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IBM Expands Sub-Saharan Investments and Business Efforts



By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.

IBM announced investments in Sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate the development of new markets and the creation of crucial IT skills and new jobs. The company said it expects to increase its investment by more than $120 million over the next two years and in the coming year plans to hire up to 100 students from Sub-Saharan universities. IBM also announced a number of new actions and initiatives:

  • The company will open an Africa Innovation Centre in the second quarter of 2008 that will house the continent’s first High Performance On Demand Solutions Lab (HiPODS), where entrepreneurs, small businesses, business partners and others will benefit from advanced software development capabilities and access to high-end servers and storage equipment. The Centre will also build custom automation, virtualization and standardsbased solutions for clients' business and IT infrastructures.
  • IBM has created a mentoring program, “Makocha Minds” (after the Swahili word for “teacher”) that will give hundreds of African computer science, engineering, and mathematics students first hand access to IBM Fellows, Distinguished Engineers, and Academy of Technology members.
  • The company donated a 14-teraflop BlueGene/P system to the Center for High Performance Computing in Cape Town South Africa in an effort to spark scientific and socioeconomic progress in the region.

    IBM and CARE announced plans to establish an Africa Financial Grid designed to help MFIs (microfinance institutions) reduce operating costs, streamline lending processes, scale rapidly, and integrate with resources such as credit bureaus, financial institutions and international payment networks. Over the next ten years, the Grid will help MFIs expand into additional financial services, such as micro-insurance, bill pay, credit scoring and history, and international remittances. The project will initially target 11 Sub-Saharan countries with a combined population of more than 400 million people.

The Pitch
IBM expands Africa opportunities via innovative projects, offerings and partnerships.

Mission Accomplished?
There is a human tendency to regard continents and sub-continents as homogenous entities whose populations share many essential hopes and goals. That notion may work in North America, Europe, Australia, and even Antarctica (so long as one focuses on penguin populations), but it is singularly shortsighted when applied to other locales.

Africa is a prime example whose sheer diversity defies simplistic definitions and business strategies. The region encompasses 54 countries with some 930 million inhabitants who, according to the National Virtual Translation Center, speak an estimated 2000 different languages and dialects. 

Ongoing political and social upheavals have increased difficulties in many regions, making those areas particularly challenging for businesses. Add to this an inconsistent approach to developing and maintaining necessary power, transportation and telecommunications infrastructures, and it is no surprises that many companies outside region believe Africa’s risks outweigh its opportunities.

That attitude is changing, especially through the interest and efforts of pioneering organizations like IBM. The company’s new and continuing initiatives in the region and its Africa Financial Grid project with CARE offer a blueprint for how businesses can succeed in the Sub-Saharan marketplace. The critical key to that success is partnership, since Africa is simply too large and too diverse for any one company or country to go it alone effectively.

IBM’s announcements qualify as a realistic effort that reflects well-established company development and partner strategies. The more technically oriented projects, IBM’s planned Africa Innovation Centre and the donation of a BlueGene/P system the Cape Town’s Center for High Performance Computing aim to stretch the boundaries of high tech development in the continent and to bring it more fully into the global IT marketplace.

The Centre will be the seventh IBM HiPODS facility worldwide, joining others in Brazil, China and India, as well as Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. As such, it reflects IBM’s long-term success in leveraging and encouraging technical excellence in both mature and highly energized emerging markets. In addition, by offering businesses and developers access to innovative technologies and services, IBM hopes to ensure their interest when they go looking for IT products and solutions.

IBM’s “Makocha Minds” mentoring program is another initiative that could pay huge dividends over time, both to local students and to the company, itself. Offering access to the 250 IBMers who will participate in the outreach should help students advance their essential computer science, engineering, and mathematics skills. But working first hand with some of the IT industry’s most renowned scientists could also provide the sort of experiences that inspire the next generation of scientific innovation.

IBM and CARE’s Africa Financial Grid reflects a different sort of reality – the critical role that ready access to capital plays in driving business success of every sort, but particularly among smaller companies. This is especially important in less developed countries where small businesses define opportunity for the vast majority of workers and entrepreneurs.

Given IBM’s growing position among SMBs and the SME Toolkit project it has helped develop with the International Financial Corporation (IFC), the Africa Financial Grid qualifies as simply the latest steps in a continuing global journey form the company. IBM’s new Africa initiatives pursue a critical common goal; by lending its assistance and innovative expertise to help partners and business customers succeed today, IBM hopes to inspire future successes as Sub-Saharan Africa assumes an increasingly substantial role on the world stage.

About Pund-IT, Inc.
Pund-IT emphasizes understanding technology and product evolution and interpreting the effects these changes will have on business customers and the greater IT marketplace.


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