How African governments can lead the cloud computing revolution

Regarding cloud computing, it is not a question of if. It’s not even a question of when. It’s a question of now. Every government should have a pro-cloud computing policy framework in place to embrace this shift and encourage locally-grown entrepreneurship, job growth and competitiveness.  Governments must take the lead when it comes to the use of the public cloud and innovative technologies.

History shows that embracing world-class technology makes a huge difference for the economic prosperity and well-being of a country. With a legacy infrastructure gap, countries in Africa are set to benefit the most and will see the biggest uptake of cloud services across the world.

The following examples show just how powerful this technology can be for a country.

Saudi Arabia has pledged US $2 trillion to diversify its economy towards IT, with a significant portion to be invested in cloud technology. Faced with this new reality, many organisations in Saudi Arabia have already embarked on their own digital journeys as they bid to reap the considerable benefits that emerging information technologies have to offer.

Rwanda’s Vision 2020 initiative has begun to transform its economy and education system by promoting greater access to mobile connectivity and public cloud.  This has already led to the emergence of next generation, local startups such as TextIt, which enables companies worldwide to engage with their customers through cloud-based SMS and voice apps.  To help educate the next-generation of entrepreneurs, Rwanda has launched a One Digital ID per Child program that provides access to digital education content through Office 365.

Accra in Ghana is embracing Microsoft’s CityNext solutions to become Africa’s first city centre of excellence, based on smart city solutions. Utilising the power of cloud, big data, and mobile technologies, the city of Accra is putting its people first.Cloud computing provides cross-departmental collaboration and resource sharing. Its scalability and cost-effectiveness means that cities can reduce costs without cutting essential services. With big data and analytics, city leaders can gain real-time insights from multiple data sources—such as traffic cameras, social media and other public channels—to make more accurate decisions. Microsoft’s CityNext applications streamline judicial and municipal processes, while enabling civic leaders to provide services that enable people to directly engage and interact with their city governments.

This example has strong public leadership and ICT policies at the core.For governments wanting to achieve cloud transformation, I propose a 4-point policy framework.

Infrastructure: This is the first area in expanding affordable access to internet connectivity and cloud computing.Innovations providing last-mile connectivity should be exploited, as should competition amongst local service providers. TV Whitespaces is a great example of a technology that expands wireless internet access and cloud computing services to some of the most remote communities.

Skills: Government must work to create more knowledge-based economies. The pathway to new technologies requires a parallel investment in skills development – having the requisite skills to participate in an increasingly digital society and to use smart devices and online services.  In schools this requires promoting digital literacy and making sure teachers and students have access to technology and learning tools at low cost. In the workplace, this requires lifelong learning with a focus on programmes and investments that promote up-skilling for the cloud, a more digital-ready workforce and a smooth shift to new jobs as we transition to knowledge-based economies.

A balanced regulatory agenda:  Regulations are essential to create a regulatory environment that promotes innovative and confident use of technology. A balance must be struck between the free-flow of data and information, and privacy policies. This means more formal and written cybersecurity and privacy policies should be put in place, and countries should create interoperable frameworks for the free flow of information across borders.The processes for protecting intellectual property like obtaining trademarks need to be streamlined. The Kenyan Copyright Board’s collaboration with Microsoft for an online IP registration system is a great example of this. Called the IP Hub, the online registration system makes obtaining and understanding IP protection transparent and easy for innovators.

Government leading by example: Government leadership is perhaps the most important step in the transition to a knowledge economy.Every government has an opportunity to lead by example in embracing technology to provide services to citizens and improving productivity in the public sector. Companies can and should work in partnership with government to establish security principles, provide online safety education and commission studies to identify factors that increase online risks. Together, they can run national awareness and education campaigns, starting with the youth, so that all citizens are knowledgeable on their rights and responsibilities with regard to online privacy and security. 

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet. As such, we are optimistic about the future and the role technology can play. However, computing is not the end goal. Empowering people is, and public sector support is a vital enabler for us all.