Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
July, 19th 2010

Credit: Luca Galuzzi Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Luca Galuzzi Wikimedia Commons

One of the notable messages to come from IBM’s quarterly earnings report today was the strength of demand for technology in developing markets. Revenues in our growth markets represented 20% of overall revenues and they’re growing faster–expanding by 14% compared to 2% for overall revenues.

While the lion’s share of the demand comes from large, fast-growing economies such as China, India, and Brazil, the entire developing world is starting to take advantage of the transformative potential of information technology. Africa, too.

Consider Namibia. Late last year, the First National Bank of Namibia bought and installed an IBM mainframe computer. That may sound like overkill until you realize why the bank went that route and what it plans to do with the big machine.

Namibia is a desert country in southeastern Africa, with a population of just 2 million. Previously, the bank, which is the largest in the country, had its computing done by its parent company in neighboring South Africa. But that caused problems: outages and latency. So the bank decided to buy its own machine to better serve its network of 50 branches and 200 ATMs. “You’re in a developing nation, so your infrastructure isn’t as sound as elsewhere, but you still want to provide superior service to your clients,” says Stephen Lloyd van Rhyn, the bank’s Head of Information Technology. He says the mainframe has done the trick: “It’s super reliable, like the old diesel engines. It just runs and runs. And it’s energy-efficient, too.”

So far, van Rhyn says, the bank is only using about 10% of the capacity of the mainframe, but that’s going to change. He’s gradually moving additional computing applications to the machine, with the goal, potentially, of achieving a bank in a box. At the same time, the parent company, First Rand Ltd., is expanding in neighboring countries. Currently, they have operations in Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique. They’re considering using the mainframe in Namibia to support the expansion strategy.

What FNB is doing illustrates the potential for bringing advanced computing capabilities to places that have very little now. Some of southern Africa’s economies are perking up, and computing can help sustain and even accelerate that momentum. The goal: A smarter Africa.

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