Cloud computing has a huge potential for not only making life easier, but more efficient for everyone. Corine Mbiaketcha Nana, the Managing Director for Kenya Hub, covering East, Central and West Africa at Oracle says Kenya is well positioned to ride the technological wave to transform businesses, governments and citizens.
Not far from Oracle’s Nairobi office is the head office of Kenyan telco, Safaricom, whose mobile money service, M-PESA, is making roaring success in driving financial inclusion in the East African country.
In 2017, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that access to the M-PESA ecosystem had lifted about 194,000 Kenyan households, which represents 2% of the country’s households from extreme poverty.
It is the cumulative effect of these kinds of economic actions and reactions, which have earned Kenya the moniker ‘Silicon Savannah’, that could progressively translate into narrowing the gap between Africa’s rich and poor.
Inclusive development is a key area of focus for the world. Hence the mantra that has been popularised by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – ‘Leave no one behind’.
Whereas there is excitement around a resurgent economic environment in Africa, it is important that the benefits of future economic fortunes are inclusive.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the most unequal regions globally, with 10 of the 19 most unequal countries globally being on the continent.
Africa’s biggest challenge is that between five to 10% of the population is extremely wealthy, with the rest struggling to meet minimum living requirements.
Technology is a strong enabler for efforts to bridge this gap and put the continent on a firm development path; it is the key ingredient to inclusive development.
View cloud computing as an enabler
Take cloud computing, which has been in use by some African companies for up to 15 years.
However, it is finding further use in more recent transformative technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence, blockchain and robots.
Drones are being used in the health sector to deliver medicines, blood and other critical medical supplies in hard-to-reach places in Africa’s hinterland.
To take advantage of these rapid changes, sustained strategic investments are required to enhance the penetration of the cloud to all parts of the continent and unlock its potential to all.
The ensuing benefits would range from social and economic impact to governance.
However, all this would have to start with a mind shift among African people, companies and governments. Technology needs to be looked at in the right way.
Businesses often invest in technology as if they are acquiring a commodity. The cloud should not be thought of as a solution but as an enabler. Thankfully, companies and individuals no longer need to procure cloud services; it is perfectly possible to pay-as-you-go.
Technology touches everything and can make a huge difference if it is used to enhance the lives of citizens.
Through cloud computing, individuals, irrespective of their trade, can improve their livelihoods. From lawyers to chefs, technology makes it easier to attract more work and engage more with customers.
Similarly, with cloud, firms can gain new market share through bespoke solutions dedicated to the African market. This could translate into job opportunities.
In the financial services space, as well as manufacturing, investment in data centres have opened-up many opportunities. After all, a study by the UNDP found that limited opportunities for earning livelihoods is among the key drivers of inequality on the continent.
With the cloud, new ecosystems that are employing millions of people are being birthed.
In Kenya, where mobile money is thriving, a whole ecosystem is emerging around this budding industry.
Statistics from the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) for the 2016/ 2017 financial year estimate that the country has 184,537 mobile money agents, a figure which continues to grow.
All these are investments that are generating returns for the owners and creating employment opportunities that were not there at the turn of the century. In Kenya, where mobile penetration is at an impressive 90.4%, the opportunities for earning livelihoods go beyond mobile money.
Technology’s transformative potential for firms still benefits the individual. When companies, even in traditional sectors and industries, become more efficient using technology, they can thrive and employ more people.
The economic benefits of a flourishing private sector are enormous, most importantly in the creation of employment opportunities – directly and indirectly by spurring growth across the value chain and related industries.
New technologies deliver new opportunities
There must be an awareness of the massive disruption that technology is causing.
The popular myth is that its deployment always leads to job-cuts as systems become automated. That is not the whole picture.
With technology, companies can conduct more simulations and testing using robotics.
The fact is that its introduction into a business leads to generations of additional revenue that can be invested in more impactful projects that create fresh opportunities for earning livelihoods.
The change in perspective required from Africans with regard to technology is more than just attitudinal; there is the cultural aspect too.
How do we perceive ourselves as Africans? Do we have conviction that we can own innovations and make a difference?
Our young people have been born into technology; they are technological natives. But do they believe that they can use it to change the world?
This is the mindset that is crucial for technology to make an impact in lifting people out of poverty. It requires an education system that has a focus on entrepreneurship to change the mentality of expecting others to do things for us.
Wealth should be created in Africa without expecting investment and donations from anywhere else in the world.
Apart from employment creation, the other way that the cloud can narrow the rich-poor gap is in helping to tackle corruption.
A survey by Transparency International in 2015 estimated that 75 million Africans had paid a bribe over the last year.
The long-term effects of corruption are numbing. It has been found to exacerbate poverty, as resources that had been meant to improve the common good are diverted to line pockets of individuals.
Rampant corruption also makes a country unconducive for doing business.
By having as less human intervention in systems and processes through technology as possible, they become seamless, leaving no loopholes that can be explored by unscrupulous individuals to loot public resources.
So far, some countries have already seized the opportunities presented by cloud computing and emerging technologies and are riding the technological wave. This includes South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.
More countries need to realise that technology should be the strongest pillar of their development plans. The absence of a technology heritage might just be the silver lining for Africa.
Cloud is here to solve specific business challenges
The biggest advantage on the continent is a limited legacy with technology.
African businesses are just beginning to move from a manual way of doing things. This means that the continent can easily implement even the simplest of technologies with fantastic results.
There is a huge opportunity in the adoption of the cloud, backed by the scale of markets and a largely untouched youthful population.
However, adoption is often slowed down by the fact that many African economies are not private sector driven, with the public sector serving as an important engine for growth.
It is encouraging that every city in Africa has access to the Internet. In fact, countries with a strong private sector such as South Africa, Morocco and Kenya have made a big difference in cloud adaptation.
Those that are heavily dependent on the public sector need to borrow a leaf and take advantage of the Internet and mobile penetration. Surprisingly, war-torn Somalia has some of the fastest internet speeds.
It is through strategic investments and policy directions that countries will be able to fast-track roll-out of technologies such as fibre to ensure stable in-country networks.
There is also the critical role of public-private partnerships in technological investments. This is the only way that individuals and firms will be able to adapt to evolving technologies.
What has changed is the capability to be focused and address specific challenges.
Over time, solutions to tackle exact business problems are increasingly becoming more affordable, besides being backed by more refined data that give better outputs.
Benefits accruing for companies are two-fold – the huge cost saving and the elimination of the need to make upfront investments in technology.
With the cloud, companies do not need to invest in acquiring and maintaining their own data centres. The savings in running costs can be passed onto consumers through lower prices that attract customers.
Technology firms must demonstrate to customers the value that they bring to business processes to accelerate adoption. Driving education and awareness is key, particularly in building an understanding of the offerings available to customers.
Cloud adoption must be on a mass scale as opposed to how it has been perceived historically – as an enterprise solution.
Customers need to know that they can decide on the unique path their cloud journey will take and where they want to invest first, whether it is in human resources, customer experience or disaster management.
The continent is well positioned to ride the technological wave to transform businesses, governments and citizens. The cloud must be impactful in Africa.