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New IBM technology lab raises Kenya’s ICT profile

President Uhuru Kenyatta (second right) is taken on a tour of IBM Research Lab Africa by Chief Scientist Dr Uyi Stewart (left) during its launch in Nairobi, Friday.  [PHOTO: PSCU/STANDARD]

BY WINSLEY MASESE and FRANKLINE SUNDAY

NAIROBI, KENYA: Kenya’s profile as a technology hub is set to receive a major boost as technology giant IBM yesterday opened its first research lab in Africa in Nairobi.

The facility, which is situated at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, is IBM’s twelfth research lab in the world and its first commercial lab.

The lab will be a centre of creating IT solutions and taking them to market based on research and data on different sectors generated from around Africa.

The opening of the facility yesterday further cements the growing stature of Kenya as an ICT hub.

Through the centre, the youth will have the opportunity to learn from the best minds from the world such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

During the official opening of the laboratory at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, President Uhuru Kenyatta underscored the role of Information, Communication and Technology as a key driver to the country’s targeted economic growth prospective of 10 per cent annually.

“The envisaged activities of the partnership will yield solutions and systems that will address very specific local problems through commercially viable innovations,” the President said.

“Through applied and exploratory research, people will be empowered to overcome challenges and improve their lives, while entrepreneurs involved will generate incomes and employment,” he noted.

The 12th IBM lab in the world and the only of its kind in Africa brings together the academia, industry and government.

Key areas the lab would focus on include smarter cities, medical healthcare, education, water, agriculture and transport.

“These are the areas which government intends to concentrate its resources and transformative strategies,” said Kenyatta.

On traffic, there would be an estimation and control system, which will form a key component of city planning.

“For motorists, this effort will culminate in a mobile phone application allowing motorists and other road users to look up road conditions and traffic flows in real time and suggest alternative routes.

The laboratory has also analysed historical water demand and supply data and developed a forecasting model for future water use and infrastructure requirements.

The data seeks to help the City County plan and improve water supply across Nairobi. The president expressed optimism that the lab would generate intellectual property, science and technology.

IBM regional director Nik Nesbitt said the lab would take care of ten countries. “We will continue to invest in the region and help the community, small and big companies make better decisions using data,” he said.

Kamal Bhattacharya, IBM research director, said the lab is part of the company to establish a culture of excellence and not make compromises.

“Research is not about making the small changes but change the status quo by addressing the challenges that face community,” he said.

IBM vice president, research, Robert Morris said that some of the innovations from the centre would also be imported to other economies and ensure Kenya continues to be a key hub in the world.

“We also intend to invest in and facilitate a digital economy by empowering youth to develop market-ready software to be consumed by national and county governments, and business enterprises.”

IBM further states that the lab that has been set up at a cost of $20 million financed by the tech giant and the government will serve the needs of Kenya and the entire continent.

“The patterns and trends in the challenges faced by African countries are often the same and a solution for healthcare for example can be deployed in Kenya, Ghana and Botswana with a few modifications,” explained IBM officials during the launch.

The new lab buoys Kenya’s quest to becoming the Silicon Savannah of Africa where technology solutions and start-ups will fuel employment creation and development.

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