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What trends will take African tech to the next level?

Three years ago I decided to bring a major tech conference to Africa — Tech4Africa. The incredible personal journey that I have been on since the conference’s inception has tested my resolve to the limits as there have been many obstacles to overcome and it would have been so easy to have compromised my ideals or given up altogether.

In that time however, I have learnt about the market, what people want and have tried to adapt each conference to be in line with emerging trends as I see them. Technology in Africa is at an exciting juncture with some very interesting developments, some of which are as follows:

The web infrastructure is now a premier communications medium with the delivery mechanism or user interaction being predominantly mobile — the use of mobile with the consumer is now much greater than it was three years ago as the way people work and play has changed considerably, with Twitter, email, text messaging, the web and smart phones taking precedence in many markets over traditional communications media. This means that companies building products and services for the consumer must have a mobile element at the user interaction point.

Tech is now moving almost entirely to a cloud-based infrastructure with Dropbox as an example and this applies to both corporate organisations and individual users; one implication for which is that consumers will start moving to computers that don’t need a lot of horsepower. It also means that business startups or organisations like universities don’t require a server room which translates into a better economy of scale.

I see the ability of people to access data wherever they are without the need for a lot of storage space or anything that is centralised as a considerable step forward. However, in order for the new developments in tech to work people need fast broadband — which is a considerable bone of contention with me!

I am highly impressed with how countries such as Ghana and Kenya are getting with it, but I am very disappointed with the way technology has largely been ignored or overlooked in South Africa, which in my opinion, puts South Africans five to ten years behind everyone else, including some African countries.

Bandwidth in South Africa is still too expensive, there’s not enough infrastructure and not enough is being done here to make tech a part of people’s lives, which is holding people back as internet access unlocks things for people.

The implications for this are that there is a whole part of the South African population that isn’t able to enjoy the benefits that tech brings as it’s too expensive. We are also lagging behind the rest of the world — people in Lagos, Nigeria, enjoy better internet connectivity than people in South Africa do. Lack of good bandwidth connectivity in South Africa also affects user behaviour which, because people don’t understand ecommerce, is not conducive to economic growth.

This constraint in user behaviour puts us ten years behind the most technologically advanced country in the world which is the US, which is driving tech from the front. This is impacting negatively on innovation in South Africa because if the economic benefits of tech were understood and the demand was there, people would be building things and the market would be growing faster. Lack of infrastructure or bandwidth therefore means that the need for South Africans to build world-beating products is not there.

In the future I would like to see a situation where every South African child has a tablet instead of schoolbooks. When that day happens I will know my work and the work of Tech4Africa is done.

These are the things that kept me going through the hard times, the possibilities still to be explored for Tech4Africa and a feeling that I can contribute to the development of technology in Africa, which I consider to be eminent goals of the conference, as it provides a forum for discussion that brings together developers, investors, students, social media marketers, thought leaders and the press to share insights, discover innovation, collaborate on ideas and above-all connect people across the continent. It also, importantly, puts technology in Africa on the world stage and into a global context.

Tech4Africa 2012 which will be held on Wednesday 31 October and Thursday 1 November at The Indaba Hotel in Gauteng, has as its theme “Unlocking the next billion consumers”. Knight says “it has been a roller-coaster ride like no other!”

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