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Embracing hybrid cloud, AI and IoT technologies to accelerate digital growth in West Africa

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As the pandemic is reshaping markets, industries, and customer preferences in West Africa, accelerating digital growth is vital to survive and thrive. There is much room to improve, and the dividends of digital transformation efforts are higher in West Africa, but they require stronger pursuit. Businesses and governments in West Africa should be focused on a few select technological advancements to reach digital maturity. In this context, the article heralds a new way of thinking about accelerating digital growth in West Africa and how best to exploit them leveraging cloud, AI, and IoT.

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Embracing emerging technologies to accelerate digital growth
If economic diversification and private investments are the linchpins of future growth in Western Africa, then digital growth is the blueprint. In fact, new avenues are being identified that prove the imperative of accelerating digital growth in West Africa.

With the increased population across West Africa, access to 4G technology is on the rise with more remote location having coverage. This is a clear indicator that demand for digital is creating new opportunities for businesses and governments of Western African countries.

In addition, Africa’s Internet economy, driven by innovative solutions, has proven to be resilient throughout the global pandemic.As 60% of the African population will be under 24 by 2025, digital is going to be a fuel for growth in the continent.
West Africa is experiencing a tectonic shift that needs frontrunners and innovators to realize the vision. As much as the adoption of technology will drive transformation, the real value will be realized by embracing emerging technologies as detailed below.

Hybrid cloud to optimize costs
Since industries such as the internet, banking & finance, and ICT have a greater propensity for digital growth in the upcoming few years, IT infrastructure modernization must be emphasized on agility while optimizing costs. Simply shifting applications and workloads to the cloud is not the solution.

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Even though organizations like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) facilitate business with a digital outlook, regulatory frameworks and financial support remain scarce. In such an environment, astute tech executives must assess cloud platforms against IT budgets and carefully design infrastructure to support their digital initiatives.

For example, an e-commerce company in Nigeria must focus on public cloud for data related to general operations while look for private cloud when it comes to customer-related applications with sensitive data such as marketing, sales, and payments. Similarly, a banking organization in West Africa must judiciously decide on the right cloud platforms that deliver the required agility and cybersecurity controls when connected to an on-premises server.

This approach of adopting a hybrid cloud makes more sense as microservices and containerization are critical technologies that will enable businesses in West Africa to strike a balance between IT budgets and innovation while improving responsiveness to changing markets.

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Artificial intelligence for harnessing data
To unleash the next wave of digital growth in West Africa, businesses must be ready to be able to transform before the markets lose patience. Such maturity requires intelligence that is predictive and proactive. The level of AI adoption would, however, depend on the phase of digital transformation the businesses are undergoing.
In the nascent stage of transformation where businesses are trying to gradually implement new technologies, it is recommended that AI technology systems should be adopted to decrease redundancy and increase efficiency. For instance, insurance companies in West Africa seeking digitization of customer experience must use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) applications to rapidly convert paperwork into digital formats.

On the other hand, businesses that have already made some investments in advanced analytics and visualizations or have adopted blockchain, can adopt AI for core activities such as smarter R&D and forecasting while optimizing production and maintenance. Retail, supply chain, travel, and healthcare businesses in West Africa have reached such standards where they can bear a progressive outlook for adopting AI.

West Africa being a region that is rich in resources, the manufacturing and production industries have a great opportunity ahead to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Predictive maintenance and procurement optimization are some of the use cases of AI in such industries.

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Internet of Things to reap opportunities in connectivity
Today, in the fourth industrial revolution, a new concept has emerged in Africa – hyperconnected business. As underlying technologies mature, ubiquitous connectivity, rich data, and real-time communication become the center stage of transformation. Such capabilities can be achieved by adopting IoT at scale. And this makes more sense for West Africa as e-commerce, healthcare, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors take on a progressive outlook to transform.

Manufacturing and production companies are joining the innovation space – and, more correctly, striving to make headway in performance measurement and maintenance. This will be based on precise data that can be enabled using sensors to monitor entire production and supply chain processes – from inspection through production to final shipping.

Similarly, another use case of IoT defines the level of success in agriculture – an important indicator of economic prosperity in West Africa. Farm-based sensors can identify soil conditions and transmit data to cloud-based analytics platforms. The outcomes can be used by farmers to track irrigation levels and leverage alerts regarding apt moisture levels that will help optimize water and fertilizers for increased yields.

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While fully integrated IoT models for businesses are not yet feasible, businesses in West Africa must start adopting IoT to optimize operations and achieve cost efficiency. Industrial-automation systems and predictive maintenance can be a good starting point.

To take advantage of a young and growing demographic, West Africa must take charge of its destiny by embracing digital technologies such as hybrid cloud, IoT, and AI. If we look around – this trend is already taking place – and is increasingly converting to outstanding innovations. However, a strategic alignment in adopting these emerging technologies will provide a more fertile ground to formulate disruptive business models that can close economic gaps and propel Africans into the new reality.

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