Brett Parker, MD SAP Africa
Africa is no
stranger to connectivity. While Africa may be behind when it comes to IT
infrastructure compared to more developed nations, the fact is that more than
double the population of sub-Saharan Africa has mobile phone access. With
smartphone usage on the up and IT literacy expanding, bringing Internet of
Things (IoT) level connectivity is a natural progression for this tech-hungry
The future is connected
The IoT should be considered more than just technology. Rather,
it is an ecosystem of products and services – from software to cloud technology
– where effective connectivity adds real business value. This derived value presents
an exciting prospect for the region. It also has the potential to drive
significant economic growth and, in time, bring African IT up to speed with the
rest of the world.
And the adoption of IoT solutions across Africa is not a
farfetched idea: Research from McKinsey estimates that Africa will have tripled its
internet penetration to over 50% – the equivalent of 600 million
regular internet users – by 2025. It’s also predicted that the potential of the
IoT in developing countries is huge, with such nations to be accountable for 40% of the
worldwide value of the IoT market by 2020.
Currently, 15% of the global population resides in Africa. More
than half of global population growth from now until 2050 is expected to stem
from the continent. This means having a global, connected system is crucial.
The IoT has the potential to solve many of the issues the
continent is currently facing. And many African countries have already embarked
on the IoT journey. Healthcare providers in Ethiopia are monitoring the
health status of outpatients to better adjust treatment. Intelligent
traffic lights in Nairobi are helping ease traffic congestion.
Utility providers in South Africa are using load-limiting smart meters
that can warn residents ahead of imminent controlled outages. Unmanned aerial
vehicles (UAVs), satellite imagery, DNA analysis and apps are being
used as part of conservation efforts – by predicting poaching attempts and
The potential is limitless. As technology advances and
encroaches upon most people’s day-to-day lives in some shape or form, people
can expect more IoT enabled solutions that address the unique issues facing
Agriculture is a vital, yet struggling, industry. Sub-Saharan
Africa has 95% of arable
land that is dependent on rainfall-fed agriculture. This means food
crop productivity is often low, with food insecurity a constant issue. This is
where the IoT can help: wireless sensors can track crop growth, soil moisture
and water tank levels. Unmanned vehicles can reduce physical labour. The result
will be better yields at a lower cost. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, food production must increase by 60% to be able to feed the growing population
expected to hit nine billion in 2050. With SAP’s help, John Deere for example, is taking the IoT out into the field and boosting
efficiencies with the goal of improving per-acre crop yields. They are using Big Data to step into the future of
farming. This interconnectivity with owners, operators, dealers and
agricultural consultants helps farmers enhance productivity and increase
efficiency. Sensors on their equipment help farmers manage their fleet and decrease
downtime of their tractors as well as save on fuel. The information is combined
with historical and real-time weather data, soil conditions, crop features and
many other data sets.
Connected robots and systems can help limit the effects of a
mass disaster. The ongoing Ebola outbreaks in West Africa highlight the
ramifications of human contact. While current technology is still relatively
immature, the future of the IoT-enabled technology and better-developed robots
and outbreak control mechanisms, like SAP’s SORMAS, could see many
lives saved and the spread of disease minimised.
The future looks bright, but there are still barriers to
overcome. The cost of implementing the IoT is huge and investment will most
likely come from outside the region. As well as that, the potential risks of
hacking remain a threat as long as there is internet-enabled technology
involved. And, having the right skills and training programmes in place will be
imperative when making the most of the opportunities that come with new
Overall connectivity is clearly an important enabler. As it
stands, many African nations fall short in this area. Yet the lack of a legacy
infrastructure can actually be beneficial for Africa. Instead of gradual tech
upgrades, the continent can jump ahead into new technologies in ways more
developed countries cannot. This also means that the decisions of those spearheading
change now are likely to impact the solutions of the future.
There is no question: the IoT is coming to Africa and African
businesses cannot ignore it. For now, having the right mindset to embrace
innovation is crucial. Added to this, being aware of the inevitable security
challenges, and being able to articulate the return on investment to fellow
board members will be key skills when pushing for a new tech ecosystem. For a
continent fuelled by its entrepreneurial spirit, the prospect of an IoT enabled
future presents an exciting period to come.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom
of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists
published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily
represent the views of News24.
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