5 tech initiatives we would love to see in Zimbabwe in 2013

   

Zimbabwe 1.       Establishment  of an Open Data Portal

Zimbabwe. Government. City council. Public records. Transparency.

It’s not even possible to use those words in the same sentence. Perhaps an Open Data initiative could change that.

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Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.

Open Data when used in government will move towards making government data publicly available, and to encourage its reuse. Open data would enable accountability: it is difficult to conceal something if the facts are there for all to see. Not only will it result in transparency, just Data alone in the right hands is a powerful resource for our national economic and social development. It’s also an incredible opportunity for local talent to build locally relevant tech solutions, a very huge gap currently.

Leaving it unused is like building then leaving a rich resource idle.

Open data empowers communities: the truth about crime rates, educational achievement, social services, city council spending and so on is laid bare and technical people can make the data more meaningful by revealing the trends, direction, results of strategy & decision etc… Going forward, the data will lead to more accurate conclusions and more informed decisions being made by leaders in the various sectors of our economy.

We hope a data.gov.zw portal could be created similar to these.

2.       EcoCash getting smart

The money transfer service EcoCash introduced in late 2011 has been going from strength to strength since its inception. The service had a great year in 2012, accumulating users at breathtaking fast pace. Although it uses the ever so cumbersome USSD service for transactions, users are plagued with session timeouts, having to go through numerous menus and sub menus to make simple transactions.  In its current state it contains simple security vulnerability, in the form of shoulder hacking, someone standing near an EcoCash user as they enter their pin code can see the plain text code.

Perhaps 2013 could be the year that Econet creates smartphone apps for the service, with better user interface, better security and better transaction history management. They could also introduce a web gateway to access ones account and financial records.

3.       Multi Carrier IMEI database for stolen smartphones.

Mobile Phone users are rapidly increasing across the country, and so are the cases of stolen cellphones. The development of a shared IMEI database would help deter the number of cellphone thefts.

Such a database would prevent stolen phones (once reported) from being used on another network, thereby rendering stolen phones worthless.

We will hold our breaths on that one, history dictates that it’s hard getting telcos in Zimbabwe to work together.

4.       Growth in E-commerce

Oh please, let 2013 be the year eCommerce finally takes off in and we finally get to purchase goods and services online.

I’m excited about the idea of dial-a-delivery using EcoCash, even though I haven’t used it. Those are the kind of innovation we wish to see in 2013. Currently there are maybe a few companies that are truly suited to implement amazing online marketplaces; Econet and Classifieds.co.zw are amongst them.

Econet has everything going for it, it’s only limited by its imagination as to the extent they could take an online marketplace if they chose to undertake the project.

Classifieds already has the biggest online advertising platform in the country, and they only have to tap into that market and voila, a truly successful business emerges.

Zimazon is better positioned than the aforementioned companies, they have been in the industry for a long time, and have learned some valuable lessons. The only problem might be financing, we wait and see maybe this year the business will truly go mainstream.

5.       Better designed Websites and less Joomla

The current crops of Zimbabwean websites leave a lot to be desired. Some of our websites are okay, but most are truly atrocious. The worst culprits being the government portal websites e.g.

Zimbabwe Government Website

As more companies and individuals get on the web, we hope web developers create and design better looking and better functioning websites. 2012 will be remembered for many things, and one of these is going to be: “the year that the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards awarded the best website prize for given to a site that wasn’t even online.”

We hope that in 2013, development companies realize that Joomla is not a panacea for website development. It is certainly not the only CMS out there for Pete’s sake. Try Drupal, WordPress or develop in-house CMS’s depending on the project requirements of course. If you do wish to stick with Joomla, please secure it properly and use/design better looking templates.

Honestly people, this is 2013, the 21st century, and here we are still looking at sites that look like they travelled from back in time when the web was first developed. The best way to describe some of our local sites is visual diarrhea. The most basic usability and user experience rules of web design and development have been ignored and I think it’s time we fix that in 2013.

With the rise and proliferation of smartphones, and tablets, I feel all sites should be optimized to be viewed on as many screens/viewports as possible. Most Zimbabweans’ first interaction with the web is through their smartphones and therefore developers and designers should take in this into consideration and develop sites that cater for these small screens and deliver desktop comparable browsing experience too.

The fact that not all local websites are garbage – we DO have some brilliantly designed sites by local design agencies – leads me to believe that the government, companies, and businesses generally do not appreciate and take seriously the importance of their sites. Please hire professional and capable designers/developers and let’s drag our websites out of the dark ages.


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