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IBM has been present in Africa for over 60 years. Last year, we  increased presence recognizing the huge potential to transform businesses, governments, and communities  with cloud, mobility, social, and big data. I’m going to give you my perspective of the enormous opportunity for transformation using Cloud for the Managed Service Provider (MSPs) segment in Kenya.

Market Dynamics

Kenya is emerging as a growth country due to improving economies across the continent. Kenyans that left the country 10+ years ago are coming back due to improved political situations and less corruption. As they come back, they are bringing their “Western” tastes, expectations, and money with them. The IMF is starting to invest more driving increased development projects around Kenya, particularly in improving transportation and infrastructure. Telcos have always had a large presence, but with submarine cable lines being deployed between Europe and Africa, this will dramatically improve connectivity across the entire continent. Kenyans value the education system and are skilling up their people to ready them for IT jobs. New industry jobs in oil and gas are being created thanks to oil discovery in Kenya. Retail banking is growing thanks to the large population with mobile devices but no actual bank account.

These small and medium sized businesses in Kenya are not looking to do IT on their own. They want to focus on their core business and are looking for service providers to handle the management of their IT and apps for them such as desktop, storage, email, accounting, ERP, and even HR processes like employee onboarding. At the same time, traditional IT departments and vendors are looking at how they can serve that market, reduce capex and drive new streams of revenue while innovating and delivering IT projects on time and on budget for the business.

The Rise of MSPs in Kenya

The marriage of offloading non-core functions like IT and driving new revenue streams gives rise to managed service providers in Kenya. A few MSP models emerge in my head here for Kenyans:

  • The Emerging MSP: Existing service providers or IT departments looking to expand their ecosystem and offer new services out to small and medium businesses. They can either host the infrastructure or have it hosted somewhere outside their enterprise. These guys may be an existing service provider branching out with additional services or they may be non-traditional like banks, insurance, governments, and retail organizations looking to innovate with new business models in the Kenyan market.
  • The ISV MSP: ISVs looking to partner with a MSP to host their application on the cloud to generate new revenue streams and reach new markets.
  • The White Labeler MSP: Resellers looking to become an MSP can take advantage of the cloud by simply white labeling a SaaS application like email or Enterprise Market Management . In this model, the app does not belong to the MSP – it’s another vendor’s app – and the MSP is not hosting the app. It’s hosted by another vendor.
In any of these cases, these model requires at a minimum, a data center with robust infrastructure that can handle SLAs, scalability, availability, reliability, usage / metering / billing of services, monitoring of physical and virtual systems and applications, and of course storage.

IBM SmartCloud Solutions for MSPs

IBM has a set of SmartCloud offerings to help these MSPs leverage cloud computing for establishing and growing their MSP business.
  • For the Emerging MSP, IBM provides a set of hardware, such as IBM PureFlex, Power, and System x, as well as software such as storage, network, monitoring, desktop, mobile device management, and virtual servers as a service.
  • For the ISV MSP, IBM can host the application or facilitate a relationship with one of it’s partners to get the application hosted on our partner’s cloud
  • For the White Labeler MSP, IBM offers cloud business solutions such as our enterprise market management and analytics.

Below our SmartCloud capabilities that MSPs can take advantage of. IBM SmartCloud offerings are based on an open, extensible, and flexible architecture leveraging OpenStack at the core. The nice thing is that an MSP can start small with something like storage and easily expand with additional capabilities like managed security or managed network, even establishing dev / test clouds for their clients. The offerings can be acquired on a monthly rental basis for those MSPs that don’t have the upfront capital investment.

MSP Stack Picture

It’s a Journey

While all of this sounds optimistic (… ok here comes Debbie Downer …), the widespread use of cloud will not happen overnight in Kenya. It’s a journey. But it’s a journey that they’ve we’ve already started together. I’m amazed and awed about what I saw, what I heard and the hunger for growth and transformation. I can’t leave this blog post without mentioning the IBM Kenya Innovation Lab. When (not IF) you have the chance to go to Kenya, please stop by. There are Smarter Cities demos to see, education happening, and briefings on IBM cloud solutions for MSPs running on the next generation platform – PureSystems. Innovation Center

Innovation Center I also can’t end this blog without saying that there were some things that I could have done without … such as puking violently after eating tainted hummus, the screaming 8 month old on the last 2 hours of a 23 hour plane venture (insert pen in eye here…) , and flight attendant yelling at me to sit down while I was trying to get my laptop to write this blog. I’m 6 hours from RDU and from seeing my family, but I’m already thinking about my next trip back to Kenya. ;-) - Janine Sneed

Janine Sneed
Janine Sneed / January 22nd, 2014
Ever been stuck on the subway during rush hour for no apparent reason? How about downloading the latest and greatest app, only to have it stall? Or what about trying to stream your favorite movie only to have it skip and jitter during the most critical scenes? As someone once said, “slow is the new broke”.

Not all of these errors are caused by poor design. A more likely cause is that the data center or network supporting these services was experiencing problems – problems that if detected early, could very well have been avoided.

Although many IT departments today – from your local transit network to your cable company – may think they have a perfectly fine grasp on the health of their data centers and networks, think about this: the average business generates more than 1.3 terabytes of operational data per day, including software alerts & alarms, IT service tickets and network traffic & transactions. And IT pros need to sift through all of it to identify where problems are occurring.

To put it in perspective, it’d be akin to receiving one million emails per day, except you’d have no way to sort or filter them to know which ones actually need to be read, and which can be ignored.

As mobile and cloud computing grows, this challenge is only going to intensify, and manually sifting through this data is no longer an option. This is where analytics comes in. Partnered with cognitive intelligence, businesses are now analyzing this data in real time, maintaining and optimizing power in their systems when they need it most –during a major app deployment, a multi-billion dollar financial deal, or during rush hour in a major city’s transit system.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check out the perspective of one single byte of IT operations data, George, as he explains to us how data like him can prevent say, a transit crisis, and what it means for you:

What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Matt Ellis / January 22nd, 2014
Since I started running Strategy and Engineering for the IBM systems management brand in mid-2013, I’ve met with many many clients, partners, and analysts that are very intrigued with the transformational shifts that are taking place in the Industry around the programming model, the API market place, new services, Cloud(s), Saas and their intersection the IBM Cloud and Smarter Infrastructure brand. Everyone is looking for how to participate and more important how their existing investment participates with them. I thought I would take a few minutes to explain some of our strategic intent and motivations that have been driven by new markets, business models, and disruptive technologies.

It all began with the expectations of our users (clients!!!) – who are figuring out how business and IT want to use systems and services. CxOs want to predict vs react. IT Ops need to rapidly test, integrate, and deploy apps so they don’t lose credibility with LOB. LOBs want immediate gratification while developers are looking for low touch, easy to consume services that they can quickly mash up. We realized early that we aren’t just serving the “traditional” IT operations team and the buying decisions were changing. Business Executives were at the table with IT making purchasing decisions. They set the bar high in terms of how they wanted to acquire, pay, and use our capabilities and services.

Organizations, large and small, are looking to deploy smarter infrastructures that are optimized, enable innovation, and deliver insights. Our clients told us told us the ability to optimize systems dramatically improves performance, frees labor to do more interesting things, and fuels investments in innovation.

Like all changes, understanding how to make key changes first has been a part of our thought process. We’ve simply organized our capabilities around 6 segments – 3 of which are core focus areas for established IT to “keep the place running”: Distributed Data Center, Storage Core, and Host. The other 3 are growth areas to fuel business and IT innovation: Cloud, Enterprise Endpoint Mobility, and Smarter Infrastructure (or the Internet of Things).

We knew that we needed to keep up with user expectations on both technology and business model so we had to make a few revolutionary and evolutionary shifts across these segments to be relevant and super competitive. We’re embarking on 4 themes across the 6 segments: SaaS, Analytics, User Experience, and Channels.

SaaS First Mentality

We see companies evolving the way they use and manage services as sets of subscribed capabilities. It’s no longer a world where everything sits in an on-prem data center. Organizations are trusting and becoming more comfortable with public cloud models. We saw organizations wanting to manage critical data inside their 4 walls, yet integrate and orchestrate with lower cost services hosted in public clouds. This is why we’re now on a SaaS journey… a SaaS First mentality to deliver capabilities via public cloud and on-premise enabling you to manage across both. We enable choice, flexibility, and ease of use.

Analytics: It’s like Prego… it’s “in there”

There’s not a day that goes by without a discussion on delivering insights. Regardless of the business model, the transformation that the industry could realize here is huge. Clients are stating “I see what my operations did, now tell me why it happened before it happens again”. More important, clients are asking how to optimize for profit their applications and lines of business as well. How to help you better use and process all that data you already have is our charter here. The ability to search for faster problem resolution, predict failures before they happen, and optimize capacity to support strategic workloads is vital to the business. It’s become table stakes, and it has to be in the services we provide and additive to the environment at the same time.

UX: Delighting the User

IBM Cloud and Smarter Infrastructure has taken a revolutionary approach to how we deliver consistent, consumable experiences across our portfolio – regardless if it’s on-prem or SaaS delivery. We’ve aligned with the IBM Design methodology, a 6 step process, to truly deliver an experience that will delight our users.

Evolving Ecosystem of how we deliver to you …

And last but not least – our channels. We are investing in programs to help our partners grow their business and take advantage of new delivery models like Cloud. We are helping traditional partners resell competitive capabilities and the emerging “MSP” not just host our SaaS solutions, but also aggregate them for the next gen broker model.

As you can see, these are exciting times for us. We’ve moved over 10% of the entire organization to date around these changes that I’ll talk about their introduction in future blogs for your thoughts and opinions. All of this is so exciting that we’ve changed the name of our brand to stand behind what we as an organization now stand for “IBM Cloud and Smarter Infrastructure”. We are thrilled that you are part of this journey with us!
Chris O'Connor / January 20th, 2014
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