The role of the successful African CEO has significantly changed - what it takes to make it in the Africa of today bears no resemblance to what it took a decade ago. Market unpredictability, austerity measures in most major global markets, the consumerisation of IT, a demographic explosion as well as macro-agronomics have irrevocably changed organisational life across the globe. All this coupled with the convergence of mobile technology, cloud computing, burgeoning social networks and the implications of predictive analytics is creating previously inconceivable new business opportunities in Africa.
Pfungwa Serima, CEO of SAP Africa, believes that 2013 is the time for Africa to shine as, more than ever, strategically harnessed technology is poised to profoundly challenge the paradigm shift around many challenges Africa faces; effectively it could put Africa in a position to leapfrog international counterparts in some respects.
Relying on government to drive all prerequisite PEST (political, economic, social and technological) changes is short-sighted and simply outdated – it’s time for the private sector to boldly step up and take on the mantle of proactively contributing to solving African challenges, according to Serima. “The private sector plays a vital role in creating a level playing field; one that builds an environment that embraces education, technology and innovation,” says Serima. “This will encourage citizens to take an active part in developing vibrant communities that focus on the value of economic growth, job creation and innovation.”
Serima’s passion for Africa led him to take the helm of one of SAP’s fastest growing regions. Serima, originally from Zimbabwe, has held his position with SAP Africa since July 2008. From 2004 to June 2008, he worked at Microsoft South Africa, where assumed the Managing Director role in June 2006. He has more than 18 years of experience that cuts across both the public and private sector. Before joining Microsoft, he was CEO of Accenture Technology Solutions and Accenture Technology Infrastructure Services in South Africa.
According to Serima, true African leadership needs to be something that is rigorously lived every day in a disciplined fashion, while remaining authentic to self in order to focus on a vision and empowering others to reach their full potential and deliver on that shard vision.
He believes that in order to responsibly drive social-economic development, African business leaders today not only have a duty to wholeheartedly invest in skills development, education and the promotion of entrepreneurship – something at which Africa naturally excels – he also points out that today’s successful CEO has to honestly discern the shape of his/her organisation today and tomorrow; meaningfully articulate that perspective; rationally take on board the feedback of both internal and external stakeholders while forging a clear mission that relates to the societies in which it operates. With that comes the entrenching of integrity, responsibility, transparency, trust and respect which is fundamental for the sustained success of any organisation.
Serima points out that for too long Africa has not sufficiently believed in itself and has, to a certain extent, underestimated the opportunities that the continent has to offer. This dearth of self-confidence sometimes accompanied by a lack of agility leaves many African businesses at the risk of being left behind, as other countries competitively contend for Africa, the final frontier of growth opportunity. “Africa is now moving at a speed most people never thought it would. The recession didn’t hit Africa as it did the rest of the world,” says Serima. “And the technology convergence that we now see is the perfect storm to create new sustainable opportunities for Africa.”
Serima explains that real-time computing and the current nexus of so many pioneering technologies creates unforetold opportunities for businesses in Africa by enabling them to leapfrog older technologies and help transform the way technology is used and, in particular, help small companies and entrepreneurs reimagine how they do business. “In a recent report by Gartner entitled, “SAP is Driving Analytics, Cloud and Mobility in the Nexus of Forces”, it becomes clear that the coming together and mutual reinforcement of social, mobile technologies, cloud computing and information are driving countless new business scenarios,” comments Serima “ What this means is that the gap between ideas and reality for many entrepreneurs is rapidly shrinking, as they can enter the business ecosystem cheaply and quickly and nimbly respond to fast-moving market demands.” He explains further that Africa, despite being home to billions of people who don’t even own a computer, much less an Internet connection, may paradoxically be one of the places that will truly benefit dramatically from cloud computing. The fact that so many Africans don’t have the sort of computer access that most of the first world takes for granted makes the continent a Garden of Eden for cloud computing, because it creates a natural ‘in’ for mobile applications on the cloud. According to data from the World Bank, only an estimated 140 million out of one billion Africans use the Internet, but there are a staggering 600 million mobile phone users on the continent and that number is likely to rocket in the years to come.
With the vast majority of Africans having a mobile phone, many previously untapped business avenues are presenting themselves. Few people on the continent have formal bank accounts, for example. New technologies such as mobile banking play a revolutionary role in this regard, as they enable small companies to engage with formal business on more a level playing field, according to Serima.
A recent Economist Intelligence Unit report “Beyond Branches: Innovations in Emerging-Market Banking”, reveals that mobile banking and payment solutions has helped to lift many African people out of poverty, enabling them to do business and transact via a mobile device. Serima highlights an example in Ghana where a partnership between PlaNet Finance and SAP resulted in easy-to-use software operated via simple cell-phones that helped Ghanaian women to manage and process shea butter orders with transparency, efficiency and speed, effectively changing their lives.
Serima stresses that mobile technologies are bridging the chasm that once separated rural African communities from traditional bank branches. According to him, it is predicted that global m-banking transactions will reach $670 billion by 2015. Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile service is thought to be one of the most successful mobile banking solutions in the world today with 14.9 million subscribers. ‘The reason behind its success is that while about 60% of Kenyans do not have a traditional bank account and cannot obtain credit, more than 80% have a mobile phone and are leveraging the phones to do business,” explains Serima. “Financial transactions from payments, to cash transferrals, loans and even comprehensive life insurance policies are all taking place via phone.”
Serima concludes by issuing a call to action for African business leaders to boldly take the lead in promoting the creation of African solutions to solve African challenges, instead of sitting on the side lines and relying on other markets to solve our problems. He wraps up by saying that Africa, despite its resource and infrastructure challenges, has a tangible and active role and responsibility to play in fuelling innovation on a global scale.
SAP is a global market leader in enterprise application software, SAP (NYSE: SAP). SAP entered Africa in 1988, and already boasts a 70% market share on the continent. SAP has a presence in four regions on the continent – Southern Africa, East Africa, West Africa and Francophone Africa. SAP has set an ambitious goal of reaching one billion users globally by 2015 and in order to attract and maintain African talent, SAP is set to invest around R20 million in skills development in Africa over the next years through its University Alliance programmes.