Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
July, 8th 2013

Katharyn White, Managing Partner, Central, Eastern, Western Africa, IBM

Katharyn White, Managing Partner, Central, Eastern, Western Africa, IBM

By Katharyn White

In recent months, this blog has described aspects of IBM’s commitment to Africa. I want to focus on the importance of talent in the region.

 Several years ago, I participated in an IBM initiative to bring the advantages of global integration — spanning mindset through operations — to communities, clients, and IBM employees, with a specific emphasis on Africa. We refined our view of the vital attributes of personal leadership in a global economy, expanded IBM’s Corporate Service Corps and created global teams to accelerate our understanding of, and success in, growth markets. I was given the opportunity to lead our South African team, and through this role, I saw first-hand the importance of talent. Our report, Developing global leadership: How IBM engages the workforce of a globally integrated enterprise describes that working environment and how challenges and skill gaps were addressed. 

The central lesson of that experience is that the talent required for success in the global economy of the 21st century is present and growing in Africa; digital infrastructure in much of the continent is world class; and in fact, because the environment for innovation is so wide open, and because entrepreneurial thinking is so prevalent, Africa is becoming the proving ground for aspects of contemporary commerce, and redefining the lines across and among industries.  The May 16 blog featuring M-Pesa illustrates these changes through the reframing of telco and banking, and broader transformations.  This has caused me to rethink, and reframe, my own conceptions of talent — to more fully factor in elements such as empathy and curiosity, and extending to the requirement for rapid prototyping to design new approaches to talent development.

 Where the talent exists in Africa, it is excellent. But as with large swaths of the global economy — and even more acutely in Africa — the demand for talent often outstrips supply. The education system is improving in many countries, but efforts to create and refine targeted skills to meet the needs of the fastest growing industries are increasing at an even faster pace. The skills gap is viewed as a barrier to development — at the level of enterprises, industries and many nations.

 So our efforts on this issue must be broad-based: collaborative across academia, government and enterprise; and built into the fabric of the communities and organizations in which we do business. They need to bring the best of IBM to serve the growth opportunity.

 We recently opened a new skills center in Morocco, creating new high-tech jobs to meet the skills requirements of our clients. And we have fused the exclusive one-two punch of business consulting and R&D in our newly launched IBM Customer Experience Lab (CXLab) — combining IBM Research’s forward thinking, analytical and predictive capabilities with our consulting industry and transformation expertise.

 The CXLab helps clients define new business models and customer experience, leveraging next generation mobile, social, analytics and cloud technologies. For example, banks in Africa need to reach the unbanked population and compete with popular payment systems. CXLab partnered with a bank in Kenya to offer a mobile finance cloud infrastructure and respective mobile phone applications that support mobile technology to process, monitor and analyze high volumes of low-value retail transactions.

 The IBM Research – Africa laboratory was launched in Nairobi, Kenya to build on our direct presence in Africa which now exceeds 70 years and spans more than 20 countries. Along with conducting exploratory research, the lab encourages innovation, and engages local entrepreneurs and inventors to develop solutions to the challenges of Kenya and other fast-growing regions of the world, all while nurturing talent.

 We know that in a world transformed by data and the tools to exploit it, one reality is that our clients and their customers demand their best experience in every interaction. This is not a technology gap, but a talent gap. We know how to do this; we must accelerate through our collective resolve.


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January 13, 2015
11:45 am

Very interesting, these new developments are sure to see some traction.

Posted by: Barrett W.
July 10, 2013
12:32 pm

This post is very encouraging and showing lots of potential: Especially in the area of Customer Experience Lab, a new science and career-growth opportunity that demands specialized skills — All the best to Africa and IBM !

Posted by: Luc Olivier, Jr
July 10, 2013
11:24 am

Thank you for the comments. Indeed we are trying to approach the opportunities holistically, with a focus on Smarter Cities, and the talent to build the capabilities for the future.

Posted by: Katharyn White
July 10, 2013
6:04 am

Along with creating tech talent, i am sure IBM would be working on how to solve the unique problems of Africa with technology working towards making it a Smarter Continent. The problems and oppurtunities in Africa are unique and should be dealt with a holistic approach. IBM is a “globally-local” organization and their committment to Africa is illustrious. All the best to IBM and Africa !

Posted by: Hunny
July 10, 2013
2:08 am

I am super excited about IBM in Kenya. There are a lot of innovative ideas on the ground and no technology experts to develop these ideas. My hope is that the real target is not only to have more “techies” /programmers sitting in the space but to have them interact with the farmers, health workers, teachers, matatu drivers and other relevant subsectors of the economy, to understand their problems so that together we can design market driven solutions.

Posted by: Sharon Kamau
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