Kenya leads ICT innovation

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Kenyan companies have taken the top three places in the CIO East Africa 100 Awards, which recognise institutions that deploy ICT innovatively to improve their business.

The winner of this year's awards was the Kenya Education Network (KENET), which offers Internet connectivity to educational institutions while linking them to research networks. Eat Out Kenya, an online restaurant service, and Nakumatt Holdings, Kenya's largest supermarket chain, were first and second runners-up, respectively.

The recognition of these companies for making use of innovative technology to advance their businesses suggests Kenyan companies are starting to take advantage of and are feeling the benefits of the country's expanded ICT infrastructure. ICT is now becoming an important part of the business strategy of many Kenyan companies, and some of them now lead the way in optimising the country's growing ICT capabilities.

Core innovation

Editorial director of East Africa's CIO magazine, Harry Hare, explains that innovation was at the core of the awards. “To be selected, applicants must show not only that they have executed their project well, but that they have done so in uncommon, innovative ways: pioneering a new technology, applying a familiar technology to a new purpose, setting the bar higher for their competitors,” he says, “and they must demonstrate business value, not just IT benefits.

“Perhaps they took a risk on an emerging technology, or deployed the tried-and-true in a new way. Maybe they built a better business process or fostered closer collaboration. Or maybe they found ways to get more from existing customers, to pursue new markets, to save money, or to make more,” he said.

The overall winner, KENET, was acknowledged for its e-readiness project in Kenyan universities and colleges, having invested more than Sh10 million in the project and having seen a return on the investment within three years. Its six Internet points of presence connect more than 60 institutions of learning in Kenya and allow members of one institution to use the networks of other institutions for free.

“They have made tremendous achievements in the field of facilitating institutions of higher learning to access affordable bandwidth,” says Hare. “Their efforts are expected to transform the delivery of higher education by use of ICT and, ultimately, replace the traditional teaching method.”

Boosting online presence

Eat Out Kenya, the first runner-up, won plaudit for its project to “revolutionise the eating experience for both diners and restaurants”, by giving more than 250 restaurants an online presence where diners can browse menus and make bookings. Traffic to Kenya's first online restaurant portal has increased from less than 5 000 visitors per month in January 2010, to more than 50 000 visitors today. It has already seen a return on its initial investment.

Second runner-up, Nakumatt Holdings runs Kenya's largest chain of supermarkets, and has developed services such as electronic airtime distribution, utility bill collection and cash-back through the development of its ICT systems

Twenty other East African firms were also recognised in various categories at the awards. MobiKash Afrika topped the Financial sector, with Nuru East Africa taking the Energy sector award. Kenya Airways was winner in the Transport category, with the Directorate of e-Government taking the Public Sector award for promoting the use of ICT in service delivery in government agencies and ministries. Safaricom, Kenya's largest telco, won the Infrastructure award, a title it also won in 2010.

These successes came after businesses were challenged by both contemporaries and government to grow through their use of technology.

Technology driving business value

Andrew Waititu, SAP GM for East and Central Africa, says technology has the ability to drive and add value to a business, and that an IT strategy that supports the overall business strategy was essential. He advised businesses to “look for technology that will bring change to the organisation”.

Louis Otieno, GM of Microsoft East and Central Africa, says any CIO must deliver business value through technology; while Dr Bitange Ndemo, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Information and Communication, said the government was striving to improve infrastructure and access to IT for the Kenyan people, and that businesses needed to keep pace with and take advantage of these opportunities.

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