At the first-ever Future of Work Virtual Conference hosted by CNBC Africa, in partnership with FORBES AFRICA, on August 20, in which more than 2,000 global viewers engaged with industry experts on digital opportunities for the continent, one of the most insightful discussions was on ‘How cloud computing and SaaS can help African enterprises future-proof their business models’.
The third panel at the all-day virtual summit was moderated by Sannah Rajpurohit, Management Consultant in Telecommunications, Media and Technology, with the following panelists: Kabelo Makwane, Managing Executive, Cloud Hosting and Security: Vodacom Business; Alison Collier, Managing Director of Endeavor South Africa; Eric Kasenge, Technical Executive at IBM South Africa and Kgauhelo Moeca, Senior Manager: Smart Industries at Innovation Hub Management Company.
The session dwelt on how the cloud has become the great equalizer, allowing for rapid innovation and scale, and as a game-changer for any business. In many ways, Africa has a clean slate from which to implement innovative mobile technology and cloud computing. Startups in particular can benefit from these advantages.
Rajpurohit kicked off the discussion by asking Makwane to demystify cloud computing to the uninitiated. “In its simplest definition, it’s basically bringing together a shared pool of IT resources, effectively making sure that the shared pool of resources can be consumed on a pay-as-you-go type of metered service, as opposed to the traditional distributed computing model…,” he began.
In his definition of SaaS (software as a service), Kasenge said: “It’s basically a model that allows users to consume software between applications on a pay-as-you-go model. You don’t have to invest in infrastructure.”
“Essentially, with cloud computing and software as a service, the upfront fixed costs that businesses need to invest in their systems is significantly lower, do you can buy your services as you need them.” Collier corroborated. “This really assists small- and medium-sized enterprises in two areas. As a purchaser of the service, they no longer have to incur enormous costs upfront. And on the other side, when corporates are upgrading or looking for services, there’s a wonderful opportunity for small- and medium-sized businesses who are playing in that tech space to actually get out there and sell their services to these big corporates via this mechanism.”
Moeca explained that the traditional way of business was purchasing software maintained by an IT team. The emergence of solutions in Africa, and specifically South Africa, addresses the untapped informal market through cloud as a service.
“For example, stokvels; these markets actually are estimated in the billions. But we haven’t had solutions to track them. We’ve seen solutions coming recently to help these groups better manage their money, and ultimately, leading to the government being able to track the circulation of money and the contribution of these markets to the economy,” he said.
“Some of the large enterprises with existing IoT infrastructure have to assess and define what the low hanging fruits are to take to the cloud and get the benefits early. Because, at the end of the day, there’s a cost-benefit analysis,” offered Kasenge.
“During the last half-a-decade or so, there’s been significant investment in building out connectivity infrastructure,” explained Makwane. This has led to increased penetration.
Kasenge, in turn, warned that “from a data center footprint perspective, we have a long way to go”. His conclusion comes from the first report on the state of data centers in Africa, released earlier this year by the African Data Centres Association (ADCA).
Discussing the challenges ahead, Collier added: “There will always be inherent challenges with cloud computing, but they are minor in comparison to the enormous demand from corporates.”
“However, there is a challenge in scalability,” noted Kasenge. “Skill is an issue, and it’s not just an African problem.” The panel concluded that there are great opportunities for the continent, especially in the Covid-19 pandemic, to adopt SaaS to fast-track innovation in a digital economy and help take it to the future