The digitisation of the economy is here to stay and has been growing exponentially driven by the pandemic period. One of its aspects is the so-called cloud computing, which is configured as a disruptive lever in the business model of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
My aim in this article is to reflect on its advantages and disadvantages and the opportunities and challenges in the African context, particularly in Mozambique.
But let us begin by trying to define the concept. Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services – including servers, data storage, databases, software and applications – over the internet (the so-called “cloud”). We typically pay only for the services we use, which allows us to reduce operating costs, manage infrastructure efficiently and scale as growth or some other business imperative occurs.
Notice that all of us individually have long used services in said cloud. In fact, I imagine that almost all readers have a personal offshore email account like Gmail, or a NetFlix account to watch a family series on Friday night, or iCloud to save the photos that the phone storage no longer allows.
At a business level the issue takes a different twist, and storing data outside the perimeter of a company is still seen as something unnatural or not easily accessible, especially for decision-makers on the African continent.
The advantages inherent to the adoption of cloud services are evident: it is possible to scale capacity according to needs and business fluctuations, this allows cost efficiency since you only pay for the services subscribed to, the IT staff has greater productivity by being able to focus on tasks of greater added value and on core business applications and, finally, there will be an increase in the availability and performance of the infrastructure that will be managed by qualified specialists and always following the best international practices.
There are, however, a series of challenges to the adoption of enterprise cloud services. The first of which is associated with the lack of regulation of these services in various countries, including Africa and, in particular, Mozambique. This regulatory void, at national or sectoral level, is a major inhibitor of this type of infrastructure that has led companies to continue to bet on their own local infrastructures.
Data security and network infrastructure bandwidth are two other important inhibitors.
The question of data security is greatly mitigated by the use of last generation standards by the main suppliers. Obviously, the necessary procedures must be maintained by the companies to minimise attacks and reduce vulnerabilities.
As for infrastructure bandwidth, it is noteworthy that it has doubled in a few years on the African continent, so businesses and governments can increasingly rely on cloud technologies and take advantage of its many benefits.
Indeed, there has been a wave of investment in data centres and ICT infrastructure, originally centred in South Africa, but now with some case studies spread across the continent where domestic players compete with international giants such as Amazon and Microsoft Azure.
Some of these cloud service providers have emerged from the communications sector, such as Sonatel in West Africa, TelOne in Zimbabwe and Angola Cables in Angola, which besides managing undersea communication cables, operates a Tier I data centre in Luanda.
Mozambique’s situation is parallel to that of many other countries, and a solid regulatory framework in line with international best practices needs to be created to enable access to enterprise cloud services in a consistent manner. Multilateral entities, such as the World Bank through the “Digital Governance and Economy Project”, have launched structural initiatives aimed at improving cybersecurity, infrastructure and digital connectivity capacities in Mozambique, which will certainly serve to catalyse this agenda in the country.
It is important for companies, both large companies and SMEs, to look at cloud services as an opportunity and think about how to embed them in their strategy, rethinking their operational, application and human resources models.
In short, cloud computing enables the delivery of sophisticated information technology capabilities over the internet and will play a crucial role in innovation and efficiency agendas.
What is especially interesting about this phenomenon is that companies do not need to own their infrastructure or data centres. Instead, they can lease access to storage capacity or applications and reduce the operational and investment costs currently required to build and maintain their own infrastructure.
The adoption of these technologies can be considered in progressive waves, keeping pace with regulatory developments and associated risk mitigation. But we should all be aware that this is an irrevocable phenomenon and that the sooner we study it, the better.
If African countries, and in particular Mozambique, manage to address the challenges listed here, which include the implementation of well-structured regulation and the existence of ICT infrastructure support, cloud computing can become a powerful ally to achieve sustainable development and, who knows, turn Mozambique into a Digital Hub in the region.