As part of its expansion drive into the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, IBM has partnered with Canonical Ubuntu, South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth’s company, to provide flexible, open computing software solution to governments, public organisations and businesses in the region.
IBM has invested $120-million through to this year in its expansion initiatives which includes opening innovation centres, building IT skills and creating jobs.
IBM and Canonical Ubuntu will introduce a new, flexible personal computing software package for netbooks and other thin client devices to help businesses and public organisations in Africa bridge the digital divide by leapfrogging traditional PCs and proprietary software. This is the first cloud- and premise- based Linux netbook software package offered by IBM and Canonical.
Part of IBM’s Smart Work Initiative, this new package targets the rising popularity of low cost netbooks to make IBM’s industrial-strength software affordable to new mass audiences in Africa. Businesses that could not afford traditional PCs for all employees can now use any type of device and low-cost software to equip all workers with the ability to work smarter anywhere through a variety of devices regardless of the level of communications infrastructure.
The IBM Smart Work Client is available today across Africa and is being piloted for other emerging and growth markets worldwide. The solution includes open standards-based email, word processing, spreadsheets, unified communication, social networking and other software to any laptop, netbook, or a variety of mobile devices.
It runs on the Canonical Ubuntu Linux operating system, and provides the option to deliver collaboration through the Web in a cloud service model. This software bundle can also be extended to virtualised workspaces using VERDE from Virtual Bridges available locally through business partners and voice-based collaboration pilots through IBM Research. IBM estimates that it delivers up to 50% savings per seat versus a Microsoft-based desktop.
“Businesses, public organisations and governments in emerging markets, particularly in Sub Saharan Africa, are looking to gain the freedom and flexibility afforded by open standards,” says Oliver Fortuin, GM of IBM Sub- Saharan Africa. The IBM Smart Work Client builds on the movement toward open standards and Web-based personal computing by giving people the power to work smarter regardless of device.
The IBM smart client package can help African governments deliver open standards using Open Document Format (ODF), which contributes toward the savings of up to 50% per individual seat versus a Microsoft-based desktop based on licensing, administration and maintenance. The reduction of personal computing costs may enable governments to transfer information technology expenditures to fund mission-critical initiatives such as crisis or disaster management, education and health care.
“Starting with Africa, we see that IBM’s Smart Work Client can help realise our vision of eliminating barriers to computer access for emerging markets,” says Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical Ubuntu. “Our partnership with IBM brings together the strengths of collaboration to help our customers work smarter using this new approach.”
With this new package, businesses can cultivate new suppliers and partners over the Web through IBM’s LotusLive.com that will allow them to expand service to new customers beyond their local area. Through virtualisation of this collaboration software, they can exponentially increase their computing and collaboration power without additional infrastructure costs.
A network of local service providers such as Inkululeko, ZSL Inc., and UST Global is expected to extend the new Smart Work client locally throughout Africa to government, educational institutions and businesses. In addition to local service providers, IBM will also work with leading universities such as Uganda’s Makerere University and academic consortiums to bring this new computing model down to individuals in the employment or attendance of learning institutions.
“Software is an important enabler of the service industry, however, most of the good software is unaffordable to most of the users in developing countries, hence most users in developing countries have resorted to pirated software and free software,” says Professor Venansius Barya Baryamureeba, dean of the Faculty of Computing & IT at the Makerere University.
“But most free software packages can be a nightmare of setup woes, training costs, and processes that just don’t fit your organisation. The hope lies in affordable software that is as good as proprietary software, which benefits from economies of scales as a result of targeting a mass market.”