Perspective: Critical Analysis of The African Hype Cycle by Gartner

_fs_Hype_cycleThe very fact that this hype cycle exists is a signal of the increased importance and visibility of the African continent’s place in the global landscape for technology. Released recently by Gartner, the 2015 Hype Cycle for ICT in Africa, is far more interesting for its depiction of the perspective and worldview of Gartner’s analysts than a pragmatic assessment of a diverse and fragmented market.

From Gartner’s website:

The biggest challenge remains the fact that one solution does not suit all countries in Africa. Companies trying to grow their business operations throughout the continent must understand the local market conditions within each country. Small deals stress the business models of many global vendors, to the advantage of local companies.

Yet, intriguingly, this disclaimer did not stop Gartner from assessing the technologies for the entire continent and integrating them all under the broad label “Africa” in one diagram. The other point to note is the use of the word ICT, in general.

If one takes a closer look at many of the technologies listed on the diagram, one will note they are those more closely associated with ICT4D initiatives, rather than corporate for profit or enterprise solutions. ICT4D is defined as

refers to the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the fields of socioeconomic development, international development and human rights. The theory behind this is that more and better information and communication furthers the development of a society.

Further reading of Gartner‘s framing shows that while they position this hype cycle for the benefit of both the public and the private sector, their approach seems to conflate enterprise and business needs with those of social and economic development.

One would question whether this, then, is a helpful framework for either of the two intended audiences. Experience shows that the underlying motivations and philosophies for private enterprise are often very different from those of the public sector and the development aid industry. There is sufficient literature available on how differing agendas influence the evaluation of a particular tool or technology – what might be a viable technology for public sector may not always be appropriate for private enterprise.

A further concern is that there have been numerous instances of “silver bullets” that failed in the development context, often due to the burden of hype. Perhaps Gartner’s hard work and effort in creating this Hype Cycle would have been of greater benefit if they had distinguished between public sector/non profit frame of reference with respect to technology and its surrounding hype, and the consumer market responses and needs of the private sector.

This lack of clarity, imho, will be far more challenging for businesses seeking investment opportunities in this nascent yet rapidly burgeoning market, than for any of the charities deploying their myriads of pilot programs for the sake of development.

Two data points on the hype cycle come to mind as clear examples – Digital commerce, which is advancing far more rapidly outside of the South African context, in such regions as Nigeria, and even, Cote D’Ivoire, and Mobile Retail Payments in East Africa. Gartner’s distinction of Mobile Retail Payment as Apple Pay et al creates further confusion when one realizes that the ever popular game changer M-Pesa has been classified as Mobile Wireless Payment Systems (for NonMature Payment Markets).

End users will require a lot of education in order to comprehend the difference between NFC/contactless payments and Mobile Wireless Payments in markets where the entire context for mobiles and money is very distinctly different from “Mature Payment Markets”. There is no mention of this anywhere in their press release, and one hopes that their education seminar offers more insight.

The path of technological development being taken in Africa is such that one would find greater value in a Hype Cycle firmly grounded in the operating environment’s own context than attempting to use the same labels and subsectors of technology from the overly mature markets of the established world. One feels that a research and analysis office on the ground would have helped with this exercise in a far more practical manner. Insights emerging from the conflation of private sector needs with non profit motives simply perpetuate the existing barriers to the development of relevant and appropriate technologies.

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