Africa ripe for the In­ter­net of Things

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Brett Parker

AFRICA is no stranger to con­nec­tiv­ity. While the con­ti­nent may be be­hind when it comes to IT in­fra­struc­ture com­pared to more de­vel­oped na­tions, the fact is that more than dou­ble the pop­u­la­tion of sub-sa­ha­ran Africa has mo­bile phone ac­cess. With smart­phone us­age on the up and IT lit­er­acy ex­pand­ing, bring­ing In­ter­net of Things (Iot)-level con­nec­tiv­ity is a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion for this tech-hun­gry con­ti­nent.

The IOT should be con­sid­ered more than just tech­nol­ogy. Rather, it is an ecosys­tem of prod­ucts and ser­vices — from soft­ware to cloud tech­nol­ogy where ef­fec­tive con­nec­tiv­ity adds real busi­ness value. This de­rived value presents an ex­cit­ing prospect for the re­gion. It also has the po­ten­tial to drive sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic growth and, in time, bring African IT up to speed with the rest of the world.

And the adop­tion of IOT so­lu­tions across Africa is not a far­fetched idea. Re­search from Mckin­sey es­ti­mates that Africa will have tripled its in­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion to more than 50 per­cent — the equiv­a­lent of 600-mil­lion reg­u­lar in­ter­net users — by 2025. It is also pre­dicted that the po­ten­tial of the IOT in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries is huge, with such na­tions to be ac­count­able for 40 per­cent of the world­wide value of the IOT mar­ket by 2020.

Cur­rently, 15 per­cent of the global pop­u­la­tion re­sides in Africa. More than half of global pop­u­la­tion growth from now un­til 2050 is ex­pected to stem from the con­ti­nent. This means hav­ing a global, con­nected sys­tem is cru­cial.

The IOT has the po­ten­tial to solve many of the is­sues the con­ti­nent is cur­rently fac­ing. And many African coun­tries have al­ready em­barked on the IOT jour­ney.

Health­care providers in Ethiopia are mon­i­tor­ing the health sta­tus of out­pa­tients to bet­ter ad­just treat­ment. In­tel­li­gent traf­fic lights in Nairobi are help­ing ease traf­fic con­ges­tion. Util­ity providers in SA are us­ing load-lim­it­ing smart me­ters that can warn res­i­dents ahead of im­mi­nent con­trolled out­ages.

Un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAVS), satel­lite im­agery, DNA anal­y­sis and apps are be­ing used as part of con­ser­va­tion ef­forts — by pre­dict­ing poach­ing at­tempts and mon­i­tor­ing wildlife.

The po­ten­tial is lim­it­less. As tech­nol­ogy ad­vances and en­croaches upon most peo­ple’s day-to-day lives in some shape or form, peo­ple can ex­pect more IOT en­abled so­lu­tions that ad­dress the unique is­sues fac­ing Africa.

Agri­cul­ture is a vi­tal, yet strug­gling, in­dus­try. Sub-sa­ha­ran Africa has 95 per­cent of arable land that is de­pen­dent on rain­fall-fed agri­cul­ture. This means food crop pro­duc­tiv­ity is of­ten low, with food in­se­cu­rity a con­stant is­sue.

This is where the IOT can help: wire­less sen­sors can track crop growth, soil mois­ture and wa­ter tank lev­els. Un­manned ve­hi­cles can re­duce phys­i­cal labour. The re­sult will be bet­ter yields at a lower cost.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN’S Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion, food pro­duc­tion must in­crease 60 per­cent to be able to feed the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion ex­pected to hit 9-bil­lion in 2050. With SAP’S help, John Deere for ex­am­ple, is tak­ing the IOT out into the field and boost­ing ef­fi­cien­cies with the goal of im­prov­ing per-acre crop yields. They are us­ing big data to step into the fu­ture of farm­ing.

This in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity with own­ers, op­er­a­tors, deal­ers and agri­cul­tural con­sul­tants helps farm­ers en­hance pro­duc­tiv­ity and in­crease ef­fi­ciency. Sen­sors on their equip­ment help farm­ers man­age their fleet and de­crease the down­time of their trac­tors, as well as save on fuel. The in­for­ma­tion is com­bined with his­tor­i­cal and real-time weather data, soil con­di­tions, crop fea­tures and many other data sets.

Con­nected ro­bots and sys­tems can help limit the ef­fects of a mass dis­as­ter. The on­go­ing Ebola out­breaks in West Africa high­light the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of hu­man con­tact. While cur­rent tech­nol­ogy is still rel­a­tively im­ma­ture, the fu­ture of the Iot-en­abled tech­nol­ogy and bet­ter­de­vel­oped ro­bots and out­break con­trol mech­a­nisms could re­sult in many lives be­ing saved and the spread of dis­ease min­imised.

The fu­ture looks bright, but there are still bar­ri­ers to over­come. The cost of im­ple­ment­ing the IOT is huge and in­vest­ment is most likely to come from out­side the re­gion. As well as that, the po­ten­tial risks of hack­ing re­main a threat as long as in­ter­net-en­abled tech­nol­ogy is in­volved. And, hav­ing the right skills and train­ing pro­grammes in place will be im­per­a­tive when mak­ing the most of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that come with new tech­nol­ogy.

Over­all, con­nec­tiv­ity is clearly an im­por­tant en­abler. As it stands, many African na­tions fall short in this area. Yet the lack of a legacy in­fra­struc­ture can ac­tu­ally be ben­e­fi­cial for Africa. In­stead of grad­ual tech up­grades, the con­ti­nent can jump ahead into new tech­nolo­gies in ways more de­vel­oped coun­tries can­not. This also means that the de­ci­sions of those spear­head­ing change now are likely to af­fect the so­lu­tions of the fu­ture.

There is no ques­tion: the IOT is com­ing to Africa and African busi­nesses can­not ig­nore it. For now, hav­ing the right mind­set to em­brace in­no­va­tion is cru­cial. Added to this, be­ing aware of the in­evitable se­cu­rity chal­lenges, and be­ing able to ar­tic­u­late the re­turn on in­vest­ment to fel­low board mem­bers will be key skills when push­ing for a new tech ecosys­tem. For a con­ti­nent fu­elled by its en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit, the prospect of an Iot-en­abled fu­ture presents an ex­cit­ing pe­riod to come.

Parker is MD of SAP Africa.

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