iHub Research’s 2014 Tech Outlook: Predictions, Convictions...and Questions

By Rhoda Omenya
iHub Research
  Published 15 Feb 2014
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iHub Research’s 2014 Tech Outlook: Predictions, Convictions...and Questions
Compiled by Nanjira Sambuli New year, new things. We at iHub Research are enthusiastic about the prospects and challenges ahead in the tech scene. We put together our thoughts: predictions, convictions and questions about what the year might have in store for tech, locally and regionally. Here is a compilation of those ideas: Tech For Education How ICTs are used in the education sector will be most interesting to follow. The government plan to roll out ICT hubs in each county will, at its core, tie to education. However, have the architects of this ambitious plan done any evaluation of the previously rolled out Pasha Digital Villages by the ICT Board (now the ICT Authority)? A question raised at the Education World Forum (or Bett) that we co-ask  is: “What would be the 'ideal' educational technology device for use in schools, and by teachers and students, in developing countries? In the past laptops and PCs have been presumed, however, this year, the eye in on the tablet." - Michael Trucano Different corporations like Microsoft, Intel and Samsung are customizing the tablet for educational purposes. It will be interesting to see if this will be the technology of choice for classroom use in 2014. Beyond the hype around providing (solar-powered) laptops for Standard 1 students, interesting opportunities abound in content creation and production for these devices (Ksh. 500 million has been set aside for digital content in the current financial year’s allocation to the project).  We’ll be looking out for what emerges on this front.  
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Transport The National Transport and Safety Authority’s  proposed adoption of ICTs to regulate the public transport sector could be a game changer. Of particular interest will be the proposed cashless system for fares, to become effective on July 1st 2014, that could influence other sectors such as the retail industry to follow suit, depending on the successes, perceived benefits, challenges and ‘threats’ as ICTs are implemented in the public transport sector.*   Digital Government Will the ‘digital government(s)’ (national and county) go beyond tweeting and Facebook status updates? We sure hope so! Crowdsourcing initiatives such as Usalama Watch and corruption reporting (via the President’s website) are interesting steps towards increasing Kenyan e-governance. It will do the government well to understand that crowdsourcing, in its best form, entails mutual benefit, with the crowdsourcer (the Government in this case) obtaining information desired from a vast number of people (Kenyan citizens online), in (near) real-time. In turn, sharing back findings informs participants, and the value system that follows builds a virtuous cycle that allows for future crowdsourcing deployments. (We recommend our 3Vs Crowdsourcing Framework for more on crowdsourcing for information!) The Government also launched an integrated public service delivery system, Huduma Kenya, whose online/digital component is yet to be realized. We will also be looking out for innovations and adaptation of ICTs for governance at the county and ward level. (As always, Chief Kariuki remains an administrator to watch!) Mobile: Policy, Technologies Companies like Tecno and Mi-Fone may make smart phones ubiquitous, the VAT imposition on ICTs notwithstanding. The relatively low cost of smartphones from these two companies, for instance, may serve and drive demand for smarter, cheaper, higher quality phones.* Is this the year M-PESA finally releases an API? Developers have been waiting for this! It could add a new chapter for M-Commerce innovations, upon its roll out.   Big data and Analytics Big (and/or open) data is here to stay. Big data analytics has moved beyond the preserve of financial institutions and we will see more use of data for social development as well general business intelligence in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). There has been a lull in the local open data movement. However, it is our hope and expectation that with the reconstitution of the ICT Authority, and the potential passing of a Freedom of Information Act, that the necessary institutional frameworks will be set in place to kick start the Open Data Initiative. Moreover, advocacy for open data will move from a push for transparency and accountability to a more pragmatic approach of deriving commercial, economic benefits and increased efficiency as we prepare the post-2015 development agenda. We also expect governments, private sector, civil society and donor organizations will be actively looking into the data they have been collecting to influence their program directions. The Kenyan tech sector is not being left behind either in the global movement to make sense of social media and unstructured data (images and text mining) and we hope to also see more of these kinds of big data initiatives. Vision 2030 may still seem improbable, but the pieces are slowly falling into place. In line with the move to streamline, formalize or digitize sectors such as transport, agriculture, weather and education, we anticipate that we will begin producing atypical data sets. There are foreseeable opportunities in these areas to make data-driven decisions, and the country will be looking to the technology sector to not only set up the appropriate structures but also build in necessary intelligence mechanisms. Thanks to the Internet, we will see more self- taught data scientists emerging in the space. We anticipate some universities, however, to begin reassessing their curriculum to create hybrid computer scientists, mathematicians and designers. Courses to this effect are already surfacing.   3D Tech 3D Printing will change everything from food to guns, and that’s just a teaser. Envision any process that could involve the fabrication of goods, and you’ll be closer to grasping how big additive manufacturing is going to be. So much so that Dell, an arguably struggling PC giant in recent times, has jumped on the bandwagon and is going to be selling 3D Printers from their own home web stores, and they’re not the first either. Why is that important? Because it provides product traction through improved availability and exposure. It represents a frontier that has, for ages, been defined by the break-evens and profit-margins of industrial manufacturing giants - that pair of shoes you thought you could buy later? Well it’s off-season now and off the shelf. That won’t be the case with 3D Printing. The key word here is customization, and it’s a powerful word because we are slowly learning that designing for the average could in fact mean designing for no one. Is 3D Printing an Industrial Revolution? Maybe not yet, but watch this space closely!   Online surveillance and privacy Cybercrime is an online menace that the Kenyan Government is intent on addressing. Both the Director of Public Prosecutions and the ICT Cabinet Secretary have indicated that they’re in the process of ensuring there are legal measures in place to address the issue that’s was projected to cost the country  about Kshs 2billion in 2013. One law that the Presidency is ready to ratify is the Draft African Union Convention on The Confidence and Security in Cyberspace that was set to be in this month’s African Union Summit agenda. While cybersecurity laws are necessary, the proposed convention has some problematic clauses that have been highlighted at length, such as the lack of consultation with stakeholders in its drafting. While voting on the convention has been postponed, its problematic clauses highlight the need to remain aware and involved in the review process of any laws proposed to ensure that our cyberspace is secure. We will soon be forced to have conversations on the implications of such laws given the surveillance revelations that took the world by storm last year. One overarching question is likely to be whether there is such a thing as online privacy.   Social Media: Information, Conversations….Towards Collective Action? In 2013, iHub Research was able to conduct groundbreaking research that tapped into Kenyans’ adoption and use of social media. The Umati: Monitoring Online Dangerous Speech Project and the 3Vs of Election-Based Crowdsourcing Project were viable endeavors in part because Kenyans are getting online and sharing what is happening around them, essentially making them citizen journalists. We also continue to see opinions, convictions and thoughts on various matters shared. Social media was also instrumental during the Nairobi Westgate Mall Attack as a source of information, misinformation and disinformation alike, but it was the primary pulse through which many stayed updated, asked questions and collectively processed the tragedy of it all. In 2014, we expect to see lots more conversations covering wide issues affecting Kenyans’ lives; with the devolution process and other governance issues driving many a narrative, alongside alternative commentary on events that transpire throughout the year. As a result, we could see online conversations leading to organization of offline action along many fronts, towards strengthening civic engagement.   Open Science We anticipate that the concept of openness will be embraced more in the field of science, technology and innovation, setting the stage for new discoveries on the benefits, opportunities and challenges in embracing open and collaborative science for development practices and theories. Particular thrilling prospects are citizen science and open hardware.   Startups...and the (former) hype surrounding them A lot less startups, or to put it differently, a decline of ‘M-Vitu’ apps (apps and startups for the mere sake of it). With the hype around startups serving the retail consumer space starting to dwindle/plateau, a lot more maturity will go into the creation of new ones. We might also see a rise in B2B tech (tech solutions for enterprise level), as well as local investment into tech start-ups. Financial markets, too, are likely to start seeing an uptake of technology. We will also see more established companies and governments playing a role in building local capacity and providing training services centered around soft skills, leadership and technical skills.* Will we see any acquisitions from local and global players?   Innovation spaces 2014 will be a good time to start defining and monitoring the successful hubs and accelerator programs. Many pre-incubators will be looking at how to strategically position themselves to remain competitive and attractive to high growth startups (new or existing ones), as well as coming up with sustainable models that do not rely on donor funding alone. Moreover, we will see more accelerator programs centered towards specialized services and support and less pre-incubators. More universities will start cultivating the entrepreneurship culture through university-based labs and initiatives. We may also see many medium sized and large organizations adopting the open innovation concept. This will be achieved by incorporating a mix of external and internal ideas to facilitate a creative and open environment at the work place. Innovation has also become a key component of their growth to ensure competitive advantage. Will we start seeing more collaborative efforts between hubs and scalable models to extend their services to the rural tech communities? Will we start seeing more innovation spaces centered on other diverse sectors and not only technology? This, we shall be looking out for. The Kenyanization policy...and tech talent Building the Silicon Savannah will surely entail a mlange of local and international talent. The terms and conditions hinged to long term work permits under the 'Kenyanization' policy, have raised quite a buzz in the tech scene, some useful insights here, here and here. A tough balancing act, it will be, to effectively cement Kenya’s status as Africa’s ‘tech hub’. The government’s policies may be met with intense lobbying efforts that will make 2014 an interesting year for the Kenyan tech industry!   A Wild Card: Dreaming On…because we must! Send someone to the moon? :P Ok, maybe let’s start by putting up a satellite… The Kenya Parliament has already passed a motion calling for the creation of a space sector for the country. Professor Calestous Juma explains what the benefits of such a venture would be for Kenya’s long-term economic transformation through technological foundations (Geographic Information Science and Mobile Technology). We are intrigued, and hope that the legal provisions will be in place soon enough to facilitate implementation and experimentation in this space. Onwards, 2014! *Additional insights from Joel Macharia and Shikoh Gitau while visiting iHub Research.
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