London — Orange is one of a handful of mobile operators on the continent that has taken its relationship with Africa's emerging start-up ecosystem seriously. It has launched its own incubators, supported pitch competitions and begun to open up its APIs. It sees these relationships as part of a broader digital transformation of Africa.
Sylvain Béletre talked to Roger-Edgar KRA, in charge of Business Development API (Innovation Tech Hub, Open Web Services, Middle East and Africa, Innovation Marketing Technology) in the MEA zone at Orange's Technocentre.
Q. From your experience in the field, how is the digital transformation of the African continent happening?
A. Local businesses that want to take advantage of new mobile uses, or international companies that see Africa as a growth hub, are designing new products and services using the new digital tools: e-commerce platforms, e-health services, job search platforms, MOOCs, mobile advertising, video and music streaming platforms, money transfer, online insurance, smart metering, etc.
Q. Are these digital solutions meeting the major challenges faced by companies in the region?
A. Digital tools answer some of the major challenges faced by companies in the region: How to better monetize your solutions? How to make your business more attractive, visible and expand internationally, especially at the pan-African level? How to remove intermediaries? How to reduce distribution costs? How to improve customer experience?
These challenges concern all industry sectors: entertainment, agriculture, health, education, transport, energy, retail, etc.
However, creating a digital service in Africa is a real challenge: IT projects dedicated to the integration of technical platforms require investment and time. In a context where smartphones and the use of data are still emerging, and where the majority of customers do not have a credit card, the context is quite different from other regions in the World. Designing a website or an Android application for smartphones and tablets is only a small part of the answer, you must also know how to monetize them, but also design a version for low cost mobile phone/feature phones, via SMS, Vocal or even USSD.
In order to deploy on a large scale, partnering with local telecom operators can boost your footprint. Finally, your media must include the most common payment services. Orange has taken action accordingly.
Q. How does Orange respond to these challenges?
A. Orange has for years set up large infrastructure projects within its African subsidiaries in order to simplify and accelerate access to its resources. With these platforms deployed, Orange is now very active in partnering with local players (entrepreneurs, developers, digital agencies, media, etc.), and creating an open innovation ecosystem, bringing together startups and large corporates.
In order to support developers and save them time and money, Orange offers a suite of new business solutions based on three blocks: communication, distribution and payment.
On payment, the 'Pay With Orange' offer allows an Orange mobile customer to be charged for a digital service, by debiting his Orange telephone credit, either once or several times. Orange Money Web Payment allows you to charge an Orange Money customer for a physical or digital service by debiting its Orange Money account.
On improving their communications, Orange's SMS offer allows companies to send customized and automated SMS, for example an appointment reminder, an order confirmation, or a forgotten password.
To support their distribution, our Offer # 303 # My Store is a pan-African "appstore" in USSD, which allows companies to reference a service in a given category, and to charge for subscription through Pay With Orange and soon via Orange Money.
These offers have been deployed on the continent since 2014, with already strong coverage (12 countries for SMS API, 6 for Orange Money Web Payment).
Q. How many partnerships have you established?
A. To date, more than 700 African startups have subscribed to Orange's SMS notification service. And 40 services are 'live' on portal # 203 # in Cameroon. Dozens of services use our means of payment, monetize video streaming platforms, information portals, video games...
Q. Do you have examples of success stories in Africa?
A. In Senegal, the MLouma startup has created a virtual agricultural platform that publishes real-time information on the price, location and availability of farm products. At its launch, the platform was only available on the Web - making it difficult to access and costly for rural users. Integrating # 303 # My Store has given a very strong impulse to the service: now accessible from any phone, MLouma has gone from 1,000 to 75,000 users in 6 months! In addition, MLouma will be able to federate new users in all the other countries where the platform # 303 # My Store is available without requiring further development. MLouma also integrated the SMS API to alert users of the availability of new products, as well as the MEA DCB service to bill USSD requests.
In Cameroon, the pan-African media group 'Jeune Afrique' has produced a USSD version of its news service, referenced on # 203 # in Cameroon; Just like RFI, TV channel 'France 24', thus allowing 100% of the Orange customer base to access this service, updated in real time. The pan-African deployment of these services is in progress, on short code # 303 #.
For developers ready to use the Orange APIs, the portal is here:
You can discover other Orange programs related to startups and digital entrepreneurs across Africa, here:
And do not forget, if you are a young startup, you can currently apply for the Orange Social Entrepreneur Prize.