By Ian Engelbrecht
Cloud adoption in South Africa and many other African countries is accelerating, helped along by the COVID-19 workplace disruption, and the need to reduce costs, manage risk and scale, and become more competitive.
There are many drivers behind digital transformation strategies and many decisions that need to be made, such as which public cloud to consume. However, this should be less urgent than addressing security concerns.
As we continue to work with organisations in different industries spread across our diverse continent, cybersecurity and cyber risk are increasingly important considerations for the C-suite.
Against the backdrop of high-profile security breaches and ransomware, addressing security weaknesses are a key part of the success of digital transformation initiatives. An organisation needs to digitally transform to secure itself from threats.
Security Should Be a Top Consideration
In this context, security is ahead of function and location in the pecking order of considerations. Organisations have a pressing need to secure themselves as the long-term consequences of failing to do so are devastating.
Here, managing and upgrading infrastructure is vitally important, as is building a careful strategy to manage legacy applications and the risks inherent in them. A robust Modern Data Protection strategy, ensuring seamless backup and recovery, is a vital cog in this wheel.
Beyond the added pressures to address security, which is a global challenge, the uptake of the cloud in Africa does have additional challenges, with some countries being more affected.
Hybrid Work vs. Remote Work
Let’s start with the actual physical organisation. From a South African perspective, we are seeing a trend where many companies are requesting that their workforce return to offices – if only for a certain percentage of the time.
The sense is that while much can be accomplished virtually, there are certain functions such as skills transfer that have been hamstrung by the work-from-home culture. For instance, if an IT worker shadows someone in person, there are some skills and nuances that cannot be transferred virtually.
The future workplace will therefore be a hybrid model, where the functions that can be done remotely are done from anywhere, but areas that need in-person collaboration, skills transfer, and a reading of body language in important meetings will happen on-premises.
It is important not to read this as a threat to digital transformation broadly and migration to the cloud specifically. It won’t change the need for enterprises to migrate to the cloud, but it does signal an appetite to consider hybrid solutions – that nothing is one-size-fits-all.
Three Biggest Challenges to Africa’s Digital Transformation
The three biggest challenges in Africa are bandwidth, connectivity, and infrastructure. While South Africa has made impressive headway in these three areas, they remain a bigger challenge elsewhere.
By way of analogy, imagine a bank that needs to handle hundreds of transactions every second or millisecond, which is fed into a database. To transfer this into a public cloud that is hosted in another country, or a data centre that is physically some distance away needs fast, reliable, and stable connectivity. If a transaction takes a millisecond longer than it would if it was on-prem, then the customer experience becomes affected.
African businesses are aware of this, and in the Veeam Data Protection Report 2021, 35% of African organisations cited industry disruption as the biggest challenge they anticipated. This was followed by economic uncertainty (32%) and changing customer needs (32%).
These three challenges that are holding back some cloud adoptions are not typically the challenges one would see in developed markets. However, it is important to acknowledge that while there are many that can, not all organisations will be able to move 100% to the cloud – and not all will need to.
The Hybrid Cloud Model
Largely, there is still going to be a level of physical infrastructure required to manage local offices.
Some industries can certainly be run with 100% cloud strategies, but others can’t. Some applications don’t make sense going to the cloud yet.
By way of analogy, let’s imagine a bank once more. There may be dozens of databases inside their application stack. Some of those databases may not have support yet in the public cloud, so some would move to the public cloud, while some would remain on-prem – so the bank would need to invest in the public cloud, while still renewing hardware on-prem.
When the cloud is 100% ready, the shift will happen, but the likely scenario is a hybrid cloud strategy for the foreseeable future.
Much of the roadmap that we will follow on this continent is being carved out by developed markets, and it gives us a clear sense of where and how cloud strategies in Africa will evolve.
Once ensuring there is a clear strategy for securing data, African enterprises will continue to leverage and unleash the power of the cloud, but this won’t happen with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Ian Engelbrecht is the Africa lead, systems engineer at Veeam.