely the list of ICT4D projects, I think it is a fair comment that most of the initiatives are aimed at information delivery, rather than information collection. Many market information systems profess delivering benefits and improving livelihoods by providing access to up-to-date price information. But rarely publicity documents mention how exactly the information is collected, how its accuracy is assured, or how it is put to use. Occassionally, market information systems are backed-up by extensive and robust networks of ennumerators who are experienced in data collection. The cases of TradeNet/ Esoko in Ghana and Trade at Hand’s mCollect project, come to mind. In such cases I can be convinced of the value of the delivered market information content. In other cases I tend to be a bit more sceptical.

Here I have two videos touching on the topic of data collection. In the first video, Mr. Patrick Meier from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), who writes iRevolution discusses crisis mapping and early warning systems. His work brings together data collection and geo-spatial information. His ideas can be staightforwardly applied to the mapping of stocks and frows of food products. Mr. Meier overviews lessons learned, best practices and current thinking in the emerging field of crisis mapping.

Mr. Meier stresses four main areas of crisis mapping. The first one is crisis map sourcing. The technologies he overviews can easily be applied to market data collection, or in his terms price map sourcing, which would involve the collection of geo-refernced and time-stamped price information. The crowd sourcing methods mentioned in Mr. Meier’s presentation include surveys, focus groups, satellite imagery, participatory GIS, annotated digital maps such as the ones which can be produced via Ushahidi, as well as mobile technologies such as text messaging via FrontlineSMS. Mr. Meier also discusses the accuracy of the crowd-sourced data, he mentions the design principles of data validation and triangulation. Two interesting initiatives which could be adopted in the field of market information monitoring are the Humanitarian Sensor Web, identifying relevant infrastructure; and the Mesh4X automated synchronisation of disperate datasets which makes information sharing seamless.

The second are of interest is crisis data visualisation, including social mapping (i.e. distances on the map represent social perceptions), 3D GIS, pdf-mapping and dynamic maps. The third area is crisis mapping analysis where maps are used as indications of large-scale behavioural patterns over time and space. The fourth area of interest is crowd-feeding, in my understanding the reverse of crowd-sourcing or in other words information delivery services. Mr. Meier mentions response crowd-feeding whereby information is sourced from some in order to be delivered to others who need it the more.
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In the second video Mr. Ian Puttergill, Business Development Manager, Unlimited Potential Group, Microsoft, Soth Africa shares his views on how data can be collected using mobile phones. Firstly, he emphasises the accuracy of the information sources and argues that mobile phone communication is applicable when the accuracy threshold is lower. Mr. Puttergill stresses that a filter is needed for data collection implementations so that irrelevant information can be discarded. He also mentions a loop re-entering information when the format is not correct. Additionally, Mr. Puttergill discusses business models for mobile information services, focusing on socially relevant information as key for finding suitable commercial models, non-profit models, or advertising models.

The videos, the thoughts of Mr. Puttergill and the information provided by Mr. Meier give a lot of food for thought regarding the design of market information services which include rigorous information sourcing methods, allow for mapping of the agricultural product stocks, and are based on sustainable business models. Please get in touch with me if you are interested in discussing the topic further, or comment below.

More on the Integration of Radio and Mobile Telephony

In the post “Integrating Radio and Mobile Telephony” I commended on Nokia’s recently released device 5030 mobile. Here I am reproducing an atricle and video on the topic, produced by Mr. Jonathan Marks and broadcast via Jonathan Marks’ videos on Vimeo.

Nokia on the Importance of Radio

Mark Selby has been giving a talk at several conferences about the importance of radio to the mobile industry. Given his background (including World Radio Geneva) it is perhaps not surprising that he’s interested in forging partnerships between Nokia and broadcasters. By the end of 2008, Nokia says they had sold 425 million devices with digital music players. In addition to that, thay say they have sold 700 million devices with built in (FM) radio capability. Phones like the N85 even have a built in FM transmitter so you can play the music in the car on the existing car radio (its super low power, but handy to have).Part of my current projects involve working with community stations in West Africa to build sustainable business models that bridge both the radio and mobile industries. They have a lot in common, but currently the gulf in terminology is keeping great ideas from happening.

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Service Syndication and Nokia Life Tools

This video was filmed at the Digital World Forum, W3C workshop in Maputo, Mozambique 1-2 April, 2009. Mr. Paavo Krepp, Head of Emerging Market Services, Africa and Middle East of Nokia, South Africa stresses the importance of content for the creation of adequate mobile information services in developing countries. Given the low disposable incomes of users of agricultural information services, Mr. Krepp emphasises the importance of enhancing the relevance of the delivered content by providing dynamic time and location specific information. He also discusses the customisation of mobile services to local perceptions, languages, understandings of iconography, and dynamic mappings of crops.

In the mobile sector, collaboration among content providers with local and domain knowlegde, telecom operators and device manufacturers appears to be key for the successful provision of information services for the agricultural sector, including advisory and marketing services. The recent partnership between Nokia and Reuters Market Light for the Nokia Life Tools pilot in India is a great example of syndication in the delivery of mobile services for users in developing countries. I expect that we should be seeing more partnerships of this type if mobile technology is to deliver on its promise of improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in developing countries. Nowadays, these people are facing numerous challenges ranging from erratic weather, due to climate change, to food security. Working collaboratively towards the provision of adequate technology-based information services for their needs seems the very least we could do.