2018: Ghana’s technology turning point?

As creativity, innovation and machine intelligence become the currencies of the modern economy, Ghana must now begin to deliberately invest in the tools, talents, technologies and tactics of digital nation building.

Projected by the World Bank, alongside Ethiopia and Tanzania, to be one of Africa’s fastest growing economies in 2018, Ghana is by no means insulated from the shocks of the global labour, financial, economic and commodities markets.

While Ghana will not suddenly become an industrialized and fully digitized economy overnight, 2018 ought to be our turning point: a period when our collective appetite for technology begins to visibly influence our academic, public administration, ecological and economic systems and structures.

As everything becomes increasingly interconnected, the way we conduct business, work and play is radically changing. More than anything else, and as societies emerge into the era of data responsibility, Ghana needs to become an economy driven by data and the discipline of data analytics. While Ghana joined the league of oil producing countries several years ago, data has also been described by technology pundits as the “new oil”, an amazing source of wealth for nations. This new wealth, like crude oil, needs to be used responsibly and for the common good.

Currently, most of the data we generate is neither mined nor harvested for value creation or decision making. Gartner, the research firm, estimates that the world’s information will grow by 800 percent over next five to seven years, with 80 percent of that data being unstructured — including health records, audio and video files, sensor readings, e-mail messages, web pages and more.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), revenues for big data and analytics in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region totaled $1.98 billion in 2016, was expected to reach $2.2 billion by end of 2017 and is forecast to reach approximately $3.20 billion in 2020, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.0% over the 2016-20 period.

Even as Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the UAE jointly account for about 58% of this big data analytics investment, technology analysts observe that companies and public-sector institutions in West Africa’s leading economies, namely, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Nigeria, seem to be in the forefront of this regional digital transformation drive, as exemplified by their progressive policies and fast-growing financial services sector.

IBM’s point of view is that two global technological trends will impact the future of business across industries: the rise of cognitive and cloud computing.

Cognitive computing refers to next-generation information systems designed to accelerate, enhance and take advantage of human expertise. These systems can learn large amounts of data, reason with purpose, and interact with humans naturally. Their ability to understand unstructured data and range across wide subject domains gives them opportunity to remake business processes. We believe these technologies will have reached maturity by 2025.

In very simple terms, cloud computing is basically providing IT services and solutions via the internet. To confront the massive data workloads, Ghana’s technology managers and experts must turn to the cloud. But before taking the inevitable plunge into the cloud ecosystem, they will be confounded by these critical questions:

  • How can they share their company’s data in a public cloud to improve customer experience while securing it from fraud, theft and cyber threats?
  • How do they mine critical, actionable insights from rising volumes of corporate data?
  • How will they move the enterprise into the cognitive era of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI)?
  • How do they leverage on existing infrastructure investments?

And as if this wasn’t complicated enough, companies and public institutions must also consider the emerging forms of cloud-based services such as Blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT).

Technology Breeds Growth

To take full advantage of these emerging technologies, we must turn away from current inefficient organizational ethos and processes and embrace innovation and creativity, two essential ingredients of economic growth. Out-of-the-box thinking and a capacity for envisioning our future may very well turn out to be our most important assets. Can Ghana rise to the challenge of tech-enabled growth? Yes, we can.

Africa and Ghana have been at this turning point, this cross-road of opportunity and potential before, during the telecommunications boom of the 1990s and 2000s. Indeed, Ghana was one of the first countries in Africa to liberalize and deregulate its telecommunications sector, in 1994.

Africa’s telecommunications industry liberalization helped spur national and regional economic development. Recently, the Bank of Ghana (BoG), the banking industry regulator, published data which shows that Ghana’s mobile money transactions doubled to 155.8 billion Cedis ($35 billion) in 2017, from 78.5 billion Cedis in 2016. In Kenya, Africa’s leading m-commerce market, mobile money transactions as at June 2017 totaled 4.6 trillion shillings ($45.3 billion), according to the Communications Authority of Kenya.

Can Ghana look towards East Africa’s “Silicon Savanna” in Kenya for insights on growing its technology innovation space? We certainly can. Launched in 2007, Kenya’s mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service, m-Pesa (M for mobile, pesa is Swahili for money) has since been adopted by Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Romania and Albania. 42% of Kenya’s GDP is transacted on M-pesa.

Over 70 percent of Ghanaians do not have bank accounts. This is a national crisis begging for an m-Pesa-like solution, especially as Ghana’s mobile phone penetration is now well over 120 percent, according to the National Communication Authority. A digitized economy advances economic and financial inclusion. The mobile payment platform should also be used to pay for public services such as company registrations, land registration payments, vehicle licenses, etc.

So, will 2018 be Ghana’s technology turning point?

For technology to visibly influence our ecological and economic systems, Ghana could, perhaps, consider establishing a multi-sectoral committee of experts who will be tasked to develop a national technology blueprint based on global frameworks around the country’s adoption of big data analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud, Cognitive Computing, Blockchain, and Robotics technologies. The future – the digital economy – belongs to nations that plan, think ahead and execute.

As Ghana implements its national identification card and digital addressing system, it should also actively invest in the most important aspect of this database – citizens. Human capital development is at the core of IBM’s Digital Nation Africa (D-NA) initiative, a scheme which provides free cloud-based learning and collaboration tools and platforms aimed at providing Africa’s millennials with on-line courses on mobile apps development, AI and other in-demand technology skills. Ghana is one of the pilot nations for this Africa-wide initiative.

We can as from this year begin to adopt more advanced technologies to achieve socio-economic transformation. However, for our technology adoption strategies to be sustainable, we would need to increase and deepen public private partnerships, focus our investments on commercially viable technology solutions and services that tackle our grand development challenges, and encourage Ghanaian startups and enterprises to think “global”.
The writer is the Country General Manager, IBM Ghana.