Arica’s recent historical deficit puts it in a convenient position in terms of adopting new technologies. Other regions have paid the expensive price of being early adopters but African companies can now adopt the best in modern technology, writes BRETT PARKER, MD for SAP Africa.
Trade is in Africa’s blood. Its rich resources, numerous societies and access to the world have created a hotbed of trade civilisations. One could go back millennia to the early kingdoms around the continental horn – the forefathers and peers of the Ancient Egyptian world – or the mysterious Kingdom of Nok in West Africa as examples.
But even in the last 2,000 years Africa never shied away from trade. The Kingdoms of Ashanti and Kongo were world-famous business hubs. In Libya vast desert cities can be found where ancient Berbers built elaborate irrigation systems. The Zimbabwe ruins and South Africa’s Mapungubwe had yielded evidence of extensive trade with Asian and Middle Eastern nations.
But most striking is the legacy of kingdoms that existed along the Sahel: the transitional area between the Sahara and the rest of the continent. Here numerous societies sat shoulder to shoulder, controlling the vast trade moving between Eurasia, West and Central Africa for ages.
Today the world is shifting gears into a new revolution, creating an opportunity for Africa to assert its legacy as the birthplace of business networks. Computational power and connectivity is shrinking the globe, changing how we compete and cooperate. Mastering pace, scale and complexity, creating channels and fostering partnerships have never been more achievable. Some have called this the Network Revolution and it is Africa’s greatest business opportunity yet.
The continent’s recent historical deficit ironically puts it in a very convenient position. Whereas other regions have paid the expensive price of being early adopters, African companies and states can readily adopt the best in modern technology, resulting in real gains on the ground. If there are any doubts about this, just look at the spectacular penetration of mobile devices in Africa: more than any other region in the world. Consider the remarkable growth of Rwanda, which thanks to savvy technology investments has tripled its GDP since 2000.
Success and growth is almost a given when developing markets jump onto the Network Revolution bandwagon. The real question is how to go about it. Here are three steps defining the transition:
From manual to electronic and Internet-based. The Network Revolution is a shift from manual processes kept separate in silos. Automation and accessibility are among its pillars, opening both resources and the ability to cross-pollinate ideas. South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs has dramatically improved its service, auditability and turnaround times by going paperless. It captures all data electronically, which is shared across its footprint. This not only made for happier citizens, but opened the way to adopting the country’s award-winning Smart ID cards.
From an entity and chain to a network. Business networks are the oldest and most vital components to any enterprise’s survival. These are jealously guarded because of their fragility: all it takes is for that proverbial weak link in the chain to break. But today digital
sourcing marketplaces such as Aruba are making it easy to find suppliers, partners and buyers. The mobile phone is a cornerstone to these networks: Africa is currently undergoing a farming revolution in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, where mobile services help farmers get daily prices, share advice and even gain micro-insurance for their crops across a web of networks, not flimsy top-down chains.
From need to reach and fusion. The biggest impact of the Network Revolution is being born from data. We are increasingly able to quantify aspects of the world through data, be it consumer behaviour, environmental shifts, mechanical maintenance or anything that generates information about its behaviour. That may soon become everything as the Internet of Things brings sensors to every nook of our world. And fusing the resulting data in creative ways to offer new insights will be the differentiator between the haves and have-nots of tomorrow. This is extending the reach and proactivity of companies and governments beyond their traditional boundaries. One example is the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, which has accelerated its delivery and boosted efficiency by adopting data-centric thinking.
One element underpins all of the above: the platform. For any business or government to take advantage of the Network Revolution, it must consolidate its processes into a unified software platform: a powerful foundation where everything ties together. Called the 3rd Platform, this is the next step in digital technology, taking advantage of the power and scale provided by modern data centres and connectivity. One example is SAP HANA, the pioneering in-memory platform. Think of it as an operating system for the entire enterprise: a single space upon which all other processes – be it internal tasks, external collaboration, differentiating applications or new technologies – can find a home.
This consolidation pays dividends. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that networked enterprises using collaborative technology to connect processes to customers, suppliers, and partners outpace their peers in nearly every category of business performance. Africa is primed to take the Network Revolution by the horns and reassert itself as the birthplace of business.
Africa gets broadband boost
ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.
Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.
Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.
ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.
At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”
Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”
ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.
Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.
AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.
The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.
‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”
The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.
‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.
The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”