I was in Mexico City a dozen years ago talking to an IT manager. He needed to get a phone for a new small office. There was a 15-month wait for a landline phone. There was a 15-minute wait for a cell phone. Why? Infrastructure, or rather the lack of it. Mexico City was growing so fast they literally did not have the space in the cableways to add more wires. Putting up a cell tower was cheap and quick, compared to expanding the hard-wired infrastructure. In a sense, they moved their phones to the Cloud: anywhere, anytime access; pay for use; largely self-service since you could buy a cell phone almost anywhere.
A number of countries never actually created a functional wired network. They skipped that expense and went right to wireless devices, building cell towers. Some of these “poor” countries have better wireless service than many areas in the US.
But Cloud Computing is a much bigger economic equalizer than that one simple example might imply. In the past, new technology or sometimes even any technology was out of reach for poorer countries. Transportation, sanitation, food services, communication, government services were often 20 or even 50 years behind the developed countries. In most developing countries, there is not an existing IT infrastructure outside of the government, and not much there either.
Enter the Cloud. The cost efficiencies of the Cloud are the same anywhere. With the Cloud, a small company in Somalia can run a worldwide business with their servers and data in the Cloud, positioned to serve their customers wherever they are. All they need is enough power to drive their laptops, tablets and smartphones and an Internet connection to have the same capabilities in terms of compute power, storage, applications and reach as any Global 2000 company.
Traditionally, a barrier to entry for someone with a disruptive idea was gaining inexpensive access to the IT infrastructure just to get the business started. Since, almost by definition, a disruptive idea has the characteristic of scaling exponentially and unpredictably, the expense and grief of keeping up with that growth becomes another significant barrier. In the past, many companies failed at the point when their processes and support staff could not keep up with the necessary expansion. The Cloud eliminates barriers, allowing very inexpensive initial entry, practically unlimited growth, and a clear way to measure the cost against the benefit, aka sales. And it doesn’t matter whether you are in Manhattan or Mutare (the fourth largest city in one of the poorest countries in the world, Zimbabwe).
Importantly, as these companies create a Cloud culture from the beginning, thus skipping the internal clash over the use of a Public Cloud that plagues many established companies in the developed world. To a large extent, these developing country companies have no choice: it is the Cloud or nothing.
Today, via the Cloud you can use supercomputers in a place without clean water, decent sanitation, roads, or reliable electricity. Consider Checki. Checki serves up over a billion page views a month about used cars, like this Mazda MPV. In Kenya. Most of their million or so customers use Android smartphones that cost about $70. Huawei, which makes most of these smartphones, plans to get those prices even lower as their market gets bigger. A company starts a small business in the Cloud, grows into a one-stop destination for all buyers of Japanese import cars into Kenya, and thus drives up sales of smartphones. Each smartphone not only provides access to this web site, but also gives their owners access to the world. If you could follow all the threads, there is probably an economic master’s thesis in there somewhere.
Developing country government IT shops are often in pretty bad shape as well. They often have old equipment that is expensive to maintain, and don’t have the necessary staff to do the maintenance. They also often lack a sufficiently trained operations staff to run their environment and keep up with changing and growing needs. The Cloud can help governments not only in their need to have an efficient IT infrastructure to address their societal needs, but perhaps more importantly in providing the access to basic and higher education that is critical for sustainable economic development. In a guest blog at Forbes, Winston Damarillo talks about how
Educational institutions are often early adopters and architects as well as primary beneficiaries of technological innovation. One specific example from the Philippine Development Foundation is ULAP, the University Learning Acceleration Platform, which also means “cloud” in Filipino dialect. ULAP is a cloud-computing infrastructure designed to be shared across the seven designated research universities of the Philippines, which are focused on increasing the number of Ph.D.s and students in advanced science and technology disciplines through scholarships and grants. This creates demand for research infrastructure as professors and advanced science students require computing resources for research projects.
Education can be the most important key to a country’s future. Right now, a country with a poor education system has three choices:
- Stay the course, creating yet another generation of people without the means to improve their life.
- Send their young somewhere else to get educated, and hope that at least some of them return to help their country.
- Build a better education system.
Note, many cities in “developed” countries like the US have the same problem, and continue to create new generations with minimal hope.
The only long-term solution is to build a better education system. That can take a long time and be very expensive, and is very hard to bootstrap up. Getting trained and dedicated people in place, and keeping them there, can be very difficult. The Cloud can be an enabler, allowing a country to take advantage of established education programs and provide access to trained and dedicated teachers at all levels. The Cloud makes courses at Arizona State University and Leuphana University (Germany) plus many others accessible anywhere. Check out an earlier post Education in the Cloud.
This equalizer concept works in the other direction. If your business is in the Cloud or can take advantage of it, then you can reach the world, including the huge largely untapped market in the developing countries. Your main issues may be cultural. You will need to attract customers with different languages, but creating a set of web pages in a different language is a lot easier than trying to take telephone orders in many languages. You can reach a lot of the world with American English, if you keep it simple, avoid slang, and don’t try to be funny. As your business grows in a region, so will you economies of logistics, and it will pay you to set up a “local” datacenter in the Cloud to improve response time. While you benefit, you are also provided necessary services and products to help those regions grow. Together, we can turn a death spiral into a positive feedback economy.
The last word:
Welcome to 2013. Predictions are always a risky business, but I think I am fairly safe in these:
- 2013 will be different.
- 2013 will be full of uncertainty.
- 2013 will be full of change.
May your Cloud enable you to survive and prosper in these interesting times.
Keep your sense of humor.