south africa

by Staff Reports • @IBMinsights

IBM opens research lab in South Africa to bring big data, cloud, and mobile advancements to the economy

Published February 06, 2015


IBM today announced plans to expand IBM Research Africa with a new laboratory in Johannesburg. Opening in April 2015, the facility will focus on advancing big data, cloud, and mobile technologies to support South Africa’s promising but underperforming economy.

As part of a 10-year investment program through the Department of Trade and Industry and working closely with the Department of Science and Technology, the new research facility will be based at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits).

“South Africa is amongst the most technologically and scientifically advanced countries in the world,” says Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology. “However, it is essential to increase research and development activities in order to foster innovation and support the further diversification of the economy. We welcome IBM Research to South Africa and offer our very best scientific talent to ensure its long-term success.”

The announcement comes as observers acknowledge the potential for South Africa’s economy. According to an assessment by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, South Africa can be classified as an emerging market with natural resources; well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors; and a stock exchange that is the 16th largest in the world.

Yet “the GDP fell nearly 2 percent in 2009 but has recovered since then, albeit slowly with 2014 growth projected at about 2 percent. Unemployment, poverty, and inequality—among the highest in the world—remain a challenge; official unemployment is at nearly 25 percent of the work force, and runs significantly higher among black youth,” according to the CIA.

These metrics, though bleak at the present time, suggest a society poised to adopt technology as an enhancement of services and resource management—and as an engine of employment for youth who are willing to be put to work.

A landscape of economic disparity
A World Bank study finds that about half of South Africa’s urban population lives in townships and informal settlements. With this reality defining the nation’s human geography—38 percent of working-age citizens live in townships and settlements, which are also home to nearly 60 percent of its unemployed—IBM will locate the lab in Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein, an inner-city area which is today re-emerging as one of Johannesburg's most dynamic and vibrant districts.

The lab’s inner-city location will allow IBM’s new researchers to form part of a ‘living lab’ that will explore the role of advanced digital technologies and big data analytics in urban renewal.

IBM’s researches and partner organizations will develop solutions using computational modeling, Internet of Things, and cognitive systems to engage more effectively with citizens and help revitalize inner-city areas in South Africa and around the world.

“IBM considers two factors when deciding where to place research labs: access to world-class skills and talent and the ability to work on pressing business and societal challenges that can be best addressed through advanced information technology,” says Dr. John E. Kelly III, Senior Vice President of IBM Solutions Portfolio and Research. “South Africa provides an exciting backdrop as we look to expand our research efforts in the region. Our Africa-based researchers are part of a global community of IBM scientists who are forging the future of our company and ensuring that we remain at the forefront of scientific discovery.”



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