Kenya continues to be an attractive technology hub for various IT firms. At a lunch briefing with the Kenya ICT board , IBM announced that it will open its first African IBM Research lab in Nairobi. The Nairobi lab becomes the company's 12th global lab joining existing labs in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Switzerland and the United States.
The lab will be set up in collaboration with the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (MOIC) through the Kenya ICT Board. It will conduct basic and applied research focused on solving problems relevant to Africa and contribute to the building of a science and technology base for the continent.
The new lab will be established in Catholic University. It will have a Resident Scientist Program and an international recruitment program to reach Kenyan and other African applicants. The program will aim to attract top Research and Development talent to work side-by-side with IBM researchers in the lab. The Resident Scientist candidates will be pre-doctoral and post-doctoral researchers including scientists and researchers from academia, Government and industry. The resident scientists will begin with a one-year tenure with options for this to be extended.
Resident scientists will be integrated into the IBM Research - Africa lab as well as IBM's global network of labs. Each resident scientist can collaborate with IBM researchers throughout IBM's global network of laboratories as they carry out their research.
Kenya's president, Mwai Kibaki, says IBM's commitment to undertake the proposed research agenda will contribute greatly to the national priorities as part of Kenya's Vision 2030. "We look forward to delivering world-class research and innovation as part of IBM's Smarter Planet initiative and playing an important role as an IT leader on the African continent."
IBM Research laboratories are credited with the creation of many of the foundations of information technology, including the invention of the relational database, disk storage, DRAM memory and much more. IBM Research has been recognized with five Nobel Prize Laureates, and many leading scientific and technical medals and awards. Recently IBM Research created a question-answering supercomputing system called Watson that defeated the champions of a major televised quiz show, showing its ability to match humans in answering a wide range of free text questions.
The research lab will explore the following areas:
Next Generation Public Sector: Governments have a mission critical role to play in the growth and sustainable developments in Africa. With the right kind of ICT, including big data solutions, advanced analytics, and cloud technologies, government organizations can draw insights and benefit from the vast amounts of data held by any number of government agencies. This can help advance e-government capabilities such as helping to reduce the cost of social services, improving efficiency and productivity, deterring fraud and abuse, improving citizen access to services, and enabling digital interaction between citizens and the public sector.
Smarter Cities: with initial focus on water and transportation: Rates of urbanization in Africa are the highest in the world. http://web.mit.edu/urbanupgrading/upgrading/case-examples/overview-africa/regional-overview.html#Anchor-47857. The single biggest challenge facing African cities is improving access to and quality of city services such as water and transportation. IBM, in collaboration with government, industry and academia, plans to develop Intelligent Operation Centers for African cities -- integrated command centers -- that can encompass social and mobile computing, geo-spatial and visual analytics, and information models to enable smarter ways of managing city services. The initial focus will be on smarter water systems and traffic management solutions for the region.
Human Capacity Development: A skills shortage is hindering the leadership and innovation of new industry in Africa. The IBM Research - Africa lab, while carrying out research, will help to elevate the level of ICT and related scientific skills in Kenya by working in collaboration with select universities, government agencies and companies. Boosting the innovation culture in Kenya and engaging local entrepreneurs and innovators in developing solutions that matter to the people of Kenya and the region may also assist in accelerating economic development.
"We choose Kenya because of the country's ability to execute, taking innovation and using it", says Dr. Robert Morris, Vice President, Services Research, IBM. "Kenya's strategy of the Vision 2030 was a great long term vision accompanied by short term executable plans, that is why the country emerged top in our hunt to set up a lab in Africa"
"IBM continues to expand its operations in key growth markets and we plan to lead the way by bringing Africa into our global network of IBM Research laboratories," said Dr. John E. Kelly III, IBM senior vice president and director of IBM Research. "We plan to work closely with leading African scientists and engineers from academia, government and industry to address some of their most pressing challenges and greatest opportunities."
Speaking during the meeting Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology says innovation is the main lever for a competitive national economy in today's world, is a source of employment, and has the potential to improve lives "The IBM research lab, will not only rubber stamp Kenya as Africa's leader in ICT, but will help the country to transform into a knowledge based economy."
Dr. Ndemo says the lab establishment process will commence before 1st of September and it will serve all the universities in the country.
IBM is making a significant investment in Africa, the world's fastest growing region, ramping up its profile on the continent as part of its focus on emerging markets. The expansion program is part of a major business plan to increase IBM's presence in growth markets and support global strategy. The company is present in more than 20 African countries and recognizes the huge potential of research and smarter systems in transforming business, government and society across the continent.
"IBM has had a presence in Africa for more than 60 years and we are now taking our presence to a new level," said Anthony Mwai, Country General Manager, East Africa. "As we build a great workforce in Africa that is aligned with national goals and help governments and industries envision and build Africa's future, we are establishing a foundation for IBM's long-term success."
Alongside its day-to-day business of providing advanced technologies and services to clients in Africa, IBM has deployed an array of programs aimed at building economic capacity such as IBM's employee volunteer program, Corporate Service Corps, which is modelled on the U.S. Peace Corps.An example, the company is working with the Postal Corporation of Kenya (PCK) to review the country's changing economic landscape and develop a plan to deliver financial services to rural areas.