Written by Sheree Hanna
Convergence technology is becoming real headline news in Africa as more large companies switch on to the benefits it can bring in growing their businesses in the continent’s rapidly developing economies.
Communication providers such as Vodafone Global Enterprise Africa, which helps global businesses established in the continent to grow and expand, is seeing a rise in demand for its convergence services (the ability to share voice, data and video resources that interact with each other synergistically).
Ross Thomasson, Regional Director for Vodafone Global Enterprise Africa, said: “We are increasingly moving towards a mobile world, so not only can we deliver a service from a fixed perspective in terms of connectivity, but also in mobile terms.
“We are also seeing something that I think will continue and that is a tremendous pressure to focus on convergence. We probably first saw this demand in Europe and North America three to four years ago, but now it is becoming real headline news in Africa as well.
“Our customers are not interested in how we merge the connectivity options together wherever they terminated their choice on a PC, a mobile device or a fixed line; they just want us to deal with it.”
Fortune 500 customers
Vodafone Global Enterprise Africa looks after some of the biggest-name companies operating in Africa today. They are among the Fortune 500 companies, of which about 600 have a presence on the continent, and according to Thomasson, VGE Africa serves about two-thirds of those.
The company currently employs 200 people to serve those customers, who are from a diverse range of sectors including banking, insurance, finance, manufacturing and mining.
Thomasson said: “Our people are based predominantly where our opcos are and we have eight based across the continent. We serve the customer wherever they are.”
His aim is to grow VGE Africa’s businesses by persuading existing customers to take more of its services.
He said: “We are restricted to working with the customers we have, so if I lose one I can’t replace them with another one, so that gives me a unique focus to be able to say I have got to deliver right because if I don’t the customer will leave.
“I am absolutely looking to increase our business so if for example we have half a company’s business then I want to have 100 percent in the products and services we can deliver to them.”
Bring your own device
Many of those customers are increasingly attracted to working in Africa and other emerging economies because their traditional businesses are shrinking in the more mature markets and they need to maintain their revenue and profit streams for their shareholders.
Another area where VGE Africa is getting pressure for its services is on Bringing Your Own Device (BYOD) to work and how that can impact an organisation.
Thomasson said: “All our organisations are saying they are being challenged to attract new and younger talent from the generation Xs and Ys and they have a very big focus on BYOD. There is a lot of debate to be had about whether it increases or decreases cost, but nevertheless it is something we are expert at and we are able to help our customers navigate that minefield.”
Issues of security surrounding bring your own device are also easily dealt with by VGE Africa’s current range of products and services.
Thomasson said: “We deal with security at device level in terms of insuring that what is on your device is not compromised and have various products that enable us to do that so dual persona or triple personas on a device enable a user to isolate work data from core personal data. We have the whole product stack and can serve the customer end to end.”
VGE Africa established a presence in Africa in 2007 and while it is heavily weighted to serving its customers in South Africa and Egypt, the business has been growing steadily alongside the customers it serves.
“We have now established hubs in Ghana, Cairo and Nairobi to respond to the way our customers are engaging with us,” explained Thomasson. “What we are finding is typically a customer will not do a pan-African piece in one go, what they will tend to do is establish a hub in one of the main centres that we are in.
“What we are trying to do is deliver a service with a strong local flavour. We believe East and West Africa are quite different.”
From this perspective VGE Africa aims to take away the headaches clients could suffer by dealing with the multiple regulatory authorities, different cultures and historical backgrounds and political situations of the varying countries where they want to get connected.
“We strive to deliver a level of consistency in connectivity and do it in a seamless fashion for our customers. We are seeing a much wider multi-country play and an insatiable demand which I think will increase.
“There are lots of stats around on how connectivity increases Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in countries and I don’t propose to quote them, but without a doubt there is an increasing demand for the service and the benefits it delivers to the company, the user and the people in the organisations involved,” he concluded.