Cloud and innovation key to East Africa’s economic growth

For businesses across the region, the cloud presents a unique opportunity to innovate, develop new products and services, and scale into new markets or geographies

By Hardeep Sound

When the early days of the pandemic pushed industries across East Africa into survival mode, a wave of cloud adoption swept through the region. 

Investment into cloud technologies and digitalisation has since helped organisations in the region build greater resilience, unlock new business models, and push up revenue streams. 

Even the most reluctant businesses and their customers gathered momentum and entered the online space, an indication that the benefits of digitalisation became clear almost immediately. 

Businesses that grabbed the opportunity at the outset to build new capabilities, establish new revenue streams, or simply transform their business models rapidly gained an advantage over those that were slower to transform. 

It was a tough affair so much that the retail sector, for example, embraced technology to adapt to lockdown restrictions and reach customers, sell products and improve visibility over volatile supply chains. Many of the businesses that digitised with speed are now enjoying the benefit of more resilient business models that are better suited to the demands of the modern economy. Cloud is at the heart of East Africa’s future success.

For businesses across the region, the cloud presents a unique opportunity to innovate, develop new products and services, and scale into new markets or geographies. Cloud technologies offer access to services and capabilities that are generally prohibitively costly for most companies.

Cloud technology is at the heart of East Africa’s future success.

By adopting cloud solutions for key business processes, organisations can drive greater efficiency and optimise their business processes without the upfront capital outlay of on-premise solutions.

Cloud ‘as-a-service’ can also augment internal capabilities and unlock access to supplier networks, tech skills and other capabilities that were previously out of reach. Many businesses have experienced the advantage of such services especially when the first lockdowns created the need to enable remote work capabilities.

Most businesses were able to maintain communication with teams and customers and kept going just because of cloud technology, which still plays a central role in transforming how organisations measure, manage and motivate their hybrid workforce.

As the ripple effects of the pandemic travelled through the global economy, businesses turned to technology to improve not only visibility over their supply chains, but also convenience, planning and risk mitigation.

A recent study revealed that some East African industries have taken the lead with cloud adoption, including the banking, marketing, agriculture and education sectors. Also, considering the importance of manufacturing and tourism to the regional economy, organisations operating in these industries should leap at the opportunity to digitise.

Business-to-business spending in Africa’s manufacturing sector is set to hit $1 trillion by 2050, and the sector is well-placed to grow and become more competitive through digitisation. That is why, by building ‘industry 4.0’ capabilities underpinned by cloud, manufacturers could unlock the benefits of Artificial Inteligence and robotic process automation with predictive analytics to gain unprecedented control, predictability and operational efficiency.

The tourism sector was one of the hardest hit by pandemic restrictions as international travel came to a total standstill at the peak of the pandemic. To tap into a global tourism sector hungry for new experiences, only innovative ways will go a long way. Here are three focus areas for cloud success.

1 Innovate big time

East Africa will remain competitive, and lure foreign direct investments, if and only if, it invests big on innovation, research and development.

The pharmaceutical sector, for example, holds enormous potential for research and development initiatives that can drive economic growth and create new industries while also reducing the region’s need to import product and service innovations.

Regional innovators could consider to leverage the experience and market insight of cloud service providers with experience supporting pharmaceutical innovation. This can help avoid costly mistakes, close the gap on best practice, and ensure there is an optimal technology mix to support innovation.

2 Environment of uncertainty

The continued volatility in the global economy has created an environment of uncertainty that is hampering growth and innovation. To remove some of this uncertainty, organisations should invest in enterprise resource planning solutions to achieve greater clarity and control over key business functions and core processes.

Cloud adoption can also unlock access to data and analytics capabilities that can empower decision-makers with accurate insights over their businesses, enabling them to guide the business through challenges more effectively.

3 Aim for speed

One of the greatest advantages cloud offers is speed. Instead of spending long periods of time building on-premise capabilities, businesses can readily tap into a wealth of cloud-based solutions to immediately enjoy efficiency and innovation gains. 

For mid-market organisations, this could unlock opportunities to quickly test new digital channels and trial new business processes. Successful trials can be rapidly scaled to the rest of the business or to new geographies, powering their growth.

The writer is SAP’s regional sales director for East Africa.

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