African telco ad­ven­tur­ers

Small SA con­sul­tancy builds sought-af­ter know-how

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & technology - BELINDA AN­DER­SON

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

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