Kenya’s low investment in Big Data may deny us digital fruits

Tuesday July 9 2019

big data

Predictive analytics and big data concept with hand holding modern smart phone to analyse data from marketing, shopping, cloud computing and mobile devices. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

PAUL OKANDA
By PAUL OKANDA
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With the recent explosive evolution of information technology and computer science, it goes without saying that the world is now in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and, by and large, this is centred on Big Data.

However, transforming Big Data into big knowledge and developing a knowledge-based economy require investments in the requisite infrastructure.

High Performance Computing (HPC) is the practice of aggregating computing power in such a way that much higher performance can be achieved in comparison to what could be delivered from a single computing device. With the computing speeds provided by HPC, coupled with its ability to analyse new sources of structured and/or unstructured data, organisations can analyse information immediately and make decisions based on it.

CUSTOMER NEEDS

HPC also makes it possible to develop relevant products and services because with the ability to gauge customer needs and satisfaction through analytics comes the power to give them what they want.

This denotes the fact that Big Data can be used in almost every facet of our lives. Data processed by HPCs can help to fight hunger by developing drought-resistant crop breeds, better understanding climate change. That would create numerous opportunities to increase food production without compromising on limited resources such as water.

HPCs can also enable economic modelling for the national and county governments by processing big and open data, providing insights that contribute to evidence-based policymaking. Medical advancements like gene sequencing, molecular research and biophysical simulations can aid development of effective medicine and vaccines for such diseases as malaria and Aids.

Africa lags behind in HPC, which is essential for the digital revolution. Our governments ought to provide access to cutting-edge computing technologies essential for research, innovation, growth and job creation.

GLOBAL VILLAGE

The world is a highly connected global village. Having local HPC capacity means our researchers and scientists can better contribute to the global research agenda and provide tools for wider collaboration with their colleagues globally. They can also develop more home-grown solutions to our challenges as opposed to copy-pasting solutions developed in totally different environments.

There is an urgent need to invest in HPC platforms if we are to take the lead on this front. So far, the only African country with a semblance of reasonable HPC is South Africa. This puts them miles ahead of us in terms of scientific research, development and digital evolution.

Among the few organisations with the capacity to offer HPC services in Kenya is the United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa) which hosts a mini-HPC courtesy of a partnership with Intel and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). However, this is used mainly by researchers in the agricultural and livestock research area, leaving out a huge chunk of businesses and institutions that can gain from HPC.

BIG DATA

Following the migration of most services onto digital platforms, data is being generated, and stored, every second. The challenge lies in interpreting and analysing this structured and unstructured data computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.

With such a groundbreaking opportunity staring at us in the face, the underinvestment in HPC platforms both by the public and private sectors in Kenya is underwhelming for a country that claims to be a technological powerhouse on the continent. It is, therefore, imperative for stakeholders to pay more attention to HPCs.

With the launch of the 5G network technology lurking in the horizon, we will have no one to blame but ourselves if we find ourselves playing catch-up in the adoption of HPCs to make effective use of Big Data.

Dr Okanda (PhD) is the director, ICT, and associate professor of computing at USIU-Africa. [email protected]

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