IBM cloud evangelists storm Lagos, preach digital transformation

20 Jul 2017, 12:00 am
Obinna Igwebuike
IBM cloud evangelists storm Lagos, preach digital transformation

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Data has been described as the world’s new natural resource and key to competitive advantage, fueling vast economic growth and societal progress.

Obinna Igwebuike

A different type of cloud evangelists stormed Lagos last week, as most parts of Nigeria (and West Africa) experienced prolonged bouts of rainfall interspersed by sunny skies and heavy cumulonimbus clouds.

Amidst the city’s flooded, traffic-jammed boulevards and the wet, humid environs, the friendly geeks at IBM hosted business and public sector chief executives, chief technology, chief human resource, and chief marketing officers to an IBM Cloud Innovation Forum, to discuss cloud disruption strategies and how to accelerate innovation with Hybrid Cloud.

An old friend and colleague, and an IBMer (as IBM staff call themselves), had invited me to this event. I had some idea about IBM’s cloud solutions, but I absolutely looked forward to understanding more about the use cases for these solutions. The learning experience was great as IBM’s subject matter experts clearly articulated the commercial and social benefits of cloud, big data, analytics and the looming era of cognitive computing. This event offered me an opportunity to gauge the intensity of IBM’s cloud messaging, and I was eager to see how well IBM’s cloud capabilities could impact the quest for commercially viable digital transformation initiatives in corporate Nigeria.   

It was interesting to learn that more than half of IBM’s work (including revenues) is now focused on developing and selling software, including management and technology consulting services to governments and businesses all over the world.

Africa is now home to two IBM research labs, located in Kenya and South Africa. Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa also have IBM Client Innovation Centers. According to my friend, these facilities are part of IBM’s global network of technology hubs which support local tech innovators and developers.

Interestingly, as much as 70% of the world’s data is currently managed on IBM systems. As I was pondering on the ramifications of this fact, a participant spoke about the need for IBM to do a better job of preaching the gospel of big data, cognitive and cloud computing to Nigerian businesses and government agencies, especially as IBM was well equipped and well positioned to do so, considering that 80% of Nigeria’s banks currently drive their critical back-end and service delivery operations with IBM enterprise systems.
In my role at Sawubona Advisory Services, I lead a consulting and analyst team that helps clients across West Africa start and grow businesses, supporting them with fund raising and strategy advisory, business planning and financial modeling. Over the last year or so, the role of software and data analytics in achieving these objectives has become more obvious. Dipo Faulkner, IBM’s country general manager for Nigeria told me IBM’s presence in Nigeria dates back to the early 1960s. “I think you will find out that as economies and companies grow and mature over time, they begin to become more sophisticated in their use of technology, and smart software solutions become integral to their operational efficiencies and service delivery,” Faulkner said.

Cloud computing is essentially about managing data efficiently and optimally. Data has been described as the world’s new natural resource and key to competitive advantage, fueling vast economic growth and societal progress. I get the feeling IBMers believe they have the right to promote the philosophy of cloud and cognitive computing. But clearly, Nigeria’s cloud adoption is not as fast as IBM would like. Could the extant macroeconomic climate be influencing business appetite for technology adoption?

I was also very curious to see how Sawubona’s business model could evolve more radically by building the competence required to create value for clients around data and cloud. I knew that for many discerning organizations, cloud adoption has moved beyond the stage of simply acquiring technology to using cloud technology to power business innovation. Experts also say the most innovative companies are using the cloud to move into new industries, transform customer experiences, develop new revenue sources and invent new business models.

So, this cloud issue is about digital transformation. As each IBM subject matter expert spoke about how companies could adopt the cloud to disrupt and accelerate innovation, it became clear that the decision to move to the cloud was also always going to be a conversation around streamlining IT infrastructure and costs.

Cloud infrastructure offers institutions a cost-effective platform for analyzing so-called “Big Data”, and allows them to provision, test, and deploy service innovations far faster than traditional IT systems. Abiye Koko, Access Bank’s CTO spoke at the forum on how the bank’s IT transformation experience was an ongoing journey of innovation and discovery – from financial product development and service delivery optimization to technology resource management. IBM says it is best positioned to lead these phases of the cloud build.
“Hybrid Cloud is the new norm,” said Anthony Butler, CTO, IBM MEA, who told participants that cloud is now at a tipping point to become a true business platform for innovation on which organizations will be able to create new business, consumer models and processes; connect and unlock billions of value in existing applications and data; and optimize every workload according to its best fit –public, private and/or on-premises –and according to economics, flexibility, performance, data location, etc.

So just how big is this cloud opportunity? IDC predicts that over 80% of enterprise IT organizations will commit to hybrid cloud architectures by the end of 2017. Gartner estimates that the world's information will grow by 800 percent in the next five years, with 80 percent of that data being unstructured — including health records, audio and video files, sensor readings, e-mail messages, web pages and more.

This growth in data is expected to drive innovation in analytics, natural language processing, machine and deep learning, to create more robust set of tools for the world to make sense of the data available (essentially, generate insights from this data).

Nigerian firms all need to input cloud considerations into their planning. There already exists a rich body of use cases that show how age-old industry verticals from medicine (and especially public health) to education, financial services to marketing communication, urban renewal and media & entertainment have been enhanced with the help of incisive points of reference provided by the range of hybrid cloud services available.

When we juxtapose the world’s fast-growing volume, variety and velocity of data with the data management and analytics investments firms like IBM are making around the world, it becomes clear that companies and governments that can ‘cloud’ their operations are indeed in for a very exciting future.

Let’s begin to put on our cloud and cognitive lenses. Cloud should not just drive strategy. Cloud should ‘be’ strategy. Cloud and cognitive computing capabilities will underpin the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure required for existing in the looming fourth industrial revolution.

Igwebuike (@obinnaigwebuike) is Managing Partner at Sawubona Advisory Services, a Lagos-based business growth strategy consulting firm.

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