Constraints drive African innovations
There are a lot of technological innovations coming from Africa as a result of the constraints the continent faces.
So said Thomas Otter, research VP at analyst firm Gartner, in an interview with ITWeb. Otter, based in Germany, is in SA for the Gartner on SAP event to be held on 1 and 2 June, at Sun City.
According to Otter, organisations worldwide are looking at using new technologies in order to bring down costs. In that vein, he said, Gartner is impressed by some innovations emanating from Africa aimed at minimising costs.
“Innovations in technology are happening all over the world – not just in larger markets or among big vendors.”
He gave the example of Graylink, a South African supplier of software-as-a-service (SaaS) e-recruitment applications, which developed txthire, a workflow-driven mobile recruiting solution designed to meet the needs of candidates who may not have a PC or smartphone.
The other example is Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya, after the post-election fallout in 2007 and 2008.
“The Graylink innovation, txthire, enables people who don’t have Web access to access an applicant tracking system (ATS) to apply for a job.
“While many vendors offer some mobile recruiting capability, txthire has been designed to meet the needs of candidates who may not have a PC or smartphone. Graylink has taken this constraint and innovated with it,” he pointed out.
Otter explained that through two-way SMS, txthire can ask questions to gather data and even perform comprehensive applicant screening in an interview process.
Africa has high mobile penetration, he noted, but relatively few PCs. “The solution can also work with social software channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, and can be delivered across a mobile Internet browser.
“Txthire has workflow to route communications between candidates, recruiters and hiring managers.”
He also noted that the open API enables connectivity to core human resource management systems and other ATSes, adding that Graylink plans to expand the footprint of the solution to include other HR-related, self-service processes.
However, Otter stated that international SaaS human capital management vendors are expanding, so Graylink faces increased international competition.
“SMS service providers such as Sybase have not really targeted HR, but may do so in the future. Graylink’s bigger challenge, however, is whether it will step up to the global opportunity in emerging and developed markets beyond sub-Saharan Africa.”
He believes the solution is particularly well-suited to emerging markets, such as Latin America, but will also have potential as an additional channel for recruitment in Europe or the US.
“Ushahidi has helped highlight African software development ingenuity and shows that software tools can have a profound societal impact for good.
“It has since developed into a strong platform for the collection, filtering and organisation and visualisation of data, whether social network data, such as Twitter, Web, e-mail, really simple syndication, SMS, or even verbal reports via the telephone,” he explained.
Otter also pointed out that as the use of social software to enable collaborative activities within the enterprise and among enterprises deepens, innovative vendors continue to bring new tools to the market.
He stressed that these tools make use of network dynamics and allow people to engage better with each other in intuitive environments that mirror how real work gets done.
“Ushahidi is now used to track an array of events, ranging from earthquakes and flood relief, to election monitoring and crime levels. Examples include the Haiti earthquake, election violence in Africa and South America, and the ongoing political change in North Africa.”
Otter also explained that the solution is built with open source technologies and is offered under an open source licence.
“Twelve full-time employees, some across Africa, others in the US, curate the solution and there are several dozen active contributors. It is run as a non-profitable organisation.”
For software developers, he added, Ushahidi offers an opportunity to contribute to an open source project with strong links to Africa and social justice