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MTN/Banks USSD Imbroglio: Signs of Things to Come

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MTN/Banks USSD Imbroglio: Signs of Things to Come, SiliconNigeria

By Elvis Eromosele 

Nigerians woke up on Friday, April 2, 2021, to discover they couldn’t recharge their MTN lines from their banks. It wasn’t another April fool’s prank. It was a real move by Nigerian banks to punish MTN for having the audacity to suggest reducing the margins on the commission for selling MTN credit to subscribers. 

One wonders about the sort of thinking that prompted the banks to cut off over 75 million MTN subscribers from recharging via the USSD platform. Did they consider the pain of the subscribers or impact on the economy? Or was it a case of all is fair in war? It was a brutal tactic, one that sadly appears, in the short term, to have won. 

Imagine disenfranchising close to 45 per cent of the Nigerian telecom subscribers. There was no way that wass not a reflection of a deeper problem. It was no surprise that everyday Nigerians questioned the system that allowed banks to unilaterally disconnect MTN subscribers without recourse to a regulatory body or care for the pains of the customers. 

The chatter started online and quickly gained momentum with online blogs carrying the news. By midday on Friday, April 2, 2021, MTN sent a message to its customers: “Dear Customer, our bank recharge channels are currently unavailable. Kindly recharge using physical cards. We apologise for the inconvenience. Thank you.”

At this point, it was obvious that a full-blown war was underway. 

The impact was far-reaching. MTN Subscribers couldn’t recharge their lines and so couldn’t load data. It disrupted businesses, family and personal issues. Its impact on the economy is immeasurable. For two days subscribers scampered around to get physical recharge cards. Some unscrupulous retailers cashed in to increase the price. People who had not loaded physical cards in years struggled to relearn how to load using *555*PIN#.

It was a trying time for many. 

But MTN responded with incredible speed. It set up new channels and publicized them on social media. To ensure that subscribers are not deprived of service the telco giant quickly signed on Flutterwave among other fintechs to fill the gap. And quickly, Barter app by Flutterwave, Kuda app, Jumia app, Opay app, Fundbea.ng, Bill’s pay app and Carbon app and others came on stream.

Indeed within 48 hours, the firm had established so many channels that experts began to wonder there would be any space for the banks when the issues were finally resolved. 

The resolution happened faster than many people expected. By Sunday afternoon, MTN announced to its subscribers that the issue had been resolved while a permanent solution was still in the works.

The firm has agreed to restore the commission it paid commercial banks for providing payment platforms to its subscribers following the intervention by the Minister for Communications and Digital Economy and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Despite the said resolution, the dynamics of the recharge market has been irrevocably changed. Going forward, telcos would not be content to focus only on the banks in the light of how they unilateral yanked MTN off the service platform. 

There are lessons in this episode. Trust has been broken and the future would be completely different from the past. 

Thankfully, technology again rose to the occasion. Within 48 hours over six apps had hooked up and actively marketing MTN recharge cards to subscribers. Confession: I downloaded Flutterwave.

The subscribers have tasted something new. Many won’t go back to the banks. The convenience. The lack of charge for some other services. The need for Soro Soke generation to pick a side and stand up for a fight. It is going to be a long, maybe impossible way back for the banks. 

The fintechs demonstrated the power of technology and the lightning speed of digital connections. They came. They saw profits. They gained substantial subscribers. They would be reluctant, unwilling even, to return to the status quo. They will do nearly anything to maintain and possibly grow their share of the market. 

The banks should not be rewarded for their bad behaviour. Cutting MTN off was unbecoming and some would argue largely irresponsible. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. 

Some sort of sanctions has to apply, first to show the error of their ways. And then, to prevent a copycat move from another section of the market tomorrow. Today, it was banks, tomorrow it could be the telcos or insurance. 

This is not the way to run an economy. Corporate governance was thrown to the dogs. 

The move by the banks was reminiscence of the recent unprovoked food blockage. Monies were lost, food perished and trust was broken. The gains, if any, were minuscule.

MTN’s frantic and herculean efforts to ensure that the subscribers retain access to recharge stand in sharp relief against the abrupt way the banks disconnected the service provider without reference to the customers. It reflected and possibly reinforced an already ingrained perception about Nigerian banks: they don’t care about the customers.

The situation is tricky. It involves money, lots of it. Patience would be required to resolve the issue satisfactorily, a lot of patience. 

To make progress, the customers, the interest of the subscribers must be at the core of any resolution. If the parties put the customers first and centre, then they will be able to find a sustainable way forward. The days ahead promises to be intriguing.

Common sense, however, dictates that the current cost structure cannot persist. Something would have to give. This concerns all of us.

Elvis Eromosele, a Corporate Communication professional and public affairs analyst lives in Lagos.

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Opinion/White Papers

Why There’s Need for a Second Giant in the $20 Billion Mobile Mapping Market

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Why There’s Need for a Second Giant in the $20 Billion Mobile Mapping Market, SiliconNigeria

By Prince Osuagwu

Competition in the mobile industry is arguably shifting to the Mobile Mapping Market. The market size exceeded $20 billion in 2019 and is poised to register gains at over 17 percent CAGR between 2020 and 2026. It is also estimated the market could attract advertising revenue worth up to $100 billion per year, according to Barron’s.

Although the industry is witnessing a significant disruption with the increasing availability of portable and low-cost sensors and rapidly the growing use of telecommunication networks, the disruption is, however, adding to its strength, by developing new trends, which have become growth parameters.

They include increasing demand for terrestrial mobile mapping in telecommunication and transportation; increasing penetration of mobile devices; increasing investment in city planning and smart city projects; improved network connectivity and the growing role of optic fibre technology in driving smart cities. The irony of the market is that it is almost becoming a one-horse race, with Google dominating market share. 

According to Morgan Stanley, it is estimated that Google Maps revenue will total more than $11 billion in 2023. Apple map is also estimated to yield advertising opportunities in a hot trail to Google’s.

But that’s about it, in a market that boasts of major players like, Trimble Inc, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Google, PASCO CORPORATION, Huron Geomatics Inc, TOPCON CORPORATION, The Sanborn Map Company Inc., 3D LASER MAPPING, Apple Inc, NAVVIS, Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, NGC Aerospace Ltd, FARO Technologies Inc., Microsoft Corporation, Hexagon AB, TomTom International BV, IGI mbH, Hyper Tech, and Gexcel, and NEXIT App; among others.

If among the array of players, Google could not be said to have a strong competition in the navigation market, look no farther than Facebook as an example, to provide the needed competition in the navigation market. What makes Facebook so successful is that it has a powerful combination of the broadest reach, richest user data, and best-in-class ad targeting tools. But, why it is not a giant in the mobile mapping market is surprising.

Though at some point, it attempted to challenge Google’s dominance of the market, through an interest in acquiring Waze, Google, however, outsmarted it and snapped the deal with $966 million in 2013. Meanwhile, there are greater chances of doing so in 2021. The chances include a strategic partnership with a budding but fast-growing mobile mapping business called NEXIT.

Although, Facebook is not the only company with vast potential to partner with Nexit, according to sources, several potential partners are said to be on the horizon for NEXIT; companies that have a rich audience, and recognize the impending lucrative monetization that is in mobile navigation mapping.

These, include Amazon, A T & T, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple, a few of the larger oil companies, and several hedge funds with the connections to optimize this opportunity. Part of the reasons Google reportedly bought Waze was to add social data to its own mapping business, Google maps, and since 2013 when it did that, it was almost a no-brainer that it has shut down competition in the mobile mapping business. That is also what Facebook, could do with NEXIT.

NEXIT entered the market in December 2019, and since then, has shown a strong presence in the mobile mapping space. It prides itself on having gone into the critical details of mapping resources, providing landmark technology blueprints that sit mobile maps at the core base of today’s travel needs.

For instance, providing customized integrated trip information and preferences; maximizing advertising revenue by showing targeted, relevant advert exposures; multiple search inquiries simultaneously at the same exit and showing upcoming exits while driving, among others, are some of those unique innovations found only in the NEXIT mapping app. 

NEXIT also: * Automatically shows the cheapest gas per exit and cheapest gas banner for the next 50 miles; * Allows multiple search inquiries (brand & amenity) simultaneously and shows where all are located at the same exit (TravMatch); * Book hotels right along the way integrated into the trip; * Route Planning: -Integrates preferences (brand & amenity) before you go and allows multiple search inquiries (brand & amenity) simultaneously while showing where all are located at the same exit (TravMatch).

These are features that will no doubt, leverage on the rich-mined data audience of Facebook to shot the company straight into the top spot of the market. Besides, there are, at least five benefits such a partnership can bring: Benefits of the partnership: *Facebook will have its own navigation mapping app: Let’s face the facts, Facebook’s navigation map is apparently franchised from Google and Apple maps.

No wonder it attempted to buy Waze before Google snapped it. But an opportunity to partner with NEXIT will present a renewed vigour to enter the market as a truly independent operator. This is even more advantageous when considering some of the trending innovative commands on NEXIT that may not be found on Google/Waze or Apple mapping platforms.

Firm grip, retention and control of users:

It’s a bit curious to observe that map users on Facebook are automatically taken off the platform, onto Apple or Google Maps. For a platform which major business is knowing who its users are, where they are, what they like and don’t, redirecting its users to a supposed competitor is losing valuable engagement, which is antithetical to such businesses. But with NEXIT, mapping would be integrated directly into Facebook’s products and platforms. That at least would keep users where they should be.

Opportunity of tying all Facebook social media platforms together with navigation: Partnership with NEXIT navigation can help Facebook tie all its properties together in synergy, based on the characteristics of the app. Facebook users who desire to plan a trip across the country, walk around the city, get daily coffee or weekly gas can do all that in one sitting because NEXIT provides them in a one-stop-shop. This feature helps Facebook to have control of its users when they are using navigation.

Global Navigation Reach: Facebook is everywhere but not its navigational app. However, NEXIT is currently available in the USA, and coming globally to cities like Paris, Dubai, London, Berlin, Lagos, Sydney, and others in Q4 2021. That is an added advantage Facebook can leverage on.

Additional revenue streams: Considering the projections by Barron’s that map ads could be $100 billion per year, and Google’s projected revenue from mapping which is expected to surpass $11b by 2023, according to Skift, is bad business for Facebook to have over 1.5 billion users and not monetising their data through the navigational platform.

Teaming with NEXIT could help Facebook add up to $10 billion in 2023 through NEXIT mapping monetization. Most critical is that Facebook’s vast data-mined audience coupled with the innovative Nexit map and navigation platform would be positioned to capture the market from competitors like Google and Apple.

Prince Osuagwu is a technology writer based in Lagos, Nigeria.

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Opinion/White Papers

Sustainability, it’s in the Details

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Sustainability it’s in the Details, SiliconNigeria

By Mai Youssef

Adapting to new working practices presents an incredible opportunity (https://bit.ly/2O6wlrY) to assess and adjust our approach to sustainability. Changes don’t have to be extreme; they can include a range of small but effective actions such as embracing recycling and reusable materials, switching to more eco-friendly modes of manufacturing and reviewing transport or packaging best practice. Small wins across a wide range of areas can have a big impact. 

Reduce, reuse, recycle
From separating the paper, plastic and cardboard used in the office, to reducing the use of disposable cutlery, sustainability initiatives often start with the little details first. One of those details needs to be equipment and technology decisions (https://bit.ly/2PGMDIK). The reason is obvious: technology – such as PCs, laptops, and smartphones – represented just 1 per cent of the world’s carbon footprint in 2007.

Today, that’s already tripled and is on its way to exceeding 14 per cent by 2040. Whilst technology is intrinsic to the modern business, there are still small – yet hugely beneficial – changes organisations can make to address one of the most serious problems for the environment.

For example, keeping a business phone for three years instead of two, or a laptop for six years instead of five, can make an impact on a company’s use of materials. If enterprises are doing this on a national scale, there will be less demand to create as many new devices each year, reducing the overall amount of raw materials mined to match this demand. When companies need new products, they can opt for remanufactured or refurbished equipment. (https://bit.ly/3rDuKYD).

As well as being better for the environment, companies can save on average 30-50 per cent of the selling price compared to the same equipment that has been made new. Furthermore, thanks to ratings programmes and awards schemes, customers have greater visibility of brands and products that are less harmful to the environment.

Cut the commute
Greener ways of commuting to work each day – or not commuting at all – can also be beneficial. The average co-working space, for instance a communal office closer to home, can help generate carbon emission savings of 118 metric tonnes annually between now and 2029. Prior to the pandemic, a select number of companies had introduced more flexible working policies – allowing people to work from home or cultivate a co-working space in an agile environment. Now, many companies support a mixture of remote and office working – reducing carbon emissions while improving staff wellbeing.

Technology is making this all possible. With the right solutions and printing capabilities, workers can seamlessly transition between the office and their remote working environment. For example, before 2020, video conferencing had already become a staple in workplace communication, connecting colleagues around the world, but under pandemic working conditions its usage increased dramatically to facilitate everyday meetings that could not be done face-to-face.

Reap the benefits
With so many opportunities to meet sustainability goals through incremental steps, it’s important to remember why they will remain so valuable over the next decade. A report published in 2020 found that 80 per cent of Europeans think big companies and industry are not doing enough to help the environment – suggesting that businesses who strive to make a positive difference can attract customers, while those who don’t may lose them.

Taking action on sustainability can also increase the chances of attracting and retaining talent. Some 26 per cent of UK workers said they would accept a lower salary to work for a sustainable organisation, while half of those surveyed said they would consider declining a job offer from a company with harmful practices.

A 2020 survey on the opinions of millennials across 43 countries found that the proportion who thought ‘reducing its impact on the environment’ is something their employer is doing well (61 per cent) was 22 per cent higher among those who intend to stay in their jobs for five or more years compared than those expecting to move on fairly soon.

Sustainability for businesses today is less about ‘if’ and more about ‘how’. The good news is that by working on the details and making small changes, businesses can make a significant impact. All it takes is the first step forward.

 Mai Youssef is the, Corporate Communications and Marketing Services Director – Canon Middle East and Canon Central and North Africa

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Choosing the Rght Mix of Tools for your Business to Sidestep Silos

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Choosing the Rght Mix of Tools for your Business to Sidestep Silos, SiliconNigeria

By Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Africa, Zoho Corporation

Technology silos are one of the most common barriers that organisations come across in their digital transformation journeys. Tech silos mainly crop up at a juncture when various departments within the organisation use disparate software applications that not only differ in form, look, and feel but also struggle to integrate contextually. When business-critical apps do not communicate with each other seamlessly, organisations are left battling information silos, disjointed processes, and half-baked analytics.

Investing in digital tools built on the same technology stack

Business owners and tech leaders who are intent on avoiding silos in their firm’s digital transformation journey should consider a holistic view and try appraising their software choices in the following aspects as an add-on measure:

  • Beyond satisfying an exclusive departmental need, does the chosen software have the necessary integration capabilities to work with other tools and systems to create an inter-connected business tech ecosystem?
  • Will the software contribute towards the three Cs—convergence, collaboration, and context, which are imperative for frictionless business processes?

An effective solution to the above is to move away from point solutions and consciously invest in a set of business solutions that are built on the same technology stack such as unified platforms, common data models, and consistent interfaces. This allows functionally distinct modules, like CRM, marketing, and finance to converge at an architectural level, facilitating powerful integrations, customizations, and capability extensions. Let’s look at a few scenarios below that portray the benefits of contextual integration.

When a CRM and a finance tool work together, a customer support executive is able to, say, access a client’s invoice history and pending product licenses directly from the CRM or Help Desk console without having to log into a secondary tool, thereby saving time. Next, an inter-connected collaboration platform that blends internal and external communications in one place, like a contextual messaging portal within the CRM tool, will allow executives to discuss a certain ticket before responding to the customer. The creative possibilities of such cross-functional integration are endless and so are the benefits, irrespective of industry type and organisation size.

Integrated solutions with a unified data repository also ensure high success rates and quality outcomes while employing modern technologies like AI, ML, and business intelligence. Uniform data sets power unified business analytics, resulting in meaningful inferences and actionable insights that help organisations future-proof their business decisions. Additionally, the integration capabilities should also allow organizations to build custom workflows or connectors on their own with as little coding as possible to explore new value avenues in growth scaling, supply chain management, customer experience and so on.

The UX angle

This is another important angle for organisations to keep in mind during their business software decisions: the employee experience (EX) approach. Employees should be given tools that are simple to work with and offer consistent experiences across departments. The tools should also make their jobs easier, with process integration and automation and allowing for quicker cross-functional collaboration. When the tools tick all of the above, employees are much more likely to embrace the change that comes with digitalisation.

A great EX also contributes to a greater customer experience (CX). Tools that streamline communications and elevate EX allow organisations to exist as a single cohesive unit and ensure that their customers get a consistent experience. At the end of the day, a stellar customer experience is what gives an organisation the winning edge over competitors. In this digital age, an intelligent mix of business tools plays a defining role in achieving that competitive advantage.

Leveraging the power of integration for digital maturity

When it comes to business technology, invariable connectivity is vital because every organisation thrives by working as one unit. So, CTOs and business process architects should bear in mind the importance of a collaborative approach while going digital and that ‘integration rather than siloed is essential’.

For a digital transformation strategy to act as a true business enabler, it’s pivotal to choose the right set of tools that will work in harmony towards the same goal and mission, thereby reducing management complexity, simplifying the user environment, and increasing customer delight.

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