Not all IT field services can handle Africa

Vernon Hart, General Manager, Axiz Field Services

Numerous multinationals have established operations across Africa's different regions to expand that potential. But how can they maintain IT investments and improve legacy IT infrastructure? It's not as easy as one might think.

"The fundamental IT services challenge with Africa is twofold," explains Vernon Hart, General Manager of Axiz Field Services. "It's a very large and diverse place, so covering different regions effectively is not easy. The second challenge is that support and field service requirements can vary greatly depending on where they are needed. Dropping in field support does not work. You need support that extends from the ground up."

According to the European Investment Bank, Africa has enormous potential and digitisation offers considerable opportunities for African people, businesses and companies to excel. The World Bank's Digital Economy for Africa (DE4A) flagship initiative and African Union's Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa framework support this vision.

But that vision will run out of road very quickly without adequate IT field service support – and, as Hart points out, that level of support can only come from a homegrown, continentally established field services company.

The field service challenge

Companies operating continental IT systems, such as data centres and end-user computing, encounter various problems. They struggle to maintain the same service consistency in different parts of Africa. They also often have to deal with different service partners, creating a convoluted and hard-to-manage field service environment. And they often don't have reliable access to general and vendor-specific IT skills.

"If you need to support just one site in one region, field service can be relatively simple," Hart explains. "But once you try to operate IT support across a variety of sites and countries, things become complicated. This is the opposite of what multinationals need. They expect continuity and consistency, but that is very tough and expensive to achieve when you juggle multiple field service partners."

Africa being a very diverse place in language, culture and sovereignty, field services can run into a variety of additional complications. Field service operations often cannot scale as needed, leading to additional costs or service shortfalls. They must include local compliance requirements, be accredited to work with multinational vendor systems, and hold the capital resources to align with enterprise payment arrangements.

The simple answer may be to import a sizeable foreign field service provider. But this approach brings other barriers. They struggle to contain the highly varying local requirements, such as managing different currencies, addressing local skills growth requirements and leveraging local partners.

IT field services for Africa

Either choice is not sufficient for multinational companies that want consistent digital services wherever they are on the continent, says Hart: "It's a common problem. Companies have to compromise and they lose due to a lack of continuity. They can also end up paying much more than the service is really worth because the field service provider they chose has to spend their way into being more effective. The reality is that if you want to do business in Africa, you need to understand Africa and grow to be a part of Africa. That is the way to deliver local field services."

How can we distinguish the best IT field service candidates? Hart suggests looking for the following combination of traits:

  • A large operational footprint across Africa, including regional offices.
  • A substantial and well-maintained partner network to cover different regions.
  • Intimate familiarity with different African laws, regulations and sovereignty requirements.
  • Channels and processes to handle procurement and capital requirements upfront.
  • Experience in managing different currency and payment arrangements.
  • Qualified presences across Africa, including Anglophone and Francophone regions.
  • Close relationships and certifications with major vendors.
  • Experience in establishing support infrastructures such as data centre cabling and racking.
  • A single point of contact.
  • Supportive of local skills development and availability.
  • Strategic alliances with vendors and local partners.
  • A focus on CIO-based relationships, always aligning with the multinational customer's support strategy.
  • Versatility with legacy, cloud and emerging technologies.

Africa still has a long road ahead of it. The variability of its infrastructure, skills and economies make the continent a tough place to do business.

But, adds Hart: "Fortunately, there are many multinationals bold and imaginative enough to take on the challenge. Many pursue aggressive strategies and ambitions, and have developed unique and workable partner relationships to pre-empt and avoid many of the pitfalls and problems. They are achieving their goals and ambitions in terms of growth, cost containment, efficiency and effectiveness."

Such companies also succeed because they engage in strategic partnerships. The same model applies to IT field services: For support with continuity and consistency, select a homegrown, enterprise-aligned field service that cut its teeth in the African market.

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