As a consequence we are being asked more and more often to recommend a platform. This puts us in a difficult position, because frankly we are not aware of a platform out there that we can wholeheartedly recommend. Consider the two broad classes of platform: those specifically aimed at, and developed for, this emerging sector of mobile money; and those that are adapted from the banking sector usage for which they were developed.
Pure mobile money platforms are often supplied by technology-focused organisations, whose roots are in the mobile industry – these can be suppliers of (for example) prepaid airtime systems, or network infrastructure, or billing systems, though pure mobile money technology startups are also prominent in this category. These organisations generally understand the technology at a deep level, and can (usually) supply you with a reliable transaction engine. But these platforms are generally deficient in the more mundane areas that, whilst not sexy, are absolutely crucial to the success of a service – areas such as:
· Sophisticated reporting tools, for general management of the service, and for active fraud and money laundering detection and management;
· Proper bank-grade security features, such as role-based access controls and countersigning of value movements;
· Support for, and integration with, internal management processes, in order to develop institutional robustness;
· Tools for the management and training of agents and agent networks.
In contrast, platforms evolved from the banking sector have many of these features already (with the exception of the mobile money-specific features, obviously), but they fall down in their adaptation to this new sector:
· They are too closely fitted to the conventional operational and management structures of a bank;
· The terms on which they are offered generally mirror the conventional business models of banks, for example by tying costs directly to customer numbers, which makes the platforms unattractive to mobile money operators (including banks wishing to offer mobile money services).
So what is to be done? Well ideally I’d like someone to offer Consult Hyperion and its Associates the chance to specify and manage the building of a second generation mobile money platform – after all, we have probably unrivalled experience in this sector, amassed since 2004, across a range of mobile money operators and platforms. But back in the real world, I’d recommend that mobile money operators follow the conventional path of service development the world over:
· Work out precisely what your organisation wants and needs, and document it in a detailed, formal Requirements Specification. And don’t limit this to just the technical requirements.
· Use the Requirements Specification as the basis of an RFP, and issue it to as many reputable suppliers as you can identify.
· Formally score the responses you receive, in order to establish an audit trail of decision making.
Generally, I’m hoping to see mobile money move over the next few years from the current ‘gold rush’ state, to a more prosaic ‘business as usual’ state of mind.