Digital 2021: What we can learn from Kenya’s top tech companies

Digital 2021: What we can learn from Kenya’s top tech companies

By Francis Wainaina 

When it comes to digital transformation, there’s no such thing as an overnight success. Businesses that can leverage innovations in technology often take a few years to get the formula right, which can make it a daunting prospect for those still at the start of their digital journey.

Luckily, we can learn a lot from existing businesses. Looking at some Kenyan companies that have established a firm footing in both emerging and international markets through realising their digital ambitions, here’s what I think we can learn from their successes.

Focus on strategic partnerships

Kenya’s biggest telecommunications company, Safaricom, has undoubtedly made a lasting impact on the Kenyan economy and the lives of its citizens.

From communications and mobile payments to healthcare and many more online services, the company has continued to seek new digital opportunities while putting the needs of their customers first.

There are many reasons for the company’s success, but strategic partnerships have certainly contributed immensely. It invested millions into emerging tech companies, such as Lynk and Sendy, to add to their ever-growing mobile and ecommerce portfolio.

With a clear vision for expanding into new industries and tapping into potential in the digital services sector, the company is securing its future. Other businesses should learn from this and see if they can identify partners that will help them enter new markets or take advantage of complementary skills and capabilities.

Safaricom has not only expanded its digital offerings through strategic partnerships, such as those with Visa and Vodacom, but it has also shown its commitment to Kenyan society by using digital expertise and relationships to drive social change.

In 2020, Safaricom partnered with UNICEF to help protect and educate Kenyan children, with Google to give more smartphones to Kenyans, with EdTech Fellows to give free educational access to Kenyan students learning from home, and with Generation Kenya to help the youth access job opportunities.

By fostering a close relationship with communities through these impactful programmes, Safaricom has cemented itself as more than a big tech company; it’s seen as a brand Kenyans can trust and rely on. Businesses should consider which community programmes they can work with to leverage similar stakeholder goodwill.

Invest in digital disruption

Since 1994, the Equity Group has gone from an insolvent building society with 12,000 customers to having 13.9 million in 2019 with a market share of more than 50% of Kenyan bank accounts. This success is largely due to its drive to innovate and democratise access to finance.

Recognised as the best bank in Africa at the 2020 Euromoney Awards, Equity Bank has continually pushed to improve its digital capabilities. It has not only rolled out process automation tools to convert to a paperless workspace but has digitised payments at the retail level, leading to a 38% increase in merchant payments.

The group has improved customer experiences using AI and analytics, and launched Finserve, a digital and mobile subsidiary, as a standalone commercial entity in 2018. The bank’s continued investment in digitisation and its belief in disruptive technology are likely to make it a fintech company with banking capabilities in the future.

It intends to continue to finance Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as cloud and quantum computing, machine learning and AI, and this commitment to industry disruption and willingness to explore the possibilities of novel tech are lessons that many established businesses would benefit from learning.

Integrate your digital experiences

The Britam Group offers a wide range of financial products and services, and it has used digital tools to accelerate productivity and efficiency.

The group identified that its legacy systems were not designed to share data, their broker experience was too manual and time-consuming, and there was no online integration with Britam partners. To resolve these issues, it built a digital experience platform that would act as the foundation for its digital transformation.

The company was able to migrate from its outdated portals and public websites to a new platform, Liferay, which integrates the company’s products and services via various digital touchpoints.

These integrated touchpoints not only provide seamless support to their customers, but are also convenient for staff and other stakeholders to use.

By identifying that its legacy systems couldn’t keep up with digital developments, the Britam Group found a way to merge existing systems with new technology in a way that supports customers and employees. Its omnichannel digital experience platform operates through various business functions and is also scalable, leaving room for future improvements – placing it firmly in the ‘future-proof’ category of a top tech company.

Use technology inclusively

As we brave a new digital world, we cannot afford to leave others behind. Technology has the ability to breathe life and economic activity into emerging markets, and there are many opportunities here for businesses that realise the potential of inclusive services.

Solar energy provider M-Kopa has learnt this lesson, and currently supplies electricity to 750,000 low-income Kenyans who are off the grid through a pay-as-you-go platform.

What is impressive is how it has leveraged IoT capabilities to provide these communities with essential services in an efficient and inclusive way. M-Kopa uses IoT technology and Azure Machine Learning to better understand client behaviour and has developed ways to control equipment remotely, monitor performance, and proactively address outages.

The companies that realise that tech can be used to provide inclusive services while generating revenue will certainly be part of our digital future.

The most important lesson is to start

It may seem like a long way to the top when businesses, at the start of their digital journey, look at some of the tech successes of today.

What’s most important to consider is that there are many ways to embrace digital transformation, and each company must implement what is most relevant to them. Cloud and connectivity are always a good place to start – and after that, the opportunities for digital transformation are big for businesses both old and new.

(Francis Wainaina is the SEACOM East Africa Senior Product Manager).