Global technology giants’ top executives are increasingly trooping into the country as they turn Nairobi into a launch pad of their African commercial strategies.
IBM president Ginni Rometty accompanied by a retinue of his senior is the latest multinational chief to come to Kenya, reinforcing the country’s growing importance as the regional technology hub.
She follows in the footsteps of Microsoft and Google heavy weights.
Ms Rometty and a team of 16 IBM managers from its headquarters are in the country for a two-day conference dubbed Smarter Planet Forum.
It has attracted over 40 chief executive officers in banking, telecommunication and senior government officers from across Africa.
During the forum, IBM officials will showcase to the CEOs how to better manage businesses using some of its products such as cloud computing and power-saving servers.
Apart from IBM, other IT firms like Bharti Airtel, Google and Samsung have set regional offices in Nairobi.
Ms Rometty said the team is here to get a sense of the different markets in Africa, adding that most developing markets require a unique style of management and marketing approaches compared to developed mature markets.
“There are good signals in Africa, the political and economic situation have changed positively. There is a growing young population and increasing middle class that we can take advantage off,” said Ms Rometty.
IBM is targeting the African market with its cloud computing servers, consultancy services on smarter ways of managing traffic and how to use data effectively in tackling health and other poverty-related issues.
Currently, it is providing expertise on cloud computing to firms such as Equity Bank.
Kenya has been building a strong reputation in ICT innovation. The country’s mobile banking system M-Pesa is an acclaimed success story and the various visits by the top executives of the multinationals signal the increased focus on Kenya as a tech hub.
The IBM’s conference comes just a day after two Microsoft senior officials, Frank McCosker, the managing director of Global Strategic Accounts and Paul Garnett, director, technology policy, launched a joint project with the Kenya government to deliver low-cost wireless broadband in remote areas.
It also follows a visit by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt in January where he touted Nairobi as the potential leader of Africa’s information technology revolution.
Last year, IBM set a research laboratory in Kenya, the first in Africa, in a joint venture with the government.
The facility is expected to drive Kenya’s transition to a modern service economy through research into age-old problems like traffic congestion, low agricultural productivity and slow public service delivery.
Intellectual property in form of innovation by the facility is shared between Kenya and IBM.