Kamal Bhattacharya: Towards iHub 2.0


By Kamal Bhattacharya

It is exciting to set up something new and unprecedented, especially if it works out better than anyone expected. It is also exciting to take over something that exists with an outstanding brand, but, in need of transformation. I’ve taken on the latter challenge by assuming an interim CEO role at the iHub, my favorite organization in Kenya.

The iHub has played a significant role in creating and defining the tech community in Kenya. It has become a guiding light to many regions on the continent and beyond. The iHub serves as the first point of entry to those, who want to reach out into the local community, tap into local knowledge, or just hang out for a while with like-minded people. Through its consultancy arm, the team has also started to develop solutions for local and global companies ranging from research, product design and software development. If your head is spinning by now and you’re asking yourself, what exactly do we offer or rather is there anything we don’t do, welcome to my world. But in case you’re asking yourself, why I find it exciting, let me explain.

For an organization of our size and age, the team has achieved to build a rather remarkable, globally recognizable brand. This is no easy feat and it took the team years to get there. The iHub has been that unprecedented effort taking off beyond people’s expectation. The mission embedded in the mantra of technology, innovation, community never changed at its core. What changed is the community.

When you’re the only game in town, there is little competition. When you’re not, there are lots and the question is how to differentiate? Who is our competition and what are we competing for? And most importantly, who are we serving? Who is our customer?

From where I stand, we are facing some basic challenges:

  • The community and the eco-system we serve has changed. Change is great, creates more opportunities and jobs. But in this changing market, are we differentiating on the community side? And, do we really know enough about the community today?
  • We are learning to utilize our own insights into regionally relevant tech and our skills to help out global and local companies with through staff augmentation. Good start, but the services market is a tough one. Can we provide value in this market?
  • There is a need for invention. I believe strongly that our market is underserved with truly differentiating inventions that solve regionally relevant problems. The commercial market is there, but are we ready to lead from the front?

I am very optimistic about our future and I strongly believe we are ready to face the challenges ahead of us. To better position ourselves, we will move forward with the following structure:

  • Connect: We have a unique strength in connecting people and organizations in the region. We are respected for our past accomplishments and we are trusted today as in the delivery of services relevant to the community. This is our position of strength. But despite our competitive advantage, we will double down on understanding the abstract notion of community better and learn to serve the community for what they are: our customers who expect value from us they cannot get elsewhere.
  • Build: We have started the journey of applying our own technical skills to assist global and local companies in building solutions addressing our customers’ problems. We have access to very good skills, and we have the right regional experience. This is our position of strength.Our goal is to be globally attractive and competitive in building solutions relevant to our market. We will double down on improving our skills and solution development processes to increase the quality of output for our customers.
  • Invent: Leading the market by inventing differentiating products is our aspirational goal. At this point, we don’t have a position of strength other than our enthusiasm to try. Having a bit of background in this space myself might help, yet we will take this one step at a time, but faster than you might think. I see this as an important growth opportunity for us.

Connect, Build, Invent is going to be our new mantra and we will fill it with life as we go through our transformation. The essence in our shift is from serving a somewhat abstract community to serving customers that make up our community. This should not be misconstrued as a transition from doing good to making money. Commercial viability is essential for the iHub to continue to do good and the better we will do commercially, the more we can reinvest into our people and the community we serve.

How will we do it? Stay tuned…

(Kamal Bhattacharya is the new iHUB CEO. He was previously the VP of IBM Research Africa. This post was first published on the iHUB blog in late August).