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Smart technology in Africa: the how, what, why

Insights from the 2017 Transform Africa Summit and how ICT players can leverage them, by Dr Deonie Botha, Strategic Manager: Sebata, a MICROmega Holdings company.

In 2013, seven African heads of state formed the Smart Africa Alliance. From this, the Transform Africa Summit (TAS) was born; a prominent annual event that mobilises dialogue on how information and communication technology (ICT) and smart tech can improve the lives of Africa's people.

The 2017 TAS took place in May 2017 in Kigali, Rwanda, with the theme Smart Cities, Fast Forward. It was driven by the realisation that Africa requires large-scale information transformation, public participation, infrastructure, education and innovation to truly benefit its consumer base of 1 billion people.

With this in mind, and the continent forecast to be a centre for growth, innovation, and opportunity in the years ahead, the Summit also serves as a guide for ICT players on mapping their penetration into Africa, helping to clarify how they can best capitalise on this large, high-growth market, says Dr Deonie Botha, Strategic Manager: Sebata, a MICROmega Holdings company.

Some of the lessons I learned during my time at the Summit are highlighted below:

Changing lives through ICT

People across the continent face diverse challenges – many of them existential – and potential solutions to these concerns probably already exist… But that isn't the problem.

The problem is that, without the right devices, connectivity and skills, the people who badly need these solutions often can't access them. In our Internet-centric world, access is largely dependent on the availability and development of ICT solutions.

African leaders agree that ICT can have an immense impact on citizens' quality of life, productivity and global competitiveness. To give citizens the tools to connect, innovate and transform, however, governments must work closely with the private sector and each other to set realistic and achievable targets that align with their national growth strategies.

The process of creating a comprehensive and robust national ICT strategy includes: ICT assessment, strategic planning, implementation road-mapping and execution models.

ICT targets also need to be set in terms of GDP contribution, industry induction, and employment creation. In other words, ICT can only make a difference to African citizens, private sector players and countries if there is commitment and direction from governments.

Where Africa needs help

Innovative cities help to create service delivery hubs that address the actual and immediate needs of citizens. Some of the most effective solutions presented at the TAS include:

* Education: An online education and career planning system that helps high school students with aptitude tests and career awareness, connecting them with academic institutions and potential employers.
* Healthcare: A medical app that gives users access to prescription medication without having to move from one pharmacy to another; the ‘Uber of medication'.
* Transport: A bus system simulator tool that identifies how many open seats are available on a bus, and how long it will take to travel from one place to another.
* Finance: A digital payment solution that allows 10 000+ Rwandan tea farmers to access their earnings via mobile phone within two to three days, as opposed to the 15- to 20-day wait of the past.

These ICT initiatives are effective because they're mobile-phone-based, so individuals from all socioeconomic groups, genders and geographical locations can access them.

Responding to Africa's call

What this means, in business terms, is that there's incredible room for growth and development if your ICT solution meets Africa's needs. To best leverage this opportunity, there are several key areas you can focus on, including:

* Medical: Expand health services to enhance citizens' quality of life.
* Education: Enhance skills development, teaching and learning.
* Employment: Create meaningful work and sustainable livelihoods.
* Crime: Provide tools for fighting and eradicating crime and corruption.
* Agriculture: Bolster productivity, industrialisation and commercialisation.
* Quality of life: Improve food and water security.
* Finance: Make financial services more accessible to people in rural areas.
* Industry development: Promote trade by enhancing the value of products/services.
* Skills development: Expand ICT innovation capacity though skills development.
* Social empowerment: Empower marginalised groups, like women and the youth.
* Infrastructure: Build shared, robust, and resilient infrastructure to underpin service delivery and support national ICT initiatives.

Irrespective of your approach, it's prudent that your penetration strategy be based on solid and well-informed market research. This research should include things like:

* The people: The expectations and needs of African citizens.
* National strategy: The national governmental and ICT strategies.
* Infrastructure: The capacity for infrastructure creation.
* Geographic limitations: The ability to execute in a region, based on existing and potential ICT competency and skills levels.
* Skills: The potential for skills transfer and capacity creation.
* Private sector: The potential for private ICT participation and public-private partnerships.

Do you believe your business could have an ICT solution to make a difference in Africa? If the Transform Africa Summit was anything to go by, the continent is ready. Go for it.

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