An innovative project at the University of Cape Town aims to help small African organisations to set themselves up for e-commerce at minimal cost – and it has proven so effective that IBM has rewarded the originator of the project, UCT head of Information Systems, Professor Jean-Paul van Belle, with a prestigious and highly competitive IBM Faculty Award.

Funding from IBM of more than R162 000.00 will enable UCT to create an ICT resource toolkit aimed at assisting small African organisations to assess the readiness for e-commerce with a self-assessment test.  Once an organisation has assessed its maturity and decided which ICT areas to target, a set of resources will assist it to implement the changes.
These include how-to guides, checklists and other self-help materials customised for Africa. The toolkit will be free on-line as well as on CD or DVD. The project has already been proto-typed, thanks to seed funding from NGOConnectAfrica.
Acting Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Professor Mike Wormald, says: “We believe this will not only increase the efficiency and effectiveness of organisations, but also help SMMEs and NGOs to leap over the digital divide using mobile internet access, customer relationship management, digital storytelling and open source platforms. We are delighted that we have garnered this award from a pool of literally thousands of applicants worldwide. This reflects that UCT is on a par with other innovative global universities competing for the IBM Faculty Award, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”
Professor Van Belle explains that many small businesses in Africa are not yet using ICTs effectively, due to lack of know-how in an accessible format,  absence of skills, internet access, remote location, institutional barriers, vendor bias and software costs.
“Bridging the knowledge and resource gaps may narrow the digital divide and also indirectly grow local economies through increased productivity,” he says. “There will also be an important feedback loop to larger IT organisations, such as IBM, sensitising them of the needs and challenges of small organisations in the developing world, opening up engagement with this market.”
Head of IBM University Relations for Sub-Saharan Africa, Sean McLean, adds: “The IBM Faculty Awards form part of a number of the company’s academic initiatives including IBM Shared University Research Awards, IBM PhD Fellowship Programme and IBM Innovation Awards, which are aimed at, among others, fostering the development of curricula relevant to the creation of 21st century ICT skills. This project by UCT’s Information Systems department will help address specific ICT needs of smaller African organisations while exposing them to some of the programmes IBM has which are targeted at the SMME and NGO markets in Africa.”