Africa embraces cloud even as security fears persist

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 07 Sept 2020

For African IT decision-makers, security remains the single biggest concern of being in the cloud, particularly amid the latest spate of data breaches.

This is one of the findings in the latest “Cloud in Africa 2020” report, compiled by World Wide Worx in partnership with F5, Dell Technologies, Digicloud Africa and Intel.

World Wide Worx interviewed IT decision-makers, primarily IT managers, across 400 medium and large enterprises in South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Malawi, to ascertain current and intended use of cloud technologies in the continent’s major markets.

Arthur Goldstuck, World Wide Worx MD and lead analyst on the project, says these latest findings mirror that of the first cloud in Africa report from seven years ago.

However, security back then was more of a concern preventing organisations from moving into the cloud, while today it’s a concern of being in the cloud because of the ongoing data breaches, he points out.

Some 63% of the survey respondents cited data security or breach of data as their main concern, mainly because they see it happening around them, reveals Goldstuck.

“Following security, compliance, data integrity and policy consistency are cited by little more than one in 10 [respondents]. One in 10 is tiny; aside from security there aren’t too many concerns about being in the cloud.”

South Africa, whose cloud computing space has witnessed considerable growth in recent months, with international public cloud service providers Amazon Web Services and Microsoft having established data centres in the country, has witnessed an increase in data breaches.

South African companies that recently suffered data breaches include Experian and Momentum Metropolitan. In June, Life Healthcare Group, the second largest private hospital operator in the country, was hit by a cyber attack in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In February, big four bank Nedbank warned that the information of about 1.7 million clients was potentially affected by a data breach, and the following month, chemicals and fertiliser maker Omnia Holdings said its IT infrastructure was subject to a cyber attack.

Even though there are security concerns, there are benefits to being in the cloud, as the respondents’ feedback shows.

Forty percent of respondents believe that cloud computing has had a direct, positive impact on market share in the past two years.

The single biggest benefit cited by respondents is business efficiency (63%), followed by agility and operational flexibility (53%), and improved customer service (45%). Improved time-to-market was also an important outcome for over a third of respondents (37%).

Cloud computing also emerged as a powerful platform for intangible elements of organisations’ internal strategy. Almost two-thirds (67%) reported an improvement in cross-organisation innovation due to the cloud. Over half (55%) also experienced noticeable brand perception improvements.

"Typically, businesses have hesitated to digitally transform and adopt the cloud, mainly because change is difficult,” says Digicloud Africa’s Nick Treurnicht.

“Since the pandemic, the will of leaders to change at pace has increased by an order of magnitude. The situation has clearly proved that this type of rapid adaptation is possible and, crucially, that businesses can thrive in the cloud.”

Cloud driver

The survey respondents stated the COVID-19 pandemic pushed cloud computing to front of mind, with 91% regarding it as an important resource for coping with challenges of the crisis.

Since the outbreak, the technology platform has been used primarily for disaster recovery (91%) and remote working (82%), followed by customer service activities (52%), the survey shows.

Furthermore, eight out of 10 respondents (80%) believe that cloud computing has made a significant contribution to governments’ efforts in dealing with the pandemic. The most common uses by governments were remote working (69%), public communications (55%) and crisis coordination (50%).

During this time, historic perceptions of cloud being costly and risky have also largely dissipated. As many as 84% of respondents now believe cloud computing is cost-effective and only 12% regard it as inherently risky.

From 2018 onwards, most African businesses are in the cloud as opposed to evolving towards the cloud, according to Goldstuck. “COVID-19 has clearly catalysed decision-makers’ receptivity to the cloud in recent months, but a significant momentum was already building across Africa.

“The transition to digital channels will likely continue beyond the pandemic as organisations adopt fundamentally different ways of working. In many cases, it is prompting different architectural solutions for expansion, such as cloud bursting and augmenting on-premises deployments with virtual appliances.”

In regards to expected tech trends, the three most important for future strategy, each cited by nine out of 10 respondents, are artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, Internet of things (IOT), and big data.

While we are not there yet, it is very clear that AI, IOT and big data will be driving technology use across the continent in the coming years, notes Goldstuck.

Arthur Goldstuck, head of World Wide Worx.
Arthur Goldstuck, head of World Wide Worx.

Spending gains

In terms of spending on cloud, the report shows that 38% of decision-makers increased their cloud services spend last year.

South Africa led the way, with 82% of the respondents stating they had increased cloud spend, followed by 59% in Zimbabwe, and 50% in both Nigeria and Botswana.

“The high 59% for Zimbabwe has much to do with its location close to South Africa, and access to fibre connectivity to the major data centres in SA. This will be a feature of cloud in Africa,” notes Goldstuck.

According to World Wide Worx, cloud investment is also growing as a percentage of overall IT budgets, particularly in countries with traditionally less mature IT markets.

For 71% of Zambian respondents, between a quarter and half of their IT budgets are allocated to the cloud. For Zimbabwe and Malawi, it is 59% and 56%, respectively. In Namibia, 65% said more than half of IT budgets were focused on cloud. In Botswana, 14% reported that 100% of budgets went to cloud-related IT.

Meanwhile, in SA, 45% of decision-makers indicated that cloud accounted for less than a quarter of IT budgets, 34% said it was between a quarter and half, and 11% put it above three-quarters.

The report states: “In 2021, almost two-thirds (61%) of all respondents are set to increase investments in cloud services, 36% expect investment to remain at current levels, and only 1% anticipate decreasing spend. Significantly, more than half of all respondents (56%) estimate that over a quarter of applications will have moved to the cloud by the end of this year.”

“Africa’s embrace of cloud computing is clearly accelerating with purpose, which will have a profound impact on organisations’ abilities to innovate, create new services and compete on both a regional and global level,” concludes Samir Sehil, F5 regional cloud sales manager for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa.