African telco adventurers
Small SA consultancy builds sought-after know-how
THAT SMALL INFORMATION and communications technology (ICT) research consultancy Africa Analysis is doing big things is belied by average office accommodation in Centurion. In fact, its researchers spend about a week each month travelling Africa advising some of the world’s largest telcos on their strategy in what’s considered one of the last major growth markets in telecoms.
Started five years ago by former BMITechKnowledge chief telecoms consultant and MD André Wills, Africa Analysis now employs eight full-time analysts in various capacities and recently opened an office in Lagos, Nigeria.
Wills, the company’s MD and one of three shareholders, says many of the projects it now works on come from companies referred to it by other clients or that have heard of what they do via the African telco grapevine. Africa Analysis also uses the many opportunities to speak at conferences, both in SA and throughout Africa, and to the media as tools to market itself.
Director and telecoms analyst Dobek Pater, who left BMI-T six months after Wills departed, says Africa Analysis is proud of being a home-grown consultancy receiving global recognition for its expertise and value to clients.
Many of its clients are European telcos that appreciate its depth and breadth of knowledge of Africa, which Wills says has occurred after years of travelling to countries throughout the continent to determine what their markets are really like and meeting key players, such as regulators and incumbent telco operators. This year its itinerary has included Uganda, Nigeria, Namibia, Angola and Swaziland.
Frequent travel into Africa means its team has come to know which hotels provide the best broadband (or at least the fastest available Internet access) and whether or not the local cellphone network is reliable. Flights to and from some countries in Africa are irregular and often full, but Wills says frequent flying meant being able to squeeze in when necessary via its loyalty programme or to get bumped up a class.
He says the company’s been lucky enough to work with an array of clients, including many of the incumbents in Africa, plus some others in Eastern Europe and the Middle East that have helped Africa Analysis to learn and grow.
Pater says Africa Analysis has evolved from conducting pure research to more challenging, higher level work ranging from due diligence exercises to licence bids and privatisations to advising competition authorities concerning the merits – or otherwise – of particular deals. Having started doing entirely telecoms work it now also advises on IT services and the media.
Wills and Pater say that Africa Analysis rarely comes up against local players when tendering, such as BMI-T (which has a different business model, focusing on writing research reports, which it sells to clients). Rather its competitors are international consultancies with specific ICT teams, such as Accenture and McKinsey & Co and other focused telecoms consultancies from the US and Europe, like Analysys and Ovum Consulting.
A partnership with one of those traditional competitors – London-based consultancy Ovum, signed last year – has placed it more visibly on the international radar screen and added weight to its offerings. The companies are currently working on their third joint project, and Pater says there have already been many other referrals emanating from the relationship.
Another of its advantages has been its ability to work in both English and Frenchspeaking Africa, Wills says. It recently also added Portuguese to its repertoire.
The company operates in a money-conscious manner, having funded all travel either by clients willing to pay for the expertise their input will provide or from its own cash flows. It’s invested in its own intellectual property, has no debt and will turn over R8m this financial year, on the back of historic growth of around 20% to 30% year-on-year.
Wills says every employee washes dishes, makes coffee, writes reports and presents to the board. It is also not uncommon to find staff working throughout the night to meet deadlines. Despite the hard work, he says he’s never been happier.
Pater says Africa Analysis has long debated how big it should grow but, importantly, doesn’t want to outgrow its ability to stay in touch with market developments and to be personally involved with clients.
Wills says over the next five years or so it might take on another three or four staff and hopes to have further cemented relationships with existing clients, accompanied them to new markets and continued its strong partnership with Ovum. It would also have strengthened the recently opened Lagos office and possibly also open an office in Kenya.
One challenge it faces is the issue of skills. While Africa Analysis wants to undertake a black economic empowerment deal, it has thus far been unable to find a partner with the necessary skills mix that would add to the company, says Wills.
Well-travelled in Africa. Dobek Pater (left) and André Wills