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Spawning Africa’s digital dragons in the cloud

By Chris Willcocks, Director: Cloud and Line of Business at SAP Africa

Earlier this year, technology research house Gartner released a report entitled “Taming the Digital Dragon” as part of its 2014 CIO Agenda. In it, it suggests that if CIOs don’t respond quickly to a tsunami of digital opportunities, they will be washed away – but if they do, untold success lies in store.

The problem is, that for much of Africa, the digital dragon has not yet been born, let alone soar aloft. If we’re going to awaken the slumbering digital dragon on this continent, we’re going to have to spark a new generation of African solutions and opportunities. And thankfully, in the cloud, we have the ideal incubator to nurture dragons and opportunities alike.

Fact is, the cloud is here and now. Whether private, public or any hybrid flavor in between, the infrastructure necessary for people and businesses to access the cloud is rapidly falling into place as high-speed broadband becomes increasingly pervasive around Africa. There are still infrastructure barriers in many areas, but that’s not stopping cloud service providers from building solutions for African businesses.

In July, we at SAP released a piece of research that we commissioned through IDG on Africa’s cloud readiness, and the findings were overwhelming: Africa is ripe for the opportunities that can be unlocked by the cloud, fuelled in no small part by the explosion of mobile connectivity across the continent.

Cloud adoption presents obvious advantages for Africa’s rapidly growing mobile device market. What companies of all sizes need to do now is to seize the numerous opportunities being created by mobility to create uniquely African solutions that speak directly to their customers’ needs.

Many African companies we meet talk about the age-old challenge of trying to provide growth and innovation on static budgets. How do we go digital when we’re still battling to get our CRM system up and running, they ask. That’s a modern reality that every business around the world is grappling with: on the one hand, keep the lights on, and on the other, provide innovation and transformation to the business.

What this means for Africa is that companies need to pursue new ways of using their available IT resources. We need to stop thinking in technology-centric terms, and start thinking about what it means to transform a business through technology.

The big thing that a move to the cloud does is to free up resources: financial, human, computing. Our research shows thatworkloads like CRM, which are tailor-made for the cloud, are barely being used in counties such as Kenya and Morocco. By putting your CRM in the cloud, you free up a lot of time and money to focus on innovation and new services.

Truly cloud-savvy businesses have dozens of enterprise software-as-a-service operations. They ask themselves: Can we do it with a hosted cloud solution? Chances are they can. But even in Nigeria and South Africa, which lead the cloud market in Africa, we’re still seeing 1 in every 4 businesses not even looking at cloud services yet.

Financial services firms are leading the charge when it comes to using the cloud for efficiency and business innovation. They have a sound understanding of the benefits of cloud computing, and are winning customers through offerings like mobile banking and other mobile money platforms that make life easier for their clients.

Overall, compared to regions like Western Europe, Africa’s cloud adoption levels are still low. This only serves to highlight the massive opportunity that exists on the continent. If we get our cloud roll-out right, we’ll have our digital dragons soon enough – and the results for the continent will be remarkable.