Mar 4, 2022
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In wake of pandemic, hybrid computing is key for African CIOs

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The last two years have proven a challenge for CIOs. Facing pandemic-induced disruption, CIOs in Africa have had to get creative, enabling people to work remotely as well as in the office, adopting AI and other technology to tackle supply chain problems, and taking advantage of the increasing number of third-party data centres and public cloud services in the region to quickly scale up new applications while optimising costs.

We talked to three tech industry analysts to get a sense of what they see as the keys to success this year in the wake of the pandemic. The main theme is hybrid.

“Hybrid work, hybrid cloud and hybrid environments” are the imperatives for CIOs in Africa this year, says Mark Walker, associate VP at IDC in sub-Saharan Africa. No one knows how it will continue as hybrid looks different for every industry and every business, but it will continue, he says. “The dinosaurs out there who think that we’re all just going to go back to the office and sing ‘kumbaya’ are mistaken. That’s not going to happen. Working from the office is no longer the normal. The remote work business model, enabled by digital technology, is proven now.”

Given the hybrid trend, director and analyst at Africa Analysis, Dobek Pater, notes that the corporate network is set to evolve in 2022, driven by the move towards a more distributed workforce and accompanying acceleration in the adoption of cloud services. “We will see an increasing trend towards the adoption of SD-WAN as a key virtual private network (VPN) component, including migration of some of the traditional MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) links to SD-WAN. This will allow company CTOs and CIOs to have greater network flexibility and visibility into the network,” Pater says.

In 2020 and 2021, Africa saw cloud play a pivotal role in the business world’s response to the pandemic, boosting cloud usage across sub-Saharan Africa. This is set to continue this year.

Strong uptake of cloud-based services by businesses is expected, notes Pater. The large businesses will focus on hybrid cloud — drawing on both private and public cloud services. The number of different clouds used by a company (especially the larger and mid-market firms) will keep expanding, which will create more complex IT environments, he adds.

But this increasingly complex cloud environment, the growing adoption of SD (software defined) telecoms infrastructure and the distributed workforce will pose heightened corporate network security risks, he cautions.

 “In 2022, a lot of CIOs will focus on ensuring that the corporate network is secure. As such, we expect to see more solutions being offered by service providers to secure home connectivity for business (work from home) purposes,” Pater says.

Security is still a big issue and it will remain an issue in the year to come, agrees IDC’s Walker. “It’s the elephant in the room at the moment. It’s all very well to innovate and transform and to work in new ways but if you don’t get the skills to drive all of this and get security right, we’ve got problems.”

Adoption of cloud technology and the move to hybrid work environments also means changes in in connectivity. After a very lacklustre 2020/2021 in terms of business connectivity, an increase in the adoption of broadband connectivity by businesses is expected, as more and more companies across Africa return to the office, either full-time or part-time, says Pater. Fibre to the business (FTTB) will pick up but there are also newer technologies that will grow in adoption. These include fixed-LTE and fixed 5G, he explains.

Currently, Africa is very underserved, Walker says, but as noted earlier, there is a lot of money going into local data centres and infrastructure rollout. “Realising the efficiencies of cloud and enabling truly connected, digital citizens is only possible once the infrastructure is sorted. Especially across Africa, the challenge is to come up with creative strategies to connect everyone from those in urban centres to those living in rural areas.”

For many South African firms, the fourth wave of COVID and the emergence of the Omicron Covid variant late last year has further exacerbated existing supply chain constraints. This forced many businesses to cancel or put their IT projects on hold in 2021, says Arthur Goldstuck, founder and CEO of World Wide Worx. In 2022, the promise of a recovery of supply chains will lead to a boom in IT services and logistics, he adds.

For example, the pandemic ushered in a major transformation in how South African consumers buy their groceries, boosting competition among the country’s biggest retailers as they all launched their own food delivery apps in an effort to reach new customers.

The world may slowly be opening up again but consumers have become accustomed to this convenience and, as such, this trend isn’t going anywhere, says Walker. Beyond what consumers see on the front end when using these apps, Walker notes that these digital delivery platforms require a lot of work on the back end.

“Some very interesting partnerships have emerged to enable digital supply chains to work the way they do and boost efficiency across the supply chain. This requires strategic partnerships; incorporating everyone from retailers and banks to courier companies and payment gateway providers to give customers a seamless and fuss-free experience.”

According to Goldstuck, several emerging technologies will be in the spotlight this year as companies leverage technologies to work more efficiently and transform how they do business. He forecasts that artificial intelligence (AI) will come into its own as the ability to leverage automated analysis and insights make decision support a competitive differentiator. Goldstuck also believes that blockchain and cryptocurrency will become more closely integrated into business activity. 

“In the last two years, CIOs have had to accelerate their digital transformation plans,” concludes Walker. “They’ve chucked some things off the table, they’ve added other things to the table. They’ve had to deal with so much change and they’ve had to adapt far quicker than many of them would have liked. Now is a good time to take stock, assess the returns on their investments and then make some big decisions about what they want to keep and what they want to get rid of going forward.”

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