BigFive Summit Sessions: The Location Data Challenge

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Africa 118 didn’t set out to become a location data company when it launched in 2010.

“We got into location backwards,” said Africa 118 Ezana MD Ezana Raswork.

“We wanted to provide a directory service for mobile users in Kenya.”

The problem was, there wasn’t a database available that had enough accurate local business information to make that directory useful.

So Africa 118 had to build that database itself.

Speaking at the inaugural BigFive Summit, Ezana described a situation where no entity felt it was its responsibility or in its interest to build a location database, not landline carriers, not postal services, not mobile carriers.

Ezana saw this gap as an opportunity, and Africa 118 set out to create a workflow that would gather and verify local business information.

This was and remains a challenging task given the often chaotic addressing systems in major African cities and the fact that the overwhelming majority of SMEs do not have landline phones.

If businesses are to be identified and verified, the process would have to involve direct contact with each business.

Africa 118 came up with a process to use independent agents to collect the data using a mobile app to upload profile information to a call center, which would call and verify the data.

In order to prevent fraud, Africa 118 would only pay the agents for listings that were verified by the call center.

Ezana said Africa 118 also pulls in additional third-party data sources to enrich the database.

These include government, telecom, and user-generated data sources.

“We have found that the combination of fieldwork plus other data sources enables us to do this for as little cost as possible while managing accuracy as well,” Ezana said.

To date, Africa 118 has collected data on 1.3 million listings across 10 markets, a huge leap forward from inception, but still just a fraction of the available market, which Ezana estimates is 50 million SMEs. His current target is to reach 10 million listings.


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