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What IT trends Africa can expect to see in 2013

How do you predict the future? Traditionally in business, we would analyse the past, identify trends and extrapolate what comes next. We might even be much less critical, as in creating next year's budget by adding a percentage to this year's performance.
However, the 21st Century places a much heavier burden on our shoulders. If we are to be competitive, if we are to take advantage of current and new opportunities, we must have a better understanding of what will come our way in the "foreseeable" future.
But just how "foreseeable" is that future? Thomas Watson Junior (of IBM) thought that 5 computers would be enough for the world. The planners of the South African mobile networks reckoned 5 million subscribers would saturate the market (9 times that and still growing...). If you were asked to predict what technology will give us 10 years from now, based on what has happened in the last 10 years, what would your answer be?
I've had a look at the trends for 2013 that Gartner put on the table in October, particularly to see their relevance in the African context. Very briefly, they are saying that mobile devices will overtake PCs and that Microsoft will lose its dominance as the operating system platform. Consumerisation will require that suppliers of services and employers accept they must be able to operate with the device of choice in the user's hands. Similarly, enterprises will have to develop "apps" for each environment, perhaps with a shift towards HTML5.
Gartner goes on to say that the move away from the PC will entail a move towards the "personal cloud", accessible from any device, anywhere. They also say that more and more devices will be "connected", whether it's by Bluetooth, WiFi, LTE or NFC. This leads to the tying together of all sources of information into what has become known as "big data", which is the next level up from existing data warehousing and content management systems.
Having better, real-time data encourages the application of analytics and simulations for all business actions, to empower decision flexibility and monitoring of processes as they happen. Gartner also refers to faster processing and integrated eco-systems before ending with the prediction that by 2014 most enterprises will deliver mobile applications to their employees through private "app stores".
In the major cities across Africa, we could argue that many of those trends will manifest themselves, but Africa is not a connected continent and we will struggle to see even a glimpse of some of the technologies mentioned. Even in the urban areas, most small businesses have yet to use a PC, never mind move on to mobile devices, while South Africa - the most connected African country - has two-thirds of its population unable to even reach the internet. If you cannot read and write English or a mainstream European language with ease, you will not benefit from being connected. We need to train an army of developers to overcome this challenge.
So, in Africa, we will be less concerned with clouds and big data and more concerned with access and affordability. There will be a steady move from feature phones to smart phones and tablets, as the networks' capacity to support reliable high speed signals expands and the prices decline, so continued investment in infrastructure is vital. Now that Africa is surrounded by submarine cables, the roll-out of fibre networks inland is picking up speed. The greatest trigger, though, will be the localisation of internet content, so that Africans can climb on to the "information superhighway" in their home tongues.
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