Charging Ahead in Africa — IT ‘Pacesetters’ Lead the Way

By Takreem El-Tohamy
Takreem El-Tohamy, General Manager, IBM Middle East and Africa
Takreem El-Tohamy, General Manager, IBM Middle East and Africa

As companies around the world recognize that big data analytics and cloud create some of the largest opportunities for driving their business forward, the challenge of skills gaps has become increasingly urgent.

Africa faces a tremendous gap. (1) Some 87 percent of African businesses rank cloud computing, mobile, analytics, and social media as critical to their future business success, but only 53 percent are rapidly adopting these technologies, according to a new IBM report. The report, “Setting the Pace in Africa,” is based on a survey of 180 IT leaders in 29 industries across Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria.

That 34 percent technology adoption gap demonstrates the hurdles African businesses face as Africa takes its place as the world’s fastest growing continent. Yet at the same time, the report points the way forward, by outlining the solutions a leading group of organizations are adopting to tackle this challenge. Their ideas create a roadmap for other companies.

The survey identified three main hurdles African businesses face — strategic business leadership, IT skills development, and information security. These challenges will determine how they respond to the disruptive threats from new global rivals coming on the scene, make the most of their current and future growth opportunities, and woo today’s new breed of digitally empowered consumers.

IBM-Africa-Infog-300x234Zeroing in on skills, the study by the IBM Center for Applied Insights and Center for CIO Leadership, found that less than half of the companies in the survey have developed the level of IT skills they need to close the technology adoption gap. However, a leading third of the companies surveyed prioritize emerging technologies and are succeeding in deploying them at an accelerated pace.

These are the Pacesetters. These are the companies that recognize that they have a unique opportunity, as the African economy expands, to gain significant competitive advantage.

What makes them different?  Compared to their peers, these leaders show clear differences in how they collaborate with their colleagues and achieve critical business outcomes. Many of their practices are rooted in how the organization itself works.  These Pacesetters focus not just on the technology, but also on the systemic changes — such as internal transparency and strategic dialogue — needed to transform the enterprise. They work to create a business with the flexibility and willingness to make the most of today’s emerging technologies.

Specifically, Pacesetters know what is needed for long-term competitiveness: expertise and knowledge that spans both business and IT. They are 80 percent more likely to proactively develop the professional skills needed to accomplish future goals, rather than simply focus on today’s projects. In the eyes of Pacesetters, leadership support for skills development is vital. Their IT leaders make a strong business case for development and craft workable plans for the future, instituting a formal process for nurturing skills.

But building a company that’s able to embrace emerging technologies—and the potential these technologies represent for crafting new business models, processes, and customer engagement—doesn’t start and end with skills development. They are linked to two other pressing challenges—business leadership and security.

Pacesetters have found ways to empower their teams through a significant cultural shift. By using analytics to help create a corporate culture that bases decisions on data, rather than mere instinct, they’re working to manage – rather than avoid — business risks. They understand how crucial technology is in crafting business strategy and they garner management support for critical IT initiatives. That requires open communication and collaboration between IT leadership and other company execs—something the leading companies do 40 percent more than the other companies surveyed.

These leaders also place a higher priority on investment in security. They close gaps in preparedness because they are 30 percent more likely to employ new technologies and to bolster security skills and expertise. And, with the explosive growth of data accessed through mobile devices and the cloud, they see security as a competitive advantage. Pacesetters aim to make protecting systems and information a shared priority, working to give the entire organization a proactive focus on security.

The explosive growth in emerging technology use by consumers in Africa is a clarion call to businesses across the continent. And with pacesetting organizations guiding the way – businesses are poised to continue to grow and develop the innovation and advantage these technologies can provide.


1) More Productive Jobs for Africa’s Youth Vital for the Region’s Economic Progress, WB Report, January 27, 2014.

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