The idea that beat the rest of the telecom world


April 22, 2015

Dialog and hSenid share the story behind the game-changing concept and the big win at the Mobile World Congress

It was an application that was submitted in the spur of a moment; a bold decision to go for it despite the odds. They were the minnows in the global arena, competing against the likes of KT, VimpelCom and China Telecom. What were they thinking? Since 2001, Dialog had submitted applications only under the emerging and inclusion award categories. Yet here they were, with an application in hand for the ‘Best Technology Enabler’ award at the prestigious GSMA’s Mobile World Awards; it was a shot in the dark.

There was a glimmer of hope in their minds, for a couple of reasons. Dialog with the help of hSenid as their mobile technology solutions provider, had turned around the entire mobile app developer eco-system in Sri Lanka till that point. With more than 3,500 apps, 2,000+ developers and over 100 start ups; Ideamart was powering the next wave of telco start ups in the country. Ideamart had become the most sought-after developer engagement program from students to hardcore app developers.

Seated at the gala venue in Barcelona, the Dialog team felt a little knot in their stomachs. It was time for the award for the ‘Best Technology Enabler’ and their name was among the nominees alongside the likes of KT, VimpelCom and China Telecom. It was very much like the moment when the envelope for Best Actor award was being opened at the Oscars; the moment when John Cleese announced the winner. And it was Ideamart.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily FT, Dialog Chief Information Officer Anthony Rodrigo and hSenid Chief Executive Officer Dinesh Saparamadu took us through the journey of a world mobile award winning solution. Following are excerpts:

Q: How did the idea for ‘Ideamart’ occur in the first place?

A: Dialog Axiata was looking to build a platform which would help it accelerate quality service roll outs with minimal cost impact. To support the business objective of Dialog, hSenid Mobile proposed its Telco Application Platform with both developer and non-developer environments. The thinking was to give everyone the opportunity to create services. There were a number of operational challenges at the outset; the business model envisaged was deemed risky as it was unchartered territory. But, together with the Ideamart team from Dialog we managed to develop a commercial engagement model which turned out to be a world-class solution. A few similar platforms were envisaged and launched, but failed to garner the success, sustainability, inclusivity and operational ease and reach achieved by Ideamart.

Q: Briefly tell us how it functions?

A: Ideamart increases the prospects of spurring innovation by offering multiple entrepreneurship opportunities to third party app creators utilising Dialog’s network assets (such as mobile charging, location tracking, in-App purchasing, messaging, subscriptions, eZcash and USSD) effortlessly through simple Application Programming Interfaces (API). The platform provides simple APIs for developers to create applications using many convenient features. Ideamart does not limit its opportunity just for developers, but goes further and offers user-friendly web-based wizards for non-developers to create applications in a matter of minutes. Furthermore, Ideamart also offers a Telco Applications storefront by the name ‘Allapps’ – a market space where app creators can promote their apps and drive revenue. It is the marketplace for consumers to discover apps provisioned on Ideamart.

D: App creation in Ideamart becomes simple with APIs exposed from hSenid Mobile’s platform, which handle all integrations to the Dialog network. It is an end-to-end solution, to develop, deploy and market telco applications with minimum time to market.

Q: A few of your competitors had already rolled-out similar platforms when you started Ideamart. What was Dialog’s strategy in popularising the platform?

A: Ideamart’s service creation environment for non-developers was indeed one major differentiating factor, which made the platform standout in the market.

The wizard based app creation environment gives freedom to anyone to create telecomm applications in a matter of minutes, without a single line of code allowing for a wide range of innovative ideas coming into limelight.

The foundation of Ideamart boils down to what telco operators call a Service Delivery Platform (SDP). SDP exposes telco functions so that application developers, who have little or no knowledge of telco protocols and details, can build applications atop SDP. However SDP users require programming knowledge and some familiarity with telco eco systems to create such applications. Furthermore, the revenue share between telco and content creator was in favour of the telco. Over the years many telcos have launched SDPs and have not been able to produce the results expected from the SDP. At Dialog, very early on in the product launch process, we thought of making this a platform for anyone to innovate. Even non-programmers with absolutely no telco or programming knowledge could bring their idea to life using our platform; hence the name ‘Ideamart’.

D: The high revenue shared enabled developers to re-invest in both marketing and product development, powering a virtuous circle enabling a vibrant community of Ideamart entrepreneurs. Over the last two years the innovators on Ideamart cut across a cross section of users, from beauticians, preachers, teachers, students, small businesses and charity organisations. Another key differentiator for Dialog Ideamart is the developer engagement program. The series of events ranging from workshops to hackathons targeting universities, schools and small businesses were critical in popularising the platform. Further to this, the automated fast settlement process and the various relatively low cost digital marketing channels Dialog has made available to Ideamart entrepreneurs have been critical to its success.

A: Ideamart went on to win a special award at the Mobile world Congress 2015. Tell us about that.

D: GSMA’s Global Mobile Awards is indeed the Oscars in the world Mobile industry. Ideamart was crowned as the world’s Best Technology Enabler at the event.

The platform competed in one of the toughest and most prominent categories against global giants with great products among the short listed nominees. These included KT for Virtualised GiGA LTE, VimpelCom for ROADS HUB, China Telecom & AsiaInfo for B2B Collaboration Technology.
This indeed is not only a victory for Dialog and hSenid Mobile, but also for the vibrant Sri Lankan developer community.

Q: This award was not an inclusion award or an award which was given to a developing nation. How do you view the importance of that aspect?

A: Prior to this the awards won by Dialog for Sri Lanka were either for inclusion or an emerging market category or for a specific niche category. This was the first time an award in one of the major categories was won by a Sri Lankan telecommunications network provider.

This is a milestone where a truly Sri Lankan telco platform has been highlighted and recognised globally.

Q: In Sri Lanka, we are seeing a huge transformation in mobile phones where people move from feature phones to smartphones. In such a context, how would Ideamart benefit local users?

D: The beauty of Ideamart is that it covers the entire pyramid including feature phones and non-features phones. Ideamart’s aim is to always stay on par with the evolving telco industry. We always ensure that the facilities provided for the developer community meets the latest trends and needs.

Ideamart was developed for all segments of the market covering all types of handsets; this was one of the fundamental design principals. Our market is seeing rapid increase in smart phone penetration, and in fact we see smarter phone applications being developed at the various hackathons and meet-ups we run regularly as part of this program. Ideamart apps created locally can be showcased in the store, which provides a very convenient platform for local application creators to publish and monetise apps.

A: Currently developers can’t monetise Android applications on Google play without foreign bank accounts. In the case of AllApps, the app download and in-app purchase is convenient as one can pay for the app with eZ Cash and other payment models offered by Dialog.

Q: What is Dialog’s current role as a digital enabler in the country? Ideamart is now the largest Telco-based API Platform in the Asia Pacific region. How do you look at the journey so far?

A: Dialog will continue to lead the digital revolution in the country, as it has done over the last two decades. The technology transformation and empowerment delivered by the company to all Sri Lankans is unparalleled, and today Sri Lanka is on par and sometimes even ahead of the developed world for technology inclusion. Ideamart designed and delivered in partnership with hSenid is a fine example.

Q: What are the future plans for Ideamart?

A: As alluded earlier, we are driven by the philosophy to make Ideamart accessible to everyone – to present the tools for entrepreneurship to people from all walks, age groups, etc. A number of Ideamart entrepreneurs have already gained huge success by developing and marketing their apps to Dialog’s 10 million strong customer base. We will continue to strengthen our offering and make it wider by tapping new markets. In addition we will ensure that we stay abreast if not ahead of technology and tools to give users the very best and our developers the best experience and tools to build their own businesses.