Monday, February 28, 2011

Something old...

We are finding out firsthand how Kenya is a country of old and new. While Kenya (and Africa overall) may lag on basic things we take for granted in the U.S (roads & infrastructure as an example) – they also lead in other ways.

One area in particular is mobile. Virtually everyone in the main areas of the country has a cell phone, and most if not all use it as their main form of cash transactions. Safaricom is the market leader for mobile phones, and their M-Pesa platform is nothing short of revolutionary. People link their M-Pesa accounts to bank accounts – so they can make purchases at stores, ATM withdrawals, transfer money to other people and many other functions all from their phone. No need for a wallet full of debit and credit cards. The technology is pretty straightforward, and I know it’s available in the states - but the usage and market penetration here is staggering. You literally can’t travel 100 meters (see, I’m already adapting to life outside the U.S…) without seeing an M-Pesa sign - and it has literally become the primary form of transactional finance.

When you think about it, the root cause of this phenomenon is quite simple. Very few people in Kenya own their own personal computer – but everyone has a cell phone. So while, in the US, it is second nature for us to pay bills and do our banking online – this is not possible elsewhere in the world.

Definitely an example of a smarter planet in action.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

All work?

Well, not completely. As they say in Kenya, "Pole, Pole", (slowly, slowly). So as a team, we decided to take a break from our projects and see some of Kenya's wildlife over the weekend. With some recommendations from the local team, we arranged a camping safari to Samburu National Reserve, a few hours north of our home base in Nyeri.

It was truly amazing. Samburu is a semi-arid area (almost a desert) - and as a 'reserve', it is one of the many locations in Kenya where animals live and roam freely in their own environment. In other words, the people are the ones held captive - in this case in a touring van with an open roof. We saw many different animals, and the landscapes alone were truly breathtaking. We also had a chance to visit a local village of the Samburu tribe - nomads who have lived in the same traditions for hundreds of years.

And, of course we had to make a quick stop at the equator on the way home!

Friday, February 25, 2011

From Business Daily in Kenya - Some nice press coverage of the work we're doing with the Kenyan postal service:

Changing landscape

“The IBM team will help PCK to review the changing economic landscape in Kenya and develop a plan to deliver financial services to the poor across Kenya,” said IBM in a statement, adding that they would help the postal firm get a larger foothold in the agency banking market.

An IBM team of 12 professionals in IT, research, marketing, finance and business development drawn from nine different countries will arrive in Kenya this week to work free of charge for a month as part of its IBM Corporate Service Corps global programme.

The programme has seen IBM deploy close to 1,000 employees on 100 teams to 20 countries around the world over the past three years. "

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

Courtesy of Dave Sloan, CSC member, while watching a Brazilian Soap Opera dubbed in English, airing in Kenya:

"Look at that mustache! It's like a ferret came to rest on the guy's upper lip!"

Why I am not in Market Research

Today we set about in the data gathering phase of our project - and this involved a custom research study focusing on consumer awareness and consideration for our client, Posta Kenya. Sounds fancy, right? Well, that part ends quickly - when you are standing on a street corner in unbearable heat in a remote African village asking passers-by whether they would like to participate. The initial looks were quite amusing. But actually, I have to give the people credit - as I myself must have looked pretty funny with my clipboard and safari hat.

As usual, the people here were very gracious. They were very forthcoming and willing to talk (and talk and talk). It was really a great way to meet the real people of Kenya - in their environment.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hot off the press!

Our team and assignment has been getting some great coverage around Kenya and beyond. A couple of recent articles...

CIO Magazine; IBM Corporate Service Corps to facilitate efficient delivery of financial services

Capital Business of Kenya; An International team of consultants from the IBM's Corporate Service Corps program has arrived in Nairobi for a one month project

East African Standard; IBM experts to boost IT capacity in counties: attached is the print version and a link to the online version.

Article in The Standard

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Move day

One of the objectives of the CSC project is to immerse the IBM team in the local culture – and I mean the real local culture, not the board room at the Intercontinental. So today, after 2 days of meetings with the local IBM and customer teams, we packed our bags and relocated to Nyeri, a town 142km outside of Nairobi.

Nyeri will be our base for the next 4 weeks – working out of our makeshift “war room” at the hotel, and traveling for meetings as needed. The accommodations are rustic, but we are truly getting to know the local people and way of life. A walk into town center earlier today yielded many handshakes and “Karibu’s” (Swahili for welcome). The Kenyan people are proud of their home - and very hospitable.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday was quite a busy day for the teams. We started out by meeting the rapidly growing East Africa IBM team, based in Nairobi. One year ago, the IBM presence was only a small subsidiary, and today they are at 45 employees and growing - quite a statement on the local economic growth and relevance of Kenya on a worldwide scale.

This was followed by kick-off meetings with the 3 respective clients at their offices:

  • Postal Corporation of Kenya
  • Kenya Office of e-Government
  • Kenya ICT (Information and Communications Technology) Board

All meetings went very well – project scopes were validated, some questions answered (some pictures taken…), and we were off.

Tomorrow we relocate to Nyeri, our home base for the rest of the project.

Editorial Note: I’m stealing the “Passion and Power” line from Muriuki Mureithi, one of our hosts here in Kenya, and quite a motivational speaker. He has referenced the “passion and power” of IBM and Kenya in many of our meetings – and we as a team have adopted it as our 'war cry' if you will...

The IBM CSC and Kenya team

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kenya Briefing and Local Culture

Today is our 2nd full day in Kenya - it is hard to believe, as we have already done so much. This morning, we had a briefing with the local IBM Marketing Manager and also our DOT hosts. They layed out a very compelling story for the country of Kenya - one of great history, some turmoil and a potential for amazing growth.

Kenya is already the business hub of East Africa, and is poised for a surge of new business opportunities in the near future. The already well established financial services sector is growing, while other areas such as telco are rapidly on the rise. Is Kenya - the same country whose presidential turmoil caused nationwide riots a short time ago - ready for this? Only time will tell. One thing is clear though - the 'tribal' aspect of this country continues to this day. This is not in a negative way - but when people introduce themselves, they usually follow with their heritage - Masai, Kikuyu or wherever. There is a lot of pride that has been carried down the generations.

Following the briefing, we went to a local cultural center, where tribal villages were set up in the proper fashion - there was also a ceremony where traditional Kenyan song and dance were performed - all done by their respective tribes of course.

Tomorrow is our first in-person presentation to out government clients. This meeting will definitely shape the rest of our time here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting to know Nairobi

With our kickoff dinner tonight, the team members who are already present decided to visit the Nairobi Museum today. Wonderful facility, with lots of history on the Rift Valley and 'Cradle of Mankind'. So much of our history stared right here. There was also some great work by local artists. Team meeting with the DOT hosts tonight - looking forward to it!

Outside the Museum: Joshua, Anna, John, Reka and Eva.

Hopefully we'll see some of these that aren't the stuffed variety.

Think these can fit in my carry-on?


24 hours after leaving home, I have arrived safe and sound in Nairobi. I was on the same connecting flight as two of team members, Reka and Nimeesh from Hungary and Canada. It was great to finally meet some of the team in person. It's now time to get settled as we start our CSC itinerary tomorrow. We were treated to a beautiful African sunset on the approach to Nairobi.

The best sight you can see when getting off a plane in a foreign country.

This doesn't do it justice...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wheels Up!

Time to recharge with 20 hours of travel looming ahead.

Getting Ready

Bags are packed, details checked (and double checked) - wait, what is the luggage limit for Air France?

It's with mixed emotions that I depart today for Kenya. While this is truly an amazing opportunity and a great business challenge, I will dearly miss my family and friends while I am away. I know the time will go by fast though, as we will be immersed in the project and local culture.

Our itinerary starts immediately once we arrive in Kenya - meetings are scheduled with the local IBM team, our partner DOT, and our clients for the CSC projects. At this point, we are familiar with all the key parties, having been introduced and kicking off the project remotely over the past few months. I look forward to finally meeting the teams in person.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

About our partner...

Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) is IBM's partner for our Corporate Service Corps assignment in Kenya. They coordinate everything from travel to our client assignments to community outreach while in-market. For our work-to-date, we have been collaborating with the local DOT team in Kenya - and they are truly first-rate. They are very knowledgeble about the market and business opportunities, and have great connections with the government and client teams.

From their site: "Digital Opportunity Trust is a leading international organization, headquartered in Ottawa, Canada. DOT focuses on creating educational, economic, and entrepreneurial opportunity through the effective use of ICT for communities and people in countries that are developing, are in transition, or are under stress. DOT has a particular focus on youth and women. DOT operates programs in Canada, China, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico and the United States."

I look forward to finally meeting our contacts in person.

Asante sana-

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

IBM Watson

One February 14-16, IBM's Watson supercomputer will compete on Jeopardy! against the top winners of all time, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson (named after IBM's founder, Thomas J. Watson) represents a huge leap in artificial intelligence and computers being able to understand natural language. I've had the privilege of working on some of marketing efforts around Watson and the Jeopardy program, and seeing the progress over the past year. It really is amazing to witness. I'm sure there will be a lot of dialog after the shows - and rightly so. The idea behind Watson is not to compete on game shows - but to change the way that people interact with computers. Until now, people have worked with computers on their terms - whether that is DOS, or Fortran, or Windows or OSX. Watson represents computers understanding of how humans speak - and having the computing power to then conduct research and answer queries (of any subject) within milliseconds. The possibilities are endless - healthcare, financial services, legal applications. Tune in - this will be fun to watch.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jambo, as they say in Swahili!

On February 17, I am deploying with a team of 11 other IBM people from around the world to Kenya, to work with the government on some key technology initiatives. Kenya is the already the business hub of East Africa, and Nairobi is fast becoming one of the world's top cities for financial services. Over 4 weeks, our team will be consulting with various divisions of the government, ranging from the Office of e-Government, to the Postal Division to the Ministry of Information. In order to really understand the country and culture, we will staying outside the metropolis of Nairobi - in a village called Nyeri in the central highlands of the country. There is a large community aspect to the project - we'll also be visiting universities, health care facilities and other areas, meeting the people and lending a helping hand. I feel honored to take part in such an effort - and wanted to document the effort in this blog. I've never really had a reason to blog before, but this seems like a worthy cause, with a great story to tell. Wish me luck and check back for updates-

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

IBM Watson: Watson After Jeopardy!

Why is IBM developing a computer that can play on Jeopardy? The same technology will be used in various industries for years to come.

Microfinance for Emerging Markets

Over the past few years, I've had the opportunity to work with some of IBM's best customers to document their real life examples of a smarter planet in practice. As we prepare to deploy to Kenya for the Corporate Service Corps, I wanted to share a video we created with Grameen Koota, a microfinance institution based in India. Microfinance is definitely as relevant in Africa as it is India. With a great idea and the right technology, Grameen Koota is taking steps to eradicate poverty, one small loan at a time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A truly global team

Italy, Demark, Japan, Canada, China....these are just some of countries where our IBM Kenya team members originate. We represent marketing, research, sales, consulting and all aspects of technology. The common denominator? We're all IBMers doing our part to help make Smarter Planet a reality. Over the next several weeks, we will be working with the government of Kenya on several projects that are of utmost importance to the country overall - communications, financial services and e-government to name a few.

Why Kenya? Kenya is the business hub of East Africa - a growing economy set in the same place known as the 'cradle of mankind'. Kenya is a place of community, of family - but also a country that embraces innovation, technology and the need for progress.

I know I speak for our team when I say we are ready for the challenges ahead.


Check out this great site, commemorating IBM's progress over the past 100 years.

Can a computer win on Jeopardy!?

Over the last century, IBM has reached numerous scientific breakthroughs through its commitment to research and its tradition of Grand Challenges. These Grand Challenges work to push science in ways that weren’t thought possible before.

Jeopardy! The IBM Challenge poses a specific question with very real business implications: Can a system be designed that applies advanced data management and analytics to natural language in order to uncover a single, reliable insight — in a fraction of a second?

The competition will air on Jeopardy!, 2 games over 3 nights - February 14-16. To see some background on Watson, tune in the Nova Special February 9 at 10:00PM.

100 Years of Innovation

IBM Centennial Film: 100 X 100 - A century of achievements that have changed the world.

This film features one hundred people, who each present the IBM achievement recorded in the year they were born. The film chronology flows from the oldest person to the youngest, offering a whirlwind history of the company and culminating with its prospects for the future.

Monday, February 7, 2011

About IBM's Corporate Service Corps

IBM's Corporate Service Corps (CSC) exposes IBM employees to the 21st century context for doing business --- emerging markets, global teaming, diverse cultures, working outside the traditional office, and increased societal expectations for more responsible and sustainable business practices. CSC participants perform community-driven economic development projects in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, working at the intersection of business, technology and society.

Since the official launch in July, 2008 the CSC has deployed 500 IBM employees from 44 countries on 29 teams to 9 countries. Projects vary from assisting networks of entrepreneurs and small businesses trying to grow to the utilization of information technology by communities left behind the "digital divide."

The countdown is on...

10 more days until we depart for Kenya and the beginning of the Corporate Service Corps assignment. To date, the preparation has consisted of learning local culture and business practices, engaging with our client and managing the seemingly millions of details needed for a month-long assignment abroad.