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C-level perspective on 'transformative' power of cloud and AI

Johannesburg, 29 Apr 2024
Rashika Ramlal, Public Sector Country Lead, South Africa at Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Rashika Ramlal, Public Sector Country Lead, South Africa at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Cloud, AI and generative AI are proving transformative for the public and private sectors alike, with the hopes of driving meaningful change and economic growth.

This is according to participants at a C-suite executive dinner hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Johannesburg, ahead of the ITWeb AI Summit 2024.

Rashika Ramlal, AWS Public Sector Leader for South Africa, said: “AI is one of the most transformational technologies of our generation, with the power to address some of our biggest challenges.”

C-level IT decision-makers nodded in agreement as they collectively recognised the benefits of the cloud and AI. However, they noted the complexity of migrating legacy systems to the cloud, and concerns about security and data sovereignty could slow adoption. They said procurement processes for the public sector specifically were rigid, and there were some concerns raised about the overall trustworthiness of AI. 

“We need assurances, and possibly external gig economy partners we can tap into, so we can experiment with AI safely,” one contributor remarked.

Another noted their organisation worked with highly-sensitive data and said there could be no room to doubt whether information had been tampered with in a cloud environment.

A cloud executive for one of the big four banks said that while the bank had moved over half its workloads to the cloud, migrating the mainframe and regulatory compliance were slowing the migration process.

Faith Burn, CIO of Eskom Holdings, said her organisation was committed to digital transformation. “Our priorities are infrastructure that is cheaper, more efficient, more stable and more flexible. For critical infrastructure, we need sovereignty and local data residency,” she said.

Burn said AI should be implemented strategically: “You don’t just ‘AI the business’ – you should use it in the bigger business context to solve specific problems.”

Private sector participants said they saw cloud technology as mature and highly secure, and were exploring use cases for AI. However, skills were a challenge. Burn commented that cloud and AI skills could be learned through resources such as free AWS training.

Addressing concerns about security and data sovereignty in the cloud, Ramlal said AWS has a data centre in Cape Town, and the secure and compliant AWS cloud was trusted by highly regulated government agencies around the world, including NASA and the CIA.

Ramlal said: “AWS has the resources, expertise and tools to help organisations put together a business case, with assessments, costings, and roadmaps, with no commitment to them.”

Ramlal highlighted the AWS Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning (AI & ML) POC Programme with free skills development courses that give organisations a no-obligation opportunity to explore the potential of AWS cloud and AI solutions. She said AWS offers a broad range of AI and generative AI tools, including Amazon Bedrock, Amazon SageMaker and Amazon Q, to help organisations innovate faster and harness data as a differentiator. She added that the AWS generative AI Innovation Centre also helps customers ideate, identify, implement and scale generative AI solutions securely.

Terrence Naidoo, Solutions Architecture Leader – Sub-Saharan Africa at AWS, noted that organisations concerned about data residency and sovereignty could use AWS Outposts, which deliver AWS infrastructure and services to virtually any on-premises or edge location. These allow organisations to run applications and workloads on-premises using AWS services, tools and APIs, giving them a tangible ‘extension of the AWS cloud’.