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Can your business thrive in the digital age?

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By Soromfe Uzomah – Partner Business Development Manager at Microsoft 4Afrika.

In 2013, three local university friends had an idea to start a business. They knew that Nigerian music was popular across the continent. They knew that people were increasingly downloading music through mobile. But, they also knew that paying for digital downloads was complicated and inconvenient, which meant that people were opting for free illegal downloads.

And so, they created MyMusic.com.ng, a digital music platform that lets users download high quality local music, using a convenient payment channel – their mobile airtime.

The company started growing fast, but soon reached a point where they didn’t have the infrastructure to support their growth. That’s when they partnered with Microsoft to build a more resilient and scalable platform as the backbone of their product.

Leveraging Microsoft’s cloud technology and its related services, MyMusic has now integrated data analytics, machine learning and augmented reality into their product. This has allowed them to understand their consumer behavior, recommend songs based on history and preferences, and build a chat bot to help users discover new music.

With this technology behind them, MyMusic has grown to over 700,000 active users – and isaiming for one million.

What does it take to survive in the digital age?

Across the continent, we are beginning to see businesses such as MyMusic make the critical strategic decisions needed to not only survive but also thrive in this digital age. Here’s why:

1: They understand that today’s modern market expects technology-driven services.

A large number of today’s consumers have grown up using technology and the internet. According to the Africa Report, millennials account for over a third of Africa’s population and the impact they are having on business is beginning to be felt. For those who haven’t, they are looking for solutions that get them connected. If you want to be relevant and appeal to today’s audience, technology has to be a key part of your business. MyMusic understands that people are always on their mobile phones – and plays into that space. Whether you develop a mobile app or online shop, you should be using technology to offer your customers a better, more intuitive and convenient experience. They expect it.

2: They embrace modern technology to grow.

Start-ups and small business enterprises often battle to compete with larger firms, who have large servers and expensive IT infrastructure that enable them to do more. Cloud technology levels this playing field. With all the business data stored in the cloud, small businesses have access to the same technology capabilities as large enterprises without the high costs.

This doesn’t only save you money, but also keeps your product affordable for your consumers too. This can lower barriers to entry and provide a more competitively priced product. This affordability advantage has helped local healthcare start-up, access.mobile, expand from East Africa to Nigeria.

More healthcare clinics can afford to implement their cloud-based eHealth solution – and African IT decision makers in the industry are attracted to the world-class infrastructure. As a result, access.mobile’s solution is currently used in over 150 healthcare facilities, reaching two million patients.

What’s more, because the cloud can process more and be accessed by anyone, anywhere, it enables businesses to grow and scale across markets much faster.

3: They use modern technology to better understand their consumers and improve their product, giving them a competitive edge

The massive computing power and storage capabilities of the cloud means businesses can gather and process huge amounts of data

MoVAS Group is a great example of this. With the cloud, they gather and analyze data on each user, assess their credit worthiness and give them a loan in three to five seconds. This fintech start-up issues loans to small business owners, youth and farmers, all through mobile phones.  MoVAS currently has over 12 million users in Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Somalia, Congo Brazzaville and Swaziland – and issues tens of thousands of loans across Africa every day.

The result? A 300% jump in lending.

In this way, the company hopes to be able to onboard new clients in a matter of two or three weeks rather than the usual three months.

Having the skills to make the most out of technology

This is where having the skills to successfully work with modern technology becomes important. A business can move into the cloud and gather all the data it wants. However, without the skills to successfully navigate cloud technology, turn data into intelligent actions and continually optimize products, it is unlikely to derive the benefits of its investments.

Businesses looking to thrive in the digital age should have employees who are digitally literate. This includes having skills in data analytics; cloud computing; software development and programming.

Developing and finding these skills is often a challenge, but there are initiatives in place to help. Tech giants, for example, are launching online learning platforms in Africa, where entrepreneurs can develop high-level digital skills for free. In West Africa, Microsoft – through its 4Afrika Initiative – is running an AppFactory and internship programme, and working with local start-ups, to both develop and supply small businesses with digital literacy skills.

Through the Nigeria and Ghana AppFactories, ICT graduates are becoming skilled software engineers, developing technology solutions, web applications and data dashboards for corporate and start-up companies. Interns, through these initiatives, are being employed as full-time technical support engineers at local ICT firms. In addition, we have recently entered into a new strategic partnership with Tony Elumelu Foundation, to support entrepreneurs in Nigeria – and beyond – with technology, training and mentorship.

As we develop more of these skills locally, businesses will have increased access to the talent they need to make the most of their technology investments.

Giving technology a thought

Africa is fast approaching the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where technology is impacting every economy and industry. Businesses, large or small, can choose to lead this transformation and gain competitive advantage, or be left behind.

If businesses hope to lead in the digital age, they need to implement modern technology and skills that will make them relevant and give them a competitive edge. With the intelligent tools to uncover new insights, address future problems, adapt to changing business environments, better serve customers and make more informed business decisions, your business can be unstoppable.