Q&A: Danny Grobben, TomTom Africa’s General Manager
TomTom is an established Global Positioning System and there is a lot that goes into keeping the systems of users updated with the latest maps and software. Danny Grobben, General Manager of TomTom Africa, spoke to IT News Africa about the Licensing aspect of TomTom and more about the company’s work across Africa.
1. How do the road corridors across the different African countries differ from each other?
There are substantial differences in the road infrastructure between countries in Africa. The level of investments in infrastructure are linked to economic growth and strategic plans for the particular country. We can see for instance world class infrastructure in countries like South Africa, Morocco, Namibia and Botswana which differ completely from infrastructure in Zimbabwe, DRC or Nigeria. South Africa alone has changed a lot with the implementation of tolling systems, bus rapid transit systems, special bus lanes and metro rail systems.
2. What is a general trend that you are seeing in the condition of the roads and what has been the change since you have been mapping the roads?
The level of sophistication of infrastructure as improved. For instance the GFIP, Gauteng Freeway Improvement project has massively improve the traffic flow in a highly congested area. On the other hand there are regions that have stayed the same or even decreased the investments on public road infrastructures. In South Africa the rural roads have decreased. Angola, Botswana and Mozambique have done major upgrades in their National Road networks.
3. Which countries are leading in their infrastructure and which ones are lagging behind?
South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Namibia, Botswana are definitely leading the pack, but also major investments are done in Nigeria, Angola, Ghana and the East Africa region. The following countries are lagging DRC,CAR and Congo. With the exception of Ghana and Nigeria, that are investing, the rest of East Africa is poor and degrading.
4. Which country are you doing most of your business in?
By far South Africa is the largest market for us. North Africa is developing very well with economies like Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. We are also watching closely Egypt being the largest car market on the continent.
5. What challenges have you had with mapping the African Countries?
The road infrastructure in itself is a big challenge with many car breakdowns. Further the border crossings and police check-ups are a hassle to do our work. Taking a camera van into Africa is a major challenge, not only for mechanical breakdowns but also to get all permits to drive and collect imagery data. So far we have not managed to deploy our vans outside of South Africa. The absence of street names and address points also make it difficult as well as limited or no reliable external data providers/sources. The absence of road furniture & conventional network structure make for challenges when determining road classes or types & related avoidances.
6. Did anything surprised you that TomTom came across when mapping any of the countries?
The regional differences in Africa is massive, complete different cultures and habits in short distances from each other.
7. Where are you focusing on and why?
We mainly focus on the SADC region, East Africa and mainly the countries around Lake Victoria, North Africa and Nigeria/Ghana. Our investment map is very much aligned with economic growth and potential of the African countries. We go where the market develops.
8. What determines your involvement in each country?
The level of maturity of the country in terms of car markets, mobile phone or tablets. We focus on turn-by-turn navigation products for any consumer platform. If there is not a large market in terms of consumers and purchasing power, there is no role for us to play.
9. What are your plans for Africa?
To become the de-facto standard navigation solution provider for Africa.
10. What are Africa’s challenges?
To utilise the massive available resources wisely for economic growth.
11. What is the continent doing well?
Early adoption of world class technology. Africa has less legacy platforms to carry and has skipped a few steps in the adoption of the latest and greatest technologies. Africa is leading in the adoption and use of mobile communication.
12. What do you believe the worlds perception is of the transport systems in Africa?
The world definitely perceives the infrastructure as being sub-standard with a lot of room for improvement.
13. What can TomTom offer Africa’s transport industry?
We can provide accurate street centre line data with road furniture information like street signs, speed limits and driving restrictions. We can also supply historical driving behaviour via our traffic statistics platform. This information is available in markets where we have launched our consumer and enterprise products which provide details GPS probe data. This information can be used by governments for building infrastructure master plans and traffic simulation models for the large metro cities.
14. Do you offer HD Live Traffic to any other African countries outside of SA?
Not for the moment. We need to have a critical mass of connect consumer products who can communicate in real-time its position in a road network. Once this critical mass is achieved we can start creating traffic services. It is likely that we will add a more city based traffic service rather than focussing on a country wide deployment.
15. Do you plan to offer HD Live Traffic to more African countries? Which countries are you targeting?
Next countries on priority in Africa are Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria. There are massive congestion problems in the capital cities of those countries. The congestion is mainly driven by the high growth of these cities and the ever increasing urbanisation of the African population.