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How can technology strengthen African infrastructures and economies?

From L to R: Kunle Awosika, Country Manager, Microsoft Kenya and Sammy Itemere, PS Ministry of ICT, Government of Kenya

Recognizing the importance of the digital transformation and its potential impact on African infrastructures and economies, Microsoft hosted high-level government officials, select innovators, and Microsoft representatives from across the Middle East and Africa at two-day events held in Nairobi and Dakar in early March. With sessions on health, agriculture, transport, taxes and justice, attendees had the opportunity to discuss opportunities, challenges and best practices and assess how technology can best support and strengthen government needs across sectors.

As a Microsoft partner in several countries across Africa, International participated in both the East and West African events. Regional Director and Medical Officer of, Dr. Herbert Turyagyenda, presented on the potential of cloud technology in health. Dr. Herbert is on the Board of Directors for both the East Africa Healthcare Federation (EAHF) and The Global Fund UG Country-Coordinating Mechanism; he was formerly the General Manager AAR Healthcare Uganda and a medical doctor with UN High Commission for Refugees. He shared some key thoughts on the events and themes.

1. How is cloud computing changing the digital environment in Africa?

Cloud-based technologies are offering new ways to do business and to expand economic opportunities. The cloud is enabling more affordable, efficient, and accessible solutions which are critical especially for the public sector.

“Most governments and nations have an opportunity to leapfrog ahead [with cloud infrastructure]. It is vital that the private and public sectors come together to ensure Africa’s most pressing issues, in areas including health, education and the environment, are addressed through digital transformation” -Kunle Awosika, Country Manager, Microsoft Kenya

From L to R: Kunle Awosika, Country Manager, Microsoft Kenya and Sammy Itemere, PS Ministry of ICT, Government of Kenya

2. What were some of attendees concerns about cloud computing?

Security was one of the biggest issues for government adoption of cloud services. Most reputable cloud solution providers invest heavily in security and are far more secure than people realize and generally far more secure than the alternative of a server on premise. At the event someone noted that it is easier to break into a vault at a bank then into a security system on the cloud. That being said, Microsoft announced plans to continue to enhance the security of its cloud platform to boost adoption by governments.

3. What excited participants at the events?

The potential of cloud computing and data analytics. It was exciting for participants to learn more and see the benefits including examples of real time analytics. The importance of data was clear across sectors and highlighted in the presentations of many innovators. Many government services are still primarily paper based so the transition to digital solutions will start to build valuable data, and its insight will drive the next wave of efficiencies and impact for governments and their citizens.

4. What did you find surprising about the discussions about technology in the health sector?

For me, it was interesting, although not completely surprising, that attendees understood the potential benefits of technology in health and many representatives from various countries had similar pain points but weren’t using or testing digital solutions to address those needs. There is still work to be done to help governments transition from aspirations of adopting technology to actually mainstreaming technological innovations into their work to benefit citizens and support digital transformation across areas like health in the public sector.

For example, I had discussions with many constituents who discussed issues around loss to follow up and difficulties in the continuum of care in HIV, maternal and child health, chronic disease and other areas. While they understood technology is well placed to assuage these issues, they had yet to try a patient engagement solution like ours.

5. What was a key learning from the events?

While the digital transformation offers tremendous opportunities across sectors, there was also discussion about how the digital transformation has the potential to deepen the digital divide. All players - innovators, enterprises, governments and large IT institutions - should work to ensure that digital dividends and benefits are shared. Microsoft has aligned its corporate strategy with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and government officials at the event sought to understand how the cloud would impact its constituents. And all of us need to continue to ask: how can we better engage our communities and improve livelihoods for all?

"In this year’s Digital Transformation [East Africa] workshop for the public sector we have engaged with customers from Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania…we

have exchanged ideas on how we can help them bring better services for their citizens" – Sebuh Haileleul, GM Microsoft East and Southern Africa.

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