IBM Is Big on Africa — But How Big?

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has made Africa a big priority for the company.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has visited Africa twice in the past six months. She’s taken her entire executive team there. She’s told IBM’s investors, customers and the general public about the potential to transform the continent’s businesses and governments through technology.

Expansion there is clearly a priority for the company, but how much of a priority?

As reported in Bloomberg Businessweek today, IBM expects revenue in Africa to more than double, surpassing $1 billion by 2015, according to an industry consultant who declined to be identified. By comparison, IBM started a push in India in 1992 and passed $1 billion in revenue in 2007. The push in Africa started around 2010. That means in five years, IBM may achieve in Africa what took it 15 years to do in India.

In 2012, IBM pulled in about $400 million in Africa, the person said. That’s less than 1 percent of its $104.5 billion in overall revenue last year. But if IBM meets its goals, Africa will provide the company some of its fastest-growing opportunities.

Ed Barbini, a spokesman for IBM, declined to comment on the revenue projections.

The number of African countries where the company has full operations has expanded to more than 20 from just four in 2006. IBM now does business, either directly or through partners, in about 45 of the continent’s countries.

For those unconvinced about the opportunity, Mark Dean,  IBM’s chief technology officer for the Middle East and Africa, has something to say.

“I personally believe that of all the things I’ve done, this could have the most impact on the globe,” he said during an interview in Dubai.

Dean, if you didn’t know, was one of the inventors of IBM’s personal computer.


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