Nigeria desperately needs to move towards becoming a society driven by data and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Obviously piqued by the inefficiencies and historical shenanigans of national data and information governance, President Muhammadu Buhari recently instructed relevant government agencies to fix the nation’s “data scarcity” syndrome.
For Nigerians, data has become like water – naturally abundant, largely unexploited and clearly unavailable in its useful form to large sections of the human race.
Data mining efforts in Nigeria have at best been a debacle. Without a coherent data management strategy, development is jeopardized. For so long, private and state-owned enterprises have collected the same data for a plethora of reasons. Hospital and airline records are mostly paper-based. Banks collect Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and biometric information. Cell phone companies do the same. A few years ago, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) embarked on a nationwide SIM registration exercise.
The Passport Office also collects citizens’ biometric data. The police, and various driver and vehicle licensing authorities, collect a similar set of information from citizens and drivers. Ditto the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), which produces national identity cards. Let’s not forget the electoral commission which collects voters’ data. None of these databases connect.
I may be wrong here, but I reckon most African nations never had functional directories – the natural precursor to today’s networks and databases. Today, most of sub-Saharan Africa has leapfrogged this era of data inertia into a new age of mobile economies driven by millennials – with governments, citizens and industries across all economic sectors better able to adopt ‘smart data’ solutions and techniques.
Leading technology firms estimate that 90% of all data generated by devices, such as smartphones, tablets, connected vehicles and appliances, is never analyzed or acted on. As much as 60% of this data loses value within milliseconds of being generated. Humanity presently generates around 2.5 billion gigabytes of data daily, generated by 1 trillion connected objects and devices.
Big data is therefore big business, but the skills needed to manage, analyze, and convert data into meaningful insights are in short supply. Estimates vary, but according to the International Data Corporation, the market for big data-related analytics and services will skyrocket to $125 billion in 2015, and it’s expected to become even larger in years to come.
Technology experts say Africa’s economic and social reforms will be greatly influenced by five disruptive technologies converging at once to create a new continent: social media, mobile, cloud, sensor networks, and big data.
Any one of these technologies alone will be disruptive. Together they have the power to reshape how we think of and build the most basic systems and organizations in our economies and societies: whether it’s how we organize business operations, develop our energy grids, run transportation systems, or structure interactions between citizens and governments.
Few places are better positioned to benefit from this convergence than Africa. The comparative immaturity of the continent’s physical, governmental and economic infrastructures means these technologies could stimulate greater benefits for the continent than anywhere else.
In Nigeria, the need for disruptive technologies is apparent. In the area of tax collection, there is a huge compliance gap. Mobile systems could help tackle the issue of revenue generation, making it easier for individuals and businesses to pay taxes electronically. Hosting city services in the cloud would lead to a more transparent and cost-effective system, while applying big data analytics would make it easier to track fraud and people who aren’t paying taxes.
Africa needs smart energy solutions. Nigeria currently leads the continent in load shedding and blackouts. Power supply for the country has never progressed beyond 5,000 megawatts. Smart meters and smart grids could monitor and manage electricity distribution, while diversifying energy supplies could balance the load. General Electric and a host of other companies have begun to invest in off-grid energy solutions, and telecommunications provider Airtel is piloting the use of wind and solar power across Africa as a backup to grid power for its mobile stations.
African governments will do well to collaborate with the global car industry. Companies in North America, Europe and Japan are developing a wireless technology called V2X. It encapsulates vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.
This is the sort of disruptive technology Africa’s political and business leaders should be