In an interview at African Utility Week 2015, David Schaub-Jones, co-founder of Cape Town firm, SeeSaw, which customizes ICT and other technology to support sanitation and water providers in the developing world, talks about some of the ways mobile telephony is bringing innovations for African utilities.
Mobile payment innovation
By way of example he mentions two pilots that his company is involved in Africa. In one, utility staff are using smartphones for recording meter readings, photographing meters and with a mobile printer printing out bills for customers. In the other, a “miscall” system is being used for customer engagement to enable customers to signal to the utility issues such as dissatisfaction with service or non-arrival of a bill.
“These are applications one wouldn’t see in Europe because the context is different,” says Schaub-Jones, noting that Kenya is another example where there has been innovation in mobile payment, which has “leapt ahead of Europe.”
Going ‘smart’ in Africa
Schaub-Jones says the concept of ‘smart’ in Africa is a matter of definition. “If it about getting information and using it in a timely fashion, e.g. to analyze trends for leaks or theft, then one is already into smart systems. Many utilities are accepting payment by cellphone. Each utility needs to make a sensible choice about how much they can spend and how much they can ‘shock’ their staff.”
Schaub-Jones believes a lot more innovation will be coming around Africa, and in the water sector he cites examples such as remote water quality monitoring and customer engagement via SMS. “In places such as northern Kenya, which is a dry area, we are seeing a lot of push for innovation,” he says. “Kenya is a very innovative place when it comes to ICT – they are willing to experiment and there is a young, dynamic population that is excited about what SMSs and apps can do and is snapping up smartphones.”