IBM brings its Smarter Planet Agenda to Africa

In September 2010, IBM signed a landmark deal with Bharti Airtel to provide Airtel with Information Technology services in sixteen countries. IBM CEO Sam Palmisano flew to Kenya to sign the deal and to demonstrate his personal commitment to the economic future of Africa. Since that historic day, IBM has already begun fulfilling the promise of bringing its Smarter Planet agenda to Africa. IBM is opening new subsidiaries in multiple countries, including Ghana, Tanzania, Senegal and Angola, while expanding its footprint in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

By Stephen Hamm, IBM Communications Strategist and Writer

This is IBM’s Centennial year. As we look back at our 100-year history and forward into the future, we expect that the core principles that have sustained the company for years will help make our future even brighter — and will aid in our expansion in emerging markets.

IBM realises that in Africa our approach to doing business is at least as important as the portfolio of products and services we offer. If we can provide ideas and solutions that help the governments and businesses of Africa perform better, we will improve the economic climate for citizens and for businesses alike. The market for goods and services is growing rapidly, but it remains small by global standards. “In Africa, it’s not a matter of taking a slice of the pie. You have to help make the pie first,” says Anthony Mwai, General Manager of IBM East Africa.

The Smarter Planet Agenda

IBM’s Smarter Planet agenda bolsters our approach to doing business all around the globe. The world is increasingly instrumented, interconnected and intelligent, thanks to advances in sensors, networking, telecommunications and analytical software. From water management, agricultural supply chains and environmental protection to public safety, education, energy, banking and health care, there are abundant opportunities to use technology to make the world function better.

In Africa, because of the relative immaturity of the physical, governmental and economic infrastructures, Smarter Planet solutions have the potential to produce even greater impacts than they have in more developed countries.

Indeed, Africa can skip steps along the traditional development path — leapfrogging some of the world’s more advanced economies.

Mobile communications is a prime example: Kenya is already leading the world with mobile money applications from M-Pesa and other telecommunications services. (Incidentally, the technology behind the M-Pesa service is run by IBM.)  Think of each mobile phone as a node on a vast information network. This powerful new source of connectivity makes it possible for citizens to access a wide array of commercial and government services. At the same time, it enables governments and businesses to serve their clients in ways that would have been impossible to imagine just a few years ago.

IBM is just beginning to think through the details of how its Smarter Planet solutions apply to Africa. Already, one thing is clear: It is not enough to simply take solutions that have worked well in developed nations and try to force-fit them to situations in Africa. Instead, IBM is ready to collaborate with African governments, universities and businesses to adapt and, indeed, co-create solutions that will be effective here.

Collaboration begins with listening and discussing

Our efforts at capacity building in Africa have already begun. We can highlight important projects in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa that demonstrate our Smarter Planet capabilities and point towards great developments still to come. Here are a few examples:

SMS for Life, Tanzania: Using cell phones, websites and SMS technology, health workers in remote parts of Tanzania are able to track inventories to avoid running out of five life-saving anti-malarial drugs. The data is gathered and monitored in a central repository and supplies are sent out immediately in response to impending shortages. The system was developed by IBM, Novartis and Vodafone.

Health and Welfare systems, Nigeria: IBM has helped the government of Cross River State to develop processes and technology for managing two social welfare programmes: free health care for women and babies, and subsistence support for poor families. The technology includes such advances as electronic medical records, smart Identity cards and biometric identification.

IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, Kenya: A team of twelve IBM volunteers recently completed a month-long visit to Kenya. They helped government agencies with new ideas for improving the high-end technology talent pool, for improving e-government services and for diversifying and revitalising Posta Kenya.

“IBM is helping us with our strategic approach to investments in ICT in this country,” said Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary, Kenya Ministry of Information and Communications.

These are collaborative engagements. The heads of government agencies define the projects that they want the teams to work on. Then the teams perform extensive market research and produce detailed analyses of problems and potential solutions. Their proposals include a wide array of options, starting with steps which government leaders can take immediately and including strategic initiatives that might take years to accomplish.

The IBM team’s work on e-government in Kenya is a good example of how these strategic engagements take shape.

The team surveyed legal frameworks worldwide and proposed a set of principles and actions that could place Kenya at the leading edge of e-government policy and practice. “The CSC team has been helping us tease out the issues and develop a legal framework for citizen services,” said Dr. Getao, ICT Secretary, Directorate of eGovernement Kenya. “This is a very important area for us because we believe that with the right kind of legal framework we can really quickly start to roll out services to our citizens, we can begin to share data and share systems a lot more than has been happening in the past.”

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Mohamed Sayed, IBM Integrated Cloud Solution for eLearning, will give a keynote speech on behalf of IBM at eLearning Africa 2011. Mohamed is Cloud Services Service Line Leader for MEA Global Technology Services / Integrated Technology Services. In his role as Cloud Services Leader, Mohamed owns the strategy of Cloud Services across MEA countries. Mohamed started his career with IBM Egypt back in 2001. Mohamed is a Certified IBM Managing Consultant (Infrastructure Solutions) with over fourteen years of experience in cloud computing solutions, infrastructure solutions, system management, IT security and operating systems. He has experience across a number of industries, including education, banking, finance, government, the military, Telco and transportation.[/callout]

One by one, the world’s underdeveloped regions have begun to share more equally in the economic wealth created by advances in technology and the globalization of business: first China, then India, Brazil, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Now, many believe Africa’s time has finally come. IBM agrees. Sam Palmisano proved it when he rushed to Kenya to announce the Bharti Airtel deal last year.

IBM understands that these improvements will not happen overnight. Real progress takes courage and determination and a long-term view. Also, progress is dependent on taking the interests of citizens into account and on empowering the people. A dynamic economy requires the participation of all stakeholders. IBM is ready to work with leaders of African government, businesses and non-profit organisations as well as the people of Africa themselves in order to help fulfil soaring aspirations.

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