Government, businesses need cloud technology

By Dipo Faulkner   |   12 July 2017   |   3:01 am  


It’s difficult not to acknowledge the advent of a new era of digital reinvention notwithstanding the macroeconomic headwinds in the national polity. Businesses including many of the Nigeria’s leading banks, are beginning to pay attention to the looming reality of the big data, cloud and cognitive era.
 
Technology awareness levels are at an all-time high however it is not yet Uhuru for the fast-growing Nigerian technology industry. Chief Executives and Chief Technology, Chief Marketing, and Chief Human Resource Officers are aware that with growth comes incremental responsibility to ensure that the strategic goals and operational integrity of service delivery models are not compromised. Data management is at the core of this new reality. 
 
Speaking with technology chiefs from business and government institutions during the IBM Cloud Innovation Forum in Lagos, Nigeria this week, I made the point that, to better manage data, today’s leading firms will need to invest in cloud solutions and measure the quality and integrity of their cloud environment by certain characteristics.

  
For large, medium and small sized enterprises across West Africa, cloud technology is becoming a game changer. This is true especially for data-intensive industries like scientific research in agriculture and biotechnology, space studies, weather forecasting and for financial firms’ eager to change their business models from manual, paper-based processes and management systems to digital platforms, and possibly automation.
 
These digital platforms will be underpinned by secure, cloud-based systems able to manage the ever-growing volume of structured and unstructured data that drive transactions and operations management within and across industries. Investments in big data analytics (BDA) and cloud infrastructure will thus continue to grow in line with the growing demand for technology-driven operations and business process management solutions and services.  
  
According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), revenues for big data and analytics in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region totalled $1.98 billion in 2016, is expected to reach $2.2 billion by end of 2017 and is forecast to reach approximately $3.20 billion in 2020, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.0 per cent over the 2016-20 period.
 
Even as Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the UAE jointly account for about 58 per cent of this BDA investment, companies and public-sector institutions in West Africa’s leading economies, namely, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Nigeria, seem to be in the forefront of this regional digital transformation drive, as exemplified by their progressive policies and fast-growing financial services sector. Fast growing economies also pose a challenge of how to manage the ever-expanding cache of data produced by social and economic activities. To confront the massive data workloads, West Africa’s technology managers and experts must turn to the cloud. But before taking the inevitable plunge into the cloud pond, they will be confounded by these critical questions:

How can they share their company’s data in a public cloud to improve customer experience while securing it from fraud, theft and cyber threats?
How do they mine critical, actionable insights from rising volumes of corporate data?
How will they move the enterprise into the cognitive era of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI)?
And as if this wasn’t complicated enough, companies and public institutions must also consider the emerging forms of cloud-based services such as blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT).


So, the big question remains: how does a technology or business leader make the right cloud choice?
It is important to know that when examining available options, the best cloud solutions will share these core characteristics.First, it must be enterprise strong.Look first for an industrial strength public cloud, which delivers a hybrid blend of choice and consistency. This kind of option includes advanced security compared with private cloud options and offers scale for future growth. One company that chose this route is AT&T, a global telecommunications provider, which is supporting business customers’ IoT with data insights.
  
For an oil and gas company to detect unusual events in its wells, for example, it could use AT&T’s IoT network to ingest data from hundreds of wells.

This data feeds the models necessary with appropriate machine learning libraries and open source technology to help predict potential failures or machine malfunctions. The company can detect anomalies in less time and with greater accuracy.

Secondly, the cloud solution must possess a data-first architecture.
To acquire the best business insight, leaders must choose cloud options that prioritise data diversity (the ability to combine public, private and licensed data), data control with locality (understanding location, who is using the data and for what) and data isolation (the practice of preventing the data from being mined for commercial reasons).
 
A good example of a company taking this kind of data-first approach is KONE, a global engineering business that specialises in elevators and escalators, which uses sensors to connect its products to the Internet of Things. Many high-rise buildings across Africa use KONE lifts.
 
With the collected data, KONE employs IBM Watson to track reductive fail rates. At that point, Salesforce uses customer relationship management (CRM) information to deploy repairs. KONE ultimately maximises uptime for more than one million elevators and escalators that move more than one billion people every day.


Thirdly, the cloud solution must have cognitive at its core.
Today’s enterprise cloud must possess a full range of cognitive abilities, from machine learning to AI. In its most advanced form, this translates to human-like capabilities such as seeing, hearing and reading. Like many industries, global banking is being disrupted as clients are choosing mobile devices over brick and mortar offices. A company that is succeeding in this shift is Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Canada’s largest bank, which serves more than 16 million clients worldwide and is the first Canadian bank to offer remote video chat to customers.
 
The bank has created more than 30 cloud platform applications within its production environment. Anything new RBC does is not just born in the cloud, it is the cloud.
The key point to note is that, every company’s data workload will continue to grow at a rapid pace. That only elevates the importance of its cloud solution choices. The most successful enterprise leaders will consciously consider these characteristics to move their companies faster and further into the future.
 
Are these best-case scenarios possible in West Africa?
The answer to this poser is obvious. Yes, African firms should think and benchmark globally whilst delivering service that meets and surpasses the expectations of their customers locally.When it comes to matters around cloud computing, West Africa’s CIOs, CMOs, CHROs, CFOs and CEOs need to be cautiously bullish with their decision-making instincts. Africans and African enterprises deserve to be part of the global cloud ecosystem.
• Faulkner is Country General Manager, IBM West Africa.

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