Douglas Cohen (South Africa) - South African Apps (That We Would All Like to See)

In this blog post, regular contributor Douglas Cohen discusses the applications that South Africans would love to see emerge in the future.

Five years from now is the expected that South Africans will be connected to a seamless integrated voice and data communications network. The capability to connect to this network from home, office, kiosk, school or community center will be taken for granted, as will the option to connect from a wireless computer, mobile phone or other portable device. In this new connected environment citizens and business will expect to be able to communicate and undertake end-to-end transactions with government electronically and from any service point.

This connectivity environment, the core network and how we access it, is undergoing a major transformation that is being driven by abundant low-cost bandwidth, expansion of wireless capabilities, and global consensus that the protocol to unify us on all fronts is the Internet Protocol (IP). The convergence of voice, data and video networks together with abundant bandwidth and powerful devices, will lead to changing work practices and lifestyles that are increasingly mobile.

Please join me in wishing that this vision does actually materialize. In fact I believe the trends emerging in South Africa do indicate that is there is some light at the end of the fiber – if you excuse the pun.

What does this mean for us? For one, connectivity provides a new platform for information, interaction and innovation that opens up opportunities to fundamentally change the way we can operate or exist within our diverse society. Secondly, with this access comes with the billions of apps are downloaded every year.  Some of them offer debatable value while others impact their user’s everyday life. Finally, not only is the cost of access dropping so are the lower barriers for South Africa business to enter the internet economy.

A recent related headline read: “American Tablet Owners Buy Entertainment; Europeans Buy News ” Given the South African context, where are the extraordinarily helpful South African apps that I, for one, would like to see? My thoughts below:

Apps for Government

I asked a follow South African about their ideal app? Their response was an “app for tenderpreneurs” -  tenderpreneurship being a South African term used to describe a government official or politician who uses their powers and influence to secure government tenders and contracts.

More seriously, apps for public sector organizations will need to fill the gap and cut the red tape between the tasks and processes across service delivery agents, spheres of government and other implementers. The aim is to ensure improved economies of scale, the benefits of specialization and a focus on delivery. Local government specifically, as the coal-face of delivery, does business with, and provides services to, citizens and communities, but is hampered by capacity, resources and being held accountable. These dynamics will require local government to do more with less and therefore simple well designed app’s could provide valuable and different way of solving it. Examples would include sector specific electronic productivity tools, community e-participation mechanisms, online purchasing applications and electronic performance management systems. App’s on mobile technology becomes an ideal as a tool to engage residents in matters of local governance, where the aims would include:

•    Better delivery of government services to citizens
•    Improved interactions with business and industry
•    Citizen empowerment through access to information
•    More efficient government management

Apps for Business

Businesses focused app’s will increase business productivity and revenue streams by implementing Internet business solutions such as Internet commerce, integrated logistics and supply management platforms, workforce optimization and mobile workforce solutions, safety and security solutions, and integrated e-procurement.

Apps for Citizens

As is the case with most other developed countries, short message service (SMS) is still a very popular way for South African's to communicate. A large portion of the South African population already own or have access to a cellular phone and more increasing smart-phones.  So beyond just more games, how can more active citizenry and social dialogue. One area includes local languages. Based on a study by SALGA on municipal Websites almost all Websites are only in English.  98% of the Websites are in English and only 8 in Afrikaans. Given that the largest spoken language is Zulu and that South Africa has 11 official languages, this remains a challenge, possibly hampering demand. Another area would be social accountability, given that the number of road deaths in South Africa is unacceptably high, what app’s could be put in place to educate, make drivers aware and change behavior. How about an end user app to replace the current breath-alcohol test?

Apps for Consumers

Research states that South Africa's Internet economy is expected to leap from being worth R51 billion in 2010 to R103 billion in 2016, according to a new report  from the Boston Consulting Group. Currently, online shopping accounts for about 1.9% of SA's economy and is anticipated to grow to 2.5% by 2016, states the research company's report. Under the current economic climate many South African's are constantly looking for new ways to save money and app’s that would make sense. Beyond local news and content, how can a buy-local and proudly South African find presence on smart-phones and tablets through local apps.

By Douglas Cohen, South African Local Government Association (SALGA).