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IBM's Rometty: Lack of legacy systems to help Africa adopt tech faster

Rometty's visit marked her second trip to Kenya in four months, highlighting the region's growing importance to the company

Lack of legacy systems, adoption of mobile technology and a youthful population will help Africa leapfrog other regions in IT by adopting more advanced systems, according to IBM CEO and Chairman Ginni Rometty.

Businesses and governments are adopting recent technology more readily than in other regions, which have heavy investment in legacy systems, Rometty said, speaking in Nairobi Wednesday. The IBM executive was on a visit with 20 senior IBM executives to engage more than 90 business and government leaders on issues related to the vendor's "Smarter Planet" initiative and discuss priorities for Africa's growth and development.

IBM's Smarter Planet initiative embraces cloud, mobile and data analysis technology to create systems designed to help users make more efficient use of resources in various industries.

"Legacy is one of the major barriers to entry and if you don't have legacy systems, it's easier," Rometty said. "Fidelity Bank in Ghana has moved to a mobility platform that serves the unbanked and is showing how to reach more clients."

Rometty's visit marked her second trip to Kenya in four months. The first was during the establishment of IBM's 12th global research facility at Catholic University of Eastern Africa.

"Kenya government has run many departments over many years without automation, meaning that anything we do now will be easier to implement than compared to a situation where there is an old, established system; it's a clean slate and therefore we can go straight to the latest deployments," said Paul Kukubo, CEO of the Kenya ICT Board.

Rometty cited the significant investment made by IBM across Africa, adding that it demonstrated the region's importance to the company. She also detailed the Smarter Planet solutions that the company has invested in, which could help solve natural and man-made problems such as floods and traffic.

The issue of big data and its usage in solving Africa's challenges was also discussed by participants at the event, with some suggesting that growing Internet connectivity and mobile phone usage in rural areas has allowed companies to use analytics to determine how to serve customers better and grow their businesses.

"Equity Bank has 10,000 agents, mainly small shops and kiosks in rural areas; with analytics we have been able to predict customer habits and allow the agents to determine who to lend to, how much, and whether there is risk of default," said James Mwangi, chairman and CEO at Equity Bank.

Equity Bank has 8.5 million clients and the agents mainly serve people in rural areas. In most cases, the agents and the customers know each other because they are based in the same rural settings, making lending easier.

The IBM conference continues Thursday, addressing more specific client issues in closed sessions.


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