A perspective on emerging markets

Out of Africa: the title of the book written by my fellow countrywoman, Karen Blixen, many years ago and later enjoyed by many in the film starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. So what? you might ask, as you were settling in to read my views on SaaS and cloud computing in Africa.

I am convinced that mobility in South Africa and the rest of Africa will surpass the more mature IT markets in a few years. Mobile payment and the aim to have a cashless society will fuel the development of mobile apps. And using mobile devices for everything will become the de facto standard.
According to World Bank data, out of the one billion people in Africa, only an estimated 140 million use the Internet, but more than 600 million use mobile phones. So, YES—someone will, in 10 years or so, rewrite Karen Blixen’s novel in the new age of cloud computing/SaaS. He/she will tell us all the story about how Africa drove the innovation in the development of mobile apps and how the rest of us saw it all come out of Africa.
At the East Africa Outsourcing Summit in Nairobi on June 6, Kenya ICT Board CEO Paul Kukubo said, The world is beginning to pay attention to the idea that, even in Africa, if you can solve African problems, you can create an IT product that is attractive to the rest of the world. So true.
The consumerization of technology has already led to plenty of cloud applications being wrapped as apps for mobile devices, rather than offered as Web-based interfaces. The boundaries between what’s a web page and what’s an application may be dissolving with the advent of HTML5 and user interfaces like Windows 8 Metro. But as more of the world—a half-billion people in Africa’s case—start to consume services almost exclusively through mobile devices, it’s less likely that users will ever type in a URL to get to a site.
On a recent trip to South Africa, I had the chance to meet and work with a number of well-established IT companies—and all of them had cloud on the agenda. How, what, when, and where were the questions I was asked. The first thing I said? Look around―learn from your customers and look at what’s happening with private consumers. Only by understanding user behavior and the art of turning needs and pains into value propositions are you able to align functions and features.
The African continent will be driven by user demand or pull, and since Africa doesn’t have the same amount of legacy platforms and applications to slow it all down, the rise of a new empire in mobility and mobile apps will emerge from here.
Founded in the U.K. and recognized as the 2012 Microsoft Innovative Customer Advocacy Partner of the Year, Mimecast delivers cloud-based solutions and has kept African challenges top of mind. Today, Mimecast provides its services worldwide with great success—definitely a company to follow and learn from.
If you want to build new cloud services, including mobile apps, I urge you to learn more from what’s happening in Africa and to even consider working out of Africa. Or at least to establish partnerships with companies in that region. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’re able to test and to market new services there, and then apply what you’ve learned and the best practices you’ve developed to your own territory. In turn, Africa can benefit from your business knowledge, management skills, and financial means.