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Cloud computing could be key to speeding up Africa’s development

Data delivered over the cloud can do things like help farmers make planting decisions. Earlier this year, 17 African countries presented their progress on reaching the Sustainable Development Goals , or SDGs, at the United Nations. There was some good news and progress. But it’s clear that radical interventions are still required if countries on the continent are to achieve these ambitious global development goals. Technology will be key in any such interventions. Doubling agricultural productivity (Goal 2), halving road deaths (Goal 3), increasing water efficiency (Goal 6), doubling the rate of improvement in energy (Goal 7), and halving food waste (Goal 12), among others, seem impossible without game-changing innovations and dramatic improvements in efficiency. Cloud computing – the delivery of sophisticated information technology capabilities over the internet – could play a crucial role in both innovation and efficiency. What’s especially useful about cloud computing is that companies or organisations don’t need to own computing infrastructure or data centres. Instead, they can rent access to storage and applications, among other things, from a cloud service provider. This allows them to get access to sophisticated capabilities on demand. And they don’t have to spend a great deal of money building and maintaining IT infrastructure on site. But unlocking the developmental potential of cloud computing won’t happen automatically. In a recent publication by the South African SDG Hub at the University of Pretoria I argue that four fundamentals must be in place before cloud computing can really be harnessed to help drive development. These four are skills development; proper policies; safeguards to keep data private and secure; and effective infrastructure. If African countries can get these fundamentals right, cloud computing could become a powerful ally in the push for sustainable development. But this will require navigating a range of complex issues, from data privacy regulation to reliable electricity supply. Cloud computing in action Computing capabilities delivered over the cloud are already being used in some parts of the world in ways that dovetail with the SDGs’ requirements. For example, IBM’s Watson Decision Platform is helping farmers in Brazil and India to make more informed decisions about what to plant and when with data that predicts crop yields. Through Health Map , information delivered over the cloud is also making it possible to monitor and respond to disease outbreaks. LifeQ is using the cloud to harness data to drive healthier lifestyles across Africa. In the banking sector, banks such as HSCB are using the cloud to detect money laundering, which aligns with Goal 16 . In Nigeria, Interswitch is using the cloud to help small businesses access project financing more quickly, which is a key part of Goal 17 . JUMO is using the cloud to increase access to mobile money across Africa. There are already several cloud computing projects underway on the African continent that are being used to nudge countries towards attaining some goals. A recent report by Microsoft showcases a project by MTN Uganda that uses voice biometric software […]

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