Hennie Loubser (Africa) - Consumers: the New Crusaders of Innovation

The consumerisation of IT is happening all over the world. Hennie Loubser, Regional General Manager for Microsoft, considers the changing IT climate in Africa.

The ‘consumerisation of IT' is the latest catch-phrase rolling off everyone's tongues in the IT industry and beyond, and like so many other umbrella terms, it is often misunderstood or enveloped in vagueness. At Microsoft, we've spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to us, to businesses, and to consumers. Quite simply, it refers to technology consumers use at home becoming more advanced and accessible; so it offers them a computing experience often superior to that of their workplace. From social computing, to smartphones, to home networks; consumers are becoming more tech-savvy (and technology is becoming increasingly user-friendly), making the traditional tools and systems at work seem sluggish and archaic. Many technologies that are now being required in the workplace first emerged in the consumer market, like smartphones, for example.

It makes sense that the thrust behind this trend is user expectation; a powerful force in any industry because it largely determines a user's perception of quality. Consumer services like online banking and shopping, for example, create certain expectations among consumers about what to expect from cloud computing - and now it is essential the private cloud meets these standards. And we're set to see expectations increase exponentially as more and more generations who have grown up as ‘digital natives' enter the workforce. Because of this; individual consumers, rather than organisations, are now starting to shape the digital landscape.

A growing consumer class in Africa

It's not only the developed world experiencing changes in the way they influence and interact with technology - it's also happening in developing countries. A powerful new consumer class is rising in the BRICS nations and across Africa too. A McKinsey Global Institute report, ‘Lions on the Move: the progress and potential of African economies' estimates that by 2020, 128 million African households will have discretionary income, and Africa's consumer spending will equate to $1.4 trillion. And as has happened before (the case of the mobile phone is a prime example), these consumers will leapfrog development, soon catching up to the technology used by consumers in developed nations.

This is significant for the continent on many levels, but most of all because of its capacity to support the development of economies, empower citizens, and drive innovation. Asia has shown what can be achieved through an emerging middle class combined with technological catch-up, and their consumer bases' influence on product development and innovation is now overtaking that of the West's. Africa has the capacity to do the same over the next few decades and is predicted to play a bigger role in the global economy.

A new wave of innovation

As access to technology broadens, we'll continue to see increased user demand for a seamless computing experience wherever these consumers are, driving the industry to innovate. As employees and consumers gain increasing access to better technology, they will become sources of innovation, developing more solutions that respond directly to their context. Social computing has already shown its potential to foster collaborative creativity and empower communities in rural Africa, and the role of technology in meeting the Millennium Development Goals has been recognised. The consumerisation of IT combined with the growing consumer class will make room for this on an even larger scale.

At Microsoft, this shift in the computing paradigm has fuelled our focus on tools that work like, and with, popular consumer technology; it underpins our ‘reimagining of Windows', and our drive to find ways our consumer products can empower individuals.

I'm excited about what these trends will mean for the continent and look forward to seeing them positively influence healthcare, education, and socioeconomic development. When one thinks about the wider ramifications of the consumerisation of IT trend, it's clear that we are on the cusp of a new era of technology, one far more attuned to the needs of ordinary people.

By Hennie Loubser, Regional General Manager for Microsoft West, East, Central Africa & Indian Ocean Islands