By Mark McCallum, CTO & head of solutions, sub-Saharan Africa, Orange Business Services
This is a reality. During the last few months, we have heard more about Africa’s issues in the media rather than its vast potential. However, the continent in general is silently moving forward with a genuine transformation. Africa is accelerating at a pace that will continue to shake us up, inviting us to ask ourselves some far-reaching questions. This growing development is being driven to a great extent by new technologies and the digital world.
Networks: the foundation of the digital transformation
The digital transformation has also created new expectations, like the need for connectivity. This is the most obvious aspect of the digital transformation: the way that networks enable us to communicate instantaneously with everyone, anytime and anywhere, to send and receive information, and increasingly access all of our services, applications and content at all times. The challenge is no longer just offering a powerful network and a "ready connection" for everyone. Instead, we need to offer services that take into account the unique reality of each individual's digital life.
The boom in corporate requirements
Companies in Africa and globally rely on increasingly high-performance and flexible networks to meet their needs for mobility and hyper-connectivity, the increasing numbers of mobile devices, the use of collaborative solutions like video conferencing, instant messaging and social media, and the boom of big data and connected objects. The transition to the Cloud is pushing businesses to overhaul the way they manage their IT resources and network infrastructure.
The Internet of Things is a game-changer
We are now dealing with a new wave: the emergence of connected devices, which are close to becoming a huge part of our lives. According to Gartner, the global market for the Internet of Things is expected to virtually double by 2020, to reach $1 100 billion. Connected objects will pave the way for new services in areas like healthcare and well being, home services, safety, and transportation. In 2023, there will be 420 million connected cars on the roads (IDATE) and the global healthcare sector will be using 847 million connected devices.
Africa is an investment opportunity for business
As Africa’s profile as an investment opportunity for businesses has continued to grow over the past 10 years or so, the business landscape has substantially changed presenting opportunities as well as some unique challenges.
For example, competition in the more mature markets in Africa (South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya) is becoming more intense, especially for IT and Telcommunication companies. To remain competitive and profitable, TELCO’s are realising that there is need to move beyond traditional connectivity offerings and provide IT services such as unified communications and collaboration, cloud, and datacentre services – and this is changing the way businesses in Africa approach their IT strategies.
We are seeing that African businesses, and those multinationals moving into the region, are increasingly open to the opportunities that digital transformation presents for their businesses. In the medium to long term, many businesses are having to re-evaluate business models for the region. For Telcos this has meant a migration from operating legacy networks to deploying agile systems that are capable of increasing operational efficiency while rapidly decreasing the time to market of new solutions. Technologies and applications such as hybrid networks, software defined networks, machine-to-machine, IoT, and cloud services are taking centre stage, as businesses look to save costs, increase security, and achieve greater efficiency.
Essentially, African businesses are looking to find partners in their IT companies, rather than providers, and in turn Telcos are becoming more customer-centric. It is essential that businesses operating within the African region are able to quickly respond to the challenge of rapidly changing market dynamics – which is where unique digital transformation strategies come into play. Businesses need to understand the importance of having strategies specifically designed for their chosen African market, in order to make the most of the opportunities presented to them. Each region is different in terms of market behaviors and trends, cultures, business practices, and even languages – and each requires a dedicated strategy. A one-size-fits-all approach to business strategy does not work in a complex, evolving market like Africa.
In terms of opportunities, Africa has the advantage of a young and growing population and by 2034, the continent is expected to have a larger workforce than either China or India. However, many African countries, such as South Africa, are plagued by skills shortages – especially in the ICT sector. Although South African companies are increasingly becoming targets for cyber attacks, many businesses are ill equipped to deal with the threat – having out-dated systems and strategies. Security firm Kaspersky Lab recently found that 7% of all South African organisations experienced a cyber attack in the last year, alone. Compounding the problem is a lack of qualified local security professionals.
It is important that all business currently operating in the region, and those looking to enter the region, make skills development a top priority – no matter what sector they operate in. Having a strong focus on skills development will bode positively for economic development in the region.
As digital transformation continues to change business practices and evolve the consumer landscape, African businesses are in the perfect position to take advantage of the new opportunities presented. As challenges continue to change, it is important that businesses are able to quickly respond to these changes and adjust their strategies in line with this.