Nairobiâ€™s clout as the regional ICT innovation hub got a boost yesterday with IBM bringing its global senior managers for an interactive forum with more than 100 of Africaâ€™s business leaders.
Significantly, this was the first time in the companyâ€™s history that its 16 top management team has gathered in one location at the same time, outside its board meetings in New York.
The forum, which came a day after another American company, Microsoft, brought a similar retinue to Kenya, signifies that international technology firms are finally taking Africa seriously.
Last month, Google chairman Eric Schmidt said â€œNairobi has emerged as a serious tech hub and may become Africaâ€™s leaderâ€. This was after he toured five countries in Africa.
â€œWith a rising middle income population and youthful population, Africa is a wonderful source for talent and growth,â€ noted the companyâ€™s president, Ms Ginni Rometty.
Over the past five years, IBM has increased its focus in emerging markets as growth rates in these regions continue to outstrip those in more mature markets.
According to the companyâ€™s senior vice president for global business, Ms Bridget van Kralingen, this strategy has paid off with business growth in these regions on average remaining eight points higher than in mature markets.
â€œOur business in growing markets is actually as profitable as our business in mature markets,â€ she noted.
IBM posted strong results in its fourth quarter 2012, buoyed by revenue growth in emerging markets such as Brazil, India, Russia and China. The company and other multinationals are hoping to ride Africaâ€™s strong growth to profitability.
On Tuesday, Microsoft launched a new mobile phone targeted specifically at the African market.
IBM is currently constructing a research lab in Kenya, the first of its kind in Africa and one of only 12 such facilities across the globe.
Further, the company has partnered with Strathmore University to launch the IBM Africa Institute as part of a skills-enabling initiative aimed at broadening IT skills in 10 African countries.
IBM is betting on analytics in big data to make inroads in African governments and companies in the banking, telecommunications sectors.
During her speech to African business leaders, Ms Rometty emphasised this strategy, asserting that a flood of information is set to usher in a new phase in Africaâ€™s development as well as change the manner in which corporates deal with their employees and customers.
â€œBig data is not only about generating new information, itâ€™s about using data that is already available to create solutions for some of our problems,â€ added the World Bankâ€™s lead economist, Mr Wolfgang Fengler.
In Kenya, IBM has utilised available data to generate solutions for urban traffic jams as part of its Smarter Planet initiative. The company has also used information to solve flooding problems in Brazil
Kenya is also pursuing a number of initiatives which leverage on big data. One of these, the Open Data Initiative, has been facing challenges as agencies adopt a protectionist stance towards information.-Nation