Tech implementations in Africa – staying ahead of the game

By Leon van den Berg, Executive Head: Technology at Discover Digital

Implementing advanced IT projects across pan-Africa delivers an interesting blend of positive surprises and unique challenges. Discover Digital, currently building content distribution networks (CDNs) and content caches in countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, has learnt that implementing IT projects across Africa brings with it a broad range of experiences and insights that have ultimately resulted in tremendous internal growth and helped the business to stay ahead of the game.

Firstly, we have found that the popular portrayals of certain countries being ‘behind the times’ are quite wrong. In Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria, we have discovered that while physical infrastructure and buildings may be ageing, the actual IT infrastructure is typically new and in line with world standards. Likewise, while IT skills available in many countries may be scarce, there are some really excellent human resources who deliver advanced IT projects in these countries.

But unique challenges do present themselves and in order to stay ahead, IT service providers need to be aware of them. A key issue we have found in our operations is that taking hardware into new regions demands careful and thorough planning. Without the right documentation at a border post, your hardware could be delayed by weeks. It is crucial to acquaint yourself with all the customs procedures and requirements, and ensure all paperwork is in order well ahead of shipping the hardware. Unlike in South Africa, where all the necessary equipment is fairly readily available, some regions of Africa may not have stock of certain equipment, so it is important to cover all bases carefully when planning.

Another challenge that can emerge is integrating client-specific systems such as billing engines. Because many enterprises in Africa are running systems supplied by multinationals based abroad, they do not necessarily have the skills in-house to customise those systems to enable integration. They may require development and integration support from international teams, which can then extend a project timeline. Before embarking on the project, it is crucial to assess the network and systems the project will be integrated into, to verify they can support the new technology. It is also vital to manage expectations on the client side and ensure that you have clearly defined the project, the system implications of the implementation and any implications on the client’s commercial model.  We’ve therefore built and implemented bespoke, efficient and cost effective workarounds that enable us to deploy faster, whilst billing integrations are completed.

Ensuring a successful implementation also demands a close collaborative relationship with partners and the client. Discover Digital typically holds kick-off meetings and workshops in country with all stakeholders of both teams, as part of our extensive planning on pan-African projects. On-going guidance, training and support of new systems to partners and client teams are essential. We have found that a combination of remote development and support, along with regular status meetings via video conferencing, and monthly site visits, are the best ways to ensure the project progresses as planned, within budget.

Lastly, when rolling out new solutions, we’ve learnt that collaboration breeds innovation.  A true partnership yields long term success through a greater understanding of local market requirements and barriers, and being able to quickly and efficiently adapt products to meet client needs.

About Discover Digital

On-demand solutions specialist Discover Digital offers total end-to-end solutions for the delivery of digital video content. Discover Digital provides the technology solutions and a full TVOD and SVOD service, including content licensing, content administration, content delivery, billing integration and licence settlements and reporting. We have developed a range of software and hardware products, web and mobile device applications and kiosks compatible with our technology to ensure we can provide total solutions across fixed line, mobile and unconnected/offline market requirements.

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