Unpopular Wisdom: Big App Implementations and why you might have to Scale down to Scale up.

Ed Bothma

5 Oct 2022

5 practical pointers for Navigating Big App Implementation in Africa

Nowadays there is an app for everything and a dev-house ready to build you a new one around every corner. So it should be easy to launch a great App in Africa, right?


It’s not…


Assuming your tech is already built, 73% of projects fail to implement the technology within scope, budget, or deadline. I am referring to those big B2B, Agency Banking, Mobile Money, Commerce, CRM/Sales Force Automation and Customer self-service Apps that tend to spend the budget three times before the business sees any benefit.


A further 54% of these will fail commercially after implementation or never get off the ground at user adoption level. In simpler numbers, that’s roughly a 1 in 5 shot at landing your app, even when the tech is working as planned!


~ In my opinion, Omnichannel CRM “Customer Experience” projects are still the strongest contender for the ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ award.

Consumer Tech doesn’t easily grow virally in Africa the way it does in Asia and the West. Adoption is key and it takes a Big Brand effort, Big Budget and a solid execution strategy to land and retain the right customers. But, even if you don’t have those kinds of resources, you might find that you can still achieve great results by taking a laser focused approach to the recruitment and onboarding of customers (implementation operations).


Here are 4 of my own learnings while implementing Commerce, Agency Banking, Betting, Mobile Money and Telco Apps and Agents across Africa.


1. Don’t Automate or Integrate processes you haven’t proven operationally


Choose carefully what is imperative to integrate. Integration for the purpose of ensuring validated, secured, and rich data context is always a good idea. Inversely, overinvesting in the integration of process automation while you are getting your app off the ground will burn your budget very quickly, especially if you need to adjust to the realities of customers in trade.


If possible, resist up front integration and automation for any process that has not first been subject to ‘brutalisation’ by users in trade. Try to use conventional tools that are already pervasive with consumers.



2. Consider using a low code platform to rapidly prototype implementation operations.

Yes, Im suggesting you use an app to help you implement your app.


Your own App might have great user onboarding features, but the customer targeting, recruitment, training, gathering of KYC documents and other administrative functions are often uneconomical to build directly into your app in the early launch stages.


Apps with strong form logic and workflow will go a long way to streamlining administrative processes and are easy to change as your needs evolve.


3. Build good Measurements into the Implementation Process


It is not just about getting people to download your app. Anyone with an airtime voucher or a free t-shirt can achieve that. You need to quickly understand what offers, messages and operational models are achieving a strong take-up with persistent, high-value customers.


Defining the right metrics to measure your success, while you are testing operations will quickly help you optimise your targeting and planning to get a much higher return on effort.

4. Pick a solid partner for Multi-Country Ops


There is no substitute for local market knowledge and deep experience. Pick a partner that has a good track record in more than one market.


Knowing how to spin up teams, manage them productively and remotely while navigating payment, statutory risks is an art and a science. A local partner, or locally experienced partner, will steer you clear of many very expensive trip wires and can reduce both the cost and the risk of managing temporary teams for “scale-up” operations.


5. Consider the possibility of transitional technology


The more ambitious these kinds of projects become, the more likely you are to wait a long time to see your App ambitious materialise.


There is very often a huge amount of opportunity lost between the time when you set out to build and pilot your new Tech and when it finally starts getting momentum. For some this can be extremely fast. In reality (for most others), it will take years, not months.


Be realistic about what you will have to learn in trade, expect to make a lot of changes and consider that your first iteration of tech might be a giant prototype that helps you “fail fast” and establish your winning formula for recruiting and onboarding customers on your App.


“In-between” solutions usually a rather undesirable approach to implementation amongst the technical meritocracy, but in Africa, a piece of transitional tech that puts you into the game years sooner, may just be what gets you over the line.