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    The sky’s the limit

Cloud computing holds exciting possibilities for the public sector, as a partnership between Gijima and Huawei is revealing.

“A little over three years ago we started a journey with the Huawei leadership team to start collaborating on some of their projects in South Africa and, in particular, the public sector,” says Gijima Managing Director Sylvester Samuel. For Gijima, the partnership was significant in that it enabled the company to further the reach of areas in which they had already concentrated significant effort: cloud computing.

“We partnered with Huawei’s enterprise business, focusing on their cloud solutions, their storage and their enterprise server environment. We focused on three aspects: the first aspect was sales and presales, the second aspect was skills transfer, and the third aspect we tackled was the actual delivery of solutions to their customers.”

Over the course of the collaboration, Gijima focused on three accounts in the public sector, opportunities that presented themselves as the government fast approached the need for cloud technology. “We then embarked on a collaboration, and we evolved that to become one of the few value-added partnerships with Huawei in the country. So we are now officially a Value-added partner (VAP) of Huawei”

Huawei SA Enterprise Managing Director, Elsa Wang, feels that Huawei has a more significant and expansive role to play than just deploying technology: it’s committed to developing South Africa’s infrastructure, people and economy. “As a global technology leader we are aware of our local responsibilities to build both physical infrastructure, as well as human capacity. As such, Gijima is an important partner for us.”

“I think it’s very humbling to be partnering with a giant like Huawei,” says Samuel. “What it means for us as a South African company with local shareholding, skills and customers — we are able to have a huge partner like Huawei internationally, focusing and investing in Gijima. This partnership is important and means a lot to us, and I want to stress how Huawei is investing in Gijima: they focus on imparting knowledge that they have of their technology, of their solutions, of their sales, and in particular their etiquette, of how they do presales and business development, this has benefitted Gijima immensely.”

Gijima employs more than 2 200 highly qualified professionals. “We were able to learn a lot from that as a local company. Huawei has thrown a lot of skills, a lot of marketing, a lot of time and effort, in getting to understand the Gijima culture and the Gijima staff, and that has contributed greatly to our success.”

A portrait of Sylvester Samuel, Managing Director of Outsource, Cloud and SOE’s for Gijima, who partnered with Huawei

Sylvester Samuel, Managing Director of Outsource, Cloud and SOE’s, Gijima

The story so far

For Gijima CEO Maphum Nxumalo, cutting-edge tech innovation has been a long time in the making. Nxumalo’s work in the world of IT began in 1980, when he was employed as a computer operator. Having learnt to code in COBOL — which he refers to as ‘a beautiful language’, Nxumalo became adept at writing programs. As his first job title might suggest, the course of his career has allowed him to see, first-hand, the paradigmatic changes in his industry, and over those decades he’s been involved in the creation of the systems that the retail, mining industries, tech service providers and the public sector now rely on.

This made Nxumalo a natural choice for his role at Gijima, where he was tasked with regenerating growth at the company that’s established itself as an ICT partner, providing its considerable client base with world-class application services, infrastructure configuration and implementation, and end-to-end managed outsource services.

In November 2018 Huawei Cloud, the cloud-computing services of Huawei, announced the world’s first cloud service provider that operates a local data centre in Africa. Huawei Cloud South Africa region began providing cloud services in 2019, providing organizations operating in southern Africa access to reliable and secure cloud services. For businesses and governments around the world, recent years have seen a significant shift to cloud computing — and with it, the establishment of strategies and practices that centre on cloud-based technologies. For the developing markets in which Gijima has significant operational experience and expertise, cloud technology holds particular power in that it enables more of a more fluid transfer of information and, related to this, knowledge.

Maphum Nxumalo, Group Chief Executive Officer of Gijima, who helped facilitate a partnership with Huawei

Maphum Nxumalo, Group Chief Executive Officer, Gijima

A unified platform for government departments

Huawei and Gijima have been at the forefront of this shift. “We started the cloud journey about 10 years ago,” says Nxumalo of Gijima’s work in this sphere, and goes on to explain that the past decade has involved an incisive look at what it is that cloud computing has to offer its consumers. “That kind of focus has led to early entry into the market” Nxumalo says: early entry into the market secured an advantage for Gijima, and investment in the research and development of related technologies primed the company for partnerships such as the one it established with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) in 2018. Bringing in original equipment manufacturers to launch the first government cloud, Gijima was able to assist in the consolidation of all the government ICT infrastructure across departments into one, unified platform. Today, and looking to the future, they’re focused on innovative solutions that leverage unique capabilities of these mobile devices and technologies to enable efficient mobile workforces across industries, countries, and technologies.

Similarly, Huawei has outlined its company’s commitment to the belief that everyone is entitled to four basic rights: education, a flourishing environment, optimal health and development, all of these encouraged by entrepreneurship. It’s this corporate commitment that makes it important for Huawei to facilitate a digital transformation ecosystem within South Africa to escalate the convergence of physical and digital worlds. In mobile-first, fast-developing economies around the African continent, ICT represents not only new technologies and platforms, but also a new ecosystem, making it the cornerstone of industrial digitalisation.

“I must compliment the government,” says Samuel, referring to South Africa’s current leadership, “because they’ve done a massive transformation in terms of ICT, in particular your large data entities and also SITA behind it. They’ve attracted a lot of skills from the corporate world within the private sector and those skills have contributed highly to the strategy of the government’s vision of ICT.” In Samuel’s view, the government has embraced ICT to elevate their offering to the public — and now to cope with the unique needs posed in the wake of the pandemic. Samuel says: “Government has realized that their sole focus is to support the citizens of South Africa, and in order to do that they are approaching IT companies like Gijima to say, ‘Gijima, what solutions do you have to touch our public?’

Their reference to “our public” has particular importance for the segment of the population residing in the country’s rural areas: people who do not have the ability to readily tap into technology and world-class services that one might find in metropolitan areas. Government continues to strive to use technology to reach citizens in remote areas, hoping to facilitate provision of basic services. Samuel provides an example: “Now a public citizen sitting in the most rural areas can place an order on their cellphone, and they’ll be able to get services, be it electricity, be it water, be it medicine. The government is focusing on that, and that’s the government’s challenge — and that’s the challenge they’ve passed on to us as IT specialists.”

Clouds forecasted

When asked how Huawei and Gijima will reach the country’s rural population, Samuel suggested that it might be a question for the government to answer – but for suppliers and partners like Gijima, the problem posed is a little more specific. “How can we package affordable solutions for the government to take to those rural areas?” he asks. “I think the government has a huge challenge in terms of reaching those citizens, but the challenge on our table is how do we package cost-effective solutions?” Wang explained that Huawei’s global experience with large scale projects is really demonstrating value as they are able to call on technical expertise to support Gijima where needed.

To this end, Gijima and Huawei are working with the government to understand how best to digitise data, and in doing so, move a lot of the systems onto the cloud. This, in turn, makes the accessibility of these services to the public easier, and has the added benefit of taking the burden off national infrastructure. While the benefits of effective, efficient systems operating at a nationwide level are obvious to anyone who’s dealt with administrative nightmares in one form or another, the possibilities for digitalisation become even more hopeful when its potential for the democratisation of information is considered.

Gijima’s drive towards digitalisation that enables skills development has much to do with the provision of accessible learning content. “We have a business unit called Human Capital Management,” explains Samuel, “and through that business unit we are driving e-learning solutions so that we can move learning content, like all the learning assessments done by Gijima, for a lot of the government institutions, and for those solutions we’re offering, to be more digitised. So that, people can work and use them remotely.”

This aligns with Wang’s vision for Huawei’s role in South Africa, and in their collaboration with Gijima. “Through this partnership, we’re able to transfer skills and develop many South Africans to better deal with a technology-driven world,” she says. “We are able to provide more efficient solutions to clients using Gijima’s local knowledge and experience.”

Connection and collaboration

Huawei has been operating in Africa for 20 years, contributing to social and economic development and enriching African lives with its ICT solutions and services. They have an in-depth understanding of the African market and are capable of better meeting customers’ current and potential needs. South Africa is one of the most diverse and promising emerging markets globally with tremendous potential. With cloud services, we are aiming to unleash the latent capacity by introducing cloud computing, one of key engines driving the growth in this era.”

The biggest challenge to Huawei’s ambitions for widely available web access is the problem of connectivity. “It’s easy for me and you to access, because we have fibre in our area, but when moving this content to rural areas we’re very much dependent on network telecommunications providers. It is something we’re aware of. It’s easy to put the content there now. If you’ve got children, you know your children can get the content. But when you don’t have power and if you don’t have connectivity, it becomes a real challenge,” says Samuel. Wang goes on to say that the variety of technical solutions and access to a massive R&D network at Huawei means that together with Gijima they can tackle these connectivity challenges in innovative ways.

Telecommunication infrastructure has been booming over the last three years, with deployment of fibre and of broadband SA Connect projects, so it’s clear that the government is investing significantly in enabling more democratic access to connectivity. ICT companies such as Gijima, in partnership with Huawei, are focusing on how to package connectivity solutions to be as cost-effective as possible. “Most importantly,” says Samuel, “we focus on repeat solutions that are reliable, and what I mean by that is, whatever we’re deploying needs to service our children and our their children. The IT solutions we’re building now need to be for future-proofing ICT for the government.” “Deploying at Scale is something Huawei is renowned for” Says Wang “ our operations allow us repurpose and deploy solutions for different environments without having to start from scratch.” She goes on to explain the experience and learning on the rest of the continent over the last 20 years is really allowing them to be more efficient in their projects.

As he unpacks the aims and methods of the project, Samuel speaks of the necessity of data protection, and moves back to considering the bigger issues at play. “One of the key things we need to start understanding – and I’m speaking specifically about data – what is the future generation going to use the data for? And that’s the conundrum that we’re grappling with: how do we make sure that the data is interchangeably accessible between different systems, different departments?”

Providing the example of the Department of Home Affairs, he says: “They should be the central repository for all our public citizens’ information, and banks, and your medical institution, and your transport, your tourism, should integrate into that system. Because then you have a central repository for data. So the data architecture is what we’re grappling with right now. I think a lot of strides have been made into that — you can go to the bank and you can get your online ID, and you can use the same ID to purchase things, and for verification of your credit. It’s coming together — but that’s the challenge we have now.”