November 10, 2013 | Written by:
Beneath African Clouds – Cloud Computing Opportunities in Africa
Adnan Haider, Kirk-Dale McDowall-Rose and Pritesh Jani
Question, what does a mobile application for tracking the fertility of cows have in common with an SMS based social network? Answer, they both represent what’s in store for innovation in Africa – and how the cloud can help.
iCow, which won the Apps4Africa award in 2010, is a mobile-based virtual advisor to dairy farmers. Using iCow, farmers can maximize production by getting access to timely information and a simple mechanism to track the key factors that contribute to milk output. The solution meets a specific local need, is engineered to work in low-resource settings, and is natively mobile.
Entrepreneurs and businesses looking to leverage cloud technologies in Africa can draw important lessons from iCow. With broadband access becoming more pervasive, and increasing smartphone penetration driven by low-cost brands from China and Ethiopia, the environment is ripe for radical new business models and services. The key barrier is no longer infrastructure, it is creativity.
With the recent frenzy in mature markets about the potential of mobile connectedness, there is one fact that we often overlook: Africa got there first. Due to infrastructure challenges, and low incomes, desktop computing never made it big in Africa. Instead, people relied on cell phones to gain access to services as varied as banking and social networks. The African consumer is accustomed to service provisioning through mobile, and now, the infrastructure building blocks required to develop new services and business models are increasingly available as inexpensive commodities.
Bandwidth, the lifeblood of cloud and mobile-enable business models, is fast improving in key geographies across Africa. The international bandwidth connectivity of Africa rose by 300% between 2009 and 2012, and is now approaching 1tbps. With 7 submarine cables in operation and major upgrades planned over the next 5 years, the international connectivity of Africa is set to improve as demand rises. To complement the improvement in international connectivity, telcos in Africa are successfully turning to wireless technologies, such as WiMax and 3G, to solve the Last Mile Problem, i.e. making high-speed internet connectivity available to end-users in environments where fixed-line telephony infrastructure is limited.
Businesses across Middle East and Africa have the opportunity to leapfrog from their current models to more competitive, nimble ones by exploiting the opportunities presented by this unique confluence of developments. To be able to exploit these opportunities, however, businesses should learn from the mistakes of mature markets, and where possible, leverage the existing cloud services. As businesses are investing in growth initiatives, they must build standard, open platforms that enable integration and make it possible to move workloads to the cloud where that is more cost efficient. The growing connectivity of Africa to the outside world now enables the use of international IaaS providers, making highly scalable computing power available inexpensively.
As the world finally welcomes MEA to the cloud, businesses need to gear up for change. A tiny start-up based in Amman offers a sneak into the brave new world of cloud enable business models. ShopGo provides online storefronts for businesses in the Middle East. They present content in Arabic, integrate with local shipping providers and partner with local payment platforms to enable an end-to-end online shopping experience. They have strung together an ecosystem through open standards, open-source software and the cloud – to meet a pressing local need.
The building blocks are all there. What problem are you going to solve?
Adnan is a Managing Consultant with the Strategy & Transformation practice of IBM Middle East & Africa. He has led major strategy engagements with clients ranging from one of the largest healthcare complexes in Saudi Arabia to a high-tech research center in Bulgaria. He specializes in advising clients on technology strategy and has deep expertise in technology commercialization, product development, and the emerging opportunities in enterprise IT such as consumerization of IT, social business and Enterprise 2.0. With a Masters degree in Engineering Management, he brings management and engineering rigor to business planning and strategy development.
Kirk-Dale’s expertise focuses on operationalizing strategy, leading business transformation programs and building innovative business models. He has broad experience spanning senior roles focused on strategy, corporate turnarounds and reengineering.
KD leads Strategy & Transformation for IBM in Saudi Arabia. He is an alum of Harvard Business School, HEC Paris, The London School of Economics and The University of Oxford.
Pritesh’s is an seasoned consultant with experience driving large large complex projects from strategy formation through to implementation. The bulk of his experience has focussed on telecommunications, analytics and cloud.
Pritesh holds BSc in Management from The Cass School of Business, City University London.