IBM to open reseach center in Kenya

IBM, one of the worlds most known and successful companies, will open a research center in Nairobi, Kenya.  The opening of the research lab is aimed at saving billions for Kenya by developing technology to improve delivery of public services. It will be the first of its research labs on the African continent. IBM president Ginni Rometty met with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to mark the announcement. The laboratory, IBM Research – Africa, is being launched in a partnership between IBM and the Kenyan Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT).

While IBM did not say how much it would invest, Robert Morris, vice president for services research, said on Monday it would be a “significant” amount. Globally, IBM ploughs about $6.5 billion per year research and development. Kenya will contribute $2 million annually over five years, information and communication permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo said, with copyrights for resulting works being shared. Kenya, Rwanda and

IBM President and CEO Ginni Rometty (left) meets with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to commemorate the announcement of IBM’s first research lab in Africa, Aug. 13, 2012.

other countries in east Africa have vibrant ICT sectors, typified by successful mobile phone-based money transfer services, bill payment services and mobile banking. Ndemo said while it was hard to quantify the savings from the resulting research, automating various government services would save billions of dollars. “There are several registries, which if we completely automated, our estimate is that we can plough back to the Exchequer up to $10 billion by simply creating efficiency through higher productivity,” Ndemo said. IBM, which has a presence in more than 20 countries on the continent, said the single biggest challenge facing African cities was improving services such as water and transportation. In Africa, IBM, a bellwether for the IT industry because of its worldwide reach and breadth of businesses, already provides network support for telecoms firms and commercial banks, among others.

The facility is expected to drive Kenya’s transition to a modern services economy through research into age-old problems like traffic congestion, low agricultural productivity and slow public service delivery.  The research facility becomes the 12th in the world after those in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland and the US. IBM laboratories have been credited for many innovations in information technology, including the invention of relational database, disk storage and DRAM memory. The company has won five Nobel prizes. The initiative is part of IBM’s strategy to grow its dominance in Kenya and the region. Some of the research areas that the IBM research center will cover include next generation public sector, smarter cities and human capacity development by boosting the innovation and engaging entrepreneurs.

The lab will explore three “key research areas,” according to the release, including the “next generation public sector,” creating “smarter cities” with a focus on water and transportation and the development of human capacity. The lab will leverage IBM’s existing big data technologies, advanced analytics, and cloud computing technology as part of the “next generation public sector” initiative. The lab will also, in conjunction with academia and the public and private sectors, create Intelligence Operation Centers in African cities to improve water and transportation throughout the continent.

In addition, IBM Research Africa will also be home to a Resident Scientist Program to recruit top R&D talent throughout the continent. The Ideal candidates will be pre- and post-doctoral researchers in either academia or the private sector. They will be given one-year tenure with the opportunity for renewal and will have access to IBM’s talent both at IBM Research Africa and throughout the company’s global research laboratory network.

Great opportunity for the Kenya to develop software sector. Past few years as reported and highlighted on here, big names such as Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm have began to establish a presence on the African continent. Whether setting up office or expanding distribution channels, the moves have been aimed for long term success.  This further proves the growing African market, especially in IT, telecommunications and software development.

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