When the privately-funded Seacom fiber optic cable came on stream last July, East Africa finally joined the ICT revolution. Nik Nesbitt is one very excited Nairobi entrepreneur. He set up his KenCall call center six years ago and soon built a sizeable business doing what we associate with India – business process outsourcing (BPO) for large US and European clients including Orange, Spinvox and the Wall Street Journal. “When I first came here, the supporting infrastructure did not exist,” he says.
Briefly, East Africa was ideal in terms of rate card, time zone, language and geography, but potential clients were put off relying on satellite broadband to carry their business’ critical data when alternative locations offered fiber. In the last six months, Nesbitt’s broadband costs have dropped by 90 percent. “We were at a competitive disadvantage, but now there is no reason not to do business with a Kenya-based company.”
THE FUTURE IS MOBILE
The same thing is happening across sub-Saharan Africa. This year, Phase3 Telecoms plans to launch a fiber network that will plug into undersea cables in Accra, Cotonou, and Lagos, and allow clients in Nigeria, including GSM and CDMA operators, ISPs, banks, and the government, reliable broadband access. In a deal with Nigerian telecom company, 21st Century Technologies, Ericsson is deploying a fiber-optic broadband network in Nigeria.
For the vast majority of Africans, even in South Africa, mobile telecoms is the only viable way to run a business. As we spoke, Nesbitt was on his way through impossible Nairobi traffic jams to redeploy a chunk of his business to focus on local customers. “The cell phone companies are growing like weeds and they need lots and lots of staff doing their customer service. We did not select that as a key market, but it has grown amazingly and more of our resources are devoted to it.”
The best-known mobile banking platform in Africa has to be the M-Pesa system offered by Safaricom to all its subscribers, even if they don’t have a bank account enabling them to transfer money using a mobile phone. It has allowed many niche spinoff technologies to develop, says Nesbitt: “These businesses do mean that trade can mover wider and faster.”
E-MONEY AND MICROFINANCE
Another Kenyan entrepreneur, Ken Njoroge, started Cellulant five years ago as ‘King of the Ringtones’, but moved rapidly on to develop a cashless money transfer system that has rolled out in nine African countries including Nigeria. “More merchants and retail customers will be reached by mobile operators than by banks. We have realized the need for e-money solutions in a country like Nigeria with low security to life and property: the idea is do cash-based business without cash and achieve exactly the same result!”
For many developing economies remittances from abroad form a significant proportion of GDP, says David Smith, head of marketing at Zippcard, which is currently developing its distribution network in Uganda. “Sending £100 to Uganda costs on average 20 percent: poor countries should not be paying large premiums to third party operators in the west,” he believes, and Zippcard expects to be profitable at a margin of around 4 percent. Zippcard is for the rural unbanked, and that’s where most of the growth in technology is expected. In the interim there is always Mama Mikes, an online store created by Segeni Ng’ethe for Kenyans and Ugandans located abroad who want to send vouchers for anything from groceries to electricity bills.
Advanced mapping will drive further applications. The Nigerian mobile phone distributor Telecgsm has just announced the first mobile navigation application there, Geolife UK’s Navmii system. Foluke Oyeleye, CEO of Telecgsm, said: “It is exciting to be raising the bar in value-added services to customers in Nigeria’s telecoms industry.” Anyone who has tried to find their way around Nigeria will agree with her: the operators of the country’s ubiquitous Peugeot taxis will no doubt be early adopters.
Wireless is the major driver for connecting the estimated 500 million people who have yet to make a telephone call in Africa, says Andrew Doyle, regional director of infocomms and media at Mott MacDonald in South Africa. The big indigenous success story here has been MTN, controlled and run by previously disadvantaged people under the black economic empowerment scheme. It is now the second largest mobile operator after Vodacom and has itself become a global player, he says. “Mature markets in Africa are moving towards cost reduction and infrastructure sharing. Solutions like sharing towers between two or three networks are increasingly viable in an African context.”
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”