Liquid assets - The tale of agile customer service

“The call centre has flooded”

It’s amazing how long it can take to process a few simple words.

“Uhm, what? Wait...WHAT?….err…Is everyone ok?”

A snapped ceiling beam

A snapped ceiling beam

The recent storms in Gauteng had been taking their toll on a lot of things - banging up cars, gardens, people and infrastructure. The latest victim has been the [Mobile Money][1] call centre, only the second floor on a five story building located just off 14th Avenue. At 16h00 on Thursday 28 November, a small trickle of water started dripping through the air conditioning ducts. Initially nobody even noticed. But get enough water into a small enough space and it’ll demand respect. Slowly as the pressure built in the building, the walls started to shudder and electrical facilities in the roof started spraying the office like a shotgun.

[1]: http://www.mobilemoneysa.com

The training center was under 3 feet of water

The training center was under 3 feet of water

As the initial screams subsided the Mobile Money call centre refocused themselves surprisingly quickly, and were able to get out of the crumbling building unharmed. But the technology and the infrastructure were still inside. We were offline.
 
 
You only get to see just how cool of a head a team has when they are in a crisis. Our operations and technical teams dropped everything, rolled up their sleeves and started rolling with the punches. Spaced was rapidly cleared in the [TYME Capital][2] Rosebank offices in order get the call centre back online as quickly as possible. In only 5 hours we were back online, and responding to customer phone calls. That’s 5 hours to move across town, relocate people, change lines, and get a brand new technology infrastructure up and running. These guys are heroes.

[2]: http://www.tyme.com
 
 
The call centre offices are however doomed, and the search for new offices has begun. In the meantime calls are being answered and customer service continues as normal.
 

Air conditioning ducts shattered on the CC floor

Air conditioning ducts shattered on the CC floor

Why Mobile Money has become important to me

Full Disclosure: I've recently been working on a project involving MTN's Mobile Money. In fact, this is probably more than full disclosure, it’s a reason for this post. The purpose of this long overdue post is to outline why Mobile Money has become important to me. Views expressed here are my own and are not endorsed by anyone other than me.
 The thing about colonialism is that it forces inequality. It creates infrastructure for the people in power, and while that infrastructure is sometimes shifted as revolution happens, more often it does not. This infrastructure, whether social, mechanical, educational or otherwise often requires fundamental shifting in order for a more equal society. While this may be obvious in most spaces, one of the largest areas that I personally forgot about is financial infrastructure. A convenience that many of us, in fact I’d almost guarantee all of the people reading this, take for granted is access to internet banking. In your day-to-day life, an incredible amount of time has been saved with the introduction of internet banking. No more queues, no more having to travel to the bank, no more giving up productive time because you have to send money home to your family, pay your bills or face other financial realities that you don’t really want to deal with anyway. Many of us have forgotten how difficult analogue banking is. Queuing has become such a problem in some countries that legislation has been put in place to try and mitigate some of the time-wasting.

Hundreds of potentially productive, potentially money earning hours, every month, are spent doing nothing but waiting in lines, or trying to get the very base thing we need to survive. As a country we waste so much time, effort and money because we don’t know any better. As a country we suffer the effects of this, from

So what’s this got to do with me, or you, or anything? We’re technologists, aren’t we? 
If there's one thing we know about technology it is that it makes our world smaller, and while that's been important for stock brokers [ref: High speed trading] and Diablo III gamers, we've somehow forgotten to embed these technologies in areas of need. Our technology gap has been widening, causing further inequalities, and if I become a little emotionally vulnerable, I feel that part of that is my fault.

Those of you that have read through this blog in the past may have noticed a deep anxiety with regard to how I, just me, a simple man, can help the world. I've dabbled in different technologies at different levels but everything I've done has ended up being some form of entertainment or another. It has always deeply bothered me that as much as I work hard, and try to be valuable to the companies that pay me, that those companies are not about more than surviving as companies themselves.



Jump to TYME Capital - http://www.tyme-capital.com

This is where I’m currently working, spending time trying to understand how people interact with the Mobile Money product, a product that has been seeded out of solving some of the problems with financial inclusion in South Africa. A product that has no charges for holding the account, and only charges for transfer fees if you’re off the MTN network (at a price of R1.00 per transfer). 
These are some are the most brilliant and driven people I have ever worked with. They won me over quickly. Here is a group of people working on the ground with people in order to introduce them to a world that will save them time, and money. Here is a group of people that really work with a focus on the systemic effects of what they are doing, with a clear vision and value set..

In the last few days I've been sitting in meetings that have taught me a ridiculous amount about how the informal economy actually operates. The bulk of my life I've been so far removed from the problems that I've been trying to solve that it's inevitable that I thought it was hopeless to solve them. Mobile Money is actively working to create financial inclusion in a country that needs it direly.

I've interfaced with a number of Steve's from bleep-banks over the last several months, and I've been left feeling cold and separated. I think this is because banking in general has lost its way. It's easy to lose your purpose as you get older, companies and individuals are similar like that. Banking has, through its variety of products and silo'd departments, lost a bit of what their point is. Money has become the lifeblood of almost everything we do. Name me one successful company that doesn't have a CFO? It's like oxygen to a company. Yet there are about 5.5 million unbanked individuals that are eligible for bank accounts in South Africa. 
I've spent my fair share of time whinging about the state of the country, but I haven't done anything that matters. I think that there's an opportunity to do something here though. I'm not saying that by providing the infrastructure we'll suddenly make everything right overnight, but we can slowly shift the state of our environment by being inclusive in our financial systems. We can spend more time helping people to engage with us on the levels that they're being forced to engage with us on. The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed, and we should focus on which bits are the important bits to be distributing first.

It's russian dolls all the way down

The acts of the mind, wherein it exerts its power over simple ideas, are chiefly these three: 1. Combining several simple ideas into one compound one, and thus all complex ideas are made. 2. The second is bringing two ideas, whether simple or complex, together, and setting them by one another so as to take a view of them at once, without uniting them into one, by which it gets all its ideas of relations. 3. The third is separating them from all other ideas that accompany them in their real existence: this is called abstraction, and thus all its general ideas are made.

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)

Be not the programmer that beats down my door...

``I think that it's extraordinarily important that we in computer science keep fun in computing. When it started out, it was an awful lot of fun. Of course, the paying customers got shafted every now and then, and after a while we began to take their complaints seriously. We began to feel as if we really were responsible for the successful, error-free perfect use of these machines. I don't think we are. I think we're responsible for stretching them, setting them off in new directions, and keeping fun in the house. I hope the field of computer science never loses its sense of fun. Above all, I hope we don't become missionaries. Don't feel as if you're Bible salesmen. The world has too many of those already. What you know about computing other people will learn. Don't feel as if the key to successful computing is only in your hands. What's in your hands, I think and hope, is intelligence: the ability to see the machine as more than when you were first led up to it, that you can make it more.''

Alan J. Perlis (April 1, 1922-February 7, 1990)

I do hope that the date of the quote doesn't deter from its importance.

African New Innovation Challenge Finalists Announced

After being swamped with entries which far exceeded their expectations, ANIC have finally released the list of finalists to the world.

It seems that the names aren't up on the website yet, however I've added a link to their press release for download.

I feel honoured to have been part of the Green Hornet team, focusing on journalist confidentiality, which will be going through to the next round of the competition.

You can find the press release [here][1].

[1]: https://www.dropbox.com/s/82v0cu993afrxb3/ANIC Press Release - 2012 Finalists Announced.pdf?m

Know Thyself - γνῶθι σεαυτόν

I find "The Self" the most difficult metaphysical construct to deal with. Pre-conceptions and cognitive bias, a series of frames that we associate to a variety of anchors. We struggle and struggle, but trying to find an objective reality to make decisions about our own lives is impossible.

I grew up, or aged rather, in a family of entrepreneurs. I loved technology, and hit my personal stride around the same time as the .com boom. I read Red Herring, knew the insides of all the cool companies that were disrupting industries, basically I "got" what was going on in the internet space. Adding all these things together about 5 years back, I associated all the things that I loved with being entrepreneurial. It was easy to do, my friends run their own start-ups, I've always worked in start-ups, and my family runs several companies. Obviously I'm genetically and socially predisposed to startups. Yeah, well, I knew that about myself.

So here's the thing they don't tell technologists about start-ups: Start-ups are a lot of admin, a lot of work, and a lot of client interaction. Yeah, they can be fun, and you can play with cool tech, but if you've got yourself pegged as the "Business guy" or the "Sales guy" you're probably not going to get too near to it.

You see somewhere along the line I got hooked by the start-up line, and I figured myself an entrepreneur. I fell in love with the idea of starting companies for the sake of starting companies. The sharp ones that are reading this will immediately point out the complete paradox of creating something that has no intrinsic value, in order to create value. I now look at myself, 5 years down the line, knowing that I don't love what I do on a daily basis. Knowing that somewhere out there is something that I love, and knowing that I need to get there.

The trick is you don't know what you don't know, and you'll never get to taste unagi if you don't try interesting things. The trick is you also need to do what you love, be who you are, and be completely honest with yourself.

I am not a revenue generating salesman. I'm a tinkerer, a hacker, I like to play with toys and see what they do, how they work on the inside. Being this honest with myself was liberating, what I do with this information still seems a little overwhelming, but I'm young, and I've got my life ahead of me.