Africa is often glossed over as an insignificant contributor when it comes to tech innovation and yet, it is one of the greatest. We all know of Elon Musk and his futuristic visions, but how about the lessor known Jamila Abass – a 30 year old woman from Nairobi who invented an SMS aggregator platform for subsistence farmers who require best-practice farming knowledge as well as product news and sources; or the simple M-Pesa, an effective mobile based money transfer system. Innovated in Kenya with the drive to find a way to enable rural communities to pay vendors without cash, the system runs on a rudimentary cell-phone with endless battery life and no complicated clutter. Africa is an innovator, but the caution with which business embraces new technology is still prohibitive.
Early adoption comes with pitfalls, the main being cost and failure. The conundrum is the balancing of these risks with the prospective catapulting effect early adoption can offer. Competitive advantage is the key to survival in an increasingly challenging market. With the recent exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, investors have withdrawn their capital and redirected it into bankable commodities and stable markets. The piece of pie is smaller and the need to grab the crumbs is higher than ever. So at what point does early adoption become critical to survival as opposed to an enabler to failure?
The biggest hurdle seems to be perceived prohibitive costs, and when faced with un-tested costs, the C-suite is playing a conservative game. Adopting new technology before your competition can be an unnecessary gamble. It can hurt the business sufficiently to end it. Furthermore, Africa, whilst an innovator, is not at the forefront of widespread tech accessibility and the baby boomers of the boardroom would rather wait than lead, resulting in a subdued take-up. After all, not everyone is a Microsoft, Google or Tesla. Technology and early adoption is less imperative to each sector.
That being said, as tiresome as it gets, the taxi industry was certainly not reliant on technology. As recently as a couple of years ago, radio dispatch was the primary form of communication between the call-centre, the taxi driver and the customer. Uber removed the entire call-centre. In fact, they removed the taxi as a cost to company. Whilst an extreme story of industry disruption, those left behind, have been left behind for good.
But isn’t it better to allow the creases to be ironed out first, you may be asking, and certainly, this is a valid and rational approach. Even the great tech giants, Apple, are allowing their competitors to test the waters and fix the problems with virtual reality. That being said, Apple has a loyal customer base that will wait alongside their brand. On the flipside is the caution of camera company Nikon. Canon introduced video to their DSLRs in 2008 which saw many purists dismiss the innovation. Nikon concurred with the purists and waited. In this cutthroat sector, they quickly lost market share to Canon and were forced to scramble into the segment, spending numerous years on the video back foot, slowly regaining their customers.
Financial benefits aside, perhaps the biggest benefit of early adoption is that of talent. The current workforce of the future is still in school. They’re tapping away on their cell phones, snapchatting, tweeting and tumblring away. Their world is vastly different from the leader of today’s traditional business, and certainly, a company pioneering their industry will be seen as the employee of choice to these emerging minds. If early adoption is ignored whilst the competition plunges ahead absorbing those risks, talent acquisition may just become the greatest obstacle for those left behind. So one has to propose, although Africa is still technologically immature (despite our rich culture of innovation) is our conservative approach to technology laying the groundwork for future failure in securing our most precious resource, human capital? In light of this, it is time to investigate the financial pitfalls of early adoption more closely. Perhaps the risk is less severe than anticipated, particularly if we consider the loss of choice employees.