Magnus Nmonwu, Regional Director, Sage West Africa, in this interview with Olubayo Abiodun speaks to the boundless opportunities that Cloud adoption brings to the frontiers of prosperity for small businesses in Africa.
Africa Telecom & IT: How can Africa benefit from moving its business to the cloud and how sustainable is Cloud architecture given the huge infrastructure deficit on the continent?
Magnus Nmonwu: The cloud has huge potential for African businesses, giving them access to modern applications and opening the way for them to do more transactions via mobile and electronic commerce, thereby linking into the global market place. It also enables them to reduce software and server costs, enables more automation and gives them more flexibility in managing their businesses.
One study shows that 85.5 per cent of Nigerian respondents agree that easy access to data is a motivation for adopting the cloud. A good example is how Accountinghub, identified a gap in the market and partnered with Sage to offer an affordable cloud-based accounting solution for small businesses.
We are seeing telecoms companies invest in the network and data centre infrastructure to support the cloud; though there are still some constraints in speed, availability and affordability, the situation is changing fast. The cloud and the maturing Internet landscape give Africa an opportunity to leapfrog to the next generation of mobile technologies.
AT & IT: Bandwidth glut is a major constraint for datacentre proliferation in Africa, how is Sage collaborating with relevant institutions to improve infrastructure expansion in Africa in order to make datacentres more efficient and effective?
MN: We partner with several key industry players that have the suitable infrastructure to ensure that we can manage the challenges. We ensure that our customers have choices about the service provider they partner with. The main focus is to enable access to our end users anytime and anywhere.
AT & IT: Most datacentres providing services in Africa are located outside the continent. This is a major bottleneck because of the issues around security (concerns on the protection of the data stored offshore). How is this concern being addressed by Sage?
MN: We comply with the local laws in the countries where our customers are located. Many of our clients don’t have these restrictions, but we have our own private cloud / data centres in countries where this is a concern.
AT & IT: Are the governments in Africa really treading the right paths in policy engagement for the building of requisite structure for the evolvement of cloud computing for the general good of the economy?
MN: We are seeing governments across Africa put in place the right policies to enable broadband penetration, and work in partnership with the private sector to invest in telecoms infrastructure. Countries like Kenya and Nigeria have made amazing progress in the past 5 to 10 years.
AT & IT: Local skills are still largely in short supply in datacentre and cloud management in Africa. Needless to say that local skills for protectionism is essential in Africa as in other continents. What are big companies, like Sage doing to support skills acquisition in this regards? Otherwise, what is the plan for skills transfer to Africans?
MN: We help our local partners to build on the skills they need to leapfrog into the future. We also work with partners to support our customers in developing their skills base. At Sage, we run annual internship programmes to increase the availability of skills on our software for the benefit of end-users, partners, business builders and the communities at large. We mainly focus on ensuring transfer of skills and knowledge to our customers, driving our end-users to be the first line of support, depending on the magnitude of the service offering.
AT & IT: Wireless backbone is preponderant on the African continent and this also puts a lot of pressure on security needs and architecture for the protection of data? What are companies like Sage doing to propagate security infrastructure on the wireless networks?
MN: Our datacentres feature the best hardware and software, including the best information security solutions. We can handle malware, hackers, DDOS attacks, and all the common cybercrime threats and nuisances of the information age. A robust cloud application will keep your data backed up to the latest minute without the need for any special action from your side.
Not only does this reduce your risk of losing valuable data in a crisis (such as fire or the theft of a computer), it also means your team is always sharing and working off the latest data. We also educate clients about how they can protect their own devices as they access the cloud.
AT & IT: Huge potentials of the rural economies of most African nations are still largely untapped. In this age of transformation to digital economy what are the possibility of such rural economies being integrated to the national economies of African nations?
MN: African policymakers and regulators, working with the industry, need to make rural access a priority. The approach will need to carefully balance the high costs of building the infrastructure with the need to make telecoms services as affordable as possible.
AT & IT: MSMEs and SMEs are very important segment of most African economies but are still largely low in infrastructure that help them evolve as the mainstay. What are the survival strategies that could be deployed via cloud adoption to make MSMEs and SMEs sustainable?
MN: Many smaller businesses fail because they lack proper visibility into their financial position or because they are unable to comply with tax laws and other financial regulations. Cloud accounting software, for example, makes it simple for them to record transactions accurately, monitor their financial wellbeing, and meet statutory obligations such as filing their tax returns. They can have access to their financial data wherever they are, on any device and at any time.
AT & IT: What are the tools available in the cloud for SMEs and MSMEs to re-energise and get more traction in the evolving economic recession pervading the continent?
MN: Cloud solutions like Sage One give business owners and their employees fast, secure access to their small business accounting from anywhere at any time. This solution can connect the accountant and other people in the business with real-time and intuitive information. Up-to-the minute reporting also means they always know exactly how the business is performing so that they can make informed decisions based on that insight. Sage and its business partners are also able to assist end-users deploy any Sage solution in the cloud to enable them access at all times.
AT & IT: What sorts of partnership is Sage forging on the continent in order to improve and make cloud computing popular on the continent? Can you also speak directly to the specific effort of Sage in Nigeria?
MN: In Nigeria, we have existing partnerships with some datacentres and also building more. Our Sage One cloud solution is also doing very well in the market, having recently been showcased at the greatest Accounting event in Nigeria – the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) Conference, recently held in Abuja.
AT & IT: What are the challenges to the increasing cloud adoption in Africa and what can Sage and other businesses like Oracle, IBM, Google, AWS etc. do in a collaboration to provide solutions?
MN: There are some lingering concerns among Small & Medium Businesses about the security and reliability of the cloud and the risks of storing data with a third-party provider. But we believe that the cloud means that small businesses will really enjoy higher levels of security and uptime because of the quality of the data infrastructure that companies like Sage use.
As mentioned earlier, we also comply with data protection laws wherever we operate. Educating the market is the key to changing these perceptions.