[Column] Andrew Ngunjiri: The state of the cloud in Africa - A partner's perspective
The cloud in Africa is undergoing massive transformation and acceleration. There has been a huge uptake in cloud services, especially when it comes to SMEs turning towards hyperscalers. Meanwhile, more prominent organisations and governments have been embracing the private cloud.
An EY study has highlighted a new wave of investments spreading across Africa centred on companies migrating to the cloud as they look at becoming more efficient while reducing their operational costs. Closer to home, the Kenyan market has always been one of the largest adopters of technology in the region.
Therefore, it is not surprising that there has been a significant interest in cloud services by both the public and private sectors here. Additionally, the public sector and the financial services industry have been vocal about investing in the private cloud to cater to their specific requirements.
This has provided the impetus for many hyperscalers to look at opening operations in Kenya instead of purely relying on their regional offices in South Africa, the United States, and Europe to service the region's demands for cloud computing services.
Events of the past two years have made it virtually impossible for people to move around. The cloud has therefore become an essential tool for businesses to survive.
Beyond this, there are three reasons why the cloud has become a critical building block for the region. Firstly, it provides the business agility necessary to remain competitive. Secondly, the cloud helps to address any security and compliance concerns resulting from a rapidly evolving regulatory environment. And thirdly, the cloud injects a level of performance and operational efficiency not previously possible.
Even though public and private cloud models provide benefits, we anticipate the hybrid cloud model to win the race for massive adoption. We are already seeing hybrid becoming the natural progression of cloud adoption in the region, with many organisations and governments opting for this model.
It comes down to a simple matter of practicality. When one looks at the cloud, applications are a massive driver behind its adoption. However, not every application is optimised for the cloud. This means companies must carefully review which ones make sense to move to the cloud and which ones must be kept on-premises.
Another factor impacting the decision to move to hybrid is the strong drive towards compliance, especially data protection. There has been a massive push in Kenya regarding this, with significant investments being made to ensure companies adhere to regulatory requirements. Having already invested in the private cloud, going hybrid means businesses can leverage shared services and infrastructure far more cost-effectively while maintaining compliance.
This does not mean that companies do not face obstacles when it comes to migrating to the cloud. One of the significant ones relates to adoption and IT transformation. There is a huge challenge when it comes to keeping up with developments in this space. Organisations need to manage shorter development cycles and overcome their concerns around controlling costs and mitigating risks.
Because not all applications are cloud-optimised, going about modernising them can add to the complexity of the migration. There is also a reduction in IT budgets to consider. Across the board, companies in the region are seeing a change in ownership take place when it comes to these budgets, which are now moving from the CIO into the rest of the business. Practically, retaining and attracting the right skills for cloud adoption is an ongoing problem.
Organisations must also be constantly vigilant regarding security and compliance as driven by the various regulatory institutions. Additionally, the infrastructure must meet the performance requirements of a cloud-driven environment. Fortunately, Kenya has seen ongoing investments in infrastructure pay off to mitigate concerns around having access to fast and reliable connectivity.
Another obstacle to consider is how a company can derive the maximum benefit from the data it has at its disposal. With data being the new currency, many businesses need to understand how best to unlock the potential of their data.
Digital building blocks
Putting the building blocks in place for a successful digital transformation plan that can simplify the cloud transition is critical. An organisation needs to have end-to-end service capabilities in place. Discussions around the cloud and digital transformation have all centred on how to enable this service.
Companies also need cloud expertise. Some skills are transferrable, while others are not. A platform approach to discovery, management, and development across multiple technologies forms part of this discussion. It entails balancing between upskilling existing resources and using trusted third parties.
Throughout this, cost optimisation becomes essential if organisations are to be more efficient around their IT spending and reduce the total ownership cost.
Commercial models must become more flexible. The consumption has changed from Capex to Opex. Therefore, business and technology leaders need flexibility both in terms of their mindset and the business's operational model to fully align to a hybrid cloud model.
Yet, the cloud has proven its value to the region, and it will only contribute to accelerated efficiencies. But for this to happen, organisations need to be more open and adaptive to change to ensure they can future-proof their operations.