Advances in technology have drastically changed our world, and 2020 has certainly highlighted the vital role that digital technology plays in helping people to earn a living, pivot and communicate. 

Driving digital education and innovation across South Africa and empowering tech savvy entrepreneurs with the necessary recognition has never been more important.

The annual MTN Business App of the Year Awards, which took place virtually last week for the first time, celebrates the very best of South Africa’s app development talent.

The winner of the Most Innovative Solution for 2020 is BirdPro, the ultimate app for the many bird watching enthusiasts in South Africa that provides users with the most sophisticated identification tool on the market. It boasts a vast source of comprehensive information, including over 6 500 images of birds and over 1 800 comprehensive and clear bird calls. Names of birds are available in 16 languages, including all native South African languages as well as many European languages.

This entry, submitted by Herman van den Berg from Linden in Johannesburg, surpassed all other submissions for being a truly ground-breaking, first-to-market disruptive solution.

BirdPro was born from a passion for the wildlife of South Africa and the urge to create something unique for novice birders as well as enthusiasts. Our aim was to create a sophisticated and modern app which not only provides all the information a birder would need about birds, but also helps users to identify a bird,” says Van den Berg who took three years to develop this app.

“We also want to aid in combating the deterioration of biodiversity in the South Africa and ultimately the world, and what better way to do it than helping people identify and appreciate what we have around us,” he says.

Combining his background as a mechanical engineer and extensive experience in software development with his lifelong enthusiasm for wildlife and photography, Van den Berg was able to use many of the skills he has built up over the years to be able to create the identification function in BirdPro.

MC Sne Dladla and Thapelo Manyokole from IDEMIA present the award for
Best Innovative App to Herman Van den Berg from BirdPro

He says that there were many peopleinvolved in the development of this app, including a sponsor, two developers, administrative assistants and quite a few ornithologists and bird enthusiasts. They also sourced material from a very broad base of photographers, writers and bird call recordists and say that they were privileged to have many enthusiastic testers who assisted along the way.

This year saw an unprecedented 726 entries into these awards, 146 of which were apps submitted for Most Innovative Solution. For the second year running, IDEMIA is sponsoring this award. As the global leader in Augmented Identity, IDEMIA is very much in the driver seat when it comes to innovation, particularly as regards security, biometrics and digital solutions.

“Heartiest congratulations to the winner, BirdPro,” said Alexander Georgiev, Senior Vice President (Middle East and Africa), Mobile Operators, IDEMIA. “With a proud history of introducing innovative technologies to the global mobile telecoms sector, IDEMIA is pleased to present the award for the Most Innovative Solution together with MTN. As a technology company that has a long history of supporting the mobile sector’s growth in South Africa, we stand proudly with our partner, MTN, in support of the robust development of local technological talent.”

“It is a huge honour to have received this award. Hopefully, this will give us some exposure and allow us to expand the app to cover more fauna and flora as well as covering birds of other countries. For me it also serves as an acknowledgement that these disparate skillsets and passions can come together to create something special for users,” Van den Berg says.

His team have many exciting ideas in the pipeline, many of which have been requested by BirdPro users. Some of these include expanding the app to cover birds of neighbouring countries, adding more advanced sightings functionality and more identification features, to name but a few.

The MTN Business App of the Year Awards also announced last week, included the Best Consumer Solution, Best Enterprise Solution, Best Incubated Solution, Best Health Solution, Best Gaming Solution, Best Agricultural Solution, Best Financial Solution as well as Best Breakthrough Developer, Best “South African” app and Best Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Solution. 

This year saw MTN Business further their efforts in championing app development in South Africa by adding two new platforms, namely the inaugural MTN Business App Academy, a six-week virtual coding programme, as well as the first ever 72-hour MTN Business Hackathon. 84 solutions developed during the hackathon were also entered into this year’s MTN Business App of the Year Awards

These awards play a vital role in elevating local entrepreneurs and showcasing exciting new innovations within the ICT industry in South Africa, providing a platform that celebrates local talent, rewards out-of-the-box thinking and enables new technology start-ups to build innovative applications