Soromfe Uzomah, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Microsoft 4Afrika, shares on how SMEs can leverage cloud computing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The global impact occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic not only on public health but on business, cannot be underestimated. Policymakers and stakeholders must thus consider the impact such global disruption of trade poses especially to small and medium businesses (SMEs). Anticipating and mitigating for the impact of unforeseen global events on supply chain management is crucial if SMEs, who are reliant on goods from an affected area, are to survive.
Due to their size and lack of resources, SMEs are often the most vulnerable to unforeseen events and threats. These SMEs also often do not have a plan in place to deal with supply chain disruptions. Yet, in Africa, SMEs are important drivers of economic growth. Accounting for up to 90 percent of businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, an SME Initiatives advisory by the International Finance Corporation reports.
Regrettably, one thing clearly emerging from the global Covid-19 pandemic is that SMEs’ supply chains from hub regions across the globe have been severely disrupted on an unprecedented level, and with an unpredictable timeframe for resolution as the virus continues to impact industrial production. Companies that would usually import items to sell, particularly SMEs, are unable to continue with business as usual because of trade disruptions. So, the question we must ask is, how do these SMEs make their supply chain anti-fragile?
Cloud computing solutions
Digital commerce platforms and advances in fields like digital analytics and artificial intelligence can significantly help to mitigate the risks of supply chain fragility. Flexible cloud computing solutions, data collection and analysis and automation software can all contribute to the success of SMEs in the digital era. Cloud computing also gives businesses the ability to scale, cost-effectively, to new markets. This is particularly beneficial for SMEs, who often lacked the resources or infrastructure to expand before. Partnerships with companies like Jumia in Kenya and Nigeria has, for instance, made Microsoft products available to SMEs in local currency.
The challenge now is to establish new supply chain avenues within Africa. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) can play the role of unlocking innovation, growth and productivity on the continent, especially for its SME segment, by translating spending power into economic development.
To date, intra-African trade is relatively limited; UNCTAD, the main UN body dealing with trade, said it made up only 10.2 percent of the continent’s total trade in 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, fuels represented more than half of Africa’s exports to non-African countries, while manufactured goods made up only 18 percent of exports to the rest of the world.
By creating a single continental market for goods and services, the member states of the African Union hope to boost trade between African countries. Some studies have shown that by creating a pan-African market, intra-Africa trade could increase by about 52% by 2022, although these predictions will likely be revised downwards due to the pandemic’s influence on the local and global economy. Regardless, better market access creates economies of scale. Combined with appropriate industrial policies, this contributes to a diversified industrial sector and growth in manufacturing value added.
Digital platforms and the adoption of mobile technology act as effective conduits for the exchange of value, and by aggregating demand across the continent, these platforms give small and medium businesses opportunities to access new markets, and to offer or identify goods and services previously limited by location constraints and marketing costs. These platforms create a diversification effect that boosts the robustness of supply chains.
Start-ups like CoinAfrique, which is based in Dakar, Senegal provide access to markets for SMEs through their free classifieds platform for new and used products. Which allows users to make money selling what they do not use and find bargains. The app currently has over one million downloads – and the team are now looking to scale to 10 million active users across francophone Africa. Other platforms, including Biz4Afrika, provide entrepreneurs and SMEs alike with access to valuable business information and resources, finance and markets, providing a boost to small business growth.
A powerful force expediting cross-border trade is the accelerating progress of digital technology in areas spanning from trade logistics, automated processing and e-payments to immediate access and exchange of trade information and documentation.
Cash flow is always a challenge for SMEs, no more so than when trade is constrained due to external factors. It’s always tricky for SMEs to balance working capital requirements with inventory availability. The growth of the fintech sector effectively simplifies any transaction challenges by creating multiple payment channels.
Many fintech start-ups across Africa aim to promote access for SMEs to financing options that were previously not available to them, which also opens opportunities for trade on a larger scale than was previously possible. As an example, Microsoft 4Afrika has partnered with African fintech start-ups, including Flutterwave in Nigeria and the MoVAS Group in East Africa, to open access to financing for SMEs. Diversifying and strengthening supply chains is crucial for SMEs to survive and flourish. When we consider that by 2035, the International Monetary Fund forecasts that Africa will have added more working-age people to our workforce than the rest of the world’s regions combined, it’s essential that we have a thriving SME sector to absorb these workers and help grow economies across the continent.
The current global crisis has highlighted several areas, from the need of efficient information management to the need of accurate data gathering for faster medical response. In looking at the role of technology during this period, one area that has stood apart in driving meaningful change is the role of partnerships.
Where is the place for partnerships in the technology industry during this time and beyond COVID-19? Amrote Abdella, Regional Director, Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative discusses this.
If you look at Microsoft for example, through its 4Afrika initiative, it has formed strategic partnerships with healthcare providers throughout Africa and beyond, providing them with technical support and business consultancy to help them achieve their goals. Each of these healthcare providers has had a significant impact in their sphere of influence, but with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen how our partners have used their existing platforms and programmes to pivot and adapt existing technologies to provide the much-needed response to address the challenges of the pandemic.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already used in
healthcare, but in a rapidly evolving situation, these tools can significantly
help boost response times and preparedness. AI and cloud computing are likely
to dramatically change the way we deliver healthcare into communities, in a
highly positive way. By using big data and analytics to deliver real-time
insights and proven step-by-step workflows into healthcare service challenges,
large-scale healthcare systems can deliver improved performance and better
decision-making: essentially using artificial intelligence to power human act
to save lives.
When Microsoft4Afrika first partnered with BroadReach, a leading healthcare software vendor in Middle East and Africa, they were striving to create and implement data-driven solutions to improve the management and delivery of health programmes in underserved regions around the world. Together, they have created Vantage, an integrated cloud platform delivering powerful analytics that helps development, health and human services organisations quickly identify risks and opportunities.
During the Covid-19 crisis, BroadReach is using its cloud services to
rapidly gather data from thousands of health workers in the field and instantly
upload it into Vantage, where advanced analytics are giving leaders key
guidance to manage and prepare for the impact of the pandemic.
In healthcare, quick response times save lives. BroadReach
has produced a facility readiness survey that allows government to redirect resources
to prioritised hospitals and facilities, so that they have the right equipment and medical supplies on hand. Predictive analysis can be used to help forecast and track
outbreak hotspots. This is one true demonstration of how partnerships in technology
can deliver in situations that are rapidly changing and require high volumes of
data from disparate sources to be quickly analysed for use in prediction and
As another example, a partnership with Raphta, a pioneer in Edge AI and computer vision in Africa, has developed software and hardware solutions that allow contactless biometrics which can be used for access control to facilities, among other things. Of course, during a pandemic where the virus can be transmitted on surfaces, contactless access assumes a far greater importance. Raphta is now offering its Shuri Face Contactless Biometrics solution to hospitals, clinics and buildings for thermal screening and containment, limiting contact and virus spread.
Using their current AI facial recognition software and hardware
technology and having quickly added the necessary thermal imaging technology,
the company is now running pilot projects at the Netcare Gardens Hospital in
Johannesburg, South Africa and at Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.
Telemedicine is another area where technology is enabling safer
diagnosis and limiting unnecessary contact between patients and healthcare
providers. Globally, the use of telemedicine has been surging during the current
In Pakistan, we’ve seen first-hand the benefits of telemedicine in
reaching patients who have limited access to healthcare and healthcare workers.
an e-health start-up supported by 4Afrika provides patients who are far from
healthcare centres with access to qualified doctors via a telemedicine
platform, while cloud computing services mean that their patient records are
immediately available anywhere using a mobile device.
Telemedicine can perform a vital role in enabling people to access
healthcare services, remote diagnoses, and treatment plans. During the Covid-19
crisis, Sehat Kahani is using its smartphone app to provide virtual
consultations to patients across Pakistan, delivering educational content about
the pandemic, and helping to direct them to the correct healthcare facilities
if necessary. Using its telemedicine platform, it has educated more than a
million users about the virus and provided more than 6,000 online consultations
It’s encouraging to see how technology can support the humanitarian
healthcare goals of countries across the globe, and how leading technology
companies can support and enable healthcare partners to provide better, faster
and more accurate treatment. Seeing how technologies can be adapted to work best in an emerging
crisis shows the value of investing in these partnerships to help develop these
platforms and services.
The clear challenge in Africa is bridging the gap in healthcare and providing equal access for all. By working with our partners across the African continent and beyond, we can see how technology is having a powerful impact on providing healthcare to the communities and countries who need it the most. Partners working together always provides more muscle through collaboration and we’ve seen technology allow our partners to scale, broadening their reach and subsequently have greater positive impact even in the current challenging, uncharted times.
Microsoft is giving Kenya courts six months free access to its Office 365 collaboration platform dubbed Teams as social distancing rules take root in the wake of Covid-19.
Open court sessions are suspended to limit exposure to the virus. Kenya courts are therefore relying on technology to continue operations and avoid backlogs.
Chief Justice David Maraga notes the court’s activities involve an extensive exchange of paperwork which risks the spread of the virus.
While it is prudent to upscale court activities it will not be wise to have open court sessions at this time. This doesn’t mean the courts have closed down,court operations have never and will never be closed. The proceedings can only be conducted remotely through increased use of technology. Except in exceptional circumstances, all pleadings are being filed and served electronically. All other matters including the delivery of judgements shall be handled through video conferencing or email. I want to announce Microsoft has donated the application of Microsoft Teams for use for six months free of charge.
Global pandemic Covid-19 has changed the way most people work. Governments are issuing lockdowns, curfews, cessation of movements and restricting the number of individuals at gatherings to curb the spread of the deadly virus. This has compelled businesses and organizations including courts to rethink their work model.
Technology companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Zoom and Google have stepped in to help companies wade uncertain times as they seek to stay afloat. Most of the tech firms are offering video conferencing, remote and team collaboration tools free of charge during this period. Microsoft announced it is making Teams – which comes bundled in Office 365 – free for everyone.
“During this extraordinary time, it is clear that software, has a huge role to play across every industry and around the world“, notes Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. Speaking about the company’s unique role as a platform and tools provider during this global pandemic.
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Microsoft Imagine Cup Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA) regional finalist will now virtually pitch their ideas to judges. This is as concerns of COVID-19 (corona virus) increase worldwide. The in-person regional cup competition finals was scheduled to take place March 10 to 12 in Amsterdam.
The spread of COVID-19, corona virus in new countries and regions is seeing conferences cancelled worldwide. Many organizations are resorting to hosting only virtual events. Microsoft announced the cancellation of its Ignite the Tour in Amsterdam and pointed interested attendees to watching the on demand sessions online. Stating “the health and safety of our customers, partners, suppliers and employees is a top priority“.
The cancellation of the tour means cancellation of co-located events; Imagine Cup EMEA regional finals and Microsoft Student Partner (MSP) Summit. The cup competition will still take place, however virtually on March 10.
Microsoft shares an update on the competition;
“The ten student teams from across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa will virtually pitch their purpose-driven applications at the Imagine Cup EMEA Regional Final“.
Each of the ten student teams will pitch their solution, answer questions, and showcase their technology to judges. Two teams will be selected to represent the EMEA regional region at the 2020 World Championship finals in Seattle. For a chance to compete for the grand prize of USD100,000 cash, USD50,000 Azure credits and mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. The winning teams from the regional finals will take home USD8,000. Whereas three runner-up teams will each take home USD2,500.
We will look to bring you coverage of the regional finals.
Check out details of the EMEA regional finals imagine student cup competition from last year.