According to the Chinese zodiac, 2013, the Year of the Snake, is the year for science and technology. But you do not have to be a seasoned astrologer to know that the ICT sector will play a major role within global commerce.
Closer to home, Africa has an opportunity to leverage off these trends, possibly even leapfrog, and elevate its international ICT profile.
So what are the trends that businesses must look out for? What are the disruptive/ enabling technologies that will impact existing and emerging markets throughout the continent?
We have reviewed industry analysis, research and the opinions of operators to prioritise the most significant technology trends and developments that will shape Africa’s commercial landscape this year.
1. Growing interest in e-Commerce and online trade
In November 2012 research by Cisco Systems estimated that global e-commerce would increase 13.5% annually over the next three years and reach an estimated $1.4 trillion in 2015.
Experts in the ecommerce space have acknowledged the growth, globally, of online trade, but warn that those entering the market have to produce the goods – otherwise they will fall foul of an increasingly tech-savvy and discerning consumer base.
The combination of Africa’s growing mobile might and greater access to the Internet has helped to propel the relevance of ecommerce and online trade.
Numerous online businesses have emerged on the scene, providing a service within retail and entertainment sectors, for example. Nigeria has a plethora of ecommerce websites including jumia.com.ng and buycorrect.com, with South Africa also contributing with the likes of zando.co.za and kalahari.com.
Across the continent telecommunications service providers are seeking to expand broadband services and thereby address the need for bandwidth to facilitate ecommerce. The rollout of LTE services and introduction of fibre under-sea cables to link regions is considered progress.
According to internetworldstats.com, by Quarter 2 2012, Internet penetration for Africa stood at 15,6% of the population on the continent.
However, whilst the issue of bandwidth is largely being addressed, the need to develop existing infrastructure, including payment options and payment systems, represents another challenge.
In an article entitled Africa e-commerce: Beyond the Hype author Mawuna Remarque Koutonin explains that there are definite challenges that impact on the growth of ecommerce in Africa, including lack of access and convenience of the Internet, relevance of ecommerce websites for Africa and Africans, and lack of insight into who the target market is and what they are looking for.
2. Enter the business incubator
With the continued relevance of ICT within emerging markets across Africa and growing number of ventures being established, the role of programs and initiatives designed to aid/ nurture businesses has been emphasised. The main purpose of incubators is to support the formation and sustainability of startup businesses, run by those wanting to get a firm grip on the growing market.
ICT is a high growth sector and has elevated the role of business incubators who have much-needed resources that start-ups require.
Many of the tech startups are faced with a number of challenges including seed funding, skills, commercial ability and growth funding, amongst others.
According to a paper brought out by South African research and strategy firm, Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), the business incubator model has existed for decades, but has gained some traction over the last few years.
As more businesses appear, the likelihood that business incubators – particularly those focused on technology companies, will be far more active throughout the continent going forward.
3. International tech funds focussing on Africa
Research shows that a number of seed funds and venture capital firms have been established locally and also by companies abroad to contribute towards Africa’s burgeoning ICT market. Examples are the Savannah Fund, launched in Nairobi with the intention to create and sustain a ‘Silicon Valley-style accelerator model for East Africa, as well as Zimbabwe’s Matamba Anonaka Technology Holdings.
Recent media reports focusing on the investment by international companies in Africa and in ICT and telecommunications demonstrate the scale of interest by global firms in the continent.
For example, Swedish VC firm, Investment AB Kinnevik, recently made headlines for its funding of Nigerian-based digital media and entertainment company, Iroko Partners. The VC is reportedly increasing its investments into Africa, which, according to the report, currently doubles that of North America and Asia combined.
Intel Capital, Intel Corporation’s global investment arm, recently announced a tech co-investment initiative with Adlevo Capital Managers into Ghana-based Rancard Solutions
Sven Jochen Beckmann, Territory Manager for South and Sub Saharan Africa, Intel Corporation, says the statistic related to projected population growth he has available speaks of 1,2billion people by the year 2016.
“There are significant opportunities for any company. If one looks at the population dynamics, consumers and the youth make up a huge portion of that, and lets not forget about the enterprise. Data centres are becoming increasingly important. There are big challenges with power and education. This is particularly topical,” says Beckmann.
4. Impact of mobility on the workplace
Research shows that the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend has represented a ‘hot potatoe’ for decision makers, mainly due to concerns with security issues, integration, lack of remote management and incompatibility.
But there is no doubt that managers will have to take cognizance of the relevance of BYOD and the opportunity this offers.
As Christo Briedenhann, Country Manager for Riverbed Technology Africa, states, “More enterprises will also inevitably need to incorporate BYOD policies into their IT planning, especially as enterprises plan and manage BYOD as it converges with virtual desktop adoption.”
A recent survey by B2B international on behalf Kaspersky Lab indicates that BYOD is the biggest trend affecting how businesses operate online, with 72% of companies expecting to use the concept extensively in the near future.
Fifty percent of these companies plan to actively support BYOD, encouraging staff to use their own computers and devices for work.
Security experts have urged companies to implement security policies that will safeguard both corporate and personal mobile devices.
5. Cloud build-up over markets
Cloud technology is considered disruptive and continues to hover as a major influence within ICT, particularly in terms of its role in the development of Africa.
According to a recent survey by Symantec, entitled Avoiding the Hidden Costs of Cloud 2013, there is widespread migration by organisations onto the cloud to gain advantages including speed, agility and flexibility. The company suggests that in South Africa, nine out of ten enterprises are involved with cloud computing.
Industry analysts advise that there is opportunity to be derived from the cloud, even for those operating within the local channel.
Gary Allemann, MD at Master Data Management, describes the cloud as “disruptive technology that is enabling business users to bypass archaic IT provided solutions and bring new, unsanctioned technologies into the organisation.”
Alain Schram, CEO at Kathea, says that the traditional channel has come under threat of late from the growth of cloud computing. This enables users to gain access to services from service providers rather than purchasing product from resellers. However, the cloud does not necessarily spell the end for the channel.
A slight adjustment to the business model can see channel partners take advantage of the opportunities offered by the cloud, accessing new markets and enabling more businesses of all sizes to gain access to advanced enterprise-grade technology.
There is acknowledgement that governments across the continent are becoming more active in terms of the rollout of cloud services. There is widespread interest in the cloud being used to facilitate, enhance and strengthen service delivery in key sectors including health and education.
7. More broadband for long-term growth
Long Term Evolution (LTE) has moved from concept stage to actual rollout, including inAfrica. It is advancement on previous wireless technology standards including GSM/EDGE, HSDPA and HSDPA+, and has been developed and rolled out to consumers to enhance network speeds and throughput on communication.
But discussion about LTE also includes reference to LTE-advanced/ 4G, which is not entirely available as yet. It is a differentiation that consumers need to understand in order to evaluate whether or not what they are receiving is exactly what they ought to be.
The issue of spectrum or the ranges of broadcast radio communication signals used by networks to broadcast, and usually managed by telecoms and broadcast regulation authorities, also warrants consideration.
LTE is acknowledged to be an evolutionary technology and latest standard within the development of global wireless mobile broadband communication.
Whilst users across the continent still need to orientate themselves in terms of the real advantages LTE promises, an air of expectation and anticipation prevails – and the ball is now effectively in Africa’s court.
8. Social media as Africa’s news source
The convergence of mobile devices and social networks represents a force to be reckoned with in terms of news dissemination across the continent.
A recent example of the power of social network websites to serve as communication channels for news has been the case against Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius.
Afrikaans newspaper Beeld was first to break the news globally and took a bold decision to post a tweet on Twitter at 8.03am on Thursday 14 February with a simple message which read “Oscar Pistorius skiet sy vriendin in sy huis dood omdat hy glo dink sy is ‘n inbreker” (Oscar Pistorius shoots his girlfriend dead in his house after thinking she’s a burglar.)
The initial tweet from Beeld did not gain a lot of traction. It was not until Talk Radio 702′s technology journalist Aki Anastasiou tweeted “Hectic News @beeld_nuus is reporting that Oscar Pistorius shot & killed his girlfriend this morning thinking she was a burglar” four minutes later that the world started to take notice of the news.
With Beeld’s more than 29 000 followers and Anastasiou’s 38 600 followers, the news spread across the internet like wildfire, filtering its way through other social media networks.
But how strong is the power of Twitter? Can the microblogging site be seen as a credible way of conveying important and breaking news?
“Yes I do think so, provided the sources that are sending the tweets are credible. Twitter is like a massive spider web, many journalists and media organisations today have thousands of followers. These followers are eyewitnesses to events as they happen and when they happen, they share that information, making gathering of breaking news very powerful because of Twitter’s immediacy,” said Anastasiou.
Technology industry analysts concurred that social media has radically changed the way breaking news is managed.
The advice from experts is to be wary of relying entirely and always upon social networks for instant, credible news.
* Image via Shutterstock.com
Chris Tredger, Online Editor