With rapid growth in ICT infrastructure technology companies must now focus on innovation and generation of local content to grow the industry.
China technology company, Huawei, is now betting on nurturing local talent and inspiring innovation to make maximum impact locally.
Huawei regional president for East and Southern Africa, Li Dafeng, told Nation.co.ke the company has gone big on staff localization to ensure business continuity and faster growth.
“The Nairobi office has 400 employees with 60 per cent being local staff…local people Kenya’s business culture which is very key for our success and there is assured business continuity,” said Mr Dafeng.
The company which has operated in Kenya for the past 14 years believes Kenya is a market that cannot be ignored due to its quick growth in ICT infrastructure and expansion in mobile telephony sector.
Mr Dafeng believes Kenya’s quest for industrialisation can be fast-tracked through increased innovation in ICT, especially mobile applications that have become the main drivers of business and life globally.
He said the Kenyans should get more innovative to benefit from the current technological revolution, adding that development of mobile applications has opened limitless opportunities for the tech-savvy.
“One of the key challenges we have faced is the retraining of fresh university graduates to orient them to the latest and emerging technologies not taught at the universities…the industry needs to work closely with training institutions to ensure churning out of relevant and demand-driven skills,” he said.
We need to spur innovation in ICT thus we need our youth to be equipped with marketable skills…Huawei through its global ‘ telecom seed for the future’ has partnered with Safaricom and three local Universities (Moi, Nairobi, and JKUAT) to ensure engineering students in Kenya are equipped with modern up to date skills to meet current need in telecom industry.
The MoU, signed in June 2011 entails agreement on Android Software application development, Internship/Industrial visit programs, academic curriculum reviews to meet current industry standards, training at Huawei HQ, universities and Training Center, offering expert trainers for the universities symposia and equipment donations.
Mr Dafeng said apart from partnering with the private sector to offer telecommunication solutions, it is working closely with the Kenyan government to expand ICT infrastructure in the rural areas.
Recently the company partnered with Mobicom to grow its retail outlets for its products including modems and mobile phones.
“Initially, Huawei focus was more on the telcos, but now we have more business groups such as carriers, enterprise and consumer.
As a change in our business strategy, we have therefore developed a channel targeting enterprise and consumer.
The partnership with Mobicom symbolizes a milestone of Huawei’s new strategy, a shift from business-focused to customer-oriented and a march into open channels that entail operators, resellers, and retails, increasing the accessibility of Huawei-branded smart devices in the mass market,” explained Mr Dafeng.
“We are in partnership with the Ministry of Information to impropve coverage of telco services in the rural areas. We have been deploying network equipment to ensure end users benefit from the latest mobile broadband trechnologies,” said Dafeng.
“Globally Huawei posted $33bn in profits last year emerging as the world number two telecommunication services provider…we moved our regional headquarter to Kenya last year since Kenya is becoming an undisputed ICT hub and potential for growth is high,” he said.
Mr Dafeng said Kenya now needs to encourage investors to concentrate more on local content and mobile apps development for maximum utilization of the existing Internet broadband.
“We must pay much attention to development of apps and local content…education and knowledge transfer is also very important to ensure a critical mass of skills to sustain the growing ICT industry,” he advised.
He said Huawei has so far trained over 4500 students in relevant and latest technologies and is planning to expand the training programme to cater for more university graduates.
We are also focusing on supporting mobile application challenges among students to ensure development of apps relevant to Africa.
In order to mediate the software skills gap, the Kenya ICT Board also recently unveiled Chipuka software certification program in partnership with local and international universities to ensure companies have an easy and reliable way to identify skilled software developers in Kenya.
Chipuka will be the first “authentic” examination that would be attuned to the needs of the industry in general and incorporate a broad selection of professional tools.
A pilot exam will be ready by March 2013; the certification should be fully operational in Kenya by October 2013.
The move is informed by a study carried out in 2011 by the Kenya ICT Board and IDC which revealed a software skills gap in Kenya.
"Although there is a high demand for software development in Kenya, few companies source these skills locally. At least a quarter of companies surveyed said they were not satisfied with the quality of IT professionals in the local market…," partly reads a statement by the Kenya ICT Board.
In a past interview Vision 2030 director-general Mugo Kibati said ICT is a key pillar in the Vision 2030 and asked universities and software developers to think outside the box. “We cannot develop to a middle-level economy without innovation,” he said. “And that innovation has to be original which means we must invest more in research and development.”
He said innovation backed by research would solve the problem of commercializing service-oriented solutions.
He said projects like Konza City and Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset) presented markets for app developers.
“As the old generation thinks about property around these areas, young people should be looking at how they can use technology to service these areas and create jobs.”
Mobile usage has grown tremendously with over 70 per cent of Kenya covered by mobile networks and over 24 million people hooked to them. This makes mobile applications very critical in accessing services.
“Mobile phone is considered the computer of Africa and the de facto medium of communication,” said Mr Kibati.
He noted that Kenya is ranked 56 out of 139 countries worldwide in terms of innovation by the World Competitiveness Report for 2010/11, putting the country at par with Asian tigers.
“Our problem in Kenya has always been that innovation is not turned into concrete products for the market soon enough. We need to close the innovation-implementation gap to increase our overall global competitiveness.