The Nomads of the Sahara are called the “children of the clouds” and in Africa, clouds announce the rain that brings hope. A new type of cloud is bringing hope for the next generation of African innovators and unleashing their creativity: Cloud computing.
Emerging information technology will be the key enabler for the rapid development of the private sector. Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, when computing tasks are assigned to a combination of remote connections, software and services on demand. End-users no longer need expertise in, or control of the technology infrastructure “in the cloud,” and this is why there’s renewed optimism in the clouds over Africa.
Looking back over the last decade, IT has played a key role in the private sector’s productivity improvements in industrialized countries by automating innumerable business processes, such as accounting, human resources, and customer relationship management (CRM). In turn, this automation has increased efficiency and triggered high growth in industries ranging from investment banking to farming, and revolutionized small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which make up 90% of enterprises globally and account for 50-60% of all employment.
In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) small firms have not fully benefitted from the technology revolution because of the expensive upfront costs of buying hardware and software, and managing it on-premise. But more importantly, the lack of an IT skilled workforce prevented the development of supporting ecosystems of service providers, similar to those available in the industrialized world. Additionally, the Internet was generally not available, and when it was, the cost was high, speeds were slow, and access was unreliable and, therefore, not practical to the majority of SSA firms for managing their businesses.
But along with increased focus on infrastructure and in the private sector as a driver of development over the last ten years, sub-Saharan Africans have made major investments in the ICT landscape. The region presents a large, growing market that is increasingly connected via mobile technology and broadband connectivity. Africa has the fastest growth rate in mobile phones among all continents, with penetration soaring from 2% at the turn of the century to an estimated 50% plus by the end of 2010. This is critical, as a lack of effective communications infrastructure has traditionally been one of the biggest obstacles to economic growth.
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