Technology Salon

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a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

One Photo That Explains Why Organizations Should Work With VAS Vendors

Value Added Services (VAS) are an increasingly popular way to engage mobile phone owners, even in the most rural areas. In Bihar, for example, Unilever has established a mobile radio station that calls users to provide “infotainment” in the form of music, jokes, and of course ads for up to a 15-minute period. Of all the value added services such as Unilever’s, 25% or more are pitched to telecom companies by Value Added Service vendors.  These vendors are the “middlemen” between telecom companies and parties interested in offering services through mobile, such as other companies or even aid organizations.

At the Technology Salon “How Can Organizations Work With VAS Vendors for M4D Impact?”, lead discussants Vijay Sai Pratap of Onion Development, Julia Burchell of GSMA, and Kristen Roggemann of DAI shared insight about the benefits and disadvantages for organizations to work with VAS vendors in m4D programs. While many organizations are skeptical of the expense of working with these “middlemen”, there are definite advantages to working with them.

The main reason that organizations should work with VAS vendors is this image:

Uber UI3

Photo courtesy of Jason Li

UX/UI Designer Jason Li says he “traveled the world” with Uber via their app interface. Each respective city has a unique interface, i.e. localized content.

While not every organization aspires to be like Uber, there are some valuable takeaways from their international model. Uber, Buzzfeed, and others have developed localized content on a global scale. VAS vendors offer content localization through managed services, a model in which the VAS vendor provides full service from the research stage through deployment and analysis. Partnerships in this model help organizations address a challenge that has always plagued development programs. VAS vendors understand these markets, and have experience with m4d content that engages users.

A second significant reason that organizations should partner with VAS vendors is that they already have an established place in the technology ecosystem. To be a successful medium, technology requires an ecosystem that supports learning and engagement. VAS vendors are a pipeline to telecom services that can access the structure to scale.

While not every organization wants to be an Uber, and admittedly VAS vendors can be an expensive investment, organizations can leverage working with these middlemen for greater scale and localization. For more information and analysis of the benefit of working with VAS vendors, check out the GSMA report “The Role of VAS Vendors in M4D”.

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