By Tony Mwai
General Manager, IBM East Africa
Today is an historic day for IBM in Africa. Our CEO, Ginni Rometty, and His Excellency Honorable Mwai Kibaki, President of Kenya, jointly announced the launch of IBM Research – Africa, which will be based in Nairobi. It’s IBM’s 12th global research laboratory, but the first one in Africa.
Our goal is to establish an institution that will create an environment for innovation, producing advances in science and technology that matter to the African people, our local clients and the global society. We also hope to inspire African youth and the continent’s future scientists.
Essential to the lab’s success will be collaborative research between IBM, universities, governments and other businesses. We will also establish Resident Scientist program where promising doctoral and post-doctoral students will be mentored by IBM researchers. In essence, through the lab, we have adopted a shared purpose with the people and institutions of Africa.
In fact,IBM Research – Africa illustrates the power of sharing itself. I believe that the sharing of resources has the potential to help Africa fulfill its dreams of long lasting economic success—the sharing of data, intellectual property and technology between governments, universities, African businesses and multinational companies.
The Smarter Cities Challenge comes to Nairobi
Shared Data: This is the jet fuel of the knowledge economy. The world’s information is doubling every two years, and market researcher IDC forecasts it will grow by 50 times by 2020–providing leaders and organizations can tap vast new sources of information. And, thanks to the latest analytics tools, organizations can increasingly use this data to predict the future and make better decisions in the present. Now, what happens when organizations—and countries–share data? Complex problems can be solved that affect them all.
Last year, Kenya became the first African nation to launch an open data Internet portal—called Kenya Open Data Initiative. A vast amount of government information is being made available for easy access by the public. IBM Research – Africa plans to create powerful technology tools for integrating and analyzing information that will help to transform the portal’s raw data into useful insights. Sharing data is a vital step for any government that wants to enhance the social compact with its citizens—offering transparency and enabling citizens to become more active participants in civic life.
In another example of the power of shared data, the United Nations has launched an initiative called Global Pulse that gathers data about global economics and poverty in near-real time from numerous sources, including social networking chatter, to help the UN and its partner organizations respond quickly to economic crises with aid and new policy recommendations. This initiative is global, but it has the potential to be particularly useful in Africa because of the high poverty rates in many African countries.
IBM’s Corporate Service Corps helps Kenya work better
Shared Technology: In developed nations, one of the hottest technology trends today is cloud computing. Rather than facing the headache of buying and managing a multitude of server computers and software programs, companies and government bodies can tap into computing resources that are managed by organizations that specialize in providing data center services. The clients pay as they go. One of the advantages of the cloud model is that multiple clients can share the computing resources and facilities—reducing costs.
Cloud computing has not yet caught on in Africa, but the shared-computing model has a toehold there. At the Meraka Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, for instance, two expensive high-performance computers, one donated by IBM, are available for use by scientific researchers from all over the continent. In Egypt, The National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Science has offered up its high-performance computer for use by researchers from a number of universities, including Egypt’s Nile University.
I expect to see cloud computing take off in Africa eventually. One of the newest opportunities is the potential for cities within Africa to share software that will help them manage their data and their day-to-day operations. Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro showed the usefulness of establishing an intelligent operations center. Now it’s possible to provide IOCs as a shared service to a number of cities via the cloud.
A look at Rio’s intelligent operations center
Shared Intellectual Property: The phenomenon of open source software has had a huge impact on much of the world. The Linux computer operating system, the Firefox Web browser and other software programs are being used by countless individuals and organizations. Under the open source model, people and companies contribute software code to organizations that manage the programs, and, in return, anyone can use them—often for free.
Like cloud computing, the open source model has not yet taken off in Africa. But the seeds are being planted. The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa, through its ICT@INNOVATION project, is promoting the use of open source software in 18 African countries, including South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.
IBMers working in Africa are acutely aware of the challenges faced by nations that are long on ambition but, too often, short on cash and skills. Sharing resources is one way to bridge the gap between soaring ambitions and tough realities. In fact, it could prove essential for African countries to fulfill their soaring ambitions.
Here’s a white paper about IBM’s approach to doing business in Africa.
Here’s a post on the Citizen IBM blog about the Smarter Cities Challenge project in Nairobi.