Why Kenya is yet to fully embrace cloud computing

Members of the public during a past ICT expo in Nairobi with a focus on cloud computing. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Members of the public during a past ICT expo in Nairobi with a focus on cloud computing. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Not long ago, talking to Kenyan companies about the cloud would have earned you blank looks. A few people might even have wondered why the conversation was shifting to the weather.

Flash forward to today and cloud computing— storage of programmes, documents and data on the Internet—seems to have been a pre-occupation for IT managers working in all manner of organisations— from hospitals to State corporations.

So has Kenya, and Africa, finally gone fully to the cloud? Not quite yet, experts say. But the county is on the verge of soaring off the ground. The enabling environment, while not fully conducive, is becoming friendlier to cloud services.

“The biggest obstacles in the way of mainstream cloud uptake— high speed access, affordable data and reliable connectivity— are fast being cleared, paving the way for mass adoption of cloud-based computing,” writes Internet service provider Liquid Telecom in a recent report on the African cloud.

Nevertheless, there are a few more hurdles to overcome before businesses in Kenya fully adopt the cloud, key among which are public perception and fragmented, confusing regulations.

In large economies in East and South Africa, adoption of cloud services has accelerated in recent years, underpinned by better fibre connectivity and driven by a need to improve efficiency and cut costs, especially as companies spread across the region.

“Countries such as Kenya and Uganda are seeing good growth as large organisations expand in the region. For them, cloud is an important part of their build-out,” says John Tullet, research manager at the International Data Corporation (IDC).

Multinationals are stepping up to take advantage of the growth in the sector as are local companies such as Safaricom and Seven Seas Technologies.

There is even a vibrant scene of start-ups either offering cloud services, or leveraging on the cloud to grow themselves— the so-called cloud-native companies.

Interestingly, the public sector has not been left behind.

In Kenya 35.6 per cent of public sector institutions use cloud services in comparison to only 22.9 per cent of private businesses, according to research done last year by the Communications Authority (CA) and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). This trend is largely due to a government strategy to digitise services across the public sector.

The Ministry of Co-operatives recently launched a portal for societies to upload wealth declaration forms and annual returns.

The information is more than just stored on the cloud with the ministry saying that it would gain a real-time overview of the Sh600 billion sector and use it to mine data and analytics that would drive policy making. 

But while growth is accelerating, it remains that majority of businesses and public institutions are not on the cloud. In Kenya, the CA and KNBS survey found that most businesses and public sector institutions did also not have a coherent plan of taking to the cloud.

So what is holding them back?

Data shows that the biggest hurdle is simply ignorance. About 53.1 per cent of public institutions not on the cloud and 37.1 per cent of private businesses said that they had “insufficient” knowledge about the services. Cost, a poor regulatory framework, and security concerns were also high up there as reasons for lagging behind.

Companies fear that hosting data remotely on the could exposes them to vulnerabilities. Microsoft argues that the inverse is true, saying that cloud is safer.

While you may lose a laptop, or your local storage may even be damaged by weather, data stored on the cloud is not equally vulnerable.

Stringent and fragmented regulations also take some of the blame. Banks have also been compelled to conform to strict regulations by the Central Bank of Kenya that requires that customer information be safeguarded at all costs.

“Some sectors need clarity on the legislation around cloud, and a clear regulatory framework before they will shift sensitive workloads to the cloud,” said IDC’s Francis Hook in the Liquid Telecom report.

Fear of losing jobs for IT staff appears to hurt company plans to adopt cloud services and this can easily be addressed if companies redefined IT staff roles to include data analysis and intelligence gathering.