Northeastern Africa has seen governments overthrown amid massive media coverage, while South Africa successfully hosted the World Cup. But there's an enormous land mass in between, and technology is starting to make a difference in some countries.
People like Bill Gates and Hu Jintao tour these countries, seeking to improve existing situations and relationships. China needs raw materials, and Western countries are interested to see what Africans can do with technology beyond the ultimate tech device--the mobile phone--which is already in evidence.
Reporter Rebecca Wanjiku from Computerworld Kenya wrote this week that Kenyan banking security regulations are forcing banks to invest in disaster recovery and data centers to remain in compliance. "Kenyan banks offer mobile-phone based and online applications," wrote Wanjiku, "and disaster recovery has become a major concern." She also quoted Francis Hook, manager, IDC East Africa: "With increasing IT sophistication, the dependence on IT becomes greater--if a bank was to suffer a hacking attack or even a fire at its data center, to protect the customers, it is under obligation to store data at a remote site and have a disaster recovery plan."
No, we're not talking Switzerland or Australia, we're talking Kenya here. Those interested in developing markets have long been fascinated by "BRIC" (Brazil/Russia/India/China, frankly, Russia isn't in the same class as the other three but "BIC" is a pen-brand). Now we have the "VISTA" (Vietnam/Indonesia/ South Africa /Turkey/Argentina) group. Everyone wants a piece of the future stars while they're still in the formative stage. But few are looking at central Africa.
What's made the difference in Kenya? "Affordable connectivity has allowed banks to interconnect branches, set up terrestrial links and VPNs, wrote Wanjiku, "which were more expensive when the country was relying solely on satellite connectivity." "Smaller players unwilling to invest huge amounts of money on hardware (servers, storage, networking) and software (generic applications like ERP, CRM) can now lease capacity and access software under a pay-as-you-go model," added Hook.
But Hook cautioned it's not all rosy. The core challenge, he said, is in the critical mass needed by hosting service providers to recoup their investment costs in order to be competitive like the US and Europe, which means that Kenyan data centers may not attract many customers beyond the corporate sector. Power outages and frequent fiber optic cable cuts have also made selling data center services harder.
Most African nations have some way to go before they can dream of inclusion in a snazzy acronym. But at least in Kenya, modern Western tech concepts like data centers and disaster recovery plans have made their appearance. It remains to be seen which African countries are capable of elevating themselves towards the level of South Africa (which despite high rates of violent crime, remains the benchmark for business on the continent). Perhaps Asian nations like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are better bets for the early-adopter crowd. But when banks in Kenya are investing in infrastructure to maintain compliance, it's a sign that the world as we used to imagine it is morphing yet again.