Pretoria — The key to unlocking Africa’s competitiveness lies in improving access to technology while raising the levels of education and skills so that the tremendous untapped human capital on the continent can be harnessed to more productive levels.
So said Simon Carpenter, Director of Strategic Initiatives at SAP South Africa, delivering the keynote address at the European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS) that is being hosted at the University of Pretoria, this week.
The conference is the largest and most prestigious Information Systems grouping in Europe, with the gathering in Pretoria of academics and students from leading institutions being the first time this event has been hosted outside of Europe.
The SAP University Alliances is a key partner of the ECIS and has high-level representation at the conference through the Director of the University Alliances in EMEA, Mr Heino Schrader. The SAP University Alliances is also supported by representatives from the Munich University Competence Centre, delivering papers on innovative and groundbreaking topics.
“It is hugely exciting for us to see an event of this stature being hosted in Africa, and consider it a significant signal that Africa is the place to be, to do business and to contribute to the well-being of the continent and its people,” said Carpenter. “It opens up tremendous opportunities for the academic community to share its research and best practices, which this community is far more likely to do than companies in the private sector would be.”
SAP has wide-ranging programmes that touch and interact with academia, with its University Alliances Programme already well established on the continent to build links and networks between the commercial and academic worlds. This initiative aims to build an understanding and appreciation of the value of business software by including these studies and subjects in tertiary institutions.
Carpenter said the need to develop the skills and technological competence of Africans could not be overstated, adding that exposure to the undeniable benefits of technology would do wonders for the future welfare of the continent.
“Many African countries are moving backwards or holding their own in the World Competitiveness Index, and we believe that empowering people through IT is key to turning this situation around,” said Carpenter. “We see huge potential for the adoption of technology in Africa that can help organisations improve the way they work, and thereby level the playing field so that African companies are not always on the back foot.
“If we manage to achieve this, we believe we will see more inbound activity directed at Africa, with a key factor being repatriating skills from the diaspora. There are a great number of skilled Africans living abroad who have sought better opportunities there, and we need to reach out to those people and encourage them to come and make a difference back home.”
One of the conference chairs, Professor Roy Johnson of the University of Pretoria, said the theme ‘IT to Empower’ is especially relevant in an African context and believed that exposing ECIS to the realities on the ground would go a long way to engendering understanding.
“Information systems is a global discipline and ignoring the benefits of technology is done at one’s peril,” he said. “We now live in a global society in which one has to collaborate and co-operate to progress, although in Africa the challenges of affordable bandwidth and skills are pressing.”
He said bringing the delegates to Africa would hopefully spark greater collaboration, especially in the research field, as this was sadly under-emphasised.
The Manager of the University Alliances Programme in Africa, Max Fuzani, said the direct involvement and active participation of SAP in the ECIS2010 is indicative of the company’s commitment to invest in skills development to drive growing economies for sustainable communities.
SAP is the world’s leading provider of business software(*), offering applications and services that enable companies of all sizes and in more than 25 industries to become best-run businesses. With more than 97 000 customers in over 120 countries, the company is listed on several exchanges, including the Frankfurt stock exchange and NYSE, under the symbol “SAP”. For more information, visit www.sap.com.