Helping yourself by helping others: DiGi’s take
By A. Asohan September 10, 2013
- DiGi aligns its programme with its business: Help build out the ecosystem by helping developers
- Find apps that Malaysians really want, that they feel they can own, and that are relevant to them
THERE really is no such thing as an altruistic or do-gooder corporation. Even their philanthropy is predicated on benefits, whether they are tax deductions or public relations exercises, or even more cynical efforts to take the public eye off questionable business practices.
It is all about rational self-interest or rational selfishness, as US philosopher Ayn Rand put it. Those Internet companies and their wonderful projects to bring Internet access to the rest of the world? The sceptic would wonder at how their markets and customer base will become bigger if more people got online.
Organizations have no ethics, they have codes of conduct; they are not honest, but may be transparent.
Yet individuals within any organisations may have such drives. But for a company to dedicate itself to a ‘good deeds,’ it must make business sense – whether it is to the company’s bottomline or its public image.
When you manage to align the two, motivations become academic and only the altruist ends matter. If you can align the company’s business to a social good, the exercise becomes more sustainable and perhaps even has the potential to move on to the next level.
Such considerations may or may not have entered the thoughts of the bigwigs at mobile services provider DiGi Telecommunications when the company decided that the fourth edition of its DiGi Challenge For Change (DGCFC) programme – the first three having looked at the environment, entrepreneurship and social innovation – should be more in line with its business.
And that business is the mobile Internet, not voice, as noted by Joachim Rajaram, head of Communications & Corporate Responsibility at DiGi, in our previous article.
“This edition, we wanted to find apps that Malaysians really want, that they feel they can own, and that are relevant to them,” he says in a conversation with Digital News Asia (DNA). “We wanted to find the best developers to come up with ideas around those concepts – and we were going to identify the best ideas and invest in them, and support them in going to market.”
Thus this year’s challenge, with the theme ‘Bringing Malaysians Together, One App at a Time,’ aimed to inspire people – especially youth – to “develop innovative ideas and mobile apps that can help bring Malaysians together and make life better for local communities,” went the PR spiel.
Having decided that it was an Internet company – or more specifically, a mobile Internet company – DiGi realised that it needed to build the ecosystem too. With the ‘app economy’ set to take off in Malaysia, the best avenue to do so seemed pretty obvious.
“What we really want to do is to give people things they can do on the Internet,” says Joachim. “As an operator, you can build the infrastructure, the network, the distribution points, and the products and services – but you have to give people relevant stuff to do, beyond Facebook and messaging.”
“But when we looked at the app development community here, there was nothing new – hackathons have been going on for years now. One feedback we got was that developers were coming out with apps that were ‘best-kept secrets’ – some really nice apps, but not many people outside the community knew about them.
“The second bit of feedback we got was that they were developing apps that they liked,” he adds. “So we thought okay, maybe we should split up the programme into two parts: An idea challenge and an app development challenge.”
The ‘ideation’ phase saw ideas for apps being submitted; followed by an app development phase which attempted to translate those ideas into actual apps.
There were five categories: Discovering Together; Healthier Together (ways to improve fitness and health); Working Together (collaboration and productivity); Learning Together (any type of learning and teaching process); and Sharing Together (lifestyle tips and community activities).
“The ideation portion was simple: We had a portal, and if you had a community-centric idea for an app, submit the idea – whether it was a simple thing to a complicated idea; fun stuff to a serious apps, but they had to be ‘typically’ Malaysian ideas,” says Joachim.
DiGi’s programme partner for DGCFC was the company behind the Founders Lab incubator in Kuala Lumpur. Other partners were Google Malaysia, Microsoft Malaysia, national ICT custodian the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) and even the Performance Management & Delivery Unit (Pemandu) of the Prime Minister’s Department.
The ideation phase kicked off late last November and was open to Malaysians aged 12 years and above. According to DiGi, 2,000 ideas were submitted by students, NGOs (non-governmental organisations), developers and the general public. The winners were:
“We picked the five best in each category, plus two ‘wild card’ ideas that the judges really liked,” says Joachim. “From those, we picked the seven best ideas and took them to the app development phase, where we worked with the developers themselves.”
The app development phase ran from Feb 25 to May 22 this year. As part of this phase, DiGi hosted a 36-hour hackathon that was attended by 200 developers and designers. The ‘[email protected]’ hackathon was platform-independent, which meant that developers could choose to develop on the Android, Windows 8, Blackberry 10 or iOS operating systems.
Finally, 50 applications were submitted, and the winners were:
Over RM235,000 (US$70,993) in cash and prizes were awarded this year, including RM5,000 (US$1,510) for each of the top seven ideas and RM25,000 (US$7,550) for each of the top seven apps.
The Prime Minister’s Innovation Award and RM25,000 for the best idea went to Leow Aik Peng, 41, for his Social Blood Drive idea that was aimed at increasing the success of blood donation drives by connecting blood donors to hospitals and medical centres.
To help developers build out the app economy – and thus help drive DiGi’s mobile Internet business – the company knew it had to offer something to developers beyond just the prize money and 15 minutes’ of fame.
“We feel that we are uniquely positioned to offer developers a couple of things, with the first being market support,” says Joachim. “We have a ready catchment of 6.8 million mobile Internet users, out of which 3.5 million are already on smartphones.
“This is going to be really valuable to young developers,” he says, adding that DiGi has 10 million subscribers in total.
“And we can also help them in other ways – in terms of knowledge and in terms of going to market in a way that makes sense for them,” he adds.
One of the teams also won a Telenor Group Award for the best overall mobile app. [The Norwegian company holds a 49% stake in DiGi].
This award was presented to the developers of the greeting app ‘YO!’ -- Muhammad Nazrin Almi, Shafwan Mohd Radzi and Muhammad Muhaimin Juhari. They won a trip to the Digital Winners Conference in Oslo, Norway in November, and the opportunity to meet global industry experts, learn new development skills and gain new insights on trends relevant to digital services and mobile application development.
There are more tangible ways too: DiGi promotes the app to the media, and also puts them on its DGCFC Facebook page.
One of the winners is My Tradisi, which has converted some of Malaysia’s traditional games such as Congkak, Wau, Sepak Raga and Gasing into an app. “We put this up on our Facebook page two days later, and it moved from about 1,000 downloads to more than 53,000 downloads within a week,” says Joachim. “Sometimes even basic promotions can be a tremendous help.”
“But more than just this kind of basic promotion, we’re also seeing how we can push this out to your customers,” he adds.
One way is through DiGi’s decal cards. Whenever someone buys a smartphone via one of the company’s plans, they get a ‘Download these nice apps’ card which encourages users to explore these apps.
Furthermore, they’re given real estate in some of DiGi’s retail outlets where they can promote their apps.
On the virtual side, these apps would be listed on the DiGi shelf in Google Play and also promoted at the various app stores alongside other free apps available to its customers, such as Deezer, WhatsApp, Skype and WeChat.
Last September, the Malaysian Government announced the Youth Communication Package (YCP), which gave away an RM200 rebate for youths who purchased smartphones.
DiGi is working with some of the Android device makers to preload some of the DGCFC apps on smartphones allocated for the YCP. “These phones leave our stores at the quantity of 80,000 to 100,000 per month,” says Joachim. “That’s pretty good!”
“And while this is at a very early stage of discussion, we are exploring how we can work with the best of these guys on some kind of revenue-sharing model, although they will hold the entire licence.
“We’ve identified two or three of these developers we actually want to work with, and would be able to speak more about this in November [when the fifth DiGi Challenge For Change launches],” he adds.
While the initial push was for the low-hanging fruit – fun and/ or simple apps that would be a low barrier of entry for developers – there is also the opportunity to move on to the next stage with enterprise apps.
“When you think you are good enough, and you have honed your capabilities enough, you might want to develop enterprise apps,” says Joachim.
“We have partners who can do that for you, like MDeC – it has channelled some the developers from its ICON programme to DGCFC, while we have streamed some of our developers to its programme,” he adds.
ICON (Integrated Content Development Programme) is an MDeC initiative to spur and educate developers on writing mobile apps. Its third and most recent iteration was launched in July with an emphasis on the enterprise space.
“Our relationship with [DGCFC partners] Google and Microsoft will also continue to evolve, and my sense is that both want their developers to get more involved,” says Joachim.
So what’s the end-game for all this?
“As many Malaysians developing apps that we can take out to market,” says Joachim. “We want to keep it simple and not overly complicate things – when we say support these developers, the support must be real.
“We want to forge real relationships with the developers, and make sure that the benefits are real too,” he adds.
Previous Instalment: DiGi’s Internet for All: From ad campaign to corporate mission