The use of social software in a business context is already an unstoppable force, but it might have bypassed Africa altogether if it weren’t for the mobile vision of South African social business software (SBS) vendor WyseTalk.
Research firm IDC pegs the annual revenue growth of social business software (SBS) at 40%, and predicts it will reach $4,5-billion in 2016.
WyseTalk CEO Gysbert Kappers says companies use it in all areas of the business to enhance communication, productivity and “ideation”, either as standalone applications or by embedding social elements including collaboration, information sharing and communication into enterprise software.
“Unlike other communications or collaborating platforms, SBS tools lend themselves to mass participation, real-time communication, openness and constructive engagement within qualified communities,” Kappers comments.
He adds that companies that communicate well tend to increase workplace efficiencies. “In addition, they will co-create better, more nuanced ideas at a faster rate – ultimately a source of competitive advantage.”
However, until recently these benefits have not been available to African companies, he continues. And where they have they’ve come at an extraordinary cost with no local support. Some of these social business platforms only support desktop and laptop device formats, hampering adoption in emerging markets where smartphones are king.
Mindful of the difficulties this presents in the African market, WyseTalk has turned the market on its head by making its platform available as a mobile app, downloadable from the major smart phone platforms.
At the time of writing the company offered free download versions of its software for Apple iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Blackberry 10 and Windows mobile.
Kappers explains that in addition to a highly functional browser system and WyseTalk’s mobile apps they also have a desktop app. The pared-down desktop version of the app consists solely of a notifier of new messages and other activity, prompting desktop-active users to respond on their phone (or via desktop browser).
“It is one unified platform on which to respond in real time, wherever you are,” adds Kappers.
WyseTalk’s mobile strategy is a decisive first strike in African markets, where wired Internet and PC penetration is remarkably low at 4,1% and 6,4% of households respectively, but mobile phone subscriptions are more than 53,1% according to the ITU (2011 figures). In the same year mobile broadband subscriptions stood at 8,5% on the continent – almost twice the number of fixed broadband subscriptions.
For now, varying estimates for African smartphone penetration average out at around 10%. When taken in combination with the low Internet penetration on the continent, this does not equate to an enormous market opportunity yet, but at about 40% growth, the maths is sounding pretty attractive. Add to that recent advances in international connectivity, and the sky is the limit, says Kappers.
He says global browser activity indicates that mobility is on the rise everywhere. With the exception of the Americas, mobile Internet connections doubled in all regions between 2011 and 2012.
“It’s a globally-applicable value proposition, and there are opportunities in the developed world, Middle East and elsewhere, but our objective is to gain a strong foothold in Africa first,” he notes.
Kappers says fears of social elements disrupting the work environment are unfounded. “The corporate conversation happens at any rate – informally around the water cooler, in boardroom meetings and in project teams.
SBS merely harnesses the chatter, gets rid of the inefficiencies and costs of other channels, and structures conversations into accessible groups and areas of interest.”
He says it is crucial for companies to attune themselves to the objectives of SBS software and to strategically direct adoption in consultation with WyseTalk.
“The bottom line is that social software has enormous viral potential, and executives must steer the ship, or the conversation will get away from them.”
On the users’ side, some familiarity with Facebook-like features of sharing, updates, feeds and personal profiles is all that’s needed.
SBS is ideal for giving employees a safe and familiar place to listen, participate and contribute.
“The openness of a social environment guarantees visibility to all ideas. Because it is open and democratic, ideas will attract fair consideration, and when it passes scrutiny will earn people personal reward for contributing to the common good – the company’s success. It is a good day when that sort of competitive advantage is available to Africa,” concludes Kappers.