Month: May 2012

What the hyena saw.

Posted on

Today I was told a story about flying out of Gaborone, the capital of Botswana.  The plane, a Boeing 737, bound for South Africa, was on the runway, accelerating to take-off.  Halfway down the runway, the plane started to shudder and skid. The engines were screaming and the plane was shedding speed rapidly.  The passengers on-board were starting to panic.  Eventually the plane stopped.  Everyone was looking around bewildered wondering what was going on.  The pilot came on to the radio, “Sorry about that ladies and gentleman, but a hyena just ran across the runway.  We had to avoid hitting it!”

Can you imagine being the hyena – this massive white tube bearing down on you.  What would you do? Stand and live on a hope and prayer?  Run?  The hyena has no idea of the complexity of issues that would emerge if the plane hit it.  The hyena is probably only focused on survival.  Yet the hyena could possibly alter the course of history forever: for the air industry in Botswana, for the passengers on the plane and for the aviation industry world-wide!  It does not know this.

There are some striking comparisons here.  Just maybe small under-developed nations can alter the course of history forever.  Maybe they should not just live on a hope and prayer that the bigger developed economies will choose to avoid them.  Maybe they have a bigger role to play than they could possible know.  Maybe they should find out.

Probably the biggest difference in this comparison is that the hyena has no agenda, no need for greed and no intent in being politically dominant.  So maybe the under-developed countries can learn something here.  If you act in a way that furthers your survival and that of your people, just maybe the bigger economies will take time to avoid causing you harm.

The next thought that crossed my mind; what is it that is valuable about a hyena?  It is life, a gift of nature that is considered sufficiently valuable that it should be saved by the pilot.  The pilot made that decision and had little time to change the course of the plane on the runway, yet he did.  The hyena is a highly specialized predator that brings value to Botswana in many ways; it cleans the bush of dead animals, it balances the eco-system and generates tourism revenue.  So keeping it alive was worth the effort.

Maybe there is another lesson here.  Maybe building valuable industries such as a really good, strong IT sector may make the bigger economies look at Africans in a different way.  Maybe we can bring that balance to the world-economy the same way the hyena does to the eco-system.  Maybe we should stop trying to compete with low-end under paid mass jobs but rather focus on niche specialisations which make us sufficiently valuable that the big economies value us – so much so that they will make sure that the plane does not hit us.

Maybe I am just rambling – but it got me thinking.

Mike – May 2012

Building for the future – can Kenya get it right?

Posted on Updated on

I recently presented some of my thoughts on the skills shortage in the IT industry to 7 universities as a part of an IBM initiative to enhance and improve IT skills in terms of the training programmes offered by academic institutions. The idea is to bring business closer to academia and ensure that young IT professionals emerge from university with skills linked to current trends in IT. In the presentation I asked a few questions; amongst these were if anyone knew what the definition of big data is or what the hot trends in IT are now? I did not mean reading a Gartner report or an IDC survey but really understanding what these were and how they affect Africa.

Let me start by writing about the 4 hot trends in IT.

These have been identified by a few research organisations; IDC, Gartner, Forrester and others, so I am rehashing what they have said, but for completeness let me quickly run through them.

Top of the pile is mobility. This is going to the case for the next 2 to 3 years and there is a world-wide shortage of mobile skills; analysts, developers and solutions providers. Mobile is hot right now.

Next is cloud computing. Let me put it bluntly, if you are not in cloud now, you will be by 2020 and this will probably become the main focus in the second half of this decade. So prepare yourself if you have not already. (On a personal note, I like cloud technology and think there is loads of interesting things happening here). This is not a cloud post but my conversations tend to make me think that most people don’t understand cloud, so maybe I will write about this some other time.

The next 2 hot topics are social business and big data.

Social business is I think the easiest for people to understand. It is beyond turning Facebook or LinkedIn into a marketing platforms but rather using social business as a delivery platform to add business value and engaging with the next generation of youth who use social media to communicate. It will probably replace email and ultimately business applications will be built within social business where people can actually integrate their work into a social media platform. (You may be thinking how? Or this sounds like rubbish. Another topic for another day and if anyone wants me to write about this, I can, leave me a comment).

Big data is possibly the most perplexing. Data has been around for millennium but the rate at which we gather it today is accelerating all the time. This is ‘big’ data – not just the volume of data that is added to the world every day but also the type of data. As an example, big data includes pictures, video clips, blogs, large documents, scanned images, and so on. Think of it this way, how do you know what is in a YouTube video? You can read the byline and tag it; but what if a computer could scan it to determine what was actually in the video without any text? The process of determining this and being able to report on it is what big data is all about – there are issues of storage, the network congestion and reporting tools to getting meaningful information out of it. As more and more big data is created applications are developed to find out what can be gained from it. Here is an excellent example. As recently reported on the 1st of May, Al Qaeda plans for a terrorist attack were hidden within a pornographic video. Having the ability to mechanically scan a video would obviously be beneficial to finding this out quickly, and then taking action to prevent any attack would benefit society.

On the 30th of April, Kenya announced, that they are going to roll-out one of the largest fibre networks on the African continent. Liberia has made a similar announcement. This may seem like an innocuous announcement but this is actually a massive step to bringing these countries into the international IT arena.

One of the major issues facing all 4 of the hot trends is the capability of the network infrastructure to manage the transmission of data for each of these big trends. Without the right networking infrastructure to support the emergence of these trends, the in-country IT industry cannot develop and grow. Any country with ambitions to become an emerging regional IT hub has to ensure that they can attract and support businesses that specialize in these technologies, which in turn leads to job creation. Without the infrastructure the under-developed country will have to rely on the developed economies to provide the support for these trends (even for their own needs). It will effectively be the same economic terms between the developed economies and the under-developed economies. The under-developed will be living off the scraps of the economic powerhouses unless they make the changes themselves.

So when Kenya and Liberia want to build high-speed capable networks, it makes you think that maybe they are going in the right direction.