African governments can lead cloud computing revolution

We live in a mobile-first, cloud-first world. It is no longer a question of ‘How do I move to the cloud?’; instead it is, ‘Now that I’m in the cloud, how do I make sure I’ve optimised my investment and risk exposure?’

According to the International Data Corporation, by 2020 “[the cloud] will simply be the way business is done and IT is provisioned.”

The explosion of mobile devices and cloud services is having a profound impact on how people work, how businesses operate and how governments are run.

History shows that embracing world-class technology makes a huge difference for the economic prosperity and well-being of a country. With a legacy infrastructure gap, countries in Africa are set to benefit the most and will see the biggest uptake of cloud services across the world.

The benefits of the cloud are enormous. They include economic growth, jobs through local innovation, equality in computing and social inclusion, and delivering real-time information in the event of a disaster.

The cloud also enables greater innovation for important things like cancer research by analysing previously insurmountable volumes of data at a faster pace.

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Every government should, therefore, consider putting in place a cloud computing policy framework to embrace this shift and encourage locally grown entrepreneurship, job growth and competitiveness.

Governments must take the lead when it comes to the use of cloud and other innovative technologies.

Rwanda’s Vision 2020 initiative, for instance, has begun to transform the country’s economy and education system by promoting greater access to mobile connectivity and public cloud.

This has already led to the emergence of local start-ups such as TextIt, which enables companies worldwide to engage with their customers through cloud-based SMS and voice apps.

To help educate the next generation of entrepreneurs, Rwanda has launched the one digital ID per child programme that provides access to digital education content through Office 365.

Ghana’s Accra is embracing Microsoft’s CityNext to become Africa’s first centre of excellence based on smart city solutions. Utilising the power of cloud, big data and mobile technologies, Accra is putting its people first.

Essential services

Cloud computing provides cross-departmental collaboration and resource sharing. Its scalability and cost-effectiveness means that cities can reduce costs without cutting essential services.

With big data analytics, city leaders can gain real-time insights from multiple data sources — such as traffic cameras, social media and other public channels — to make more accurate decisions.

CityNext applications also streamline judicial and municipal processes, while enabling civic leaders to provide services that allow people to directly engage and interact with their city governments.

Both Rwanda and Ghana have strong public leadership and ICT policies. For other governments wanting to achieve cloud transformation, we propose a four-point policy framework.

1. Infrastructure: Innovations providing last-mile connectivity should be exploited, as should competition among local service providers to expand wireless Internet access and cloud computing services to remote areas.

2. Skills: The pathway to new technologies requires investment in skills development. This requires promoting digital literacy and providing access to technology and learning tools at a low cost.

3. A balanced regulatory agenda: A balance must be struck between the free-flow of data, information and privacy policies. This means cybersecurity and privacy policies should be put in place, and countries should create interoperable frameworks for the free flow of information across borders, and protect intellectual property.

4. Governments leading by example: This is perhaps the most important step in the transition to a knowledge economy. Government can embrace technology to provide services to citizens and improve productivity in the public sector. Companies can and should work in partnership with government to establish security principles, provide online safety education and commission studies to identify factors that increase online risks.

Together, they can run awareness and education campaigns so that all citizens are knowledgeable on their rights and responsibilities as regards online privacy and security.

We are optimistic about the future and the role technology can play. However, computing is not the end goal. Empowering people is, and public sector support is a vital enabler for us all.

The writer is Microsoft corporate affairs lead, East, Southern Africa & Indian Ocean Islands.

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