Unprecedented technological change seemed to edge ever closer in 2017.
From Artificial Intelligence (AI) and drones to augmented reality and blockchain, last year saw a surge in the commercial application of emerging technologies – raising expectations amongst businesses and consumers alike.
Much more is expected to come – here we look at three tech trends that could define Africa in 2018…
Big skills gap must be addressed for Big Data to thrive
Businesses across Africa are increasingly finding themselves in possession of more and more data about their customers and their buying behaviour.
Data which businesses could be putting to much better use. By analysing large and complex sets of data, businesses could have greater insight and learning on their operations and customers, which could eventually translate into better strategic decision making and real improvements in performance.
According to analyst firm IDC, global spending for big data and business analytics hardware, software and services is expected to grow from $150.8 billion in 2017 to $210 billion by 2020.
But as businesses rush to mine the world’s data, new privacy and regulatory issues are emerging that must also be considered in data-driven research and practices. Increasing collaboration between industry and academia will be key to both unlocking the opportunities and addressing the challenges of Big Data – particularly in Africa.
Academic institutions in the region are already discovering new ways to nurture and develop data science and data analysis skills. For example, Strathmore University in Kenya is partnering with a range of public and private organisations to give experience for its students in data-driven research and practices. It has already partnered with the likes of NASA to use Earth Observations (EO) satellite data to address local and national needs, and has developed a portal for capturing and analysing annual financial reports live on trading data at the Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE) in partnership with Synergy System.
Data analytics is also being increasingly employed by the regions start-ups. Competitions such as the DataHack for Financial Inclusion (DataHack4FI),which brings together some of the brightest and most innovative minds from across the continent to develop new evidence-based solutions to improve financial inclusion, are helping to accelerate this trend.
Much more of these types of collaborations are needed in 2018 to ensure there are the necessary skills needed for Big Data to thrive in the not-so-distant future.
Gaming to reach next level in 2018?
Gaming has yet to truly make its mark across Africa. While South Africa has an established gaming scene – complete with large expos and gaming communities – other African nations have traditionally not. This is starting to change fast.
According to gaming analyst firm Newzoo, estimated gaming revenues in Egypt ($205 million) and Nigeria ($1768 million) surpassed South Africa ($118 million) in 2017. Revenues are growing elsewhere in the region – Kenya, for example, had estimated gaming revenues of $30 million last year, while Morocco had $86 million.
There are several reasons Africa’s gaming sector looks destined for further growth.
The first is greater internet access, which is enabling more of the population to play games – be it on their mobiles, consoles or personal computers. The rollout of fibre has particularly helped satisfy the demand for real-time, multi-player games – which rely on fast and consistent internet speeds as even a minor delay or disruption in speed of service can cause a major impact to a game.
The second factor is the growth in local gaming content. Game developments studios have emerged in many African start-up hubs, including South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya.
And they are experiencing some success. South Africa-based studios such as Thoopid and Celestial Games are developing award-winning games, while there has been a rise in the number of African themed games – Leti Arts, which has studios in Kenya and Ghana, released a game based on an African folklore character from Ghana, while another game by Weza Interactive Entertainment lets users embark on a journey to save Africa.
What became increasingly evident in 2017 is that there is pent-up demand from a new generation of African gamers. Liquid Intelligent Technologies witnessed this first-hand at the 2017 Nairobi Comic Convention (Naiccon) where PC and console gaming teams from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda battled it out for cash prizes.
A new generation of e-Sports stars would certainly help raise the profile of gaming further in Africa in 2018. Again, there has been progress on this front, as last year Kwesé Sports, Econet Media’s premium sports content platform, signed an exclusive, five-year deal with the world’s largest eSports company ESL, to distribute ESL content and host events across Africa. The partnership saw Kwesé and ESL bring the first ever continental eSports championship to Africa, and launch the region’s first 24/7 eSports channel.
2018 looks poised to be the biggest yet for gaming in Africa.
Positive forecast for cloud
The success of emerging technologies is intrinsically linked with the availability and power of cloud computing.
Analyst firm IDC has predicted that 67% of IT infrastructure and software will be based in the cloud by 2020. As more data, applications and back-end systems reside in the cloud, the technology will act as an important enabler for emerging technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Testament to this is the fact that many of the world’s biggest cloud providers have already launched public cloud services tailored to these emerging technologies.
If we look at IoT as an example, there are now an abundance of IoT cloud platforms on the market that hope to help businesses bridge the gap between the data network and device sensor. The likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft have all launched scalable IoT cloud platforms designed to support billions of devices and the trillions of interactions between them.
Similarly, all major cloud players have made a bid for the AI space by launching a range of cloud-based services designed to help with machine learning, analytics and image recognition. Cloud is a natural fit for AI and machine learning applications, which require high-end infrastructure, fast processors and access to huge amounts of storage.
Further down the line, cloud players also have their eye on catering to virtual reality (VR) and blockchain.
The cloud capabilities therefore must be in place for all these emerging technologies to make a serious impact in Africa. Fortunately, the forecast for cloud is looking positive in Africa for 2018. The region is home to a growing ecosystem of local and global cloud providers hoping to support businesses on their cloud journey.
With Microsoft scheduled to deliver Microsoft Cloud for the first time from data centres in South Africa this year, the foundations are being laid for Africa’s digital future, which increasingly belongs in the cloud.