5 things Caribbean app developers need to better seize opportunities

Caribbean software developers are being encouraged to seize the opportunities for app creation. However, here are five critical areas that Caribbean countries ought to give attention in order to see increased activity in the region.

 

In a recent address at a software application workshop in Barbados, Hon. Donville Inniss, the Minister of Industry in Barbados, belaboured the point that local app developers appeared to be missing out on the very lucrative mobile application (app) market. As at 2013, Barbados had approximately 307,700 mobile subscribers and over 191,823 Internet subscribers, which it was suggested offered “numerous opportunities for app developer”’ (Source: Barbados Today).

In his talk, the Minister encouraged state agencies “to think and act outside of the box”, and to consider providing grant funds, and/or taking an equity investment in tech-based ventures (Source: Barbados Today). However, to his credit, he also recognized that local techies needed more support – moral, financial, along with physical space – in which to build their future.

On a regular basis Caribbean policymakers have been highlighting the software development opportunity that exists in the region, and have sought to encourage developers to capitalise on those opportunities. However, for the most part, those entreaties are made from an arms-length perspective, where little is said about creating the enabling environment, and regardless of the constraints that exist in the region, software developers still ought to “create”.

Below are five critical areas that Caribbean countries ought to give attention in order to begin to see greater activity in the regional software development space.

1. Access to information/data

One of the greatest benefits of fostering a software development culture in developing countries is its ability to solve real problems that can improve a country. However, a major challenge that hinders those opportunities is the limited access to data/information in many countries across the region. Currently, there are about six countries that have enacted access to information legislation – Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago (Source: K Taylor). However, in many instances the process to access information held by public authorities can be protracted, and even expensive, which in turn limits the likelihood of it being properly utilised.

Further, as was noted in the FOSS, Open Data and Open Standards study conducted in 2013, and in virtually all of the 17 Caribbean countries examined, most of the government-held data has not been digitised. More importantly, for the data that has been digitised, frequently, it is not in a searchable or index-able format, which again, limits it usefulness.

2. Increased access to training and mentoring

To create viable apps, developers must not only be dedicated and possess the requisite technical and programming skills to successfully develop the app; they also need the business acumen to help them eke out a livelihood. However, many of the younger developers, in particular, lack the knowledge and experience to efficiently and effectively navigate ‘the business of app/software development’, and are likely to become discouraged by the failures realised.

Hence, developer communities across the Caribbean will benefit considerably from greater access to relevant training and mentoring. Though software development might be an exciting and cutting-edge area, due to the substantial gains that can be realised, it highly competitive and fraught with risk. To the extent that our developers are better equipped to navigate that environment and realise success, the better it would be for their home countries and for the region as a whole.

3. Ideation and development support

For those who have been exposed to, or participated in software app pitches, it is readily evident that developers have a lot of ideas, and are excited about perceived opportunities. However, frequently, upon closer scrutiny, either the idea, or its execution, is flawed, and is unlikely to result in the success envisaged.

In that regard, many developers would benefit considerably by having access not only to the developer community, but also support for the ideation and development processes. Following from ideation – where ideas and concepts emerge – guidance and support to test and validate them; to identify the likely user base; and to gauge the competition, among other things, are essential to improve the likelihood that the apps released are relevant and viable.

4. Increased financing options

Minister Inniss mentioned the need for greater financial support for local software development, which has been a critical but missing component across the Caribbean and bears re-emphasising. Most of the emerging developers are young – in their late teens and early twenties – and so have limited cash and assets to invest in their apps long term. However, financial institutions in the region have also been reluctant to invest in software and other non-material products, thus limiting that avenue for support.

Currently, efforts across the region appear to be focussed on developing angel and venture funding mechanisms, which entrepreneurs can access. However, those and other financing initiatives all geared towards fostering app development, still seem disjointed and not of sufficient critical mass to effect meaningful and lasting change in the short- to medium-term.

5. Changing culture of free-ness

In the most popular apps store, and for the leading platforms, at least 90% of apps are free (Source: Gartner). Developers may only be able to recoup their effort and investment, through advertising and/or their apps have added features and capabilities for which users must pay. However, those gains will only eventuate if the apps are truly unique, and have a sufficiently large user base, to command the attention of advertisers, or users are prepared to pay.

One the other hand, and according to Forbes magazine, for paid apps, which on average are priced about USD 0.99, most developers make between USD 0.02 and USD 0.15 per download. Hence over the lifetime of a ‘popular’ app, the average developer could make between USD 625.00 and USD 4,000.00, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: How Much Do Average Apps Make (Source: Forbes)
Table 1: How Much Do Average Apps Make (Source: Forbes)

It therefore means that the majority of developers cannot afford to work on apps exclusively. Apps remain a side line in which they cannot truly invest the time or effort needed. To change this, different business models may be needed, but also governments and citizens may also need to recognise the value of the apps developed, especially those addressing national or regional needs, and in some way better support the efforts of the developers behind them.

 

Image credit:  Stuart Miles (FreeDigitalPhotos,net)

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6 Comments

  • Dear editor.

    Some insightful comments made in this article. It perhaps goes without saying that day by day it is getting more and more difficult to identify fresh ideas for app development.

    That said, if developers remain true to themselves to solve indigenous problems a whole new world of innovative ideas may open up.

    Methodologies borrowed from interaction design re sourcing user expectationso through research will richly offer untapped ideas and suggestions. It is the user who could inform you what are the everyday tasks they want to accomplish. And that is across the entire spectrum: government, education, health-care, national security, entertainment etc, etc.

    Again, not only smartphone apps, but computer-based applications for Microsoft, Linux and Apple machines. Furthermore, as the piece alludes to, for Caribbean designers tap into the financial rewards to be earned from their investment in certifications and academic qualifications, then one needs to look at the ever-widening theatre of computing issues and concerns: storage capacity, battery-life, networking, security, journalism, intellectual property, legislation etc, etc all present opportunities for ICT entrepreneurs.

  • What is needed is more collaboration and communication within the community of innovation – app developers speaking to individuals within the industries that they want to serve and persons within industries realizing that app developers can indeed help solve some of their challenges. For example, a medical app is at a huge risk if the developer only speaks to a few doctors and not, for instance, engaging the actual patients the app may serve, or the pharmacist, or the hospital, etc. Too often the developer sees and opportunity for a sub-segment and delves head first into solving instead of first scoping and sizing the opportunity and the true effort that he/she must go through to realize a successful mobile app.

  • Much song and dance. Education, mentoring and training should be point 1. Without enough good developers making apps which can compete with top class apps you will end up with a market full of well funded but uncompetitive applications. (and github repos)

  • The development of the learning needs to start in the schools, question: how many information technology teachers actually have worked in the tech industry? For students IT means writing a letter in word and a spreadsheet in excel and that’s it, no wonder very few go on to do infotech in college. The future is software and we in the Caribbean are lagging far behind

  • Opportunity is rarely found by following the crowd.

    A well done article. Your fifth point is an important one that most don’t realise, that the majority of app developers are not profitable. Those interested in an in depth analysis of this can check out ‘The Comprehensive App Economics Blog 2014’ by Tomi Ahonen at http://bit.ly/1qyTUEJ. He is a bit long, but you don’t have to read the whole thing to realise how bad it is. He in summary shows the only consumer apps where a small percentage make money is gaming. Consumer apps are where the crowd is. Business and Enterprise apps are much healthier than the consumer space.

    The key lies in not focusing on apps per se, but developing business models (as you also point out), specifically service oriented business models. That is, focus on developing services for painful problems (pain is a proxy for ‘willing to pay for a solution’), apps should then be a means of delivering or enhancing services that solves said problems. Build a business not an app!

    Entrepreneurship is difficult and risky, those that involve finding a business model even more so. Though all your points are valid, I wonder how much of a factor they play in seizing opportunities vs the Caribbean culture being very risk averse. Most of our business models do not involve much in the way of innovation. Instead, it is easier to go with the crowd and do what the eduction system and expectations prime us to do, work for a company or trade typical goods an services.

    The barrier to entry to making software is very low (a computer and brain power). I find it amazing that there so few examples from the Caribbean taking advantage of this.

    • Low barrier to entry? Computer and brain power? Certainly brain power is not cheap, nor a good computer to work on. So if that’s the “in” then good luck.

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