Stephen Elop, Nokia Chief Executive Officer was in Kenya today for a high profile visit, which only takes him to two out of the 57 African countries, Kenya and South Africa. The CEO met developers at the iHub at a roundtable, before later meeting Kenyan journalists for a similar roundtable. The purpose of Elop's visit was to spend time with developers, the Nokia team, government officials and mobile operator executives. "I am very excited about the progress we are making and what lies ahead," he said.
"There is a reason I am not in the other 57 countries in Africa, I am only visiting Kenya and South Africa ," Elop said.
Developers and developer opportunities in Kenya
Nokia remains keen on developers in Kenya. Elop earlier met with over 50 developers at the iHub. Elop's says that his first day at Nokia saw him presenting an award to the best application then, which was by Virtual City, a Kenyan firm, which is a clear proof of talent. "There's also a well coordinated sign of support from the Kenyan government, where the government is saying mobility will help improve the lives of people in Kenya. It needs to be invested in. They are creating the conditions that are helpful to Nokia, and to our competitors to work here," he said. This has seen Nokia naturally migrate such opportunities to the country.
Nokia works with developers by giving feedback on the quality, user experience and the application quality. The firm also helps developers expose their applications to the world and help them understand what they need to do to make the applications useful over the world. Elop says there is a good example of Kenya applications that have done well in other countries.
The CEO commented that Nokia shouldn't be in the business of building apps, but should invest in skills in the community to build these apps.
Elop sees opportunities of specific application in health care and education sectors, and will work and identify developers who it will support together with government authorities to build these applications. "Nokia's strategy is not just selling devices to people, but delivering experiences that change their lives," he said.
The CEO, in addition to his vsist and talk at the iHub, also visited the m:lab incubation centre.
Nokia strategy in the region
Responding on the restructuring of Nokia's offices in the region which saw the East and Southern Africa region merged with the South Africa office, Elop had the following to say: "There were a lot of synergies and possibilities for sharing of information and best practices between South Africa and Eastern Africa countries. Our sales structure is organised around a collection of countries that work together, and South Africa and East Africa countries are in one complete are, that is managed that way. Additionally, you see the operators are playing a stronger and stronger role in the direction of the mobile industry in terms of how they sell products and how they encourage certain things with their consumers. That pattern has been quite clear in South Africa for a number of years, and our stance is that there are things that we have learned in South Africa and the expertise can be applied here in these countries."
Elop said that Nokia had made changes to where different sales offices were and where they served. This though he said, should not bring confusion over the structuring of an office with the investment in the region. "There are fewer people in the Nairobi office, that is true, but at the same time, there has been a number of changes in terms to the amount of investment and work that Nokia is doing with developers and its research facilities. These are routine changes around the world, " he added.
Nokia is going through various changes since it made a change of strategy in February 2011, says Elop. This has seen new products introductions, such as the Lumia range of high end phones and the Asha line which targets low income markets like Africa.
Elop announced that Nokia would be increasing investments in Kenya and Eastern Africa to the tune of 25 per cent more than they did a year ago. The investments will be in the form of Nokia's Research Centre in Kenya, which is one of its kind in Africa and Indian sub-continent. Other investments will go to helping local developers build Nokia applications, marketing and go to market activities that "are necessary to ensure success."
"It's very much the case, that as we have gone through various changes in our organisations and our structure, we have made a very conscious decision to make Kenya one of our worldwide hub for innovations from where we can serve Africa and parts of Middle East. That is why I am visiting here over the last couple of days, " said Elop.
Nokia however does not provide specific amounts of investment per region, for competitive purposes.
Nokia's new strategy also targets its low end devices, which have resulted in devices such as the dual SIM phones, which Elop says has been very remarkably successful in all the markets they have entered including Eastern Africa. This is despite Nokia being late to the dual SIM market by a number of years.
In October, Nokia introduced the Asha family of phones, which while not smart phones, they have more capabilities than many feature phones. The Asha phones come with the Nokia browser, which compresses the amount of data consumed by the phone hence keeping the consumer's cost much lower as they surf on the phone. The Asha range also has location features which enables use of mapping technology.
"You will continue to see new products and new families of products specifically targeted at the lower price band. What you will always see is more and more capabilities and more services brought to consumers who are spending smaller amounts of money on their devices, it is our focus as we go forward, " said Elop.
Kenya gets a new Country Manager
Meanwhile, Bruce Howe has been appointed a new Country Manager for Kenya. Two Kenyans have moved into top management position in Finance and Control and Logistics while Nokia's immediate former General Manager for the region, Kenneth Oyolla, is now Global Head of Market Activation. Howe, a native New Zealander will be expected in the country soon, with Nokia working on his work permit and family re-location.