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RIM means business in Africa

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Despite several setbacks globally, Research in Motion (RIM), the company behind the BlackBerry solution, is upbeat about prospects in Africa and its ability to retain a strong position within the market.

Alexandra Zagury, Managing Director for South & Southern Africa at RIM. (Image: RIM)

The company experienced a difficult period in late 2011 following international reports of service disruptions, as well as reports of layoffs – all of which impacted on the company’s share price.

After a management reshuffle, notably the appointment of Thorsten Heins as CEO after RIM founder Mike Lazaridis and executive Jim Balsillie stepped down as co-CEOs, the company has come out aggressively to underline its technical strength against competitors with the relevance of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and the BlackBerry 10 Operating System.

The company’s South African office is busy with its strategy to consolidate its position within the Southern African market. This involves an intense focus on the needs of customers and tailoring services to meet these needs.

Recently the company expanded its footprint in Africa and announced the first official BlackBerry-branded retail store in Lagos.

In association with mobile phone distributor Slot Nigeria, RIM officially opened the BlackBerry by SLOT store in Nigeria at Computer Village in Ikeja, Lagos yesterday, designed especially to provide Nigerian customers with a first-class, authentic BlackBerry purchasing experience, including free software upgrades from the facility in the Computer Village store.

Commenting on the store opening Robert Bose, Regional Managing Director for Middle East and Africa,  added, “Today, BlackBerry is sold in about 300 retail stores nationwide. Our strategy is to continue working with local partners to help deliver a strong retail presence and after sales service that will provide our Nigerian customers with the optimal BlackBerry experience. With our new regional entity, we are looking forward to further cementing our relationship with the Nigerian market and working with our partners to support both our customer base and the transformation of the ICT industry in West Africa.”

Alexandra Zagury, Managing Director for South & Southern Africa at RIM, says a core component of the company’s strategy for Africa is to ensure that local users experience the latest innovations from the company at the same time as the rest of the world.

“Examples include the introduction of the next-generation BlackBerry 10 operating system early next year and the recent launch of more flexible and affordable BlackBerry service plans for entry-level smartphone users.  Success is a matter of having the right products at the right prices,” she says.

Executive leadership at the company is also aware of the power that the BBM service yields. Zagury says there are 60 million active BBM users worldwide and 70% of these users engage the service to communicate.

But whilst the general feeling is one of enthusiasm for the rich potential that exists within Africa and its expanding mobile user base, there is acknowledgement of the challenges that comes with doing business on the continent .

“In many cases, African consumers’ first experience of the Internet – as well as services like instant messaging, social networking, mobile banking and email – is on mobile. The challenge is to provide access to these mobile services to even more Africans so that we can boost the continent’s Internet penetration.”

“Africa is the world’s 2nd largest mobile market (GSMA) but there are still barriers to growth related to affordability, accessibility and social and cultural relevance. Our goal is to break through these barriers so that we can open up access to the internet for millions of people inAfrica. To do so, prices of smartphones and mobile data plans need to be more flexible and affordable to accommodate the needs of a wider range of customers.”

“We recognised that apart from offering a wide range of devices, we need to offer customers more choice and flexibility with data packages based on their needs and budgets. We recently introduced tiered BlackBerry service plans in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana with great results. RIM has also rolled-out this approach in other regions globally, including Latin America, Middle East and in the Asia Pacific,” says Zagury.

With this recipe in mind, management at RIM believes that with the market penetration of smart phones below 10% in most African countries and a growing hunger for connectivity, the majority of the company’s growth in Africa over the next five years will stem from the cellphone and feature phone users acquiring their first smartphones.

The company’s aim is to be positioned strategically to meet the demand.

Chris Tredger, Online Editor

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