Malawi: Virtual Offices Replacing Internet Cafes
As a strategy to survive on the business market, internet cafes are diversifying into virtual offices in the course of bypassing the smart-phone saturation which has caused the internet cafe business to decline.
A virtual office provides communication and address services that allow the users to reduce traditional office costs while maintaining business professionalism without the user paying conventional lease.
A number of internet cafes or business centers have closed in the city of Blantyre a development that some ex-owners have attributed to the availability of internet compatible mobile phones as well as internet availability in offices.
Oleens' Business Center located in the Victoria Street of Blantyre is one such business yet still in operation whose survival is banked on their diversification into a virtual business.
"We opened as an internet café in 2001 and in 2009 we changed plan to turn our place into a fulltime virtual office so we could survive on the market and the move has proved viable as we are still going on up to date," explained Francis Mijiga, the director of Oleens Business Center.
He added that when one is in business, you need to foresee possible eventualities that may affect business in future and a plan has to be devised upfront and that is what they applied in coming up with their diversification.
"The fact is I-phones will continue to flood the market and internet services are likely to get even cheaper with more service providers budding so if one has to survive, then the way to go is a virtual office," added Mijiga.
He explained that as a virtual office, they are able to provide all secretarial services, office structures inclusive furniture and computers, photocopiers, office coffees and transport to their clients.
"We ease expenses to most small nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), business people and anyone executing a project by providing fully operational services to them without them spending on expensive gadgets such as computers, printers and photocopiers," he added.
On the contrary, one well known internet cafes, E- Centre, which served for 9 years until its closure in 2010 blames the smart-phone for its failed business.
The center's ex- owner, Douglas Kasamale hinted that their business could not thrive with the smart-phones around as most of its customers preferred the phone browsing rather than their service.
"When we just got in business in 2001, all was well as internet service were a scarce thing that people could not easily access and it was worthy paying for, came 2009 we had no choice but to close as the coming of I-phones meant that people needed our services no more," explained Kasamale.
Looking at the current status of technology which is bound to keep improving, turning internet cafes into virtual offices seems the way to go.