Trends that will shape technology

Tuesday February 23 2021
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Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Robotics and Internet of Things will dominate the Information Technology landscape. PHOTO/Rachel mabala

By Charlotte Ninsiima

Given Uganda’s recent disruption to the ICT space with the loss of connectivity for a week and ongoing disruptions of social media, key players in the industry think there will be digital turbulence in 2021. There is political interference in the growth of the tech industry, leaving several innovators on the  edge. 

Besides the tech innovators struggling to stay alive, SafeBoda blew it up when it alllegedly shared data contravening the data protection and privacy Act. This left people wondering whether investing in tech will be the right thing. According to the players, a section of innovators are going to move house away from Uganda and establish elsewhere.

Covid-19 has accelerated the use of e-services and digital tools across various sectors. In health, it has enabled planning, management, supply, distribution, delivery and monitoring of theCovid-19  vaccine by the Ministry of Health.

E-services

Under NITA-U, a secure digital integration platform for Ministries, Departments, Agencies, Local governments and other stakeholders will be launched to allow sharing of data and improve government efficiency and transparency. This is expected to ease e-service delivery to citizens both in urban and rural areas which would have otherwise required long travels,  resultant delays and frustration.

“E-services will be a priority deliverable in every sector of the government in line with the Third National Development Plan (NDP III). Making digital services remotely accessible to citizens for the health, education, agriculture, trade, tourism among others will be high priority,” says Collin Babirukamu, the director E-Government services at NITA-U.

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Locally built solutions by Ugandans will be an employment and business opportunity for many skilled youth and citizens in software development, innovation and business process outsourcing.

Mr Babirukamu anticipates an increase in the demand for digital tools and services that allow convenience and remote access for work places, businesses, churches, schools, government entities among others. These players will need to constantly innovate or face the risk of operational failure.

New technologies

In addition , emerging technologies such as cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Robotics and Internet of Things (IoT) will dominate the Information Technology landscape as enablers for digital transformation in Uganda and beyond.

Artificial intelligence and automated learning are picking up. Smart ways of working are cropping up along lines of convenience, agility and efficiency.

Ms Lillian Nalwoga, the founder Internet Society of Uganda emphasizes that there is need for business to re-engineer and strategise how to adapt to the new way of life.

“It will reduce the number of people but ensure we remain effective and productive in the way we work,” Nalwoga says.

Fintechs and their startups will gain momentum with a drive to merge to survive and be more competitive in the current National Payment Systems (NPS) regulatory regime. Digital payments and transactions will rise as a preferred model and this will require equivalent cybersecurity counter mitigations and awareness.

On the other side of the coin, Mr Teddy Ruge, the cofounder of Hive Colab, a tech hub, is pessimistic that the growth of digital commerce is going to face a lot of disruption as consequences of the Internet shutdown will last over a year.

Enactment of VPN law

There are some speculations around enacting a law to ban the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN). On the contrary, Ruge thinks it is going to be difficult to enact due to some of the security features that are necessary for corporate infrastructure to operate.

“We are seeing a group of people migrating to VPN installations just to do business. Because the majority of Uganda’s e-commerce runs through social media, not traditional websites and online payment platforms. That is possibly a general trend.”

Scaling online payments

Purchasing digitally is still on a minimum scale. Ruge says, “We don’t have a large enough ecosystem of people who pay online using credit or debit cards that is far from the line in terms of accessibility to credit cards in order to purchase online.”  There is a more concerted effort by small businesses who aim at reaching more customers to scale up their marketing strategy since social media was essentially shut down.

In terms of innovations, there is an expected uptake of bitcoin purchases, more participation from Ugandans who are in the digital space but beyond that it is difficult to have a positive outcome on the tech ecosystem in Uganda.

Value addition

In agriculture, there are more farms focused on value added processing as well as local brand development. Lately, a number of mushrooming coffee brands are indulging in value addition to sell locally.  The effects of 2020 lockdown highlighted the demand for more local brands as opposed to consuming imported products.

Ruge believes several people are excited about the profitability and scalability of retail presence for local goods.

Data privacy and protection

From the user’s point of view, there are major trust issues since a good number of innovations will be pushed on to our plates.

Therefore, the issue of data protection is a key concern now; questions on how customers’ data is stored and eventually used are already popping up.

Mr Wilson Kiggundu, chief technical officer at The Innovation Village, asserts that data privacy will be a big deal this year learning from conversations that took shape around SafeBoda and its policy on sharing data with third parties.

“People are going to be cautious and more aware of the need for their data to be protected. It means that technology companies need to focus on how to build technologies that will give people the assurance that their personal private data is not going to be changed or shared,” Kiggundu says.

Looking at the international scene, the fact that WhatsApp shares information with Facebook, people have since shifted from WhatsApp to signal because it is more private and secure.

Working offline

People are increasingly thinking building businesses with technology that is resilient even in times where the Internet blacks out.

Kiggundu confirms, “We may see a lot of technology solutions that focus on offline first. Meaning you can use technology while offline. Both in areas of poor connectivity and cases of Internet shutdown.

When the Innovation Village builds systems internally, they build offline first, which means one can have the system installed on the computer or mobile phone to use, Kiggundu explains.

“Even in our community engagements with developers, we are emphasizing the need to create awareness to think about offline first. Hence giving those tools and tricks to build such systems so that when both the internet is off and connectivity is poor, their platforms can still scale up their operations,” Kiggundu says.

However, going offline is like going backwards. It drags us back as opposed to where the world is going. This necessitates a one terabyte hard drive with the right processing power and speeds because it is necessary to have that resilience to ensure business continuity even while offline especially during Internet shutdowns.

“We need to strike a balance between heavily online but also some aspects of business processes remaining offline,” Kiggundu says.

Kiggundu also predicts an increased uptake of technology by the private sector in retail or education in the new normal.

DATA PROTECTION

Data privacy 

From the user’s point of view, there are major trust issues since a good number of innovations will be pushed on to our plates.

Therefore, the issue of data protection is a key concern now; questions on how customers’ data is stored and eventually used are already popping up.

Mr Wilson Kiggundu, chief technical officer at The Innovation Village, asserts that data privacy will be a big deal this year learning from conversations that took shape around SafeBoda and its policy on sharing data with third parties.

Looking at the international scene, the fact that WhatsApp shares information with Facebook, people have since shifted from WhatsApp to signal because it is more private and secure.


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