The Chairman/ Chief Executive Officer, Kirusa, Dr. Inderpal Mumick, spoke with Emma Okonji on consumers’ changing desires with technology evolution, the global shift from voice communication to data communication, among others. Excerpts:
Do you see voice communication being overtaken by data communication anytime soon?
The amount of voice communication in the global market has come to stay. People love to talk whether you are in America or England or in India or in Nigeria, people love to talk. People love to hear each other’s voice. So the voice traffic continues to be very high. It just is moving to voice over data. So instead of paying MTN for voice call, you do it for free on WhatsApp, but you still do the voice calls.
Technology is evolving and consumers’ needs and desires are changing, which have led to a global shift from voice communication to data communication. How are technology solution providers like Kirusa addressing consumers’ changing needs?
Technology is evolving and consumer needs and desires are also changing. Kirusa is a company that provides several telecommunications services to consumers and to enterprises. Historically, we provided services to consumers in partnership with mobile operators, including services here in Nigeria, in Ghana and in 18 other countries in Africa. Over the last several months, we have been building up a new business of providing services to enterprises, helping enterprises communicate their customers and that is one of the reasons we developed our latest solution called KirusaKonnect, which is a platform that is reimagining voice in the data era. The solution allows enterprises to communicate with their customers on the mobile channel. In the last few years, most of the businesses like banks, airlines, e-commerce sites, do communicate with their customers using short message services (SMS), which is a very common and prevalent channel for communication, and it is the only effective channel being utilised today in the industry to communicate with customers over mobile device. There are of course, emails and the web channels of communication, but mobile SMS is the main channel. In Kirusa, we saw a need from consumers’ perspective and from certain businesses perspective that they would also want to communicate over the voice channel and also to communicate over the data messaging channel. The solution is designed to address the voice and data communication in a digital era.
As a technology expert, how will you use your experience to address customers’ needs in an era of digital transformation?
I have been working in the telecoms industry ever since I finished my studies. I have a Ph D in Computer Science from Stanford University, California, United States in 1991. After which, I joined AT&T’s Bell Labs division, which was a division of AT&T, doing a lot of innovation in the telecommunications and technology and computer industries at that time. I left Bell Labs in 1997, and I started a company doing telecommunications billing, where we built the world’s first 100 per cent web based billing system. I started the current company Kirusa in the year 2001, and we have developed products and services since then to address customers’ need in a digital transformation era that is driven by technology evolution. The service we already have in Nigeria today that is being utilised by over 50 million people in Nigeria, is a service called InstaVoice. You may have heard about the service because when you call people and they don’t pick up their calls, you get a prompt saying “the person you are calling is not available,” and the service will further ask if you would to like leave them Instal Voice message, which is like a voicemail message. So we built some special technologies that made voicemail services feasible in markets across Africa, especially in Nigeria and Ghana. In Nigeria, the service is offered in partnership with MTN, Airtel and 9mobile as of today, and we are seeing traffic on this service of over three billion calls and messages every month, and 95 per cent of the three billion calls comes from Africa. So Africa is a major market and a good focus for Kirusa.
The KirusaKonnect solution appears very unique. Could you expatiate more on its features?
Today SMS is not the only messaging app, there are WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and coming very soon there is something called Rich Communication Service (RCS), which is another technology that is similar to data messaging technology. So businesses can utilise this data messaging channels to communicate with users over WhatsApp or Facebook messenger or RCS. So we put together a platform that allows enterprises not only to use SMS, which of course is very prevalent in the market already, but also to use voice and data messaging. People in Nigeria and other African countries are very familiar with using flash calling. They just flash somebody’s number, and people use the service to flash each other. Based on this, we introduced the concept of flashing a business. Flashing is popular from people to people, but has not really been fully utilised from people to businesses. So we introduced a concept called snap call, which is a quick short free flash call, where you flash your business and then the business can take any action based upon the flash to either call the person or send SMS message. It could be that the customer wants to know his her account balance or any other information from a bank and the bank, in receiving the flash, will call back to provide information to the customer.
So it’s a totally new medium for consumers to get in touch with enterprises and businesses. In introducing the solution, we put all of these on a platform so it’s easy for any business to come and utilise this service. Similarly, on data messaging, Whatsapp has become very popular in Nigeria and other African countries, but it has not really been fully utilised on in the enterprise space. Today, WhatsApp and Facebook have opened up the platform to allow businesses to communicate over WhatsApp and Facebook. The SMS infrastructure of telcos is also being upgraded to something called RCS, to enable SMS apps in mobile phones still do RCS. So this is new technology and huge potential for businesses to communicate with users in a much more engaging fashion, richer fashion than has been possible over SMS or voice.
So we put this together so that businesses can easily communicate with people, with their customers over new age data messaging apps.
And as they work with the data messaging, they will not only send or receive messages, they can also have a conversation with the user.
Customers can get their boarding pass from any airline, they can do lots of banking transactions over WhatsApp, get their banking issues resolved, and even do stock trade, using our solution. So we have put the mechanism together that can allow a business that has his own software developers to be able to build a chatbot and make them run over different types of messaging apps.
How will KirusaKonnect solution address the needs of small businesses that are providing services across Africa, and who are the target audience for the solution?
Today, almost every business of certain sizes, including small businesses, have a need to communicate with their customers over the mobile channel. Customers are on the mobile channels like WhatsApp, Facebook, SMS, which makes it easier for businesses to communicate with the customers. The first adopters are the larger businesses who are communicating with hundreds of thousands of customers or millions of customers. Nigeria is a market with 200 million people, and some of the sectors like banking, e-commerce, transportation aviation, and fast moving consumer goods, are sectors where there are players with millions and millions of customers, and these are the first level of our target audience. However, from our platform, we also make it possible for startups or small business to come and do self service. The system is set up in a way that somebody who wants to communicate with hundred customers can do it cost effectively.
What is the operability level of your enterprise solution and how easy it is in terms of accessibility and usage?
The ease of use and accessibility are something we really focused on. So we put a lot of focus and attention to our solution. For the banks, airline operators or a startup company building a food delivery service, you have your own software, and you want to include this communication in your own software, so to help sectors achieve result we build our software platform in a way that we provide our capabilities using Application Program Interface (API). So there is an API to make a call, there is an API to connect to people whenever flash calls are sent, there is an API to send a message to customers whenever there’s a WhatsApp thing coming up. So everything is built using API’s, and the purpose is that once businesses understand the API, they can incorporate it into their own software. Any business with sophisticated customer management has their own software development team, and there is need to incorporate community channels, which could be achieved without even going to Kirusa to get any assistant. All they need do is to visit our websitenand download the API’s, create an account and it is up and running. We provide a portal to enable businesses manage some simple tasks that they want to do. You can manage from the portal itself. So for example, maybe you have your school and you want to send a message informing parents that the school is closing early on a particular day, you do not need to develop a software for that purpose. The business can visit our portal, fill a form, click a button and the calls go to all the target audience.
So our solution is highly interoperable and can synchronise easily with other solutions. Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) can decide to use the platform to send messages to all their customers on any information they want to pass to customers. With API, we can provide unlimited services to customers on our portal.
Your platform does up to three billion transactions in a month across the African market. So what percentage of that volume comes from the Nigerian market?
For the African market itself, last month we did over 3.5 billion transactions, and the Nigerian market alone accounted for more than 50 per cent of the 3.5 billion transactions for calls and messages. Nigeria is our major market in Africa and we are not surprise about the volume of transactions we get from Nigeria every month because it is the largest economy in Africa and the population of Nigeria doubles the population of any other African country.
What are some of the challenges faced, while deploying the solution in African markets?
Of course there were lots of challenges in deploying the solution. The truth is that new solution comes with lots of scepticism. For example, there were companies that wanted proven case studies. They want a business case. So with new solution, you get to find like minds that believe in your solution and are willing to be the first of the second to implement the solution. Some may not want to know about the success story, but will easily key into it when that are convinced that the solution is good and will impact positively on their business. So we actually faced some challenges in getting fast market acceptance and that is why it took us a while to come out with a product that is so user friendly.