Much has been made of Amazon Web Services (AWS), especially with new local data centres scheduled to spin up in South Africa next year. It’s part of the reason why many large organisations are turning to AWS as these firms look to make journeys to the cloud.

Lager enterprises are not AWS’ sole focus though, with startups also standing to benefit from the solutions, services and capabilities for the cloud provider.

In the past few months we’ve spoken to the likes of OneCart, which has leveraged the technologies that AWS has in order to evolve its online shopping platform, and now we turn to another local digital startup in the form of iHouzit, which serves as a one-stop-shop for planning, design, financing, insuring, building, furnishing, decorating and maintaining of properties.

To gain a better insight into her own business, as well as what valuable role AWS is playing for iHouzit, we recently spoke with founder Roana Mouton (pictured above).

This is what Mouton had to say about AWS’ importance as the foundation for her digital startup.

Hypertext: How did your relationship with AWS come about, and what attracted you to them as opposed to some of the other cloud platforms available locally?

Roana Mouton: I have previously worked at Barclays Africa/Absa as an enterprise architect, managing architecture enablement and governance.

During this time, I attended the AWS introduction sessions and cloud workshops, met with their amazing people and visited the Cape Town Office. I also co-wrote a business case and obtained funding for implementation on AWS.

The decision to use the AWS platform and wide range of products for iHouzit was very easy and natural due to much research, a long time of engagement and being further encouraged by the soon to arrive AWS Africa (Cape Town) Region.

Hypertext: iHouzit is in a market where traditional brick-and-mortar businesses dominate. How has your company tried to differentiate itself and identify potentially untapped customers?

RM: It certainly is a mall-culture with two of Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest shopping centres less than 30 kilometres from us. We are surrounded by multiple hardware and tiling stores, shopping centres, niche décor shopping districts and more.

Our differentiation is to provide our customers with an integrated shopping experience from a wide variety of premium products and trusted services that could be procured from the comfort of where they are.

Any person older than 18 years with a phone could buy from iHouzit with products delivered to their door. Our selection process for suppliers includes a unique product selection that is not available in all brick-and-mortar businesses.

Hypertext: iHouzit aims to save its customers both time and money. Has its relationship with AWS helped in achieving this goal in any way, and if so, how?

RM: Our relationship with AWS has certainly helped us to achieve this goal. We were able to launch our first minimum viable product with rapid deployment on AWS. Our focus could then shift to build out our business model.

We have on-boarded multiple suppliers with a wide range of products to save our customers both time and money on a stable platform that scale with us.

Hypertext: Focusing on the digital side of the platform, what are some of the challenges that AWS has assisted iHouzit in overcoming?

RM: We were able to launch our technology solution at a low set-up and monthly running cost. We have access via the AWS Activate Start-Up programme, superior business support, training and platform usage credits.

This is a huge boost to our start-up to stay in business and continuously build out our business offering. We attended the Amazon Loft Day, held in March in Johannesburg and gained much insight and knowledge about the AWS service offering with valuable relationships fostered.

From a consultation held with an AWS solutions architect, we had a new direction in streamlining our technology solution to improve our site’s response times to our customers.

We are currently experiencing fantastic business support with our current implementation of Amazon S3 and CloudFront. Specifically, the iHouzit domain name is registered and managed by Amazon Route 53.

Hypertext: Are there any AWS services or solutions in particular that have stood out, and how are you leveraging them?

RM: The AWS Activate program is very beneficial to iHouzit.

We are a recent member with access to Credits, 24/7 Business Support and Training. Membership opened a world full of AWS knowledge, access to cloud engineers and solution architects, credits to our monthly bill, and some free hours of training.

The “Meeting of the Minds” event hosted by AWS Activate in Cape Town in July just before the AWS Summit introduced us to many other founders, investors and business partners. We can collaborate to build a better business offering.

The keynote speakers inspire us, and we know the African business we intend to build is all possible because we could leverage multiple AWS services and solutions. Personalization, Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Distributed Ledger capabilities are all components we intend to use in the African iHouzit market network.

Hypertext: With AWS bringing a local data centre presence, does it present any opportunities for iHouzit and its customers moving forward?

RM: iHouzit keeps its customer data private and secure.

In the near future, we will interact with financial services institutions with strict data privacy regulations to comply with.

The AWS Africa Region in Cape Town will certainly ensure that our interactions with local regulators are much easier and compliant. Additionally, we believe proximity will offer low-latency links, enabling us to easily deploy high availability applications with low latency to our customers, and keep their data in-country. 

Hypertext: Does being a part of the AWS ecosystem open up any opportunities to expand to the other regions?

RM: Yes, iHouzit aspires to be an African market network that sells products and services to a global customer base.

AWS enables this vision where we can leverage advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IoT, mobile services, helping us drive innovation and big thinking.

Hypertext: We’ve seen other AWS customers use the firm’s services and solutions to help evolve their own platforms. Is that something that iHouzit is considering?

RM: Yes, we will use the AWS services and solutions to evolve our platforms.

One potential option is the integration of Amazon Alexa with our services. This would enable our customers to make purchases using voice along with hands and eyes free interaction.

Hypertext: As we are now in the latter half of 2019, does iHouzit have any specific goals in mind for the end of 2019?

RM: We will be launching our B2B and multi-vendor offering with new functionalities by Q3 2019. We plan to go-live with a web app version by Q4 2019.

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.