Technology is fast changing the world in a way that has never been seen before, as individuals continue to seek cheaper, convenient and easier ways of doing things.
Businesses across the world are, therefore, still grappling with how to use digital tools to deliver bespoke solutions to their customers.
This week on Springboard, Your Virtual University, the host, Rev. Albert Ocran, engaged the Senior Manager, Regulatory Affairs at MTN Ghana, Sam Fifi A. Bartels, and the Chief Executive Officer of Adroit 360, Jacob Kwaku Gyan, for the second time to share some tips on how businesses could use technology to scale up their ideas.
Sam Bartels described scalability as the ability to expand a business to respond to the opportunities available.
Using the telecommunications sector as an example, he said engineers might set up a site in an area that prospective people would use for telecommunications services.
“As part of the planning, they could determine that around this area, a 1,000 people will be able to use the network, whether for voice or data and on that basis, they plan the site and may probably add another 1,000 to say that its the head room, just in case there is any form of growth.
“Along the way, a company locates its office there and suddenly there is a buzz of activities and other people also move there. So within a period of two years, that initial 2,000 that was planned is exhausted. So what happened to the site is growth,” he pointed out.
He said scalability then became the capability that the site would have to be able to expand its capacity to accommodate what had happened.
“A lot of times, people get it all mixed up between what the growth is and what the scalability is, especially for people in small businesses, they don’t even take time to access their level of scalability.
“So when the growth happens, your scalability will determine how you keep up with your growth,” he stated.
Education on how to run a business
Mr Bartels also noted that having a good education of how to run a business, both looking at what happened internally and externally, was critical.
He said a lot of people, however, chose to overlook this which later affected their businesses.
“What is your magic formula? Is it dependent on the chef, or on the ingredients? If it’s dependent on your ingredients, your business is scalable, if it’s dependent on your chef, there could be a problem.
“A business that is built around talented people, if it is a space where that talent is hard to come by, beyond a certain level, in order to be able to deliver to a certain level of clientele, you need to multiply the number of people you started with,” he explained.
“If you do not have that talent, what it means is that you cannot deliver up to a certain scale. A lot of times, people do not factor that in and they are caught flat footed,” he added.
Mr Bartels also noted that many times, businesses misread the data available to them.
“The fact that you are successful might actually be consigned to a localised access. If it’s successful in East Legon, will it be successful on the other side of town? And it is easy to read the data and say, because it is successful in East Legon, if I open a branch in every part of Accra, I will have the same market.
“The other thing is that when growth starts happening and companies are expanding, a lot of people do not factor in the external environment. You might be doing your small business and the authorities may not have taken keen interest in you but at a certain level, there might be some obligations that you may have to meet and it will affect your bottom line and the skills you require,” he explained.
For his part, Jacob Kwaku Gyan, described scalability as the ability to grow a business without having to make any huge investments.
“If you are operating a business and your annual turnover is US$100,000, if you are able to make US$200,000 without investing so much more, that is when we say you have been able to scale up the business.
“But if you make US$100,000, invest another US$100,000 and you make US$220,000, you have made just US$20,000 more than the US$100,000 you were making and that is growth. Scalability means that you do not have to invest so much in terms of hiring more, or putting up more infrastructure and that is why the word scalability really is with the technology people,” he explained.
He said it was possible to scale up every business, using standardisation and automation.
For technology companies, he said, “even before an investor will consider investing, they want to be sure if they invest US$1 million, in three years’ time, we wouldn’t be investing anything but the revenue will just be going up.”
Mr Kwaku Gyan pointed out that one of the challenges that prevented Ghanaian businesses to scale up was what he described as the owners paradox.
“When I started my business, without me, work doesn’t go on. So in my early years, a Nigerian investor wanted to meet me in Nigeria and when I travelled, nothing happened in my corporation.
“And people enjoy that, a lot of businesses, the owners want to be the shining light and they don’t see how that affects them so they don’t think of creating room for scalability,” he said.
Top lessons from Sam Bartels
1. In-shop-analytics; cameras in shops now observe your movements, purchases, and preferences to make suggestions. Attention is the most sought-after commodity in the world.
2. Church; churches were slow to adopt to technology. But today, multi-site churches share one service from different locations. Cyber-enabled churches now have online devotionals and offering options.
3. Sports; recruitment of players, coaching, training and physiotherapy are all driven by data and analytics. Today, there are smart jerseys and helmets that monitor data. The consumption of sports has been changed by technologies like pay per view, virtual and augmented reality etc.
Top lessons from Kwaku Gyan
1. Collaboration; some of the greatest successes are achieved when companies collaborate instead of competing with everyone.
2. Data-driven decisions; don’t try to show off by trying to be everywhere. Not every idea can work in other locations. Using data-driven research helps you to know what will work without assuming.
3. The GOBE App; I developed an app for a popular gari and beans seller at Alajo called Lebene. After her initial hesitation, she’s now so excited because sales have trebled by the power of technology.
4. Entertainment; the musician today doesn’t need a distributor. They can distribute their music from their home using the power of YouTube and Instagram to connect with people across the world. All they need is a smart phone.
5. Commerce; technology gives convenience and instantaneous options. You can now sit in the comfort of your home, virtually examine products and order. Smart softwares also suggest other things you might need and reviews from other users to help you decide
6. Flexibility; Customer Relations Manager technologies now allow the business to personalise your customer experience and get you a refund when needed. These apps know your birthday and even offer you birthday discounts.
7. Empowering African youth; someone who heard me talk about technology in her church applied online to do national service. When her portfolio of 3D animation, python programming and graphic design was shortlisted, we reached out only to find out that she was a 12-year-old girl who had self-educated in technology.