A United States (US)-trained technology expert, Joe Mensah (JM), currently manages IBM Ghana as Country General Manager. Maxwell Akalaare Adombila caught up with him for a chat on various issues, including IBM’s plans for Ghana.

GB: IBM is a relatively young company in Ghana. How is it coping?

JM: IBM is doing very well in Ghana. We have been here as a full-fledged subsidiary of IBM since 2010. We continue to grow our business portfolio, supporting our clients across several sectors of the economy, serving and transforming businesses and organisations in the finance, telecoms, manufacturing, academic, oil & gas and government sectors. 

We will continue to be an essential company in this environment, contributing relevantly to Ghana’s national development agenda.

GB: So, what has been the response of the Ghanaian market to IBM’s products and services?

JM: Our services have been very well received. An example is our work in the government sector. Today, the Ministry of Finance and the Accountant General’s Department run the Ghana Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) on an IBM platform. GIFMIS is funded by the World Bank as a pilot project in Ghana. It seeks to bring transparency into how we manage and disburse public finances.

 That project runs on IBM systems today. It has been very well received in Ghana to the extent that the World Bank now recommends it to other countries.

In the banking sector, just like what we have done in Nigeria, where about 80 per cent of the banks there run on IBM enterprise systems, we’re following that path too in Ghana. We are doing a lot with Ghanaian banks today.

Our Power (mainframe) systems are now supporting a lot of banks in the country to the extent that it motivated us to develop a state-of-the-art data centre; we call it the Scalable Modular Data Center (SMDC).

Ghanaian banks are benefiting from this technology today, and more financial service firms are poised to deploy this technology asset.

We are also doing a lot of work with the academic community across West Africa. At the University of Ghana, for instance, we are helping with technical skills development, providing a cloud environment and access to IBM’s software portfolio at no cost to the university, to our young graduates.

The presence of this cloud computing technology on campus will help our graduates to become industry-ready and relevant when they come out of school.

  

GB: What is the status of your work on reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS with the Ghana Health Service?

JM:  IBM is partnering Yale University and the Ghana Health Service to run a program that will eventually eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS such that when it becomes fully deployed, every pregnant woman in the country will get HIV tested, treated if needed and tracked.

Now, think about the data that will be collected as a result of this project. It allows us not only to treat but to have a template that will help fight other infectious diseases as well.

That is going to be very impactful to society and that is why IBM takes pride in it.

GB: Would you say IBM has properly impacted on the banking sector and how has that been possible?

JM: Globally, we support the world’s top banks. Seventy per cent of the world’s data is managed on IBM systems. Ninety-five of the top 100 banks worldwide also use IBM business or technology services to run their businesses. These banks depend on IBM to support their operations. Ghanaian banks are already benefiting from this global track record.

Beyond building data centers that help banks better manage their data assets and transactions processing, we are also supporting Ghanaian banks in the management of their critical service and technology delivery functions. IBM’s CAMSS toolkit, our integrated Cloud, Analytics & Big Data, Mobile, Security and Social computing services and solutions is extremely relevant for banks and financial institutions operating in fast growing, middle-income economies like ours.

You will agree with me that technology is essential for social and economic development. The era of standing in long queues in a banking hall is coming to an end.

 We are now in the age of mobile commerce and multi-channel banking. When online purchases are made; when shoppers pay for groceries at a supermarket, using their ATM cards on the point-of-sale (POS) terminals, they are essentially interacting with the banking system.

So, transactions processing now happens on the fly, as customers begin to demand for more speed, accuracy and authenticity in their banking and non-bank transactions. So the importance of data integrity and security software intelligence in the banking value chain cannot be overemphasised.

Our ongoing work with Fidelity Bank Ghana is also an example of how a Ghanaian bank is deploying modern technology to better manage its internal operations and service delivery obligations. The IBM-managed services partnership covers a broad spectrum of Fidelity Bank’s IT functions, including management of its server, security, storage, networks, end user services, branch IT support, ATM infrastructure support and data center services. This sort of relationship shows that Ghana’s financial services institution can compete with its peers globally. 

GB: Okay, what is IBM’s proposed solution to city traffic congestion?

JM: Accra has been adjudged one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and with this sort of exponential growth comes urban headaches and a burden on city resources. We are hoping that soon, Accra will be one of many other cities in Africa that will benefit from current research efforts at the IBM Africa Research Laboratory located in Nairobi, Kenya. This is one of IBM’s 12 labs globally, and researchers and scientists there are working on solutions for a variety of issues facing most of Africa, namely, agriculture, water and waste management, healthcare, transportation, power and financial inclusion. These are, if you like, Africa’s grand challenges.

 

GB: In 2013, IBM launched a report on its Smarter Cities Accra Project and part of this report said IBM had made recommendations to help increase and better manage internally generated revenue for the AMA. Has the implementation of that report started, and if not, why?

JM: The April 2013 report highlights how the rapidly emerging city of Accra should turn to technology to transform its key urban systems. This White Paper was the result of an IBM Executive Service Corp (ESC) engagement in Accra in July 2012. Based on this report and the opinions of local experts from across public and private sectors and civil society, the report identified transportation, energy and city services as being essential for Accra’s urban reforms.

So the implementation of that report sits with the Accra Mayor. We had brought in a lot of resources and thought leadership to develop that white paper which we put out there, and it is sitting with the Mayor currently. Now, the whole idea was that our current way of collecting revenues is cumbersome and goes through a lot of hands and so we proposed the mobile system to be used in collecting the taxes. With that, the money is paid directly from a mobile phone into the account of the AMA. When we do that we will not only be ensuring transparency, we will also be eliminating pilferage. That is the recommendation we put out there, which is now with the AMA Mayor.

I am aware that the Mayor’s office is already implementing  reforms internally to clean up the internally-generated revenue mechanism. They might also be contending with several other considerations and other similar proposals so we might all have to wait awhile to see how the AMA eventually tackles this issue. In any case, our work is to offer the expertise and recommend the path forward and that is what we did. It is all about distillation of knowledge and we did just that.

GB: What makes IBM unique and how does the company manage competition in the industry, given that you are relatively young in Ghana?

JM: Competition is part of everyday life. IBM competes well in Ghana today because our current and prospective clients know that we offer value for every buck, and our enterprise solutions are tried and tested, coming from a global organisation which spends at least $6 billion annually on technology research and development. This solid R&D foundation is second to none in the technology environment. IBM is an endless pipeline of innovation, as evidenced by our technology patent leadership every year.

Almost every technology company today is finding a valid reason to collaborate with IBM simply because at the enterprise level, it has been acknowledged that IBM offers best-in-class technology and business management solutions. Apple, Twitter and Oracle are just three examples of global IT firms currently collaborating with IBM to deliver world class enterprise solutions.  

GB: How do you foresee the ICT sector in the next five years and what will be your advice to businesses in that regard?

JM: Alongside the proliferation of data and the internet of things, I believe our CAMSS strategy will begin to shape the business environment in the next few years. Our integrated technology toolkit will offer many business benefits, including the ability to better achieve regulatory compliance, product development, value chain management, enterprise resource planning, operational and service excellence.

GB: Going forward, what should businesses and customers expect from IBM?

JM: We are moving into a new era of the cognitive computing environment. This is because data is becoming the new natural resource. Data promises to be for the 21st century what steam power was for the 18th century, what electricity was for the 19th century and what hydrocarbons was for the 20th century.

Right now, we have about one trillion connected objects and devices on the planet generating data. Eighty per cent of all the data in the world has been created within the past two years. You can expect IBM to keep investing in technology research and development in this area. IBM will continue to be essential to the future of business, leading humanity in the search for viable and enterprise-level solutions for commerce and industry.

Source: Graphic Business