Cloud skills urgently needed in Africa

June 4, 2014 • East Africa, Enterprise

Cabinet Secretary - ICT, Dr Fred Matiang'i (image credit: CCK Kenya)

Cabinet Secretary – ICT, Dr Fred Matiang’i (image credit: CCK Kenya)

A range of skills are needed to bolster the growing uptake of cloud computing in Africa, Kenya in particular wants to lead the way. However, not everyone is aware of the benefits of the cloud and due to cyber-security concerns most companies tend to focus on developing services with private cloud rather than public or hybrid solutions. Recent surveys suggest that businesses and other organisations in Africa need education about the benefits of cloud computing. Not all of them as yet understand what it offers over a traditional approach to IT.
These benefits include a greater level of scalability to meet the peaks and troughs of demand, flexibility and its more cost efficient because there is no need to spend capital on buying new hardware. Converged cloud infrastructure permits organisations to focus on developing and delivering new products and services to market in a way that’s much quicker than any traditional I.T can achieve – and it comes as one datacentre solution that uses the latest best of breed technology.

Broader skills
This is all great, but Sri Lanka’s Daily News argues that IT professionals need to develop more than just technical knowledge and skills. The cloud affords CIOs time to think more strategically. Less time is spent on implementing, running and managing their organisations’ IT, allowing them to think about how they can remain competitive by developing new products and services. They can plan ahead more by considering the evolving needs of their datacentres, and so IT professionals should ideally gain a greater understanding of their businesses by developing business and financial skills.

They also need to have the ability to cross disciplines, and particularly whenever a service-orientated architecture comes into play. Here are some of the other competencies that they need to learn: business needs analysis, project management, contract and vendor negotiation, security and regulatory compliance, data integration and analysis, mobile application development and management skills. They should develop converged cloud infrastructure expertise too.

A developing sector
The Kenyan government is keen to support the development of the IT sector. In June 2013, ICT Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang, talked to Nation about his priorities for the industry. He was asked: “What is your take on ICT players investing in their own infrastructure instead of sharing it?” His view is that these companies should share infrastructure, and he said that he was in discussion with the industry at the time to make sure that this happens. He otherwise stated that it won’t be for the country’s government to decide how the IT players conduct their business, but it does wish to play a supporting role to ensure that the industry grows by providing a level playing field.
Kenya aims to become a ‘Top Ten Global ICT Hub’. The Kenya ICT Board is therefore working in partnership with leading local firms, international companies and the academic community to develop a centre of excellence for business process outsourcing (BPO) and IT-enabled services (ITes). “The centre will train a core group who will in turn train students in preparation for employment in the BPO and ITes industries”, says a bulletin published by the board. The centre will create some Master Trainers to educate students based upon an agreed curriculum with the aim of producing a “workforce that is high quality and relevant to the market needs.” To ensure this quality each of the participating companies are required to certify the students and their trainers at the end of each course. Through this process both parties should meet the international benchmarks of performance. Even software developers can benefits from these training programmes.

Creating skills and jobs
The Kenyan government hopes that IT-enabled services will have created 7,500 direct BPO jobs by 2030, enabling Kenya to become one of the top 3 BPO destinations in Africa. Other industries form part of the government’s plan too: tourism, agriculture, wholesale and retail, manufacturing and IT services. It hopes that each one of these will help the country to maintain a sustained economic growth rate of 10% per year over the next 25 years. Mobile payments, mobile telephone, the spread of internet access and e-commerce are also likely to be cornerstones of its strategic success.
Dave Rickson, Senior Account Manager for converged cloud infrastructure vendor VCE EMEA, thinks that his company’s customers across Africa and the EMEA region generally expect to have international skills in place within a country for their cloud deployments, and this helps them to feel more comfortable with the skills level. “With that being said, our customers are generally happy that we are dong a skills transfer with our local partners, and currently VCE is responsible for the entire sales and implementation process”, he says. The company is otherwise focused on its channel, and so it is “skilling up” its channel to enable each partner to provide the following services: sales, solution design, design and integration project management and residency.
In East Africa the firm has created employment in sales, pre-sales, funded head into distribution and in the future their will be customer advocates. Rickson adds that a lack of skills “results in customers looking more standardised, less complex solutions with little or no interoperability.” He thinks that skills are an issue in Africa because customers often struggle with the availability of their IT systems due to the inherent reliance on people to the interoperability between technologies working.” Vendors are also required to keep their technologies up to date, and so VCE lessens the load on organisations by addressing these issues at a time when Africa’s GDP is growing.

Fragile infrastructure
Although their attempts to support and capitalise on the latest technologies in order to provide new services to its people, much of it is run on a fragile IT infrastructure and so VCE works with its customers to address this problem. Nevertheless, Kenyan and multi-national firms are eyeing up a number of IT tenders from the country’s national and county governments. In fact a 150% increase in spending to Sh186bn is expected over the next three years. In 2011 government IT spending stood at Sh74.4bn and so much change is afoot as part of the country’s National ICT Master Plan. With a plan like this one, African countries should be able to develop new kills and grow economically.

Graham Jarvis

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