Moving to the cloud certainly makes sense from an African business perspective, despite some serious challenges and risk factors unique to these shores. However, not all businesses can take the plunge. Some businesses are reliant on expensive legacy systems that work well for them, while others are dissuaded from the move because of budgetary and compliance concerns.
Luckily, a revolution in how cloud computing is approached means businesses not quite ready to migrate to the cloud fully can extract the benefits of being in the cloud while still using their own on-prem systems, which effectively redoubles security efforts and removes legislative compliance headaches.
Before we get there, let’s take a look at the context in Africa generally and South Africa specifically. Until the last few years there hasn’t been a great deal of infrastructure investment on these shores by the key cloud players.
While we have seen this change recently with substantial Microsoft and Amazon Web Services investments, we are also seeing the uptake of other providers such as Snowflake and MogoDB Atlas, which offer more cost-effective cloud-based solutions.
There’s little denying that the time has arrived for Africa to be a global player and not just a consumer. Challenges make this difficult, and closer to home any business can attest to the pain caused by our unreliable energy grid. During load shedding, and the sometimes-unplanned outages that follow the power cuts as a result of poor infrastructure, communications often grind to a halt and technology becomes unavailable.
An enterprise business which runs on-prem solutions needs to invest in hardware as well as a connectivity solution. This entire setup runs on power and so now there is an extra investment needed: backup power in the form of generators, solar and batteries and UPS systems, which are all expensive.
Essentially, this means that if a business made an investment in a data centre two years ago, if you factor the need to replace hardware components which have taken a massive wear and tear beating due to persistent power surges as the power supply switches from the utility to another source, as well as the actual power backup system itself, it is fair to say this same business would have to quadruple that investment today to keep going.
If we consider that running an on-prem business requires huge amounts of capital, it should follow that cloud makes business sense. Yet still there is hesitancy and it is important to interrogate the reasons for this.
The cloud can become extremely expensive. By way of analogy, when you move house, you need to go through everything you have accumulated over time, sort through it, pack, change location and integrate it into your new space.
This requires a great deal of time – something most businesses don’t have in abundance. Very few organisations can afford to take time out to sort through, analyse and order its data before moving it to the cloud. They must remain online, and they must be making real-time data-driven decisions to remain competitive, so they move massive volumes of data to the cloud, which is expensive and if it is unsorted and uncleaned, the exercise is akin to bleeding money.
Cloud technology itself has not yet evolved to a place where one provider can tick all the boxes and provide a full, one-stop shop for every business’s needs. This requires moving to multi-vendor solutions. One vendor may account for 70% of a business’s functionality while the rest is spread elsewhere and so there must be a concerted effort to seek compatibility.
Lastly, a business must understand its data to use its data. As mentioned, businesses have data in a number of different places and so the question must be asked – what is the point of bringing this data into the cloud if there is no use case for it? Businesses simply must be in control of their data.
Beyond these three major stumbling blocks for many businesses, and the risk that load shedding and unreliable energy supply adds to the equation, there are also legislative and trust issues, and a reliance on legacy systems. The second a business puts data into a public space it invokes POPIA. Being POPI compliant is a complex and expensive exercise which adds to business hesitancy to move to the cloud. POPIA also places strict rules on cross-border movement of information and businesses know they must work with expert counsel to remain compliant.
However, compliance doesn’t end there. If one looks at the cloud infrastructure in South Africa, most use Europe-based data centres and so businesses need to be compliant with basic European law. This is not well-known in South Africa.
Some businesses, especially those in the manufacturing sector, have invested in massive legacy systems which may be outdated and heavy or clunky, but they do the job well for these businesses. Sometimes the financial investment in these systems just doesn’t justify another capital outlay to move to the cloud.
The big picture that we have painted is clear. We have a massive need for cloud computing but a fairly long list of challenges and risks that prevent wholesale uptake. And to be clear, this is not a global problem, this is an African challenge. Thankfully Qlik has been proactive in cloud computing in Africa and has provided the perfect evolution, or as I prefer to describe it, a revolution: the ability for businesses to unlock the power of the cloud and data processing while staying on-prem.
This is achieved through a number of capabilities, notably a toolset that brings together three different technologies in a single subscription, removing the need for add-ons or extra purchases, it’s agnostic because no single business has one, unified source of data, and Qlik has its own cloud which means that businesses don’t get charged for cloud storage and computing power, which is crucial in a cost-sensitive environment.
Simply put, the use of a tool such as Qlik Forts enables a business to control its security because data stays at its source. It utilises the benefits of the cloud without any data leaving the on-prem systems.
In essence, it addresses compatibility, cost, the pursuit of actionable insights from data, compliance and legacy concerns. Don’t be surprised to see more businesses working in a cloud environment within their own native systems as they realise there is another way to leverage the power of the cloud.
Sookraj is a data integration specialist at Insight Consulting