Yesterday the Kenyan president broke ground on a new smart city development outside of Nairobi. The site of the new Konza Techno City is located in Eastern Kenya, 60 km from Nairobi on the Nairobi-Mombasa Road. It is 50 km from Jomo Kenyatta International airport and 500km from Mombasa and its ports. The greenfield site, purchased by the Ministry of Information and Communication and to be managed by the Konza Technopolis Development Authority, extends over 5,000 acres.
The primary goal of the new city is to develop the Kenyan Business Process Outsourcing and Information Technology Enabled Services (BPO/ITES) industry – with estimated creation of 200,000 new jobs across the broad technology and related sectors over a 20-year period. But the primary objective is to create at least 82,000 jobs in the BPO sector as this is a key area for Kenya's Vision 2030. The new city will also house a university, recreation and entertainment venues, a film and media center, a financial district, as well as residential neighborhoods and the supporting infrastructure.
In mid-July, my colleagues and I attended Orange’s annual analyst event in Paris. There were no major announcements, but we made several observations:
ORANGE is one of the few carriers with true delivery capabilities. Its global footprint is a real advantage vis-a-vis carrier competitors, in particular in Africa and Asia. At the recent event, Vale, the Brazilian metals and mining corporation, presented a customer case study in which Vale emphasized the importance of ORANGE’s global network infrastructure for its decision to go with ORANGE as UCC and network provider. ORANGE’s global reach positions it well to address the opportunity in emerging markets, both for Western MNCs going into these markets and also to address intra-regional business in Africa and Asia. Another customer case study with the Chinese online retailer 360buy, focusing on a contact center solution, demonstrated ORANGE’s ability to win against local competitors in Asia.
Business continuity is a top concern of global business and IT decision-makers. Headline news has made these concerns all the more acute – from the political unrest that characterized the “Arab Spring” and continues to plague certain countries in the Middle East to earthquakes, flooding, and other natural disasters across the globe. Those concerns become more acute as multinationals expand into new geographies such as Africa – a trend evidenced by recent announcements by HP and IBM.
Forrester’s Forrsights Budgets and Priorities Tracker Survey and Forrsights Business Decision-Makers Survey confirm that both IT and business decision-makers prioritize business continuity to ensure ongoing operations of their businesses. “Significantly upgrading disaster recovery and business continuity” was the third-highest IT priority of both IT and business decision-makers with 68% of each reporting it as a critical or high priority, behind only consolidation and greater use of analytics. That is to say, although cost controls through consolidation and better business intelligence came out ahead, keeping the lights on keeps corporate leaders up at night.
There seems to be a renewed interest in Africa. Is it that those who follow emerging markets have tired of China and India? Is it the recent events in North Africa that have sparked interest and hope for the region? Or could it be that, as McKinsey Global Institute put it, at least some African countries “have turned a corner and are now on the path to sustainable growth and poverty alleviation?”
From a technology perspective, it is also likely that finally with recent developments in both undersea cable and satellite links, the Internet has arrived in a way that makes Africa a viable market for ICT. And by that I mean not just for low-cost, bottom-of-the-pyramid solutions and not just South Africa, both of which have long been on the radar of some technology vendors for some time.
I’ve been studying Africa on-and-off for over 20 years now. In 1989 I took a one-way ticket to Bujumbura, Burundi (yes, I did have to look it up on a map first), traveled to Bukavu, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), where I spent the summer, and eventually settled in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, where I was a high school math teacher for two years. At that time there were no telephones in my city although it was the largest in the region, and only limited lines into and out of Bangui, the capital. I spoke to my parents three times in two years, which is very hard to imagine in these days of Skype and Facebook. Needless to say much has changed in Africa as well.
My colleague, Mike Cansfield, just posted a blog on the new “scramble for Africa” among telecommunications companies. Bharti Airtel, an Indian company, just finalized a deal to take over most of the African assets of Zain, a Kuwaiti company. As Mike mentions, Bharti has been dogged in its efforts to enter the African market with two previous attempts to forge a deal with South Africa’s MTN Group.
Bharti sees significant opportunity on the continent where just 36% of the population owns a mobile phone – yet many more use mobile phone services through resellers who offer use of a phone by the minute in the local markets. Originally part of the informal sector, MTN has actually launched a program to legitimize the sale of on-demand phone services through its Y’ello Zone Payphone initiative. MTN originally pledged to install 7,500 community pay phones across the countries in underserved areas. To date, over 11,000 have been installed. As part of the program, MTN offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to operate these Payphone kiosks, and provides the skills training to run a successful phone shop. The program contributes to job creation, especially among women and youth, with more than 3,800 retailers already benefitting. But, I digress . . .