Cloud in Africa: the next big disruptor

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The disruptive nature of cloud computing will have far-reaching effects across all continents and industries as global players in the industry scuffle for market share in emerging opportunities for small to medium (SME) enterprises. Africa, with its burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit, has long been touted as the last frontier for galvanizing enterprise market growth, and cloud computing is well suited for this unconquered continent.

With cloud computing and access to complex data analytics, innovators can provide high-end services to previously untapped, low value customers to achieve modest returns at prices that seem unattractive at first to already established enterprises. Add mobility to the mix and African enterprises have connectivity, security, flexibility as well as applications and services on demand, underpinned by location in the palm of their customers’ hands. These next generation mobile services, we believe, is the ultimate game changer for Africa, leapfrogging traditional enterprise business models.

Cloud computing is transforming the ecosystems of data centres, applications and platforms and presents new and interactive ways of communication in all aspects of business. By harnessing social media, mobility and analytics at a fraction of the cost, businesses now can create extended avenues to interact with their customers than ever before.

While many large organizations are still assessing the impact of cloud computing, smaller forward-thinking African organizations are telling us that the key differentiators in the next 10 years will be the creative and interactive link with big data, data of customers and their actionable, ‘packaged’ experiences for those customers.

We see the cloud computing underpinning the “stock exchange of everything”. Today we see mobile cloud computing touching every node in every industry, changing the way healthcare, retail and manufacturing industries interact with customers and breaking through the layers the middleman to get a much closer feel for their requirements. There are opportunities and niche markets almost everywhere, if you look for them.

According to a recent study conducted by SAP AG in 17 countries around the world, increasing demand for mobile commerce services in developing countries such as South Africa, Saudi Arabia and China, more than eight out of 10 consumers were requiring more mobile interactions with banks, Telco’s, retailers, utilities and other businesses.

The study also indicated that businesses and consumers are increasingly looking for more services, including researching products and services, promotions, customer service inquiries and submitting electricity meter readings to utility companies.

It is evident that the cloud is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and is fueling the spirit of entrepreneurship. Low net worth customers now have access to the same type of services as those used by wealthy individuals and as markets open up they are plump and ripe for the picking.

For mobile app developers, cloud computing has opened up the gates for early adoption of new applications, which allows in particular SME customers to access the cloud at a very low cost and access these applications tailored for their regional market, workforce and shareholder needs. Additionally, new applications no longer take months to deploy, but can be rolled out within hours or days and tweaked as the market demands in order to drive revenue.

With fixed cost and on-demand business application models provided by cloud platform vendors already showing signs of maturity, it creates enormous benefits for African mavericks that want to dip their toes in first, before they take the plunge. Importantly, this negates the need for initial top-heavy IT departments, expensive hardware and software infrastructure outlay.

The cloud, thanks to its agility to interact and process large volumes of big data and analytics, can help bring customized services to customers in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Those companies that are first to embrace the myriad of opportunities on African shores will reap the benefits, and those that don’t, only time will tell…

Richard Edet,  is the managing director at SAP West Africa

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