Alpha Media Holdings (AMH), publishers of NewsDay, the Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard, will tomorrow launch the AMH Conversations, a platform that will bring to Zimbabwe international experts to lead discussions on global social, economic and political developments.
To kick off the series of AMH Conversations, internationally-acclaimed technology futurist and ex-Google executive Stafford Masie (SM), who has been invited in partnership with iWayAfrica, will tomorrow speak on global technological changes.
Masie yesterday answered questions from NewsDay (ND).
ND: How best can African business integrate technology to improve their bottom-line?
SM: Technology has proven to drive efficiencies and automation and has become a critical strategic element throughout any business. This requires explicit executive support and backing to ensure success and realisation. It starts at the top where mindsets have to change.
Business usually goes through the following stages: Epiphany phase; the executive team realise that social media and other platforms on the outside are serious factors influencing their customers. Identification phase; selection of three to five relevant projects or areas of synergy to execute around.
Oh-my-goodness phase; this is the most difficult because it deals with building the necessary capacity and competency to sustainably deliver on the identified areas.
Skills are rare, job specifications are custom and the profiles of persons skilled in this regard are difficult to recruit, manage and incentivise. Analysis phase; establishing success metrics and gathering data to improve or alter the business.
The most successful businesses are learning to create quarantined areas of mass disruptive innovation, learning from these and re-integrating into the business.
Sometimes organic transformation of the norm results in too much inertia and, therefore, executing externally with the aim of assimilating successes back into the core are the optimal approaches to this constantly metamorphosing industry.
ND: What are the prospects for technological companies in Southern Africa?
SM: Businesses are all playing catch-up. African economies continue to grow and are forecasted to continue this growth. ICT improvements are incremental and we have very little technological legacy.
These circumstances lead me to believe that the prospects are significant, but it will be the innovative and re-inventive technology companies able to truly drive and display tangible business value that will leverage them.
ND: What motivates you?
SM: The opportunity Africa presents to all of us. Ive stated this several times recently, I could move to the US and go make more money . . . or . . . I can stay here in Africa and make more of a difference.
From here on I believe Africa will be the most exciting place on our planet for ICT invention and adoption.
ND: What business sectors would you invested in in Africa?
SM: Minerals and energy and the telecommunications sectors.
Both of these are obvious growth areas considering the commodities demand side of the rest of the world and our vast resources and the political weight behind large telecommunications infrastructure investments.
ND: Zimbabwe currently does not have an effective online payment system, will your payment system, MPFE, be able to assist us in this regard and how can it assist?
SM: Definitely. But, the payments challenge is a global problem and, therefore, a big opportunity. Efficient, simple and realtime transaction settlement across multiple channels has enormous demand.
ND: You have been responsible for strategy at Novell and Google. What is your philosophy on effective strategy?
SM: Philosophy and affective strategies are anaemic without great people. Ive always focused on building and maintaining the best teams of people because that establishes a foundation to sustainably deal with the ever-changing technological world where strategies continuously require recompilation.
Therefore, I have a philosophy for recruitment; I choose insane passion, a perpetually positive attitude, intermingled with integrity . . . over any level of competency.
ND: What are the prospects of more Venture Capital Angels investing in African start-ups?
SM: The prospects for more investment are promising, but we have several priorities to focus on first, broad institutional and governmental support for start-ups and emerging small businesses in the technology sector.
We have a legacy culture of always consuming technology products made elsewhere, whereas we should also be focusing on invention and compiling locally.
At minimum, we need to place much greater emphasis on education in the mathematical and science disciplines the skills challenge is a global problem and an acute one in our regions.
But, irrespective of these existing challenges we do have very talented engineers and their ideas are ground-breaking.
ND: What is your advice to emerging start-ups?
SM: Work on stuff that matters. There are so many start-ups building mobile apps, etc – insignificant projects that are merely chasing a quick buck and a waste of valuable talent.
I believe there is so much technology that can do in healthcare, education, etc. So, focus on things that you are passionate about and that make a difference.
Care less about making a billion dollars, rather solve problems and focus more on changing a million peoples lives. Success usually follows this approach.
ND: What is your advice to African business leaders about technology and strategy?
SM: Bet on it and embrace it. Technology is changing your customer and your customer will change your company.
It has the ability to create and destroy value in unprecedented manners. These trends are incrementally building momentum quarter by quarter, year by year.
Ask Kodak! Yet, I believe the requirement from successful leadership today is to focus first on the humans they serve; because of technology businesses will have to understand people more . . .the psychology of humans and their needs to share, participate and lead efforts within your organisation, from the outside, are paramount.