Undoubtedly, the world economies are thriving by leveraging the capacity and strength of their digital ecosystem – especially when technology never ceases to evolve and usage continues to increase.
USAID’s Digital Strategy explains that a digital ecosystem comprises stakeholders, systems and an enabling environment that together empowers people and communities to use digital technology for accessing services, engaging with each other and pursuing economic opportunities.
A search on ‘why a thriving digital ecosystem’ will tell you that it is a catalyst for “improving sales, rapid innovation and cutting costs. In addition, digital ecosystems help companies interact with customers, business partners, unrelated companies and even some competitors”.
But what is the state of Ghana’s digital ecosystem, and what will it take to build a thriving digital ecosystem in the country?
The somewhat good news is that the Chief Digital Officer at MTN Ghana, Dario Bianchi has said: “What I see in the digital ecosystem is that a lot of the key pieces are finally in place. What I have realised over time is that in Ghana we have great developers, and the core of the digital ecosystem is to have people who can code well and come out with great products. The other key part is designing experiences that are engaging and which customers want to use. And again, we have User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) developers in the country”.
However, Dario highlighted that building a thriving digital ecosystem in the country requires stakeholders to play a proactive role and make a bold choice to change the status quo.
While acknowledging the existing platforms that aided in reaching out to customers without smartphones and the unbanked with services and products, he believes it is time to start making “bold choices”.
“I think what the big players have to do is play their part in the ecosystem; open-up, become a platform and also be bold with choices. We all love the USSD platform: it has given us so many opportunities to reach out to the unbanked and to customers who do not have a smartphone. But let us be bold now. Let us start moving also to digital, because more and more people are moving to smartphones and digital. So, let us start thinking about how to move the service that has been on USSD for 20 years to a website,” he said at the recent MTN Business Executive Breakfast Series on the topic ‘Building a thriving digital ecosystem in Ghana’.
One other thing that pops up when you search for ‘building a thriving digital ecosystem’ is collaboration – and this is what the Chief Digital Officer is confident the country needs, the ecosystem it desires.
Not only have we noticed many start-ups in the digital space sprouting great ideas, but the sure way to succeed according to Dario is effective collaboration to scale up. “The key thing for me is collaboration, because in Ghana I see a lot of startups with many great ideas – but many are small, and when you are small it is difficult to scale up. So the key thing is to collaborate, to grow the idea to a level where it is ready to attract investment,” he said.
But beyond that, he maintains ensuring a good product which fits the market is crucial. Nonetheless, organisations must prove to be investor-ready. He said making strides in the digital ecosystem is crucial for growth, tapping untapped opportunities and reducing fraud.
Dario acknowledges that sub-industries within the country’s digital space “are also growing, and the key thing is how to push a local ecosystem about, say gaming and music, and how we want to collaborate with foreign players; but I think the digital ecosystem is growing, and that applies to digital marketing”.
Speaking on what role his outfit is playing in that regard, he said: “We at MTN are selling a new product whereby start-ups can advertise on our platform because it will be more efficient”.
Dario also indicated that MTN is extending its digital strategy with the launch of an API marketplace called Chenosis, which will enable developers and businesses to discover and subscribe to what will become the largest library of open APIs published on the continent.
Chenosis will enable developers to tap into a broad spectrum of API products and services from across the continent – ranging from telecommunications, e-health, e-government, IoT, fintech, e-commerce, identity and authentication, payments and collections, location and more from a single marketplace.
Capital to scale up
For her part, Chief Operations Officer & Co-founder of SuperFluid Labs, Winifred Kotin, said while the digital space is making progress there is still more room to further develop; however, the space needs funding to scale up.
“There is still a lot of room for development, and one area that is specifically of interest to me is funding the space. We have innovators, talents, over 70 percent smartphone penetration, access to the Internet and a population that is ready to take on these services. However, we do not have enough capital coming into the space to fund research and development, to fund market and advertising that is required to get the adaption needed and ensure those who invest in the space get their returns.
“If we can get capital flowing into the space as we have in other regions, it will help the ecosystem scale up,” she said.
Co-founder and CEO of Impact Hub Accra, William Senyo, also holds that to create an ecosystem that employs a lot of people, creates value, meets the needs of consumers and wishes to accelerate its growth, institutions in the space ought to carve a new focus of what they do now compared to previously – especially when the foundation to embrace the digital ecosystem has been laid already.
He added that there should be a decentralised ecosystem wherein key people are doing different things and focusing on how to create a soft landing for the world to engage innovators.
“What we are seeing evolution to be is now that we have established this as a legitimate option for the smartest and brightest of our economy, how can we soft-land global players into our market to connect with these bright people? So, creating that soft landing for the world to engage African innovators becomes the next thing. There is a decentralised ecosystem now, and I think we need to find ways of adding value to that and not keep to what we did a decade ago,” he said.
Now, while the space seems to be making gradual progress, one can only be hopeful. The glass is half-full rather than half-empty.